Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Out in the Great Wide Open: Montana and Wyoming Day 1

Our first major trip since the beginning of COVID had an ambiguous start. AdventureMan and I over prepare, we always do. So the day before we are scheduled to leave for Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, we are actually pretty relaxed. We are all packed – actually packed, and then re-evaluated when the weather suddenly turned from the high 90’s to much lower, and we scrambled to add some cold weather gear to the mix. We are enjoying some down time when AdventureMan calls from his office to mine – “Hey, we just got a letter from Viking you need to look at.”

AdventureMan is a big picture kind of guy. He gets right away that our trip in May 2022 is being cancelled. I capture the details – that we either apply the money we have paid in full to a future trip or we call immediately to tell them we want a full refund. This is the second time we have had this particular trip cancel and we look at each other and agree that two cancellations are enough.

There is an incentive to putting the money forward – a 10% reduction in the cost of the trip. We already have another trip booked with them, but for less money, so we wanted to keep it clean. We needed to call right away, because the deadline was during the middle of this trip which we are about to take, and our lack of internet connections in the remote locations we seek could prevent us from getting our refund. AdventureMan got right on it, the representative answered, encouraged us to book the trip again (we declined) and worked it out so that our refund will arrive shortly.

Crisis averted. Don’t you hate it when things happen at the last minute?

The following morning we were up at 0345 and Patrick, our taxi driver, arrived exactly on the dot of 4:15. For me, it was a scramble. Morning feeding of the two indoor cats and the one outdoor cat is my responsibility, plus getting dressed. I scrambled. I was finished just in time, we got to the airport, checked in and went through security. No problems, except I forgot I had my Fitbit on and had to be searched. 

One other problem. For this trip I had really tried to manage with a carry on bag, which preparing for two weeks is problematic. I had really thought things through, had clothes with multiple purposes, got it all in the one bag and my purse – and then they wouldn’t let me take the bag on board, they valet’ed it. I have a large handbag, large enough for my computer and meds and rental car paperwork, so all was well, but it was annoying to follow all the rules and then not to be able to take it with me. We call this a first world problem – in the greater scheme of things, it was small stuff. 

Our first flight was to Charlotte, and there was some passenger having a problem about wearing the masks over both mouth and nose, and about whether the female flight attendant had the authority to require full coverage. No problem, they had a big male flight safety monitor who explained his choices to him – cover, or get off the flight. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has had more than 4200 reports of unruly passengers since the beginning of 2021. More than 3000 of these reports were due to refusals to wear masks, in spite of clear guidance from every airline that this is a mandate. 

We were close to where the flight attendants were chatting during take-off, laughing that a man would refuse to believe a woman had the authority to instruct him to wear a mask. Welcome to 2021. 

In Charlotte, we had just enough time to stop at the Farmer’s Market and pick us sandwiches and chips for the next leg of the flight. There were huge lines at all the other places, for Biscuits and Eggs, for McDonalds, for Starbucks. The second flight also departed on time. We don’t take these blessings for granted.

We arrived in Bozeman on time, 50 degrees F. outside and raining. We were delighted. There have been forest fires sending waves of particulate matter towards Bozeman for weeks, and now the winds have shifted, and the rain has helped tamp down the pollution. Again, we feel blessed.

AdventureMan had to wait for his bag so I went to pick up the rental car. Things got weird. Not in a hard way, just in an unusual way. There was no one at my rental agency’s counter, but there was a sign to check in with another rental agency. There was no line, so I checked in. The guy offered me an upgrade for a pittance to a Rav4, a car we really like anyway. Then he handed me the keys and told me how to return it when we were done. 

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t we have to sign a rental contract and talk about filling the tank and stuff?”

“Our printer isn’t working,” he stated, and I didn’t believe him for a heartbeat. “I can send you an e-mail copy if you wish” and yes, I so wished. I had my own copy of the initial agreement, but it was for a different kind of car. I’m glad I had it with me because the entire two weeks we drove this rental car, I never received a copy of the new rental agreement. A couple hours after I returned the car, I received the updated rental agreement. 

But the car was a beautiful turquoise blue, and close enough to the cars we drive to be easy, even better than AdventureMan’s 2010 version. It was an easy drive to our hotel, the Spring Hill Inn, which had our room waiting for us, a large, serene and quiet room, close to everything. Then off to the nearby Walmart, our usual Bozeman outfitter, for what we call car foods, and insect repellant (which we never had to use) and other small items of convenience.

There is a lot of construction going on in Bozeman, and we are told by many we talk with that the problem is trying to find an affordable place to live in Bozeman. Outside our window, we can see new housing going up, and we can also see the solution the construction workers have found to deal with the housing affordability problem.

We parked downtown when we found a place that looked wonderful and had a smoker out front, but it turned out to be a fine food purveyor, not a restaurant. We asked her for a recommendation, and she said ‘You have to go to the Rocking R” so we did. The Rocking R is actually a bar, a great cowboy bar, and the restaurant is called Hail Mary. We both had elk burgers – hey, we’re in Bozeman – and they were delicious. I think mine was called something like the Outlaw, and my beer was a Maverick Mary; it tasted good and because I don’t drink much, half a beer and I was buzzed. I also had roasted shaved brussel sprouts to salve my conscience. We had a great time. We are happy just to be back in Bozeman. 

We had time to take a walk along the main street – woo hooo, lots of fun stores, a rug store for AdventureMan and a book store for me. 

We couldn’t ask for a better first day. No delays, no negative events. Hardest part of the day was trying to keep myself awake until 8 p.m.

September 12, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Civility, Cultural, Eating Out, Financial Issues, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Restaurant, sunrise series, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Before the Blog: Arrival in Kuwait

After three years in Doha, AdventureMan transferred to Kuwait to take on a new position. I followed, spending a couple months dealing with a variety of authorities to get permission to take my cat, known as the Qatari cat in the blog, his real name was Pete.

When our Morgaine died, AdventureMan said “No more cats!” but six months later, on a plane back from our son’s wedding, I told him I needed a cat. He worked long, hard hours, and loved what he was doing. I loved that he loved what he was doing, and I was lonely in our huge house, just me, rattling around like a little pea in a big pod. Because he loves me, he agreed, and as soon as we got back to Doha, I went to the vet and found Pete. I brought him home. Pete didn’t love me to start with – he loved AdventureMan. When AdventureMan would leave for work, Pete would howl in anguish. Slowly, slowly while he came to find me an acceptable substitute, he always loved AdventureMan the best.

So I was trying to do everything I could to guarantee Pete would travel with us to Kuwait. Travel was complicated by an outbreak of Bird Flu. While it didn’t affect people traveling on Qatar Air with falcons (birds!) it seemed to complicate travel for cats. AdventureMan came back a few days ahead and I told him of my frustration – I had a veterinary certificate, I had been assured by the airlines that Pete would travel with us but every person gave me a different answer. He got involved, and the day before we travelled, he got a firm “yes.”

We’ve lived in the MIddle East for years. We know “yes” isn’t always yes. We got to the airport early, to check in, to make sure everything went smoothly. It didn’t. The woman at the check-in desk said “No,” Pete couldn’t travel because of the bird flu. I said “we have him on the reservation!” and the woman said “He’s just a cat. Don’t you know they have many cats in Kuwait?” AdventureMan got involved, invoked the name of the high poohbah he had dealt with and got permission from. After many a phone call, and almost at the very last minute, Pete was allowed to fly.

Magic Kingdom

I use this image of Magic Kingdom because flying into Kuwait from Doha was flying into a whole new world. You might think all Gulf Arab countries are alike, but you would be very wrong. Kuwait and Qatar have many interrelationships, many of the same families, but the culture was very different.

AdventureMan had reserved a limo – not what you are thinking. Not a big fancy car, but a sort of beat-up big car that could handle all our luggage and the cat, and would be waiting for us. Coming into Kuwait, getting a residence visa, getting to the limo was easy. What happened next was unexpected, and part of why we chose this kind of life.

The beloved Emir of Kuwait had died, and we arrived on the day of the coronation of his son. Important people from all over the Gulf and from many other countries were attending this event. It didn’t affect our arrival at the Kuwait Airport, because there is a special VIP terminal for important people. Getting out of the airport, however, was unbelievably complicated as cavalcade after cavalcade of important people stopped traffic so they could be rushed to the events surrounding the coronation. Just as we were about to turn onto the road to Fintas, where we were to live, we were cut off by a big sand-colored official SUV with six men hanging on the outside in desert fatigue uniforms carrying automatic rifles. These were not friendly looking guys, in fact it was a little bit terrifying.

And this was part of the magic of Kuwait, the contrasts and the unpredictability. First rule, you never never mess with the police (and there seemed to be several different kinds of police.)

When I had flown to Kuwait to look at housing, they showed me one apartment and many many villas. The villas were huge, two or three had their own indoor swimming pools, two had elevators. I chose the apartment, which had more square footage than the house we live in now.

I loved living in this eyrie, with it’s huge view over the Arab Gulf.

Kuwait City is center in the distance.
Moon Over Family Park in Fintas

Scenes in Al Fintas

Scaffolding

AdventureMan would never go out on our balcony. We would watch other high rises going up and know that the concrete was poured at night, but it was still very hot, the concrete often had more sand than was good, and many of these buildings are built at sea level. Like the collapsing buildings in Miami, we often had salt water in our underground parking garage. I had thought I could care for the apartment on my own, but the seals on the windows could not keep out the sand, and every day the tile floors were gritty with it. I couldn’t keep up. I was lucky to find a wonderful woman to help me; she also helped me understand many of the realities for expat-labor in Kuwait.

High rise going up next door; elevators not in yet so laborers are taken up in this raft by a crane.

Some of the labor practices were horrifying. Kuwait and very modern laws and standards. Kuwait also has a system called “Wasta” which sort of translates to “who you know/who has influence” and depending on your “wasta” the standards may or may not have been maintained. Also, the fine, ever-present air-born sand creates engineering and maintenance difficulties that we can barely imagine.

Creating a Fish Trap

We came to admire the laborers very much. They had a hard life. Most were sending everything they could back to families in their own countries, mostly to feed their families and to educate their children. Some were badly treated, some did not have jobs. You get used to thinking in a different way. We had regular beggers, men who waited outside our favorite restaurants knowing we would give them our bag full of food on our way back to the car. There were, of course, scammers, but most who asked for food or money were grateful, in a dignified way, for anything we could share. These men are building a fish trap – there is a way in, but no way out. It was fascinating to watch it being built.

In the late 1960’s, early 1970’s, Kuwait monitored their best male students, and sent these young men to study in different countries. Many went to the US and UK, and being young men, found themselves the kind of adventerous wives who would dare to marry a dashing foreigner and go to live with them in their country. (That is a topic for a whole other blog entry!)

I was fortunate to be friends with many of these women, who in turn introduced me to Kuwaiti women. These were all very fine women, a lot of fun, educated and skilled and sophisticated. It thrilled my heart to be an aging woman who still had so much to learn, and was blessed with these spirited mentors.

Below is a refrigerated water supply tower, put on the street by a generous and religious person to bless those who do not have access to cool water. You see them everywhere. I hope our country never becomes so desertified that we need to install these. I always loved that they are so joyful, so exuberantly creative. They are not only functional, they came in many different sizes, styles and shapes, and they always made me smile. This is what I call giving cheerfully!

Water tower

Kuwait was often beautiful. Below is a window called meshrabiyya, it provides light; it also provides privacy for the viewer. Many buildings in Kuwait incorporate homages to earlier architectural traditions.

Meshrabiyya window

“Regrets, I have a few . . . ” Mostly I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, mostly just earrings I pick up on my travels. My son was getting married; I offered to help the bride with bridesmaids gifts and a Kuwaiti woman guided me to the old gold souk where a jeweler made these necklaces for me, raw emeralds and pearls. I did not get one for myself. I wish I had! You could find real treasures, original and nothing less than 18K and real gems. The workmanship was exquisite.

One of the great joys for us was the Magreb (sunset) call to prayer. Everywhere in Kuwait there were mosques on almost every block. At sunset, each would have a call to prayer. They started seconds apart, so there was a sort of lovely cacaphony of sound, voices raised praising God and reminding everyone to worship and praise. We would watch the light change as the sun set and listen to this marvelous sound.

Mosque

So many mosques! So like Pensacola! Some were small and simple, some larger and ornate and a few gigantic mosques. I think of Kuwait early in the morning when one church, I think the downtown Presbyterian church, has a carillon concert. It’s not the call to prayer, but it’s the same idea, calling our hearts to be thankful for our creation.

And now, my favorite haunt in Kuwait, the Mubarakiyya. Mubarak is blessing, and the Mubarakiyya was a blessing to me. This is where we would go for the best dates (the dates you eat, and entire street of date vendors), cottons and fabrics for our stitching and clothing (no Macy’s in Kuwait), and for some of the best eating in Kuwait. The stalls and kitchens were miniscule, most had outdoor seating, and the food was FRESH. Our friend Mohammed said that the reason the tea was so good (the large brass pot sitting on a heater at our table) was that they never washed the pot, so it had an aged tannin flavor, LOL. We would eat Kuwaiti shrimp, mezze, and oh, the freshly baked bread. We would take our visiting experts to this souk, a place they might never otherwise experience, and thrill their hearts with the sights and sounds and smells.

Main entry Mubarakiyya
One of the date stalls
Souk foods
This store cracked me up with it’s giant model

I didn’t always have a great view, and driving home one night alone in the middle of a sandstorm is one of lifes most adrenalin filled moments. You can’t see, and you can’t breathe.

I will end this with a big smile. Near the Kuwaiti airport was a store that sold electric palm trees. AdventureMan told me that he’s always wanted one and threatened to buy one to bring back and put in our yard in Edmonds, or Pensacola. Horrified, I just let it slide, and it never happened . . .

August 12, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Moving, Qatteri Cat, Travel | Leave a comment

Pensacola: Florida Man

Today, as we were en route to pick up lunch, we were stopped at a stop light. We had been stopped there for about 45 seconds, the light was very red.

Suddenly, on our left, an SUV came rushing up and without even slowing down, much less stopping, he blasted through that very red light.

I’ve given up cursing for Lent. In the surprise and the shock of the adrenalin jolt, out popped “WTF??”

There is a character in Florida so common that he has his own meme: Florida Man. Florida Man Runs Naked Down the Interstate. Florida Man Kills Stranger With a Hammer While High on Meth. Florida Man Hit Man on Highway and Calls it In as a Deer. Oops, not that one, wrong state. But you get the picture. Generally, Florida Man thinks the rules don’t apply to him.

I had a run-in with Florida Man once, when we lived in the Tampa/St. Pete area, except Florida Man was a woman who was really PO’d with me when our two lines of cars were zippering to get on the interstate and when I zippered, even though she was honking at me in her big truck, she got infuriated that I didn’t defer, and she chased me up the highway, trying to cut me off, coming really close to hitting me. I left the highway rather than take a chance with a lunatic who was also likely carrying a gun.

Even for Florida Man, running a very very red red light at high speed without even slowing down is exceptional. And then, maybe 10 seconds later, a large Pensacola police SUV with lights and siren rolling, went zooming through the same red light, followed by another PPD vehicle.

This was worth a good ten minutes of discussion. We don’t think the police caught him (or her) as the car was going SO fast, and changing into the left lane, I am guessing the driver, just out of sight, turned left and evaded a confrontation.

AdventureMan observed that evading the police these days is a very temporary thing; clearly they were chasing this car even before he zoomed through the red light. They know the car, they’ve probably run the license, at the very least they have him on film. Two cars were chasing him; running the red light was probably just icing on the cake. So we are running the probabilities; I am saying if I know I am guilty of something, probably something serious, and the police are about to arrest me, running a red light might be a percentage play if it keeps me free another hour or day or month or two. Maybe it’s worth the risk to run that light, and likely this is not a person who is giving a lot of thought to the welfare of others.

How fragile life is. On a quiet, calm Sunday, just making a quick trip to pick up some take-out, anything can happen.

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Adventure, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Crime, Cultural, Florida, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Random Musings, Stranger in a Strange Land | Leave a comment

A Day Like No Other

I headed for the Y this morning, surprised I was awake and eager – I’d been up late the night before following the senatorial elections in Georgia, finally giving up when I couldn’t stay awake any longer. When I got to the Y, I found all the lanes filled, more than filled, and people waiting. In a state with one of the highest COVID rates in the nation and one of the highest death rates, and a state rated #50 in all 50 states in the health care for the elderly (aaack, I choke even to write this word, which seems to apply to me, but I do not feel “elderly”) I cannot stay in a place where a lot of unmasked people are breathing heavily as they exercise. I came home and walked a mile, then went on with my day.

I fell in love with a beautiful heron.

And his friends:

What a day it was. Two Democrats elected in Georgia, swinging the Senate to a 50-50 split, with Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. As I see it, it is a challenge and a win-win. If this country is going to heal, we have to work together. We have to try to see things from the other’s point of view, and we have to find ways to compromise to achieve the greater good. We have so much work to do just to remedy the great slough of the last four years, work in the fields of justice, environment, health care, infrastructure, diplomatic relations, oh my, so much work to do in so many areas. It’s going to take all of us working together.

So as we are eating lunch and Mitch McConnell is on CNN making an astonishing speech supporting accepting the electoral college votes for Joe Biden, so astonishing it caught our full attention, and then all hell broke loose. There was a rallying speech by our Fearless Leader, who assured his followers once again that the election had been stolen and he was going to march with them (he didn’t) to the Capital where the senators and congresspeople were meeting, and they were to show how strong they were, and not be weak.

We watched in horror as this mob headed to the Capitol and knocked over the barriers and FOUGHT WITH THE POLICE. these followers of the Fearless one who calls himself the Law and Order President. Oh the shame of it! We watched as they broke windows, and lookie-lou’d, phone cameras in every hand documenting their invasion. We watched a sole policeman trying to staunch the mob as they headed for the law-makers chambers. The horror. The shame. I think all America was watching these hooligans with utter horror.

Not the brightest bulbs in the chandeliers; the US government offices are littered with cameras and state-of-the art facial recognition sortware. For the rest of their lives they will be instantly recognized as yahoos and insurrectionists in their FBI files accessible to every sheriff’s office and police department in America. What utter fools.

What did they think they were going to be able to accomplish? I suspect it was not a question of thinking; they were part of a mob and just sort of mindlessly participated not even realizing what they were doing. The last thing they would accomplish was overturning the will of the people, those voters who defeated the sitting president by more than 7 million votes.

As I write this, the Senate and House are meeting again to verify the electoral college votes and probably will agree to research better, more efficient ways to secure the vote in the future, maybe find more standardized ways to provide equal access to voting to all Americans, and to think of ways to more efficiently tally the vote. Joe Biden is safe. He will be inaugurated January 20th. And Kamala Harris will be one of the most important Vice-Presidents in history, providing the tie breaking vote when Democrats and Republicans fail to agree, but even better, working in the background to find ways to get lawmakers to craft legislation that will serve the people of both parties. I believe this.

At the end of this extraordinary day, I looked out and saw this:

Is that not beautiful?

I believe that out of the most horrendous circumstances, great good can come. I have seen this in my own life. People can change. Lives can change. We have choices, and sometimes it takes a good shaking up to show us how we can make better choices. I have hope that today has opened eyes, and opened hearts, and that it has opened a possibility that we can find a way to work together to accomplish great things.

Nancy Pelosi is talking about today being a day of Epiphany, a time of change and healing. My Moslem friends would say “insh’allah.” God willing.

January 6, 2021 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Cultural, Events, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues, Sunsets | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Texas Solution to Mass Shootings – More Guns

Forgive me for going political, but occasionally I have to let off steam.

 

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I was raised with guns. My husband fought in Vietnam; we have great respect for weapons of all kinds, and when they are needed, and the damage they can inflict. We believe in protecting ourselves.

We don’t need an assault rifle.

When the governor of Texas pulled a sad face and talked about the need to protect Texans, without getting specific, the hair on the back of my neck started going up. Another politician hiding what he is really saying, I thought. When pushed, he referred to the eight new laws going into effect that very day, the same day another angry white American-born male had shot and killed seven people and wounded many more.

He carried an assault rifle. First killed was a policeman making a traffic stop.

The gun laws that the governor referred to as going into effect, each and every law, protect gun ownership and allow guns legally to be carried in more places.

Churches, synagogues and mosques.

Schools.

God forbid.

More guns, in my experience, do NOT make us more safe.

While we were with the military, guns which were not being used for training purposes (or war) were locked up. Every base, every unit has it’s own weapons storage center, kept under lock and key, and those are the rules for professionals with a huge familiarity with guns, and their proper handling, and their capabilities.

Any person can become temporarily insane. I myself have had moments when I knew I was capable of killing, especially to protect my child, or another innocent. None of us know what we are capable of under extreme stress or circumstances.

I can imagine NO circumstance under which it would be appropriate for me to carry an assault weapon.

Here, courtesy of CNN, are the eight new gun laws the governor cited in his lily-livered bow to the NRA:

(CNN)

A series of new firearm laws go into effect in Texas on Sunday, just hours after a shooting left seven people dead in the western part of the state.

The laws will further loosen gun restrictions in a state that’s had four of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history, including the El Paso shooting last month, when a gunman stormed a Walmart and killed 22 people.
The new measures were all passed during the 2019 legislative session, which ended in June.
Here are the sweeping firearm laws going into effect:

Weapons on school grounds

House Bill 1143 says a school district cannot prohibit licensed gun owners, including school employees, from storing a firearm or ammunition in a locked vehicle on a school parking lot — provided they are not in plain view.
Kris Brown, president of gun violence prevention advocacy group Brady, criticized the bill going into effect September 1.
“Many states took the opportunity in the last two years to learn lessons from the tragedies in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, and the every day gun violence that plagues our citizens, and enacted new laws to protect public safety through expanded background checks and extreme risk laws,” Brown said.
“Texas lawmakers, instead … doubled down on an NRA led agenda to encourage guns everywhere, no matter the risks and costs to safety.”

Marshals at schools

House Bill 1387 loosens restrictions on how many armed school marshals a school district can appoint.

Guns in foster homes

House Bill 2363 allows some foster homes to store firearms and ammunition in a safe and secure place for personal protection. Proper storage must be followed, the bill says, including putting firearms and ammunition together in the same locked locations.

Weapons in apartments

House Bill 302 bans homeowners or landlords of rental property from prohibiting residents from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in the property.

Handguns during a disaster

House Bill1177 prohibits residents from being charged with a crime for carrying a handgun while evacuating from a state or local disaster area.

Firearms in places of worship

Senate Bill 535 clarifies the possession of firearms at churches, synagogues or other places of worship. It allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship — and comes nearly two years after a gunman killed 26 people at Sutherland Springs church.
“We have learned many times over that there is no such thing as a gun free zone. Those with evil intentions will violate the law and carry out their heinous acts no matter what,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “It makes no sense to disarm the good guys and leave law-abiding citizens defenseless where violent offenders break the law to do great harm.”
The bill will make things clearer, she said.
“The existing statute is confusing and clunky when it comes to clearly stating the rights of licensed Texans to carry on the premises of a church. This bill provides clarity of the Legislature’s intent to treat churches in the same manner as other privately owned establishments in Texas.”
A landlord cannot forbid tenants to carry or store guns on the rental premises. People can carry guns, by law, into houses of worship, even those where mass shootings have occurred. And guns are allowed in foster homes?? Good grief.
On a brighter note, Walmart announced to day restrictions on selling certain kinds of ammunition; restricting gun sales may be around the corner.
This is NOT a mental health issue. This is an issue where normal but angry people have access to weapons which kill many people, quickly.  The first step is to re-instate the assault weapon ban. Now.

September 3, 2019 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Health Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Lies, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Rants, Safety, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Survival, Values | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yellowstone National Park; Bear En Route to Mammoth Hot Springs

I’m posting this Yellowstone National Park map again to help you orient yourself on today’s adventures. We go from Canyon Village to Artist Paintpots (at last!), stop a lengthy time to watch a sedate mother grizzly and her cubs, view an awesome mountain, arrive in Mammoth Springs, have lunch in Gardiner, Montana, outside the North gate to the park, visit the upper Terrace at Mammoth, and spend the late afternoon once again in Lamar Valley, our happy place. This evening, my husband gets attacked by an irate Mama elk.

Yellowstone is so do-able. We did all the above, and never felt rushed.

 

This is an easy day, and our plan is to get up when we feel like it, but we are both awake by seven, and in fifteen minutes we are ready to go. We shake the dust from our feet!

From Canyon, we take the road directly going West. When we get to the junction, we turn South, just to get us to Artist Paintpots. We’ve tried twice before, and the parking lot was jammed and overflowing. This time, we are the first car in the lot. It’s only about 7:30 a.m. and the long weekend is long passed. There are fewer visitors, and even fewer who are out and about this early. (We are still early in the park season, once the summer rush starts, even early may not be early enough.)

 

 

Yep, you guessed it, Artistic Paintpots is so named because of the wondrous colors created by the variety of minerals leached into the boiling hot water, and the bacteria that thrives in the steaming springs.

 

I cannot even imagine a caldera this big, but as we drove, we tried to identify the ridges. The floor of this caldera thinly covers molten lava and the geysers and springs are caused by the heating of water in the ground which expands and comes out with varying degrees of force. This is how I understand it; someone with a more technical background can give you a more thorough explanation. So Yellowstone is a super volcano, and last erupted 700,000 years ago. It could erupt again. We were constantly aware of how very thin the crust of the earth is here, and now we obliviously walk over the possibility of instant, painful death.

But oh, the combination of heat, and minerals creates some magnificent colors and an eerily beautiful landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

It is a beautiful hike, one of the best on our trip. It is worth finding a serene time to visit the Artist Paintpots.

Back in the car, we see a big jam of cars on the road, and people running. Anywhere else, you would think someone had a car accident, but in Yellowstone, a jam like that with people parking anywhere – sometimes just leaving their car in the middle of the road (!) means that some kind of game has been spotted. This time, it was a Mama Grizzly and her two cubs.

So many people! Many of them had powerful, huge lenses, and tripods. They were all set up to take photos when the bear would be in clear view. I just use a little Lumix with a big telephoto, and it takes surprisingly sharp photos, considering it has a very light and easily tucked-in-a-purse kind of body.

There was an empty place where no one wanted to be. We really just wanted to watch. (Yes, we had backed up to a real viewing point and parked legally. The rule is – or is supposed to be – that you are supposed to be outside the white line delineating the outer boundary of the road.

We watched the very placid sow dig up some roots, keeping an eye on the playful cubs.

 

 

 

 

I just got lucky. The bear and her cubs moved to directly in front of me. It’s . . .well, it’s like a God thing, if the photo is put right in front of you, you are meant to take it, right?

More and more people came. They were quiet and respectful of the bear, and of one another, but their parking was not respectful of the trucks and RVs that needed to get through. Soon, the park rangers arrived. We were told they can ticket anyone not parked outside the white lines, and that the fine is HUGE, but this is a tourist attraction, and the rangers we saw used good humor and persistence, and cajoled people into moving along and parking legally. We never saw anyone ticketed, and we also never saw anyone argue with a ranger.

June 24, 2019 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Civility, Customer Service, Geography / Maps, Law and Order, Lumix, Photos, Road Trips, Travel, Wildlife | , , , , | Leave a comment

USA: Democracy in Decline

On Sunday, the organist played “America the Beautiful” in a minor key. It reflected what many of us are experiencing. We love our country. We hate what we are seeing.

An excerpt from an article from the Washington Post about declining democracies in the world, this part focused on the USA, land that I love:

 

Democracy declined precipitously in the United States

The United States fell 24 places in the country ranking on liberal democracy over the past two years, from seventh in 2015 to 31st in 2017. When we compare the United States’ score in 2017 with its average score over the past 10 years, the drop is precipitous and unprecedented.


Liberal democracy in the United States: changes from the 10-year average.

Experts lowered their estimates of democracy in the United States because they began to be skeptical that the U.S. Congress will rein in executive overreach. Similarly, experts lost faith that the opposition party can contribute to overseeing, investigating or otherwise checking the majority party. The U.S. executive branch was assessed as showing less respect for the Constitution and compliance with the judiciary, two indicators that the judicial branch can restrain the executive.

For all four indicators, the score for the United States declined. The downward trend in the United States is much worse than in other countries. In terms of government compliance with decisions of the Supreme Court, the United States used to rank among the top countries of the world — but has now declined to No. 48.

I remember living in Kuwait, self-censoring my blog entries so I wouldn’t be expelled from the country, even blogging under a pseudonym. I think of the ICE officer who resigned, and was visited by law enforcement as he gave an interview to national news explaining why he (and others) were quitting ICE, disgusted and disheartened by the un-American practices they were being forced to engage in to export “illegals.” Yes, we still have freedom of speech, but we also look over our shoulders, now, never sure what new low will strike next.

July 5, 2018 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | | Leave a comment

The NRA Solution to Gun Violence: More Guns

I am livid. I am almost breathless with the shocking audacity of it. “Harden our schools.” And what does that mean, exactly?

“Harden our schools” means putting more armed people inside and outside. Arming our teachers, if Trump and the other NRA supported politicians have their way. More guns. More opportunity for fatal human error.

Our grandson goes to one of the sweetest elementary schools on earth. The thought of his teachers packing heat makes me ill. The thought of armed guards on his school outrages me.

What message does this send our children? Schools should be SAFE, fun places to learn and explore who they are and all the wonderful ideas in the world, places to learn to tools of learning. Guards? Guns? That describes a prison, not a safe, fun place to learn.

Yes, I am all for better mental health. Since the Republicans put the mentally ill out on the streets, back in the good old days of Ronald Reagan, we’ve had increased problems with crime, homelessness, and heartless policies of incarcerating the mentally ill because we no longer give them asylum. The prisons are full of the mentally ill.

Many mass killers have no prior criminal record. The Las Vegas killer was a very “normal,” if strange, man who had a lot of weapons, assault weapons.

I’m not opposed to guns. I am opposed to people owning guns that are neither for hunting nor for sport, weapons designed for killing, weapons that make a mass killer efficient.

“Guns don’t kill people,” say the NRA, “people kill people,” but killing people without an automatic or repeating weapon is a much less efficient kind of killing. While you are in the slower process, you can be attacked and overcome. Banning assault rifles just makes sense. Tightening who can own weapons just makes sense. Oregon just passed a landmark bill taking weapons away from domestic abusers, some of the smartest, most progressive legislation in the nation, passed by lawmakers with backbones and brains. You tell the parents of Sandy Hook students, tell the parents of Parkland students that “guns don’t kill people.” They will have a very different point of view to your own.

I challenge you to Google this: Mass School Shootings in the United States.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive, if incomplete record of many, not all, of the school related shootings. Some take place in school parking lots. Some target school buses. Many shooters have no criminal records, no mental health records, but – they DO have guns.

2nd Amendment rights were created to protect our country; the rights were for militia, not people with a grudge against a woman who is divorcing you, a teacher whose assessment prevented you from attaining your graduate degree, the woman who scorned you, revenge against those who bullied you, showing what a big “man” you are (not a single mass shooter has been a woman.) Owning a gun should be a privilege, not a right.

Those who know me, know I grew up with guns. The first thing we did, in the Alaska where I grew up, was to go to rifle club to learn respect for our weapons. We learned how to clean and care for them, we learned how to shoot them safely, and we learned how to lock them up. We used our rifles for hunting (we ate the meat) and for occasional target practice. We didn’t even carry them when we went berry picking or hikes in the woods; we learned to avoid bear and other dangers, to walk away. I am in favor of responsible gun ownership.

I am opposed to hardening schools as a solution to mass school shootings. It isn’t effective, and it sends a terrible message to our children.

February 28, 2018 Posted by | Alaska, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Family Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Parenting, Political Issues, Rants, Safety, Values | 1 Comment

Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment

What Successful People (Who Are Actually Happy) Do Differently

The outcome of the recent election has not been a positive thing for everyone. Fuzzy headed liberal thinkers like me have some hard work to do in the next four years, feeding the hungry, making sure the homeless have a warm place on a cold night, protecting our drinking water, our drugs, protecting the air we breathe (what? you didn’t think all that regulation was for you?) and protecting against the removal of financial protections against those shenanigans by banks and financial institutions which  brought us the great recession that peaked during the last year of the second Bush administration.

We will be the guard-dogs against gerrymandering, and against the stripping of human rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, protection against child abuse, spousal abuse and animal abuse. We will insist that the laws are enforced, equally, and do our best to protect against bad legislation.

Meanwhile, this wonderful article appeared in the HuffPost, well worth a read. Successful people have some really healthy habits and attitudes.

What Successful People (Who Are Actually Happy) Do Differently

(Dr. Travis Bradberry 

Author of #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and president of TalentSmart, world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence

Achievement rarely produces the sense of lasting happiness that you think it will. Once you finally accomplish the goal you’ve been chasing, two new goals tend to pop up unexpectedly.

We long for new achievements because we quickly habituate to what we’ve already accomplished. This habituation to success is as inevitable as it is frustrating, and it’s more powerful than you realize.

The key to beating habituation is to pursue, what researchers call, enduring accomplishments. Unlike run-of-the-mill accomplishments that produce fleeting happiness, the pleasure from enduring accomplishments lasts long after that initial buzz. Enduring accomplishments are so critical that they separate those who are successful and happy from those who are always left wanting more.

Researchers from the Harvard Business School studied this phenomenon by interviewing and assessing professionals who had attained great success. The aim was to break down what these exceptional professionals did differently to achieve both long-lasting and fulfilling success.

The researchers found that people who were both successful and happy over the long term intentionally structured their activities around four major needs:

Happiness: They pursued activities that produced pleasure and satisfaction.

Achievement: They pursued activities that got tangible results.

Significance:
 They pursued activities that made a positive impact on the people who matter most.

Legacy: They pursued activities through which they could pass their values and knowledge on to others.

Lasting fulfillment comes when you pursue activities that address all four of these needs. When any one of them is missing, you get a nagging sense that you should be doing more (or something different).

The behaviors that follow are the hallmarks of people who are successful and happy because they address these four needs. Try them out and see what they do for you.

1. They are passionate.
 Jane Goodall left her home in England and moved to Tanzania at age 26 to begin studying chimpanzees. It became her life’s work, and Goodall has devoted herself fully to her cause while inspiring many others to do the same. Successful, happy people don’t just have interests; they have passions, and they devote themselves completely to them.

2. They swim against the current. There’s a reason that successful and happy people tend to be a little, well, different. To be truly successful and happy, you have to follow your passions and values no matter the costs. Just think what the world would have missed out on if Bill Gates or Richard Branson had played it safe and stayed in school or if Stephen King hadn’t spent every free second he had as teacher writing novels. To swim against the current, you have to be willing to take risks.


“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.”
– Carl Jung

3. They finish what they start. Coming up with a great idea means absolutely nothing if you don’t execute that idea. The most successful and happy people bring their ideas to fruition, deriving just as much satisfaction from working through the complications and daily grind as they do from coming up with the initial idea. They know that a vision remains a meaningless thought until it is acted upon. Only then does it begin to grow.

4. They are resilient. To be successful and happy in the long term, you have to learn to make mistakes, look like an idiot, and try again, all without flinching. In a recent study at the College of William and Mary, researchers interviewed over 800 entrepreneurs and found that the most successful among them tended to have two critical things in common: they were terrible at imagining failure, and they tended not to care what other people thought of them. In other words, the most successful entrepreneurs put no time or energy into stressing about their failures as they see failure as a small and necessary step in the process of reaching their goals.

5. They make their health a priority. There are an absurd number of links between your health, happiness, and success. I’ve beaten them to death over the years, but the absolute essential health habits that successful and happy people practice consistently are good sleep hygiene (fights stress, improves focus, and is great for your mood), eating healthy food (helps you to focus), and exercise (great for energy levels and confidence).

6. They don’t dwell on problems. Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. By fixating on your problems, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinder performance. However, by focusing on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you can create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Successful, happy people don’t dwell on problems because they know that they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.

7. They celebrate other people’s successes.
 Insecure people constantly doubt their relevance, and because of this, they try to steal the spotlight and criticize others in order to prove their worth. Confident people, on the other hand, aren’t worried about their relevance because they draw their self-worth from within. Instead of insecurely focusing inward, confident people focus outward, which allows them to see all the wonderful things that other people bring to the table. Praising people for their contributions is a natural result of this.

8. They live outside the box.
 Successful and happy people haven’t arrived at where they are by thinking in the same way as everyone else. While others stay in their comfort-zone prisons and invest all their energy in reinforcing their existing beliefs, successful people are out challenging the status quo and exposing themselves to new ideas.

9. They keep an open mind. Exposing yourself to a variety of people is useless if you spend that time disagreeing with them and comforting yourself with your own opinions. Successful, happy people recognize that every perspective provides an opportunity for growth. You need to practice empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can understand how their perspective makes sense (at least, to them). A great way to keep an open mind is to try to glean at least one interesting or useful thing from every conversation you have.

10. They don’t let anyone limit their joy.
 When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When successful, happy people feel good about something that they’ve done, they don’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain — you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.

Bringing It All Together

People who are successful and happy focus on activities that address a variety of needs, not just immediate achievements.

What other habits can make you happy and successful in the long term? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.

January 17, 2017 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Friends & Friendship, Health Issues, Interconnected, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Values | Leave a comment