Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Paradox of Cool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intlxpatr Goes Back In Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Up: Red Desert, Dinosaurs, Petroglyphs and Night Skies Travel

Denver, Red Desert (WY), Dinosaur Monument (UT), Moab, Breckenridge, Denver

We take small local trips, but this is our first Spring Out-West trip since last year. We’ve got some highlights – seeing our niece in Denver (early readers know her as Little Diamond) and getting to know her growing children, staying in the Elk Hunting capitol of the world, Craig, Colorado (well, just because who knew?), exploring the Red Desert of Wyoming and visiting remote and rarely seen petroglyphs and pictographs, on through the Flaming Gorge to the Dinosaur National Monument, and then down to a cabin just south of Moab where we will be heading down to the Canyon of the Ancients, near the four corners area of the United States, for more exploration of ancient ruins, focusing on petroglyphs and pictographs. From there, a family meet-up in Breckenridge, a stay with my sister in Colorado Springs, and back up for one last family visit in Denver before we fly back to Pensacola.

Monument Valley Petroglyph

Grand Escalante Petroglyph
Moab Petroglyph

The trip focuses on remote locations, petroglyphs, pictographs, and lesser-visited sites with dark skies, where we will stay mostly in cabins. We are always up to try to find an unknown gem, like the Traveler’s Rest Cabins, where we stay on the east side of Glacier National Park. (I see they are now for sale; I can only hope the new owners are as wonderful as the current sellers.)

Sometimes when choosing a hotel or restaurant, I am hooked by a clever name, so in Rock Springs, WY we will stay at the Outlaw Inn. It’s a Best Western, not a cabin, but I love the name. Rock Springs is also famous for herds of wild horses and outdoor activities.

The whole trip is outdoor activities, with an occasional visit to a specialty museum or two to help us understand what we see. We have two reservations at Arches National Park, the earliest reservations we could get so as to have the benefits of fewer people and the glorious morning light hitting the arches, and reservations for a sunset cruise on the Colorado River, for the same reasons – views with the glorious light of sunset. My husband wants to eat at a famous restaurant, the Sunset Grill, overlooking Moab, so we will make reservations far in advance – the place fills up quickly.

When we land, whether it’s Bozeman, Denver, Juneau, Portland or Seattle, we always give ourselves enough time to visit a local store to stock up on water, apples, oranges, peanut butter, crackers and necessities like tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, insect repellant, sunscreen – anything we might need and not want to carry in our suitcases. It gives us a lot of flexibility, so we don’t have to worry about finding a meal when we are remote. On the other hand, we love a good meal, so we plan to find places in advance, and make reservations. It works for us.

I’m getting excited just writing about it. Planning trips has gotten me through the COVID desert; even just doing the research and getting reservations gets my blood going faster as we anticipate new sights and experiences, new adventures.

And yes, I’m taking you with me 🙂

April 28, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Eating Out, Geography / Maps, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Spiritual, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

JoAnn Gives Me a Breath of Hope

JoAnn ad this morning

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

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

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

How cool is that?

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

Litany of Penitence: Ash Wednesday

Angel on the Alexander Column, St. Petersburg

Sometimes we go into a church service and we breeze through it, consumed by our own agendas, worries, cares, hopes – we are not really in a conversation with God because while he may be speaking, we are not listening.

Today started out to be that kind of day. I was a lector, and I had a long passage. I was focused on getting through it without stumbling, and hoping I might illuminate rather than obscure what the passage was about. I was paying attention to the words, but they didn’t really touch me.

When I was done, I joined the congregation (a good showing for the early hour of 7:30 which allows those who work to start the day by checking off this block, attending the service of Penitence and receiving the imposition of ashes.) It isn’t a joyful service, this one, where we have to acknowledge who we really are and all the ways we fail.

And then a great and unexpected blessing fell on me, a good friend walked in and sat with me and as together we went through the Litany of Penitence, the words seared my soul. “Deaf to your call to serve.” “Impatience” “Intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts” “Uncharitable thoughts.” Ouch. Ouch. And Ouch!

It’s a beautiful day in Pensacola. A day when it is possible to believe that the Lord may restore us.

(The normal type is the Celebrant (in our case, the Priest) and the italics are our response. This is from the Book of Common Prayer.)

Litany of Penitence

(The Celebrant and People together, all kneeling)

Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and to the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

(The Celebrant continues)

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.We have not been true to the mind of Christ. We have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration, and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work,
We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,
We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:  for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord
.

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

March 2, 2022 Posted by | Character, Climate Change, Community, Cultural, Faith, Lent, Quality of Life Issues | Leave a comment

My Secret Admirer Sends White Roses

This morning, just after I returned from my swim at the Y, the doorbell rang and my favorite florist delivered a dozen white roses from “My Secret Admirer.” AdventureMan didn’t bat an eye at the delivery. He knows I love white roses.

It’s been a great month. Last weekend we were in New Orleans for some Ethiopian food, walking around the French Quarter and Market, ice cream at Creole Creamery and grilled oysters at Superior Seafood – and then, more walking so that all that good food didn’t stick to us 🙂

It goes on – the new couch will be delivered tomorrow, God willing. Life is sweet.

February 14, 2022 Posted by | Beauty, Eating Out, Exercise, Food, Holiday, Marriage, New Orleans, Quality of Life Issues, YMCA | Leave a comment

Dirty Pool

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

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

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

And then I found it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How bad do I feel?

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

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

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

“Buy the couch,” he says.

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

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

Insh’allah

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

James 4: 13-17

Boasting About Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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