Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Addicted to Change?

Today I attended a meeting at which there was a program on surviving change and thriving through it. The speaker described change as that which happens outside your control, and transition as that which you do to adapt to the change that is happening. A change can be positive if you have chosen it, or negative, if someone else has made a choice, or something has happened, over which you have no control or input, but it impacts on you.

Interesting, huh?

I’m not all that good at listening for very long, so my mind drifted to all the moves I’ve made (31) and all the adapting I’ve done. I didn’t mind the moving so much; I was good at it. Toward the end, the packing up became oppressive as I took more and more of it into my own hands. I had my reasons, as I learned that no matter how ‘caring’ the movers are promoted as being, they don’t care about my things the way I do.

First bad surprise: my son’s engraved silver baby cup disappearing. Those packing ladies showed up with great big handbags. I should have known. Thirty years later I am still fuming over the loss of that cup.

Second major bad surprise: We watched everything carefully packed up and crated, but when we got to the next post we discovered someone had changed the orders and UNCRATED our goods so they could go by air, without re-packing all the fragile goods, so everything came loose. What a mess. Furniture cracked and broken, irreplaceable friable Tunisian pottery in pieces, broken, broken broken, good and bad alike. Oh aarrgh.

Third bad surprise – my riding boots thrown in on top of my formal gowns. Shock and horror.

Slowly, slowly I began packing up my precious things inside other things, so no-one would ever see them. I began packing up my own clothes, which made it a whole lot easier to unpack; like was together with like. Movers would sometimes take clothes to cushion things, so you’d find sweaters wrapped around dishware or decorative items.

Last really bad surprise: Everything was carefully packed, but one box didn’t make it. I had packed the box myself – it was full of quilting books, books I used to teach quilting in Qatar and Kuwait, books which had new ideas and techniques. I knew no one wanted those books, but someone had dumped the box because, I imagine, they didn’t want to carry it, or it didn’t fit in the crate, or . . . I will never know. Those books were worth thousands of dollars, and some were private issue or out of print and irreplaceable.

There is nothing you can do about human malice, or random bad luck.

It just made me more and more compulsive, as I tried to control more and more so as not to have damage or loss, or just to help the move be more organized. It was a choice. I knew I didn’t have to work that hard, but I chose it, to have more control over what got lost or damaged. There is always a point, though, where you realize you don’t ever, not ever, have perfect control, and if you try, you can just make yourself crazy. You have to let it go.

Then, there is the moving in.

I was good at it. When it came to putting things away, it was always get the beds set up first, and made up. Everything was carefully labeled. Put the flatware in the flatware drawer, have a couple pots and pans and a few time-tested utensils. All the boxes are marked for the right room, and then – it’s just one box at a time, one room at a time, and you just stick at it until it’s finished.

Except for the move to Qatar, when I got sick and my angel friend came and unpacked my quilt room and put everything away. If you are a quilter, you will know what kind of effort that was, LOL! I also had a maid who was more like a friend. She was always doing more than I told her to do, God just made her heart that way, and she took care of tearing down all the boxes and saving all the paper, a task that makes me crazy, and as she did it she showed so much grace.

But now, it’s been two years since my last move. The possibility of Hurricane Isaac helped me deal with some of the time-to-move heebie-jeebies. AdventureMan asked if he needed to buy me a new house. (Our joke was always that I was low maintenance; I didn’t want big jewels or high end clothing, just buy me a house now and then, LOL!) No, I don’t need a new house. I need to handle this cold turkey; I’ve become so addicted to change that I’m not very good at settling down. The only way you can get good at something is to practice it. I need to more practice at this being settled, but oh, it is so uncomfortable for me.

Here are some rolling stone kind of songs, no not Rolling Stones, but rolling stone, as in Mama was a Rolling Stone, LOL.

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Hurricanes, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Qatar | 2 Comments

Just a Little Less Alien

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?

February 23, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Community, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola | 9 Comments

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

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!

November 7, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Books, Character, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, France, Living Conditions, Moving, NonFiction, Shopping | 2 Comments

Listmaker

“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:

fruit cake
kick board
book
peanut brittle
photos in frames
calendar
soap”

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.:-)

June 6, 2011 Posted by | Character, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Marketing, Moving, Pensacola, Shopping, Values | 2 Comments

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

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