Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Blessing of NNW

“I don’t think our downstairs A/C is working right,” I said tentatively to AdventureMan, “It’s like I hesitate to even say anything, that might make it true. It seems to me that the fan is blowing, but I never hear the air cycle on, and the fan never stops.”

A quick call and the A/c people are on the way to check it out.

“Do you know how old this A/C is?” he asked. Yep. It’s twenty years old. And now it has a leak in the coils. It could be fixed; we’ve been having it fixed from time to time already, and maybe it could limp along a little while longer, but this little Alaska girl can’t take that chance; it is getting HOT in Pensacola.

New air conditioners, I learned, are more efficient, even the cheapest will save on our electricity bill, which, in the three hottest months of the summer, can soar by three hundred dollars and change. They run more quietly. With more efficiency, they can save more. They are also chillingly expensive.

Since we have another unit running upstairs, he schedules our replacement for Tuesday, AFTER the three day weekend, and oh, did I mention, it has gotten hot? Wednesday and Thursday hit the 90’s (F) and the downstairs is more than a little stuffy, even with all the ceiling fans whirling madly.

But late last night I heard our upstair unit cycle off . . . and stay off for a good long while. This morning, there is an almost-cool breeze, a freshness in the air, and what a blessing, that in the middle of what might be a long hot weekend, to have some winds from the north blowing through, blowing away the humid heat that blows up from the Gulf.

I lay awake, thinking that for us, it is only a wait until Tuesday, because, by the grace of God, we have an emergency fund to cover events like this. I think of the trio of homeless men we passed on Palafox on our way to a meeting, cheerily greeting us, but sleeping out in the heat and humidity, with mosquitos biting. I am sure I am not the only one this morning thankful for the blessings of the NNW winds.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Family Issues, Financial Issues, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Renovations, Thanksgiving, Weather | Leave a comment

Shams I; Huge Solar Plant in Abu Dhabi

Today – from WeatherUndergroundNews:

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 8.08.57 AM

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Behold — a way to capture a maximum amount of solar power in one of the sunniest regions on the planet.

Located in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates that cozy up to the Persian Gulf in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi announced the opening of the Shams 1 solar plant last month. Shams 1, which translates to “the Sun” in Arabic, according to the BBC, utilizes more than 250,000 mirrors to capture and harness the power of the sun.

Officials in Abu Dhabi hope the new plant will save 175,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year, reports an NPR blog. That’s the equivalent of removing 15,000 cars from the road, they say, and several more of these mega-plants are in the works.

The other reason for building the Shams 1? The country will be able to export more of their vast natural oil reserves instead of using it within the country. It will lead to even more profit for the UAE, says Bloomberg. The plant cost $750 million to build, but according to the report, it’s just the first step in a plan to generate one-third of the country’s energy from solar power by the year 2032.

April 20, 2013 Posted by | Environment, Experiment, Financial Issues, Home Improvements, Interconnected, Technical Issue | , , | 3 Comments

Fifty Degree Shift

AdventureMan and I were up early yesterday, headed for early church, then he headed home to vacuum (God bless him mightily!) and I headed to the commissary. We expected house guests today, Monday, but they were coming by car and I had hopes they might arrive a little early, which they did.

As we were cleaning, putting away groceries, making sure the guest suite was in top condition, we could hear a symphony of buzzing, humming, clicking, sawing – we had the windows open, and with the temperatures in the 70’s, climbing into the 80’s (F) it was one of those irresistible days for yard work, and all the neighborhood was out mowing, trimming, weed-whacking, etc. We could hear the hmmmmmmmmm of air conditioners turned on, and the clicking of pool cleaners whirring and cleaning.

We treasure these rare days; warm enough to enjoy having the house open, to hear the birds and cicadas. It’s one of those days that energizes.

And then, the wind shifted, and grew cool. From the 80’s, around three in the afternoon, to evening, it dropped 30 degrees. This morning, it is in the high 30’s – a fifty degree shift! I hope the pool is warm at the Y.

March 25, 2013 Posted by | Family Issues, Florida, Gardens, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Weather | Leave a comment

Spring Break Hits the Gulf Coast

This last week has to have been the sweetest week of the year; running into all my friends at Home Depot, the cool mornings and the warm afternoons, it all makes you feel energetic, and you tackle all those projects you’ve been mentally lining up.

For me, it was painting the front door. I think it used to be red. It faces west, and the strength of the setting sun over the years faded it to a rosy rose. It needed to go back to shimmering red, but that takes patience, and more than one coat, and it takes a special day, cool enough, warm enough, and entirely without humidity. To paint a door, you have to have it open, and then it has to dry open, and when you are painting a door red red, you have to paint it more than once, even painting over rosy red.

Done. And time for a field trip to the Botanical Gardens Sales in Mobile, with AdventureMan, now in another career as Master GardenerMan.

It’s all good this weather, this time of year – until you get on any road leading to the beach, especially on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Saturday, coming back from Mobile, there was a sudden jamming up as the cars went down into the tunnel running under the tip of the bay. As we are waiting to get through, we hear these banshee screams and yells, and my first thought, after years of living in the Middle East is “oh! it’s a wedding!”

No. No, I was wrong. It is no one’s wedding, but it does seem to be a major mating ritual, as colleges close for a week or so for Spring break and the students head for the beaches. These students were hanging out the windows of their cars – sitting on the window sills – waving bottles and screeching.

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Animal spirits. I hope they packed their sun protection, and all kinds of other protections.

March 18, 2013 Posted by | Florida, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Pensacola, Road Trips, Social Issues, Weather | Leave a comment

Another Thorny Issue

It is one of those glorious days in Pensacola. I love winter here anyway, I love the cold temperatures and a chance to wear some of my old German sweaters and coats, but today, the threat of deep freeze seems past, it is just warm enough to prune the roses and the bougainvilleas.

I used to garden, I gardened well. I gardened in Seattle, and in Germany, mostly, although I also had gardens in Jordan, and in Qatar. In Qatar, I will admit, my function was mostly to buy the plants and buy the pots and tell the gardener where to place them. He came to my door when I tried to do it myself, and he said “Madam, this is MY job. Please don’t take my work away from me.”

Now that AdventureMan is also a Master Gardener, my gardening responsibilities – and my gardening prerogotives – have declined substantially. I tried gardening when we got here; I can garden just fine in November – April, but the summer heat and humidity and mosquitos defeat me. Oh? Yes? You’ve heard this before? I am so sorry!

I still retain personal interest in the bougainvillea and the roses. I love the bougainvillea, and it is now three years old. I am trying to grow it tall, so it will cascade over the end of my porch area, as it does in the more tropical countries. Yes, it is a challenge.

I also love trimming, rooting, and creating new rose bushes from the beautiful old white rose bush we have, with it’s delicate coloring and scent.

Old White Roses

Old White Roses

I was careful. I wore leather globes. But when you are working with bougainvillea (great big huge thorns!) and with roses (smaller, but equally lethal thorns) you can get very scratched up. I did, indeed, get very scratched up, but I succeeded in getting the bougainvillea gathered and trimmed, some new bougainvillea starts made, and several new rose bushes started. I think next time I will at least wear long sleeves; my Master Gardener suggested long leather gauntlets!

The Master Gardener pruned the roses. 🙂 He had a class in pruning roses a couple weeks ago, and wanted to tackle the roses, but he wanted our marriage to survive. Today was the perfect day; a day we could both be outside. We discovered we have very similar styles in pruning roses, and our marriage is better than intact 🙂

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Gardens, Home Improvements, Marriage, Pensacola, Relationships, Weather, Work Related Issues | 2 Comments

Qatari Amir Buying up Greece

Ah . . . It’s great to be an Amir. And how wonderful, to buy your own wonderland, and help the locals while you are at it, LOL. No plans for development, just use by his wives and children . . . (Thank you again, John Mueller!)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/04/qatar-emir-buys-six-greek-islands

Qatari emir buys six Greek islands for a song

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 4 March 2013 20.23 GMT

The Greek island of Oxia, was the Qatari emir’s first purchase, which cost €5m.
The suitor is one of the world’s wealthiest men; the location happens to be the eurozone’s poorest country. But in an unlikely coming together of economic circumstances, the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has opted to splash out €8.5m (£7.35m) on six idyllic isles in the Ionian sea.

Closure of the deal – the latest in a global shopping spree that has seen the sheikh’s property portfolio spread from London to Beijing – has been met with glee in Greece, the west’s most bankrupt state, and Doha, where the royal household experienced 18 months of excruciating drama to take possession of the outcrops.

“Greece is that kind of place,” said Ioannis Kassianos, Ithaca’s straight-talking Greek-American mayor. “Even when you buy an island, even if you are the emir of Qatar, it takes a year and a half for all the paperwork to go through.”

The isles, known as the Echinades, caught the oil-rich monarch’s fancy when he moored his super-yacht in the turquoise waters off Ithaca, took in the view and liked what he saw. That was four summers ago.

Qatar’s Emir and his wife. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters
When the royal eventually got off the yacht, he inquired about the pine-covered chain as he strolled about Ithaca in sandals and shorts. “They have a fund with a couple of hundred million in it,” enthused Kassianos, a former US economics professor who assumed the mayorship of Homer’s fabled isle three years ago. “And as far as I know they want to buy all 18 of the islands, the whole lot.”

The purchase, the biggest private investment in Greece, appears to have been a windfall for the emir, who drove a hard bargain in a market where investors are few and far between. The first island, Oxia, initially came with a price tag of €7m before its Greek-Australian owners agreed to let it go for just under €5m. Last week, Denis Grivas, whose family has owned the title deeds to the other five almost since the foundation of modern Greece, also settled on a price.

“The islands have been in my family for over 150 years but we are not rich enough to be able to keep such valuable properties any longer,” he said, ruing the soaring taxes the crisis-hit Greek state has slapped on real estate. “We are very, very happy to see them go. They have been on the market for nearly 40 years.”

With their pristine beaches, ancient olive orchards and natural coves, the uninhabited isles are “an ideal opportunity for a solid business investment with unlimited possibilities”, says the high-end “private island online” site, describing the properties as Mediterranean pearls. “The potential for development is very big … from developing tourist-style Club Meds or hotel facilities, to villas to sell or rent.”

But the Gulf royal does not appear in any mood to create tourist resorts on the retreats. Instead, said Kassianos, his aim is to build palaces for the exclusive pleasure of his 24 children and three wives. The architects have already moved in, drawing up plans to create a private idyll, although he has run into trouble with Greek law.

“There is a stupid law because in Greece we do everything upside down,” lamented Kassianos. “That law says that whatever the size of your land, your home can be no bigger than 250 sq m. The emir has reacted to this saying his WC is 250 sq m and his kitchen alone has to be 1,000 sq m, because otherwise how is he going to feed all his guests?”

To appease the locals, the Qatari, who is also being heavily courted by the government to invest in Greece, has promised to come bearing gifts. “His people said ‘what present can we give you?’ and I said the island needs water desperately,” said Kassianos. “A study to lay a pipeline from the mainland is already under way. That’s not bad when we’ve been trying to get a new port here for the past 40 years.”

The emir plans to moor his yacht off his new property this summer. Locals on Ithaca are getting ready. An honorary citizenship beckons along with a feast fit for a very modern Homeric hero.

“The next time he comes we hope to get him and his family off his yacht and into our restaurants,” said Ithaca’s mayor.

Emir’s Grecian passion

This is not the first time the 56-year-old emir of Qatar has shown interest in Greece. Three years ago, when the country’s economic crisis erupted, the Gulf kingdom pledged to invest as much as €5bn in real estate, tourism, transport and infrastructure, including habours and airports. But perennial delays and the perils of Greece’s Byzantine bureaucracy were such that Qatar pulled out of the projects.

Last month, following a visit to Doha by the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, interest was rekindled when Qatar signed up to take part in an international tender to develop Athens’ former international airport at Elliniko, one of the most sought after slices of real estate in Europe. The Gulf state has also shown interest in purchasing the famous beachfront Astir Palace hotel, once a stomping ground for celebrities outside the capital.

The emir may be rich but he is business savvy. He had wanted to buy the Ionian isle of Skorpios, where Jackie Kennedy married Aris Onassis. The deal fell through when the late shipowner’s granddaughter, Athina Onassis, refused to come down in price. She is selling for €200m.

• This article was amended on 5 March 2013. The original referred to one of the most sort after, rather than sought after, slices of real estate in Europe. This has been corrected.

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Financial Issues, Holiday, Home Improvements, Qatar, Shopping, Social Issues | , , | Leave a comment

Thought While Not Moving

We’ve been in Pensacola three years this month, or anyway, I have. AdventureMan retired, but went back twice to help out and to start things up on a major contract. He was retired, but useful.

The longest we’ve ever stayed in any one place was 6 years. The second longest was 4.5 years. There were some 6 month places, 10 month places, and three years was a long posting. I feel the internal clock ticking; I am cleaning out closets and drawers. No, I am not packing. No, I am not moving, but the habits are still there and don’t go away. Go through everything. Weed and cull. Pass along. Give away. Evaluate.

AdventureMan is fully engaged in a very different life from before, and it requires some adjustment – for both of us. You’d think my life wouldn’t be that different, I still do aqua aerobics, I spend time doing volunteer work, serving the church, meeting up with other quilters, etc., same life, different location, right? No No Noooooooooooooooooooo!

Take the spice drawers. AdventureMan still tells the story of when we first got married and I did my first big grocery shopping, setting up household. As he lugged bags and bags into the house, he jokingly asked if I had everything (his bachelor refrigerator kept beer cold; there was nothing else in it!) and I said no, that I had groceries, but I would have to go back for spices.

When I got back with two bags full of herbs and spices and cooking things like baking powder and baking soda, he was wide-eyed. He was thinking “salt . .. pepper . . . what else is there?” He still laughs about it, lo, these forty years later.

Three years in Pensacola has given me time to think about the spice drawers. They frustrated AdventureMan, and he offered to re-arrange them more logically, which almost started a nuclear war in our family dynamics. Logically, he is now doing more cooking and he should have more input, but it is really, really hard for me to give up territory in the kitchen, and, well, AdventureMan can be a little bit aggressive in amassing his territory.

But, after three years, I agree, the spice drawers are not working, and one reason is I got this state-of-the-art rubberized drawer liner, but it crept back and made the spices rise up and then the drawers got stuck open or closed and it really was frustrating.

Yesterday, I had the house to myself and because I hadn’t planned it, it wasn’t something I dreaded, I just started fiddling with the spice drawers, just editing, getting rid of some really old stuff, combining duplicates and . . . well, because I hadn’t put it on the “To Do List” it was fun. So much fun I decided to go all the way, take out the annoying rubberized liner and have some fun.

I’ve always loved great drawer liners. Good thing, huh? I’ve lined a LOT of drawers. There are some wonderful liners out there, but I love to use wrapping paper. Every now and then I’ll see a design I love, or something that thrills my heart. Because I moved so often, I knew it wasn’t a lifetime commitment, so I just had fun with it. And that is what I did yesterday.

I have some great wrapping paper I brought back that I went to a lot of trouble to get, flying down from Kuwait to Doha to go to the American Women’s Bazaar in November, where I knew there would be the vendor from Saudi Arabia who makes and sells these quirky, whimsical Arabic-themed wrapping papers that I loved to use for all the Christmas gifts and house-guest gifts I would take back three or four times a year. I hand carried several rolls of this paper back to Kuwait, then shipped it back to Doha when we moved back there, then shipped it again, carefully protected, to Pensacola when we retired.

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Here in Pensacola, however, it seems less and less relevant. I don’t use it to wrap my Christmas gifts like I used to because the gifts are no longer exotic surprises from the Middle East. And I still have a lot of this paper, paper which delights me, but for which I have no real purpose . . .

So I decided I would use it to line my spice drawers. I can see it every day and smile. It is making itself useful, and two or three years down the road when it is worn and needs replacing, I can find something else that delights my heart.

When AdventureMan comes in, I am just finishing up. I warn him, because he, like me, likes to know where things are.

“What’s the logic?” he asks, and I think “this is one of the reasons I married him; he knows to ask the most pertinent question.”

“Here are whole spices, seeds, peppers,” I tell him as I indicate a section, “and here are exotics, spices from the Gulf and Jordan and Tunisia. This section is grill mixtures and all kinds of chili powders and Creole mixes. Over here you have aromatics and baking spices, and here are the Italian and French herbs. The last section is onion and garlic powders and salts, flavored salts of all kinds, and frequently used multi-use herbs.”

He totally got it. 🙂

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00SpiceDrawer2

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cooking, Doha, ExPat Life, Experiment, Food, Home Improvements, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Moving, Pensacola, Shopping | | Leave a comment

Payback is a Bummer

People all around Pensacola are dropping like flies; the weather fluctuates between hot and humid and cold and dry, with thunderstorms marking the boundaries, and there are colds and flu popping up everywhere. I’ve flown serenely through the season without much problem, just a little four day cold around Christmas, feeling thankful for my strong immune system. I may have been a little smug.

And then, WHAM, it hit. One minute I was in a meeting, and the next, as I headed home, I was sniffing and reaching for a tissue. It quickly got worse. It was one of those nights where you can’t sleep because you are drowning in your own mucus. I know, I know, too much information, too graphic. Trust me, the reality has been worse. I stayed in bed most of Friday, and Saturday, when I was feeling better, we discovered our water heater has sprung a leak. All that mopping up was probably good exercise; once we got all the water up we were OK. Yesterday, my sniffles had turned into aching, irritated sinuses, so I spent the day putting warmth on my face.

This morning, we have the plumbers coming in with a new water heater, I feel marginally better, and I know I will feel a LOT better once I can get a hot shower 🙂

There was a huge blessing in all this. Our calendars for January and February are full, winter is the active season in Pensacola. We have events, we have commitments, and we have house guests coming. In the entire period, I only had five dates with no obligations, and that was this weekend. It’s a strange thing to be thankful for, but I thank God to be sick during a time when I can stay home and take care of myself, and I don’t have to call anyone and renege on an obligation.

It’s also wonderful that if the water heater was going to go (and it is ten years old) it burst while we were here, and we were able to stop the flow and mop up the water before it caused a lot of damage. We had a water heater go out several homes ago, while we were out of town, and oh, what a mess we came back to, and it took forever to get all the carpeting dried out and replaced. It’s wonderful that we could take care of this BEFORE our house guests start arriving.

water_heater

We’ve been exploring tankless heaters; our heater is smack in the center of the house, a terrible location, where, if it goes, it can cause a lot of damage. We’ll go ahead with a regular old-fashioned heater this time, but suddenly, we have some urgency to trying to install tankless – maybe in the next couple of years. We had tankless heaters in Germany, and in the Middle East; we are used to them and comfortable with the idea. I like the idea of not keeping water warm when we are not using it, and heating it only when we do. I also like the idea of not having gallons and gallons of water spilling into my kitchen, dining room, living room and family room when the tank goes 😦

I miss my energy . . . I no longer feel smug, no longer assured of my good health. I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to be normal, without sinus pain, without this thick-headed draggy feeling. I think I’m on the mend; the last three days I couldn’t even begin to think about writing a blog entry . . .

January 28, 2013 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Survival, Weather | 4 Comments

Luxurious Blessing

I was making a salad to go with today’s lunch and remembered AdventureMan warning me we were just about out of roasted pecans, and needed more. It is a cool – almost cold – rainy rainy day in Pensacola, a perfect day for cranking up the oven to roast some pecans. We still have a wealth of pecans from a generous donation made by my dear daughter-in-law’s Texas aunt, who has a heart as big as Texas.

As I roast the pecans (425°F for about 10 minutes) the house becomes fragrant with that luxurious smell. I am transported back to Kuwait, where I remember paying a fortune for a small packet of pecans I needed to bake a pecan pie. Normally, we didn’t even bother looking at the prices, but the price on those pecans was so high I really had to think about buying them, it’s like paying an extortionist. But I needed pecans. I paid.

Now, we have this luxurious blessing of pecans, and not just pecans, but these fresh, fragrant, tasty Texas pecans, and as they roast, they are blessing my entire house with a rich roasty fragrance. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. This wonderful aunt gave us this wealth of pecans, and the gift just keeps on giving and giving, through the Christmas season, well into January – and we still have pecans left. I’ve paid a lot more and gotten a lot less joy from a purchase. I think of this wonderful woman and her gift every time we use them.

00Pecans

Yes, I roasted a lot of pecans, because we sprinkle them on all kinds of things, and that roasted flavor just enriches everything they touch. Yes, they keep in an air-tight container, for as long as it takes for us to eat them, which can be two or three weeks.

And here is the salad, post-pecans but pre-salad dressing:

00SaladWithPecans

It’s another luxurious blessing. About twelve years ago, when we had a posting in Germany, we packed everything into storage and just bought what we needed to live with. As days go by, however, you – or I, anyway – just need a few little things to make life nice. You pick up a few gorgeous dessert plates here, a few Christmas ornaments there . . . some cookie sheets, just a little extra, and before you know it, life is no longer so simple. To help keep it simple, I mostly bought things I could just leave behind when we left the country to head to the next country, or I transported things home in those big bags we used to be able to take on the transoceanic flights. I ended up having to rent a storage locker in Seattle for all the treasures I accumulated in our second round of overseas living, LOL.

The first year we were living once again in Germany, as we were buying some wardrobe units, I spotted two salad / serving bowls at IKEA. They aren’t costly porcelain, they are just ceramic bowls, but I love the shape, and inside each one are two beautiful purply-blue irises. I looked at them and loved their conception, their design. I pointed them out to AdventureMan, and then promptly forgot them. Because he is a very smart man, I found them under the Christmas tree a few months later, and was thrilled to recognize them. We have both treasured them ever since.

With each subsequent move, I carefully wrapped those bowls and used them again and again at each posting. We pull them out all the time, these bowls are a perfect size for a salad-to-share or a side dish, and to this day, they look like new. It makes me laugh; I’ve had much more expensive dishes which were not so long for this world; these are go-to serving bowls, and still look brand new.

So today I am feeling extraordinarily thankful for the great luxury of pecans, the wonderful aroma of their roasting, and the great blessing of serving them in a bowl which gives us joy every time we use them.

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cooking, Cultural, ExPat Life, Germany, Home Improvements, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Moving, Random Musings, Recipes, Thanksgiving, Travel | 4 Comments

January Garden in Pensacola

AdventureMan, half way to his goal of becoming a Master Gardener, spent the last week cleaning out the pots and gardens in back, but couldn’t bear to get rid of these two valiant tomato plants which continue bearing well into January. We’ve had delicious tomatoes since August! Who know we would live in a place where you plant tomato seeds in June and continue to have fresh tomatoes growing into January?

00AMsJanuaryTomatoes

00AMsJanuaryTinyTomatoes

We also have a wonderful aloe plant, which got a little confused in the warmth of a couple days of December and sent up a flower. The first year we were here, the flowers came up in April, but Spring seems to be coming earlier and earlier . . .

00AloeThinkSpring

We’re having a little tree work done, and AdventureMan is studying pruning techniques, so as to judiciously and minimally trim back some of our fruit trees, and clear some of the dead branches off our huge oak tree. I’ve got two avocado trees that I’ve grown from seeds, in large pots now, and some basil plants that still appear to be doing well. I still remember the hedges made of basil, which grew year round in Qatar at the Ramada Hotel, and in Kuwait would go dormant during the brutal heat of summer but come roaring back once the heat moderated.

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Doha, Education, Entertainment, Exercise, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Gardens, Home Improvements, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Weather | Leave a comment