Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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

A Peevish Jesus?

Mark 9:14-29

14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. 16He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ 17Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ 19He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ 20And they brought the boy* to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy* into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21Jesus* asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. 22It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ 23Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ 24Immediately the father of the child cried out,* ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ 25When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ 29He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’*

This gospel reading from today’s Lectionary makes me uncomfortable. Loving, merciful Jesus sounds frustrated, and if I were there, I might think he was tired, or distracted, or hungry or needed a hug. He calls the people around him “faithless” and chides them with their own words – “If you are able!” when it was probably meant politely.

Maybe he is thinking about how short his time is, and how little human beings seem to understand about his message. He states “All things can be done for the one who believes.” He has said this before, to the bleeding woman, to the centurion, to the woman whose daughter was imprisoned in her own flesh by a demon – when he was able to perform a miracle, Jesus would say “Your faith is great!” (It always catches my attention that many of these with desperate faith were not Jewish).

I consider myself a religious woman, and yet at the very heart of today’s gospel, I find myself in the desperate father, wanting only a cure for his child, as he says ‘I believe; help my unbelief!

February 6, 2021 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Lectionary Readings, Spiritual | 1 Comment

Pilgrimage to St. George Island from Apalachicola

A very short drive from Apalachicola, but a whole different world. Cross two amazing bridges/causeways which are an adventure in themselves, so beautiful, so wonderfully engineered. We are always in awe of what it takes to connect dry land over a lot of water, and how really smart people can also figure out how to generate electricity, maintain the equipment, and bring it to far flung locations.

Moody sunrise

Headed out of Eastpoint toward St. Georges

Coming into St. Georges

We drove all through St. Georges; we stayed her once when our son was a student at FSU but it all looks entirely different now. Finally, we get to our favorite part, the beach at the far eastern end of the island. You can park and walk even further east, or west, or whatever you like. There are few people there on this sunny cool day, and it is a glorious day for a long walk.

Day tripper friendly

Shell heaven! Piles of shells everywhere!

Wind patterns on the sand

What is the beach without some surf?

Surf, sand, shells and sun; we are as happy as we can be. No masks on the beach, no need, few people and far apart. It is a glorious day.

More wind/sand patterns because I am a dork who cares about these things . . .

This was a great part of our get-away.

February 5, 2021 Posted by | Beauty, Cultural, Exercise, Geography / Maps, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Spiritual, Travel | , | Leave a comment

The Feast of St. Stephen, 26 Dec 2020

An indulgent morning on the Feast of St. Stephen. Poor kitties, I slept in until 8, but it is such a cold morning, they were also slow to get up and didn’t chide me for my lateness in providing their breakfast. Emile, the outdoor cat, was happy and secure on his heated pad, and did not look miserable, as he has on other cold days.

My breakfast is my normal oat cereal, but with an abundance of strawberries, left over from yesterday’s French roll-ups, and my coffee is topped with leftover creme chantilly, the slightly sweetened whipped cream that accompanies the roll-ups.

It is a gorgeous day, crisp and clear and dry. Ragnar and Uhtred, the indoor cats, are snuggled up with AdventureMan, who snoozes on. He had a great afternoon, Christmas Day, with his new slide viewer and decades of slides from our earliest years, including the month we courted before marrying, LOL. and our brand new baby boy, three years later. They brought back such sweet memories.

I tend to be obsessive about getting things done. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, I have to force myself to slow down and think about the spiritual side of the season, what it’s really all about. I learn that very possibly productivity, getting it done, can become my idol. Lists become my litany. I value myself by how much I can get done. Enough! I need Advent in my life to help me see the quiet, contemplative way.

Christmas Eve, is, for me, the spiritual high point of the year, the culmination of all hopefulness. Today, the day after Christmas, is a day for taking it easy, and that is really, really hard for me. My mind scurries to tasks; the dishwasher needs emptying, I should pack up extra food my my son and his family, maybe today I should paint the spot behind the toilet in the hall bathroom where the old paint shows around the slim modern new toilet.

I calm my mind, I tell myself “not so fast,” there is nothing that needs be done right now, this morning, and besides, the clatter of emptying the dishwasher or painting a spot in the bathroom will only disturb the blissful sleep of AdventureMan and his snuggled, comatose cats. It is a morning to sip my whipped creamy coffee, freshly brewed, to give thanks for this glorious morning, and to write a little here, on a blog which is a gift to myself, a place where I can learn what I am thinking, behind the flurry of compulsive thoughts about doing.

Peace on Earth, Good Will toward all mankind.

December 26, 2020 Posted by | Biography, Blogging, Christmas, Cultural, Hot drinks, Living Conditions, Pets, Quality of Life Issues, Random Musings, Spiritual, Weather | | 3 Comments

I Can’t Look

Today is election day in the United States of America, following four of the nastiest years in our history.

I try to be objective.

We served our country, AdventureMan and I, for many years, most of them outside the United States, sometimes in dangerous circumstances, not always agreeing with the official policies of our country but always, always, supporting them, as we were sworn to do. That is the nature of the “dark” bureaucracy. We serve our country, and we obey the laws.

To see the bureaucracy derided, dismissed and destroyed breaks my heart. To see all the painstaking hard work taken over years and years of persistent policy making tossed aside, along with our faithful allies, enrages me.

Oops. Enraged?

One of the things we learn along the road is not to take things personally. We learn to suffer disappointment and watch for opportunities to get back on track. Anger doesn’t help. Name-calling doesn’t help. Confrontation may be useful, but you have to choose your timing, and your battles.

I was raised to be competitive. I have had to dial it back. I learned that focusing on the win all the time drove bad decisions, and an unhealthy attitude – in me, I am not judging anyone else here, I just learned that to be effective in my own life, I had to lay competitiveness aside.

Tonight we will learn the design of our next four years. I can’t help it; I am emotionally involved. I spent the day NOT watching the news, not watching for signs and portents. I took care of business, I quilted, I went to the dentist, all great diversions. I prayed, frequently, throughout the day as I have been praying for four years. I try not to give God advice, I try to remember always to keep in mind “Thy will be done” and yet . . . I have my private opinion of how things would work out best.

Tonight, once the polls close, I will watch.

Whatever happens in the next few hours, or days, or even weeks – or months – I will try to stay level, stay focused, stay the course. No matter how bad it has been, there have been minor celebrations along the way, and I can persevere, I know I can. It would be nice, however (God? are you there? are you listening?) to have a break, to have some normality restored, and to begin to have a longer news cycle, and rest between crises, and even, God willing, some peace on earth, good will toward mankind.

November 3, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual, Values | 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

Christmas Interlude

Starting to post my trip through the Bordeaux and Dordogne was ambitious, overly ambitious. Usually, I say I’m going to do something, and I do it. This time, no matter how well intentioned I was, life just got in the way. I knew I could continue to blog the trip, and do a half-good job, or I could devote the time and attention my real life needed.

We had a truly lovely Christmas, and for that, it takes care and attention. There are things that are not so necessary, but help to set the stage – decorating the house, preparing special meals, buying presents and wrapping packages, and then, best of all, spending time with the family you love.

 

The angels – I think they are Rosenthal – are from an earlier life in Germany. I don’t bring them out every year, I sort of rotate things so they don’t get stale.

The Christmas plates came from the old East Germany. Good friends took us to “the other side” in Berlin, as Christmas neared and I found these in a market. We only use them for Christmas breakfast, and we hand wash them, as I don’t know for sure how sturdy or dishwasher proof they might be.

 

This Christmas tree made of cinnamon rolls is always a big hit, and so easy. I use the little cans that make croissants, just use the dough, put in candied cherries and cinnamon sugar and melted butter and roll it up, cut into slices, and bake as you see above. More candied cherries for decoration, icing made of powdered sugar, milk and food coloring. It looks complicated, but it is easy.

 

I used to use thousands of lights in my house at Christmas, and now I use none, thanks to two wire-chewing cats who have turned my rational life upside down.

 

Thanks be to God for the great gift of caffein, in the form of coffee, which powers me through it all.

 

 

And the highlight of our Christmas – the Christmas pageant at Christ Church, Pensacola, as the children tell, and act out the story of Christmas, and we sing songs to punctuate the different movements – Away in a Manger, We Three Kings, Hark the Heralds – and more. It is both light, often funny, and enormously moving.

Happy Christmas to all!

December 27, 2019 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, Blogging, Christmas, Community, Cooking, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

“Do You Have a Heartbeat?”

This morning in Pensacola the temperature was a cool 71 degrees F. and the humidity was low. It makes all the difference in the world.

“How’s your day?” I asked my friend in the pool at the YMCA, and she grimaced. “I’m off to a bad start,” she said, “I hung my suit and towel and shoes on the line outside, and after the rain last night, everything was soaked this morning.

(We really needed the rain, and we got a soaker of a storm. Today, everything is blossoming in our yard and happy, moonflowers, African Irises, Ginger, plumbago, roses – they respond to a good soaking by blooming in delight.)

I grinned at her. “Did you wake up this morning? Do you have a heartbeat? Are you breathing? Are you here at the YMCA?” I was heartless, and persistent. She laughed.

I talked about the countries I’ve lived in; how in my first African country, Tunisia, back in the day, people competed for our garbage. My cleaning lady asked permission to take glass jars with lids, to take tuna cans. She asked that I give her any clothes I didn’t want. In the Middle East, there were restaurants where people waited near parked cars to beg for the leftovers we carried. Anything. Anything would do.

Some people didn’t have a towel, much less a swim suit, or shoes to hang on a line.

We live in the midst of plenty. Even Tunisia, when we went back twenty five years later, didn’t have the poverty we saw when we lived there. We didn’t see clubbed feet, we didn’t see hunched backs, we didn’t see crossed eyes. The little villa we had lived in had a second floor. There were signs everywhere of prosperity. We didn’t see any beggars, not one.

When I get all wrapped around the axel about the state of civility in my country, about our abuses at the border, about our increasing bureaucratic hardness-of-heart toward the least of these, I need to stop and take a deep breath and spend time acknowledging how very blessed we are. It gives me strength to go on fighting.

July 24, 2019 Posted by | Africa, Aging, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cultural, Exercise, Gardens, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Middle East, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual, Tunisia | Leave a comment

Glacier National Park: Many Glacier

We have to take the long way around to get up to the Many Glacier entrance, back through East Glacier Village to Browning, then up to Saint Mary, but no problem, because we’ve rented a cabin in the Saint Mary area. Going through Browning, we see tee-pees, just alongside the road:

 

 

 

 

 

 

This ride is just gorgeous, but it is not a great road. It isn’t a terrible road, but it is not paved, and from time to time there are serious potholes. There isn’t a lot of traffic, so we are not inconvenienced, it’s just we haven’t been on a road like this since maybe Africa.

 

Along the way, we see something we haven’t seen before, a Mama Black Bear but with only one cub. The cub looks older, maybe one year old, and life must be easier for the Mama than if she were trying to feed two cubs.

It was just us and one other couple. This was heaven.

 

 

Now I want to show you how the same scene looked in Hayden Valley, in Yellowstone:

It’s horrible. This was the Mama Bear and her two cubs trying to feed while people are scrambling to get their attention and photograph them.

Bear watching on the way to Many Glacier was relaxed – for her and for us.

 

Many Glacier Lodge

 

 

 

We want to come back and stay here. (Many Glacier Lodge is not open until around Mid-June) What joy, to wake up in the morning to all this beauty.

June 28, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Hotels, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Spiritual, Travel, Wildlife | , | Leave a comment