The Gifts Of Time And Love

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Ten birthdays together hardly seems possible yet here we are. It was a photo much like this one taken recently that made me take a second look almost ten years ago when John’s profile showed up in Guardian Soulmates.

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I was intrigued by his photo looking out to sea and have been delighted for the better part of the last ten years to see him looking back at me. One can do a lot of living and loving in a decade, a date we will actually reach just after 2017 rolls over into the new year. We have a shared history now and I am grateful for each year with him.

I tend to think every is birthday special while John would be happy not to have a big fuss made over him, this forces me to be more creative when planning a surprise for my ( no parties please ) man.  I’m not one who necessarily likes to be on the receiving end of a surprise either ( depending on what it is ) but I do love to set them up.

It’s still a bit early here, but I will putting plan ” Make it Memorable ” into operation soon and will be back to share how it went later providing all goes well and I can pull it off.

There’s a larger story I’m keen to share, but for now I am protecting the surprise.  Shhh …

 

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A few months before my daughter turned 16 we went on a trip that taught me a lot about Miranda and what she was capable of on her own. I will add that I learned a few things about myself as well. I was looking for a different kind of experience for us, one that might challenge us in new ways and decided on an Outward Bound family experience in Colorado. Truth told, I can’t remember if she really wanted to go, but off the two of us went anyway to scale mountains and do a bit of river rafting.

Parts of it were challenging at times (rock climbing) even for a mom with military training, but Miranda sailed through it all with a confidence that seemed strong and steady with each new activity.

After backpacking to a remote site where we camped together as part of a larger group, the final exercise in our week together was designed to be a solo overnight camping experience away from the rest of the group and the instructors. As we were packing up to go, one by one the teens were given a choice to camp with their parent or go solo. One instructor went round the circle checking with each teen and all said they wished to overnight with their parent except my daughter who chose to camp solo.

I have to admit I felt a twinge of parental sadness at first and then a surge of pride remembering that this was not just about me as I tried to balance the knowledge that she was growing up and developing a separate identity, along side with my fears about our changing relationship. Intellectually I understood why differentiation was important, but it was still a difficult time and I’m sure my fear made it harder for Miranda.

The instructors dropped us off individually walking us into places to camp where we would not encounter anyone else. We were told not to go beyond certain areas using natural markers such as ” that rock or this tree “ and told that if we were to come upon another camper to turn around and walk quietly away so as not to disturb someone else’s experience. We would be left alone until the instructor came by on foot to get us the next morning and we were encouraged to write while we were in the woods and set up a place to sleep. We were given an opportunity to take easy to eat food with us or fast with only water until the next day so fires and food prep would not be an issue.

I set up a tarp to sleep under and rolled out my sleeping bag. I was thinking about the week we’d had together and writing before it grew too dark to see when I heard some rustling on the perimeter of the space I’d been “ assigned. “ After a bit more movement, I saw Miranda walking out of the woods towards me. They had dropped us off in a way designed to keep us from knowing where the others were and while I knew they were all out there somewhere, I was not sure where anyone actually was.

Miranda walked over quite casually and said something I remember as, “ Hey, I’m going to sleep soon and I wanted to say goodnight. “

I was surprised that she’d found me without not knowing where I’d been left and it touched me she’d stopped by to connect for a minute and say goodnight. Doing so let me know she was fine and that she knew how to find me if she needed me. It might have been a small thing, but afterwards I felt more peaceful about our changing relationship than I had before the trip.

People often say that life in general and parenting in particular should come with directions or a road map of some kind, but the truth is most of us just muddle through doing the best we can. If we’re lucky, we can recognize if we take a wrong run or get lost, and most of us can right ourselves fairly quickly after a well placed word from someone who knows the way forward.

As Miranda turns 30 today I want to say how grateful and impressed I am to have been both a guide, and the guided in the life we’ve shared, and how proud I am of all she’s accomplished. Here’s to new adventures and future road trips!

Happy Birthday, Miranda!

Noting Time – 29 Years of 8:03

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Facebook tells me that today is my daughter’s birthday as if I could ever forget.

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It’s been 29 years since I heard a chorus of voices saying  “8:03″ almost in unison. Throughly exhausted by a 52 hour labor, I remember thinking, ” So what if it’s 8:03 ” before realizing a half second later that the medical team were noting her time of birth.

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Her time of birth may have marked the beginning of her life, but in many ways it was the beginning of mine as well, a life where others might come and go, but this little being would be a constant in my thoughts and heart no matter what. It is interesting even now how three little numbers still carry such meaning years after I heard them in the moments when my daughter was taking her first breath.

8:03

Not more than a few days ever pass without me glancing at a clock and noticing the time as 8:03. Call it coincidence if you like, but particularly now that my life is no longer ruled by the clock and my schedule my own, I always feel a bit more connected to my daughter and the memory of her birth day when those numbers pop up.

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Children grab on to your heart as soon as they make their way into the world and no one tells you how difficult it will be to let go after years of hanging on so tightly. These days, I’m better at negotiating this shift in our relationship and while I sometimes stumble, I regain my footing faster now and can avoid the parts of the path that are no longer mine to walk.

8:03

After 29 years, it occurred to me this morning that I’ve been thinking of 8:03 as something that connected us when it really marked the beginning of a life that while linked to mine through love and DNA, was really one separate from me. Funny how 29 years and an openness to change can shift one’s perspective.

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I’m clock watching now as I always do on her birthday waiting for the time to reach 8:03 in Georgia. While I won’t be there to see her blow out any candles or watch her make a wish, with my birthday four days before hers, I’ve got her covered because my birthday wishes have been about her health and happiness for years, 29 to be exact and this year was no different.

So here’s to Miranda, and to a year of having her dreams come true.

Happy Birthday, Miranda (at 8:03 )

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.

WWII Letters Home

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.

It’s Alive … Honoring The Gardener

Horse on Village Green In EnglandI have never been much of a gardener although I’ve purchased more than few books over the years on designing, building, and maintaining  an outdoor space, and I can certainly perform the routine maintenance tasks that go with a typical American yards such as grass cutting, hedge trimming, and weed pulling, but living in Cornwall I’ve had a chance to slow down and appreciate the green-thumbed efforts of others like never before.

Not long after I married my husband and moved to his home in England, I met a very interesting man who at the time was in his late 80s. On my way back from a run one day, I noticed him walking slowly at the edge of the village green carrying several small bags looking as if he’d just come from the local shop. I realized as I got closer that he lived in one of the houses on a road nearby and I stopped to chat and to offer a hand with his shopping.

Walking back to his house, he told me how he use to bike around Cornwall in his 40s and his travels took him through our village. It was our good fortune that he moved here after retiring from a career in forestry service because when Dutch elm disease took most of the trees on the green in the 70s, he was part of a group of folks who replanted the trees we now enjoy.

Not long ago his house was sold after his health deteriorated and he could no longer live on his own. His house went to someone who lived locally on the edge of the village who wanted to downsize and be closer to its center. Mr. Thomas had a lovely garden although there was so much there that it was easy to over look much of what made it special. I always loved his huge hydrangea bush and an unusual pine tree that I’ll say more about in another post.

I was never much a fan of the hydrangea until I saw some of the gorgeous full ones that grow here. I think my experience in the US made me think of them as being chronically spindly with big heads.

When I saw that the lady who bought Mr. T’s house was making major changes to the front and back garden, I meant to ask about snagging the hydrangea bush if she didn’t want it. I assumed she might not after seeing it cut back to the ground, but I almost waited to late to ask.

John and I were on our way out one day and saw a truck at the house filled with roots and bits that had been in the front garden. John stopped the car when I shouted and I went around the back of the house where I could see some men using a mini digger to pull up more of the tougher roots.

After explaining my sentimental connection to our former neighbor and his hydrangea bush, I asked if I might go through the roots in the truck bed to see if I could find any parts of the hydrangea and they not only said yes, but they stopped to help me sort through it. After a bit of digging, we found a couple of limbless chunks of root and we took them home hoping we had managed to find some parts of the hydrangea.

John does the gardening and said he’d plant them the next day as he was on his way out, but I got worried and dug a couple of holes while he was away because I too impatient to wait.

I’ve been keeping watch over two root bits in particular of the four I planted a few months ago, and I was over the moon to see new shoots popping out of the two I thought were part of the hydrangea.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UKIt may not bloom this year, but I hope it won’t be too long before it looks like it did when it was nurtured by Mr Thomas.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UK

I wonder if any of you, like me, are developing a inclination towards gardening due to sentimentality.

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.