Traveling Solo & Dreams Renewed

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What fills the eyes fills the heart – Irish Proverb

Standing on the deck of the QM2 in the wee hours just before dawn, I struggled to hold my body and camera steady in the wind as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty close to completing our transatlantic crossing from Southampton.

I’d slept little the night before and dressed quickly at 3:30 so I might find a place on the deck to document the end of what began as a solo journey with a plan to spend time working on a partially written and carefully outlined book.

Having been only three chapters in for too long, I’d lost my way and hoped the time alone would make it easier to move forward. I was focused and writing not long after the crossing began, but soon got stuck. I’ve been trying to write the story as I originally conceived it or some variation of it for longer than I’d like to admit and little of what I wrote when I first began makes sense to me now.

It’s funny how long we can keep trying to rework an idea that is difficult to connect to because we’ve invested too much time or dreamed of seeing it completed while a project that inspires passion goes wanting. Slogging through something that’s a struggle doesn’t necessarily make for a better writer or it a better book and in my case it seems to have put a strangle hold on my creativity.

That said, I am shelving the fiction book for now and putting my energy into a non-fiction idea that I think has the potential to fill a need and more importantly, is one I am excited to write.

It’s easy to get stuck in a black or white, all or nothing way of thinking, closing doors to new possibilities in work and in the dreams we once had for our lives. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re stuck until you do something you’ve never done before.

My time on the QM2 was a first for me and for a few others at the table where we met each night for a meal. We were a varied group aside from gender as I was the only woman at a table of eight and with an age range from 31 to 92 we had a great deal of variety in both work history and life experience. The conversations we had as we shared parts of our personal stories each night and fun we shared as we crossed the Atlantic inspired me to shift my perspective and make a new plan.

Sailing towards Brooklyn I felt as if I’d been away from land much longer than a week and had a feeling that is difficult to describe as I looked toward the Statue of Liberty and thought about the people had sailed past her on their way to a new life. We had someone at our table who’d made the trip as a boy many years before and I was moved to tears thinking of how he, and all the others who made the journey must have felt.

I booked a cabin on the QM2 on impulse making a reservation as soon as I heard the dates available and with less research than I’d spend on something much more mundane. It was a departure for me as I tend to explore all options when traveling and a leap of faith worth making.

My time aboard the QM2 was an unforgettable trip for me and I loved every minute of it! I made new friends who encouraged me to sing bad karaoke and dance like I haven’t in years and who have now migrated from dinner table # 66 to my Friends section on Facebook.

My advice for those reading this and wondering if such an experience might be for them but who may also be afraid … open your eyes to possibility, you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Company With Poldark In America

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It’s the wee hours of cool morning in October as I write this and if the weather follows the direction of the last few days, I shall be peeling off the added layers rather quickly. Such variations in Georgia temperature are no surprise to me and I am looking forward to mild days well into November as is usually the case. I’ve been working and sleeping at my daughter’s house for the last few days. There are always projects to be done and I enjoy doing what I like to call my “gifts of service.”

Evenings are generally quiet when I sleep over at my daughter’s house. By choice she doesn’t have cable TV or internet service so I tend to read or watch something from her DVD library at the end the day. I’m usually knackered from a hard day of clawing back her backyard from the woods that try to reclaim it or picking up the castoffs from the “ Circle of Nine “ as I like to call the tall pine trees that guard the East end at front of her property. Never in my life would I imagine that so many pine cones could fall from a group of trees along with loads of pine straw and broken bit of tree limbs and sticks. This time of the year it’s a challenge to get the grass clear of debris long enough to cut the grass.

Lest you think this post all about gardening and projects, I wanted to talk about how I’ve been keeping company with Poldark in the evenings lately. I sent my daughter the first season for her birthday and had no idea I would be watching it while I was here. John and I are keen Poldark fans having watched the original series from the 70s before Aidan Turner made the character Ross Poldark, his forever, for a new generation of viewers. Based on the Poldark novels by Winston Graham, it follows the lives of the Poldark family and the miners who live in Cornwall during the 18th century.

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While there is much more to Poldark than just the male lead, according to the news media a great many women seem to be quite taken with Aidan Turner’s good looks and moody portrayal of Ross Poldark. While I can appreciate a smoldering look and nice set of abs myself, it is the coast of Cornwall and the wide open sky over Bodmin Moor in the first season of Poldark that has me longing for my Cornish home. Even I am surprised to find myself getting a bit teary watching some of the outdoors scenes set in places that look so familiar, and when I mentioned it to my daughter last night she said, “ You’ve only been away for six days! “

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I didn’t tell her first feeling of homesickness began when I was watching the series after she’d gone to bed on day two of having my feet back on Georgia soil.

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Two days!

While I may not be “ Proper Cornish “ as a native might say, I can see that I’ve put down roots that have grown deeper than I had realized.

Earlier this year, John and I put our home on the market after a trip to Tenby in Wales. John grew up there and has always loved it and wanted to move back. While I enjoy our visits to Tenby, I found it a bit busy for me with its normal population of 5,000 or so. The number rises during tourist season and one would think 5,000 a laughable amount for someone who once lived in the city of Atlanta with its millions of people rushing about. That said, it was on a visit in early March that I told John I thought we should consider a move after having seen a house for sale on a quiet street within walking distance to the harbor.

Tenby harbor is often photographed and is a lovely place to live, but in the end it is not Cornwall and after having our house on the market for three months with a lot of interest including a full price offer from a couple who after a second viewing thankfully decided the narrow lanes from the main highway to our village would be too intimidating, we mutually decided not to sell.

The house I’d admired in Tenby sold within two weeks of viewing it and after that we realized there was a shortage of available homes there that would meet our needs, we then shifted to villages near the sea and on the coast path in Cornwall. Again, the properties available were priced so high and required so much work along with a fair amount of isolation for daily travel that we decided to stay where we are.

Sometimes one only needs to move forward with an idea of “ what if we moved to … “ to realize that the best place is the one you already call home.

John and I both have been rolling stones when it comes to houses, with similar histories of never have lived one in place for long. Before moving to Cornwall, I had never lived in the same house for more than four years. Funny to think that at 47, four years was my max time in one house. John has been in our house for almost twelve years and is quickly reaching a new record himself.

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Deciding to stay where we are was an important decision for us both and represents in a way a next level of combined commitment. While our commitment to each other has only grown stronger since meeting in 2008, our love of different locations such mine for the Isle of Skye and John’s for Tenby has always held a whisper of possibility. Committing to a future solidly grounded in Cornwall and in the village where we live has sense of two trees with separate roots now growing together in the same direction.

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If you’ve not seen Poldark, I would encourage you to lay on your hands on the first season before seeing the second which is available in US as well as in the UK. My photos of Cornwall though they be a good representation cannot show you the wind off the sea or give you a proper sense of the weather changes that happen on Bodmin Moor that make it both welcoming and slightly hostile at the same time.

There is a rugged beauty to the moor and the sea and coast Cornwall that needs to be experienced to fully appreciate. If you cannot see it in person, the Poldark series can give you a better feel for the area we are so fortunate to call home.

Lastly, a note of thanks for all who have welcomed me back to blogging and your kind thoughts about the words and images found here. I’m a bit rusty, but I am sure I will find a pace that works even if it’s not the two postings a week I’d hoped for just yet.

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.

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.

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.

Catching Your Death

Angel Gravestone, St Willow  Cornwall, Photo Credit, Elizabeth HarperDuring my teen years I was always being told to put on a coat because like most young people, I almost never wore one when I was going out. No amount of wheedling or the many times I heard, ” You’ll catch your death,”  had any impact and my coatless habit continued into adulthood until six years ago when I moved to England.

Living in a place where the weather can change in minutes and we walk more most days than we drive, I quickly learned that a good coat particularly one that is waterproof is as necessary as a decent pair of wellies when you live in a place where you may get your feet wet even on a dry day.

I know that one doesn’t catch cold from getting caught in the rain, but after our day out with friends I woke up with a sore throat that turned into a nasty head and chest cold. I’d intended to post some photos from our Monday walk on Tuesday, but today is the first day I’ve felt up to it.

The funny thing about getting sick after getting a good drenching is that I was actually wearing a coat.

Even with the rain we had a great time out on our first coast path walk with Cathy and John who live within walking distance of our house. We’ve known them since we met in the village pub on quiz night about five years ago and we finally made a date to do a long walk. Monday was actually a second date as our first choice was rained out. The weather was supposed to be iffy, but having changed the date once we decided to risk it.

After a hearty lunch in Polruan, we felt sufficiently full of carbs to combat the grey sky and the rain that was beginning to sprinkle so we headed briskly out of the village.

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Here’s one of ‘my John’ with Cathy. Notice how John has only the beginnings of a beard … he shaved it off for the bare-faced selfie drive a few weeks ago to raise money for Breast Cancer research.

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Once we walked into Polruan for lunch there was nothing we could do but walk back in the rain. We made the best of it laughing and  joking that Cathy and John would never come back out with us if this was our idea of a good time.

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I asked Cathy’s permission before posting these two photos of her. I thought they were too cute not to so I’m glad she was a good sport. She was not expecting to be slip sliding up and down the coast so her boots were not the best on the muddy path and she had to do a balancing act to get up the hill near Lantic Bay. I like her technique.

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Here we are at the top of a steep and slippery, long hill. Once we reached this point we were only a few fields away from the place where left the car and the relief is showing on our wet faces. John and I don’t usually do long walks in the wind and rain especially along the coast so this was really a first for us. (John said to speak for myself regarding this being a first, but it was a first for us together on the coast path)

The next time we go back with Cathy and John we’ll aim for a sunny day, but only after I shake off this cold and consider a better coat.

How about you … have you done any weather be damned activities lately?

Going Bare To Raise Money For Breast Cancer Awareness & Research

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When I noticed some of my friends were raising money and awareness for breast cancer research on Facebook this morning by posting makeup free selfies, I had a little moan to my husband about how much I dislike things like this because I feel obligated to participate. Friends link to other friends suggesting they post a selfie too and off it goes spreading faster than a forest fire in a California drought.

Sure enough, it didn’t take long for a link to show up in my inbox with my name on it and you can see the result. I only deliberated about a half second  before snapping my makeup free face and posting it. Grumbling aside, my uncle died from breast cancer and I know some women who were left motherless and who lost sisters and aunts due to breast cancer, so if I can help spread the word and raise a little money with 15 minutes of my time and an easy online donation, I’m going to do it.

I still think it’s kind of silly, but it was fun too and it is for a good cause so if a ‘go bare’ request pops up on your Facebook page, I hope you’ll consider it even if you, like me, have to have a little moan about it first.

It must be working because according to this article over 800,000 donations have been received in the last 24 hours.

I know we are all thinking and talking about the big picture with these little selfies we’re posting, but don’t forget to check your own breasts regularly and talk about breast health with your friends and family.

That goes for the men in your life too.