Monday, October 9, 2017

The Gifts of my Father

Today is my dad's birthday and the awareness of that fact confronted me immediately upon waking. It is easy to fall into negative thinking on such a day. It is easy, and quite expected, to ponder all the "what ifs". In past years, I focused on all the birthdays, weddings, graduations, births, and other life changes that we have navigated without him. But this year....on his day....I am choosing a different approach. Today, I will celebrate Daddy and his birthday by considering the things he gave me before he passed. Today I acknowledge the gifts of my father.

I made the decision to change my focus a few days ago. I also decided to continue a tradition that I started the first year after his death. My dad used to surprise my family with chocolate long john doughnuts from Daylight Donuts. In honor of that kind gesture, I made a trip to Grace Hill Cemetery this morning. I sat on the south side of my dad's headstone and enjoyed the sweet, chocolatey goodness of a long john, washing it down with a carton of milk. I laid my head back against the smooth, cold granite and closed my eyes. The brisk fall breeze chilled me, but I couldn't bring myself to leave. I was flooded with gratitude for this man. The man who taught me to stand up for myself as young woman. The man who gave me the confidence to be think for not be afraid to live my life "against the societal grain". He taught me to be strong, yet respectful. He taught me to work hard and to not make excuses.

I think my dad would be extremely proud of me for the way I am living my life. My father instilled in me a strong work ethic. He was the first person in his family to obtain a Masters Degree and proved many people wrong with a successful career in OSU Cooperative Extension. He hitchhiked from Nardin, Oklahoma to Stillwater to complete his bachelor's degree....definitely working against the odds. He taught me to give my best effort in my go beyond the work for what I want.

My dad gave me the nickname "baby bull" when I was about 4 years old. I remember him teasing me about being stubborn and I would lower my head and run into him as hard as I could. He would throw his head back and laugh. The gift of a wonderful memory of fun with my dad.

My dad gave me an appreciation for nature.....for the call of the dove....for the antics of the raccoons at the bird feeder....for the earthy smell after a rain...for the glory of a sunrise. I feel his presence in nature.

He gave me and my daughters the gift of love. There was never a doubt about his love. Being a parent is hard. It is possibly the hardest job possible. My father was certainly not perfect, but I have learned from my own journey of parenthood, that he did the best he could. And he always had my best interest at heart.

The gifts of my father are not gifts you can buy. The gifts of my father are priceless, seemingly unending, and definitely ever-lasting. There is so much more that I could write about my dad, but I will end with this......

Miss you you always....

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Summer of Henry

A young, healthy Henry.
Summer…..the word conjures up different images for each individual. For me, the word “summer” often brings back sweet memories of a black and white cat named Henry.

Henry was born into a rainbow litter of kittens in 1999.  No two looked alike. At the time, I was living east of Perry with my husband and two daughters. Most of Henry’s littermates remained distant, but Henry always loved human attention, especially my attention. His full name was Henry Bodine and as a young cat he kept me company while I read and studied in the backyard.

Henry was a gentle spirit with the most docile eyes. He had a pronounced overbite that emphasized the little fang on the left side of his mouth. I often called him my little Pirate cat, because an infection, early in his life, had caused his front leg to grow crooked. It made him walk with a limp and he reminded me of a peg-legged Pirate. Henry was an outside cat, since indoor pets were not tolerated by my husband.  But Henry would try to sneak inside the house.  He acted as if he belonged inside with the family…with me.

I left the house east of Perry in the winter of 2010. At the time, I had every intention of going back within a few days to get Henry and bring him to the little yellow house where I had found my refuge. He was going to be part of my comfort and help me deal with the grief of losing my old home and old relationship.  He would be a great friend for Jennie, the black Labrador retriever.  But I soon became fearful about bringing him.  Was it fair to move him to an environment that he did not know?  An environment where coyotes and feral tomcats were often present?  For many reasons I won’t mention here, Henry stayed at my former house. I knew he was being fed and cared for on a regular basis.

Several years passed before Henry and I were reunited in March of 2014.  I had gone to my former home in November of the previous year to get more of my personal belongings and Henry seemed fine.  Older and thinner, but rather healthy for his age.  It was good to see him. He seemed content even though he was distant and refused to let me pick him up. But when I went back in March to get the remainder of my things, Henry came running to me.  He made a little sound….a half meow….a pre-purr.  He came across the carport making that sound, calling to me.  He was terribly thin and the end of his right ear was missing. I suspected it had been lost in a fight or an accident.  Henry begged for me to pick him up. When I did, I could feel his bones protruding prominently against my hands. He seemed hungry and when I put dry food out in his dish he struggled to eat.  I found a can of salmon, opened it, and placed it in his dish.  He licked up the juice quickly and ate some of the meat.  He tried to come inside the house several times as I loaded items into the car. Then, I caught him trying to get in the car.  He wanted to go with me.

After that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about Henry….about how he must feel abandoned.  So….two days later I went back to get him.  I got out of the car and called for him.  At first there was no response, but then I heard his familiar meow.  I looked toward the barn and there came Henry….hobbling along on his crooked leg.  I gathered him up, put him in the pet carrier, and started our journey to the little yellow house where he would live out his days.  

I brought Henry home and put him in the sun room.  The vet suggested keeping him away from my other cats, so he couldn't be in the main part of the house. He was curious about his new surroundings and seemed grateful that he didn’t have to find a warm place to sleep outside….no freezing temperatures, no worrying about predators, no searching for food to eat, no hungry tummy, no thirsty throat…..all his needs met. The first night he slept on a log of firewood in the sunroom. It took him a couple of days to realize that the futon or the chair were much more comfortable.

Henry’s health was not as good as it appeared when I brought him home. He had a bladder infection ….then his allergies caused him to pull the hair out on his back….then his crooked paw got infected….then his ear got infected.  He was on medicine for about a month and I soaked his paw in Epsom saltwater twice a day.  He got addicted to his pain medicine and had to go through withdrawals. He was a picky eater and I bought dozens of gourmet foods to try to tempt him. All the effort was worth it! Eventually, his health returned and his coat was once again shiny and smooth. The only remaining issue was his ear.

A few months later, his ear began to bleed more often. It was getting smaller and the edge would actually break off. My local veterinarian diagnosed the problem. Henry had cancer. What I had suspected was an injury from a fight or accident, was actually cancer. And the cancer was literally eating away his ear. Dr. Dormire told me that the cancer would continue to devour Henry’s ear, but that he wasn’t currently in any pain. She said he might have a few weeks or a few months left, depending on the rate that the cancer spread. Surgery wasn’t a viable option because of his age and his health history, so I took Henry home and decided that I would do everything I could to keep him happy and healthy for the remainder of his life.
He was so affectionate.  There was no evidence that he had been an outside cat that wouldn’t let me hold him. He let me pick him up without fear or concern no matter where we were.  When I would sit on the patio, he would lay down and reach his paw out to touch my hand and he loved to run his head up under my chin.

I slept in the sun room a couple of nights a week when I brought him home.  He would climb up on me before I could even get the covers situated.  He liked to lay on my shoulder, close to my face and often I would feel his paw touching my cheek. As the cancer took its toll, he lost control of his bladder and his ear bled more often. At that point, I couldn’t sleep with him. The last time I tried, he had a difficult time climbing on the futon, much less up on me.  He was unsteady and seemed unsure and didn’t relax.  Eventually he stopped sleeping on the futon and I placed an old quilt on the floor for him.  He used it for a few days, but he decided that the folded rug suited him better.  It was right by the back door of the sunroom and he seemed most comfortable in that spot.

We transitioned to the two of us spending many hours outside each day. We would sit on the porch every morning for about an hour. Henry would snuggled on my lap after I ate my breakfast or would lay in the morning sun while I read. In the evenings, he would follow me around the yard while I worked or he would climb up on my lap while I watched the sunset. But weekends were the best! I would lay a quilt down under a shade tree, add a couple of pillows, and we would nap. Often I would write or read and Henry would sleep on the quilt or in the grass nearby. Hot weather didn’t bother him and I came to tolerate it.  Often we would spend all day outside.
When the weather was cold or rainy, I would read or watch movies while Henry snuggled up on my lap in the sunroom.  We had great times together.  I started leaving Henry outside during the day, even when I wasn’t at home. He was obviously happier being outside and he never strayed out of the yard. When I drove in the driveway, Henry would come walking or running toward my car, his front leg stiff and contorted as he moved….my little Pirate cat. 

One morning, Henry was sitting on my lap on the front porch. He seemed restless, like he couldn’t get comfortable.  I started playing some Reiki and Meditation music on my phone.  It was amazing….his breathing slowed and became very consistent. He calmed down and laid across my lap where he fell asleep.  Henry stayed in a deep, relaxed sleep for about 30 minutes. It was a beautiful thing to witness. 

As the weeks passed, his health continued to decline.  The cancer had reduced his ear to about a quarter of its original size and his appetite was greatly diminished and we made regular trips to the veterinarian for cortisone shots. On one trip to the vet, I put my fingers through the wire of the carrier door.  He nuzzled my fingers with his head then brought his paw up and wrapped it around my fingers.  

I had taken Henry in for a cortisone shot on a hot August afternoon. He was obviously not doing well and was in pain.  Dr. Dormire was concerned because Henry had lost so much muscle mass she had a hard time giving him the shot. That evening Henry was restless and couldn’t find a way to be comfortable.  He would lay in the grass for a few minutes, then get up and change positions.  He didn’t want to be on me, which was not usual. I could tell he didn’t feel well.  As we sat outside on the back patio watching the sunset, the evening sky filled with dragonflies!  They dove and darted through the air. I believe they were there to tell both of us that it was time.  They were encouraging Henry to shed his earthly body and to be free.  I made the decision that evening to take him to the vet the next morning. 
 With the arrival of the next day, Henry seemed better. But, he seemed desperate for me.  He ate, but still not enough to sustain him.   He wanted to be held, but would run quickly for a drink of water every 5-10 minutes.  Then he would run back to get on my lap again.  It was as if he needed reassurance or comforting.  On the ride to the vet, he meowed a lot and kept bumping my hand with his head.  When we arrived at the vet clinic waiting room, he wanted out of the carrier.  I took him out and he crawled up on my shoulder and nuzzled me with his head.  I think he was consoling me.  He was making sure I knew he loved me, but I think he was ready to leave the pain behind.   
I left on a scheduled trip the day I took Henry to the vet for the last time. I was devastated and cried much of the drive to Austin. I dreaded going home the following Sunday. I dreaded driving up to the house for the first time. I dreaded dealing with all of the reminders of Henry. I made it home and began to cry as I drove up to the house. After unloading my luggage, I walked outside and sat on the back patio…..the exact place that Henry and I had spent many hours watching the sunsets. I looked up and demanded a sign….any type of sign that Henry was okay….that I would be okay. Within minutes of making my demand, a lone dragonfly flew in circles around my head then hovered in front of me, just slightly higher than my head. It stayed there for about 10 seconds, then flew away. It was my sign!
I am so grateful for the months I had with Henry.  He showed me unconditional love.  He taught me about compassion and dedication.  Henry taught me to value each and every day….to look for the little details in life….to slow down and pay attention. His last days were filled with intense emotions….regret, sorrow, grief, happiness, joy, fear, but mostly love.  These weren’t his emotions.  I have no way of knowing what he felt or knew about what was happening.  The emotions were mine. 
I had Henry cremated.  His ashes are in a small oak box that sits on the bookcase in my bedroom. A picture of him in his younger, healthier years leans lazily against the box. The inscription on the box says, “Henry…my sweet, sweet boy”.  










Saturday, May 20, 2017

My Deciduous Life

I am an ardent lover of words! And I have been enamored with the word "deciduous" for several years. Definitions of the word include; "falling off at maturity", "the dropping of a part that is no longer needed", or "falling away after its purpose is finished". The most common usage of the word refers to trees that shed or drop their leaves in autumn. However, I describe many things as being deciduous: habits, relationships, interests, wardrobes, and patterns of thinking.

Every few years I take inventory of my life and assess where I spend my resources of time, money, and energy. This year has become one of those years. My calendar was overbooked. My schedule was filled with too many obligations. And I had gotten caught up in trying to do everything....experience everything....attend everything. I was burning the candle at both ends and I was tired. It took a 10-day illness to make me slow down, contemplate my daily agendas, and give me the chance to reflect on what I truly want my life to look like....what I want it to feel like. I had the opportunity to ask myself how I wanted to structure my days? For the structure of my days determines the structure of my life.

Organized tubs of projects I will never finish. They are heading
to a donation center. (Or to my cousin Robyn! LOL)

I have a sign on my bedroom wall that states, "Take care of the minutes, and the hours and years will take care of themselves." During my illness, I saw that statement multiple times each day. I asked myself if I was truly taking care of my minutes? Do they move me closer to the person I want to become? Do they nurture me? Do they challenge me? Are they contributing to my best self? Am I navigating the minutes, and therefore navigating the years? The answer was not a resounding "No", but it certainly wasn't a strong "Yes". It became obvious that some serious "shedding" needed to occur. I needed to drop the aspects of my life that are no longer needed or that have finished their purpose.

One of three bookcases in my house. This is the tidy one!
And I won't show you the stacks of books that have escaped the
confines of a bookcase! ;-) 
As my health has returned, I have taken a serious look at what fills my days and I have arrived at some surprising conclusions. I am ready to shed items from which I never thought I would part. This includes unfinished projects, outgrown hobbies, time-consuming collectibles, cookware suitable for a family of four, clothes, routines, habits that don't serve me well, relationships that don't encourage my best self, and books.  Yes!!! You read that right!! This self-professed book hoarder is ready to downsize her personal library! (Whew....I feel slightly relieved as I type that.)

A few pieces of my McCoy pottery collection. I am ready to select my true favorites and part with the others.

I am wielding a sharp blade to anything and everything that doesn't fill me up or support me in the life I want. What will remain are the people, activities, and things that truly excite me.... grow me.... build me in a positive way. This round of deciduous culling has been underway for only a week, but some impactful changes have already occurred. I am falling back in love with my home. One tiny example is the renewed use of my sunroom. I love spending time in that beautiful space. But, I hadn't settled down in the upholstered chair with a book or curled up on the futon for a nap in months. It is such a peaceful spot and offers the perfect environment for creative pursuits, reading, or sorting through random thoughts (okay.... daydreaming!). How can I rationalize having such a nurturing location in my home and not spending time there? Bottom line....I can't.

The most exciting part of a deciduous life happens after the shedding is complete. Following a short period of dormancy, the tree sends forth tiny, budding leaves.... new life!!  I leave for a two week trip to England in 10 days. I think that will be the ideal period of dormancy. Upon my return, I can set about bringing forth new life....MY new life. A life that is more focused and streamlined. A life that I am designing to look and feel like I want. There is power in a deciduous life!

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's in a name?

 A few months ago, I took some photos of my property during one of my evening walks. I posted the photos to Facebook, which is a fairly common occurrence. This time, I also mentioned that I needed to name my acreage and home, and asked my Facebook friends for suggestions. Several wonderful ideas were posted in the comments, each one incredibly thoughtful and appropriate. However, one suggestion resonated deeply with me. But before I announce the "winning" name, I feel the need to tell you what this land means to me and what it has done for me.

I think everyone has a time, if not several times, in their life when they need a refuge. You might find refuge in a person, in a job, in an activity, or in a place. Each person's experience will be unique: the reason they need a refuge and how they came to need it, or the source of their refuge and how they found it.

In 2010, I found myself in need of a refuge.... and I found it in a little yellow house. In January of that year, I moved out of my home of many years to live on my own. I had lived in denial for a very long time and numerous factors had kept me in an unhealthy relationship. I had finally reached a breaking point. My health had declined, my weight had sky-rocketed, my relationships were fraudulent, and I was exhausted on all levels. While many people assisted me in my journey back to health and happiness, that little yellow house on the plains of Oklahoma definitely played a huge role.

The previous renter was a friend of mine, who knew that I would have limited furnishings. She left two king-size beds with bedding, a futon, a desk, and a console in the entry way. I brought two chairs and a small table with me. I had the basic necessities, but certainly nothing fancy or impressive. Yet among the hand-me-down furnishings and for the first time in years, I felt like I could finally breathe. Every time I turned the key in the lock and stepped into the entryway, I could feel my body relax....I felt as if every cell in my body if I had been holding my breath for years.

When I moved in, I left a much larger house. The previous house fit more with the idealized standards of today's society. It had a gourmet kitchen with a granite island, French doors leading out of the master bedroom to a shady deck, a lovely soaking tub by a garden window, and a craft/sewing/utility room worthy of Better Homes and Gardens. But when I moved into this little house, I also left a fraudulent life for a more authentic one. The previous house represented everything society tells us we are supposed to desire and strive for in our lives. But over the years, this house has proved to me that society has it all wrong. Simple really is better! And I love the simple aspects of living in this house. I love to sleep on the futon in the sunroom. Nights with a full moon are the best! I love the crackle of the fire in the fireplace and the melodic sound of rain falling on the roof. It is cozy... it is peaceful.... it provides me with all the comforts necessary.... it is home.

I don't invite people into my home easily. If you have ever had an individual invitation to be in my home, consider yourself on a rather short list of trusted people. Seriously... it's a very short list! I don't open my home easily, because you can learn a lot about me from the contents. The rooms are still full of hand-me-down furnishings because I would rather spend my money on experiences that new furniture! And... as I look around at the furniture that others have given me, I think to myself, "I am surrounded by people who love me! Look at everything they gave me when I needed it!" The contents of the shelves and walls tell the story of my life. From the sewing basket that belonged to my maternal grandmother, to the family photo above the fireplace, to the seashells and feathers and fossilized rocks, to the saddle in the corner of the living room, to the McCoy pottery collection, to the cookbooks, to the framed quotes, to the craft projects my daughters made years ago... they all tell the observer exactly who I am and what is of importance in my life.

I loved the property from the beginning. It is the perfect mix of rocky ravines, native grasses, wildflowers, trees, and water. The sounds of nature and wildlife soothed and comforted me during those first days, weeks, and months. I walked among the trees and sat by the pond. Deer grazed in my backyard and raccoons fattened themselves with sunflower seeds from the birdfeeder. I watched beaver cut small trees and swim across the pond, dragging the limbs to reinforce their den. The stars shone like I was on top of the world, and I found solace in having time to sit, gaze upward, and try to find the Dippers.

My property has the most stunning sunsets. It took me a while to recognize that fact, but now, it is something I not only enjoy, but look forward to experiencing as often as possible. I mow walking paths around the property that wind along the tree-lined ravine and amble down past the pond. They continue over the pond dam and make a leisurely loop through tall, native grasses. The walk is soulful, like a meditation. Each step connects me to the energy of the earth and relaxes me. It feeds my imagination and creativity,

I rented the house from 'Thelma, a feisty woman in her early nineties. I loved to hear her talk about building the house and the early years when she and her family lived here. The house was dearly loved. They wanted a place in the country where they could relax and enjoy a slower pace. Thelma said it was their "happy place". So she decorated the house to be a happy place with bright, bold colors, typical of the 1970's. Some updates have been made with new flooring and paint, but I haven't been able to replace the lime green blinds in the living room. They remind me of Thelma..... and they make me smile!

Thelma passed away in the fall of 2013, as I was working hard to end all ties to my previous life. Her family started discussions with me about buying the house and part of the land. Thelma had told her family that she wanted me to have the first opportunity to purchase it. The months went by and finally in the spring of 2014 I knew I could afford to buy the house and about 21 acreage of the property. Of course, I would have loved to own all of it, but it was more practical to buy less acres and be able to live without a mortgage.

On October 1, 2014, I became the proud owner of the little yellow house, 21 acreages and a barn! I was overwhelmed with emotion. A little scared, but more than anything, I was relieved. After years of dodging threats of being kicked out of my own house, I could rest in the fact that I would never have to face that again. I would never have to live afraid of having my basic needs of shelter and comforts pulled out from under me because I hadn't lived up to the specifications of another person.

Does this property require a lot of attention and work? Absolutely! And I am seriously behind this year, thanks to knee surgery last February that hasn't progressed like I had planned or hoped. But... the rewards of living here can't be measured.

So.... after all that.... it is time to tell you what I have named my home and property. As most of you know, I have been smitten with everything Scottish since I traveled there in 2015. Therefore, it only seems fitting that I have a Scottish Gaelic name for the place that brings me such peace and happiness. And the winner is...... 'S e ur beatha. There are several meanings and they are all appropriate: "it's your life", "you're welcome", "do as you please", and "no problem". Thanks goes to my long-time friend, Stephanie Looper, for the suggestion, and my newer Scottish friend, Mary Macdonald, for the confirmation of it's meaning. And Mary, I still need to learn the pronunciation!  Recently, I located a stone sculptor who specializes in traditional Scottish stone carving. I am planning a stone for my front garden, adorned with the new name, to welcome myself and my guests home.



Friday, October 7, 2016

One Month of Bliss......One Year of Discontent

My first view of England from
the plane.
One year ago, today, I boarded a plane for London with a massive backpack, camera equipment, a laptop, and more excitement than I could contain. I had no idea how that trip would change me or how I would struggle upon my return home.

This trip was the culmination of years of longing, planning and saving. As a teenager, I set my sights on traveling to the United Kingdom, and at the age of 55, I could scarcely believe that it was going to happen. The trip was a wonderful blend of pre-scheduled events and days left to fate..... planned stays with friends and solo adventures. The preparations had consumed my life for over a year, taking my resources of time, energy, and money. And it was worth every one of those investments.

A cliff view of the sea on my ten-mile hike
with the Highland Rangers on the Isle of

The trip did not disappoint. My senses were on overload from the marvelous sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a different culture. At times I couldn't believe that I was living my dream trip. It often felt surreal and always magical. And while I thoroughly loved England and Wales, I have never felt so at home as I did in the Highlands of Scotland. There is something wild and rugged about the terrain, the weather, and the people. I immediately fell in love with all of it! I felt right at home in the cool, damp air...consuming cup after cup of tea...walking mile upon mile over boggy ground covered with bracken and heather...watching the clouds dance across the sky as they do nowhere else I have been...and hearing the red deer thunder out their mating call. Listening to the melodic lilt of the Gaelic language and heavy Scottish accents, I was mesmerized..... enchanted.... completely smitten.

I have felt unsettled since I returned home. I am still not sure why or what that means, but it has been almost unbearable at times. Do I just want the respite from a daily job... you know.... the luxury of being on vacation and not having to report to anyone at any certain time? Or is it that I had a clean slate with everyone I met. They knew me only as Beth from the states. No background history or pre-conceived ideas about who or what I was. People took me at face value and I could be blatantly myself. Was it that I had guarded my expectations and had established a mindset to roll with the flow, regardless of what came my way?

A reminder for tourists on the streets of London!
Was part of my discontent caused by the fact that home is so familiar... perhaps too familiar? I had spent nearly a month on sensory overload. The majority of what I saw, ate, heard, smelled, and touched offered up a new experience. Now, back at home, the familiarity of my daily life often felt crushing...anti-climatic. I know....I know.... quit whining. Many people don't have the opportunity to travel like I did. They don't get to mark something big off their bucket list. But that doesn't change how I have felt over the last year. It doesn't change the fact that I still feel a strong tug on my heart to return to the UK. There is so much I haven't experienced.

Don't get me wrong. I love my family and friends dearly. I love my acreage and my home. I love my job. But something has been off kilter. I now know something that can't be unlearned...even if I can't name what it is. My experiences changed me and I can't go back to how and who I was prior to my travels. Maybe it is to be expected. Once you see another part of the world and experience another culture, you can't return to the status quo of your former life. The dilemma is to figure out how to mesh my new self into my old life..... or how to change my life to better mesh with my new self.

A stunning waterfall on the
Isle of Skye.

I planned this trip for years and it represented a lot for me. It was a gift to myself for winning a long battle to regain my health and happiness. It was a celebration of my independence and freedom. It was a proving ground to those who said I was incapable and undisciplined. It was a bold statement to any doubters, especially myself, that I can accomplish what I want.

I had some things planned and scheduled, but many days I would simply take off driving or walking and choose my travel path as I went. Those spontaneous days resulted in several tasty evening meals in my room with cheeses, fruits, and local beverages purchased at unexpected market stops. I found a fantastic bookstore in Inverness, which was housed in an old church building. It was not on the agenda for the day, yet it offered me several hours of soulful entertainment among the books, maps, and antique prints. I did a little Christmas shopping for my sister, Becky, and purchased some souvenirs for myself. Another magical moment!

The Coral Beach on the Isle of Skye.
My first serving of haggis!
My first haggis was eaten in a small cafĂ© in Dunvegan, on the Isle of Skye. My conversation with the waitress informed me that Dunvegan Castle, my planned destination, had closed three days prior, but there was a beautiful coral beach that was worth the hike. I took her advice. She was right! It was stunning and I enjoyed the stretch of my legs and being out in nature for the afternoon. Unexpected plans.... unscheduled journeys .....I can't help but love them. There is just something soulful about listening to your gut feelings and then acting on them.

Susan, Andy, and I braved some
chilly weather for a hike in
Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
I had to depend upon myself on this trip, but I also relied upon others. Obviously my hosts in London, Daley and Liam, and my hiking hosts, Andy and Susan, played a huge role in the success of my trip. In addition to their assistance, I had help from a variety of other people, which didn't surprise me.  I prayed daily for two things.  I prayed that God would send helpful people to me when I needed them, even if I didn't know I needed them. And I prayed every day that God would cover me and my transportation with a bubble of protection. He repeatedly did both of those things. That is the topic for another blog post!

Daley and Liam with me at the top of
St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
A deep, relentless longing continues to call. I feel as if I have no choice....I have to return.  Until recently, I wasn't sure when or under what circumstances that would happen. Then, during a Facebook Messenger conversation, I learned that my London hosts, Daley and Liam, had set a date for their wedding in the summer of 2017.  And.....I would be receiving an invitation!  I immediately starting planning a return trip to England for their wedding. I am planning to venture out for a few days, but I will stay within a much smaller area of the UK this time.... probably southern England and perhaps Wales. While there are no definite plans for my trip in 2017, the excitement is already building.

The Scottish Highlands will get my undivided attention on my next return trip!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Daddy's Pickup on the Backroads

The sun is warm on my arm and the wind whips my hair, lashing it wildly across my face. I don't mind. I am on a sentimental journey. I am driving my dads pickup. Technically, it belongs to my mother, but in my mind and my heart, it will always be my dads. I borrowed it to do a few tasks on my property, but I find that I am in no hurry to exchange it for my little HHR....despite its horrific gas mileage!

There is something solid about that old pickup. It is heavy, a 1997 Ford, and it seems to lumber when it moves. Daddy's collection of cassette tapes is still in the console storage and behind the seat. They generate their own trip down memory lane... The Statler Brothers, Bob Wills, Johnny Cash and Jerry Clower. (If you haven't listened to the southern comedy of Jerry Clower.... you really should! The antics of Marcel Ledbetter are hilarious, assuming you can understand the southern references!)

I love the feel of the steering wheel as my hands grasp the worn leather cover. It is smooth with tiny cracks in random places. My fingers catch on the peeling edges as they slide around the wheel, guiding the pickup around the corner. I can still see his large hands wrapped around the wheel, exactly where mine now rest.

I have very fond memories of my dad and this truck. Actually, I have memories of trips with my dad in all of his trucks. There were trips to livestock shows, swap meets, auctions, and 4-H events. And I have special memories of a trip to get a black Lab puppy as a surprise Christmas present for my youngest daughter. Growing up, we never stopped for lunch at a restaurant or drive-in. Instead, he would stop at a convenience or grocery story, and he would buy a package of chocolate cookies and a quart of milk for us to share. They don't make that type of cookies anymore. They were chocolate sandwich cookies with a chocolate frosting between the flaky cookie layers. Not healthy at all, but it sure made for some strong memories.

As a young adult, I remember riding with him to Nardin, Oklahoma, where he was raised. We were going to salvage some weathered wood off a barn that his grandfather had built. As we chose the best boards and carefully removed them from the structure, my dad started to cry. One of a handful of times I saw him cry. When we were finished, we drove to the tiny gas station in Nardin. We each selected a "cold pop" from the old metal cooler. You know.... the kind with the lid on top that slides over so you can access the cold beverages inside. Sodas may be consumed regularly in today's society, but at that time, they were a special treat.

I know I drive his pickup much faster than he did. And my music choices are not only different than his, I guarantee you, I play them much louder.... seriously..... much, much louder. But I feel close to him when I am behind the wheel, window down, left arm resting on the bottom of the window opening, singing loudly while the wind makes a complete mess of my hair. I slow down then speed up, driving just like he did. Enjoying the moment.

I drove the old highway home from Guthrie tonight. That red truck hugging the curves along the creek and under the dappled light which filtered through the trees. I drove well below the speed limit, because I didn't have any place I had to be. I sang along with those old-school country songs on cassette tapes and to honor my dad, I even made up some new lyrics. Then I laughed. Because he used to do that all the time. Next time, I might have to stop for a package of cookies and a quart of milk!

Monday, October 19, 2015

UK Trip Part 1: London and more

Well...I survived the packing and repacking and made it to the airport with a tolerable amount of luggage.  My backpack weighed in at 38 pounds and my carry on probably weighed about the same.  My daughter, Karolyn, drove me to the airport in Wichita, we said our goodbyes, and I headed for check-in.  Of course, I set off the medal detector!  No amount of clothing removal stood for the complementary public pat down!  I have to comment on the Wichita airport. It was clean with very friendly staff...and no long lines or crowds! I flew out of Wichita because it was cheaper, but I will definitely consider it again.

My first tears of the trip came when the plane lifted off out of Atlanta headed for London. I couldn't quit smiling and there was no way I could go to sleep! The second tears of my trip came when I woke up Thursday morning, looked out the window of the plane and saw the green and brown patchwork of farmland below. I was flying over England! Something I have dreamed of since I was a teenager was finally happening. I couldn't believe it...I was really doing it! I worked hard to make this trip a reality...and it is finally here.

After landing in London and making my way through customs, I was greeted by a driver holding a card with my name on it.  That was a first for me and I appreciate Liam Sweeting and Daley Grace for making those arrangements.  I would have been lost trying to navigate London on my own as soon as I got there.  The drive was about an hour and I got to see many different boroughs of London and I experienced my first roundabout as well.

I arrived at Liam and Daley's flat and I immediately knew why they like living there.  It is charming.  They live on a high street, which is basically what we call a main street or downtown.  Everything you could want is just across the street.  It was a wonderful experience to stay in their flat and I couldn't have asked for better hosts and tour guides! Daley mentioned she would like to run a Bed and Breakfast, and she is definitely suited to do just that. While in their home, I enjoyed a home-cooked breakfast every morning and dinner most nights. On my last morning there, she cooked a full English breakfast of bacon, sausages, beans, toast, tomatoes with mushrooms, and hot tea. It was wonderful! In case you are surprised by the beans....the English eat beans for breakfast like we eat potatoes.

I had the perfect blend of the tourist experience and the local experience in London.  I especially liked shopping in the neighborhood market. Some brands were familiar and are commonly available in the United States, but many were new to me. There were also many foods that I had not seen before. We spent the next three and a half days catching trains, running through boroughs, and seeing some amazing parts of London. It is impossible to say what my favorite thing was in London, but I really enjoyed seeing the Borough Market! I also loved the view from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.  It was worth the climb!  London is a wonderful mix of new and old architecture.  The two often sit right across the street from each other. I have heard some criticism for that, but I thought it was a wonderful reflection on how London is growing.

We did so many things in a short period of time and it was marvelous.  My senses were constantly on overload.

Things I learned while in London: you turn the electrical outlets off and on with switches, public toilets often cost and they are extremely narrow, you have to be determined and focused when getting on or off the London trains, the black and white striped areas in the streets are crosswalks and pedestrians are given the right of way, "high street" is basically the same as our downtown area, you can live in London and never see everything there is to see, I really like Digestive cookies (shame on you Daley for introducing those to me!), the English drink their tea with milk and often sugar (often brown sugar), I like English lemonade, and it is chaos when they announce the platform number for the not hesitate or mess around or you will not make in to the train in time....they mean business!

One of the obvious differences in Oklahoma and the United Kingdom....the streets and roads are relatively straight and square in Perry and Oklahoma. That is not the case in the U.K. The roads and streets meander and curve every way imaginable. Thankfully, I have a good sense of direction, but I have still gotten lost a few times.  And...there was the time I found myself going the wrong way on a one-way street.  That happened in Penrith, England, right after I picked up my rental car.  It had nothing to do with driving on a particular side of the road...I just didn't see the sign and went the wrong way.  The nice man, who I accidentally played chicken with, was very helpful and even came to the guest house where I was staying to give me a parking disc.  That was Penrith, you must have a parking disc to put on your dashboard. Most parking is limited to 2 hours.  You set the time on your cardboard disc and put in on the dash.  Then you have to move your car and reset the disc when the two hours is up.  That was annoying, but my host told me when they check the areas around the guest house so I just concentrated on those times.

I have been very blessed on my trip by helpful people.  Of course, my British friends have helped me.  But, I have been surprised by the large number of people who have offered advice or wisdom without being asked...they felt that they could help and they did.  In Penrith, a young lady helped me carry my bags and helped me locate the list of taxis after I told her I planned to walk to my guest house. (I am really glad I took the taxi!)  I have already mentioned the man who gave me the parking disc and made sure I was alright ( he thought I parked where I did because I was upset...actually, it was right in front of the guest house where I was staying). There was the young woman at the rental car company who let me get a feel for the car in their large parking lot before taking it out on the road.  And the two photographers who taught my workshops offered wonderful advice for routes to take when driving and places to eat.  And I can't forget Fiona, my host on the Isle of Skye, who shared wonderful information yesterday about the area surrounding Fossil Cottage and things to do on the island. 

I think one of the biggest revelations I have had on this trip is something I thought about before I left, but it has hit me full force in the last weeks. We really do not see what is available around us in our own town and state!  We get complacent and consider it mundane. At least I do. We need to look at our surroundings with fresh eyes, as if we are seeing them for the first time.  We need to see our surroundings as a tourist would see them. I have spend hours upon hours planning this trip, but I haven't given nearly as much thought to what is available in my own town or state. A goal for when I get home is to look at my surroundings with the eyes of a see the things I have been missing, renew my appreciation for the wonderful things I have in my life.  Yes, I want to return to the UK....that is a given.  But, I need to focus on learning more about and seeing more of the things I don't really see around me at home.