The Magic Quilt of Expat Life

I’ve been an expat for nearly ten years. Blimey, that’s a long time; long enough to start using the word blimey in a non-ironic way, even. Nearly ten years overseas means I have said more than my fair share of goodbyes. I’ve gone to a lot of leaving lunches, farewell festivities, and tally-ho teas. I’ve drunk kegs full of coffee, ingested numerous kilos of cake and watched the resulting kilos materialize on my ass. I’ve given speeches, listened to speeches, presented gifts, bought gifts, assembled slide shows, written songs.

I’ve done it all.

It never gets any easier, not really. I almost always cry.

Not big, gulping sobs, though sometimes it has come close. But that sort of crying when you can feel it coming down the track: the tight throat, the sting behind your eyes, the stuffed up nose. It bears down upon you like a freight train and there’s little you can do to get out of the way in time. A whistle of warning, someone choking on a word, and that’s all she wrote, folks.

A room full of weepy women.

I wrote a post a long time ago about the importance of not crying during these things. Five years later I’ve changed my mind.

Cry, cry, cry.

Cry a river if you need to. It’s good for the soul. More people should cry. And more often.

Newsflash: Women cry. We cry when we’re happy. When we’re sad. When we are frustrated or overwhelmed or raging like a menopausal witch (No? Just me?). We cry over car commercials and Christmas commercials, during movies and reading books. We cry when someone else’s kid’s feelings get hurt. We cry at the very idea of something happening to someone we know. We cry when we meet our family at the airport, when they leave, when we fight with our partners, when our kids say something hurtful. We cry as we watch our kids walk across a graduation stage, when someone else’s baby is born, when things go awry.

We cry.

So, when you get a room full of women in a room, women who’ve spent a few years getting to know one another, giving each other rides and acting as emergency contacts, getting to know each other’s kids and families, seeing each other through difficulties and partners working in other countries, clinging together for dear life on this life boat of friendship in a foreign land–when you get a room full of women like that together and someone gets choked up? You almost always end up with a room full of weepy women.

These ritual goodbyes and all the emotions they evoke is a kind of exquisite torture. It’s incredibly poignant to hear stories and reminiscences, to look at years worth of pictures, to see the evolution of expat friendships play out in celluloid. It’s like watching a time-lapse of a child growing up.

I’ve been tasked with putting together a few of these slide shows. When I do, I always include a montage of people who have already said goodbye, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to remember whose paths have crisscrossed after this many years, whose lives have become entangled with whose. But I do it so that those folks, the ones we’ve already said goodbye to, remain a part of the whole. A panel that when stitched together with all of the others makes a quilt of a certain time and place.

It’s one of those magic quilts that keeps on growing.

Saying goodbye is hard. We should cry. And laugh. And rejoice and give thanks and feel sad. This is the reality of our life. Sometimes it can seem like the life of an expat is glamorous vacations and non-stop parties, but the edges of a life lived outside the borders of your own country can be rough. It’s just that no one takes photos of all those tears, those rooms full of weepy women, and posts them up on Facebook.

But maybe we should.

As a storyteller, it’s an incredible privilege to hear the stories that belong to others. As a human being, and a friend, it’s humbling when I get to be a part of that story. A panel on someone else’s quilt.

So many times those stories start off with feelings of loneliness and isolation, feeling stranded and out-of-place, nervous, unsure footing on choppy seas that are taking you far away from everything you know. And then the magic: one day, one coffee, one conversation, one friend. The tide begins to turn. The seas calm. Coffee doesn’t slosh out of your cup when you’re trying to drink it. You look around, and far from being alone, you’re at a table for forty eating kilos of cake.

 Just look how it ends: a room full of twenty, thirty, forty, sixty people who have put aside a chunk of their day to celebrate a friend, a friendship, to say goodbye and good luck. It ends in a room full of women to whom you mean enough that they hold back a tear, wipe a wizened eye, choke back a sob. A panel on that magic expat quilt that never stops growing.

Just look what you mean. 

Blimey, indeed.


America is a Gun

No one needs an assault rifle. Or a semi-automatic rifle. Or whatever the semantic difference is that people think is important and is really not because that’s not the point.

No one needs an AR-15 to defend themselves.

No one needs to open carry a semi-automatic weapon.

No one needs one to protect themselves from whatever Boogeyman the government is shilling that day.

No one needs one to protect their land from gophers.

No one needs one to protect themselves against government tyranny because if the government’s got you surrounded at that point, sweetie, you are up the proverbial creek and all your AR-15 is going to be good for is paddling.

No one needs one for shooting deer. Or rabbits. Or grouse. Or clay pigeons.

No one needs to keep one in their back seat in case there’s an alien invasion on I-95.

No one needs an AR-15.

People want them. That’s the difference.

People want them because they’re “fun”, because it’s enjoyable to use them for target practice, or as I saw one person write, blowing charcoal briquettes to bits on a long, dusty road.

People want them because the NRA tells them that they might not be able to get one soon.

People want them because goddamn it, no one can tell them what they can or cannot have. (As the argument goes, if we start calling guns ‘uterus’, then we’ll be able to successfully regulate the shit out of them).

People want them because they fear over-reaching government.

People want them because they believe that because they are responsible, others will be too.

People want them because they believe in the absolute of a sentence written 250 years ago.

Here is my question: At what point in the evolution of society do individuals look at on the daily carnage (18 school shootings in the first 45 days of 2018. 28 mass shootings in the first 45 days of 2018) and say: I am going to rethink my enjoyment of target shooting with (fill in the correct semantic) weapon because it’s important for me to contribute to the well-being of society as a whole?

At what point does the individual say: Hey, I can protect myself and my family, I can hunt and target shoot, defend myself with the myriad of other weapons out there, and as much as I may WANT a semi-automatic, I can see that they are responsible for a lot of that daily carnage. In fact, between the years of 1994 and 2004 when there was a ban on assault weapons, I managed to do just that. And so, for the greater good, I’m going to push for a ban on those weapons of carnage. Even though it means I personally might lose out on my enjoyment, or my want.

At what point does the individual say: I can see that the other factors always listed in these instances–mental health, criminal activity, intent to do harm, that those things do not exist in a vacuum. Other countries experience violent crime, but nowhere close to the gun violence ripping through the United States, on a weekly, daily, hourly basis.

At what point does the individual say: Enough, my tenuous and questionable right to own a weapon meant for quick and efficient killing of other human beings (and let’s not fool ourselves, it wasn’t created to shoot clay pigeons or those human shaped targets with concentric circles they like to show on CSI–it was created to efficiently kill human beings) is stripping away the fundamental right to life of other human beings. Other human beings with whom I must share the planet, the country, the city, the school with.

At what point does the individual say: Why should my questionable right (and indeed, it depends on which way the Supreme Court wind is blowing that decision) to own, collect, or use an assault weapon come above the rights of 365 million other Americans–the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I guess I’m asking, in my typically long-winded way, is at what point do we rise, as a whole and agree that there must be, in any evolved society, a hierarchy of rights. And where are we, as a whole, as a nation, if we cannot agree that the rights of children to grow into adults, for spouses to grow into retirement, for colleagues and others to live to their full potential–the right of all of us as citizens to walk, as protected as we can possibly be, through a life unmarked by violence– comes above someone else’s ‘because I can’?

I know there are going to be folks that read this and immediately defend 2nd Amendment rights. I’m not advocating for the confiscation of all guns. I am absolutely advocating for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I am arguing and advocating for clear and sensible gun regulations, safety and responsibility. We can and should wrap into this conversation issues surrounding access to health care, including mental health. But please, if you are going to advocate for mental health changes, give me a detailed plan. What, when, how, who’s going to pay for it? Because while a ban on assault rifles, like the one in the decade between 1994 and 2004 will help, a lot, it won’t solve the problem of why so many American boys and men (statistically speaking, almost ALL) feel entitled to take out their rage on others. Let’s figure out why. But in the meantime, let’s not give them an easier way to do it.

Here Lies Dina, She Was Rarely At a Loss for Words

So there it was, at the top of my stats page, the number of posts which have appeared on Wine and Cheese (Doodles). The last one, about my son’s extreme origami frustration was number 499.

Which makes this one…500.

That’s a lot of posts. Like, seriously a lot of posts. Now, full disclosure, some of those have been re-blogs of old posts, especially during the summer months when everything slows down to a hot climate pace. One was a post I ran from a source who wished to remain anonymous, but we’re still looking at a hell of a lot of ideas, passionate pleas, complaints…and words–some of them four letter.

My posts average about 800 words. That means that, even conservatively, we’re looking at between 350 and 400 THOUSAND words.


For comparison:

The word count of The Hobbit is 95, 356
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? 257,045
A Game of Thrones: 298,000
Even 500 posts later, I’m still well under Infinite Jest at 483,994. Which is just fine by me.
Consider also: The average first time novel is around 80,000 words.
That means there are nearly four novels worth of words about parenting, living abroad, sex, marriage, kids, feminism, politics floating around here.**

I have, beyond my wildest intentions, achieved my objective. I’ve amassed a body of work. It’s a body which sometimes resembles Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together higgeldy-piggeldy, but it’s my monster. Some of it has even been pretty damn popular.

Nine Expats You’ll Meet Abroad has been viewed about 75K times
Four Expats and a Funeral, approximately 30K times
The Revolution will be Uterized a little over 20K times

Plenty of others have been viewed (and hopefully read) between five and ten thousand times. Not bad for a middle-aged woman sitting behind a desk who doesn’t like to shill her stuff too much.

Some posts have been singled out by the powers-that-be at WordPress over the years. When Freshly Pressed was still a thing, three of my posts were chosen by editors.

Ladies Who Lunch
The Elephant in the Room, and
Love Poems are a Dime a Dozen

Since then WordPress has switched over to their Discover feature and the blog’s been singled out twice:

A Proportional Response, and
Sorry I’ve Been a Shitty Friend: A Multiple Choice Letter

WordPress claims it has 75 million blogs.
Not bad.
Not bad at all.

After five years and 500 posts, I’m still none the wiser. I can never tell which posts will resonate. There have been some I’ve loved that have sunk faster than a stone, like If You Told Me I’d Be Quoting Kenny Rogers and the more recent The War on Christmas. There have been others, personal favorites, like What It Feels Like For a Girl or Nine Expats You’ll Meet in a Galaxy Far Far Away or which, for whatever reason, haven’t done as well as I would have thought.

I’ve done poetic, I’ve done heart-felt, I’ve done satire. I’ve done funny, serious, sad. I’ve done marriage, parenting, siblings, sex, politics, women, men, rage, writing, feminism, race, history, movies, obituaries. There aren’t too many questions I see posed these days where I feel I don’t have a blog post which addresses or answers it. There are times I don’t even comment anymore, but just leave a link to an old blog post. Those posts usually capture my feelings about any given subject with more nuance than I can manage in a comment box or a 140 character tweet.

I’ve had a multitude of pieces run on other sites like Bust Magazine and Scary Mommy…(really, there have been too many to list here, but hey, there’s this: Publications)

Basically, I’ve done what I set out to do. Actually, I’ve probably tripled what I set out to do. And I’ve done it all on my own terms, organically, without advertising, or following just for follow backs. I have a limited amount of time on this mortal coil. If I follow your blog, it’s because I like what you have to say. If I interact with you, it means it’s because I appreciate you. If you’ve reached out to me and I haven’t gotten back, it means it’s gotten lost in the shuffle of a middle-aged mind.

I’m pretty proud of this body of work, the heart that’s gone into most of it, the calloused fingers, the numb ass.

So here we are:
5 years.
500 posts.
400,000 words.

What the hell do I do now???

All suggestions welcome.


**Fwiw, this isn’t including the number of words in the actual novel I wrote. Or the one I’m writing now. Or the even higher number of words edited out.

I suppose then if, upon my headstone, it read: Here Lies Dina, She Was Rarely At a Loss For Words, I’d be just fine with that.



The Everyday Activist

In a musty, dusty corner of my brain, there resides a card catalog full of bold names and deeds. Those names and deeds are cross-reference with my own subjectivity and experiences. When I need to, I do a mental flip through until I get what I’m looking for.

When I hear a word like activist, my brain hums along. A loose definition forms, gossamer and ghostly, until it eventually takes shape and I am left with something concrete. A name, an example.

Activist: Rosa Parks. Dolores Huerta, Ida Wells, Cecile Richards, Audre Lorde, Tarana Burke. Flip, flip, flip. More names.

Nowhere in that catalog, not even at the very back, not even in the margins, does my own name appear.


So what makes an activist? Is there a set of criteria which must be met, a level of activist activity, akin to one of those strongman hammer do-dads at the town carnival, which must be reached before one can wear the label?

I’m sure I’m not alone in envisioning activism with a capital “A” and an exclamation point. An all-encompassing noun involving sweeping gestures and noble sacrifice. The word conjures ideas of single-minded crusades, 100% dedication, and bold acts.

How many times can you screw in a lightbulb emblazoned with the word ACTIVISM before you think of yourself as an activist?


The day after the US 2016 election I set up an ongoing monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, an organization of great importance to me. If anyone asked me what I wanted for Christmas I pointed them to the Center for Reproductive Rights. I ramped up my funding for political candidates whose ideas and ideals I could get behind.

Still, I didn’t consider myself an activist.

I marched in 2017 during the Women’s March, but also in 1992 in Washington, DC for reproductive rights. In the late 1980s I marched along the streets of NYC in black, high-top Adidas during Take Back the Night. I marched against the Gulf War, with young men I knew, men just tripping into adulthood, whose eyes reflected their fear that a war none of us wanted would reach out its greedy fingers and mark them irrevocably.

Still, I didn’t call myself an activist.

I write and publish essays about feminism. I regularly bore the pants off many men…and women… highlighting gender bias. I endure countless eye rolls as I patiently work my way through the nuances of the wage gap. I introduce new-fangled terms like the Motherhood Penalty. I use my social media platforms to speak out against harmful policies. And I have raged, oh, how I’ve raged, both privately and publicly, each time we take two steps back in this tango of equality.

Yet still, I don’t use the word activist to describe myself.

Perhaps, however, my definition is too narrow. Perhaps…just perhaps…I should be embracing my personal acts of activism. Activism with a lower-case “a” rather than a capital. With a quiet sentence ender rather than an exclamation point.

The everyday activism.

And perhaps…just perhaps…if we all did that, instead of assuming that what we do is too little, too late, or too insignificant, there would be enough excitement to warrant that exclamation point after all.


There are times when you face the mountain and the mountain seems un-scaleable. What is one person, one act, one small thing going to do? When one lone person takes their canvas tote to the supermarket, is it really going to help the Earth? Is it going to make a difference to climate change?

It’s difficult to fit you and your small, canvas tote into the bigger picture.

Is my ten dollars a month going to make a difference to Planned Parenthood? My fifty dollars a year is, after all, merely a drip in the coffers of the ACLU. My body, one of thousands, will not be missed if I don’t march. My voice, one among thousands, will not subtract from the din.

But if we’re all kicking the can down the road to others because we think we can’t make a difference, if we’re putting out a small spark because we’re not comfortable carrying a torch, does that torch, regardless of who is carrying it, ever stand a chance at staying lit?

Imagine if a young Ruby Bridges, walking to school under the protection of federal marshals to desegregate a Louisiana classroom felt one lone girl wasn’t enough. Imagine if Shannon Watts thought one mother crusading to change the way we look at gun laws thought one mother wasn’t enough. Imagine if Dolores Huerta had assumed that one woman alone could not make a dent in the fight for farm workers.

What would we be left with?


There are hundreds of ways to help force change in the places we believe need change. We can donate money or fundraise to help others do so. We can give our time, our talents. We can add our bodies. We can show up. We can call out.

At the end of the day, I am but one voice, a whisper in a sea of noise. But if  I add my voice, my whisper to the lone whispers of others, if we all do that, it becomes a scream too loud to ignore. And so I continue. Not because I expect to change the world all by myself, but because if there are a hundred other “me”s out there, a thousand, half a million, think of the possibilities.

We are all activists, intentional or not, when we stand up for change we believe in. When you carry the tote bag, when you call out sexism, when you join a march, when you donate to a cause. They are acts of everyday activism.

The exclamation point doesn’t need to be there. The capital “A” doesn’t need to be there. A thousand small, everyday acts become bold when they are taken together.

Find the cause or causes you are passionate about, find the things you want to change. And fight for them. Fight for them a little, fight for them a lot. Fight for them in ways large and small, but don’t ever think those acts, however everyday they seem, aren’t making a difference.

You have a voice. And if you use your voice for change? Well then my friend, you are an activist.

And don’t let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you differently.