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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.