What I Discovered In the Coverup

A couple of days ago I had a small medical procedure that involved sutures near my ear and included a head wrap bandage that left me looking a bit like Jacob Marley’s Ghost in the Dickens classic,  A Christmas Carol.

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Moderately vain woman that I am, I wrapped one of my long scarves around my head to hide the bandage and set off from the doctor’s office en route to my stepmom’s house which was a significant distance away.

It should come as no surprise that the one time I wanted to scoot home unnoticed, I missed a turn and had to stop for directions twice. I ended up driving through a very rural part of Georgia where I began to consider that a headscarf worn to conceal a bandage might make people see me not as stylish, but perhaps something to be feared.

I’ve wrapped many a scarf around my head to protect my hair from the wind or sun and added sunglasses at times in a playful attempt to emulate a variety of film stars such as Sharon Stone or Elizabeth Taylor, but never have I worried that I might encounter hostility or suspicion because of what I normally consider a fashion statement or something to protect me from the weather.

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I’m generally not easily intimidated, I served in the military in the late 70s and early 80s and because we live in a world where women are more likely than men to be victims of violence or harassment, I learned early how to suss out situations where I might not be physically safe and how to avoid them.

I viewed it as living a state of awareness rather than one of living in fear.

I thought I was pretty good at it until the other day when I sashayed out the door with my scarf-wrapped head on my way to the car. It was not until I stopped the first time for directions and drew a couple of odd looks and no help at all from the two men at the gas station that I began to consider my head scarf might be an issue. It’s possible they didn’t know where the major highway in question was in relation to the gas station, but I left feeling like something was off in the exchange.

Given the open hostility and racism modeled and encouraged by Donald Trump at his rallies and in his Twitter messages over the last eighteen months, for the first time I became aware that there might be more ways to feel unsafe than I am accustomed to.

The next time I stopped was at McDonald’s where I was able to get coffee and directions from a nice woman behind the counter. I will admit that the lingering look of an older white male ( mid 50s like myself ) made me wonder if he was trying to decide if I was one of those immigrant people Donald Trump thinks need to go back to where they came from or a dangerous Muslim with malicious mischief on her mind.

Being a white female raised in the Christian faith in America, racism has never been part of my personal experience in that it has never been directed at me.

Safely in my car having found the right road back, I thought about the brief taste of the anxiety I’d felt and wondered about the  people who deal with fear and dread every day due to clothing that reveals their religious faith, or those whose skin color marks them as other to some of the more radical and angry groups of largely white audiences mobilized and encouraged by the hate speech at Trump rallies and the folks who are his supporters. I’m not saying all Trump’s supporters are the same, but how could anyone pledge their allegiance to a man who at best insults everyone and tries to eviscerate those who challenge him.

The big question here is not whether I imagined the odd look or the possibility that someone might say or do something ugly to me because they thought I was a Muslim, but how did America go through such a radical transition in such a short period?

We are a nation of immigrants with only a small percentage being native to this land and if I was afraid to be mistaken for a Muslim woman, how do those who need to dress in the ways of their faith feel about living in a country where the words ” Freedom of Religion ” no longer truly mean Freedom.

I’ve been more afraid for America than I can remember having listened to the reactions and praise for Trump’s ideals over the last few months.

More than fear, I have felt a level of grief I had not expected watching people lose themselves to their darker sides and behave openly in ways that are shameful and embarrassing for those Americans who appreciate diversity and who honor the struggle in all of us to be better together than a nation divided by bigotry and hatred.

I will be holding my breath tomorrow as I watch the election returns and want to say to every person who has truly felt the fear that I probably only imagined, my vote will have been cast for the candidate I believe can lead us back to a stronger  better nation where there is a place at the table for everyone no matter what they wear on their head or where they may have originally called home.

One indivisable nation because that is who we are when we are at our best!

Darkness Into Light

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When a blogger disappears if you’ve been reading them for any length of time you notice when they’re gone especially if they just drop out of sight without warning.

But when it happens slowly over time with posts becoming less frequent, you may not even realize they are gone until one day you can’t remember the last time you saw a post of theirs pop into your inbox or show up on your reader list with something new.

I have watched that happen to quite a few bloggers and a couple of years ago, I joined those  who slipped away with barely a word of explanation.

So here it is.

I went through a phase where every time I sat down to write I would have a series of thoughts running through my head that were not very positive, things such as who really wants to read this stuff, there’s so much out there being said, why waste time on my blog, what’s the point anyway … and loads of other negative self talk.

I had been feeling a bit of this before our car accident in early 2013 when we were hit by a drunk driver in Wales and afterward it grew like an unchecked water leak leaving a dark stain over everything. My sense of security was severely affected by an event out of our control and became disinterested in things I had enjoyed and I could not find my way back to something that had once given me a lot of pleasure.

I dipped my toe back in the water a couple of times only to shake off the possibility of writing here again by distracting myself with something else, usually something sugary that only made me feel worse.

My post accident neck pain got worse rather than better and I began to have severe and debilitating hand cramping with such frequency and intensity that I found myself Googling motor neuron disease and other scary topics.

I never considered that the initial diagnosis of whiplash would turn out to be two ruptured discs or that my growing desire to isolate and withdraw from activities I once enjoyed would lead to a PTSD diagnosis. After an MRI and several talks with surgeons along with two clinical psychologists who shared the same PTSD opinion, I had more insight into why so many parts of my life were affected.

Having reread the above, I feel like deleting the whole post as it seems like one big  “poor me ” moan which is not really my intention. I share it not only as an explanation for my absence, but also in hopes that it might help someone else who like me doesn’t see a problem until it becomes life changing.

My neck and the limitations from the damage are what they are. I don’t expect to be able to do any rock climbing again and I can no longer hold my cello bow or do simple things such as moving hangers along the rack when shopping or blow drying my hair without resting when my hand spasms. The list is longer, but I won’t add to it here.

Additionally, there is always the chance that my right hand will go into spasm when driving the car for long and it can happen after only a few miles. While distracting, (think severe charlie horse in your hand) it becomes a big issue when driving a car with a manual transmission like we have because pulling over is tough with only one working hand. I’ve found ways to hold the steering wheel so it puts less pressure on my neck and now it happens less often when I drive, but I’m never sure when it will occur.

I’ve also found ways to do some of other activities that were affected by the accident and have been trying to move forward, but last December when I realized that I was going to have to let go of the idea of ever being back to normal, I did go through a bit of grieving. Saying goodbye to things you enjoy because someone decided to drink and drive still makes me angry. People say, ” At least you were not killed or seriously injured … ” and yes, I am certainly grateful for that, but make no mistake this accident was caused by the selfish act of one person. It has had a lasting impact on my quality of life and I’m not over it!

In a few weeks I will be in America seeing my stateside family and friends and when I return I will be starting a 12 week course of treatment that has had good success with people suffering from PTSD. I had not heard of this type of therapy before the accident and I’m keen to try it.

EMDR : Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a fairly new, nontraditional form of psychotherapy that has been useful in treating post-tramatic stress disorder seen after military combat experiences, physical assault or car accidents.

According to WebMD,  it is sometimes used experimentally to treat:

  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders
  • Addictions
  • Anxiety, such as discomfort with public speaking or dental procedues.

Knowing there is something I can do to try to eliminate the anxiety I feel as a passenger or  when driving, particularly when on two lane roads helps me feel more consistently positive again, which is my normal state. I will probably do an update on this subject sometime in the new year when I’ve had the recommended 12 sessions. Wish me luck and I promise not to abandon GOTJ without warning again. My plan for posting is to aim for two posts a week and go from there in frequency.

Thanks for still being there and please say hello in a comment if you feel like it.

Lisa Taylor Huff – A Bold Soul

Paris 2010

Before I decided to begin a blog of my own, I spent several years following the blogs of others. One of the very first had a snappy title and a focus that appealed to me and I was hooked from the beginning.

When I found her online, Lisa Taylor Huff was 45 and taking concrete steps towards a long-held dream of moving to Paris to live and work as a writer.

She struck me as the very boldest of souls and I checked in regularly from my life in Atlanta, reading and watching as she made plans to leave New Jersey for a Paris address.

Having spent time in Paris I could easily see the appeal of the city and given that I was head over heels for the Isle of Skye in Scotland, I understood how one could dream of a different life and set out in a new direction to get it.

It wasn’t long before Lisa was in Paris and in the time it would take most people to settle in, she’d met and married Georges and made a new life she loved, adding wife and step-mother to all she already was. By then I was planning my own wedding and move to Cornwall, England having met my Brit born husband-to-be online as she had Georges.

Lisa and I exchanged an email or two as bloggers often do, and I kept on reading, following online and watching as she achieved each goal towards a fully integrated life in France.

I celebrated when she became a French citizen, understanding intimately why having a dual citizenship was important as I had added a British citizenship to my American one not quite a year earlier. I enjoyed her excitement when she voted in France for the first time remembering how connected I felt when I voted in the UK.

Based on recent comments, I, like most her readers thought her cancer would be a difficult blip and that she would be back at her desk sharing her adventures after a time. I was shocked and saddened to see death take her so quickly.

It’s as if she stepped out the door with her next blog post unfinished and there is nothing more.

I’ve been rereading her blog posts since hearing the news of her death on Monday. I cannot imagine the pain her family must be going through.

Her beloved husband, Georges wrote a tender last post to her and for her on her blog, The Bold Soul.

There is so much there that is good and I urge you to see for yourself especially if you are at a place in your life where you feel stuck.

Lisa lived her life as if everything she envisioned could be hers and then set out to make it so.

I won’t forget her.

To Normandy And Back – Sgt.Hugh Lee Stephens & Me

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Some blog posts are harder to write than others as my drafts folder would illustrate if you were able to poke around in my unfinished business, but this story is one I’ve wanted to share since last year and as it’s Memorial Day, today seems right.

In 1943 my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens went off to war to fight and die like many others. Thanks to the letters he wrote home and the historical work of others I found online, tracking his journey from his basic training days to a field in France was not as difficult as it could have been.

Once I realized that I could follow his path from the USA to England and across the English Channel to France using the APO addresses on his letters home, I tracked him to a field near Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves where he died.

I am including a link should you wish to do a similar search. The list of APO’s used during 1942-1947 can be found by clicking here.  You can see an example of a different APO numbers in the return addresses on the letters below.

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After I found the APO guide, I began to search his letters for information that led me to his unit and confirmed I had the dates were correct that placed him at the battle at Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves .

July 19, 1944 - There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit's activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

July 19, 1944 – There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit’s activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

 

July 21, 1944 - Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

July 21, 1944 – Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

I could go on and on about the history lesson that came from my research and my excitement at learning more about my great-uncle Hugh’s last days, but none of it would be complete without sharing the physical journey that John and I made last fall when we crossed the English channel and made our way across France to Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

We knew we had found the right area when we saw this sign. I took a couple of photos of it because it shows what the field looked like when American troops tried to take it from the German soldiers.

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Even though we were very close, we had problems finding the field. it was not as well-marked as we thought it would be and we didn’t see any people at first in the hamlet near the field.

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John and I circled round the area on foot several times and then a man came out of a house to speak to us. We were clearly not the first visitors he had directed and the chance meeting was more special as he explained to John in French that he was there when the Americans lost what they called ” The Island ” because it was a marshy space that was almost surrounded by water due to weather conditions.

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I took the first two photos on the sly as I walked up on John speaking with him so they are a bit wonky.

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The more he talked the more emotional he became as he shared how as a boy he’d watched German soldiers hide under grasses in the fields, in ditches and behind the hedges. He said the Germans were mostly boys by then, a comment which made sense as German forces had been spread thin across the rest of Europe by 1944.

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 He pointed to us in a direction that led to the path to the field.

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There is a small memorial stone at the edge of the field and both an American and French flag.

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Looking out at the peaceful space dotted with hungry cattle and water lilies in a stream that in 1944 helped make the field a slippery mud hole, it was hard to imagine my great-uncle bleeding and dying along side other young men who’d  barely had a chance to live.

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I brought some flowers to leave at the memorial for the men from the 90th Infantry Division, ironic in a way because I had never placed a single flower on my great-uncle’s grave in Georgia.

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As I was taking a moment and thinking some very subdued thoughts about war and death, a cat named Felix sauntered  up to distract me. He was cuddly and playful and relentless in his antics which had me smiling despite the solemn reason for our visit.

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John walked across a bridge and Felix followed part way and sat down. I went past him and down the steps to the other side and he followed me although slowly and in his own time.

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Once Felix was on the other side, he went right to work digging in the dirt like he had something he wanted to show me.  I pushed the dirt around a bit, but didn’t see anything except dirt and rocks and picked up some stones to take back to Georgia when I went back a few weeks ago.

Just before I left, I went to the cemetary in Marietta where Hugh Lee is buried next to his parents, his sister, (my grandmother) my grandfather, and my dad. I carried those stones back so I could lay them on his grave and decided that his mother and my dad should have one too. They were the ones who talked most about him and would have appreciated the significance of our trip to acknowledge his sacrifice.

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 A rock for his grave stone.

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 And two more stones from France rest just above the cross.

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It took me months to get this far and it seems as if it is mostly photographs. I wrote another post about Hugh Lee Stephens that says more about the man and his family life. You can find it by clicking here if you’d like to know a little more.

Choosing A Front Door Color And What It Says About You

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Just so you don’t think this blog is all me having big moan since my return, let me show you one of the projects John got up to while I was in the US for eight weeks.

We’ve had a piece of stained glass sitting in a window that looks out into our driveway almost since I snagged for £10 a few years ago. After John built a frame to make it more secure, it has worked well blocking some of the view of the driveway as seen from our kitchen/dining area window.

I’ve been suggesting we get a new front door for the last year as other projects have been completed. John has done an amazing job on our entry way hall leading from the front door to the rest of the house and I’ve added some decorative touches to his remodel. I’ll include some of these changes in another post, but I thought all that work deserved a new front door to guide people into the house that way.

Living in the country, most folks tend to use a side or kitchen door so wellies and other mucky items can be left behind. As both our front and kitchen door are on the same side of the house, I always thought it a bit confusing to folks who had never been to see us before.

I suggested we create a more obvious front door to take showcase the internal changes and clear up any confusion and while I was away, John took the old door apart to made a new one and he used the stained glass piece to make it special.

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First he took the old door apart so he could use the frame.

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Then he added some tongue and groove wooden pieces and sanded the old frame to match the natural wood.

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After first asking if I minded if he could use the stained glass from the kitchen/dining room window, John took it apart to create a lovely inset for the front door. Then he painted it white.

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We talked about adding more color and he waited until I came back so we could pick something out together. I thought blue might be nice as we have so many pots in that color and we had some paint left over from another project that John wanted to try.

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I painted a little of it on the door and then polled two neighbors who were passing by and both agreed with me that it just wasn’t right. John was fine with it, but then he likes to use what’s on hand while I wanted a deeper blue than the Stiffkey Blue paint we already had.

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HomeBase is our closest home supply store and they only had a limited amount of premixed color choices. After realizing that it would cost £32 for a liter of specially mixed paint that I could choose, I went back to the small area of premixed paint and even though the color on the can looked darker than I’d hoped for, I decided to give it a chance. It was less than half the price of the other and just the right amount.

The first coat is still drying, but I am loving it so far. The pot you see in the bottom right was my guide color and it looks as if it’s going to be dead on. The light blue bit is painter’s tape on the side of the door and on the stain glass so ignore that.

The paint is called Oxford Blue and it’s a HomeBase brand.

I’ve never had a blue front door before and it is interesting to see what different colors are supposed to mean and what they say about the people living behind them.

I’d be curious to know what color your front door is and why you chose it.

(Photo credit for the first four images belongs to John Winchurch)

Home or Away – Where Are You Going?

Cornish Beach - Image by Elizabeth Harper

When I first met my husband on a UK dating site, my contact name, ‘ Reaching for Skye’ was something John thought was funny since he was living 800 miles away in Cornwall, England. With his second email came this question, ‘ You do know Cornwall is a long way from the Isle of Skye, right? ‘

Living in the US, I had no idea where Cornwall was on a map. I’d loved my past trips to Scotland, but most of what I knew about the UK was limited to London or parts of Scotland. The only beaches I’d seen were those in Scotland and I had never considered there might be coastal paths where you could walk right out to the sea or the fishing ports and villages that make the coast of Cornwall so picturesque.

My lack of geographic direction is still something we laugh about because even after six years of living in southwest England and regular trips that include Scotland and Wales, I get lost. Most of those who follow me at GOTJ know that I take loads of photos of the places we go, but you’d be surprised to know how long it has taken for me to be able to identify a place by sight or how often I confuse them.

I put it down to being lost in the beauty of the location, but John jokes that I’m directionally challenged, a statement that is not new to me nor is he the only person to have suggested it.

That said, a few days ago I received a quiz as part of a marketing campaign for Parkdean Holidays designed to see how well I could identify scenic locations based on photographs of holiday destinations taken in the UK or abroad. I took the short interactive quiz four times getting progressively better each time going from a score of just over 200 to a final score of 522. I know multiple attempts smacks of a high score obsessed perfectionist, but it was actually fun.

The quiz is designed to increase interest in Parkdean Holidays and I’ll admit that I had a look around their website to see where they have sites in the UK.

John handles our camping accommodation reservations so I forwarded it on to him to have a look, but what I really want to know is how well did he do on the ‘Home or Away’ quiz.

When The Rocky Road Brings You Laughter

Colorado Outward Bound 2003

When my daughter was fifteen we took a mother-daughter trip to Colorado to take part in an Outward Bound wilderness experience with some other parent/child combinations. We quickly made new friends and became part of an impromptu group of cheerleaders as we encouraged each other to take on a variety new experiences such as rock climbing and white water rafting. While I found rock climbing a bit scary, (I hate heights) but now love climbing, the most memorable for me was the camping part of our week together.

By the time we had hiked up the mountain and slept in the woods for a few nights, I was ready for a shower and a real meal. We had some hot food while we were camping, but back then even I didn’t care much for my own cooking so I had to get creative.

Elizabeth Harper, Outward Bound, Camp Cooking

Eleven years later, I can still remember what I tried to put together from memory over an open flame. Those who’ve been reading GOTJ for a while know that I love peanut butter and have a terrible sweet tooth so it should be no surprise that the glob of stuff in the pan in front of me contained most of the ingredients needed for a big peanut butter cookie.

Elizabeth Harper, Backpacking in Colorado with Outward BoundNow here’s where the story gets rocky and no jokes about my camping hair, please!

As we were hiking down the mountain, I may have done a bit of moaning about how heavy my pack was and how it was killing my back, but I remember that backpack feeling like it weighed a ton. Even with a couple of rest stops for wilderness potty breaks and  snacks, I was glad when we finally reached the cabins where we’d started our journey a few days earlier.

I quickly plopped down and began pulling out the contents of my pack so I could give back what had been provided by the Outward Bound crew and set aside what was mine. Imagine the confusion on my face when I discovered a large rock mixed in with my belongings. After seeing my daughter exchange a look with another camper who clearly was in cahoots with my little prankster, I burst out laughing realizing I had been tricked into hauling a big rock down the mountain.

The next day, Miranda and I boarded a plane and headed for home. I snagged our bags at airport and began unpacking my duffel almost as soon as I made it through the door not wanting to wait too long to tackle a week’s worth of dirty clothes. I unzipped the bag and began pulling out my stuff only to find that same rock. I still don’t know how she managed it, but my sneaky teen was able to get the rock into my duffel bag without me noticing and I carried it home to Georgia.

I put it on a bookshelf to save because it made me smile to think of the trouble she’d gone to surprise me and to make me laugh. So when I was shipping my things to the UK, it seemed only right that such a well-traveled chunk of Colorado should make one more journey, this time to Cornwall.

Colorado Rock In UKI know it just looks like a rock to you, but it’s memory of a time when everything seemed a struggle and I’d forgotten how to have fun. That trip marked the beginning of several life changes for me and it was when I began to get my laugh back.

It’s funny how a bit of silliness can do that for you … if you are willing let it.