Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Creme Chantilly: Happy Easter, Mom

Easter week, and I allow myself Creme Chantilly with my morning coffee.

Cream whipped with powdered sugar and a little vanilla for Easter morning crepes with the ham and other Easter dishes, it is a bittersweet treat this year; sweet and joyful that we can gather as a family to celebrate Easter, our good health, our hopes for the years to come, and sad, too, because most of what I have learned in terms of meal preparation and entertaining, I learned from my Mom.

My Mom died a year ago this week, in Seattle, one of the earliest victims of the COVID virus. I am still coming to grips with the way she died. When she went into the hospital, they were trying to figure out what this virus was, and how do deal with it. Even those already in Seattle could not visit nor sit by her bed. Flying from Pensacola to Seattle was unthinkable, but such a temptation. She was brave. We all FaceTimed, and she told us we were good, and we were loved. She faced her demise valiantly.

Rest in Peace, Mom. I am thinking of you all this week, and drinking your Creme Chantilly in my coffee.

April 6, 2021 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Easter, Family Issues, Heritage, Hot drinks, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment

Bird in a Basket

We’re home from tutoring, and I ask my granddaughter if she would like some strawberry crepes for an afternoon snack.

“How about Bird in a Basket?” she counters. This girl knows what she wants.

My husband is even better than I am at teaching the grandchildren to cook. He has them doing eggs over easy, eggs sunny side up, omelettes and even baked beans.

She watches me cut the hole, butter the bread and turn on the stove. She is attentive at my elbow as I break the eggs into the holes. (She says she is not ready to do it herself.) And then, as it cooks, she loses interest and runs off to chat with AdventureMan.

She can smell when they are finished; she has the family nose. She handily eats the whole thing!

April 6, 2021 Posted by | Cooking, Cultural, Food, Generational, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | | Leave a comment

Seek the Welfare of the City

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7

29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

We are about to embark on a trip, and as I read the Lectionary readings this morning, I found a verse I found comforting in my life as a nomad, the verse above.

We kept ending up in the Middle East. I wasn’t unhappy about it, but I did wonder why. I trust God has a plan for each one of us; even late in life, however, mine appeared fuzzy, if not opaque. What was the purpose?

The verse above comforted me; I didn’t need to know my purpose, I just needed to live my life, and to pray for the people in the places we were posted. When you pray for people, you find yourself mixed in their lives, they become more real, more understandable. The exiles found themselves in an alien environment, and the Lord tells them to marry, build houses, plant gardens, live normal lives AND to seek the welfare of the alien country and the alien people among which they find themselves. It resonates in my soul.

March 26, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Biography, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual | Leave a comment

The Covid Conversation

It’s been an interesting week. Last week, there was no swimming. It was a welcome break in terms of sleep; no alarm, being lazy (LOL, being lazy is sleeping until 0600 instead of 0530) taking a walk now and then when I needed movement . . .

It was also handy because at my annual skin scan, my adorable dermatologist wrinkled her brow as she looked at me through her magic magnifier and said “Oh! we need to take care of THAT!” and THAT was prominently on my cheek.

(A brief aside because I cannot resist – when I was shown to the exam room, the tech asked if I wanted a gown and I said yes, and then, not being a smart-mouth but because I wanted to understand, I asked “What is the alternative? Like I stand here naked? Do people do that?” Sometimes I really am a stranger in my own land, and maybe I’ve missed some growing lack of self-consciousness? The tech laughed and said “No, there are people who will NOT take their clothes off!” I tried to comprehend that and totally failed. “So what’s the point of a skin scan?” I asked, “How can they be examined?” The tech said “We pull at their clothes a little and look underneath, but yeh, it’s not complete.” Totally boggled my mind.)

I have never been so happy about masking in my life. Having a big crispy spot about the size of a quarter on my cheek makes me feel like a teen-ager again, like every eye will be fixed on my boo-boo.

With my mask covering my big blotch, I got my second COVID vaccination. Yes, I might be suggestible, and then again, I am not a big baby, but my arm was sore almost immediately. By evening, I had chills so bad I was taking hot baths to feel warm enough. I had a headache just between my two eyes, and I was SO tired. The next day, I felt the same. Finally, the second night, I took an Aleve and slept wonderfully. The next morning, I was fine.

So I really needed the week off from swimming. One funny thing about the COVID vaccination, and again, who knows, it may be in my mind, but all of a sudden I have a sharp sense of smell again. It comes from my father’s side of the family, some of us have it and some of us don’t, but I think it had faded, and right now, it is noticeably back again, and oh, what joy it brings me.

So all the health drama is over now, I am back at swimming, and we continue to have work done to make our house safer and more energy efficient. A roof inspector, seeing our stack of photo albums (labeled Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, etc.) asked us if we had ever been to Alaska, and that started a great conversation, one we are hearing over and over as more people get vaccinated.

“We’ve decided we don’t want to wait any longer. We don’t know how many good years we have left. We are going to travel now, while we can,” he said.

He and his wife want to see Alaska. They want to see France. We had a great conversation, and I sent him some information by e-mail.

COVID has had its gifts, and awareness is one of them. Couple after couple have told us the same thing, this feeling of urgency to do it now, while we can.

We have four trips booked. One, a passage from Japan through Kamchatka and the Aleutians and the Alaskan Gulf, we’ve had booked for over a year. Another is a trip which COVID cancelled, but we want to do it and have scheduled it again. Another is coming up soon, a trip with our family to New Orleans, where we will continue to socially distance in a VRBO near Magazine, near the Audubon Zoo, near the Saint Charles trolley and several of our favorite restaurants with our family, and one back out to Yellowstone and Glacier, staying in cabins, mostly with kitchens. We’re good with take-out; in fact we’ve grown to really like it.

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite

It’s not a hardship for us. We are introverts. We travel quietly. We stop and observe. I take photos. At night, I write reviews and research possibilities for the next day’s route. Part of the fun I have in life is finding really fun places to stay, some of which, like El Tovar at the Grand Canyon, or Ahwahnee in Yosemite, (LOL, “Yo! Semite!”) have to book far in advance, like sometimes a year out or more. Right now, several of the most popular cruises are already booked in 2021 and 2022 by people a lot like us, yearning to be back out on the road.

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

People in Florida are concerned about another wave of COVID following Spring Break. I am thinking here we are, all eager to get back on the road, us restless Boomers, and we’ve forgotten the pounding compelling imperatives of youth – meeting, mating, maybe even committing. But that’s another conversation . . .

March 13, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Road Trips, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

“Can’t I Buy You a Diamond?”

“No,” I replied. “How about we buy another house?”

So we did. It’s the house we are living in now, the house we bought, we sold, and we bought back again, and, God willing, I will never move again.

It always cracks him up that I don’t want a diamond. He says it would be cheaper to buy me a big diamond. He is right, but houses are better long term investments.

We had a great division of labor. AdventureMan worked hard, and his career took us to exotic locations, locations we both loved and found intellectually stimulating and challenging to our assumptions. He always chose his jobs in consultation with me.

I handled logistics and finances. I moved us, I packed and unpacked (AdventureMan handled movers on moving days) and I recommended investments, on which we decided together. Until we closed on this house, AdventureMan had never been through the closing process (the first time we had to place a call to the Red Cross in Germany, all planned in advance, who would verify that my husband was alive and well and standing in front of them) so that I could sign the papers with a power of attorney.

So no, diamonds are of no interest to me. I quilt, I cook, I garden, I do upholstery, I strung electrical wires – I work with my hands. When we travel, if I see some little earrings I can’t resist, real gold or real gemstones, we might buy them and they show up in my stocking at Christmas. I am content.

Oh yeh, and I like to buy houses.

AdventureMan knows me well. Last night he looked me deep in the eyes and said “With the pool closed this week, I know you’ll miss the exercise. I am willing to get up as early as eight to walk with you.”

That is a true sacrifice. AdventureMan loves his sleep, and he has earned every moment of it. I have a need to front load my day; I am an early riser and like to get it done. I don’t begrudge his sleeping in after all his years in the military rising at what he called “the crap of dawn,” and I fully appreciate his willingness to get up early and walk with me.

I love walking. This neighborhood is a great neighborhood for walking; the area between the two major thoroughfares are quiet and peaceful. Most of the houses are family owned, people are friendly, and where there are rentals, they are mostly to families with young children who want to be in this particular school district.

We are sort of looking for our next house. No, we are not going to move, but I think this is a really good neighborhood to own a small rental house. We’ve learned how important it is to have a good property manager; we wouldn’t manage it ourselves. I’m looking for something small, something we can clean up and modernize and rent out. I’m not in a hurry; we have enough going on right now with the updates on our current home, but we are who we are – we are people who need projects, who thrive facing a challenge, we are good problem solvers. And I like to have diversity in our investments.

AdventureMan is fully on board. With investments, I am the cautious one, he is more of a risk taker. Together, we do pretty well.

March 1, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Building, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Living Conditions, Marriage, Money Management, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | Leave a comment

Silver Linings

It’s been a funny week. We were supposed to have a new roof put on, but the ongoing rainy weather put the roofing company behind. And when the roofing materials were delivered, there was some drama and some damage, and now we are waiting for replacement pieces and sunny weather and roofers.

I went in to my Dermatologist, a young woman I adore, and she found a couple places that she wanted to hit with the liquid nitrogen “just to be sure.” She had hit one of the places, on my face, before, and nothing happened, so I wasn’t concerned. This time, I felt the impact immediately, and within a half an hour had a dramatic big red spot, reminding me of being a teenager, when you think EVERYONE sees that pimple you can’t hide.

So here is where the silver lining comes in:

In this time of COVID, even here in a very non-compliant part of Florida, the majority of people are masked up, and my mask covers my big boo boo.

Just kidding, this photo is from a time when my niece and I were goofing around talking about how funny life is, and how the niqab (Islamic face covering) has become a necessity, as we protect one another from the contagion of COVID. She did some amazing things with eye make-up, which is what our Moslem friends do.

So today, as I skipped my morning swim and headed for the commissary, I was thankful to be masked. I also am thankful that the pool will be closed the entire week next week, so the one place where I really cannot wear a mask will not even be an issue. I can’t go there. Normally, I would feel bad about missing my swim time, but this week, it will be a good thing.

The silver lining gets better. I also have my second COVID vaccination next week, so I don’t have to worry about trying to be all heroic, trying to overcome how bad I might feel. I have the week off! I can feel as bad as I feel, or feel not bad at all.

I have some brand new shoes, and I love them, they are a Loden green and match the little hooded dress I wore, and – they have heels. I used to wear heels all the time, and then I went to sandals, mostly because I lived in really hot countries. So these shoes fit perfectly, and they are wonderful to walk in; it’s a great day to break in a new pair of shoes. On the way home, my left knee hurts a little and I remember, I also gave up heels because they threw my posture off and first it was my knees and then my hip . . .

They are lovely shoes, and I think I will wear them judiciously. Like to church, or a dinner, or someplace else where a lot of walking will not be required. I’d forgotten how good it feels not to have pain in my knees or hips!

AdventureMan and I used to have lunch out every day; he called it our daily-date, and as we sat in our kitchen today, eating take-out from Tijuana Flats, he looked at me and said “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to eating in restaurants that much, do you?” and I agreed that no, take-out was so easy. We have learned to enjoy it, and it certainly saves a lot of time. If it is cheaper, it is not so much, we still pay for the food, and we tip, we know servers are having a tough time these days, and we’ve always considered tipping to be a karma kind of thing, a cosmic kind of income-redistribution.

Pensacola was hit hard this year, by COVID, by Hurricane Sally, by heavy unnamed storms that have left a trail of blue tarped roofs littering the landscape. Rich and poor alike were hit. I am watching now to see what silver linings will come out of all this disruption and hardship?

February 26, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Civility, Cultural, Exercise, Family Issues, Health Issues, Humor, Hurricanes, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Values, Weather, YMCA | Leave a comment

Exploiting Foreign Labor: Qatar and Kuwait

Living in Qatar and Kuwait was a life-changing experience. We loved the stimulation of living in an environment where little was as we expected it to be. The sights, sounds and colors were stronger, attention-getting, and learning to think in different ways kept us alive and young in ways we never anticipated.

There were also challenges. While as white Americans, we were high in the pecking order, we also realized we were high in a secondary category; there were the nationals, and there were all the others. We qualified, along with all the other imported labor, as others. We lived a great life, and we never forgot that we were “the other.” We were blessed with friends whose families had been living there long before our own country was even imagined. It gave a new perspective to our lives.

On the downside was the treatment of labor. Here are a couple of my own photos:

Traditional scaffolding

High rise window washers

Working on a new building, these laborers are more than 12 stories up. There is no elevator, and this is their solution to accessing a location without climbing 12 stories in the 115 degree F. heat.

That breaks my heart is the statement that all these deaths are within the expected range. The laborers are treated with callous indifference. Most came hoping to provide their families with a better life, they lived in squalor and sent most of their salary beyond meager subsistence, back to their home countries. The employers held all the cards. They had a choice – take this terrible risk or go home.

I found this on AOL News and it said it was from Yahoo News.

Report: More than 6,500 migrant workers have died during Qatar’s World Cup prep

JASON OWENSFebruary 24, 2021, 11:34 PM

More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar amid the nation’s preparation to host the 2022 World Cup, The Guardian reports.

The report cites government data from the home nation of migrant workers including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The data have been compiled since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, working out to an average of 12 deaths per week, according to the report.

FIFA awarded the World Cup to Qatar despite widespread concerns over human rights violations and treatment of migrant workers that have only been exacerbated since. Amnesty International has documented conditions of workers being “exploited” and “subjected to forced labor.”

“They can’t change jobs, they can’t leave the country, and they often wait months to get paid,” a report from the human rights organization states.

According to The Guardian, 2,711 workers from India, 1,641 from Nepal, 1,018 from Bangledesh, 824 from Pakistan and 557 from Sri Lanka have died working in Qatar since 2010. The Guardian estimates that the actual death toll of migrant workers is “considerably higher” since the data it cites is limited to the listed countries.

The nation with a population of less than 3 million is depending on 2 million migrant workers to build its labor force. The Philippines and Kenya are among other nations to send migrant workers to Qatar, according to the report.

The listed causes of death include electrocution, blunt injuries due to a fall from height and suicide. Most of the deaths are listed as “natural” while citing heart or respiratory failure.

Daytime temperatures in Qatar can approach 120 degrees during the summer. Normally played in the summer, Qatar’s World Cup will be held in November and December because of the oppressive heat.

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Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming 2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019.  REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming 2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Nick McGeehan of labor rights organization FairSquare Projects told The Guardian that World Cup construction accounts for much of the death toll

“A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,” he said.

Qatar has built or is building seven new stadiums in addition to significant infrastructure upgrades including roadways, hotels and an airport in preparation to host the World Cup. The opening and closing matches will be held at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Lusail, a city being built from the ground up ahead of the World Cup.

Qatar: Death toll within ‘expected range’

Qatar’s government didn’t dispute The Guardian’s findings and characterized the death toll as “expected” in a statement to publication.

“The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population,” the statement read. “However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country.”

FIFA also provided a statement to The Guardian.

“With the very stringent health and safety measures on site … the frequency of accidents on Fifa World Cup construction sites has been low when compared to other major construction projects around the world,” the statement reads, per The Guardian.

FIFA did not provide The Guardian with data to back up its claim.

According to Amnesty International, migrant workers seek employment in Qatar to escape poverty and unemployment at home. It describes dirty living conditions with eight workers living in a single room one they arrive. Workers are sometimes promised one salary only to be to be provided a lower wage once they arrive.

The group spoke to workers who paid anywhere from $500 to $4,300 in recruitment fees to agents that leave them in debt before they begin working in Qatar.

February 25, 2021 Posted by | Building, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Health Issues, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Avian Thrills

I wish I had photos to show you, but there are moments where if you run for the camera, you miss the moment. I’ve had three moments in the last week that thrilled my heart.

A week ago, after a big storm, as I pushed open the curtains I saw hundreds of pelicans, swooping and circling just in front of the house across the street on the Bayou. Normally, pelicans fly all sort of relaxed and then, suddenly, plunge into the water for a fish, but this time, they seemed agitated, and there were a lot of them. I watched, and after a while I saw there was a big flock of ducks on the water, and the pelicans (I am speculating here) did not want the ducks there. So they were swooping the ducks and swooping and swooping, and eventually, the ducks got rattled and flew away.

Four days ago, as I stepped out the door, a huge bird flew over my head to a nearby tree, carrying a fish. I signaled to AdventureMan to come out and see; he thought it was an eagle, and after watching him tear at the fish (never dropping it, skillfully done) I agreed. He didn’t seem to mind us observing. That was very cool.

This morning, as I stepped out to feed our outdoor cat, Emile, I heard a very loud “Who-who-who-who-WHOOOOOOOH!” It was so loud I jumped a little when it started, and then realizing it was a big owl in our little backyard forest, I just stopped and enjoyed the rest of it. I love the sound of owls, and I grinned, thinking of a little owl we used to hear in Botswana, I can’t remember the name (Pell’s Fishing Owl? Pearl Spotted Owl?) but we secretly called it the orgasm owl because it’s call was very long, starting with like who-who-who-who-whow-Whow WHow WHOw WHOW WHOW! WHOW!! WHOW!!!!! And after that huge crescendo, it would go quiet for a while . . . and then start up again. It never failed to make me grin.

February 22, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Birds, Botswana, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues | , , | Leave a comment

“From Dust You Came, and to Dust You Will Return”

At our early morning service today, our priest talked about Lent being a time when we, literally, think about our own mortality, our sins of omission and commission, our relationships, our attachments and we think about them in a larger, more objective sense. He also said Lent is a time of reset, a quieting of our normally busy schedule, a time of sacrifice and reflection, and drawing closer to our Creator, and the person we were created to be.

Then he said that it feels like this has been almost an entire year of Lent. Once COVID got our attention, we’ve all been exposed to earthly mortality, as we lost loved ones, as friends lost loved ones, as we concerned ourselves with our own vulnerability to exposure to this mortal disease.

That got my attention. My life under COVID simplified greatly. For me, it was a good thing. I’ve always felt pressured to be more social that I really am, and I’ve always felt guilty about my introverted tendencies. The seclusion of COVID has given me respite, and has allowed to to connect with a me that feels more authentic than the me that was trying to meet all the expectations of the world.

I intend to enjoy this Lenten season, by the end of which I will have had my second vaccination. I expect that the pressures of life will begin to resume. God willing, I intend to be more reticent about involving myself, and give myself more time for reflection and living quietly.

February 17, 2021 Posted by | Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Faith, Lent, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Values | Leave a comment

Reset – and Lent

We bought our house – again – last year, shortly after my Mom died. Something about death gets our attention, doesn’t it, and can serve as an impetus to get us moving. Buying this house, which I have always loved, is one of the best things we have ever done.

We are great planners. We make lists, we make budgets, we make plans and divide those plans into actions, so we get it done. And yet – when you make the best plans, you don’t always have all the information, so some decisions have to be revisited. After living here for six months, we are making some serious changes (already planned) and not making some we thought we would make. Our daughter-in-law pointed out that some changes have unintended consequences, and we love that concept.

We know, from having made these changes at our bigger house, that having a metal roof and a tankless water heater combine for great energy savings. I don’t know the science, but metal roofs reflect sunlight away, the ridges in the roof bring in cooler air, and tankless heaters mean you are not spending on keeping water heated when you don’t have a need for it.

We intended to put in a full garage and storage area, but learned that what we have actually works pretty well, and that is where the unintended consequences come in. Florida land tends to be sandy, and can wash away. You change the drainage pattern, and things happen. For right now, we’ll forego that change; down the road we can always re-visit.

I wanted minimal coverage on our big windows looking out on the Bayou; in arranging for that I had to empty out my china cabinet and another decorative cabinet. “Good,” I thought, “a chance to rethink and put things away smarter.” As it turned out, I changed a couple little things but not much. Most things are working. Now I have to see how the windows will work, if the minimal covering will be right for us or if we will need to add some kind of screening against the summer sun or some kind of privacy protector. Resets are not such a bad thing.

So with Lent starting comes another possibility for Reset. I’ve always loved Lent and Advent, times to slow down, to turn away from the messages of our culture, from our world, and focus on greater truths. You’d think with the COVID restrictions, life would be isolated enough, but we find ways, don’t we, of distracting ourselves? Lent gives us a chance to examine our choices and move closer to being the people we were created to be.

I’ve found a wonderful book by a man I love reading, Richard Rohr. I took a theology seminar for four years; I learned a lot about my religion, my church and its beliefs within that religion, and the greater history which brought us to where we are. At the end of the four years, my theology had greatly simplified back to the earliest teachings I received, God is Love. Richard Rohr believes God is Love, that God loves us, that we are his creation and that everything that exists, exists because God created it. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us.

February 15, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Cultural, Faith, Family Issues, Home Improvements, Lent, Living Conditions, Money Management, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Renovations, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment