It’s great having friends who all returned to the USA after our years of living in Qatar (and Kuwait) so we can share our experiences, our frustrations, our challenges. It’s been two years for me since AdventureMan and I made the big decision to retire, and in Pensacola, not Edmonds, WA.
Pensacola is a pretty cool place to be retired. One of the best things, after living in Kuwait especially, is the traffic. People might complain, but the traffic here is laughable. It’s very calm. Traffic might be waiting two lights at a stoplight, but hey – people wait, don’t just drive right through. No one has ever pushed me into a round about, or anywhere else, unlike Qatar, when I got in some young man’s way, and he pushed me out of his way (!)
When you go to the symphony, or to church, or to aqua aerobics, in the worst traffic it might take ten minutes. There are restaurants everywhere, many of them pretty good. The worst restaurants are usually better, cleaner, faster than most of the restaurants in Kuwait and Qatar. The only cuisine we have not been able to find here is Ethiopian, and we can drive to Atlanta or New Orleans and get that.
It’s been two years . . . there is something in me that starts getting a little restless, starts looking at my household goods with an eye to getting rid of, giving away, cutting down on weight. At the very least I might have to paint something, or change the furniture around . . .
My friends are suffering many of the same challenges, the challenge of being an expat back in the USA. What was formerly comfortable is not such a good fit anymore; we have changed, and we are trying to cobble together lives that can accomodate the changes.
I had a minor triumph; I realized that after two years, I am starting to have people I can go sit with when I walk into a crowded venue. It may sound like a small thing, but the fear of having to sit alone in a crowd where everyone is visiting and sharing is a little daunting. Who wants to look pathetic?
But my expat friends and I laugh; in expat world two years makes you an old-timer. When new people come in, you are expected to show them around, show them where (and how) to shop for things, where to get things fixed, altered, where to go to pay your bills and how to pay them. Two years makes you and old hand, often with one foot out the door, getting ready for the next posting or contract.
Three of my friends went back to their home locations, only AdventureMan and I settled in a new place. While I am making some progress, two years in, I still wonder who my friends will be? Will I ever feel at home in Pensacola?
I wish I had more self-discipline, and read more heavy weight books, but what I find is that when I read heavy non-fiction these days, it falls over when I fall asleep. Mostly, I read the New Yorker, or catch up with my news online, while listening to NPR.
I don’t know how I got My Life in France, if I ordered it or if I bought it in B&N. I’ve had it for a while. We’ve always loved Julia Child; her programs were a hoot, and she was an accomplished woman who never took herself too seriously. I will never forget one time I saw her on a Martha Stewart Christmas Special; they were doing a tall Croquembouche, and at one point, Julia was not throwing on the caramelized sugar strings the way Martha wanted her to and she grabbed the little thrower-thing out of Julia’s hand to show her how. I gasped! That is like grabbing a spoon from the Queen of England, no! No! You can’t grab a spoon from Julia Childs! You can’t show Julia Childs how to do it, Martha, you BOW to Julia Childs!
Julia Childs, classy woman that she was, just watched Martha with fascination and never showed an ounce of annoyance.
The book is hilarious. While alive, she worked with her grandson, Alex Prud-homme, gathering correspondence – she was a copious letter writer, and people in those days kept their snail mail to refer back to, the way we keep e-mails. They sat in her sunny garden, and he would ask her a few questions, and off she would go, regaling him with stories of people, places, occasions, parties, and especially FOODS.
Julia Childs worked for the OSS in World War II, the forerunner to the CIA. Stationed in India, she met her husband, and after the war ended, they married. Stifled in her California life, and and Paul jumped at a chance to live overseas. Imagine – Paris! She had to adapt to a totally different way of life, totally different living space, a totally different way of shopping for food, and she had to learn to cook. Since she was in Paris, and because she is the woman she is, she signed up for cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu, where she worked hard to master the techniques to successfully produce the sauces and delicate flavors which makes French cuisine so delicious.
She also moves to Marseilles, to post-war Germany, and to Norway, and manages to produce two books, each of which took, literally, years to finalize, because of her attention to detail, and wanting to make sure that women using her books could understand exactly what to do, and when to do it.
This is a really fun book. I would have loved to know this adventurous, courageous woman, who meticulously tested every recipe for Mastering the Art of French Cooking and changed the lives of serious cooks in America. No, I have never cooked from her book. No, I don’t have her book. I have a Larousse Gastronomique, from which she worked to get the ‘true’ Frenchness of French cooking, but I don’t have any cook books by Julia. I have put out a hint, though, and I am hoping to get one for Christmas. Not just for me – AdventureMan is making serious inroads into adventurous cooking. He has mastered blackened fish tacos, and seared tuna, woo hoooo! He is working on the ultimate cornbread. Just wait until I get him started on the quintessential French Onion Soup, or even – maybe – French bread!
“Why are you smiling?” AdventureMan asked as he read the Sunday paper on our bed, the ceiling fan whirling madly to cool him down after his post-Church yard work – feeding the birds, shoveling up all the birdseed hulls, putting recycle materials into the compost bin.
I was doing something I do only rarely, changing purses. At the last minute, all in navy, I decided to do the navy purse instead of the tan. Now, back home, I was re-transfering all the important things, and checking pockets for stuff that accumulates and needs to be thrown away.
“I found a list,” I began. “It says:
photos in frames
He laughed. “I know exactly what that was, “he remembered, “my Christmas box.”
More specifically, my tag on the outside of the box reminding me of what was inside when I had to affix a customs tag to send the box to hubby in Kuwait. These days, as I send boxes, I (mostly) no longer have to fiddle with customs tags or leaving the box open until I get to the post office so that customs officers can affirm what I included in the box. Every time I send a box, still, I think of those customs tags and give thanks not to have to do those irksome little steps.
I keep my lists now, in a folder marked, predictably,
To Do Lists
This one goes in there. On days when I feel bad about myself, or overwhelmed, I can look at my to-do lists and have a record that my time was not mis-spent. I can see all the little chores and fix-it projects we have finished, all the dinners we have done, house guests we have had . . . These little to-do lists keep track of the little things you do that take up so much time, and then at the end of the year, you ask yourself “where did the time go.” These help me know that I didn’t waste the time, I used the time, a little here, a little there, to bring order out of chaos in our daily existence, to brighten a life, maybe to help others, or to meet a goal I have already forgotten.
Some of the lists, like the moving lists, remind me of God’s gracious hand in helping me to do the things I’ve had to do, and could never have managed without his help. When I read some of them, I almost laugh out loud thinking “I did all that??”
It also reminds me how very happy I am to have AdventureMan back home with me, not far away at Christmas time.
This morning, Father Neal Goldsborough of Christ Church Pensacola gave a sermon that held us all totally spellbound. It had to do with the fundamentalist preacher who – once again – forecast the coming rapture, which he says was scheduled for yesterday. (I wonder what he has to say today? He was wrong once before, in 1994. Or maybe people were raptured yesterday, but all the folk I know are, like me, sinners who didn’t make the cut.)
Father Neal talked about his service in the chaplain corp overseas, and faiths which exclude based on narrow rules, specific rules, churches and religions who say ‘this is the only way and all the rest of you are damned to everlasting fire” whether they use those words or paraphrases. He pointed to Jesus, who broke the rules of his time and flagrantly spent time with sinners, and the unclean, and showed them by his love and by his actions what the infinite love and mercy and forgiveness of Almighty God looks like.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for me.
Soon, I will be meeting up with three women who are particularly dear to me, friends for many years in Qatar, friends who worshipped at the Church of the Epiphany in Doha, Qatar. The new Anglican Church of the Epiphany is being built on land dedicated to church use by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, and will be used by many denominations.
My friends and I all returned to the USA within months of one another, and have been sending e-mails with “reply to all” as we struggle with our re-entry into our old church communities. We struggle with the hatreds and prejudices and ignorance about our Moslem brothers and sisters, and we struggle with the narrow strictures imposed by our churches and study groups. I thank God to have these wonderful women among whom we can share our dismay and our hurting hearts, and re-inforce the lessons we learned living in a very exotic, and sometimes alien culture, but which had so many wonderful and mighty lessons to teach us. I often joke that in my life, God kept sending me back to the Middle East (Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait) until he saw that I finally got it. My sisters-in-faith were quicker studies than I was.
It was a breath of the Holy Spirit I felt this morning, as Father Neal spoke about God’s mercy, his plan to redeem ALL of his creation, God’s desire for our love and our service. I couldn’t help it, it made me weep with relief to know my church is a church that serves God by including, rather than excluding, and which mercifully welcomes sinners like me.
Here is the really cool part. Christ Church Pensacola has recently begun putting the sermons online. If there is one thing Christ Church has, it is great sermons – and if you want to hear Father Neal’s sermon, you can click HERE, in a few days and you can hear his sermon for yourself. Look for the May 22 sermon by Father Neal Goldsborough.
I see them everywhere. Small groups of women, usually three or four, sitting in church together, heads together over lunch, power walking down the boulevard, at coffee after their tennis matches. You can see the intimacy, the trust – these are women who have grown together over time. They share their secrets. They prop each other up in the bad times. They laugh over their faux-pas.
No, I don’t envy them, nor do I want to become a part of their group. I know my own YaYas will build, and I will have women I love sharing my life here. Meanwhile, I miss my old YaYa’s.
I’ve been here a year now. The one year point, for me, is usually when things start happening. The real friends come along. I start committing and getting involved in my new community. When I think of all the details we have overcome in one year, all the anxieties I had, all the details over which I agonized, I thank God for his mercy and for the peace of mind we have now. Truly, he answered every prayer, and brought us to a good and spacious place.
The landscape designer and I met last year as she toured our garden and helped us identify the plants we have in our garden. She had great ideas, and gave us a lot of help caring for a mature garden. She suggested we live with our yard for a year, and then decide how we want to move forward.
It was the best advice. What looked like a wreck of a garden after last year’s very cold winter came back back with a vengeance. We had fabulous plants, plants the birds and bees and butterflies and hummingbirds all loved to visit. We had a chance to visit other gardens and to see what we like. This year, we have more of a plan, and this lovely lady who has been gardening in Pensacola all her life, helps us fine tune our plans.
We’ve been going around the yard, figuring out where to put a pomegranate tree, a lime tree, a couple hydrangea bushes.
“You seem happy here,” she starts, “Are you?”
“You sound surprised!” I laughed, thinking how many moves I’ve made, and how I really like living near our son, his wife and son. We’ve been here a year now. I make friends slowly, but I actually have a few now.
“I wasn’t sure you would be able to handle the heat,” she confided.
I laughed. “I can’t. There is this wonderful thing called air conditioning. When it gets too hot, I don’t spent much time outside. I’m doing fine.”
It’s been almost a year since we bought the house here. It seems like so much longer, so much has happened. Last night, AdventureMan made a fabulous Bermuda Fish Chowder. Our son’s wife and little Baby Q came by for dinner while our son waited in line at Best Buy for a new iPad2, wooo hooo. He came by as soon as finished the purchase. Life is sweet, and yes, I think I am happy.
We have had our most recent mortgage with PHH, thanks to AdventureMan’s hard work, and this morning, my husband is on the phone with their bureaucratic, less-than-helpful customer service agent.
I hate them. I know it is a sin. I hate these practices.
AdventureMan sent them a check with more than enough to pay off the mortgage. When we checked the status online, we still owed a small amount. Then we saw that although the check was clearly marked “principal only,” PHH had applied part of it to another monthly payment, and then the rest to the principal. (Sleaze bag practice to prolong payment periods.)
“You cannot pay off the loan with a personal check,” the customer service representative says.
“You sent the check to the wrong address; that address is for principal only,” she says, and you can tell she is reading off a script.
AdventureMan asks to speak to her supervisor. She says that is not possible.
This is just an outrage. Every day they can postpone the final payment, they get interest from us. When we have sent more than enough money to cover the principal and all the escrow payments, we get this brick wall.
Personal check? They’ve already cashed the personal check! They have the money! This is outrageous!
We had to deal with the company once before, with another mortgage. Their practices are disgusting. God willing, we will never have to deal with them again.
As many of you who know me may know, I am mildly obsessive-compulsive. I like things to be in their designated space. I like a clean house, down to the baseboards and the hidden places. I suppose it gives me some mystical illusion of control in a world where there is little (I believe) that can be controlled.
I believe my faith is pragmatic; I have learned – at least in my life – that God is in control, and that his plans are far better than my plans, although when I am in the midst of chaos, I have problems clinging to that belief, LOL.
But he sends me messages. As I have ended the old year and started the new year in a frenzy of cleaning out and organizing, I have come across lists from nightmare times in my life, mostly getting ready to move or settling in to a new location. Lists and lists of things to be done, things to be checked on . . . and I am comforted to know that what – at the time – was overwhelming, the details sorted themselves out. Things got done. Little by little, we ate the elephant.
As I came across notes and lists this morning, for buying this house and getting settled in Pensacola, I was able to take a deep breath. We survived. We got it all done. Lists and lists of details, and we got it all done. All of a sudden, things assume their proper perspective, and I thank God for this view of what my life looked like a year ago compared to what it looks like today.
We are settled.
I have friends.
We can pay our bills.
We have a house to live in and cars to drive.
We are in good health, and we have a good doctor.
We have a place where the Qattari Cat can stay when we go out of town.
We are registered voters, and have driver’s licenses and pay our taxes on time (insh’allah.)
We have a strong and rewarding family life, and activities we enjoy.
Life is sweet.