Family Friday: Why training your dog is not about the tricks

Our rescue Lab, Kumba, can sit, lie down, stay, and come when called. He’s also a huge fan of cucumbers and will do this routine to get a piece.

I wanted some new challenges for us. So, I called dog trainer Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training for suggestions.

I was expecting Alison to give me a list of new tricks. Instead, I learned a much better lesson.

Training is about building a relationship

Training is about building a relationship with your dog, helping him to live in the world you’ve brought him into. 

Helping your dog live in your world

The goal is to make both your lives more functional for your lifestyle. If you own a boat, you want the dog to be able to jump on and off. If you take your dog to work, you want her to lie by your side. If you’re gone all day, you want your dog to be able to be alone without destroying the house.

Learning to listen to each other

You build this relationship with your dog through communication. It’s a two-way process. He needs to learn to listen to you, and you need to learn how to listen to him.

Step one: “Watch me.”

Before a walk, have your dog sit by your side, looking up at you. Periodically during the walk, ask for that focus: “Watch me.” Work toward having your dog pay attention to you the whole time, with a goal of being able to walk through a crowd undistracted.

Step two: Be more exciting than anything else.

Be fun to be around. Toys, treats, different activities, and varied commands add variety to your time with your dog. Make it easy for her to choose you instead of anything else.

Step three: Add distraction.

Other dogs, a passing car, or a favorite toy are all opportunities to practice getting and keeping your dog’s attention. Begin with distant distractions — a dog approaching from the other end of the block — and work up to closer distractions. Ask her to “watch me” instead of her favorite toy when you are holding it overhead.

Step four: Practice, practice, practice.

Look for opportunities to train your dog to pay attention to you. Instead of avoiding the neighborhood bully — I do a u-turn when I see the dog  that Kumba really dislikes — stay the course and help your dog be successful in “watch me” even when temptation is nearby. Your goal is to replace anxiety and fear with approval-seeking: “Oh, there’s that awful dog, so now I get that wonderful treat, right?!”

Alison’s suggestions have already changed my interactions with Kumba, especially during our walks through our neighborhood. Every other dog is now an opportunity to engage our dog in paying attention, for which I reward him with a special treat, this week being tiny pieces of leftover steak. And our afternoon sit, stay, come routine has become a lot more fun now that my husband has joined the game. Nice company for me, more of a workout for Kumba, and a new habit for all three of us!

Who says human’s can’t learn new tricks?

You can read more of Alison’s guidance in previous posts: How to introduce your pandemic pup to a new dog, How to help your unsocialized dog say hello and How to train your pandemic pup.

Family Friday: How We Spent our 23-Hour Vacation

Several months ago, I was confident that my husband and I could live as pandemic hermits forever. We had gotten very good at the closed-in life, us and our rescue Lab, Kumba.

But, then came the COVID-19 vaccinations. We began to venture out. At our favorite breakfast place, the three Latin sisters who preside over the very welcoming environment greeted my husband as family: “¡Tío!” Uncle. A couple of weeks ago, we even went to the movies and the wonderfully overwhelming sensory overload kept us both awake into the wee hours of the morning.

Our biggest breakout move happened last week, when we left Kumba in the care of my best friend and drove off by ourselves for a full 23 hours, some of it masked, much of it outdoors, and all of it a long-awaited vacation in our favorite local town, Delray Beach.

Dinner al fresco

What a vacation kick-off: Delectable seafood pasta al fresco at Cafe Luna Rosa, polished off by the best slice of cheesecake either one of us had ever had, all the while enjoying the breeze off the Atlantic.

Live music at the Arts Garage

It was the first performance for the Miami Big Sound Orchestra since the pandemic, and the appreciation of the full house flowed out of us and back from them for nearly two hours. Thinking of each of the 18 musicians sitting alone in their homes for the past 16 months just waiting to perform again filled my eyes. (We kept our masks on.)

Ladies, I know you will understand when I say that I am wearing heels for the first time in a year and a half!

Lourdes Valentin, singer
Miami Big Sound Orchestra

Hotel accomodations

We have long been curious about the hotel across the street from the Arts Garage, the Hyatt Place Delray Beach, and now we’ve finally stayed there after enjoying an evening in town. We cleaned all the handles/switches and slept well in the comfortable (and quiet!) room, and we took advantage of an optional late check out and left our car in the covered garage after breakfast to enjoy our Saturday morning.

Just outside the hotel is the Delray Beach Pride Streetscape diversity rainbow, updated to include persons of color.

LGTBQ Rainbow, Delray Beach
LGTBQ Rainbow, Delray Beach

Strolling main street

We hardly ever get out for a walk without Kumba, much less on a city sidewalk. Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue is lined with restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and shops, including Kilwins. We had to stop for a scoop of toasted coconut ice cream on our way back!

Lounging on the beach

Delray Beach
Delray Beach

Kumba barely missed us

Our rescue Lab’s separation anxiety used to put at risk anything not nailed down when we left him alone, so we prepare treat-filled Kongs as a special treat when we go out. We left three Kongs for our friend to give him after she’d walked and fed him, and crossed our fingers.

Well, those Kongs became games for Kumba and our friend’s rescue dog Lila, who ran and played together Saturday morning as if they’d known each other all their lives. What a change from the Kumba who was aggressive toward other dogs! Our patient training has paid off.

And when we got home, instead of the exuberant delight Kumba normally expresses at our return, he was happy but just a little disappointed that it was us instead of Lila and her human. Shades of picking our daughter up from daycare: Oh, it’s you? I’m playing with my friends.

Family Friday: What Makes Me a Third Culture Kid?

There was a letter to the editor in my newspaper this week from a Palm Beach County neighbor who was born in the United States but grew up in Asia as the result of her parents’ missionary work.

Like the children of military members, diplomats, and, in my case, missionaries, I became what is called a TCK, a Third Culture Kid. Our backgrounds are different from that of our parents’ home country and from the country where we grew up.

Angela Grant, The Palm Beach Post, 7/15/21

I’m a TCK, too. I was born in the USA to Midwesterners, but we flew into the Foreign Service when I was just six months old, and my sister (born in Caracas) and I grew up mostly in Europe and Latin America. We were professional Americans overseas, but our international experiences made us an odd fit when we moved to the States. I’ve been trying to bridge the gap my entire adult life.

Cross-cultural expert Tanya Crossman

TCK’s deal with some unique challenges in integrating that experience into what we’ve done with the rest of our lives. It’s the subject of research being conducted by Tanya Crossman, an Australian who lived in China for over a decade.

Tanya is a noted cross-cultural consultant and TCK/Cross Culture Kid advocate, and the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. She writes that the term Third Culture Kid was coined by in the 1950’s by Dr. Ruth Hill Useem while studying children of American families living in India.

These children were not Indian, though they lived in India. They were American – though they weren’t experiencing that country. This childhood experience was neither that of an Indian child nor that of an American child. It was somewhere in between – in a Third Culture.

Tanya Crossman, July 2016 blog post

Legal, geographic, and relational culture

Tanya writes that culture can be defined in three ways:

  • Legal: the place in which you have a passport or permanent residency
  • Geographic: the place(s) in which you live.
  • Relational: the experiences woven together from life lived in between cultures.

Legal representative of America overseas

I had an American diplomatic passport, and, as an embassy kid, understood that I represented the USA. Sarah Mansfield Taber, whose overseas childhood as the daughter of a CIA officer is an almost exact match with mine, writes this about having a diplomatic passport:

Only representatives of foreign governments were issued these, my father told us. I could feel an American flag waving inside me.

Sarah Mansfield Taber, Born Under An Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter

But not a geographic American

I was an official American when I lived in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain. But my identity morphed when we moved to the States.

Though I looked American, I was not; I was a sort of clandestine foreigner.

Sarah Mansfield Taber, Born Under An Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter

I am from the Third Culture

The connection I feel with Sarah Mansfield Taber is the TCK’s relational cultural identity.

The Third Culture is the childhood home of those who did not experience comprehensive connection to a single place as children.

Tanya Crossman, July 2016 blog post

My memoir, Embassy Kid (being assessed for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training), looks back at where I am from. I have shared the Preface and will be sharing chapters in the coming weeks.

I cannot imagine being a citizen of any other nation. We are the freest, the most fortunate people on earth. Whether our people arrived on a recent flight or a wooden boat, and whether we choose to wear hijab or a yarmulke or spray paint our hair with the colors of the rainbow, we are all from somewhere else, and we are all here now.

Angela Grant, letter to The Palm Beach Post

Family Friday: How My Dog and I Supported Turtle Rescue

Just north of us, in the seaside town of Juno, there is a stretch of sand known for being one of the largest nesting sites in the world for sea turtles. Adjacent to that beach is Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a conservation and rehabilitation organization that each year treats nearly 100 sea turtles and 1,000 hatchlings. Through an amazing network of volunteers, LMC tracks and protects nests each season and facilitates after-dark tours. Around the Fourth of July several years ago, we participated in such a tour and witnessed a turtle actually laying her eggs and then dragging herself back across the sand to the sea.

A couple of weeks ago, our rescue Lab, Kumba, and I participated in a LMC fundraiser, a virtual four-mile race called Run 4 The Sea. We walked our own local route and were 141st out of 183 participants. The 2021 Run 4 The Sea raised about $30,000 for sea turtles!

In return for our effort, we got an adorable LMC tote bag and a set of wooden utensils (in a canvas bag from Atticus Printing) to use on our next picnic.

We also got a nifty new t-shirt which Kumba kindly modeled for me. Yeah, he was rolling his eyes in this picture.

Our black Lab, Kumba, resting on his favorite stuffed toy as he models his Race 4 the Sea t-shirt
Kumba, resting on his favorite stuffed toy as he models his Run 4 the Sea t-shirt.

Having the ability to do the distance is something Kumba and I have worked at every morning since he came to live with us in February, 2021. We were both frail when we began our morning walks, me not quite a year into my recovery from a ruptured arterial aneurysm and Kumba nearly done in by illness and trauma before being saved by the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida.

We’ve made huge strides since then. Next year, we have our eye on matching the results of the event’s oldest participant, about a decade older than me and clocking a sub-15-minute mile.

I think Kumba will be happy just NOT to wear the t-shirt. Hey, LMC, how about a doggie bandana for next year’s Run 4 the Sea?

My rescue Lab, Kumba, modeling our turtle rescue fundraising t-shirt
My rescue Lab, Kumba, modeling our turtle rescue fundraising t-shirt.

Family Friday: Why We Celebrated Our Wedding Anniversary At the Movies

On our first date in 1977, the man who would become my husband took me to the movies in Manhattan. His choice of films almost guaranteed that it would also be our last date. A Latin from the Bronx intent on sharing his world view with this rather snooty college dropout with a pedigreed past, he selected a prison movie written by a Puerto Rican contemporary, Miguel Piñero, Short Eyes. The merits of the story — Joseph Papp produced it off-Broadway — got lost in the battle between us about how the world really worked. I took the subway home alone to Brooklyn, fuming. My husband tells me that he went home to Queens wondering if he’d ever see me again.

Movies Were Our Way of Celebrating

Our relationship survived that first encounter, and on New Year’s Eve we celebrated communally with other New Yorkers watching Saturday Night Fever. It became the soundtrack as we danced — me, performing and teaching — and sung — he, playing rhythms on anything he could find — into the 80’s. Superman, Tootsie, and other blockbusters helped us usher in the New Year until we married on June 26, 1982. We left the City for the better work-life balance of the State capital, where we raised our daughter. Somewhere along the way, we drifted away from the movies.

Star Wars Movie Poster
Star Wars Poster

I wrote about those years in January, 2020, when we’d just resurrected our movie-watching New Year’s Eve tradition with the Star Wars prequel. The final words on that post were: “May the Force be with you.” Barely two months later, the pandemic had us all in lockdown.

The Pandemic Put an End to That

For months we stayed home, avoiding, even fearing others. We watched movies, but just the two of us, on television. On New Year’s Eve, I gathered with my cousins via Zoom. Later, we watched the ball drop down on a muted Times Square. Communal activity reeked of danger.

The Vaccine Gave Us Back Each Other

Scientists deserve every prize for so quickly collaborating to piece together a remarkably effective, efficient, and, it is now being reported, long-lasting vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. We played the internet lottery game in the early New Year, with our daughter having the lucky fingers on her keyboard, and we were fully vaccinated by the end of February.

My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach
My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach

It is baffling to me that more than half of Floridians have not yet taken advantage of this precious and life-saving commodity now that it is so much more easily available.

In the weeks since being vaccinated, we have slowly rejoined the world. We’re up to date with in-person medical appointments. I’m back at the local farm stand, hunting for inspiration in the aisles. In May, we even went out to eat with our daughter, enjoying the taste of food cooked by someone other than us for the first time in 15 months, all while sitting outdoors. Our favorite breakfast place— where we are greeted as family— is back on our weekly menu.

But, up until June 26, we had not been to the movies.

Our 39th Wedding Anniversary Deserved a Celebration

I was halfway through my three-month 2019 hospitalization in Amsterdam on our 37th anniversary on June 26, and my husband brought me flowers. One year later, I was healed, strong, and ready to jump into life on June 26, 2020, but we were deep into pandemic sheltering. Still, my husband bought me flowers for our 38th anniversary.

This year, he brought me flowers, more than ever before. And I decided we needed to really celebrate the 39th year of our marriage at the movies.

“In the Heights” Had it All

Salsa, singing, Spanish, hip-hop male water ballet, fire-escape choreography, the streets of New York City … Jon M. Chu’s film of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights had everything we needed to celebrate this year. The theater was about a-third full, enough to hear sighs during tender parts and “ayys” when Marc Anthony made a cameo appearance. We kept our masks on and let the movie pour over us, from the concession stand promo right through the credits.

It was a gas. Our brains were so lit up that we were awake into the wee hours. But worth it. So worth it.

In The Heights Movie water ballet Busby Berkeley
In The Heights Movie water ballet Busby Berkeley


Family Friday: What My Mother Did During My Father’s Foreign Service Career

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod

So, Nancy, what did you do while you were overseas?

A question posed to my mother, Nancy Robb Amerson, at a Cape Cod dinner party of accomplished retirees

Here’s what she wrote in 2004 about that encounter.

Nothing

Feeling wicked, I found myself answering, “Nothing.” I don’t usually consider myself capable of irony, but this answer could only have been understood by another Foreign Service wife. To soften my rather abrupt response, I continued with the usual recounting that no Embassy wife could work in a foreign post without the ambassador’s approval, and that the only jobs we could accept were as a teacher or nurse.

My answer seemed to satisfy the casual curiosity about how I could have spent 20 years overseas, unoccupied.

Since that night, I have tossed over in my mind just how I could have responded to the women who were years younger than I. In their generation, almost all women have held some paying job and that is, as it has always been for men, the peg that identifies their place in the larger community. So DOING equals BEING PAID.

Homemaker

The women of the early 50s, when we were first married, still were mostly, for want of a better term, homemakers. Some had a taste of earning a salary during a few years of teaching after college, as I did, though few in later years have ever identified themselves as teachers, as I think would be the case now.

Ten moves, four countries, two languages

So, during our 20 odd years overseas, I continued in my homemaker role in an ever expanding way. I was responsible for resettling our family during our 10 moves. For learning to shop in four foreign countries using two new languages. For seeing that our girls were settled in the many different schools.

Hostess, guide, ambassador support

For running large and small parties in our home to fulfill our obligation to promote our country. For being an unofficial guide for visiting official visitors, be they pleasant or unbearable. And for being available to the ambassador’s wife when she required help.

Having a ball

Of course, I was not paid, nor would I have ever even considered such to be a thing. The truth is, I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be having all of these new experiences. I was having a ball.

State Department “Pink Paper” changed it all

A new generation of wives joined our ranks, women who were wary about “being taken advantage of for no pay.“ The old idea of a foreign service team of husband and wife just was not in their vocabulary. No need to go into detail here, it changed the community feeling we felt within the embassies. The state department geared up to produce what was called within the ranks The Pink Paper, delineating rules on the roles of wife overseas.

A killer of fun times was what it amounted to.

Robert and Nancy Amerson served in the United States Information Agency from 1955 to 1979, representing our country through public diplomacy in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain.

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan, 1962, Rome
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan 1962, Rome

Family Friday: A family drama in my backyard

Fledgling bird

Like lots of families living through the pandemic, one mother had all the time she could take with her teenager and kicked him out. Or her. It’s hard to tell with a fledgling mockingbird.

When I first spotted the little bird, I thought it was one of the lizards that flash their orange neck fan for the girl lizards to see, or, more likely, to show off to the other male lizards while the girls just roll their eyes. A closer look revealed the orange body part to be a beak, which a very young bird nestled in the grass just outside our patio was opening and closing in silence.

Rescue plan

Poor thing, I thought, too weak to even chirp. Remembering rescuing a baby squirrel in Albany on another spring day years ago, I found a small paper box and ventured outside to save another life.

I bent down to scoop the wee bird up, and two unexpected things happened: the fledgling chirped and hopped a bit — teenagers are such drama queens — and the mother bird dive bombed me.

Backing off

This was not an abandoned or lost bird. This, the wildlife rescue volunteer told me, was an expected rite of passage. The mother boots the fledgling out of the nest but continues feeding the insatiable teen.All I had to do was back off and let the process unfold.

Do not put the bird in a container. That will scare off the mother.

Mary, the volunteer wildlife rescue coordinator

Nature nurture

Even so I heard these words, the mother flew in with a beakful of lunch. After carefully assessing her surroundings, she hopped over to her kid and deposited the morsel in his yawning orange mouth. He immediately chirped for more.

Kids. Ungrateful.

She was back in a few minutes with the next bit. And so on all afternoon while Junior ventured a bit of jumping and flexed his new bony wings.

Mockingbird mother feeds her fledgling in my backyard. It took her about five minutes to scan the surroundings before she hopped down to him. Nature is amazing.

Evening intervention

If the bird is there when evening comes, you can bring it indoors so it’s not killed by an owl, or a snake, or a cat. Or an alligator. But put it right back in the same place in the morning.

Mary, the volunteer wildlife rescue coordinator

The fledgling was gone when we went out to bring him in for the night. I am hoping that he was able to take wing or at least hop to safety. It’s too sad to think that, after all those hours of feeding by a devoted mother, the fledgling was taken by a predator. But, then again, there are all kinds of babies out there needing to be taken care of.

It’s just the beginning of fledgling season. Click here for Palm Beach County information on Florida wildlife.

Family Friday: How to Introduce Your Pandemic Pup to a New Dog

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that we rescued a black Lab just before the pandemic hit last year. Kumba was sweet, rail thin, and nervous-aggressive around other dogs. We had just one session with trainer Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training to begin helping Kumba to get accustomed to another dog before we locked down into quarantine.

Kumba looking in, Pancho looking out ….

As Alison said in a recent post of ours, social distancing has helped dogs be around other dogs without being forced into being buddies. Nose to nose greetings between leashed dogs sounds like a good idea to humans but is a recipe for disaster to our canine companions. Over the past 15 months, Kumba has become more relaxed around other dogs and in fact has several puppy friends in our neighborhood.

The pandemic has done wonders for dog socialization, exposing them to different things without requiring participation.

Alison Chambers, Complete Canine Training

Three weeks ago, we put Kumba’s readiness to be around another dog to a critical test when our daughter’s Lab, Pancho, came for a two-week stay. It was touch and go for a couple of days, but, thanks to Alison‘s guidance, Kumba’s resilience, and Pancho’s excellent guest manners, the dogs figured out how to share us, our home, walks, and even … (I am not suggesting this, but it was something that happened organically along the end of Week One) drinking out of each other’s water bowls.

At Alison’s recommendation, we introduced them in neutral territory during a walk at a gradually reducing distance, then sat with them in our backyard, then entered a toy-free home environment while constantly monitoring and trying not to panic when either dog bark-snarled to assert his space. That final point is the most difficult.

Have them meet in neutral territory

Alison Chambers
Success means smelling the same thing at the same time!

Rather than have Pancho come charging to the house, Alison suggested we have the dogs see each other outside. We walked out with Kumba and Pancho was across the street on the opposite sidewalk. Oh, a dog. Okay. Check.

Take a parallel walk

Alison Chambers

Keeping them at a distance from each other, with my daughter holding Pancho’s leash and me holding Kumba’s, we did a leisurely stroll around our lake, territory that’s familiar to each of them but which is not either one’s turf. We gradually reduced the distance between them until we were on the same sidewalk and slightly off sides. Kumba was pretty nonchalant and Pancho was totally fine. Check.

Pancho looking over his shoulder

Pancho first, leashes off, be in the backyard.

Alison Chambers

How do you fake relaxing in the backyard while every nerve in your body is attuned to what your dog may or may not do to your other dog? This was a more challenging process than I had expected, in large measure because we were on the dogs’ timetable. We also realized that our reactions could be more alarming than the dogs’ reactions to each other. It took a while, but Kumba and Pancho were both eventually able to lie down and even close their eyes. Check.

Clear toys, beds, bowls before you go indoors.

Alison Chambers

Cleared out the house’s public area, leaving the (back) family room and the (front) living room as big open neutral territories. Pancho hung out in the front room while Kumba was in the back. The kitchen in between became the demilitarized zone, where both dogs could amiably convene in case the person chopping up the food drop something on the floor. They both know that happens all the time. They say food brings people together, same for dogs!

Keep the calm. Dogs and their humans need breaks.

Alison Chambers

We initially kept the boys in separate bedrooms at night and if they were in the house without us, but otherwise they gradually figured out how to coexist together. We praised good behavior— I’m pretty sure lots of treats were dispensed by the other human in the house—and the dogs self-corrected when they stepped over each other’s borders. There’s nothing ambiguous about Pancho’s “hey, get your nose outa my face” bark.


They may never be friends, but our two good dogs co-habited very well. They’ve both spent a lot more time asleep this week!

Wow Kumba!!! What big strides you make!! 😎😎

Alison Chambers

Wellness Wednesday: How We Are Navigating Our Return to Normal

From March 2020 through Friday, my husband and I ate only what I prepared for us at home. I’m pleased to have managed our nutrition very well, and our recent bloodwork shows that we are holding our own against disease. I’ll write a post on nutrition another time to share some of the recipes and cooking tips I picked up along the way.

Today, however, I have to write that …. we broke out and ate at not just one but two restaurants this week. One was just okay, and the other was a homecoming.

Comfortably locked in for a year

The pandemic locked us in, and we got habituated to those limits. We found ourselves enjoying each other’s 24/7 company — not a surprise, but what a bonus after 40 years — and engaging outdoors at a distance with neighbors. I didn’t miss outside society very much at all. In fact, I’d decided that hermit living was just my style, or perhaps it was the idea of breaking out of our self-imposed limits that made me anxious.

Many of us have gotten very comfortable with the safety that our isolated environments have provided and taking these initial steps out of our safe, home-controlled environments can cause fear and anxiety.

Dr. Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Hard-wired for fear

Coming on the heels of a slow recovery from my near-death 2019 illness, the pandemic terrified both of us. The unseen enemy lurked everywhere. We adopted strict cleansing habits. Masks, gloves, and bottles of disinfectant popped up on counters and cabinets around the home and in the car. It was war.

Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

Kirsten Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Taking baby steps toward old behavior

I walked into a grocery store for the first time in nearly a year when we got our first vaccine. The Publix pharmacy was near the bread aisle, and I will associate the sweet scent of dough with freedom for the rest of my life.

When we were fully vaccinated and outdoors, we began to relax around others. I went to Target, to Publix, to the post office. Not all at once, but here and there.

The way to work through anxiety is to take very small steps forward and expose yourself to manageable amounts of anxiety.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

One giant step into a restaurant

Then came last week, when the CDC announced that vaccinated people could go maskless. Our daughter’s visit coincided with that announcement, and I made reservations — at an outdoor table — at our old favorite weekly dinner place.

It was the first time I’ve had mahi-mahi since the pandemic hit. And blue cheese dressing. And anything someone else cooked.

My family enjoyed an outdoor dinner at Bimini Twist in West Palm Beach

Choosing to keep new patterns

Still, that dinner did not feel like a homecoming. I hadn’t missed dining among strangers, and that included the wait staff, none of whom were our old regulars. Things change over 15 months. Including us.

A lot of people have found that this year has really allowed them to slowdown, to let go of things, to create new patterns and ways of being.

Marni Chanoff, integrative psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Two days later, we hit a homerun at our favorite breakfast place, where Latino sisters welcomed us back like family. Oh, how we’d worried about them. Other than being unemployed for three months, they and theirs are all well. Tucking in to a hearty Mediterranean omelet and homemade bread, I knew we were on our way to a new normal.

For a lot of people, it’s going to take some time to readjust to a new norm that isn’t quite pre-pandemic but getting closer.

Dr. John Whyte, chief medical director of WebMD.

How are you handling this phase of our unprecedented life?

Embassy Kid: Preface

I am completing a memoir about my childhood, which I spent in Latin America, Europe, and Washington DC during my father’s career in the Foreign Service. Here is the preface from Embassy Kid: A Memoir, which I hope to publish within the year.

Jane Kelly Amerson López

Alone in America

I watched the tail lights of the rental car vanish down the elm-lined street on that August afternoon in 1973, taking my parents and my sister back into the Foreign Service landscape without me. I should have been in that backseat, eyes forward, hands folded, as America vanished behind us, the self-contained, four-person unit jetting back into our Real World.  Instead, here I was, stranded alone in America, astonished to find myself broken apart from the family unit with which I’d negotiated 18 years in Latin America, Europe, and the even stranger land of the Washington DC suburbs. 

Most American kids leave home to go to college. My home had just left me. I was an Embassy kid. 

Finding My Way

It would take me the better part of a decade to sort myself out. While my family completed my father’s Foreign Service career abroad, I switched to my middle name and wandered through the United States, accumulating college credits at five institutions, working a series of hourly jobs, and training as a modern dancer, a trajectory that eventually landed me in New York City. There, in the city that felt like all the places in the Real World at once, the nicest man I know called me by my Spanish name and something clicked in my heart. We’ve been married for forty years, during which we’ve created our own real world rich in rewards, the greatest of which is our daughter. We’ve traveled, but America is home.

Third Culture Kid

 It wasn’t always. When I was younger, I struggled to answer the most American of questions: “Where are you from?”  I lived in eight places in six countries on three continents before I was 18, but none of them was home. I was born in Minnesota and my Norwegian ancestry shows in my fair coloring, but I grew up in Latin countries. I was an American kid with the mystique of a diplomatic passport overseas, but I felt like a foreigner in the United States. I sink my roots fast and make friends quickly, but I up-root easily and don’t ever look back. I’m never from here, but I’m also not from there. Neither a true-blue American like my parents, nor a member of any other nation, I’m a Third Culture Kid. 

Archeological Exploration

When I was in second grade in the magical ancient city of Rome, I was sure I’d be an archeologist. Although that idea evaporated when we moved to another part of the world, I realize now that I’ve spent the better part of my adult life sifting like an archeologist through the detritus of my childhood, looking for the evidence of where I was from. 

I wove childhood memories and family anecdotes into stories about my parents, Robert and Nancy Amerson, my sister, Susie, and me. I dove into the journals, letters, and interviews my parents left behind containing their personal observations about a quarter-century with the United States Information Agency. My father’s book about Venezuela, How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, and the oral histories of other Foreign Service officers who served alongside my father during the Cold War, have allowed me to breathe life into historical events and to recover personal experiences that would otherwise have been lost to time. Finding a way to share these stories has been a thrill, a comfort, and an honor. And reflecting on the impression of these experiences on the Embassy kid that I was and the adult I have become has been a rewarding journey. 

An Homage to My Parents

This book is an homage to my parents, two patriots in the firmament of Embassy people, men and women who, then and now, serve as America’s emissaries abroad, raising their children in foreign lands far from family and friends in order that the world get to know us.

These are the stories of an ordinary American family living through extraordinary times in the service of their country. 

This is where I am from. I am an Embassy kid.