Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Avery Island and Tabasco Sauce

Sometimes it’s funny why people make the choices they do. We knew one of the first things we wanted to do on this trip was to visit Avery Island. There are a lot of little reasons. First, was that when AdventureMan was young, he was sent to a far away country, Vietnam, to fight for his country. Most of his time was spent out in the jungle, and they carried most of their food on their backs. They ate something called C-rations, little meals, like with cans of food, and the Avery/McIlhenny Tobasco company made little tiny bottles of tabasco sauce to include with each meal package. It’s a small thing, but those little bottles of tabasco sauce made a difference to those soldiers.

Later, as we flew in and out of the Middle East, Delta had a special short feature on Avery Island. Long story short, we’ve always wanted to visit there, and now we had the opportunity.

(You have to see this mosquito statue to appreciate it; it must be about 5 feet long and 4 feet high, and there are several of them. )

It was a beautiful morning, and the drive was beautiful, too, cool and lovely. Avery island is surrounded by a kind of river/moat, so it really is an island that once used to be a sugar cane plantation. As soon as we opened our car doors, the mosquitos came at me; I am a mosquito magnet.

The tour of the factory had already started, so I scooted over to the country store, which is a really run place. Who would think there could be so many products devoted to Tabasco Sauce?

Oops! Time to get back over to the factory for our tour, which is like 5 minutes, then a 10 minute movie. Just before the movie starts, the guide (who also works in the gift shop while the movie is running) gives each person tiny sample bottles of several Tabasco products – cool!

After the movie, we get to tour alongside the factory and go into the museum. Very cool. Thousands and thousands of tobasco bottles being filled, and each day they post which country(ies) they are sending this batch to. Today is Ireland.

Tabasco is made with a secret formula of specially grown tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt. Lucky for them, they have their own salt mine on the property. Just about everything they need to make tabasco sauce, right at their fingertips. This was a fun tour to take, and one of our dreams was fulfilled.

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Food, Ireland, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

A Visit to Cajun Country in Louisiana

I guess I might have mentioned a time or two that I read an author named James Lee Burke. I remember the very first book I read – A Morning For Flamingos. I remember where I found it – the US Forces library on Lindsay Air Station. I remember it was late winter in Germany, the time when you think Spring will never come, that it will be grim and grey and cold for the rest of your life. I sought escape, which Mysteries/Detective novels provide, but I never expected poetry. From the very first page of A Morning for Flamingos, I was spellbound. While his novels have some horrific violence in them, and his detective Dave Robicheaux is a recovering alcoholic with some seriously self-destructive issues, you can sort of skim through the bad parts; there will be more poetry soon.

He is one of the few authors I will buy in hard cover.

I’ve been waiting. I wanted to see New Iberia, but I had to find a time when all the universal factors would line up – AdventureMan would be in the same country as me, the weather would be cool enough that travel would be enjoyable, and there was a low likelihood of running into a lot of tourists. The stars aligned, and off we went, a mere five hours away, to Cajun Louisiana.

We drove to New Orleans, first, visiting the welcome station to pick up brochures and figure out what we wanted to see and where we wanted to stay.

The welcome center was clean and well stocked, lots of bathrooms available for the visitors, lots of visitors, and ladies behind the counters full of first hand information about where we should go, where we should eat and where we might stay.

I have a thing about bridges. I had an accident on a bridge once, and I’m still a little nervous about bridges. This is the kind of bridge I hate:

This southernmost part of Louisiana is lowland, and there are bridges everywhere. Some of them are bridges like I have never seen anywhere else:

We arrived in the middle of the sugar cane harvest. I didn’t know what fields of sugar cane looked like; now I do:

There were big huge carts full of cane, all going to be processed on the same day they were cut:

All this time we were looking at sugar cane, we were getting hungrier and hungrier, but it was Sunday, and a lot of places were already closed, if they had been open at all. We finally found a restaurant in New Iberia, Pelicans, where I shocked my husband by ordering the vegetable plate – but it was all deep fried vegetables; asparagus, green beans, broccoli and carrots. He had a BBQ sandwich.

I think we were the only tourists in the place. The bar was full; the restaurant was empty, except for us.

We wanted to find someplace really fun to stay, full of character, and I had been looking at some cabins in Breaux Bridge. When we got ready to check them out, we discovered that the people who ran it were gone! There was a phone number, which we called, and the very kind owner called back and told us to go take a look, and which cabins were available.

You know, things just aren’t the way they used to be. I remember my Mom and Dad’s house, the first one they bought. The closet in the Master bedroom was only about 4 feet by 3 feet deep, with one bar and with a shelf. People had fewer clothes then, even in Alaska, where they also had heavy coats and ski pants and stuff. Bathrooms were small, only what was necessary, not like the spa-bathrooms people want now (me included.)

These cabins were cute. They were built right out over the bayou, and you could fish off your own balcony, each cabin separate and free standing. The place was clean. It was also really small, with small beds and small bathrooms. I don’t have asthma, but there was a musty smell, and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to breathe. We also like a good mattress, so we can sleep well. I looked at AdventureMan, who was looking at me. We were both on the same track; we couldn’t stay there. I called the lady back. “The cabins are really nice,” I said, “But we’re old and have allergies. We can’t stay here.” My husband was looking at me in a mixture of horror and hysteria. As we got in the car, his shoulders were shaking. He put a quiver in his voice (my voice did NOT quiver) and started saying “We’re o-o-o-o-ld, and we . . .” We were both rolling with laughter. I just didn’t know what else to say. We used to stay in places like this, but now we put a higher value on sleep.

We headed for a tried and true Marriott – actually, two of them – in Lafayette, only to discover that there was an oil and gas conference starting this week and there were NO rooms at the Marriott. We headed back toward New Iberia and settled into a Hampton Inn – nice, clean, roomy, and no character, we could have been in Seattle or Pennsylvania, but we could breathe.

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

6 Things a Marriage Counselor Would Tell You

We have celebrated 38 years of marriage, and we still read these articles. 🙂 It’s all true – marriage takes work. I found this today on AOL Everyday Health

6 Things a Marriage Counselor Would Tell You

Every relationship has its bumps — but these expert tips can help feuding duos smooth things out again.

By Jennifer Acosta ScottMedically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

A relationship free of spats, scrapes, and squabbles? That’s a thing of fairy tales (though we’re willing to bet that even Cinderella and Prince Charming had their problems).

Real-life matrimony — that has its ups and down. And while it’s certainly not fun to clash with your sweetheart, disagreements don’t signal the demise of your relationship. “There are always ways to resolve issues, overcome obstacles, and build a stronger bond because of it,” says Lori Bizzoco, a relationship expert and founder of Cupid’s Pulse, a Web site that provides relationship advice to couples.

What’s more? Each relationship (even the best of the best) has room to grow. But not everyone can afford to see a professional marriage counselor — and some marriages simply need a quick tune-up. That’s why we went to top relationship experts to find out the best ways to resolve disagreements, keep things fun, and ensure an emotionally health partnership for the both of you.

Here’s your at-home guide to boosting your marriage or long-term partnership (you may be surprised how well these work!).

1. Fight. It may sound contradictory, but arguments between couples can actually be a sign that the relationship still has a good foundation. “Indifference to each other tells me a marriage is in big trouble,” says Susan Fletcher, PhD, a psychologist in the Dallas area. “Couples who care enough to fight still care about each other.” Next time you find yourself in a war of words with your partner, don’t give up and walk away: Use the disagreement as a jumping-off point for coming to a resolution — and then kiss and make up!

2. If you love her, let her grow. Most people develop and change as they get older — but according to Bizzoco, this often comes as a surprise to a spouse. “Often we get so wrapped up in the relationship and think we know someone so well that we don’t allow them the freedom to be anything more than the person they were when we met them,” Bizzoco says. But embracing these changes can be extremely beneficial to a relationship. So if your husband wants to take up golf or your wife wants to return to school for another degree, encourage them to follow these interests (your spouse will appreciate the support).

3. Be the A-Team. It may sound cheesy, but the phrase is an apt term for the “us first” attitude that couples should have when it comes to their relationship. “This means that they consult, discuss, and make decisions as a couple and do not put other relationships, children, or extended family before this primary relationship,” says Karol Ward, LCSW, a psychotherapist in New York. If you put your partner first, he will feel cherished and valued — an important emotion for your marriage.

4. Add some oomph to your “Hello!” When you’ve been separated from your spouse for some time (even if it was just for the work day), greeting him enthusiastically, rather than just glancing up, can be a great way to show you care. “It sounds silly, but think about the feeling that it creates when you give them just a few moments of attention,” Bizzoco says. Your special greeting can be anything from a simple hug to a sexy dance move. Coming home will be even sweeter than before.

5. Don’t forget your manners: Say “Thanks.” It’s easy to get wrapped up in what your partner does wrong — and too often, we lose sight of what they’re doing right. Every night, get in the habit of writing down three good things about your spouse — something nice he did (it really was sweet how he DVR’d The Notebook for you), a fond memory you have of her (remember that trip to the Caribbean?), or one of his many good qualities (that cute butt, of course). “This keeps you feeling more positive toward him, which will benefit your relationship,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a psychologist and therapist in Wexford, Pa. And it can benefit you, too: When you’re in the middle of a knock-down fight, think back to your list to remember the reasons you’re in the relationship.

6. Get good feedback. Even if your relationship is as old as the hills, it’s never too late to ask your partner this one simple question: “How do you know that I love you?” Listen carefully to the response. If nothing else, Ward says, you’ll discover which of your actions are the most appreciated and which behaviors to maintain moving forward.

Follow these relationship “musts” — and you may never need to call up a marriage counselor.

Last Updated: 10/11/2011

October 26, 2011 Posted by | Civility, Communication, Financial Issues, Marriage, Relationships | 2 Comments

Florida – Florida State Rivalry

When our son attended FSU. we wouldn’t even put an FSU sticker on our car because feelings run so high in Florida depending on which school you attended – or even whose team you support.

So you have to laugh when you see a good sport like this. I don’t know what the bet is, but it has to hurt to be sporting a huge Florida State flag for an indeterminate length of time (we’ve been seeing this truck for a couple months now.)

October 20, 2011 Posted by | Cultural, Florida, Humor, Local Lore, Pensacola | Leave a comment

Hungry Baby

Who knows what a cat is thinking? This morning, I found the Qatari Cat’s baby by my side of the bed. Sometimes I find him at the foot of the stairs. Never in the Qatari Cat’s chair. But when we came home, I saw this:

October 19, 2011 Posted by | ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Humor, Pets, Qatteri Cat | 2 Comments

The Rule of the Harvest

I was talking about this with a Mormon friend, who told me they call this ‘The Rule of the Harvest,’ that it is one of life’s great – and most obvious – secrets, that what you give comes back to you ten-fold and more.

Pastor Rick Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church, and sends out these thoughts on a daily basis. The current theme is generosity in giving, as this is stewardship season.

Financial Fitness: Generosity Reaps Generosity
by Rick Warren

The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. Proverbs 11:24 (Msg)
If I sow generosity, it’s going to come back to me, and I’m going to reap generosity.

Every farmer knows this. A farmer has sacks of seed in his barn and he looks at his empty field. He doesn’t complain, “There’s no crop! I wish there was a crop!” He just goes out and starts planting seed. When you have a need, plant a seed.

It seems illogical that when I have a need, I should give.

Why did God set it up this way? Because God is a giver. He is the most generous giver in the universe, and God wants you to learn to be like him. He wants to build character in you.

The Bible says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce” (Proverbs 3:9 NLT). This is the principle of tithing. It’s the principle that says every time I make $100 — the first $10 goes back to God.

Tithing is an act of worship. We’re giving to God. We’re saying, “All of it came from you anyway.” God says, “Put me first in your life and watch what I do.” You may think you can’t afford to tithe, but the reality is, you can’t afford not to tithe.

If you have an interest in receiving his daily message, you can subscribe here.

October 18, 2011 Posted by | Character, Charity, Financial Issues, Fund Raising, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

Broken Dishes

“How did you handle it with us, Mom, when we had temper tantrums?” I asked.

“You girls didn’t have a lot of tantrums, or at least I don’t remember any. . . But I do remember I was always breaking dishes and buying new sets, so one time I put the remains of a dish set in a box and told one of you, maybe you, maybe your sister, that when you get mad, just go down and break a dish.”

I remember that. I remember it all. Yes, my Mom loved dishes, and she was often getting new dishes. It’s a family thing, we all have more sets of dishes than we know what to do with. I have my first everyday china, Finnish stoneware so strong and durable that to this day, I’ve only lost a couple pieces to breakage and have one chip. I have a set of everyday Wedgewood that I bought when I got sick and tired of my durable set. I have our wedding china, and I have my (one of) my grandmother’s sets of china, and then I have the china I bought in Germany when all my other china was in storage. (I no longer have the china with the elephants and camels I bought in Doha, and it made us smile everytime we used it.) Oops. And three sets of Christmas dishes, but just the dinner dishes, not all the soups and breads and etc.

Oh wait! Where was I going? Ah yes, the set of dishes in the box in the basement.

I remember being really angry and heading for the box. I remember throwing a plate, but it didn’t break loudly enough, so I used a hammer. It made a big mess. We weren’t allowed to make a mess and not clean it up, and knowing I had to pick up all the broken pieces took a lot of fun out of being angry. It just didn’t do it for me. I never broke another dish (on purpose.)

One of the fun things about Doha and Kuwait was that you could find these cheap but fun dishes and use them for a couple years and then just walk away from them and not look back. 🙂

October 18, 2011 Posted by | Family Issues, Shopping | 2 Comments

Babies and Bilingualism

Fascinating article from The New York Times on babies and language development:

Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language
Published: October 10, 2011

Once, experts feared that young children exposed to more than one language would suffer “language confusion,” which might delay their speech development. Today, parents often are urged to capitalize on that early knack for acquiring language. Upscale schools market themselves with promises of deep immersion in Spanish — or Mandarin — for everyone, starting in kindergarten or even before.

Yet while many parents recognize the utility of a second language, families bringing up children in non-English-speaking households, or trying to juggle two languages at home, are often desperate for information. And while the study of bilingual development has refuted those early fears about confusion and delay, there aren’t many research-based guidelines about the very early years and the best strategies for producing a happily bilingual child.

But there is more and more research to draw on, reaching back to infancy and even to the womb. As the relatively new science of bilingualism pushes back to the origins of speech and language, scientists are teasing out the earliest differences between brains exposed to one language and brains exposed to two.

Researchers have found ways to analyze infant behavior — where babies turn their gazes, how long they pay attention — to help figure out infant perceptions of sounds and words and languages, of what is familiar and what is unfamiliar to them. Now, analyzing the neurologic activity of babies’ brains as they hear language, and then comparing those early responses with the words that those children learn as they get older, is helping explain not just how the early brain listens to language, but how listening shapes the early brain.

Recently, researchers at the University of Washington used measures of electrical brain responses to compare so-called monolingual infants, from homes in which one language was spoken, to bilingual infants exposed to two languages. Of course, since the subjects of the study, adorable in their infant-size EEG caps, ranged from 6 months to 12 months of age, they weren’t producing many words in any language.

Still, the researchers found that at 6 months, the monolingual infants could discriminate between phonetic sounds, whether they were uttered in the language they were used to hearing or in another language not spoken in their homes. By 10 to 12 months, however, monolingual babies were no longer detecting sounds in the second language, only in the language they usually heard.

The researchers suggested that this represents a process of “neural commitment,” in which the infant brain wires itself to understand one language and its sounds.

In contrast, the bilingual infants followed a different developmental trajectory. At 6 to 9 months, they did not detect differences in phonetic sounds in either language, but when they were older — 10 to 12 months — they were able to discriminate sounds in both.

“What the study demonstrates is that the variability in bilingual babies’ experience keeps them open,” said Dr. Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington and one of the authors of the study. “They do not show the perceptual narrowing as soon as monolingual babies do. It’s another piece of evidence that what you experience shapes the brain.”

The learning of language — and the effects on the brain of the language we hear — may begin even earlier than 6 months of age.

Janet Werker, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, studies how babies perceive language and how that shapes their learning. Even in the womb, she said, babies are exposed to the rhythms and sounds of language, and newborns have been shown to prefer languages rhythmically similar to the one they’ve heard during fetal development.

In one recent study, Dr. Werker and her collaborators showed that babies born to bilingual mothers not only prefer both of those languages over others — but are also able to register that the two languages are different.

In addition to this ability to use rhythmic sound to discriminate between languages, Dr. Werker has studied other strategies that infants use as they grow, showing how their brains use different kinds of perception to learn languages, and also to keep them separate.

In a study of older infants shown silent videotapes of adults speaking, 4-month-olds could distinguish different languages visually by watching mouth and facial motions and responded with interest when the language changed. By 8 months, though, the monolingual infants were no longer responding to the difference in languages in these silent movies, while the bilingual infants continued to be engaged.

“For a baby who’s growing up bilingual, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is important information,’ ” Dr. Werker said.

Over the past decade, Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, has shown that bilingual children develop crucial skills in addition to their double vocabularies, learning different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking, skills that are often considered part of the brain’s so-called executive function.

These higher-level cognitive abilities are localized to the frontal and prefrontal cortex in the brain. “Overwhelmingly, children who are bilingual from early on have precocious development of executive function,” Dr. Bialystok said.

Dr. Kuhl calls bilingual babies “more cognitively flexible” than monolingual infants. Her research group is examining infant brains with an even newer imaging device, magnetoencephalography, or MEG, which combines an M.R.I. scan with a recording of magnetic field changes as the brain transmits information.

Dr. Kuhl describes the device as looking like a “hair dryer from Mars,” and she hopes that it will help explore the question of why babies learn language from people, but not from screens.

Previous research by her group showed that exposing English-language infants in Seattle to someone speaking to them in Mandarin helped those babies preserve the ability to discriminate Chinese language sounds, but when the same “dose” of Mandarin was delivered by a television program or an audiotape, the babies learned nothing.

“This special mapping that babies seem to do with language happens in a social setting,” Dr. Kuhl said. “They need to be face to face, interacting with other people. The brain is turned on in a unique way.”

October 17, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Language | | Leave a comment

“How Was Your Day?”

We were all standing in line, a very long line, at Pensacola’s Greek Festival at The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church when my son asked how our day was. (AdventureMan and the Happy Baby were off exploring.)

“Oh, it was GREAT!” I enthused. “Time passes so much faster when you’re retired and you spend your time having fun!”

“So what did you do?” he asked.

“Oh! We went to water aerobics, and stopped by the bank to cash a check so we would have money for the weekend. Then your Dad vacuumed so I can mop the floors tomorrow, while I cleaned upstairs, dusted, did the bathrooms, etc. At lunch we went to Chow Time, and drove down here to check out parking, and then I had a quilting meeting this afternoon, and then we met you!”

As I finished, their faces were somewhere between blank and confused . . . and I realized my idea of fun was a relative thing.

Here is what is fun. Fun is getting to CHOOSE when you vacuum or mop the floors, or wipe down the blinds, or clean the bathrooms. Fun is having the time to do it even on a weekday, not having to scramble on Sundays to get it all done, like we used to. Fun is not having gobs of money, but having enough that we can go to the bank and take some out when we need it for the weekend. Fun is meeting up with our son and his wife and our grandson because our schedule isn’t full with business meetings, and working late at the office. Fun is having groups we belong to because we really want to.

The truth is, in many ways, we are busier than we ever have been, but it is busy-ness of our own choosing.

Fun is even babysitting your grandson when he gets sick, just because you can, or helping carry him around a big festival, taking turns, so everyone gets to eat. It’s fun because we can, and because this is what we have chosen.

EnviroGirl and I picked up the dinners while AdventureMan and L&O Man scouted for seats in the tent so we could sit and eat dinner – moussaka, chicken, lamb, all kinds of specialities. There was also a very long dessert line – this festival is all about the food, and the music and dancing. I’ve taken some photos for you, but once we had the food, I didn’t get a chance to get any more photos. We only had to stand in line about thirty minutes; although there is a huge crowd, there is also a system, and they get people in and through the serving lines very efficiently.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Civility, Community, Cooking, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, Entertainment, Events, ExPat Life, Florida, Food, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola | | 1 Comment

Hilarious French Video / Ad

Thank you, Hayfa!

October 14, 2011 Posted by | Beauty, Cultural, Diet / Weight Loss, Exercise, Health Issues, Marketing | Leave a comment