Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A God of Infinite Mercy

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.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Jordan, Language, Leadership, Living Conditions, Middle East, Moving, Pensacola, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual, Tunisia | 4 Comments

Too Much Month at the End of the Money

First, let me set it straight – we have enough. We have plenty. We have planned and saved, by the grace of God, we are doing OK.

Second, even after a year of being ‘retired,’ and those of you who know us know that retired and ‘retired’ are not quite the same – even after a year, we have yet to have a normal month.

So when AdventureMan asked how we were doing, I told him fine, but we are watchful. He asked me to explain.

For several years, living the expat life in Qatar and Kuwait, we didn’t pay for our own housing, or utilities, or my husband’s car. There was always, literally, more than enough, and at the end of every month, I wrote a check to savings, even though we were automatically banking savings. It’s not like we stayed home and ate cheese and crackers, as you know from this blog – it’s just we didn’t have a lot of expenses, nor a lot of major purchases, nor a lot of repairs, nor upkeep – all the things that drain a normal monthly income.

So when AdventureMan asked, I told him it was kind of like when we were young; I am having to make sure we maintain a minimum balance in our accounts (this year the banks changed the rules, and if you weren’t paying attention, you could end up paying huge monthly charges, like I found a monthly ‘service’ charge of (are you sitting down?) $25 on one of our checking accounts.

$25! A month! I talked to the bank, they fixed it. But what if I weren’t paying attention? A charge of $25/mo adds up quickly. That’s like . . . robbery!

So now I am trying to pay attention to the rules, trying to keep repairs up, trying to make sure insurance bills are paid (there sure is a lot of insurance to be paid, and Florida is the WORST state for insurance, except maybe California, and I am not talking knowledgeably here, just talking about how it feels to be insuring a house in Florida. Like in Florida, you buy ‘hazard’ insurance – you know, like fire and things like that – from one company, and then flood insurance from a government insurer, and then ‘high wind’, insurance talk for HURRICANE insurance, from yet another – it feels like another kind of robbery), car maintenance, utility bills, oh holy smokes, I’m learning all the rules all over again.

And taxes! As expats, we got a significant exclusion on our income tax, but we no longer meet the residency requirement, so when AdventureMan does a stint overseas, it isn’t the same, now we pay TAXES. Lots of TAXES. oh Aarrgh.

The bright spot in all this is that after all these years of being focused on work goals, AdventureMan has the time to focus on many of these issues, and is taking on insurance, and health insurance, and taxes – all the things I hated the most. God bless him, God bless him mightily! Wooo HOOOO (she dances around the room), I don’t have to do taxes!

We are still trying to save, to keep our reserves high, against some unseen disaster, like $4/gallon gas for example, (LOL!) or hurricanes, or earthquakes (another house is in an earthquake zone) so we agreed on what we thought we could live on per month, and now it is not quite the end of the month. We are not at the end of our money for the month, but it isn’t like the old days, when I am going to be writing a big check to savings. It’s kind of funny, to be paying attention again, and honestly, it’s kind of fun.

April 26, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Humor, Hurricanes, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Moving, Pensacola, Work Related Issues | 5 Comments

The YaYas

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.

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Moving, Pensacola, Women's Issues | 4 Comments

Anniversary and Punch List

It’s been a year since we bought the house. We had to have it entirely rewired before we moved in, and now, we are so glad we took that time and spent that money; the insurance companies have gotten more and more finicky about insuring houses in Florida. One of the newest causes for non-renewal is aluminum wiring, which is what we had taken out and replaced with copper wiring, not cheap, we can tell you.

We are so glad our contractor made that recommendation. For one thing, we sleep well at night, knowing the wiring is new and well-installed. For another thing, it was good to get it done while we had nothing in the house, and the workers had easy access to everywhere they needed to tear out walls, rewire, put back walls, etc.

Do you make lists? I have a list I made in November, and today I finished off the list. It had unfinished tasks going back to the move-in. You prioritize, you know? Even when you have accomplished the most important things, sometimes it is just too overwhelming to tackle the next thing so you take a break . . . and that break can stretch.

The little plumbing things are all done. Every single one. Wooo HOOOO. The final light fixtures are all up. Woooo HOOOOO! The outside watering system is working, woooo HOOO, and we have a guy helping us restart our lawn – wooo HOOOO!

It’s kind of like having a baby. If you think about all the things that need to be done before you do it, you might have second thoughts. It’s all-consuming, and it can be exhausting, emotionally and physically and financially. Just like having a baby!

And, now that I have come to the end of my punch-list, I would celebrate, except that new things are cropping up – the gutters, the drainage, the driveway, the air conditioning . . . nothing that needs to be done, no emergencies, but all which need some attention, some fine tuning, so that we are not dealing with an unexpected disaster.

It’s not like Trust Towers in Kuwait, where we lived in Fintas, or Al Fardan Gardens in Qatar, where we could just call the management if anything went wrong, and someone would show up to fix it. Now, we have to think about what we want, how much we are willing to pay, and we have to make decisions.

We are waiting for the air conditioning man to come. The electricians have told us that the inside and outside units (the expensive pieces) are fine; it is the thermostat that needs replacing, so we have to have the A/C people replace that. Meanwhile, I think I will sit back and enjoy our new light fixture.

Here is what I love. AdventureMan and I are so often on the same track. We wanted traditional – a crystal chandelier – but we didn’t want elaborate, we wanted simple lines, not a lot of embellishment. When we found this, we both knew it at once – welcome home, new light fixture!

And here is one other thing we love. Through our contractor, we met the best people. The plumber is good, and thorough, and honest. The electricians are good, and hard working, and serious. They are all knowledgeable professionals, people we can trust.

The electrician didn’t want to charge us. He said these were leftover tasks from last year. We insisted – a year later, this is on us, not on them. We fiddled around a whole year looking for what we wanted; it’s not fair to not pay after a whole year.

Sometimes we just feel so blessed, having come to this broad and spacious place, Pensacola.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Technical Issue, Values, Work Related Issues | 6 Comments

“You Seem Happy Here – Are You?”

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.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | Aging, Community, Cooking, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Gardens, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Relationships | 4 Comments

Outrageous Mortgage “Servicing”

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.

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Customer Service, Financial Issues, Moving | 8 Comments

Things Get Done

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.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Pets, Qatteri Cat, Random Musings | 4 Comments

Organization and Settling In

We’ve only been back a week, but we’ve spent this time unpacking, cleaning things up, sorting out things we don’t need, finding places for things and putting things up. AdventureMan is having a lot of fun, he bought this beautiful tent hanging which just exactly fits around three of the walls in his office and the entry:

He spent a day putting tiny nails into the wall while I sewed a cord for hanging onto the back of the band. He has it up now, and he loves it. He also put up some pictures on the wall and instituted a recycle basket and a shred basket. He is so organized:

He put together another set of cubicles for me so I can keep order in my closet:

We are people who need order in our lives; we live chaotic lives in an ordered environment. :-)

September 21, 2010 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola | 2 Comments

Spokane and the Grill-Creamery

“Hey! AdventureMan said, “how about barbeque?”

“Sounds good to me,” I responded. After years of doing without, we are still vulnerable to the siren sound of barbecue.

On entering the parking lot, we got a clearer view of the sign.

Hmmm. Nope. Not quite what we had in mind.

Not sure where we were going, we drove further into the strip mall and there we found it:

Quirky. Individual. Not your franchise . . . just what we like, something new. It doesn’t always work out, but this one was pretty good. I had the Moussaka, and AdventureMan had the Gyros:

After dinner we hit the Spokane Fred Meyer where I found just exactly the right pants I was looking for – long pants for the Happy Baby, who is now crawling, and very very fast, so fast he gets rug burns on his knees. I always love shopping at Fred Meyers, especially when what I want is on sale, and then they take money off the sale price. Wooo HOOO, it brings out the cave woman in me, bringing home the bargain!

Leaving Spokane, the scenery changes again, back to warm and toasty, with lakes and windmill farms:

As we near Seattle, we see the Cascades, and Mt. Rainier:

The rest of the day wouldn’t interest you. It was hard work. When we opened up our storage locker, I looked at it in dismay . . . how had I let so much stuff accumulate over the last few years? I had survival stuff – laundry detergent, hair shampoo, a back up hair dryer, fingernail polish remover, envelopes, wrapping papers and ribbons, and all kinds of treasures I have brought back with each trip from overseas, to store until we live once again in Seattle. Now, we must get rid of what we can, and take the rest to Pensacola. Oh aargh. It was hard work.

We were rewarded with a beautiful Seattle sunset:

September 3, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Living Conditions, Moving, Shopping, Travel | 4 Comments

Short Day to Spokane

After breakfast, we hit the road early, stopping after a couple hours for a leg stretch and coffee. The weather is in the 50′s as we hit the road, and we are both ready for a warm-up. I was all set to order my normal ‘short non-fat Mocha, no whip cream,’ when I saw that they already have the fall specials on the menu, and oh, I love Pumpkin Pie Spice Latte . . .

While the roads are nearly empty, just us and an occasional truck, or pickup, the weather has turned ugly, rain coming down in drizzle, or torrents, or sheets, changing by the minute. By the time we stopped for lunch, I was ready to give up the driver’s seat.

Lunch was at the Fat Belly Deli, in Alberton, Montana, where we had Turkey Pastrami and Swiss sandwiches, oh, and ummm. . . . fries. They were having a little trouble getting the fryer hot enough to fry the fries, so I had time to take a couple photos:

On our way in, AdventureMan spotted a huge used book store – like catnip for cats, we could not resist. I found a copy of Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s book “A View of the Nile.” If you have never read Elizabeth Warnock Fernea (Guests of the Sheikh, A Street in Marrakesh) read her biography in the link above. She was an amazing woman, who shared her insights in a very readable way. A View of the Nile is hard to find. I want it for my lending library. AdventureMan and I both found books. . . Too many books. We had to drag ourselves away.

(Update: AdventureMan reminds me that HE found the Fernea book and asked me if I wanted it. I promised to correct this entry and give him proper credit. :-) )

Soon we left soggy Montana to enter an equally soggy Idaho, although the weather cleared by the time we got to Coeur d’Alene:

By the time we hit Spokane, the sun is out and we are starting to feel warm once again. We could go on; we have gained an hour, but we see another Mariott Residence Inn along the road and decide to hit the pool and kick back for the rest of the day, with another short day on the road tomorrow to get us to Seattle, where the hard work will begin. We have accounts to close, a storage locker to clear, rugs to gather and plastic carrier boxes to pack. We are hoping we can get everything into AdventureMan’s Barcelona Red (the name of his Rav4) for the long haul back to Pensacola.

Our reward for good behavior will be a few meals with friends and family before we depart. We are looking forward to that part. :-)

September 1, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Books, ExPat Life, Hot drinks, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Seattle, Shopping, Travel | 5 Comments

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