What’s In The Bag?

Heathrow Airport Arrival 2013

Coming home is particularly sweet after an extended time away.

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

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

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

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

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

Except this time.

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

Needed might be questionable, but …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathing Lessons & Birthday Tales

Twenty six years ago there were no reality television shows and certainly none dealing with childbirth.

I know that may be difficult for some younger readers to imagine, but it is true.

No one howled their way through their birth experience with a room full of cameras committing it to permanent memory and the filmed versions of  labor and delivery I watched while pregnant looked nothing like my experience.

In the tidied up childbirth videos I saw prior to my labor, women breathed their way through the pain seemingly without fear or loss of control. Babies were delivered straight into the mother’s waiting arms before the umbilical cord was even cut and happy tears were always present as the mother cuddled her child for the first time.

Those were the stories I saw and I expected my own would mirror what I viewed in class.

I chose a physician who had used midwives ten years longer than any other medical group in town and did everything I could to prepare for the big day, but despite all of my reading and preparations, nothing really went as I’d planned.

Let’s gloss over a due date that came and went, waiting until ten days had passed. I was prepared for that as first babies are often late.  And let’s just skip past the 52 hour labor that everyone says you forget, but my daughter would groan that I never have.

Let’s talk instead about fear.

Let’s talk about what happens to the happy tears you expected when your first glimpse of your baby is from across the room surrounded by medical staff instead of looking down at her in your arms.

Or when they say things like ” She looks pretty good, but her Apgar score is not a high as we’d like.”

Of course fear is not an emotion that disappears when you learn the issues have resolved and your baby is fine … every parent knows that getting them here safely is just the first step.

Parenting is a bit like a complicated recipe where adjustments have to be made all the time to keep the cake from falling before it’s finished or the soup from being too salty.

Add too much of this or too little of that and it can be easy to make a total mess of it.

There have been loads of resources to help guide me along the way, but without knowing it the most useful may have been some of the breathing lessons I first learned in childbirth classes.

I have shared my daughter’s birth story many times over the last twenty-six years and I have always talked about how those deep breathing lessons let me down.

It’s funny that only now can I see how they important they have actually been.

Learning to pause and breathe in and out deeply has been a huge part of my journey and those happy tears that were so elusive on the first day … somewhere along the way I discovered that one must let go of fear to make room for joy.

After being out of the country for her last few birthdays, I am ” over the moon ” excited to be in Atlanta to share some of this special day with my daughter.

Happy Birthday, Miranda.

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There are links to Miranda stories on this date for each year that I have been blogging. This one from last year has links to the earlier years. The one titled, 8:03 can be found here and it is probably my favorite.

 These photos were taken by Miranda’s father.

I Don’t Want A Big Birthday Party!

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How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? 

~ Satchel Paige

Even though she was born in America during The Great Depression, my stepmom Cullene seems almost ageless. She’s been that way to me for years and so much so that once she moved into her sixties, I never could remember exactly how old she was.  After asking her more times than I should, I finally just started doing the math myself and even now I still have trouble reconciling her actual age with her active life.

As you may have guessed, today is her birthday.

She doesn’t want a fuss and has countered each suggestion for something more noteworthy with the dexterity of an athlete and firmness of someone who will not be swayed from what she wants. We finally settled on a small family celebration with just a few of us gathered round to eat, sing, and celebrate what is certainly a special day for us even if she would rather not make a big deal of it.

My sister Jennie and I have not been very closed-mouthed about which birthday this is (think big one) and Cullene would likely be horrified to know how many strangers now know about her birthday.  I think we are just so impressed with the way she seems virtually unchanged by the passing years that we cannot help but brag on her.

She has been my guide in so many ways since she married my dad in 1972 and watching her carry on as she does makes me rethink what life can be like as I move through my fifties and plan for the future.

I have been in the Atlanta area for about the last month and I arranged the dates of my visit in part so I could be here to celebrate her birthday. Most of us would think of this one as a more significant birthday, the kind where a big party is almost expected, but respecting Cullene’s wishes, we will keep the gathering small.

I have written about the profound impact of her influence on my life in several earlier posts and you can read some of them here and here or even more if you put her name in the search column on the right.

Cullene has agreed to let me take a few photos, but she has never been a fan of having her picture made and from the look on her face in the photo above I think her lack of enthusiasm for the camera began at an early age.

Happy Birthday, Cullene!

Move It Or Lose It – No More Google Reader

Woman Pulling Surfboard On A BicycleOn a recent trip to Wales, I snapped this photo of a woman who was clearly finding new ways to change her carbon footprint and get a good workout at the same time. We’d passed her earlier in our car when driving into Tenby and I had missed the shot so I was happy to have another chance to get a photo when we saw her later pulling her surfboard while cycling up the hill.

Woman Pulling Surfboard Behind BicycleI had to work quickly when I saw her right in front of me after walking out of a shop, plus I was using an unfamiliar camera that John had purchased a few days earlier after his fell into the toilet. My Canon G11 had died on me two days before and I was grateful he’d gone ahead with a purchase while we were traveling, not knowing I would need it later myself.

I miss my camera. After two and a half years, I knew what to expect when I wanted to take a photo and now I’m not sure which way to go. There’s a lot to choose from no matter how tight you make the parameters. Change is hard for me especially when it’s unexpected. I’m fine with sudden shifts if I initiate it, but I don’t like being forced to change direction.

For the last few months I have been getting notices from Google that Google reader, my preferred method of following the blogs I read will  be discontinued. It was there yesterday just like the few last weeks telling me that time was running out. Had I done the first thing about researching what to do with all my favorites so I might find them easily.

Nope!

Until yesterday I had done nothing other than grumble about it and the only reason I did something yesterday was because I thought it was the last day to make a change and save them. I don’t want you to think I always wait until the last minute, but I did think it was the end of the month and I was worried because I knew that as of July 1, they would no longer be available.

That said, let me tell you about the easy solution I discovered when I looked up ” changes to Google reader.”  I found several places to put the blogs I read with just a couple of clicks because evidently, I am not the only one who wasn’t sure what to do next and a lot of people have written posts about the process. The two choices I liked best were Feedly and Bloglovin.

For those of you who read GOTJ through Google reader, the end is nigh! Today is the last day to decide so you’d better get moving. Feedly was the easiest and took only a couple of seconds, but I’m glad I also used Bloglovin. I’m not sure which one I’ll prefer, but I like have options.

There are multiple ways to follow my blog, but the easiest might be to subscribe in the upper right corner and have my posts arrive in your inbox.

Going back to the woman and her surfboard, I don’t know why she chose the method she did, but I do admire her willingness to do things in a less conventional way. People like her remind me to look beyond the norm and be willing to try new options … after a bit of grumbling of course.

How do you follow your favorite blogs?

Is change easy or difficult for you?

Higgledy-Piggledy & My Shifting State Of Commotion

Smiling Ginger Pig & Me

Smiling Ginger Pig & Me

It’s been a bit busy around here the last 22 months or so and even longer if you include the 3.5 months I was in Atlanta in 2011 dealing with real estate issues. I’m happy to say that I made a few major changes recently, chief of which was quitting my part-time job and I am now ready to move on to other things.

Pet petting was on yesterday’s to-do list. Okay, maybe it wasn’t on the list, but when the opportunity presented I thought, I really want to pet that Ginger pig on the nose and I’m not going to let that electric fence stop me!

I’d never seen Ginger pigs before and it seems Tamworths, as they are actually known, have an interesting history. This delightfully written website will answer loads of questions about the breed and tell you much more than I could about these friendly pigs.

I can say that giving these little ones a couple of pats and ear scratches may well have put me off bacon.

Ginger Pig

Ginger Pig

IMG_9450 Who knew that some pigs had such long eyebrows and eyelashes. That’s going to put me off sausage too.

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Ginger Pig Nose

Remembering Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert

Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert (Photo by Elizabeth Harper)

It can be frustrating when you spend several hours searching for someone online and can’t find them. We’re all so used to easy access to information, but what if you spent your whole life searching and wondering.

Major Bradley Gene Cuthbert went missing on November 23 1968 during a flight over North Vietnam. It was his 28th birthday.

When agreements were reached and the POWs came home, Major Cuthbert was not with the survivors. According to information I found online, it seems he was declared dead based on two teeth, a dog-tag, and differing tales from witnesses some as old as 21 years after his plane was shot down.

Two teeth were repatriated and his military file was closed.

His daughter, Shannon Cuthbert Sassen believes he may still be alive somewhere.

I’d like to think we wouldn’t leave a solider behind and that all efforts to find him were exhausted, but 45 years is a long time and it seems unlikely that her father will be returned to her now.

After reading his story and her comment with it, I tried to find her online to give her a copy of the image above. I took the photo of the POW bracelet with her father’s name on it during a trip to Washington D.C. when John and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The long dark wall is a powerful memorial to loss and suffering and like many memorials, people sometimes leave mementos behind. Placed along the wall are personal touchstones left by people connected to someone whose name is etched on the reflective wall of war dead.

A lasting memory from my childhood, the POW bracelet caught my eye placed as it was in front of the wall next to an American flag.

I tried to find Major Cuthbert’s daughter through a variety of search routes before giving up. I hope this post finds its way to her so she will know that her father is not forgotten and that I too, will be thinking of him today.

I’ve written more than a few words about Memorial Day over the last few years and you may be interested in those stories as well.

Leaving Cornwall – Moving On

Cornwall 2013

” How do geese know when to fly to the sun? Who tells them the seasons? How do we, humans know when it is time to move on? As with the migrant birds, so surely with us, there is a voice within if we would only listen to it, that tells us certainly when to go forth into the unknown. ” ~ Elizabeth Kubler -Ross

A local friend of mine told me the other day that he’ll be moving at the end of the month. He is leaving Cornwall to be closer to the family he has left. Having been born in Cornwall, he is what you don’t often meet here, a true Cornishman. His words are of those of acceptance, but they are tinged with a sadness that I can almost feel.

We have talked at length about Lanhydrock, a place very familiar to him and his lively stories have made a place already special to me, even more memorable.

Last week John and I walked into Lanhydrock from a new direction. We parked at Respryn Bridge and wandered down a long tree-lined road that once welcomed carts and carriages and the first automobiles. I thought of my friend as we enjoyed the fresh beauty of our long-awaited spring weather. The sun came and went as we walked with dark clouds shadowing us at points along the way before retreating without even a drop of the rain I thought might come.

After hearing me talk about distance running not long after we met, my Cornish friend shared a bit about his running days … telling me of a time when his feet knew the way to all the best paths around Lanhydrock. It will be impossible not to think of him on days like the one we had even though his season of running has passed and his time in Cornwall is at an end.

I imagine I will see him there from time to time in my mind when the weather shifts as it did with us. I’ll think what a fine day and suddenly he will be there, on the path in his running shoes with no need for walking sticks … moving easily in a place between the past and the future.

Safe travels, my friend.

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Cornwall 2013

Bridge Building & Invitations

Newquay

I tend to be pretty competitive, but not with everyone.

When it comes to those close to my heart … I let a lot slide.

In those relationships, love is always more important than winning.

That’s not to say I don’t feel disappointment, I just try not to linger there too long.

I can be a relentless bridge builder when a misunderstanding threatens a relationship.

But it doesn’t always work and it’s no good pushing too hard.

Sometimes all I can do is build a bridge and offer an invitation to the other side.

After that, I let go.

How do you handle disappointment in relationships. 

One-Shot & Me

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Becky & Jenny at the One-Shot Cabin

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

She was 58.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wylly Folk St John

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

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Miranda & Elizabeth at the One-Shot Cabin 1993

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

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

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

Enter Spring – Write & Release

Blackbird Egg - Elizabeth Harper

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

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

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

Unfinished potential some might call it.

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

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

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

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

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

Perfectionism will be my undoing if I let it.

Write and release.