Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Cocoa Mulch Warning

A friend sent this to me today and asked me to share it with all my pet-owner friends. 🙂 I know there are a lot of you:

Please share this with all the pet owners you know and ask them to do the same – the information you take a few minutes to share might prevent the senseless loss of other pets.

Please tell every dog or cat owner you know. Even if you don’t have a pet, please pass this to those who do.

Over the weekend, the doting owner of two young lab mixes purchased Cocoa Mulch from Target to use in their garden. The dogs loved the way it smelled and it was advertised to keep cats away from their garden. Their dog (Calypso) decided the mulch smelled good enough to eat and devoured a large helping. She vomited a few times which was typical when she eats something new but wasn’t acting lethargic in any way. The next day, Mom woke up and took Calypso out for her morning walk . Half way through the walk, she had a seizure and died instantly.

Although the mulch had NO warnings printed on the label, upon further investigation on the company’s web site, this product is HIGHLY toxic to dogs and cats.

Cocoa Mulch is manufactured by Hershey’s, and they claim that “It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won’t eat it.”
*Snopes site gives the following information: *

Cocoa Mulch, which is sold by Home Depot, Foreman’s Garden Supply and other Garden supply stores contains a lethal ingredient called ‘Theobromine’. It is lethal to dogs and cats. It smells li ke chocolate and it really attracts dogs. They will ingest this stuff and die. Several deaths already occurred in the last 2-3 weeks.

Theobromine is in all chocolate, especially dark or baker’s chocolate which is toxic to dogs. Cocoa bean shells contain potentially toxic quantities of theobromine, a xanthine compound similar in effects to caffeine and theophylline. A dog that ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cacao bean shells developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cacao bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.


March 31, 2010 Posted by | Health Issues, Pets, Shopping | 4 Comments

Pensacola Ramadan Lanterns

Have I mentioned how low my shopping resistence is? Oh? More than once? LLOOLLL . . . . it is a serious problem for expats coming back to settle. It is even a problem these days for expats coming back just for a few weeks! You see all the kinds of things available that you never see, or you see things you never buy at prices you cannot believe, and if you are returning, you return with a ton of chocolate chips (if you are me) and Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix, Knox gelatine, colored sugar crystals, and . . . well, you get the idea.

At one time, we could take two big duffels, even in economy. At one time, when you checked in overweight bags, the people checking you in just looked the other way, most of the time. So we brought stuff back, books, computers, printers, whatever you could get in a duffel – and trust me, you can get a LOT in a duffel.

There was one thing, though, that I couldn’t resist in Doha, and in Kuwait, the Ramadan lanterns. I loved those lanterns, so beautiful, so exotic. I bought many, different styles, I loved them.

So imagine, I walk into the local Pensacola TJMaxx and what do I see? These are advertised as ‘garden’ lanterns, but many of them bear an amazing resemblance to ‘Ramadan’ lanterns:

March 30, 2010 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Shopping | 2 Comments


Last week I joined the Y.M.C.A. I joined it because I really really need to exercise, and I don’t think exercise is a lot of fun. In fact, mostly I think it is boring, and I don’t keep up with it. The only exercise I ever keep up with is water aerobics, and I don’t know why, except it isn’t as bad as all the other kinds of exercise. I might like dance-aerobics, if I could ever learn the moves, but I always get discouraged – or embarrassed – before I have been there long enough to figure out the sequences.

So this morning, I attended my very first aqua aerobics class. I was late. I think the devil didn’t want me to exercise; I slept badly last night and then overslept this morning. I walked into class late, and if you have ever taken an exercise class, you know that all the best spots are taken, and I had never been in the pool before. I got in, and discovered where I had entered the pool was over my head.

In the meanwhile, the class goes on, and it is kick-a$$.

I had been trying to talk AdventureMan into considering taking the class with me, but he pooh-poohed it and said aqua-aerobics was girly. No No No, AdventureMan, not this class! This class has participants from teen-age to creaky, men and women, all trying to keep up with the instructor, who sets a relentless pace. We have one hour to get through the entire repetoire, including cool down stretches, and then O-U-T so the next class can get started. There is a hot tub and a steam room, and a totally dry floor policy – like after you shower, you have to be dry before you enter the locker room so no one will slip and fall. There are several elderly women, and people are very protective of them.

I was lucky. There was a very nice young woman who would whisper explanations to me as we went along, and, of course, in the water the fact that you are totally out of your league is not so obvious. She clued me in to the dry floor policy as she helped one of the elderly women get her pool-shoes off, and told me to hang out in the hot tub so my muscles wouldn’t seize up. You wouldn’t think an water exercise could be so demanding, but I can feel some of those muscles already. 🙂

“Think you’ll be coming back?” she asked as I was leaving.

Oh, YES. 🙂 It was actually . . . fun!

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Community, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Exercise, ExPat Life, Florida, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola | 2 Comments

A Day in the Sun

Pensacola weather is shifting, from an unusually cold winter into it’s normal steaming summer. The day after I arrived, I headed for church, but while dressing I discovered I had nothing climate-appropriate, and ended up going to church on a cold day with bare legs.

Now the sun is shining, the big-box stores are advertising garden specials and I cannot resist. Even if I can’t live in my house, I can get some things started, and I am eager to start some bougainvillea; I love the way it doesn’t need a lot of water – it grew in the ground in Qatar, and flourished!

It is hard for me to go into a Home Depot, or a Lowe’s; I am still so greatly lacking in sales resistance. The garden section is loaded with temptations:

There is also a beautiful local market, Bailey’s, where I found some gorgeous and irresistable bougainvillea. Just enough, not too much. They also provided me with a six-pack of basil, and a couple gorgeous rosemary starts.

After getting the plants potted and in places where, God willing, they will flourish, I spent another hour pulling weeds out of the lawn. 😦

All in all, it was a great day in the sun. 🙂

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Food, Living Conditions, Moving, Weather | 2 Comments

Long Term Care for The Aged: Hidden In Plain Sight

One of the most amazing things that happened to me while I was living in Doha was a conversation I had with a group of Qatteri and Palestinian women. We were talking about our summer plans, and when it was my turn, I told them I was going back to the US to take care of my Dad while my Mom had a knee replacement. They all looked at me in stunned silence, and I wondered what I had said wrong.

“You do this?” one of them finally asked me, “You take care of your parents?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied, not understanding her puzzlement.

There was a burst of excited chatter I couldn’t follow, and then one of the younger women said to me “but we NEVER see this on TV.”

Things have probably changed by now, with all the cable stations available, with Lifetime and a broader spectrum, but what they think of as America is Dynasty and – well, think of what your favorite programs are, and then imagine an alien culture watching and trying to figure out your culture from what you watch. If you are living with the aliens, they way we portray our own culture on television and in movies is appalling!

Long story short, most adults want to stay independent as long as possible. They never want to be a burden on their sons and daughters and grandchildren. I am willing to bet that this is almost universal. For one thing, from the point of view of the aging, if you live with someone else, you know you will increase their work load, and if you go to a facility, you lose a lot of options to choose. Being able to have someone to come into your own house allows you to remain independent as long as possible. If you live with one of your children, you still get to have home-care, which relieves a lot of the burden on those with whom you are living.

Here is an AOL Health News article on a ‘hidden’ provision of the new health care act which will make it possible to keep our elders at home longer. Believe me, this is a very good thing, if you have ever dealt with a rehab facility, or a residence for the aged.

Health Care Reform Will Impact Long-Term Care
From AOL News: HealthCare
Robert W. Stock
(March 26) — As health care reform became the law of the land this week, a huge bloc of Americans with a unique interest in the outcome sat watching on the sidelines.

The 49 million people who care for older family members were hidden in plain sight, as usual, quietly shouldering a burden that so often takes a heavy toll on their finances and their physical and emotional well-being. Many of them — I know a few — are opposed to the new health care law, even though it includes one of the most important steps ever taken to improve caregivers’ lot, especially those of the middle-class persuasion. Of course, hardly any of them are aware of that.

The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, otherwise known as CLASS, provides for a national insurance program to help cover the cost of long-term care — something 70 percent of people over 65 will need at some point along the way. The premiums will be much lower than those for private plans, and you won’t get screened out because you’ve already had some health problems. Once vested after five years, enrollees unable to care for themselves will be able to claim cash benefits for as long as needed.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
A health aide helps a patient at his home in Miami. The new health care reform law could “transform long-term care” and make it possible for more patients to stay at home, said the chief of the National Council on Aging.
If you’re rich, you don’t require much financial help with long-term care. If you’re poor and can no longer fend for yourself, Medicaid pays the bills, often at a nursing home. For the rest of us, long-term care — at home or in an institution — now requires that we, or our caregivers, choose from among some unpleasant options.

We can spend down our retirement savings until we’re eligible for Medicaid funds. We can protect our savings by taking out expensive long-term care insurance — it costs my wife and me more than $5,000 a year. Or, depending on how dependent we are, we can throw ourselves, or be thrown, on the mercy of our families.

My friend — I’ll call him Frank — was a retired lawyer and in great shape until four years ago. He had just turned 90 when emergency surgery laid him low for months on end. Then his sight and hearing began to go. “I’m one of the lucky ones,” his wife, Helen, told me. “His mind is fine. But he can’t get around on his own — he falls, even with a walker. He can’t make a cup of tea or shower by himself.”

For now, Helen can afford to hire an aide for a few hours a day to help with Frank and allow her to get out of the apartment. “James gives me a life,” she said. The future looks darker.

Surveys show that 90 percent of Americans want to age at home. Frank is no exception, but he never signed up for long-term care insurance. “If I couldn’t keep taking care of him, I don’t what I’d do,” Helen said. “If he went into assisted living, it would use up all our money. It’s very scary.”

CLASS, one of the legacies of the late Ted Kennedy, offers caregivers and care recipients another option. “If it’s successful, if a large enough number of people sign up, it will transform long-term care,” says James Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging. “It will create a market-based economy for keeping aging people at home.”

That’s an important “if,” since the program, by law, must be self-sustaining. Premiums will generally be collected as part of workers’ payroll deductions unless they opt out. The younger the worker, the smaller the premium.

There is a vicious circle built into the current arrangements. Many caregivers must hold down a job and maintain their own separate family household while also watching over an aging parent. That kind of pressure can have consequences.

In recent studies, workers 18 to 39 years of age who were caring for an older relative had significantly higher rates of hypertension, depression and heart disease than non-caregivers of the same age. Overall, caregivers cost their companies an extra 8 percent a year in health care charges and many more unplanned days off.

In other words, the strains of family caregiving can hasten the caregiver’s need to be the recipient of care.

CLASS bids to crack if not break that vicious circle. Its benefits would make it much simpler and less expensive for families to make sure Mom gets the support she needs to be able to spend life’s endgame where she wants — in her own home. Good news for Mom, and good news for the future health of her caregivers.

In the last few days, I’ve conducted a poll of a dozen friends who have been closely following the health care reform debate. I wanted to find out how much they knew about CLASS.

Not one among them had even heard of it. It somehow seemed fitting that this major program, just like the caregivers themselves, was hidden in plain sight.

March 27, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Generational, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Relationships, Seattle, Social Issues | 6 Comments

Before and Now

No, my house is not undergoing a ‘remodel.’ It is undergoing a rewiring. About the best that will happen is that when it is finished, it will look a lot like it looked before, except with invisible copper wiring instead of aluminum wiring, which, as it turns out, is problematic.

Sigh. And then again, what better time to have this all done than BEFORE you move in? If it had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better time, and we have some truly great contractors. How many times have you ever heard someone say that?

Today I went by the house to pick up the mail and holy smokes – the garage is full of ceiling, and my house is bare bones!

Here are some before and after shots:

Family Room Before:

Family Room Now:

Kitchen Before:

Kitchen Now:

Living Room Before:

Living Room Now:

And last but not least – the Garage before:

And the Garage now:

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Humor, Living Conditions, Moving, Renovations | 13 Comments

Dubai Easter Camel

LLOOLL, saw this in the Dubai Airport and could not resist taking a photo. I would have loved to bring some back for Easter basket surprises on Easter morning, but they are surprisingly bulky, as much fun as they are:

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Chocolate, Cross Cultural, Easter, Holiday, Humor, Travel | Leave a comment

Publix Helps Us Cook At Home

Through blogging, I became a fan, and then in the way things happen in this wonderful virtual world, a friend of another blogger, John Lockerbie, who writes about many things, my favorite of which is Islamic design. He writes about the architecture, the boats, development in the Gulf, and behind the blogs, we have had our own correspondence.

Recently he commented on the post I wrote about how American health problems are mostly self-inflicted, and could be turned around with proper diet, exercise and preventive visits to the doctor to deter the serious illnesses from showing up. He sent me a reference to a speech made by Jamie Oliver, when he won the TED prize, on changing one small thing in the modern world – teaching us to cook once again in our own homes instead of eating out, eating highly processed, highly salted, highly sugared and highly fatted foods.

There is a Florida chain of supermarkets called Publix, and they are marvelous. Publix is making it easy for people to cook at home. They have a program where they do cooking demos, give out the recipes, and have all the ingredients gathered in one place – at the same price as throughout the store, just located conveniently in this one place – to encourage people to cook at home.

All the ingredients for several recipes:

Close up:

The signage:

Pick a recipe!

I find I am enjoying cooking a lot more here, where shopping is so easy and everything looks so good. Oh yes, and the prices are so low!

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Community, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Florida, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Recipes, Shopping, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Barbie Turns 50

LLOOOLL, my sweet Kuwaiti friend is also sharp, with a sharp edge, and sends me some of the funniest things I have ever seen: Barbie Turns 50, LLOOLL

About a year ago, when I first moved back to Doha, I decided to use up a bunch of pink scraps that had collected over the years – baby girl quilts, friend quilts – pink isn’t my favorite color, but I hate waste. I chose a pattern I thought would be easy, but then . . . I started playing. I always associate pink with Barbie, you know, that Pepto-Bismo pink? Bubble-gum pink? And then I thought “What if Barbie got an edge? What would Barbie look like in real life, the light innocent pinks of girlhood? The hot passion of teen-age crushes? The elegant reds of romance and the purples of betrayal? What would she look like when menopause hits?”

I ended up taking a lot of time, finding just the right colors and trying them out in different places. I grouped similar pinks in different areas, with a light rent down the center – aren’t our lives often divided by events? As it turned out . . . I had a lot of fun playing with the idea of Barbie growing up, becoming a real person, and experiencing all the things women experience. Maybe men too, but I wouldn’t know, LOL! (I still have a pile of pink scraps left over, aaarrgh!)

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Friends & Friendship, Humor | Leave a comment

The Kindness of Strangers

Things have started off well in Pensacola. My second day in town, I made it to church, and discovered that the church is involved with gathering food for the poor, something I like doing, too. They are also celebrating the church in Jerusalem and the Middle East on Palm Sunday, which I find a sort of fortuitous omen, since here I am, coming in from the Middle East.

Monday, we bought the house. We really did buy it, even though it was me signing the papers. Now that I think of it, that’s the way it has been with just about every house we have bought – I have gone ahead to sign the papers and AdventureMan has followed later . . .

The previous owner of the house did some really kind, really generous things. He left a screen for the fireplace that is sort of Art Nouveau, my favorite period, and I really like it. It sounds like a small thing, but he put a full roll of toilet paper in every bathroom. He left all the instruction manuals for all the appliances, and left notes on the remotes, explaining which was which. I found all of this very kind, unexpectedly kind, and generous of spirit.

The contractors who are going to rewire and then restore the house are contractor nerds. You do know how much I like nerds, don’t you? Nerds are people who are probably ‘uncool’ because they have a fascination with something, and don’t care what you think about it. One of these guys is an electrician nerd, and the other is a general contractor nerd, and once they start talking, I (the customer) am almost irrelevant. These guys have listened to what I want, they know what I need, they have asked all the right questions, and then the two of them start talking in their own language (contractor language; it’s English but barely intelligible to folk like me) and they are trying as hard as they can to get AdventureMan and Qatteri Cat and me into the house as soon as possible. These are honest guys, who love the work they are doing, and I feel so blessed to have them in my life.

In fact, I met my realtor because she is married to the contractor guy. I found him on the internet when I needed some work done on my other Pensacola house. He had a valid license, and no complaints. When I interviewed him, my son and husband were also present, and we all agreed, some how we had lucked out. This man was straight forward, and honest. When he told us how much it would cost, we gulped, but he got all the work done on time, and on budget. How cool is that?

His wife spent hours and days and weeks with us, showing us huge numbers of houses, from the amazing to the disgusting. She said she would find the right house for us, and – she did! It is close to our son and his wife without being too close, it is close to church, close to shopping and not far at all from the glorious Pensacola beaches. Woo HOOO on her!

Yesterday, I bought the Rav4. It was so boring, so uneventful, I totally loved it. Who needs new car drama? The car is enough, I don’t want drama! These people were so good to me – they arranged for me to drop my car off near their dealership, which is about an hour from Pensacola (YES! YES, I would drive an hour for the kind of service I got – I got the car I wanted at almost the exact price I was willing to pay) and they picked me up, went through all the formalities, did not try to stick me with any extra charges, in fact I ended up paying $6 less than I thought. They demo’d the new features, handed me the keys and sent me off with a full tank of gas. It was a great way to buy a car, and I love my new car.

Today, I needed to buy book cases. The one rule of moving in is that it goes smoothly IF you have places to put things, which in our case means book cases. I use them for books, yes, but also for fabric storage, sometimes to display photos, sometimes to divide rooms, or to store sweaters and underclothes and things I want to be able to see where they are.

I knew where I had seem book cases at an amazing price, but they didn’t have six in the finish (maple) that I wanted, so a kind woman working there checked local inventories and sent me off to the next store, where they found the six, loaded them on a trolley and a strong young man loaded them into my car. When I tried to tip him, he gasped and pulled back and said “No! No! I’m not allowed to accept tips! I could get FIRED if I took a tip!”

This is not what I am used to!

All in all, people have been amazingly kind, and it seems to happen a lot.

There is one very funny thing I notice about myself, now four days in Pensacola. That is, I cannot go into a grocery store and come out with just what I went in for. The prices here are so GOOD! I keep thinking in Kuwaiti Dinars, or Qatari Riyals, and I think “I might never see tuna fish at that price again!” or “Look at the price on those eggs!” and even though the RATIONAL part of my brain keeps saying “Wait! Wait! You’re in the United States now!” the reality has not yet permeated my buying mode enough to restrain me. I have zero sales resistance. I really just need to stay out of the stores until I can build some resistance up.

At the end of every day I get to come home to my son and his wife and their little baby son, and life is sweet, except that we all wish AdventureMan would hurry and come and join us. And bring the Qateri Cat!

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Florida, Food, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Qatteri Cat, Shopping, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | 5 Comments