Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: Safaga to Luxor

We docked in an industrial port in Sfaga, no getting off and wandering around. We have breakfast in our room, beautiful, quick and easy. We have to wait a while until the Egyptians have examined and stamped our passports.

All departing passengers gather in the Nautica Lounge – we are number 20, one of the last to go. We go through exit procedures (facial scan, Egyptian inspection) and discover we are on a small bus, a group of only eight people, for the next two days. We don’t know any of them, but we feel very fortunate to be with a very small group. We are happily surprised. We had thought we might be on a large bus with coughing and sneezing people and need to mask.

This is a very popular location. There are all kinds of trips going out, to various locations for various amounts of time. The buses are all lined up, and the immigration center we all have to go through is on the far left. 

Another happy surprise is that the weather is cool on the ship, and cool in the morning, cool enough to need a scarf. (This night, for dinner, I will need a sweater over my dress.) This is a happy surprise. I really hate being too hot.

We are on a two day trip, today and tomorrow with an overnight in Luxor.

Almost immediately, Merv, our guide, has us introduce ourselves. We are traveling with Steve and Becky from Austin, Dave and Patricia, from Toronto, and Tom and Deb from Vancouver. We have a long drive, through the stark mountain area of Egypt (!) and then along the luscious, fertile valley of the Nile, where I take almost all my photos. Steve and AdventureMan discover they have lived just miles from one another. All our fellow passengers are well-traveled. Becky has some mobility issues, but does a great job and never complains. 

When you think of Egypt, do you think of mountains? I never did. This first stretch we cover is full of desert and stark mountains, and I envision Moses, shepherding for his father-in-law and his encounter with the great I Am, in a bush that burned and was not consumed. I could imagine long treks with the sheep to find enough to eat, and long days to think about things.

My Arab friends always laughed when I would tell them their countries reminded me of growing up in Alaska, but there are wide open stretches that go on forever and harsh climates. In Alaska, you dress for the cold and stay inside through the worst of it; in the Middle East, you dress for the heat and stay inside for the worst of it, and you spend as much time as you can outdoors when temperatures are mild as you can. I am a big fan of dark skies and myriad stars, both Alaska and deserts provide food for my soul.

We make a stop at a rest stop along the way. We were supposed to travel in a caravan, with security, for our protection, but we were last to leave and our smaller bus did not have onboard facilities. It was really nice being able to get out and walk around, but it cost us in terms of convenience later on. Because we had lost our convoy, the police kept stopping us and questioning our credentials. They found us a curiosity. Finally, at one point, a police van led us several miles and vouched for our right of passage. It was an interesting experience. Our tour guide was relentlessly aggressive with the police, and rather than offending them, they were respectful to her.

Our tour guide was a formidable woman, one of the senior tour guides in Egypt. Her assignment with us was her second to last career assignment; she is retiring. What I loved about having her as a guide was that she was so knowledgeable. She filled us in on politics, social issues, and current events, as we drove a couple hours through the rural areas en route to Luxor.

My geographical knowledge of Egypt was slight. Now I feel really stupid. I had kind of thought the Red Sea and the Nile were somehow related, but the Nile is inland from the Red Sea. The micro-climates inland are lush and fertile.

You might see the donkey, but the reason I took this photo is that in our times living in Middle Eastern countries, we often saw rugs drying at service stations, especially those with car washes. The car washes get them nice and clean and have room to hang them so that they can dry. This is a nice, non-humid day, perfect for having carpets cleaned.

One of the things we learned is that Egypt has become more conservative with so many Egyptian men working as guest laborers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Egyptian women were at one time freer and better educated and had more civil rights than now. Husbands and fathers returning from stricter countries enforced stricter standards on their daughters, wives, and family members. Interesting, hmmm?

Here is our friendly police escort below:

This is one of my favorite photos – these gourds, which are some kind of pumpkin or squash, are in season, and there are piles of them everywhere! I remember in Tunisia when pumpkins came into season, they were huge! In the market, you bought them by the slice, huge, thick, meaty pumpkins, one of the essential ingredients in couscous.

I remember in Qatar when the Queen found laundry hanging on balconies inelegant and banned it; had a law passed which forbid it. And yet – where were the apartment dwellers to dry their laundry? Laundry continued on the balconies, and I never heard of anyone arrested for it.

Look at this wall, made of recycled broken pots and clay.

There is a line behind the waiting man of little tuk-tuk taxis, many with curtains, with one driver in front and passengers in the back.

We go directly to the hotel once we get to Luxor, check-in, go to our rooms and clean up, then have lunch, which is an international buffet. That means mostly western food. Eating western food in the heart of Egypt was a surprising disappointment to me. I totally get it. Luxor is a huge destination, and Egypt needs the tourist currency. Hotels have to please a large number of people. We were yearning for a good felafel.

The truth is, I did not have high hopes for this part of my cruise. The last time we were in Egypt, we were staying with friends, in Cairo, and we had great adventures. We have actually been to Luxor and Karnak before, and I discovered that I did not like going down into tombs; to me, they are very musty and give me a claustrophobic feeling. I stay above ground and take photos.

I had no idea we would have such a great tour guide; she is a blessing, so full of information and opinions. I don’t always have to agree with her to like her. I respect her! I also had no idea we would be spending so much time traveling through villages where people live their normal lives, and I love it. I’m finding in general the tourist experience is restrictive; we are at the mercy of other people’s schedules, other people’s timing, and where other people find it expedient to take us.

This group is different. The people with whom we are traveling in this small group are all very respectful of being on time and not going missing – in fact, if anyone is guilty of going missing, it is me. I tend to wander off. I make it a point to keep Merv informed about where I will be and to always be on time for departures. She gives me latitude. She allows me to wander – here there and everywhere. 🙂

And, as random as life is, I am so thankful not to be too hot. I am having a great time. I got to go through the Suez Canal! I am going back to Wadi Rum! I am going to sail past Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, and Eritrea, and Djibouti, and Yemen en route to Oman! I am a happy woman!

February 4, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Civility, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Photos, Political Issues, Random Musings, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

At Sea: We Need to Talk About Ashok

Those of you who know AdventureMan and I personally know that we are relentlessly self-reliant. With all our years of moving and living in a variety of countries, we have needed to be, but in truth, we are wired that way. You will laugh when I say I am uncomfortable even introducing this topic.

Our beautiful room comes with a butler.

It has been an awkward dance, but Ashok, our butler, is a pro at assessing people and working with their preferences. We don’t need a lot of service, and he has found ways to make himself useful to us anyway. Discovering I like Ginger Beer, he scoured the bars, alerted his contacts, and made sure our little refrigerator was well stocked with AdventureMan’s Coca Cola, and my Ginger Beer. He was always polite and pleasant.

The night we had decided to have dinner on the balcony after our day in Taormina and had saved parts of our sandwiches from lunch, we also found a generous tray of hors d’oeuvres waiting for us when we arrived late back to the ship. We had to admit, it was really nice, he had intuited well what we might like.

When we got tired of dressing for dinner and asked to have dinner in our room (part of the perks), he served us with elegance and grace, and made it so much fun that we indulged every few nights.

When AdventureMan wanted his laundry done professionally, Ashok made sure it came back very quickly.

In spite of our self-reliance, Ashok learned how to make himself invaluable to us. And, in truth, we really liked him, and loved our discussions with him. We were impressed with his resourcefulness, and his delight in making things happen. He seemed to delight in delighting us.

We are at sea for two days, en route from Messina to Haifa, Israel.

I was wide awake by five, so I got up quietly and dressed, grabbed my computer, found a cup of coffee at Barista’s, and headed up to Horizon’s, the forward observation lounge to check e-mails. Over 300 e-mails, horrors! I spent a while just deleting, then responding to the few requiring attention – requests from Air France for rating how I liked my flights, and a couple e-mails from friends. Most of the time, in this large lounge, it was just me and one or two others. I did get a nice photo of the sun coming up; it looks a lot like the day before.

When I headed back to our cabin, AdventureMan was just getting up, so we went together to breakfast where I am so delighted to find marinated herring and smoked salmon, two of my favorite things in the world. (It’s my Swedish blood talking.) AdventureMan finds herring abhorrent, and so does the Indonesian lady dishing it up; when I say a bright cheery “thank you!” her response was meant to be a smile, but it was a little twisted by disgust. I also had my virtuous oatmeal, with virtuous fresh blueberries – so much temptation, but my blood sugar is well within normal and I want to keep it there.

After breakfast I introduced AdventureMan to a new thrill – the spa pool at the front of the ship. It is just below the Horizons Lounge, and we had noticed that if you enter the pool by the stairs, you are visible to the people in the lounge. It doesn’t bother AdventureMan, but I figured out how to enter from the side, so as to remain unseen. The spa is very warm to hot, and can be made to bubble, so we had a wonderful twenty minutes in the hot tub in the fresh air, then we headed back to our room.

This early morning trip to the spa, having it all to ourselves, became another guilty pleasure. So lovely, so indulgent.

This quiet sea day, I napped a lot. I meant to read. I meant to update this journal. I napped. I don’t even feel guilty, it felt so good. 

Our cabin as all shades of grayish green, sea colors. The walls look almost gray, but there are streaks of green in the wall paper. The upholstered headboard is a very pale shade of sea-green. The furniture and pillows a little bit darker shade of green, and the two pashmina throws to keep us warm are almost an exact match to the furniture. It’s all very soothing.

There is a little “couch,” really more of a love-seat, where I can fall asleep very easily.

Space is smartly allocated so that there is plenty of closet space, with doors that open so you can see everything, and enough hangers. (Enough hangers! I didn’t have to ask for more!) There are enough drawers to stow things in neatly. The bathroom has two upper-side cupboards, and two lower cupboards with shelves, too. There is more cupboard space in the bathroom than we need; we can keep everything in cupboards, out of sight. (This is a first.)

The ship is very silent. We don’t hear the motors, or the anchors dropping or lifting. We feel little sways and jerks now and then. At one point the weather changed briefly, we had rain. At night the ship swayed enough to cause some to have problems with balance, but it wasn’t much. We can feel the boat rock side to side, just a little, now and then. It is like being a baby again, held against your Mama as she walks about, feeling safe and secure. I napped a lot.

Dinner this night at sea was an Italian Market special, and we ate once again in the casual restaurant but dressed up a little. As it was a little cold and windy, we ate inside instead of at our usual table on the back terrace. It was one of my favorite meals – grilled Italian vegetables (mostly eggplant and peppers) and a big bowl of an Italian kind of Bouillabaisse, a fish stew, and it was wonderful. 

In the restaurant, I could overhear a conversation I longed to join, two tables away, about Amor Towles and A Gentleman in Moscow. I tried to see who the people were, an assortment of six, but I am not sure I would recognize them again. Another woman, seated nearby, was very blonde with a bright red pashmina wrapped around her shoulders – I’ve always envied that drama, and know it isn’t really my style.

Even though I napped a lot during the day, I slept well this night for the first time since Barcelona.

We slept fairly well through the night, awakening around five but getting back to sleep again for another day at sea. Nice breakfast on the Terrace (my virtuous oatmeal, this time with fresh raspberries), followed by another early visit to the spa, where at that early hour, we have it all to ourselves. We were out in time to get ready for the Veteran’s Day/ Remembrance Day Ceremony at 9:15 in the Nautica Lounge. It was simple, short and sweet.

We were back at the Nautica Lounge just a short while later for another enrichment lecture on the Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar, which helps put everything in context for our upcoming trip to Acre while we stop in Haifa. 

We nap and read through the quiet afternoon as we pass south of Crete and Greece, never seeing a speck of land. Tonight is dinner at Toscana, the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant; we have dinner reservations at seven. We know a waiter who works there, Buti, and he has been waiting for us to come see him. 

The problem, for us, is that by late afternoon we are already closing down. We’ve always been this way, but when we were younger, we really didn’t know it. We dress, I wear the one little black dress I have brought for special evenings, with a red scarf, my own toast to a little drama. When we get to Toscana, there is a line, the restaurant isn’t open yet so we go into the library. Shortly, the Jewish Shabbat began, and we left to give them privacy, got in the line, and very shortly got in and asked to be seated in Buti’s section.

Buti treated us like gold. We felt so special. When I ordered, he insisted I add a small dish of pasta, angel hair aglio oglio, and when he brought it, it was perfect. He also brought a small bowl of sambol oelek sauce, which I know from Kuwait and Qatar, spicy hot peppers in a little vinegar, absolutely divine. I also had Veal Marsala, and AdventureMan had a Caprese Salad and Linguini Cioppiono. Altogether, it was a lovely meal. All around us people were laughing and talking, a single man at the next table was reading Saul Bellow, and as nice as it all was, it was slowly elegant and we got restless. We skipped dessert, which is a really good thing, because my blood sugar was 123 the next day, which gave me a good wake-up call. 

I loved the sambol oelek, and I loved the angel hair pasta. It’s hard for me to be gracious after five at night. When we got home, we were exhausted. Everyone is so kind, wanting to make us feel so special, and I just feel tired and happy to be back in my room getting ready for bed.

January 25, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Ignoring the Law

I still get ads and info from Qatar sources. Living in Doha was such a vivid experience; experiencing the life of a country going from a sleepy little village to a mecca of skyscrapers was an astounding experience.

Qatar was full of contradictions, and the treatment of domestic workers, all imported from mostly Asian countries, was abysmal. While some few families treated their servants well, most did not. Contracts were not honored. Few had any time-off, most were on call 24 hours a day.

So this new law from the Ministry of Labor is . . . interesting. I find myself cynically wondering if this legislation will have any impact on how Qataris treat their servants, or if it is just national window dressing?

Not to be hitting unfairly on Qatar, it brings to mind the Florida Sunshine Laws. Florida passed some truly progressive laws suggesting that citizens of Florida had a right to know what their elected officials were doing, and how they made their decisions. I know – amazing stuff, even in a democracy. Florida took a lot of pride in those laws, and for many years, those laws were, to a great extent, observed and enforced.

Fast forward to Florida in the times of COVID and there is not a mention of the Florida Sunshine Laws. Some of the Sunshine Laws have been amended, to protect Law Enforcement and court officials. Most of the Sunshine Laws are now just ignored.

How does this manifest? How about the governor telling the Health Department not to publish health statistics, and telling them not to count people from out-of-state who come here and catch COVID. How about not allowing them to collect all the statistics, just every other week? How about not publishing the transmission rate on a daily or even weekly basis?

How about concealing how Universities recruit and select college presidents?

Publishing laws that look good on paper is one thing. Writing the laws so that they have teeth, and can be enforced, is another. Having a police force on the city and county level which will enforce laws as written is another. Having courts that will support the enforcement of the laws as written is another.

Having an independent legislature is another critical factor, we have to ask if the intention is for them to represent our will as citizens or if they exist to rubber-stamp gubernatorial stage-craft?

One of my friends at church mentioned yesterday that the state of Florida now has a holiday, Juneteenth, the explanation for which is not legally allowed to be taught in Florida schools, where any acknowledgment of the history and damages of enslavement might make young white school children uncomfortable.

When people behave badly towards one another, whether in Qatar or in the USA, maybe feeling uncomfortable is appropriate.

June 20, 2022 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, fraud, Law and Order, Leadership, Political Issues, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | Leave a comment

The Paradox of Cool

Months ago, after yet another trip out West, a friend asked me if Portland was as “hip” as its reputation. I didn’t know what to say. Yes, Portland is hip.

I’ve been thinking about “hip” and “cool” ever since.

I know what cool is to me. I’ve seen it. Cool was the Episcopal and Anglican priests I met serving overseas; Tunis, Jordan, Doha, and Kuwait – priests who lived their faiths with joy and confidence, and priests who also loved their Moslem brothers and sisters.

In my own neighborhood, cool is the two retired civil servants who love to cook, and who organize a weekly dinner for the homeless, also providing to the best of their ability for other needs; toiletries, clothing, insect repellent, water to go, toys for the homeless children. They are committed to their work, and their joy in what they do attracts others who serve with them. In their own quiet way, they have created acceptance for their same-sex marriage, just by being exactly who they are: people who care about others.

Cool was ambassadors in the foreign countries in which we served, those accused of going a little bit native, those who were open to learning other ways of thinking and valuing cultures in addition to the one they represented, those who were less concerned with dignity than with creating understanding and brotherhood between our cultures.

Cool was the Kuwaiti bloggers who initiated me into the art and craft, and who often led the way with their courageous evaluations of their own society and societal follies. I learned so much from them. And from Kuwaiti quilters, who welcomed fellow crafters from many traditions, and created space for us to learn from one another.

The paradox of cool, to me, is that it comes to those who do not seek it. The paradox of cool is that if you want to be it, you exclude yourself from it. Cool comes from within, from knowing who you are, from an inner clarity as to what your purpose of existence might be, and from a willingness to risk and to explore.

So I would like to ask – how do YOU define cool? Who do you think is cool? Help me widen my perspective.

May 12, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Blogging, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Faith, Interconnected, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Values | Leave a comment

Intlxpatr Goes Back In Time

We were on our way to gymnastics class, which involves driving over a long bridge, through a congested beach town and down a state double-lane highway, and my grand-daughter, age 8, is utterly caught up in reading a book to me, a book called Crush. It is about junior high, and although she is in 3rd grade, she is always interested in what the older kids are doing.

This book has an advanced vocabulary, so I am loving hearing her reading it out loud. At one point, she comes to a word that the teacher has blocked out, and she asks me what that word might be. The word is “kickass” which does not offend me, especially as it is applied to a girl whom I would definitely describe as kickass. It’s a compliment.

(When I was little, my Mom would send me to the library alone, with a basket of books. Around 10 years old, I had devoured most of the children’s section and started in on the adult section – especially science fiction and psychology. The librarian called my Mom and asked if I was allowed in the big people’s books and God bless her, my Mom just laughed and said “if she wants to read it, let her read it. She can read anything she chooses.” God bless you, Mom, for the gift in having faith in me, and in the free flow of ideas, and in my judgment.)

So I am not concerned about an adult word. She often asks me about words she hears on the playground, and we talk about what she thinks it means and what I think it means. I am outraged at the policies being developed in Florida to impede discussions in the classroom, but in my experience there is nothing that makes a book – or an idea – more attractive than having it BANNED.

When my son started reading, I made it a point to read the books he was reading so I could have some idea where his mind was going. I bought the four-volume set of the books my granddaughter was reading, and read them through (they are comic style, so easily read, each in under an hour).

The books are Awkward, Brave, Crush and Diary by Svetlana Chmakova.

Junior High is a lot like childbirth – as you get past it, you forget the pain. These books are so REAL. As I read Awkward and Brave, I was right back in the middle of all that turmoil. We forget! At that age, they are learning the painful lessons of being different, being rejected, suffering bullying, learning accountability, learning how to make a friend and to be a friend, learning how to deal with authority, learning so many things! And many of the situations are very uncomfortable, even as a grown-up. We all know what it’s like to be on the outside, looking in.

The saving grace of these wonderful books is the message that an act of kindness makes all the difference. That you can find a group that shares your interests. That the kind of friend you want is the friend that saves you a place at the lunch table, and maybe even shares tastes of their lunch.

The second set of books I discovered was the Friends series, by Shannon Hale. Once again, we are treated to the real nature of friendships, that there are cliques and pecking orders and false friends. There are betrayals and secrets and ganging up. Learning to be a friend depends first on figuring out who WE are; it gives us the confidence to discern. These books are all about learning about who we are and discerning who our real friends are.

In my life, with all my moves, I’ve been so lucky, I’ve always found some really good friends, and some will be reading this right now, friends even from far back in my childhood, my high school days, university and various places we’ve been stationed. Some friendships are based on common interests. For me, the best friendships are based on ground-level communications, where we open our hearts and share our realities, and hold one another up when we feel we may be about to falter. Some friends are always going to be there for you when you hit bottom, and are essential in the recovery process.

Today I got an e-mail about how continuous learning builds neuroplasticity, and neuroplasticity seems to be a defense against Altzheimer’s, even if you have a plaque build-up in your brain. I’ll take whatever learning I can get, and these books that take me back to the immediacy of middle school. I’d forgotten how much we learned there. I think I built a new synapse or two re-experiencing the horrors of that age, and I am thankful to the enthusiastic reading of my little granddaughter for an unexpected educational journey.

May 6, 2022 Posted by | Aging, Books, Character, Civility, Community, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Parenting, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Values | Leave a comment

Praying for Peace and Freedom

Our Bishop sent out a message today relating to the invasion of the Ukraine; in it he refers us to Bishop Edmiston’s addressing war and churches:

Watch Bishop Edington’s video message

The Episcopal Church has been in Europe for more than two hundred years. Our churches have seen Europe’s wars unfold. They’ve lived and endured in the midst of the destruction and depravity that war brings.

Our parish here in Paris set up a field hospital during France’s war with Prussia in 1870 that treated wounded soldiers. Our parish in Munich created a clinic during World War I that treated wounded German soldiers and fed families who had no income.

And our churches here have been casualties of war. A church of the Convocation worshipped in Dresden, Germany, until it was destroyed by bombing. Our parish in Munich was closed by the Gestapo in 1942, and its library of eight thousand books was burned.

Most of our churches here were closed during the Second World War. And our cathedral in Paris was used as a military chapel by the occupying German forces.

Perhaps more than any other part of the Episcopal Church, our churches in Europe have lived through the horrors of war—and the pointlessness of war, too. The cathedral’s cloister, a memorial to the dead of the twentieth century’s wars in Europe, is our silent testimony to that truth.

And for a long time—almost eighty years—we have believed that the futility of war was enough to deter it. Today, with war unleashed in Ukraine, we have been proven wrong.

Our faith teaches us that we must stand with the vulnerable and the oppressed. And at the same time, our faith teaches us that we are meant to be followers of the prince of peace, of the one who taught us that violence is always a compromise with evil.

It is hard for us to reconcile those two teachings today, when innocent people are dying at the hands of a military onslaught. Our prayers feel insufficient to defend those cowering in fear and exposed to bullets and bombs.

But we know that the place where war lives is in the human heart. As the prophet Jeremiah teaches us, the heart is devious above all else; and it is in the devices and desires of hearts resisting God’s call to live in love that the first seeds of war take root.

We often begin our prayers with the words “Almighty God.” But the deeper truth of our Christian faith is that we believe humanity has been redeemed, and the world forever changed, by an all-vulnerable God—a god whose love is finally victorious through the vulnerability of a naked man nailed to a cross. It is from that seeming defeat that the victory over death and sin is won forever—even the sin that lies at the heart of war.

And so as we begin our season of Lent, we are called to give up our easy complacency about the durability of peace. We are called to consider again the reminders in our midst of war’s relentless cost to human life and God’s hope. And we are called to pray, and speak, and to labor for the truth that Christ has called us to transform this broken world through the hard work of love.

God of timelessness,

From chaos and disorder 

you brought forth the beauty of creation;

From the chaos of war and violence

Bring forth the beauty of peace.

God of compassion

You saw the humanity of the outcast and the stranger;

Help us to see the evils of our hatreds and suspicions

and to turn them into the embrace of your Beloved Community.

God of peace,

Through your love on the cross

You overcame the power of violence and death;

Turn us away from the love of power

That we may transform a warring world

through the power of your love. Amen.

 

The Rt. Rev. Mark D. W. Edington

Bishop in Charge

The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

February 25, 2022 Posted by | Civility, Political Issues | , | Leave a comment

Dirty Pool

So no, I don’t always play fair. The really cool thing about being married for a long time is that your partner and you learn tolerance and forgiveness, and in a long marriage, you really need both. A lot of both.

I’ve had a yearning for a new couch. I’m not a material girl; the last couch I bought was in 1996, and it is still in the family, living a new life as a couch and spare queen-size guest bed in our son’s house. Soon they will also inherit the really good bunk beds I inherited from my youngest sister (also in 1996) and they still have the original mattresses, mattresses with cowboys on them! They will go to keep my old couch company.

I take my time. I’ve been looking at couches for about 18 months now. I took AdventureMan with me on a tour of furniture shops, from top to bottom, and we were in total agreement, nothing was right for us.

And then I found it.

It’s small enough for our smaller house. It’s leather, in a honey camel kind of color that I love to sit in when we are staying at places like El Tovar, or Old Faithful Inn, or Timberline Lodge. It’s a lodge kind of couch, comfy. You and your friend can sit on it and drink coffee and share your hearts and solve the problems of the world, or just cry at the occasional tragedies we all sometimes face.

And look at the legs! I need furniture that is off the ground to keep the appearance in my smaller house from being too cluttered. I like light. I love these beautiful hand-carved legs!

So I go into AdventureMan’s office with my choice, and for a few seconds (it feels a lot longer than it really was) he is silent. And then he says “the cats will scratch it.”

Here’s where the dirty pool comes in. I was horrible, I will admit it.

“Who knows how long we will be here to enjoy it?” I said. “I need a couch so you can stretch out when you want to watch something on the big television. It doesn’t have to last forever; we are not going to last forever.”

And then, worst of all I said “And my Mother wants me to have it.”

How bad do I feel?

I feel sort of bad. I was really packing some punches, but pulling the “Mom wants me to have it” punch was probably a low blow. When Mom died, she left some money to be divided among my sisters and me, and some for our children. We’ve been using some of it for travel and some for renovations, but the truth is, it’s all in one of our pots, and I don’t really keep track of it, AdventureMan and I have just combined it with other incomes to share with our family and make our lives comfortable and fun.

He’s been handling a lot of the improvements and renovations. I take care of furnishings.

The truth is, he is very good to me. He is practical, and the other truth is, our cats are cats. They are destructive. I don’t know how to keep them from clawing at a leather sofa, but whether the sofa is leather or fabric, the cats will claw it, and I need a couch in my life.

“Buy the couch,” he says.

I know he will like it once it arrives. I know he will stretch out on it and eventually, he will be glad we have it. I know the cats will scratch at it and we will yell at them and clap our hands, and it will probably look really awful – down the road. It’s not like I am going to live forever. Thank you, AdventureMan 🙂

February 4, 2022 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Civility, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Home Improvements, Humor, Money Management, Quality of Life Issues, Shopping | 2 Comments

Insh’allah

One of today’s readings in the Lectionary always brings a smile to my face. I can hear my teacher at the Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam (where I was studying Arabic in Doha, Qatar) saying to me “don’t you know your own book? It tells you never to say you are going to do something without adding Insh’allah (God willing) because we never know even what the next minute will bring.”

James 4: 13-17

Boasting About Tomorrow

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

It’s a perfect reading for the last day of a troubled year, preparing for a year in which we have no idea what joys or troubles are in store for us.

Today, I look back with gratitude to that whole period in my life where I lived in the Middle East and was forced to confront my own ignorance. I was not only ignorant about my Muslim neighbors, I was equally ignorant about my own religion. My years among the Muslims motivated me to learn more about what I believed, and why.

This month, my religious mentor died. She had an enormous influence on my life, on bringing me to where I am today. When I returned to the United States, understanding how little I knew about my own religion, I enrolled in a four-year seminar in theology through an Episcopal Church program called Education for Ministry. It was life-changing. The first-year students read Old Testament, the second-year students read New Testament, the third-year students read Diarmaid MacCulloch’s book Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, and the fourth-year students read a variety of theological perspectives.

(MacCulloch’s book is thick and intimidating – and surprised us all with how much fun it was to read.)

My mentor was a skilled counselor and guide; she led us through all-year discussions of our weekly readings, so in the four-year program, we not only were reading our own year but giving input on the other’s readings. The discussions were lively and provocative. Slowly, even without realizing it, the students bonded closely with one another. We learned a very important lesson – how to disagree with people, especially when you felt strongly about an issue, and remain respectful.

It has served me well, living as I do in another alien culture. Although I was raised in a hunting culture (Alaska), when I lived there people kept their weapons locked away when not in use. There was no open-carry. As kids, we were lined up at school and given vaccinations, which we accepted as being necessary for our own well-being and the well-being of the community. I don’t believe we had a single black person in town, but we had the original inhabitants, Inuit, Haida, Tlingket and we all went to school together peaceably. My father worked for the government, he served. Service to country is a tradition in my family. I am aghast at elected officials who mistake staging political drama for good governance. I struggle to achieve civil discourse about issues about which I feel strongly.

And so I am thankful for all the years living among others; among the vanquished in Germany, among the desert people of Tunisia, and among the people of Abraham’s other son, Ishmael. Their patience with me taught me so much about myself, and that even my strongly-held convictions may not be nuanced enough to capture what passes for truth. It serves me well to this day, and, I hope, will continue to humble me as we enter this coming new year, Insh’allah.

December 31, 2021 Posted by | Alaska, Biography, Books, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Doha, Education, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Stranger in a Strange Land | , , | Leave a comment

Going Postal

We have a great insurance company who sent us this notice this morning:

USAA is a government-friendly organization, providing insurance to people associated with the military. They have a first-class reputation.

It is a sad day when even government-friendly conservative organizations have to take notice of the disgusting failure of our current postal leadership.

As we were growing up, living in Alaska and in foreign countries, we had opportunities to compare our system to others. Americans put a priority on getting the mail delivered in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost. Other nations admired our efficiency, and our emphasis on the public service our postal system provided to the American people.

We need to get back to these very public-service-oriented values. The postal system is worth subsidizing to provide valuable services to citizens of the United States of America.

December 13, 2021 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

The Sad And Painful Truth

AdventureMan and I have a lot in common; we share a lot of the same values and we’re in our 49th year of marriage.

And yet . . .

We also have our differences. Because AdventureMan is very commanding, I have had to learn how to gently but firmly set some boundaries.

So today he suggested we hit Shoreline Deli, which was fine with me because I love their Greek salad and I also buy a lot of my spices there. You can buy them in small quantities, and they are more fresh than the ones that stand waiting in your pantry for years.

It’s not a sit-down kind of place; we stand with others who have ordered, waiting for our order to be prepared and taken out. There is always a lot to look at, and often they have something that no one else carries.

As we finish lunch, AdventureMan says “I see you found some of your favorite cookies. I saved room hoping you would share with me.”

I said “Of course, what is mine is yours.”

Very quickly I had a second thought and reframed my response. “Of course, what is mine is yours, up to half.”

At this point, I opened the little box and counted the cookies, a very plain Greek cookie with very little sugar and some cinnamon.

What does AdventureMan say? “I can’t believe you’re counting the cookies!”

He knows why I am counting the cookies. We have stylistic differences. I can buy a large 85% Cocoa chocolate bar and eat one square a day. I don’t need more, and rarely do I really want more. AdventureMan, on the other hand, has unrestrained cravings. There are things I have to hide – mixed nuts, Japanese rice crackers, cookies, cakes, and M&M’s. If I don’t set a limit, or hide them, they are free game.

I am not saying this is wrong. It is simply a stylistic difference. At the same time, if I want something special, the only way I can be sure there will be some left for me when I need it is to hide it.

I am not an ogre. I also bought beautiful mini chocolate macaroon cookies Two years ago at this time we were in the Bordeaux region of France and bought a package of traditional macaroon cookies with dark chocolate bottoms and each had one at the end of each day, and they lasted right up to our very last night before we flew back home. They were so rich and moist that one was more than enough.

AdventureMan was delighted to see the chocolate-bottomed macaroons. We each had one. I have no idea how many there are. I am not counting; AdventureMan is free to nibble as he needs. I just needed one. Well, maybe two, they are tiny, very tiny.

October 20, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Chocolate, Civility, Cultural, Diet / Weight Loss, Family Issues, Humor, Marriage, Relationships | Leave a comment