Posted on September 3, 2017
I read within a poet’s book a word that starred the page:
“Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage!”
Yes, that is true; and something more you’ll find, where’er you roam,
That marble floors and gilded walls can never make a home.
But every house where Love abides, and Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home: For there the heart can rest.–Henry van Dyke
Since moving home from The Dominican Republic in June, life has been a blur. Two days after landing, I bought a car, braved Nashville traffic (the city has been growing by 100 people per day since I left three years ago), and began reconnecting with family and friends from Knoxville to Kentucky. Trivia Night at ML Rose, Knoxville’s Market Square and hiking trails, movies, and malls… Nashville’s live music of Santana, Phillip Phillips, the Goo Goo Dolls and my guys at the Irish pub …an eclipse, a wedding, salsa… a nine- month job search finally ends.
Nine weeks after landing I’ve put 5,000 miles on my car. Some days the journey home still feels long. Expats warn that when we reenter the US after so long away we find everything changed. Nashville is now a maze of high rise apartments and new restaurants and shops. Everything, everyone seems different, including me, because life is fluid, and the only thing constant is change.
This weekend marks the official end of summer–my favorite season which is partly why I chose to live in two warm-weather countries for awhile. But I’m also looking forward to fall–my first in a long time–to process all that’s happened. Today… I’m simply thankful for what has been, for what is, and for what is to come.
An unexpected highlight of the summer was when an Australian friend visited me in Nashville, allowing me to share southern hospitality. When I left Africa over a year ago, Kate said we’d meet up somewhere in the world soon. An empty nester like me, she arrived in Morocco a month after I did in the fall of 2014 to manage a riad. She’s still in Marrakesh in the apartment complex where I lived when she isn’t traveling the world or visiting her kids. When she decided to come “see the South” and me, I first said to wait until I am settled in a home again so I can make her feel welcome. But Kate, knowing what I had learned and already forgotten–that home is anywhere friendship abides and we are at peace…that we don’t put off for later blessings we are offered today–came anyway. I’m so thrilled she did.
At our first Airbnb our host had written the poem above on a blackboard by the door. Truly home is where friends, family, love abides. I’ve been blessed by family, friends, and strangers who have opened their couches, cots, and rooms to me all summer as I’ve been seeking what’s next. Likewise, what a blessing to share with my soul sister my roots. Seeing again where I am from through the eyes of someone who marvels at church steeples, Broadway, and town squares… at grits, gravy and cornfields… someone who danced for the first time in her life when two friends pulled her on the floor to merengue and now wants to take dance lessons… were moments like other summer pleasures and people who have given me wings again.
My next post, a downloadable Seven Days in Nashville: Homegirl Guide.
Posted on January 10, 2015
Thank you to Kate, an Australian expat mom I met through InterNations who moved to Marrakech last fall, too. Her son visited and returned home before my children came, and she set up lunch for last Sunday before I left for London knowing I’d need a friend after the holidays who understands the joy of sharing this life with family, then sadly saying goodbye again. To all moms who spent quality time during the holidays with your children–adult ones who live elsewhere and little ones you could stay in pjs with you till noon, is there any gift greater?
January 1 as my daughter and son disappeared through Heathrow’s security gate I felt the ground I’d gained shake.
Before meeting them in London, I’d left school for winter break thrilled that I was almost there…Christmas Eve…when I’d hug Taylor and Cole at the airport. I also felt peace because I was there–my first big marker since moving– as students hugged bye and called across campus, “Have a nice holiday, Miss!” A coworker reminded me that our dance class would resume in January, and I looked forward to working with Model UN students in the spring, then traveling with them to St. Petersburg, Russia. I was excited for a colleague who had been hired by a school in Brazil next fall and wondered if I’d apply for South America or Europe one day. I’d met her and two other new friends for lunch at our favorite restaurant, and we all celebrated soon seeing family and friends in Italy, Austria, the US, and England.
Despite fall’s challenges, fears, tears, I’d made new relationships on amazing adventures, discovering beauty without and strength within. I realized I’d survived my first continent teaching/living on a new continent, and In 2015, I thought, I will thrive.
Spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve with Taylor and Cole in London and bringing them to Marrakesh were some of the happiest days of my life. Taylor said it was her favorite vacation we three have spent together. Cole loved his first trip abroad, and we all said we could not have had more fun.
On the plane to meet them I’d read a travel article called “How to Escape Your Family for the Holidays.” I was so glad I’d be traveling with mine. Seeing the two loves of my life–who are my home–and spending nine days with them was an even bigger blessing than I anticipated while planning our reunion for months. Knowing how short this life is, I am forever grateful for that time.
Even if the low that followed when they left was hard, the high of being together again was worth it. Even more… the bond that remains.
January 1st–too soon– we again hugged at the airport. I didn’t think I’d be able to let go. I ached and tears flowed as I boarded a bus for Gatwick, waited there till my flight, then prayed I’d sleep on the plane so I wouldn’t feel the physical pain.
When I’d moved to Morocco I used all the packing and planning to postpone the full impact of saying goodbye to them–the hardest part of this decision. My daughter, unable to handle an airport farewell, hugged and kissed me on a hot, August night in my sister’s driveway the night before my flight. As she drove away crying, I walked behind the house and fell on my knees from the hurt. My son, who tried to keep things light, hugged me and smiled the next morning at the airport. I cried but wouldn’t allow myself to feel the full impact. I was determined to grieve later– away. And I did. The sadness at times in early fall was so terrible only God, who I knew had brought me here and Skype calls from my mom; sister, Penny; and best friend, Kim, kept me from depression. I thought I’d paid the pain price for this life change then in full. I was wrong.
But this time my recovery came faster. Penny reminded me that when we all live under the same roof we don’t always make or value the quality time. She said this move has been life changing. Our time together now is more intentional, and we recognize it as precious. She reminded me the holidays always have to end, when we all return to school and work. My mom, like Penny and her family who I missed seeing at Christmas for the first time in our lives but who has always wanted to see me happy, reminded me that I have a “traveling soul” and this opportunity is who I am and what I’ve wanted for a long time. January 2nd I began work on a project that kept me busy till I returned to school January 6. Seeing students and colleagues was nice.
Again I remember that even if I still lived in Nashville, Taylor and Cole would not be living with me on Jenry Court. As families do after Christmas together, we go back to the “real world” to begin a new year. But what we experienced was REAL. The sweetest thing in life is relationship. Being together body and soul 24/7–no phones and computers (other than to check in briefly with family and friends in the US) — for over a week made us even closer.
Posted on February 5, 2013
Posted on March 19, 2012
After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It’s better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life…There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.
–Sophia Loren, named “The World’s Most Naturally Beautiful Person”one month before she turned 72
On the eve of another one, here’s to friends who taught me over the past few years to celebrate every birthday in a big way. Thanks to pals and family for making rich memories in my 52nd year. You danced, laughed and cried with me through the good stuff and the growing pains. Thanks to you and my God for loving me–especially those times when I didn’t love myself.
My son became a senior, my daughter an adult. I’m not excited about an empty nest, but I’m working on it. That and a lot of things. But for now, what is is enough. I have plenty of candles to light the way. Happy Birthday to Me.
Posted on January 3, 2009
Obviously the holidays are over and all that “goodwill to men” business has expired. I went to lunch at Cheesecake Factory with my sister and our girls. After waiting—blinkers on—then pulling into a parking place, my sister was given the double-barrel bird by a spike-haired young man who gunned, then braked for the same spot. He not only attacked like Jasper-on-a-paper-cut but bore a faint resemblance to the bloodsucker from the Twilight series. I know because we got a closer look when he stomped toward the hostess shaking his head.
We had hoped he and his girlfriend had cooled off and were shopping somewhere in the mall for hair products or skinny jeans. Though my sister’s lane led to a better parking place, she lamented that she hadn’t taken the higher road. She had returned his gesture in kind. She wished she had handled his hostility in a different way, mostly as a better example to the girls but also because she feared he’d key her car. Now she wondered if he’d make a scene. Though naturally camouflaged by the post-holiday hoard that had left leftovers to eat out, we played it safe and took cover. We skulked. Peering at Huffy Britches through the fronds of a potted palm tree, we were relieved to see him roll his eyes at the waitress, throw his hands in the air at the 40- minute wait and stomp out, his female friend running to catch up. Good thing. Had they stayed, the scene that erupted next to us would have blown our cover.
A twentysomething woman in a tight sweater and tighter jeans grabbed the elbow of the manager, then folded her arms back across her chest. She was petite but buff—the image of (and I promise I’m not that into Twilight but my daughter is) another butt-kicking vampire. Shaking her pixie and tapping her foot, she demanded to know why three parties of two had been seated before her. Apologizing in a wearily mechanical, forced cheerful/self-deprecating voice, the manager explained that since she had requested to be moved from the table where she and her boyfriend had previously been seated, it might take a moment to work them back in and find a booth more to their liking. An explanation she did not like. As a Cullen clone she didn’t show fangs but ground out through clenched teeth: “We expect a table now.” Grabbing the menus from the hostess who had just taken the pager from another couple she was seating, the manager parted the crowd and showed Miss Feral to the table. Though relieved, I was confused. She first seemed more vampire than werewolf, but as she berated the manager all the way to their seats, her bark was as formidable as her bite.
At any rate, once seated, we used our napkins to wipe away the spewed venom and had a really great lunch. We wanted to get our college girls together before they headed back to their respective schools. My niece would be eight hours away until spring break. She and my daughter are four months apart. They’ve grown up one street from each other, our backyards almost meeting. Three streets over is the school they started as kindergarteners and left as high school graduates. I still miss seeing them in my senior English class. Last August seemed last week when we took them to Savannah for a graduation trip and to check out Emily’s art school. One last fling before they moved away but hopefully not apart. Over four kinds of cheesecake we reconnected over old times—family stories that made us who we are. We caught up on new adventures—recent experiences that make us who we’re becoming. My younger niece, a ninth grader like my son, was there, listening and laughing but probably not realizing how soon she will be where they are—grappling with adult decisions about majors and careers while living in limbo between a dorm and the place they’ve always called home.
Some have lost their festive faces. I did when I returned home to clean gutters. As I pulled out black hunks of rotted leaves—mulch really– I thought, “This is rich.” I remembered my broken stove. I wondered if the external hard drive I had bought and just hooked up actually worked…and why the 1-800 number for support was “out of service.” Maybe I should rename my blog. Maybe all that stuff about the joys of a rich life sound too Pollyanna—too hopeful romantic? As a throwback to the days I’d sneer at the “Life is good” sticker on my friend’s jeep (I wanted to snap that stick-figure-man like a twig), I remembered that life is good. I’m still on Christmas break, and that’s good. I can go to movies, be a Guitar Hero, and eat cheesecake. Because I’m not at work, I can shop for groceries really early in the morning. When the only other customers in the store are elderly couples still together after a lifetime of hating life and loving it. Couples who smile at me and say “Good morning.”
Posted on January 1, 2009
“Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”–Howard Thurman
The most creative people I know seem to be defined by vision, passion, sensitivity, and need—specifically the urgency to manage and express the chaos without and within. Some sneer at the “starving artist.” The paradox is that no matter how much money one makes, a true artist must continue to starve–to thirst and hunger for truth and love– with abandon. Likewise, no matter how little one earns, life is rich– in its intensity, diversity, and complexity. I decided in 2009 to finally blog about the wealth of joys I’ve found through the arts, travel, my family, friends, and faith.
I’ve been writing for awhile. I first thought writing would kill three birds—maybe even a whole flock– with one stone. First, it would provide income–for travel, for Lancome eye cream, for groceries.
Second, it would provide therapy as I released the stuff ricocheting in my head, eliminating the need for Wellbutrin. I concur with my favorite Bad Boy Byron who said: “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” Writing would uncover my usually stifled rebel yells and free my muddled, melancholy musings.
Third, writing would help me see where I’m going and help me remember where I’ve been. With writing I could comfort others with the comfort I’ve been given.
When I was a little girl in Kentucky, the Mother of All Field Trips was going to Mammoth Cave. While I was told not to fear the Natural Wonder, I wasn’t all that excited about going deep into the black unknown, feeling my way down damp, winding paths. (This was before Pan’s Labyrinth or I might have seen it as quite the adventure.) The tour guide seemed so calm. She had a light to guide us but no map. She had obviously been in that cave before—many times–and was so familiar with it she could have led us through that vast cavern even if the batteries in her flashlight died.
The only good I can make of getting older is that I’ve lived long enough to have gone into some terrible darkness but emerged again into the light. I’ve survived the death of two unborn children and of two marriages—my parents’ and my own. I’ve survived the death of a father and then a grandmother who was my mentor and muse. I’m still surviving the life of a single mother and a woman dating over 40.
Though I have survived great losses, I rarely emerged from the black by way of a blowtorch or floodlight. God usually just gave me a candle—one that flickered—and He whispered He wouldn’t let go of my hand even if the flame went out. I still grope but know He’s there. Even if I can’t feel his fingers interlocked with mine. Even if I can’t feel his hand at all and seem to wander in the dark for days…or weeks….or years. I write to share my cave experiences—those I’ve emerged from blinking in the light as well as those I’m still mining through—looking for something of value as I wait and work and wait for release.
Some say we read to know we’re not alone. We write for the same reason—especially when we’re gut honest and still raw. I write of the familiar and lonely—like playing Santa solo for twelve years as I placed gifts under the tree. Or of the frustrating and embarrassing–like when I didn’t know how to tie my son’s first real necktie. While I cried, cursing my ineptness as a parent, he emerged from his bedroom with a perfectly tied knot. Thank God for youtube.
But mostly I write of the joy I’m finding on the path not taken—that place I landed when derailed from the life I imagined, the L.L. Bean or Southern Living picture-perfect family I so desperately wanted. Truly God has made “all things work together for good,” and He is still conforming me to the likeness of His son despite the fact that in the words of one of my favorite hymns, I am weak and “prone to wander.” He never gives up on me.
And so I write… of playing volleyball with Italian friends in a pool at midnight, of walking through a fishing village in Ireland, and of leaving Montmartre with my daughter, all lit by the same gigantic moon. I write of riding The Hulk with my son at Universal Studios—teeth clinched, tears squeezed out the corners of our eyes as we held on for dear life…literally…under a hot July sun. I write of feeling alive and blessed—even when the virtual mob of Guitar Hero World Tour shuts me down because my kids, though unhappy, don’t kick me out of the band.
I write about the absurd—trying to find a social scene somewhere between the Senior Citizens Center and the haunts of hot pants herds. And then finding it.
2008 was full of surprises, so I write…
Of a new passion that left me addicted…but never so free. As sleep-deprived as when I nursed infants…but never so fully awake. Though my old friends say I’m MIA, I no longer feel invisible. I’m immersed in a foreign culture…but I’m so completely at home. Maybe because I’m NOT one of the twenty million American women sitting on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars. Instead I’m dancing under them. With friends from Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, India, Peru, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, and Syria. In Nashville.
Of the closest of friendships between a conservative suburb/girly girl/ teacher/soccer mom and a liberal urban/athletic/ folk singer/dog rescuer. (Sure to come in 2009 is the continuing salsa saga of two Renaissance women with gypsy souls whose quest to become Dancing Queens often turns Monty Python.)
Of a baby girl whose finishing her last year of high school and moving to college made her mom very sad.
Of her brother whose getting his permit and doing well his first year of high school made his mom very happy.
And, no surprise, she’s proud of them both.
I look ahead in 2009 and look forward to fun with my mom on her first trip to Europe. Wish my sister were going. She’s been listening to me ramble since we were kids. Oh, and Christmas Eve rocked!