Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Best Birthday Ever

A few years ago, I hit a number and I felt like my life was over. Rationally, I knew I was doing fine, but just the sound of the number hit me hard. I remember feeling the same way when I hit 50, and I thought it was going to be terrible, but that very day I went to pick up my photos for my Saudi pass and my photograph was fabulous.

OK, you know, here goes that rationality thing again. The RULES in Saudi Arabia say you are forbidden to retouch photos. The photographer just stood there with a big grin as I looked at photos of me with all signs of aging totally removed. Inside, my heart was dancing. My head knew it wasn’t really how I looked, but my heart danced.

In spite of the heartache of my Mother dying of COVID, this has turned out to be a sweet year. I had some stellar moments, dancing-heart moments. I love our new/old house, as you can guess from all the sunsets I post. Now, my son and AdventureMan installed a Little Free Library for me to care for, and another dream has come true, and my heart dances for joy. My family was together, my grandchildren helped fill the Little Free Library, and we all had cake and ice cream together, masked most of the time.

I’ve always loved libraries, and the first job I ever had, at six years old, was checking out books at the little library in Alaska. The clerk had failed to show up; the librarian was busy with a big time-sensitive book order and I volunteered. She showed me what to do. So easy a six year old could do it, and I had a ball.

I avoided book clubs until I ended up so many years in the Middle East. A group of women I knew and trusted asked me to form a book club, and I reluctantly turned them down because I didn’t want that responsibility. Very gently, they kept inviting me to start a book club and finally, I asked “Why me?”

“You’re the only one who can bring in the books we want to read,” they told me.

I learned so much from these women, and the book club was a huge blessing, a window into the way a lot of women think who are from different countries and different cultures from me. I learned how HUGE it is when ideas can be examined, and discussed openly, even when one must speak indirectly. I learned again and again how many mistaken assumptions I had made, how narrowly I saw the world. Books matter. Ideas matter. Sharing books and ideas challenge our narrow views and give us broader understanding of our complex world, and our fellow human beings.

Tonight AdventureMan is making Pasta Carbonara, which I should never eat, but once or twice a year, I do. It’s not like AdventureMan loves Pasta Carbonara; he makes it for me because I love it. Some of those excess calories come off as I dance and dance for joy.

The year I thought my life was over, some amazing things happened. I’m not going to get all excited, like this is going to be the best year ever, but I am so grateful, I feel so blessed, to have some dreams I know I dreamed come true, and some unexpected dreams I didn’t know I was dreaming also come true.

“In my life, I’ve loved them all.”

February 7, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Books, Community, Cooking, Cultural, Exercise, Food, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | | Leave a comment

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King

I love that Google does these special doodles to honor men and women who make a difference. This is their doodle for today, to honor a man who knew how to incite for all the right reasons, and to keep it peaceful. He had a vision. He had the patience to watch his vision unfold. I wish he could be here long enough to see Joe Biden’s cabinet. We’re not there, but we are learning to practice what we say we believe.

January 18, 2021 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Heritage, Leadership, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Values | , , , , | Leave a comment

Losing Track of Time

How many different ways can we say that this was a year like no other? Christmas morning came, and under the tree was one calendar. I had ordered it from Xanterra, the people who operate the hotels and concessions at many of our National Parks, around June, but I never saw it; as soon as it arrived I handed it over to AdventureMan who hid it. The good thing is that I forget, and by Christmas, I really am surprised.

This time, I was really surprised. It is a beautiful calendar, classic old posters of the national parks. But the dates are just written along the bottom; it is not one of those calendars where you can write down things you have committed to do.

It is really beautiful. And, for me, utterly useless. I have it in my kitchen, but I also have a French one I hurriedly ordered and I don’t much like, but I may replace this beautiful one with the French one because it has spaces to write.

I need calendars to keep me on track. I have great focus. If I am reading a book, or writing an entry for HT&E, or working on a quilt, or organizing a grocery list, I can totally lose track of time. I can’t even blame it on age; I have always been this way. I am almost compulsively on time because I find being late so painful, but one time, I was mortified, I was in the middle of a project and a friend called and asked how I was. I chatted, and she said “weren’t you picking me up today?” and to my horror, even though I had known I was picking her up, even though it was on my calendar, I was so deep into what I was doing that it had flown right out of my mind that I had an obligation.

She was the president of the group, and it was our annual celebration. I dropped everything, dressed madly and ran to the car, forcing myself to drive carefully because I was shaken, and anxious, and utterly mortified. I picked her up, maybe half an hour late, and we got to the restaurant just as others also arrived, only by the grace of God. Some were even later than us, evidently the timing had been unclear, but that is not my excuse. I had it on the calendar. I checked it in the morning. And then I promptly forgot. I still squirm to think about it, and now I use my phone to remind me when I have to do something and I’m afraid I’ll get lost in space again.

I was raised to believe that timeliness is next to Godliness and I have lived many years in a culture where time is more flexible, and “on-time” is relative. So why am I so compulsive most of the time and so fallible on occasion? I probably judge myself more harshly than others would judge me.

I pick up calendars on our travels – and this year there were no travels. After Christmas, I quickly went online to find something I could use, and almost everything I really loved was like the national parks one – beautiful and functionally useless. Finally I found one a travel company had sent me; it has some cool places to visit, and I found a Chihuly calendar with nice big spaces to write; I am using that as my main calendar.

I can only do the best that I can do. Mostly, I am really good about appointments and obligations, but I have to rely on these tools to keep me from doing myself in. Alas, it keeps me humble.

January 2, 2021 Posted by | Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Relationships, Social Issues | , | Leave a comment

Woman Caught in Adultery

Today’s readings from The Lectionary feature this puzzling story:

John 7:53-8:11

53Then each of them went home, 81while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.* 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’* And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’]]* 

“What’s so puzzling?” you might ask.

So many things.

What did Jesus write on the ground?

If women had been present, would still no stone have been thrown?

What did he write on the ground the second time, as the men gathered to stone the woman slipped away, one by one?

Why do women get punished so severely for sexual acts when Jesus was so forgiving? I get that families like to be sure who the father is, providing for babies born to a woman, but it seems to me that women are judged by an unequal scale, and I don’t find justification for that in scripture. I fine it illuminating that while Jesus never dealt with homosexuality, or abortion (that is recorded), he was gentle with this woman caught in the very act of adultery.

The morning readings often provide food for thought as the day works its way out.

December 30, 2020 Posted by | Community, Cultural, Faith, Lectionary Readings, Mating Behavior, Relationships | Leave a comment

After the Storm: Christmas 2020

It rained and the wind blew, knocking over the Christmas trees on my front porch a couple times until AdventureMan grabbed a few stray bricks from our back yard and anchored them firmly. Then, around one in the afternoon, the rain stopped, the wind lessened, and the skies lightened, just in time for us to meet up with our son and his family for a masked and socially distanced service at 2:00.

It was a very odd Christmas – we had to sign up in advance, and each service was limited to 70 people. They allowed family groups to sit together, but each group was separated by at least one pew from any other people. No singing. If someone showed up who had not signed up, they were turned away, unless there was space.

In our church, the policy has always been that there is always space, and you are welcome. We could see that it was tearing the rector apart to have to enforce the policy strictly, but adhering to masking and social distancing has kept us all well and allowed us to continue with attending services in person, as well as on FaceBook and YouTube.

It was wonderful just to be there. It felt awful not to be able to welcome the stranger, nor to greet one another with Christmas hugs and kisses. It’s been that kind of year.

We had a family dinner at our house, our first year using the French china and silver with the kids, but they are ready for it. We all had so much fun.

Christmas morning dawned with clear, cold skies and lots of sunshine. The family came over, we opened gifts and spent the day together, laughing, telling stories, eating French strawberry roll-ups with whipped cream, and just hanging out. Two of us took a long walk with the dog, while the rest engaged in warfare over some game with elaborate rules.

When everyone left, we cleaned up, put the furniture back where it belonged, and AdventureMan got out the bin of old sheets to cover some of our more vulnerable plants against the plunging temperatures to come tonight.

We’ve done everything we can to try to make sure our outdoor cat, Emile, will be warm and protected, which is harder than you might think when we have never been able to get closer than three feet from him. He will occasionally shelter in the covered litter box we have set up for him, with reflective blankets, and he quite loves the heated pad on the bench. We know the cold temperatures are hard on him. We’d love to get immunizations for him, get him fixed, bring him inside, but for now, none of that is possible, and he is so feral we are not sure it will ever be possible.

The sun is going down on one of the loveliest Christmas Days we have ever spent in Pensacola. We are so thankful we made the decision to downsize, and move to this house.

I couldn’t stop; I wanted to get everything in place before I collapsed. AdventureMan, busy with his new toy, a slide viewer, calls out “is there anything I can do to help you?”

I surprised him. I drink little. I called back “In about an hour, when the sun is setting, how about fixing me a Santa’s Helper?” (Champagne and Chambord) and he laughed and said that once the champagne is opened, you have to drink the whole bottle because you can’t really re-cork champagne, and I said I didn’t care, I just wanted one glass.

It has been a most excellent day. My daughter in law and I, on our long walk, discussed how while in many ways 2020 has been cataclysmic, for us, it has also carried many blessings. She said she thinks 2021 will be just another year, full of challenges and full of blessings. She has deep insights, deep wisdom and it is always worth listening to what she has to say.

I hope you have had a satisfying Christmas. I hope it ends a year full of challenges – and blessings. I wish you the same in the coming year, eyes to see, ears to hear, the wisdom to know when to act; when you can make things better and when you can only make things worse by acting. I wish upon us all the wisdom to know the difference.

December 25, 2020 Posted by | Biography, Birds, Christmas, Cold Drinks, Cultural, Family Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Relationships, Sunsets | | 1 Comment

Stormy Christmas Eve in Pensacola

Around two in the morning last night the wind started blowing and one of our wind shutters came loose and banged. It banged once, not too loudly, so I didn’t even get up to see if I could fix it. This morning, Christmas Eve morning, dawned with sheets of rain.

I’m not complaining. We have had weeks of beautiful weather – other than when the storms blew in. This early day squall is just that – a small thing. The forecast is that it will usher in freezing temperatures for tonight. The rain should quit by 2, when Pensacola folk start heading toward church services and family gatherings, and tonight and Christmas Day should be unseasonably cold.

I’m sure there has been a Christmas in Pensacola when it hasn’t rained, but I can’t remember it. I am thankful for rain on Christmas Eve; it makes it so much easier to wrap those last presents and cook up a couple more dishes for tonight and tomorrow.

We’ve been introducing our grandchildren to family traditions. They were over for breakfast, and then my granddaughter (7) and I decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread men, while our grandson (10) and AdventureMan made baked beans – learning chefly knife skills in the process. As the icing dried on the cookies my granddaughter and I took a walk to the playground; it was like a summer day in Alaska, around 70 degrees F. Pizza for lunch, and then watching Elf, which they had never seen, and we all howled with laughter.

That night was clear and beautiful, and just after sunset, I went out to see if I could see the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. I could! It was clearly visible with the naked eye! I quickly ran inside to call to AdventureMan to join me, and together we relished the awe inspiring event. In my photo, I see you can even see Jupiter’s moons:

Yeh, it’s a little squiggly; I was using my zoom on my camera, and just breathing made it less clear.

From our house to your house, we wish you a Merry Christmas, full of peace and good will, love of family and neighbors, and comfort and joy.

December 24, 2020 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, Cooking, Cultural, Family Issues, Holiday, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Weather | Leave a comment

Humility

Roaring Mountain, Yellowstone 2019

From this morning’s readings in The Lectionary:

Sirach 3:17-31

17 My child, perform your tasks with humility;*
   then you will be loved by those whom God accepts. 
18 The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself;
   so you will find favour in the sight of the Lord.* 
20 For great is the might of the Lord;
   but by the humble he is glorified. 
21 Neither seek what is too difficult for you,
   nor investigate what is beyond your power. 
22 Reflect upon what you have been commanded,
   for what is hidden is not your concern. 
23 Do not meddle in matters that are beyond you,
   for more than you can understand has been shown to you. 
24 For their conceit has led many astray,
   and wrong opinion has impaired their judgement. 

25 Without eyes there is no light;
   without knowledge there is no wisdom.* 
26 A stubborn mind will fare badly at the end,
   and whoever loves danger will perish in it. 
27 A stubborn mind will be burdened by troubles,
   and the sinner adds sin to sins. 
28 When calamity befalls the proud, there is no healing,
   for an evil plant has taken root in him. 
29 The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs,
   and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise. 

30 As water extinguishes a blazing fire,
   so almsgiving atones for sin. 
31 Those who repay favours give thought to the future;
   when they fall they will find support.

October 17, 2020 Posted by | Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Forty-Seven Years

“Happy Anniversary!” smiled AdventureMan as he headed for the daybed in my office. He sets his alarm, gets up and comes into the office, curls up, pulls a quilt over him and goes back to sleep. Ragnar and Uhtred, who love a warm body, trail him in, and as soon as they hear him purring (as we call it) they snuggle right up.

Tropical Storm Cristobal is on our doorstop and with the bands of the storm come periods of light rain, occasional medium rain, and from time to time, lengthy showers of intense rain, sometimes sideways rain if the winds are blowing hard.

We still aren’t eating in restaurants, but I think when he wakes up I will suggest we talk with our son and his wife to see if they might like pizzas today, with us, from Ozone Pizza. While there are a couple expensive restaurants I like, my preference for celebration is always reliably good food, tasty food, and Ozone is tasty, reliably good, and has something to make every one of the six of us happy. On a rainy Sunday, this seems like a relaxed, family option.

The actual move is still stalled. We live our normal lives, waiting for the log jam to break. First, our son and his wife have to be able to close on their house, which is tied up in a legal glitch we expect to be soon solved. They move. We have the bedrooms and hallway painted, then we move. Sigh. These things just take time.

Meanwhile, I want to share something special with you – this was done by 8 downtown Pensacola religious leaders who years ago committed to meeting regularly for breakfast, getting to know and support one another. Their established relationship enabled them to come together to share their commitment to making Pensacola a better place for all races:

June 7, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Character, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Family Issues, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Spiritual | , , | 2 Comments

We’re Still Married

AdventureMan and I are risk-takers. We set a goal. We identify the resources. We make a plan. Well, he makes his plan and I make mine. We are both strong willed, and under risk-taking, we set ourselves up occasionally, for conflict. Under “we’re still married,” we are pretty good at talking through the disagreements.

Two places we shine: travel and moves.

A lot has happened since I last wrote.

First, what I call “the great pause.” On March 13, I went to the YMCA, swam a mile, did a water aerobics class, and said good-bye. As little as I like to think about it, AdventureMan and I are in the vulnerable category. He has had a cough for over a month, and I know it is time to shelter-in-place. When I get home, I tell AdventureMan the plan. To my great surprise (which tells me he really was sick) he agreed, and he went straight to bed and slept all day, and then all night, and then a good part of the next day.

He was not so good about staying at home, but it is the beginning of gardening season, and his only trips were to Home Depot for mulch, and more mulch, and plant food, etc.

I quilted, at first, something I have longed for the time to do. I tried a new style, more modern and graphic. The first is called Corona Pandemic and the second is Corona vaccine.

 

 

They are just quilt tops for now; I have not yet quilted them. I found, with all my social responsibilities cancelled, my life quieter, it was very zen, very meditative, being able to quilt satisfied my heart, gave me time to think.

My mother called, from Seattle, and mentioned she needed masks for her medical appointments. I dropped the quilting and started mask making, making three immediately for her and mailing them off. The mail was slow. She called the day of her appointment; the masks had not arrived. It was a moot point, as the facility nurse had begged her not to go, there was too much opportunity for contagion, and my mother cancelled her appointment. We had a great conversation.

She never got the masks.

Late that same afternoon, she suddenly got tired, so tired she needed help going to bed. Shortly, she started throwing up. Just after midnight, an ambulance took her to a local hospital where she was given a corona virus test and sent to a hospital in downtown Seattle where they treat corona virus. Her test came back positive.

She was in Seattle. She was given hydroxychloroquin. She was given a second medicine in testing when her immune system raged into overdrive against the virus, destroying her own organs. She got the very best, most innovative treatment available in the world, and still, the virus won. In the end, she refused intubation and a ventilator – her pragmatic doctor said it probably wouldn’t have saved her anyway – and she requested hospice. This was evidently a first, as they had no hospice relationship in place for covid patients, and had to figure it out. They did, and my mother passed away in peace, and in no pain.

The earth fell away from beneath my feet. It’s a terrible thing to lose a mother. I’m the oldest, and while my relationship with my mother was complicated, she was always my mother. Now, I am so thankful for the seclusion, so thankful not to have to be around people because I can’t count on myself to be me. There are times I just fragment and fall apart, apropos of the smallest thing, a thought like “I need to call Mom and tell her about . . . such and such . . . ” and even before I complete the thought I am in tears, because I can never call her again.

I am not comfortable with my own melodrama. I prefer not to fall apart in public. I thank God for this period of shelter-in-place and social distancing, for the protection it gives me against my own vulnerability, my own fragility. And it gives me space to see these frailties in myself, and learn to live with them. One friend wrote in a condolence note not to worry if this death resounds throughout the rest of my life, that when you lose a mother, you never get over it. While it sounds negative, I found it comforting to know how totally normal it is to feel so lost.

I found comfort and solace in my mask making. I made hundreds of masks. I kept jiggering the patterns until I got one I like, where I could insert a nose-piece without breaking all my sewing machine needles. It gave me time to grieve, and it gave focus to my time.

 

Yesterday, I gave away the last six masks. I have nearly two hundred more in the making, and I am hastening about my current project so that I might have time to finish the newest series. As a quilter, I hate waste. I have fabrics from years back that I love and hate to part with, and the masks are cut 9″ x 15″ so I have lots of wonderful fabrics I can use and know they will live a useful life. One series of masks is from an old cotton souk dress which I wore out; it is soft and well used, but I couldn’t throw it away. It will now live on in ten new masks.

“What new project?” you ask.

My Mother’s death spurred me to look for a house to downsize. It is part of the plan we made when we moved here. We are aging, and healthy, but we have seen how that can change at any time, and I found a wonderful house which we did not buy. Then my son texted us that he and his wife were going to look at a house, and long story short, they contracted to buy that house and wondered if we would like to buy their house.

Would I?  I love that house! AdventureMan and I bought that house once before, to use as a retirement house, but then we sold it to our son and his wife.

They both have very busy lives, and very significant jobs during normal times. This pause has given time for new ways of thinking, and we are trying to get a move done before the world moves on and we lose this window of opportunity. Under the best of circumstances, a move is disruptive. Under normal circumstances, a move would be nearly impossible, in terms of having time. Right now – it is possible.

It is all happening very fast.

We haven’t done a move in ten years – the only other place I have lived for more than ten years is Alaska, where I was born. I am so thankful for this time, for the fact that we are still healthy enough to organize, to pack boxes, to plan actually for two moves, as we are sending furniture to the new house of our son and his wife; they will have more room and we will have significantly less.

AdventureMan says ruefully “When you are living in a big house, there is no incentive to downsize.” He is so right. I wake up in the wee small hours of the morning and obsess  over where things will go. The majority of our boxes are books we are not ready to part with and my quilting supplies. I have some irrelevant but beautiful items I am not ready to part with – our wedding china, which is beautiful, and French, and AdventureMan’s set of German glasses, water and red wine. We have used our china for family dinners, but not so often, and I remember using our crystal maybe six times in the ten years we have lived here. I could give them up. I’m not ready.

Today we were packing up children’s books to give away. I had thought four boxes, and AdventureMan was not ready to give up so many. We ended up giving up two boxes of books, and . . . we are still married. AdventureMan and I do particularly well in two stressful situations, travel and moving. We’re still married.

I keep thinking of my Mom. She might be disappointed I am giving up the big house while I am still young and healthy, but I am not so sure. I remember visiting her in Seattle and often going to look at condos and townhouses when she was my age. She said it was her and Dad, but I always thought it was so my husband and I would buy something in Seattle. Even after we bought a house in Seattle, though, when I would return to Seattle, we would go looking.

Mom always loved a view of the water. In our new house, we have some view of the bayou, where in late afternoon, the sun shimmers off the water. I look out and think “Mom will love this.”

This is my Mom, better days, sitting by the harbor in Edmonds, WA.

 

May 1, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Biography, Circle of Life and Death, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Moving, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual | 2 Comments

Love Never Gets Old

Most of the time, in our lives, “important” days are barely recognized. Valentine’s Day is no exception. I needed to do my daily swim/water aerobics and prepare for a meeting at my house; my husband was busy with taxes, the grandchildren, his own gym-time. Even lunch, our daily date, was a take-out thing, and then he helped me move all the cat equipment – litter, food, water dishes, their carpet – into a room they couldn’t get out of. They are smart cats, and persistent. They can open some doors, but not others.

As he was heading out the door to pick up the grandkids and take them to the park as my group started arriving, I thanked him. “I don’t need a card or flowers,” I said, “helping move the cat litter is True Love.”

I cleaned up when the meeting was over. I was at my limit. I had semi-planned to pull some shrimp out and do a simple shrimp pasta, but by the time I had everything washed up, all the chairs put back, all the meeting things put away and the cat accessories back in the cat room, I was wiped out. My husband found me lying down. He’s, too, was exhausted – playing with a ten year old and six year old will do that to you.

We know it is flirting with disaster, but we decide to try a simple restaurant nearby, not a romantic restaurant, to see if we can get in. It’s Valentine’s Day, one of the major dining-out holidays in the world. We are in luck, it is early enough that we can snag a table, relax, have a satisfying dinner together and head home.

Once home, I gave him his card and he surprised me! He had sought, and found, on the internet, a cup I had owned, and treasured, and used with joy, for several years until, inevitably, it fell on the hard tile floor and smashed into a thousand un-mendable pieces. I mourned the loss of that cup. All these years later – more than twenty-five – he had found it, and bought it for me. I told him I planned to actually use it, not put it on a shelf, that life is short. He gave me a measured look and said “it’s the most expensive coffee cup you will ever use.”

LOL

Life is short. I have all I need, and more. I know what matters. I don’t need a card, or flowers, or even a new coffee cup. I have a husband who will bring me lunch when I am approaching being overwhelmed by a time-crunch, who will help me move the cat litter, who will take care of the grandchildren all by himself when I have other responsibilities, and who will secretly search out an old treasure, and present it to me with delight, because he knows what it will mean to me.

I know what true love looks like. I’m going to use this cup.

February 15, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Character, Cultural, Exercise, Family Issues, Mating Behavior, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Values | , | 1 Comment