What’s In The Bag?

Heathrow Airport Arrival 2013

Coming home is particularly sweet after an extended time away.

There’s the obvious happiness of seeing my husband John waiting for me, and the ahhh feeling I get when the plane lands safely and I make it through customs and immigration, but this time has been different and I have been trying to figure out why.

I recently returned from a ten-week stay in the US and have been a bit overwhelmed since my arrival a little over a week ago.

I hear you thinking, What do you mean overwhelmed … how long can it take to unpack your bags and settle back into your routine?

Sometimes, it’s not about the stuff in the bags.

As you can see I am pushing a very full luggage cart and it’s not the first time I have arrived from an international flight looking like a smiling beast of burden. This collection of suitcases is fairly light compared some of my past Heathrow and Gatwick arrivals. Due to decreasing weight allowances, but increasing checked baggage costs, I tend to travel lighter on my trips between what I think of as my two homes.

Except this time.

This time the extra bag I checked carried some favorite product brands I can’t get in the UK along with some new clothes and other things I have needed for a while.

Needed might be questionable, but …

I tend to be a big charity store shopper with Salvation Army, Goodwill, and second-hand shops being my ‘go to’ places. This does not mean I don’t buy new, but when I do I tend stick to the sale section. Thrifty shopping can be just as bad as spending too much on new, a lesson my normally bulging closet would illustrate had its contents not been recently whittled down.

Thursday, John and I took seven huge garbage bags filled with clothing to a local charity shop along with several bags of barely worn shoes and two big boxes of books. I think I struggled more deciding which books to give away than I did with clothes and now after looking at my bookshelves and wardrobe more critically, I have decided to go back through and do another purge.

Remember when I said it’s not always about the stuff earlier …

I have been working on multiple parts of the house since I got home, clearing away clutter and organizing what is left. I have even been in the attic going through boxes and throwing out or giving away things while doing a total overhaul of what is allowed to stay. I’ve emptied a wardrobe and a too-full dresser in the guest room and I’ve reorganized other parts of the house as well even giving away loads of my books that were cluttering John’s study, but what I haven’t done is finish tidying up my studio space.

Studio sounds a bit grand for what I do there, but it is my creative get-away space and where I do most of my writing and photography work. It also doubles as my dressing room and has an en suite bathroom attached to it both of which have been an absolute tip (trash site) since I arrived ten days ago. I left it very tidy when I flew to the US in early July, but with the big clear out over the last week things have fallen into a bit of state.

Looking at it feels overwhelming and I have been finding ways to avoid slogging through what’s left to finish it off.

I decided to take a look at how my need for perfection keeps me from getting more done creatively after reading this post by Nadia Eghbal titled  Why I Wore The Same Outfit Everyday For A Year.  As good writers and bloggers will often do, she got me thinking.

Sure I can clean like I’m still in the Army getting ready for an inspection, or make a time-consuming special something _________ insert what ever suits you here, but be sure it’s something that could use a bit more of this, or a touch of that because that’s what my rarely satisfied self would do with something I make.

I could say I’m only nesting with all this clearing and decluttering, making room for the birth of some semi-new blog or book idea, or even some business daydream that can travel with us when John and I pack up and go and some of that would be true, but I have to wonder if there’s not something bigger underlying my need to restrict and control disorder in my environment to the extent that it distracts me from other parts of my life needing attention.

I’m not going to spend any more time mulling that one over as I do better when I make a decision and move on. With that in mind, I am committing to tossing a few extra things into my partially full give-away bag.

I am willing to begin by dropping in my perfectionist tendencies along with a too tight sweater and a dress that’s really a little young for me. Then there’s that old comparison rag where I tend to judge my work against that of others. Yep, that’s going too.

That will do for me for now, but what about you?

If you’ve got something you want to get rid of, something that’s keeping you stuck or distracting you from your next best thing, feel free to leave it behind in a comment.

Go ahead, I’ll bag it up and dispose of it for you.

Because you know I do like a tidy work space, and I’m already going that way.

One-Shot & Me

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Becky & Jenny at the One-Shot Cabin

When I was six, my Great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John published her first book, The Secrets Of Hidden Creek.

She was 58.

After Wednesday’s post, you can probably understand why this knowledge is more than a bit comforting to me.

That said, Aunt Wylly wrote for years before publishing her first book. As a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, she had to constantly meet deadlines and she was paid to write long before she graduated from the University of Georgia where 47 boxes of her writings are archived in the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

She went on to publish eight books, two of which were nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers of America award.

My cousin, McKenzie posted a comment on Facebook yesterday where she talked about how she and her young son were reading one of Aunt Wylly’s books at bedtime and how it gave him more insight into who his Grandmother Becky was as a girl, as well as his Great-great-grandmother Wylly.

Aunt Wylly loved using real children as characters in her books so McKenzie’s son is enjoying reading about his grandmother as the teenager she was in 1966 when The Secrets of Hidden Creek was published. Much of the story’s setting and characters are clearly modeled after the real thing. First books often pull in parts of the author’s life and my unfinished novel is no different.

If you’ve followed my blog for long it probably won’t surprise you to learn that there is a character in my book who is modeled in some ways after my aunt and you might also understand why seeing McKenzie’s message on Facebook felt like a little cosmic push especially since I’ve  been so unproductive lately.

Aunt Wylly would probably appreciate my thinking she was sending me a message given her interest in ghosts when she was alive.

The hammock in the first picture figures into the story that McKenzie is reading with her son. It was used on the book jacket in 1966 as you can see from the image below. In addition to Becky and Jenny, their brother, Chuck is in the illustration with them.

Wylly Folk St John

I have some lovely memories of time spent at the cabin with Aunt Wylly and later on with my cousins. And while my daughter doesn’t really remember it, she once had a chance to wrestle for the hammock like her cousins did as characters in Aunt Wylly’s book.

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Miranda & Elizabeth at the One-Shot Cabin 1993

This oft fought for spot had to be replaced more than a few times over the years as the humidity of hot Georgia summers and squirmy children did their damage. One of my favorite memories of Aunt Wylly’s lakeside hideaway, it was always snug like a little cocoon, making a perfect nest to read a book and drift off to sleep. Comforting and safe, it was a place I where could let my guard down during a dangerous time in my life and just be for a while with normal kid worries and daring daydreams.

The seed of storytelling for me may not have been planted at the One-Shot cabin, but it was most certainly nurtured there … in a hammock, on a porch, overlooking a lake, with a secret hidden deep under the water.

Big thanks to McKenzie for helping me aerate my roots a bit. 

Enter Spring – Write & Release

Blackbird Egg - Elizabeth Harper

If you were to peek behind the curtain at GOTJ, you would see more than a few potential posts that read, <no title> Draft.

Some have photos, some don’t, a few are complete and ready to publish needing only a last read-through first. But given what has been happening in the world over the last month or so, my posts seemed like an uninteresting waste of your time and mine. So I let them sit.

It is not the first time I’ve done this … taken an impromptu sabbatical where I have withdrawn into reading while neglecting my writing.

Unfinished potential some might call it.

A friend asked me yesterday how my book was coming along and I while I wanted to say which one, I just said simply, ‘ It’s not. ‘

‘ Oh,’  he said, as he shook his head slowly, ‘ I thought you would be one of the ones to do it. ‘

‘ Well I’m not dead yet! ‘ I said, with a sharper tone than intended.

I tried to explain, but it just sounded like excuses … the car accident, work, a bad case of the blues.

Inside I was thinking … other people get it done despite having full lives, what is wrong with me?

Perfectionism will be my undoing if I let it.

Write and release.

 

UK Immigration & My British Citizenship Ceremony – One American’s Experience

Elizabeth Harper Receiving British Citizenship Certificate From Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, Peter Davies

Receiving My British Citizenship Certificate From Deputy Lord-Lieutenant, Peter Davies

A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in. And how many want out. ~ Tony Blair

Three days ago I joined a group of fifteen immigrants standing in a half circle as we pledged allegiance to our new country. Even though I was fairly giddy with excitement over the ceremony, I was aware of several things. It was obvious at a glance that we were a diverse group, but it was not until I heard each of them read some variation of the words below that I realized how different we all really were.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Elizabeth Harper, (Far Left)

Only six of the sixteen appeared to have English as a first language and it was almost painful to watch as four or five of those becoming British citizens struggled to read the Oath of  Allegiance.

Listening to a few of them mumble words that bore little resemblance to what they were supposed to be, I was astonished that they were there as I thought we’d all had to pass written tests to get to this final step. As I was writing this post I did a bit of research and it looks as if there are times when people may exempt from some parts of the testing process.

Elizabeth Harper, British Citizenship Ceremony

Cadare, is from Jamaica and we had an interesting chat about the misconceptions many folks have about people from both Jamaica and the US.

I wondered as I watched them about the difficulties they might have faced in the country of their birth and thought about the opportunities  they now have in the UK that they may not have had in their respective countries.

My desire to become a British citizen was not a difficult decision as I was allowed to keep my US citizenship, but after seeing the list of countries that do and don’t, I feel sure some of the people who took the oath with me were from countries that don’t allow them to retain their original citizenship when taking on a new one.

I think like many people I tend to take a lot for granted. Basic human rights for one, and a sureness that every American grows up with knowing that hard work and a bit a luck will carry them far. We are a nation of bold believers in our ability to overcome adversity, an idea made easier by the knowledge that there are laws in place to protect us from governments gone mad. I’m not sure the same is true for some of the people I was with on Wednesday.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Cornwall

Elizabeth Harper Receiving A Gift Badge/Pin Made Of Cornish Tin From Cornwall County Council Chairman, Mrs. Pat Harvey

Immigration for some requires closing a door behind them before stepping through the newly opened one of their adopted homeland. I’m grateful to have two doors that open at will for me and feel fortunate that unlike many brave immigrants, I can go home again.

British Citizenship Ceremony - Cornwall

My Interview With Cornwall Council Chairman, Mrs Pat Harvey, ‘ A Day In The Life Of Cornwall Council Chairman.’ Filmed by Cornwall Channel

I was interviewed by Cornwall Council Chairman, Mrs Pat Harvey, for ‘A Day In The Life Of Cornwall Council Chairman.’ It was filmed by Cornwall Channel and will be on FREESAT  found on channel, 401 or SKY on channel 212. It should air this Monday or the next at 9:00 PM.

Cornwall Council ChamberThe ceremony took place in the council chamber. You can see me talking with an American woman in a hat who also became a Brit and my friend,  Armella Jenkins who happened to be in the UK and came down from Devon to share the experience. She’s the woman to my right.

Me standing in the queue with Armella waiting for a coffee and scone after the ceremony. I’m happy and clapping, saying, ‘ Yay! ‘

Most of the photos are video screen grabs from a video John made. Thanks also to Armella Jenkins who took some additional images of the day. I may post an edited video version of the event later if any of you are interested in seeing it.

So ends a long journey that began more than four and a half years ago when I came back to the UK on a fiancé visa. I didn’t know then that I would apply for British citizenship and I’m happy that the only paperwork that remains now is that which is needed for my British passport.

This photo of a Celtic Knotwork lapel pin made from Cornish Tin is like one I received from Cornwall Council to mark the occasion. It’s made by Blue Hills Tin ,which is where I snagged the image.

Approved … For British Citizenship!

Sometimes there can be no shortcuts when you’re working towards a goal especially when others have the final say. All you can do is put your head down and slog on and hope it will go your way.

Yesterday marked an end to almost four years of documenting the details of my life, along with bit of test taking and fee paying, and multiple appointments with officials asking loads of questions as I worked to meet the timelines in my application for British citizenship.

Since submitting my final paperwork in August, I’ve spent the last two months listening for the sound of the postman’s shoes on the walk and  racing to the door when I heard the rustle of mail being pushed through the letter box. When I was not able to check it myself, John would usually announce in an increasingly weary sounding voice that there was nothing for me or at least not the letter I was hoping might arrive.

He was away yesterday morning and I was in the shower when a single letter was left for me. I was rushing about as I had to be somewhere when I realized that it was past time for the mail delivery and hurried to the front door still wrapped in my bath towel. I saw the brownish envelope on the floor as I climbed the stairs and could see that it was addressed to me. It was crumpled a bit, in part because of the flimsy ultra-thin envelope, and also the force required to push it through the slot in the door.

Scrawled on the envelope of my much-anticipated letter was ordinary message written in patchy ink saying, ‘parcel in garage.’ It wasn’t until much later that I remembered to tell John that there was a delivery for him as well.

I held my breath while tearing the envelope open and saw a detailed letter with the important words below:

I immediately called the number in the letter to schedule my citizenship ceremony and in a few weeks, just before I celebrate another American Thanksgiving in Cornwall, I will complete the last step to ensure my permanent place in United Kingdom with all the rights and privileges enjoyed by British citizens.

Someone asked me yesterday why having a British citizenship was so important and I cited a few of my reasons, many having to do with my life with John, but some of which are just for me … such as the right to vote.

In fact when asked what was next for me, I said with a smile, A seat in Parliament before adding that it might be wise for me to start with the Parish council first.

Having a dual citizenship was never on my ‘Before I Die List,’ but I love how staying open to change continues to enrich my life.

 

Surf Lessons At 52 – Because It’s Almost Never Too Late To Learn Something New

Even though I won’t turn fifty-two for a few more weeks, I thought now might be a good time to make my birthday wishes and intentions clearly known. I’ve been talking about learning to surf for the last couple of years and this year I mentioned to John what a great idea a few surfing lessons might be for my birthday so aside from parking a surfboard in various parts of the house as a reminder, I think there can be no mistaking what I hope to be doing on or around September 10th.

Surfing is big here in Cornwall and I don’t want to let the opportunity pass me by while I’m still physically able to give it a go. I do have to say that the last time I participated in a water activity more strenuous than swimming, I tore a hamstring and glut muscle while water skiing. It was so painful I thought I had broken my hip and I’m sure I didn’t make as much noise giving birth as I did after I hit the water and in the hours that followed.

I learned  a few things from that experience though with one being, no showing off, and the importance of listening to my body when my muscles feel fatigued. Some sports become dangerous if you ignore the fatigue factor as I did that day or if you allow cockiness to overcome common sense.

There are loads of surf schools here so it’s just down to choosing the right one for me. All of them offer group or individual lessons and I can’t decide which might be more fun.

I’ll leave you with a few photos of folks in search of a perfect Cornish wave … I’m off to search for a swimsuit, an experience in frustration for me no matter my age and level of fitness. My one consolation is that it will be under a wetsuit for most of the time.

Caitlin Kelly is talking about learning new things today too as she whacks a few balls into next year so here’s a link if you’d like to have a look.

The Buttercups Cometh

I remember the first time I walked through this field. It was late afternoon on Valentine’s Day and I was in Cornwall meeting John face to face for the first time. All it took was one comment from him for this special place to become my own personal “Field of Dreams.”

When he said, ” You should see this in May when it’s filled with buttercups,” I knew I had to come back.

We took a walk yesterday evening catching the last bit of good light and the first glimpse of the buttercups, which are not yet in their full glory, but they’re definitely coming.