Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Great Sea Voyage: Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

So, my friends, I promised you a new trip, and I apologize for making you wait. We got back just in time to step back into our normal Pensacola routines and then to whirl into the celebrations of Christmas. I like to plan, I like to execute, and I like to give myself time to process. It’s time to begin.

We chose this trip three years ago. We loved the destinations, and we loved the idea of this journey, especially going through the Suez Canal. We love the idea of visiting new places, and we loved the opportunity to revisit some old favorites, especially Wadi Rum, in Jordan, where we lived in another life.

The trip itself took three weeks. We went early to Barcelona. I had been to Barcelona for an international quilt show years ago and loved it; I’ve been so eager for AdventureMan to experience the aliveness of Barcelona. We chose to go a few days early to enjoy the city.

We were traveling with Oceania, a line we haven’t sailed with before. People handle air reservations differently; we choose to let the cruise line set up the travel so that if there are changes (and in the last three years we saw lots of changes) the cruise line is ultimately responsible for getting us where we need to go.

It’s tough giving up our autonomy. This time, it was a struggle, and we finally paid extra for “custom” reservations when they kept offering us bizarre routes we didn’t want to take. At one point, we had reservations that were direct, and we liked, and then they changed, again, because of an airline time change, and we found the new ones unacceptable. At some point, we gave up. We accepted a bizarre routing and the fact that we were responsible for getting ourselves to Atlanta and back, not such a big deal, except for when things change. Right?

This is how we were routed to Barcelona: (Pensacola) – Atlanta – Detroit – Paris – Barcelona.

And here are the bags I took, except at the last minute I took everything out of the backpack and put it in a duffel, not much bigger but the space was more flexible.

We decided to go minimal and to carry everything with us. It caused a lot of agonizing, but in the end, I had everything I needed. It was enough. I think carry-on is a great idea, except it is such a hassle, I like the luxury of checking a bag and carrying a purse and a book. Having had bags go missing so many times in my life (they always caught up with us – eventually), we opted for this illusion of control.

Our first travel day was, in almost every way, a breeze. Our son picked us up on his way to work and dropped us at the airport, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast after an uneventful check-in. The flight schedule was eccentric, even convoluted, but every flight left on time and came in minutes early. Our last two flights of the day were with Air France and were delightful.

Getting to Barcelona took almost two days. We flew from Pensacola to Atlanta on our dime and picked up our cruise-related reservations in Atlanta. We checked in and had time for lunch at PF Changs. Out of Atlanta, we flew to Detroit – I’d never been to Detroit before. I had never seen a Great Lake in person. I was blown away by the vastness of Lake Erie and Lake Superior – so HUGE. I thought of Detroit and its terrible water problem and crumbling infrastructure, surrounded by water, and it seemed so infinitely sad. 

Our flight out of Detroit was an Air France flight – we love Air France. Once we board an Air France, the vacation begins – they take such good of their passengers. 

We had a late dinner on board; Air France does a really cool thing. They serve an appetizer course, an entree, a dessert, and drinks. They also have an express meal which is just the appetizer, bread (with French butter, better than butter I have had anywhere else), and desserts, and the dessert course features really tiny tastes. We chose the express, and then curled up and went to sleep.

I usually sleep badly on planes, but on this flight, it was all grown-ups and somehow it was mostly very quiet. I remember vaguely hearing a bell once when the air got a little turbulent, but it only awakened me slightly and I went back to sleep. My quick breakfast was yogurt and fruit and coffee, and boom, we were at Charles de Gaulle.

Big difference from prior times. While we love Air France, we always dreaded the bag drag through CdG. In years past, there were crowds pushing and snaking for hours, people pushing in line, people crying that they were going to miss their flight – it was a kind of purgatory for travelers. This time, however, it was streamlined, a piece of cake. We had a close connection, which we made with time to spare. 

On the flight to Barcelona, we had a snack meal, and AdventureMan had wine, I had coffee. I asked for more, and Sophia, our flight attendant said “Oh, you like my coffee?” and I said “yes!” because it was really good. Then AdventureMan said “And I really like this wine” and she brought him a small bottle of white wine to take with him, then turned to me and said “And which wine would you like? White? Red?” and I chose a red Bordeaux, the start of our cabin collection since we don’t buy the ships drink package, but pay as we go.

We found the Oceania representative waiting outside the immigration door, and very shortly, she had us taken to our hotel with Ingrid and Juanita, who had also been on our flight. We heard Ingrid speaking harshly to Juanita, and Ingrid caught our exchanged glance and said “Oh I’m just bossy. Juanita is 92 and I have to keep her organized.”

While Juanita was toting two large bags, she might have a hearing problem and might need Ingrid’s explanations and organizing. I was amazed at how strong Juanita was.

This is a longer trip than we usually take, with a variety of temperatures. I have a small carry-on suitcase and a small duffel. They were not stuffed. Our airports are huge, however, and when you have to tote two bags from gate to gate, even take trains or underground trams and still walk a long way, those bags can get heavy. I told AdventureMan that it is different when we go West and wear jeans and casual clothes all the time and no one cares, a cruise ship is a different situation. If our future is carry-on, we will need to go on shorter cruises.

The upside is you just whiz through customs – no waiting around at the baggage carousel. So I like the carry-on idea, I just don’t like the reality of toting bags.

The limousine driver was kind and helpful and gave us lots of good information on the way to our hotel, the Hotel Barcelona Almanac.

December 23, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Air France, Customer Service, Experiment, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Has Your Wardrobe Changed?”

I was on my hands and knees, sandwiching two new quilts when AdventureMan seated himself near me and asked if he should take his grey-green pants on the upcoming trip. With all the baggage insecurity going around, we’ve made a decision to take a carry-on bag and one personal item, and skip checked luggage altogether.

Being the kind of person who used to over-study for tests, this is causing me some anxiety. I told him that the pants did not coordinate with enough of his wardrobe to make them useful, to stick with the tried-and-true khakis which used to be his staple, and his blue jeans, which will get him through some of the more rugged places.

More than once, we’ve had luggage go missing. It always caught up with us, but once – in Lusaka, we were headed out into the bush the next day and had only our traveling clothes and night clothes – and, thank God, some shoes. We grabbed a taxi and found a street mall with a combination grocery and department store, stocked with camo and green clothing from China which was more or less apropos. We couldn’t be choosy, and we were thankful to find something that would get us through until, we hoped, our baggage showed up. I still love the thick green socks I found; they have worn like iron.

But this is different, this is not the bush, it is a lengthy cruise, and I am trying to pack enough cool-weather clothing for cooler places, warm-weather clothing for places that are pretty hot even when they have cooled off, and clothes for dining in specialty restaurants with a dress code. I need clothes which will be modest. I need something for just hanging around. I’ve saved old swimsuits I can wear and leave behind, so that’s one thing solved.

“We’ve never lived in one place this long, ever,” AdventureMan continued, “and I have clothes I never wear anymore, things that have just become irrelevant. I keep thinking I need to get rid of more, like the pleated pants and the dress shirts, but it’s hard, I wonder if I might need them. Does that happen with you?”

I pause in my pinning and laugh. I have one dress in three different colors, another dress in two colors, and two jean skirts. I have a winter hooded dress in five colors. I am not a big shopper, so when I find something that works, I go with multiples.

Meanwhile, yes, AdventureMan, I have that other closet full, like you, with just-in-case clothes. I still have what is left of my evening dresses. I have clothing for in case I have a business meeting, or a funeral, things maybe I’ve worn once or twice since moving here. I have the odd specialty pieces, like Christmas clothing. When will I be ready to part with my cold-weather clothing, so beautiful and once so expensive?

I laugh and tell him all the above, and then tell him that of all the clothes I wear, I still have the clothes which were made for me in Qatar and Kuwait, copies of one particular Coldwater Creek linen dress which I had copied in both linen and cotton. I have three left. I’ve been wearing them for fifteen years, and they still look like new.

“I’ve taken them in,” I tell him because I’m smaller than I was when I was relatively sedentary in Kuwait. “And I’ve taken the hems up at least twice as I’ve gotten more used to being back in America. People tell me I look nice – they used to ask me if I was a missionary wife,” I added, and we both laughed. When you live in a different culture for a while, you become adapted to local ways. I remember how disconcerting it was in summers coming back to the USA and finding all the women shockingly and scantily dressed in their sleeveless dresses and shorts and T-shirts, even respectable women and I knew the change was in me and my perceptions, not in my culture.

I am thinking the backpack will be my Godsend. I am hoping I still have the strength and energy to run through Charles de Gaulle airport with the backpack on my back, lifting the carry-on if we need to run up or down stairs. I am thinking I can strap the backpack onto the carry-on handle in the straight places. I am thinking whatever I take will be enough; I am hoping it might even be a matter of discovering I have overpacked a little less than before.

It’s a curious mentality you develop when you’re nomadic. You become aware of so many possibilities, things that can go wrong, and things you might need, so you are always thinking “just in case.”

We have a backup plan. We know there is a Carrefour (large French supermarket) in walking distance to our hotel, so we can stock up on things we don’t have room to pack, or which we can’t carry on-board an airplane – manicure scissors, needles, sun protection, and some good bottles of dry red wine for our cabin. My list gives me a small illusion of control.

I take a deep breath and remind myself that this is our get-away, our escape, and that anxiety is counter-productive. We will be fine. Enough is enough, it will be a grand adventure.

October 15, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Experiment, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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

Chasing Petroglyphs: Mostly Remote

Arrival in Denver

How often in life do you get to say “Best Trip Ever!” I can think of two or three trips we have taken which qualify, even though on two of them one of us ended up sick a couple days. This trip, no one got sick, and there were no bad surprises.

You’ve seen this map before, when we were in the planning stages; nothing changed. We flew to Denver with American Airlines. Because we believe COVID is contagious, we chose to fly Business Class and to wear masks. The unpublished contagion rate in Florida hit almost 20% this week, so we are trying to eliminate as many opportunities to catch COVID as possible.

As AdventureMan says, “On a good flight, the number of landings is equal to the number of take-offs.” Our standards are low, but exacting. We had a great ride to the airport (our son) and plenty of time to get through TSA. We had two segments, plenty of time in Dallas-Fort Worth to connect for Denver, and while the food was negligible, there were no fights on board that we know of, we boarded and deplaned quickly; we have no complaints.

Denver was easy. When we got to the car rental lot, they did not have our reservation but with some work, were able to find it and gave AdventureMan his choice of cars, so he chose a sporty Nissan Rogue with ski racks on top. It’s 90 degrees F in Denver, but so dry we have to apply Vaseline to our lips every fifteen minutes or so.

LOL, notice the Florida license plates. We can run, but we can’t hide.

We chose to go VRBO in Denver; we wanted to be near to Little Diamond, who used to come visit us in Germany, in Doha and in Kuwait. We wanted to have time where we could catch up, and we wanted to have some time with her two beautiful children.

The VRBO was lovely, cool and spacious, and surrounded by a gorgeous garden that smelled good! The lilacs – so many lilacs! – were in full bloom, the iris were in full bloom, Spring was springing forth with exuberance!

We were hungry. We had landed around lunch time; by the time we rounded up the car and found the VRBO, we were really hungry, so we headed for Colfax Street, full of eating opportunities. We laughed that we would end up at YaYa’s, but it was so much fun. YaYa is Turkish, his wife is Nepalese, and his employees are Saudi Arabian, Tunisian and Yemini. It’s like a mini-UN, and they all work together and get along. The food was also delicious.

Yaya in cap

We started with the lentil soup, and shared a hummus. AdventureMan chose a felafel sandwich and I chose a lamb kebab.

Storefront
Addas
Hummos

As we finished, a man was washing the front window, so we got to walk through the kitchen, really fun for us to go behind the scenes. Yaya told us he had served both the Royals and the Cowboys that day, a very busy day, but that it was really wonderful to have customers IN the restaurant again. This was a lovely way to start our time in Denver.

We took Colfax into downtown Denver, loving the vibe. Downtown is alive, people really live there, it is full of businesses – and high cost parking. Lots of public art, a feeling of energy and optimism in Denver.

We headed back, stopped by Little Diamond’s house and took her dog for a walk, headed over to our VRBO for a little late afternoon snooze. As the VRBO was close to Little Diamond’s house, she popped by and we all went to dinner at the True Food Kitchen in nearby Cherry Creek. As usual with her, once we start talking, it never stops. We had so much catching up to do, and her life is so busy, complex and satisfying. We hated for the evening to end.

At the VRBO, I am noticing the internet works great. In fact, almost every place we stayed, the internet worked great. So great that I am forced to think I need to commit to confronting my behemoth provider in Pensacola about how often my service drops connection, even after they provided me with something they said would blow my mind with its speed and connection. I am not blown away, and using the speedy, reliable internet along this trip has brought that to my attention in a way I can’t ignore.

June 9, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Food, Geography / Maps, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Public Art, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , | 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

And Now I Can Relax

Three 2021 Calendars

The last event is over. Christmas has been decorated and celebrated, we have feasted, we have opened gifts. It is Christmas Day, we are just home again from a wonderful morning with our son, his wife, and our grandchildren. It has all been exhilarating. I am exhausted from interacting with people I love. I am relishing the mid-afternoon Christmas Day silence.

AdventureMan is in charge of dinner for tonight, and he is excited about the preparations. I am excited about what he has chosen and equally excited that I am totally off duty.

You may have guessed by now that as well as being introverted, I am also very mildly OCD. The gifts I look forward to the very most are my annual calendars; one for the quilt workshop, one for my bathroom and one for the kitchen. Even with three calendars, there are times I get busy thinking about something – a project I am working on, an obligation I need to fulfill, a problem that needs resolving, or even, to my shame, a book that engages me so entirely that the real world flies out the window.

Even with three calendars to remind me, there are occasions when I space out, don’t show up where I have promised, and face the consequences, not the least of which is beating myself up.

With my first minutes of spare time, I opened my new calendars and transferred all my current appointments and obligations to the new year. Hope springs eternal that I can keep myself organized, on track and faithful to my commitments.

One of the moments of delight in my day today was seeing my granddaughter organize her 60 shiny new Scrunchies by colors, and within the colors, by shades. She did it beautifully, sensitive to distinctions between shades and tints and color groups, exactly as I recently did with my quilting fabric collection. Sometimes a little bit of OCD is productive. There is something so satisfying about colors arranged just right.

Another thrill, on this beautiful Christmas Day, was seeing an American Bald Eagle soar past our window headed for a tree on the Bayou. We see him now and then, but not so often that the sight becomes common, and fails to thrill.

AdventureMan just checked in, ready to nap. He said “Oh! I forgot I am on duty for tonight!” and I said no, not if he didn’t want to be. This is a day to relax and to be happy. He can take a pass, fix the duck breasts tomorrow, or the next day. We have plenty in the refrigerator to feast upon, and we can cut ourselves some slack. It’s been a complicated month, full of turmoil and uncertainty, and it’s ending well. Giving ourselves time to breathe when we can is a good thing.

I hate to think that seeking peace over excitement means I must be old. There are times in my life when I couldn’t bear the boredom and needed to fill my days with events and activities. Even now, I prefer my life to have points of interest and unpredictability; it keeps things interesting. Then again, after a month of uncertainty and unpredictability, of COVID infections among those I love, and projects where we were reliant on others to meet our needs, a month with an unexpected death and ceremonial duties, a month when I couldn’t swim, one small day of peace and reflection is not such a bad thing.

December 25, 2021 Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Birds, Christmas, Family Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | Leave a comment

“This is the Best Christmas Ever!”

In today’s Lectionary readings, what Christmas is all about:

1 John 4:7-16

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Last night, our family arrived breathless and energetic after the Children’s Service at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Pensacola. My granddaughter was a reader at the service and had worked very hard to give a dignified delivery of the New Testament reading. We were all exhilarated at her success, and she was full of joy.

We did something different this year, a self-service buffet. AdventureMan put together two lavish charcuterie boards, We had salad makings and all sorts of garnishes, a cheese dip and chips, and many condiments. Ever-creative, our granddaughter asked if we had any salsa, and used that to dip her shrimp, rather than cocktail sauce or remoulade.

“This is the best Christmas dinner ever,” remarked our son, a rare and genuine compliment. We had agreed to simplify, and it was fun seeing how people chose, differently than we would have expected. It worked for us, for our family, giving people choices and creativity in what they ate.

As we ate, we played silly Christmas games. One was to take a phrase and go around the table with everyone taking the first letter of the next word and saying the first word which came to mind (assuming it was family-friendly). We ended up laughing so hard. It was then our grandson said “This is the best Christmas ever!” and my heart sang with joy, because there wasn’t a present in sight, this dinner was all about celebrating the great gift of a God arriving as an infant to show us what true love was all about, and that true love was flowing around the table. How often can we say “my heart is full?”

We will be rejoining them shortly, for the great gift-giving. For the first time, our grandchildren are excited about something they are giving us, something they know we will love. We haven’t a clue, but already we are feeling so blessed because they are thinking about the giving, rather than the getting. Thanks be to God! He is merciful, and he loves us more than we can ever comprehend.

December 25, 2021 Posted by | Advent, Christmas, Family Issues, Food, Generational, Holiday, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | Leave a comment

The Gift of Not Hurrying

Yesterday, early in the morning as I headed for the commissary, I found myself feeling relaxed. I can’t ever remember feeling so relaxed at Christmas before.

It’s been only since last Thursday that we’ve been back in our house. By Sunday, we had almost everything put away. (Today we put our last pictures back up on the walls.) But Christmas is coming, and there is a fine line. You don’t want to wait too long to do your food shopping, or everything is gone, but you also can’t buy some things, like shrimp, too early.

Today on FaceBook, I saw an entry about buying shrimp and crab at Maria’s, a local place, and everyone agreed today was the exact right day to do it, while they were still supplied and had all the add-ons. The post went on forever! I remember when I first got here, I thought if I got to the big fish dealer, Joe Patti’s, at 7:00 when they opened on Christmas Eve, I would be OK. I was SO wrong. When I got there, before 7 a.m., the line snaked all around the parking lot, and these people were serious, with food lockers and everything. Never again!

So it is unusual for me to be relaxed at this time of the year. It’s been a long time coming. My daughter-in-law has a lot to do with it, she has been eager to simplify. It’s been harder for me to let go – I was raised with a lot of shoulds. But this year we agreed we would do Christmas Eve and they would do Christmas morning and we would keep it simple.

The funny thing is, it’s really not that much more simple, but somehow, it feels more simple, more relaxed, less structured, less formal, and we all feel pretty good about it.

Once everything in the house was put away, I was able to get Christmas started. I only brought out a few things, but it was so much fun.

We have a couple small trees out on the porch, with the lights. We can’t have a tree inside because Ragnar (the problem cat) likes to chew on wires, and a little electricity does not deter him. I used to do a lot of lights inside before. Life is simpler now 🙂

I find that simpler is good. Relaxed is good. I feel so blessed by the gift of Not Hurrying.

December 23, 2021 Posted by | Advent, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Christmas, Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Quality of Life Issues, Spiritual | Leave a comment

Out of Control

It gets worse. The flooring people, after one week, still have not arrived. They are in communication with us, and their crew is on another job where they found some problems that need to be fixed before they can complete the work on that job. It is taking time.

Honestly, sometimes all you can do is laugh. We had to move to the Airbnb because with all our bedrooms being re-floored, we have no place to sleep in the house; our beds are all broken down to store in the family room. Our cats are confined to the living room, which, fortunately, they like well enough, as well as cats like changes of any kind, as you who have cats will know.

We are reasonable people. We know that if it were us whose floors were problematic, we would want the company to fix the problem and finish the job, even if it meant taking longer than planned.

As people who are spending time and money to stay in an Airbnb while NOTHING is getting done, it is frustrating and chaotic, and expensive. We were so careful putting things where we could find them, except we can’t always remember those special places where we put the things.

And, of course, the unexpected struck. A funeral, for a good friend and mentor, at which I will be a reader, and for which any appropriate dress is hidden in the far back of my living room, behind bookcases and mattresses and stacked furniture.

After scrambling through different channels, trying to get to my “dressy clothes I won’t need rack” in the way-back, I discovered that I could make do with something on my accessible rack in the living room.

One last little whine. The temperatures have suddenly risen; the temperatures are tropical and laden with moisture. It is hot. It is humid. Our comfortably cool weather has disappeared, reappeared, and then disappeared again as a cold front moves back and forth over Pensacola, shifting our temperatures from cool and dry to hot and humid.

There is a bright silver lining to this cloud of December mishaps – As part of my job in the church, I co-ordinate with a delightful young woman who did the same exact thing, cleared out four bedrooms to have wooden floors put in, but she and her husband did it with children! They ran into the same problem, staying in an Airbnb, the job was delayed, and they ended up staying in a total of three Airbnb’s because the ones they had booked were booked again and there was no room for extensions due to the flooring company mishaps.

“It’s a drag,” she told me, “but you will be so happy with those beautiful floors.”

She is right. She made me laugh. She was exactly the right person in the right place to help me put perspective on all this and to laugh. Her situation was so much worse, and she survived.

The cats have adjusted well to their lives confined to one room in the house. The beta male, Uhtred, who has not realized that he is now bigger (and smarter) than the alpha male, Ragnar, has found a safe place where Ragnar can’t get him and has also figured out how to open the folding door, even with its slider to prevent being opened. He is smart, and persistent, and loves to open doors. so far, we have him contained.

The right dress will show up for the funeral. It’s not about me, anyway. There is a pin I need to wear, and I know exactly where it is, in a box at the bottom of a heap of boxes I can’t access. The hamster brain keeps running on its hamster wheel, and I have to take a breath and realize that most of what I worry about will resolve itself without my getting wrapped up in anxiety.

Limbo is never a fun place to be. We want this to be over, we want to put all our furniture back, to sleep in our own house, to have our things put away in logical places where we can find them when we need them. We trust this company and want to work with them; we believe they are doing the best that they can in troubled times. We are in a good place; no immediate vacation plans, no children, not a lot on our schedule, and our Airbnb has been very gracious about extensions. I’ve given up thinking I’ll be able to have this all done, everything put away, for Christmas.

We are not comfortable being out of control. We are experiencing the discomfort of rolling with the unknown. On some level, I believe it to be a reminder that mostly control is an illusion, and that we are often oblivious to the tumult and chaos all around us, disruption can blindside us at any time. I know there is a lesson in humility involved, and I suspect another lesson in letting go and going with the flow. Like Uhtred, I persist in trying to free myself, I keep pulling at that door.

December 10, 2021 Posted by | Advent, Adventure, Aging, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Home Improvements, Hotels, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Renovations | Leave a comment

Every Monkey Gets His Turn in the Barrel (3)

It’s such a common expression in our family that when I thought to title this post with this title, I checked, and sure enough, I have used this same title twice before. I didn’t know I was allowed to do that. It’s all about days when you’ve tried to do everything right, you’ve tried to maximize your chances for success, but everything seems to go wrong. We’ve learned, as the monkeys concerned, that it’s all about loss of control, and a smart monkey will just roll with it.

There is a part of me saying “Oh woe is me.” It’s a part of me I hate, the catastrophic thinking, which is not thinking at all, but we feel what we feel.

It will always strike at the worst moment, this monkey getting a turn in the barrel phenomenon. Last time, it was Viking notifying us that a major trip was canceled, a day before we were leaving on another major trip, and big decisions and a lot of telephoning needed to be done. This time, disaster struck an hour before the book club meeting that I was to lead. While my husband worked his end, I walked away. I said I’ll deal with it after book club.

We’re not people who like drama. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family in Panama City. We had a condo on the beach, big enough for the six of us in the nuclear family, with sunsets and wave action and a great gathering with lots of hugs.

Thanksgiving night, we got news that one of those we had hugged tested positive for COVID. All of us are vaccinated, so we weren’t too worried. Then the next night, one of the six of us tested positive, and the next morning, another. Adventure and I tested negative, and immediately went in for our booster shots. This is not a great time to be facing an illness, even a mild one.

We bought a new-old house back early in the COVID epidemic, a smaller house, but a house we have loved for years. It’s in good condition, but we wanted to modernize critical elements, put on a new roof, fix the chimney, install tankless heating, upgrade the electricity, make it safer for aging people and more energy efficient.

The people who built the house decided, at some point, to cover their beautiful parquet floors with wall-to-wall carpeting. When my son and his wife bought the house from us, they lifted the old carpets and loved the parquet. Unfortunately, the floor was spotted with white paint, but little by little, they were working on those spots when they sold the house back to us.

We hired a company to come in and refinish, refurbish and restore the floors in four bedrooms, and scheduled it for the first week in December so we could be all moved back in and settled by Christmas. This is what my house looks like now – we have packed out almost everything from our bedrooms:

Chaos

We have a VRBO scheduled starting Saturday when the movers come to move all the furniture out of the bedrooms.

Yesterday, as careful planners often do, my husband called the flooring company to make sure everything was on track. It wasn’t. They were planning to call us to tell us that the work can’t start until Wednesday, and “likely will finish on Saturday,” which sounds way too iffy for us. AdventureMan got busy calling the movers who cannot shift the first date.

When I got home from a really good book club meeting, a meeting so good I totally stopped spinning around my hamster wheel of anxiety and forgot, for that hour, that we were facing calamity, I was ready to do my part. I got an extension on our VRBO. It’s costly, but it is convenient and will provide us with a calm, serene location while our home is in upheaval. Sigh. It’s an investment in our mental health.

I’m sad about Christmas. I’ve been working on cookies, and I put up outside lights, but inside, Christmas is lacking.

Lights

Rosettes: Swedish Christmas Cookies my mother taught me how to make

I am a woman of faith. I know that somewhere in all this are multiple blessings. When the good God shakes me out of my comfort zone, I am forced to confront my own darkness, my own failings, and sometimes my misplaced priorities.

I know all this will pass, and in the end, we will have floors we love and it will make us happy in small ways for years to come. I know that this Christmas will be very different, and less structured than before – and a part of me believes that this might be a good thing, too. Shaking things up now and then allows for change, and fresh air in stale traditions. Spending ten days in another location will be a sort of enforced retreat. It won’t be without daily obligations, but my routines are seriously disrupted, and I might learn something new.

Rolling around in that barrel from time to time might just be a good thing.

(P.S. The EPIC book club book was Code Girls by Liza Mundy, and was about World War II and its transformational effect on American women’s lives. Once consigned to babies and kitchens, they were sought after and recruited to do the tedious work of code-breaking. Their work with the Army, Navy and intelligence services was exciting, instrumental in the Allied victory over both Japan and Germany. It is an inspirational book.)

December 2, 2021 Posted by | Advent, Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Books, Character, Christmas, EPIC Book Club, Family Issues, Home Improvements, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Renovations, Sunsets, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment