Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sweet Sixteen: Intlxpatr Celebrates Blogging

Welcome friends, to a virtual celebration of 16 years of blogging as Intlxpatr. Where we are living now, in the deep South, the pineapple is a symbol of welcome. You are welcome here.

Old friends have asked if we miss “the life.” Yes. We do. And we have a new life, a life we never dreamed would be so happy. We live just blocks away from our son and his wife, and our two grandchildren. My son and his wife are in the prime of life, working, busy, and trying to keep up with a jarring pace of life.

We are called in frequently. In the summers, we help drive to and from daily camps, and we often have the grandkids in the afternoons. School started in August; on Sundays, we coordinate with Mom and Dad on which days they will need us for which drop-offs or pick-ups, or appointments, or – well, we stay flexible. And we stay busy. And being so closely connected gives us purpose and joy.

A tribute to my Alaskan heritage

I also have joy in this new life having rediscovered my love of the water. I am swimming 2 miles three days a week. Well, most weeks. I have buddies at the pool, and sometimes I spend too much time catching up, and then I have to scramble to get my laps in. I tell myself it isn’t about the numbers, it’s about living a good life. A good life needs good friends. Thank YOU for being with me on this journey.

A tribute to our love of the West, and our trips to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Utah

We are about to take our first trip overseas since our Bordeaux trip in 2019. We will be going back for brief visits, mostly to places we have been before. Yes. We will be taking you along. As with so many of our trips, there are often times where, even in this day and age, we are without access to reliable internet, but we manage ☺️.

A tribute to September, and the faint hope that Winter really is coming

COVID has been a long slog. As you may know, I lost my Mother, early in the epidemic. She lived in Seattle and was one of the earliest victims. The grief I experienced hit me hard; I became touchy and angry, I didn’t love the things I loved, and it took me a long time to get through the uncomfortable process of grieving. Every year, in October, I make my Mom’s famous chocolate fruit cakes. In September (yesterday) I made her wonderful Autumn Plum Cake (pflaumekuchen).

Autumn Plum Torte

And because, as we age, we are increasingly aware of fitness, and the need to eat the right foods, I will include something fabulous and healthy:

Yes, another first on Intlxpatr, LOL.

And because I firmly believe it is wise to drink less, I prefer to drink less of a really good wine.

A votre sante’

A toast! To living well, my friends, whatever that might look like in your life. Bonne fete!

September 4, 2022 Posted by | Aging, Blogging, Circle of Life and Death, ExPat Life, Food, France, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Relationships, YMCA | 2 Comments

Living off My Fat: Adaptation

It probably all started growing up in Alaska, where my mother would measure us in July to order our snowsuits as soon as the new catalogs came out. We lived where ships didn’t come in the winter, so supplies for the winter needed to be ordered – and received – before the ships could no longer navigate the channel.

Then came our life in Germany, where we lived by what my sister called “Commissary rules.” Her one word of advice as a newlywed leaving Germany, while I was staying, was “When you see something in the Commissary or PX you think you MIGHT need, buy it.” Definitely a no-regrets philosophy.

When we were sent to live in Tunisia, in the late 1970’s, we were instructed to take everything we might need for the next two years. Some things – chocolate chips – we learned to live without. We adapted to new foods, new ways of doing things. One of the great treats was the fresh, gorgeous, silky olive oil; I would take my jar to the little olive oil vendor at the nearby souk and he would weigh my jar, fill it, subtract the weight of the jar and charge me for the oil, which made everything taste French.

I did have a two-year supply of shoes for a growing toddler, also clothing for him in graduated sizes, and two years of age-appropriate books I could pull out of the closet. We were able to mail-order through the embassy pouch, and my mother was able to mail me little extras. One year, when I was running the Christmas bazaar, she was able to find red and green Christmas fabrics in July, at a discount, and mail them to us for our crafting. It was such a luxury!

In Qatar, I was always bringing back duffels with quilting rulers and rotary cutters for my quilting friends. In Kuwait, it was books for my book club and American sugar for a friend who liked to bake. Kuwait had sugar, but more coarse, and American sugar melts more quickly for a finer result. Who knew?

There are items from the past I still have in abundance – dental floss, women’s underwear, shoes – and staples I buy but no longer use in the quantities I once did because we no longer live a life where we entertain a lot nor prepare for unexpected people on temporary duty who need a meal and an exchange of currency. I am trying to bring down my supplies of artichoke hearts and pimentos, beans and rice, canned tomatoes, chutney, Tupperware and hand soap.

My Little Free Library, one of the best birthday gifts ever, helps me keep my books from overflowing.

We are happy, these days, to be living with less. We are still caught by surprise by rolls of baking parchment we are still using from Kuwait, dental floss leftover from our years in Tunis and an excess of Christmas decorations we still need to pare down. We try to go easy on ourselves. “Ah,” we sigh, “it’s a process.” God grant that we live long enough to use up all those supplies we bought “just in case.”

July 5, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Christmas, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Shopping, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel, Tunisia | 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

Back in Kuwait

No, No don’t get excited. It’s a metaphor.

When I lived in Kuwait, I would tell my friends it was a lot like living in Alaska, and I loved the look on their faces. Then I would explain – in Alaska, people wait eagerly for good weather, and when it comes, they can’t get enough of it. We are outdoor people.

For much of the year, Alaskans are trapped inside, and have to be good at finding things to do to keep themselves from going crazy.

In Pensacola, as it was in Kuwait, the temperatures are very hot. Kuwait was mostly very dry, and had sandstorms, unlike Pensacola, but shared having a long coastline, and heat with humidity in the summers.

So now, as in Kuwait, I am up early, to get to the pool and swim my laps, so lovely and cool. If I need to grocery shop, I try to shop on the way home, so as not to have to venture out again as the day heats up. I get home, and tend to the Little Free Library while it is still in the shade. Most of the rest of the day I spend inside, except for picking up grandchildren at their camps.

It is a great time to do some quilting. I am just about to start when Ragnar, my helper, comes in to join me. (Also, AdventureMan is outside weed-eating and edging, which is of endless amusement and torment to Ragnar, who forgets he was once a feral, outdoor cat, and was lucky to survive.)

I do a couple more things to set up, hoping Ragnar will take the hint and move off to find something more interesting. He doesn’t. In the end, I have to lift him (lovingly) and place him in another room on a blanket we call Blue Mama, because Ragnar particularly loves sleeping on this blanket.

He doesn’t come back, and I spend the morning “back in Kuwait,” enjoying my confinement by working with fabrics and colors I love, patterns I would never wear but enjoy the challenge of working them into quilts.

June 16, 2022 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Weather, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Chasing Petroglyphs, the McConkie Ranch

Imagine a ranch at the bottom of a huge long red cliff, a private ranch, which allocates land to public parking and has created a path about a half a mile to the cliffs and then up the cliff itself, to the shelves where the petroglyphs are.

I hope they had volunteers helping, as there were steps and a well-cleared path to help us make the climb. To top it all off, there is no charge. There is a donation box in the parking lot. There is signage, there are marked trails. This is the generosity of the human spirit in action, making these petroglyphs available to those of us who take an interest in them. Not charging us anything, trusting we will donate. Creating paths and a place to park. God bless the McConkies.

We are delighted we can still make this sort of trek. While the path zigzagged, it felt like we were going straight up. In places, we needed to climb up rocks. We were both panting when we reached the top, but oh, it was so worth it. These petroglyphs, were Fremont people petroglyphs, some very simple and dramatic, but many glyphs of people with elaborate necklaces, headdresses (or else they were aliens), and clothing. It was worth every minute of the climb. These are some of the loveliest petroglyphs I have ever seen.

We were very conscious as we climbed that it was dangerous. There were slippery spots, and other places which required some climbing. It isn’t just a matter of fitness, it is also a matter of acclimation to the altitude – AdventureMan and I were both very aware of how vulnerable we are, making these climbs. And we are so exultant when we make it to the top. We can still do this!

What does it mean that there is a circle around so many of the figures? Does it mean they are living? Does it mean they have moved on to the next life? Is it some kind of ancient hula-hoop? What I love are the bodies, the way these figures are more modern, with wide shoulders narrowing to a smaller waist.

Culturally, we tend to think of people wearing earrings and necklaces as female – are these female? No sign of breasts. Are they warriors? Priests? We don’t know.

A purse? A warrior decoration? A metaphor for seeds and falling rain? This is a fertile field for speculation.

Circles. Ear decorations. Necklace. Eyes and Mouth!

I am fascinated by the creature to the left. Some kind of skirt – corn husks? What would constitute a lower covering with separate strands? Gives a masculine feeling, but shoulders not so broad as the others. (Can you see why we chase petroglyphs? So much mystery!)

Parts are lost as rock cleaves and sheds . . . this head appears square, but what is this decorated halo-like circle around the top of the head? What is in his hand – is that a bell of some kind, with a clapper? The head of an enemy? A space suit helmet?

Look – horns! AdventureMan, who loves to yank my chain, says this is clear proof of aliens among us from earliest times, with their space suit and buttons and elaborate decorations.

So many questions. Feathers? What is he holding? What are the extra lines from shoulder to waist? Is that a helmet on his head?

AdventureMan would say that this is proof of jet-propulsion suits. I think it may have more to do with procreation . . . But what about this guy in the lower right, his head is more rounded and he looks like he has antannae?

These crack me up. It looks like a scratch-pad to me, practice for something else. But wait – see below – an entire section appears to have been cut away! Where is it? What is missing? I don’t even begin to know where to start looking for answers.

For me, this interlude, at the McConkie Ranch, physically challenging, in the heat of the late afternoon (but what great light for photos!) was one of the highlights of our trip. I look at this work by an ancient people and I marvel.

We have chased petroglyphs in Botswana and Namibia, in Saudi Arabia, in France, and in the United States. None have enchanted me the way these have.

June 11, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Botswana, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Public Art, Random Musings, Road Trips, Saudi Arabia, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

JoAnn Gives Me a Breath of Hope

JoAnn ad this morning

Just when I had begun to think our USA culture of tolerance and inclusion was a thing of the past, I opened my e-mail this morning to discover an ad from JoAnn fabric with Ramadan offerings.

It doesn’t get much more middle-America than a trip to JoAnn fabrics, where people are buying fabric to make their own clothes, re-upholster their own furniture or make their own quilts or Easter wreaths. I was delighted.

Here are some of the fabrics they are offering for our Muslim friends who are about to celebrate their month of fasting en route to the Eid.

How cool is that?

April 3, 2022 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Marketing, Quality of Life Issues, Ramadan, Shopping, Values | Leave a comment

NATO and Balalaikas

I could hear AdventureMan laughing as he read his book, and he called out to me “You’ve got to hear this!”

He’s reading an old Philip Kerr novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts, and he has come across this quote that is only funny in a gallows humor sort of way, considering current events in the Ukraine.

“Listen!” he begins to read:

Garlopis put the car in gear and we moved off smoothly. After a while he pressed a switch to operate the car’s electric window.

“Electric windows. Isn’t it wonderful? You look at a car like this and you think of America, and the future. When Americans talk about the American dream it’s not a dream about the past. That’s the difference between the American dream and a British one, a French one, or a Greek one. Ours is a dream that’s always about the past; and theirs is a dream that’s always about the future. A better tomorrow. Not only that, but I sincerely believe they’re prepared to guarantee that future for us all, by force of arms. Without NATO, we’d all be playing balalaikas.”

The story starts in 1957. It came out in 2018. It could not be more timely.

I’m having a hard time with this invasion, this invasion of the Ukraine to “defend the Fatherland.” Ukrainians say they are NOT Russians, the same way Iranians say they are not Arabs. They voted to be an independent country around the same time the Soviet Union collapsed. I heard the Ukrainian President say that “the Russian bear was going to have a very hard time digesting the Ukrainian porcupine.” I am praying that the Russian bear backs off in dismay, and respects the porcupine’s boundaries from now on.

February 25, 2022 Posted by | Books, ExPat Life, Interconnected, News, Political Issues | , , | Leave a comment

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

Into the Great Wide Open: Day 5 East Glacier to Helena

AdventureMan and I have different perspectives on this day. He thinks it wasn’t so bad. I think it was the worst day of our trip.

It started off great. We slept in – well, until 0730, which for my body time is 0830. We ate breakfast, packed out, thoroughly appreciating our three nights at Traveler’s Rest and the spaciousness and convenience of our beautiful cabin there. 

View of Traveler’s Rest From SR2

AdventureMan suggested one last drive to Two Medicine, and it was beautiful, a totally different day from our first drive.

On the way back, we stopped at the glorious Glacier Park Lodge, and then for our last time at the Glacier Trading Post and picked up two pieces of huckleberry pie for the road. The crust on these pies is as delicious as their fillings!

Glacier Park Lodge

As we head out of Browning, AdventureMan says “We can turn off the Bossy Lady now; we have been on this road so often we know the way without her, and you can turn her back on when we get near Helena.”

This wind farm went on for miles!

Long story short, an hour or so down the road, AdventureMan says “None of this looks familiar!” I say sure it does, because it’s all rural stuff, grain and storage for grain, railroad tracks, but it nags at me that AdventureMan might be right. 

When I check, we are on A road but not the road we had intended. This road takes us to Great Falls and the interstate. We near Great Falls around lunch, find the Bear Diner and have what we agree is the most forgettable meal of our entire trip. 

Cute place, large menu

AdventureMan is right, it wasn’t a bad place, the service was good, I was just grumpy to be in Great Falls and eating calories that didn’t thrill me.

It is August, and nearly 80°F and this is at the entrance of the Bear Diner. It gave me a chill knowing winter can arrive suddenly, and it is best to be prepared.

This is also a day when there is a lot of haze, and I am a little nervous about breathing the particulate matter from the burning wildfires.

Carolina Bed and Breakfast, Helena, MT

We get back on the road and arrive in Helena at 2:00, early for our B & B reservation. Fortunately for us, the room at The Carolina B&B is ready, and the hostess is very gracious, welcomes us, shows us to our room, The Anisette, and shows us around the beautiful mansion, full of beautiful furniture, carefully gathered, curated with care, and china, and exotic curios, full of artistic works and models and framed art. Everywhere you look is something of interest. 

Our room, the Anisette, which has a bathroom behind the mirrored door
Bathroom next door to our room; not all rooms had their own bathrooms
A gathering room on the top floor
Bedroom on top floor
Another bedroom

Tonight AdventureMan chooses a place for dinner, and we head downtown to one of the trendiest restaurants in town, Hokkaido, where we feast on Japanese cuisine. They specialize in Ramen and sushi, so I order some broth and a poke’ salad and a sushi roll, AdventureMan orders a seaweed salad and a couple rolls, and we share a large pot of green tea. Every table around us is filled with happy customers, old and young. It was the most varied demographic I have experienced, old and young, foreign and domestic, all economic levels, and the food was delicious, the service efficient and also friendly and helpful. 

After dinner we explored Helena in the glowing late evening sunlight. We found a “mosque” which turned out to be the civic center, and AdventureMan found a statue of Theodore Roosevelt which turned out to be a statue of someone else in front of the Capitol building. We were staying in a very old neighborhood full of spectacular houses and a gorgeous old Catholic church, so we were able to spend some time walking before we turned in. 

Helena Civic Center
Cathedral of Saint Helena, in the last gleams of the day’s sunlight

We were so glad to have chosen a room with its own bathroom. All through the night we could hear doors opening and closing, people using the bathrooms next door to our room. You could hear couples whispering to each other, which warned us to be careful because if we could hear them, they could also hear us.

September 14, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Geography / Maps, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment