Grandpa Joe and the Little Brown Bike That Flew

Grandpa Joe was a country boy long before it was cool—many years before John Denver sang about it… Truth be told, being country was more a part of his bones than it was an identity.

Joe tapped maple trees, collecting their sap and furnishing our family with an endless supply of maple syrup and sugar; he also made knives, carving the handles out of old bones and antlers that he’d collected. I think he loved the peace and tranquillity that his hobbies afforded him.

My parents said that Grandpa Joe was shortening his life with his cigarettes and alcohol. More importantly, however, he would surely never get into heaven with his behaviour.

I always felt that my parents’ harsh judgment of Joe was probably more than matched by his disregard for their opinion—in fact anyone’s opinion— of him.

Joe could roll a cigarette with one hand; a feat that mesmerized me. And although I never saw him drink or even smelled alcohol on him, he had quite a reputation … I wonder, now, if his drinking was mostly confined to his youth and if those days were accurately portrayed or grossly exaggerated when those observations and memories were filtered through the eyes of prohibition children. Either way, my grandfather didn’t seem to give a lick about anyone’s opinion; as an approval-seeking child, I loved that. Although Joe never rubbed anyone’s nose in his own opinions, that I recall, or even outwardly disrespected them: He simply didn’t give one shit what people thought or said about anything.

He was a man of very few words. But he had eyes that twinkled whenever he looked at me and I always felt that I had a special place in his heart.

I suspect all of his grandchildren felt exactly the same way.

When conversations got too grim for him, Joe would mumble, “I’m going down the grove and check on the maple taps,” or, “I’m going out ta the porch for air.”

Joe had a crooked smile that looked like he was either constantly amused or housing a pinch of chaw behind his lower lip. Probably both.

He called me Old Crow; sometimes shortened to Crow. When I asked him why he called me that, he said it was because I had the blackest hair he’d ever seen. “And I have a fondness for crows,” he smiled and added. That was as close as my grandfather ever got to expressing his love for me, in words.

It was autumn in Potter County—probably 1956 or ‘57—and we were spending Thanksgiving with my grandparents. As I recall, it was out of the blue that Grandpa decided it was time I learned how to ride a two-wheeler, although it’s entirely possible that he thought the conversation in the house was just too grim for both of us.

“Absolutely not!” my mother insisted. “She’s too little and a driveway like yours is no place for a child to learn to ride a bike.” I’m pretty sure my mother thought the conversation was over, as her father headed off quietly to the barn.

When he returned, he was wheeling the most beautiful small brown bicycle I’d ever seen, by his side. Closer inspection proved that the bike had once been blue before rust devoured almost all of its paint … I didn’t care. I still thought it was gorgeous and I had that distinct feeling, in the pit of my stomach, that this was going to be a red-letter day! “I cleaned her all up and oiled her for you, down the barn,” he said quietly.

Looking back I can’t imagine what she looked like prior to being all cleaned up.

As I mounted the bike, Joe explained that he would hold onto the seat, thus not allowing me to fall, until I could balance on my own.

“But how do I do that?” I asked.

“You don’t do anything; just let it happen,” he replied. “It’s like a bird learning to fly; you’ll just do it after a bunch of tries.” I nodded knowingly, silently wondering what in the world he meant.

My mother wrung her hands in despair, saying things like, “Daddy, this is the worst idea you’ve ever had and I absolutely forbid it,” as Grandpa Joe walked with me, perched proudly on the little brown bike, through the yard and down to the long rough, dirt and gravel driveway.

For what seemed like hours, we went up and down the drive, from the house to the road, and then back again… . To this day I can remember the joy I felt as I silently relished that beautiful day spent with my grandfather.

Since our staunch Christian home—and 1950’s society in general— seemed to house an overabundance of rules, attention was generally given with words: Either explaining a rule, or reprimanding us for not following one. As an extremely shy middle child, I lived quite contentedly receiving little attention.

That day, however, I felt warm and whole, bathed in the golden autumn sunlight while receiving the full—yet silent—attention of my grandfather, as we wordlessly accompanied one another up and down the driveway: My grandfather, huffing and puffing, and me grinning and pretending like I was doing whatever was expected of me—having no idea what that actually was.

I’m not certain that this is an accurate recollection, but when I remember that autumn afternoon in Potter County, it feels like one of my first meditations: Although it seemed like hours, it also seemed timeless … So was it our 10th time or our 30th time travelling that bumpy dirt driveway? I have no idea and never will. But on that final run from the road back to the house, I turned—as I had almost every other minute since we began this project—to ensure that Grandpa Joe had a firm grip on my seat. And suddenly something magical happened: as I fell heavily to the ground, skidding across the dirt, stones and grass, scraping my left leg and arm raw, I simultaneously saw my grandfather—grinning from ear to ear—with his arms raised joyously towards the heavens, 20 or more feet behind me in the driveway.

I had done it. I had balanced on the bike without ever knowing how and without a word of explanation. There were no rules or  restrictions and no conscious learning … I had simply flown, on my own!

My precious grandfather many years after he taught me to ride a bike, but still with that twinkle in his eyes.

My precious grandfather many years after he taught me to ride a bike, but still with that twinkle in his eyes. And note the hand-rolled cigarette he’s holding.

It was quite possibly the beginning of my understanding that sometimes, just the desire to do something and the will to stick with it, are all we need to accomplish the impossible: like building a house from the ground up with almost no skills, or moving to unknown parts of the world with children and no support system, or reinventing oneself almost entirely in those golden years… .

My grandfather and I walked silently back to the house, me trickling blood down my arm and leg, and both of us smiling like victorious generals returning from war.

I sat on the side of the bathtub as my mother and grandmother cleaned me up.

Angry statements like, “That Joe is such a stubborn mule,” and, “Daddy is the most infuriating man I know,” were muttered by the women as they dramatically bandaged my scrapes and cuts. Oddly I don’t remember any pain or even discomfort. I do, however, remember Grandpa Joe sticking his head in the bathroom doorway and saying, “Crows need to fly, don’t they?” It was more of a statement than question. He looked at me with his eyes twinkling and I’m pretty sure it was not tobacco tucked beneath his lip that gave him his amused expression.

Flash Forward Many Years

It was a warm autumn day that a middle-aged woman sat down next to me on a park bench here in London. I was resting from my bicycling route, which I do several times a week.

My Beautiful Park

My Beautiful Park Where I Fly Several Times A Week.

“I want to learn to bicycle but my husband says I’m too old,” she said.

“Well you’re never too old,” I replied. “But I think everyone takes a spill of two when learning and those spills are more painful as we get older.”

“I watch you here in the park and you always have a smile. You look like you’re flying!” she said, “This makes me want to learn to fly, too.”

In that moment I remembered my Grandfather. In a childhood filled with duck and cover drills and religious rules and regulations, my grandfather gave me his love of tranquillity as well as the gift of not only his silent attention, but also the gift of flight.

My Blue Bike

To This Day My Blue Bike is One of My Most Prized Possessions.

With the cool breezes and sun in my face I have always been able to pedal myself above almost all earthly stresses and horrors; and I’ve known a few. Bicycling has always been so much more than transportation or relaxation; it’s been a magical key to my inner freedom; it’s my meditation.

I’ve come to think that heaven is a place in our minds and souls. But I’m sure of one thing: If there actually is such a place as heaven, in spite of his smoking and drinking and not giving one shit about what people thought of him, my Grandpa Joe—just a simple country boy—will be there with bells on, if for no other reason, than his love of tranquillity. Oh yeah … and that entire afternoon of his life that he spent silently teaching a little Crow to fly …

Land of the Free

Human beings are prone to rhetoric. We all are, no matter our culture, language, age, or sexual orientation (I just thought I’d throw that last one in there to make my blog hip and current)…

Rhetoric probably makes life feel easier. We can have a few things that we hammer into our psyches, simply by saying them repeatedly, and we don’t really need to think about them. They simply exist unquestionably; kind of like gravity.

One of my all-time favourite rhetorical clichés is, “We’re the best country in the world.” I love this one because virtually every country I’ve ever lived in, or spent appreciable time in, has a version of this one. They also have certain inner stories, based on vague cultural perceptions, which support their beliefs.


Americans think they live in the “Best country in the world” because they are powerful in terms of military. They also think they pretty much single-handedly won WWII and Europe is forever beholden to them. They believe that everyone in the world can’t wait to live in America because it’s … well as previously stated: It’s the best country in the world. Americans think the only reason they have enemies is because A. People are jealous of them or B. People are insane terrorists. Americans believe that all other countries either hold American democracy up as their ultimate goal, or they would do so, if their oppressive governments allowed them to. We cannot imagine that our own government possibly set any of these oppressive governments up in power … that would simply be unthinkable of any Christian nation. And first and foremost America believes it is a Christian nation. Land of the free … home of the brave …


The English believe they are the Best country in the world because they have, at various times, dominated some part of almost every continent. They have an ancient culture with a powerful history of assisting less developed nations in ways that will help them to be more English (although some would say: assist them in ways to serve England). And of course these nations should have eventually thank England for this assistance in becoming more English because … well, England is the Best country in the world. That nasty word Imperialism is so open to interpretation, isn’t it? The English also have high tea and fox hunts; wonderful words like cheerio (which has nothing to do with breakfast), bonnet and boot (both found on your car, not your body), and cute terms like balls-up and Bob’s your uncle. Google these terms for more information or just for entertainment. These amazing English people have also developed a way of living fairly long, healthy, and productive lives with almost no help from sunshine or vegetables.


The Scots believe that they are, by far, the Best country in the world because they fended off the Imperialist English army starting as far back as 596 AD in the Battle of Raith (fought near what is now Kirkcaldy) and successfully beat this superpower back until 1707. Not bad for a bunch of poorly armed, passionate warriors dressed in kilts. The Scots also have gorgeous accents, haggis and, as previously mentioned, men in kilts. I could go on and on about what makes Scotland the best country in the world but I’ll leave it at that; I will add, however, that, the kilts, alone, won my vote.


The Latvians believe that they are the Best country in the world because they have survived invasion after invasion but still speak in their mother tongue and miraculously, have kept their heritage— via ancient stories, fairy-tales, legends and songs—intact. Every year Latvians join together in a magnificent song festival and present their oral history to the world— with more than 10, 000 voices braided together—in song. In a country with a population of just over 2 million, this probably proves the Latvian love of country—and pride in history—more than anything else I can write.


Ah … And now to Estonia. Estonians actually don’t think they are the Best country in the world; they know they are. Estonians are free thinkers who don’t join groups of any kind. The Mormons as well as the Boy Scouts—and probably Tupperware— have all but given up on the Estonians. The story is, after early missionaries came and converted as many Estonians as they could, and then left, there were mass migrations to the rivers, where the converted Estonians unbaptized themselves. Estonians are courteous and polite (hence pretending to become Christians prior to returning to their pagan ways) and they are impeccably honest, with a work ethic to die for: Thank you, Estonia, for Skype, TransferWise and the Minox camera—although technically Walter Zapp, the inventor of the Minox spy camera, was born in Latvia, but who really cares, right? Then Walter went on and produced his invention in Germany. Big deal; hardly worth mentioning … Walter did, however, patent his subminiature camera in Estonia. So there you go. It’s yet another claim to fame for Estonia.

Here’s the oddest part of all of this, though: Each country thinks that behind closed doors, everyone else has only the highest regard for them and down deep inside everyone wants to be them.

My daughter Jessica dated a young Estonian man while we were living in Latvia. He came for a visit one weekend and met the family. After a lovely visit he shared this with Jessica as though it was hard for him to admit: “Estonians make fun of Latvians all the time; but I actually really like your stepfather.” To which Jessica laughed and casually replied, “Yeah Latvians make fun of Estonians, all the time, too.”

The young man looked at Jessie, in wide-eyed bewilderment and muttered, “Wow, really? Seriously?” He then sat silently dumbfounded for some time.

For several months after this event our family laughed when we discussed this naïve young man’s reaction to having his world-view shifted. He believed his We’re the best country in the world rhetoric so strongly that he couldn’t imagine anyone making fun of his peeps. He was equally sure that the superior Estonians were making fun of others because these non-Estonians actually were inferior. He was surprised to meet a highly educated, friendly, well travelled Latvian among the dim-witted, poorly groomed, unfriendly folks that he was certain inhabited the rest of the country.

It was with a smile and over many years that I came to understand: There is no Best country in the world. It simply doesn’t exist. It can’t objectively exist.

There are different countries and cultures with different histories— all of them rich, wonderful, sad and tragic. None of them deserve to be demeaned or the punch lines to anyone’s jokes. We all have our strong points and we all need to move forward together—especially now—with open hearts, into this new frontier …

When I arrived in Estonia in 1995, I was certain that I was going to love my adventures but that I would probably be called upon to give up some of my freedoms. I didn’t even know that I thought this until I was speaking to my late mother-in-law, Julie, who asked, “Why on earth would anyone want to leave the freest country in the world to move to a Soviet one?” And my liberal, broadminded, well-intentioned reply was, “It’s just the price one pays to travel and have new experiences.” (Insert shudder) It didn’t cross my mind to ask, “What exactly does freedom mean,” or, “What makes America the freest or best country in the world?” America simply was the freest and best country in the world. It was like gravity; it was beyond question.

After several months in Estonia I came to a shocking conclusion: Estonia was actually the freest country in the world. Hands down. Maybe it was even the best …

We were permitted to drink a beer on the streets or while sitting in the park, any time we wanted to do so. We could sunbathe without clothes—by the riverbank that ran through the middle of town, or sitting in our tall windows—shamelessly facing the sun, and the whole neighbourhood. No one batted an eye; no one even noticed. We could smoke cigarettes in restaurants and train stations. We had good national healthcare. Although we were in a university town, there were no curfews or bans on noise after certain hours. Fireworks were legal and—it turned out—smashing Champaign bottles all over the town on New Year’s Eve was perfectly acceptable.

Initially my new life—sans almost all restrictions, rules and regulations—was spectacular. I loved sipping a cold beer in the park on a warm afternoon. I enjoyed an occasional cigarette, when I wanted one, not when I was in a legal or designated area. I loved feeling the hot sun on my entire body, watching myself turn brown as a berry. Everywhere. This was living! This was freedom.

I was extremely uneasy, however, when I walked across the snow covered Town Square on New Years day, 1996, after having spent New Years Eve celebrating there with hundred’s of others, including more than a fair share of students from the university. The snow was splattered with blood in many places and more than one large spot was actually melted by what must have been a puddle of blood. What had seemed, the night before, like an organized smashing of bottles—which I’d assumed was some customary ritual managed and carefully carried out by some responsible folks (yeah, what was I thinking?)—had actually been a chaotic attempt, by a bunch of drunks, to make a lot of noise. And there had been injuries. Some serious injuries.

After careful thought and consideration I decided to avoid gatherings of students because … well … students were notoriously irresponsible.

I still, however, didn’t see this as a societal problem.

Then one beautiful autumn day, as I sat in the park reading a book, a man walked by me. He was drinking from a bottle—which was perfectly legal—and seemed to be weaving a bit. Suddenly he stopped directly next to me and vomited, splashing the park bench, my book, and me.

And that’s when I formulated the question: What exactly is freedom?

Is allowing everyone the right to drink in public places freedom, when some of us can’t relax in the park without fear of being vomited on? I was responsible. I never drank more than one beer and most definitely didn’t puke on people. But that was me; the man in the park lived by different beliefs and standards than I did. He needed restrictions and rules to keep him in line. I needed those rules to keep me safe from his bodily fluids.

Societies need rules, laws and regulations to guide—and protect the majority of us from—the lowest common denominator. That’s how societies have always worked.

When we say: We have the freest country in the world, that’s meaningless rhetoric. And it’s also literally impossible to do. We don’t want a completely free country: A society where anything goes; where people can vomit on you or smash bottles into your head … I’m pretty certain that this was actually never anyone’s goal.

Estonian laws began changing quickly. Within that year, all smoking was banned; even in the parks. Alcohol was not allowed in public places and various other laws restricted behaviour.

I think most of us were glad to watch the changes happen.

Rather than seeing new legislation and policies as restrictive and stealing our freedom, we saw Estonia as growing and expanding. The government was keeping us safe and allowing us to live in harmony. Although I don’t hold Estonia up as the Best country in the world—since no such country exists—they have my respect and admiration for a job very well done.

America is at a crossroads right now—as is the rest of the world—with some of our issues being exclusively ours, while others we share with our planet. We have some major questions to answer: How important is climate change, gun control, women’s rights to govern their own healthcare and bodies, a cohesive national healthcare system, equal pay for equal jobs, ending corporate control of our government and thereby us, ending racism and all discrimination? How do we see our future? Who are we as a nation?

Is being a Christian nation quite possibly just more of our meaningless rhetoric?

Sadly the most prominent Christian belief of many Americans isn’t “Do unto others.” Nor is it, “Helping the least of these, my brethren…” and most definitely it isn’t “Judge not lest ye be judged.” The predominate Christian belief of many seems to be this: The world is coming to an end. So arm up, batten down the hatches and let it all go to hell in a hand basket … oh yeah, and hope that you personally, cut the mustard and wake up on the right side of the pearly gates. Screw everyone who doesn’t buy your brand of religion because … hey … they’re all goners anyway and (and this one saddens me the most) to hell with this sinful planet—our beautiful home with all of its wonder, abundance, promise and bliss has been diminished to a waiting room for someplace that quite possibly exists only in ancient myths and the human mind … but, regardless, to hell with it all.

Question the rhetoric! We have time to turn this train around but not by following the old models. We must question everything and move forward in a new direction.

Let’s do it. Let’s move out of the box and make a pact to become the best plant in the galaxy! Let’s become the land of the responsible and the loving home to all life and humanity regardless of religion, colour or culture.

We can do it. In fact, it’s way more possible than becoming the freest country in the world… And look how long we’ve been trying to nail that one.

Signing off from my little corner of Planet Earth here in UK.

Return Of An Early Inhabitant of Jaunpils Castle (Circa 1301) Or Just A Glitch In The Matrix?

HPIM1644 2

In the autumn of 2004, more than just the leaves were changing in Latvia. We were in the midst of immense cultural, financial and political shifts: We had been members of the EU (European Union) for precisely one year; within which time, change had consumed every level of Latvian life. Politicians now had the EU overlooking their shenanigans and had become somewhat less overt with their corruption.  The economy was—by Eastern European standards—robust and showing remarkable improvements. After some bouncing around, we’d reduced inflation from 958.6% in 1992 to 2.5% by 2004. People were renovating old properties and tourists were flooding the capital city of Riga. Life was finally stable and, as an American, I felt hopeful.

There was, however, a shadow side to all of this good news: With the tremendous  social and economic changes came a collective identity crisis shared by many local people. My dictionary defines Identity Crisis: A period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.

I leave it up to you to imagine what happens when an entire society experiences abrupt unexpected change in their aims and roles. When you compound this with the fact that what Latvian society had been and what it was transitioning into were almost diametrically opposed (regimented socialism/communism to a relatively freewheeling capitalism) … Let’s just say it was disorienting for many people.

The watchful, parental eye of the Soviet Union was in force for 50 years: People were told where they would work and live and had no worries about future security; all necessities were guaranteed. Music and art were defined and dictated by the state; even personal fashions, including the length of men’s hair, were mandated. The sudden collapse of such an austere political system left many people wondering what was normal within this brave new world into which they’d been launched. This lack of a clear identity created some rather inexplicable behavior—in the search for normal—that frequently offended my American sensibilities. More on that later …

2004 was also the year I bought my first digital camera. I was immediately in love with my new acquisition and we quickly became inseparable. The cost of film had been high in Europe, but the cost of developing pictures, particularly in Eastern Europe, had been extremely high and often had a 10-day to 2-week turnaround. Overnight I was able to take hundreds of pictures, download them onto my computer, delete them from the memory card, and start all over again. I was off and running with this new technology.

It was a warm, Saturday morning—with an azure sky as far as the eye could see, interrupted by only a handful of white fleecy clouds—that Egil and I headed to Jaunpils Parrish, about an hour south west of Riga, to visit the beautiful Jaunpils Castle. I knew nothing about this early 14th century castle, but Egil assured me that, although it had been rebuilt and restored many times over the past 7+ centuries, parts of it remained impressive examples of ancient architecture.

Factually, we were both longing to escape the noise and stress of the city, for the day—as much as we loved Riga—to commune with nature and hopefully experience a few Kodak Moments with my new digital companion.

We took our time driving to the castle—Enjoy The Journey as Much as The Destination is generally our motto—meandering through the bucolic Latvian countryside…

The journey was beautiful on that clear October day.

The journey was beautiful on that clear October day.

Consequently, we arrived at our destination in mid afternoon.

The castle gardens and grounds were spectacular. In every direction the scenes were surreal, in a Monet painting sort of way: soft, pastel gardens, grassy fields, meadows and ponds bathed in golden autumn sunlight… and all of this with a medieval castle as a backdrop.

A small pond, alive with wildlife, and illuminated by the soft golden sunlight of autumn ...

A small pond, alive with wildlife, and illuminated by the soft golden sunlight of autumn.

Jaunpils Castle in late afternoon sunlight.

Jaunpils Castle in afternoon sunlight, upon our arrival.

We wandered around silently for over an hour before realizing that we were ready for afternoon tea. As if on cue, a café appeared—stage right—just off the main cobblestoned square.

Just off of the cobblestone courtyard was the small cafe.

Just off of the cobblestone courtyard was the small cafe.

As we left the brightly sunlit courtyard and entered the softly candle lit café we found ourselves almost completely blind.

Standing in the arched doorway our eyes slowly adjusted and the lovely room came into focus: Three tables stood along a back wall—with the table to the far left being occupied; the two other tables awaited us. We moved towards the far right, leaving an empty table between us and the other patrons.

The candlelight danced magically around the room, bouncing off of the stone walls, leaving crevices and crannies hidden in deep shadows. I loved the absence of harsh electrical lighting as well as the lack of blaring techno music—which so many establishments in the former USSR seemed to consider an integral part of their ambience.

I was aware of a man, woman, and child sitting at the table on the far left wall and initially thought they were simply a family out enjoying the beautiful autumn day. Gradually, however, I became aware that the child—a boy of 9 or 10—was extremely agitated about something: Initially whispering—albeit very emphatically— that he wanted to go home. His whispering became louder until he was announcing to his father that, with or without him, he was leaving. The father was replying with soft, distracted responses like, “Oh lighten up, son. We are here to enjoy ourselves.” I wasn’t sure what “We” he was referring to because the boy was obviously not enjoying himself at all.

As my eyes further adjusted to the low light I could see a middle-aged man—let’s call him Clueless —groping a very young woman in a most inappropriate manner. I was thankful for the table that somewhat obscured our view, at least below the waist. The young woman—let’s call her Giggles—was laughing pretentiously, although not the least bit embarrassedly.

At one point Clueless put food in his teeth and then leaned in towards Giggles who obligingly nibbled it out of his grimacing mouth, while he fondled her. I was thankful I hadn’t ordered anything solid to eat, or I’d have possibly lost it.

I understood that without an internal appropriate behavior barometer these were difficult times, but this man had a child acting as his own built in barometer—and he was ignoring him! The scene was appalling on so many levels with the primary one being: The poor child, obviously saner than his hormonally imbalanced father, was feeling completely humiliated by the adults’ (chronologically speaking) behavior. And this fact haunts me to this day: How does a child have more inborn integrity than his parent?

[Okay, so this is a great example of the kind of behavior I was talking about Re. the collective identity crisis creating some really bizarre conduct. As an observer there was almost nothing one could do—in the absence of laws or even standards of acceptable behavior—but watch and cringe. Frequently it seemed like the person performing such acts had seen a movie and thought, “Oh! So that’s normal! Okay I’m good to go here …” and then went out and reenacted some ludicrous Hollywood performance on the street—or in a café, as it were.]

I cleared my throat loudly, several times—thinking perhaps Clueless and Giggles hadn’t realized they had company—in a tone that clearly stated that their fellow diners were not enjoying the show.

If anything our announced presence seemed to encourage the adults (I cringe at the use of this word) and further outrage the boy.

We’d ordered our tea upon entering the establishment—and not being the kind of people to waste money—we decided to drink and run, as the drama across the room unfolded.

“I’m going to turn my flash off and try to capture the beautiful candlelight in this room,” I announced, as I neared the end of my tea. Egil looked at me with his, “Um… Seriously? Alrighty, then…” facial conversation that ended with “I’d rather cut and run immediately, but … yeah okay, just be quick…”  (unlike me, Egil frequently speaks without words.) I can’t imagine what it would take for me to pass up a potentially nice picture; but Clueless and Giggles were not it.

With all patrons seated and the only waiter present hanging out in the backroom (good call in my opinion), I held my camera tightly in both hands; elbows propped firmly on the table, to avoid any movement and began clicking away. The room was absolutely still as I took several pictures, trying with each shot to hold my breath and steady my hands.

In our haste to miss the final act at the table across the room—and reconnect with nature and silence—we quickly left the café after I felt I’d taken an adequate number of pictures. We did not preview any of them.

Giggles and Clueless had so disrupted our peace that we called it a day almost immediately and returned home.

That night, I downloaded the pictures I’d taken throughout the day onto my computer. Initially, when I looked at the pictures I’d taken in the café, I failed to see the ghostly figure that appeared in one of the pictures. What I saw instead were a group of blurry pictures, one of which included a distorted image where light had refracted in some weird way … Then as I looked closer and my eyes focused, I gasped, as a human image materialized in front of my eyes. To me this looked like a woman—perhaps a servant, but not one living entirely in the material plane.

This is one of the several pictures I snapped, in quick succession. You can see the empty room, as we saw it.

This is one of the several pictures I snapped, in quick succession. You can see the empty room, as we saw it.

This photo was taken in the same "empty" room. This image (that looks female to me) is looking directly towards the table of unfolding drama.

This photo was taken in the same “empty” room. This image (that looks female to me) is looking directly towards the table of unfolding drama.

I came to learn that the Ghost of Jaunpils Castle is a well-accepted personality among the employees. When I sent my picture to the management, the response was simple: “Thank you for these photos. They are some of the best photos where [we can easily see] our ghost. This is our Good Ghost, who always takes care of Jaunpils Castle.”  There were no attempts to deny or explain what appeared in my picture; no apologies or excuses seemed necessary. This was a Good Ghost who assisted in taking care of the castle. The end.

This might be a good time to say that I don’t know what I believe ghosts are. A part of me thinks that if time isn’t linear—as some scientists and minds more brilliant than mine, hypothesize—then perhaps all souls are living simultaneously, separated by a thin veil, that is occasionally breached; when this happens perhaps we can see (or photograph) people living in other eras. My mind cannot entirely wrap around that concept but I can feel it. Sort of. The other possibility is that the energetic bodies, of those who have lived before, but not yet moved on, hang out and work with energies in our current time. On occasion, perhaps when they become excited or disturbed, we can see or photograph them. Or perhaps these are angels, or fairies…  Honestly, I have no idea; in fact, I don’t even have a favorite theory.

I just have feelings about these things.

Prior to receiving the email—informing me that I had photographed the Good Ghost—I’d felt in my bones, that the appearance of this ghostly image was somehow related to the drama and emotional state of the child. The image seemed soothing; she was also looking or moving towards the table where the drama was unfolding.

Was she the Good Ghost who considers it her responsibility to take care of the castle? Had she come to lend support and comfort to the young boy at this time of intense anger and humiliation? Or perhaps she materialized (almost entirely) in an attempt to knock Clueless and Giggles into next week: This being my favorite theory although it’s probably projection.

Once again: I have no idea.

For anyone wanting to know more about me (the author) and my journey, here’s a short video:


Disappearing Object Phenomenon: Valid Paranormal Occurrence or An Excuse For Boomers’ Failing Memories?

In the early 1980’s I took a Ghost Tour of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, conducted by Shirley Ann Dougherty. In researching for this blog post, I learned that this particular tour was one of the first of such tours, in America. I further learned that Shirley made quite a name for herself within the ghost hunting community. I can personally say: She was certainly a character!

[I want to say a bit about my impressions of Shirley before I continue: Shirley Dougherty seemed to me to be a woman of integrity who did what she did because she was an entertainer but more importantly, because she believed in what she was doing. Shirley was careful to tell our group what she felt was legitimate and what she felt could possibly have been a figment of someone’s active imagination. With that said, however, some of her stories were told to her by people who had actually witnessed events but most were passed down by word of mouth. How distorted these stories had become (or not), by the time they reached Shirley’s ears, is impossible to tell and even she acknowledged this. Another factor that must be considered is this: When something out of the ordinary occurs, it takes the human mind several seconds—sometimes even days—to wrap around what its own eyes have actually seen. During that time, the mind can inadvertently bend the facts as well as forget details. It’s the nature of the mind. What I believe is that Shirley took the stories that she was given and accepted them as truth and presented them as such. I do not believe that she lied or even exaggerate intentionally, regardless of the theatrical nature of her presentation.]

We arrived for the evening ghost tour, from our home in Loudoun County, Virginia, about 45 minutes away, ready to be entertained; we were not disappointed.

Shirley—dressed in mid 19th century clothing and carrying a gas lantern—met a small group of us at Lori’s Cafe on Potomac St. just as dusk was creeping up the quaint streets and alleyways of Harpers Ferry. I was in my early 30’s and saw her as a jolly old woman. She was in her early to mid 50’s; nearly a decade younger than I am today. Time is a funny factor of life.

Shirley regaled us with stories of unexplainable sights, sounds and events—said to have happened in Harpers Ferry—as we followed her through the streets, up hills and then back down, leading us ultimately into the darkness of night. Surprisingly most of her stories were quite well documented—in a paranormal experience kind of way—in that most were experienced by more than one person and in some cases were even caught on film—or not caught on film as it were—as in the following account: Reports of an actor—apparently dressed for a reenactment of the civil war era and appearing to resemble John Brownhave made their way to the park management over the years. These reports generally reflect appreciation for the authenticity and quiet manner (no one has ever heard him speak) of the gentleman; never as complaints. Numerous park employees have even seen the costumed gentleman in question, who shows up every so often and then disappears as suddenly as he appears. Several tourists—after returning home and developing their film discover that the “actor dressed up as John Brown” who had kindly agreed to be in their photo-shoot was completely missing from their film. Confused by this strange event, people have sent these bizarre photos to The US State Department and National Park Service, over the years; some demanding to know how this trick was accomplished. The State Department, along with The Parks Service, are at a complete loss of any explanation concerning the pictures since no actor has ever been hired by them nor any trick knowingly played.

But the following story, told on that warm summer night in the early 1980’s, which I later realized was my introduction to Disappearing Object Phenomenon, or DOP, baffled me at the time and continues to do so. Shirley associated DOP’s with ghosts that night because … well… it was a ghost tour. But I’m not sure they are related at all.

This following story, which Shirley received from carpenters who had been present at the occurrence, is an excellent example of a DOP, in that it was witnessed by several ordinary people—none of them expecting a paranormal experience—who just happened to be in the right place at the right time or the wrong place … depending on how you view it.

I’ve googled this story in the hope of relating it verbatim but cannot find it anywhere, so I will tell you how I remember it; admittedly I do not recall every detail.

  Story Number One

My Introduction To DOP’s 

Considered an important historical town, Harpers Ferry, is forever experiencing renovations and reconstruction. One such project was (I believe) a pub and hotel built pre-civil war that had not been renovated for a very long time. I apologize here for not having all of my dates and facts precise—pertaining to this particular project—but they are not really essential to the story.  The renovation project was fraught with problems and the foreman was struggling to meet his deadlines. The problems all stemmed from a singular root: Tools were mysteriously going missing on a regular basis.

[When we heard the beginning of this story, my husband and I chuckled. We’d been involved in building and we both knew how tools went missing even when we were the only ones on site.]

The loss of tools continued in spite of the men’s increased vigilance, which included wearing tool belts, constantly. This loss of tools impaired the men’s ability to stay on schedule because frequently the job came to a screeching halt as they searched for a tool that then ended with someone leaving the jobsite to replace the missing tool. In time they began suspecting one another of theft, which led to accusations and bickering, dragging morale into the gutter. The situation went from bad to worse.

Near the end of the renovation a windowsill needed to be removed. I can’t recall precisely why that was, but it was probably related to the installation of a new window. Because maintaining the authenticity of the old building was a high priority, the foreman needed to remove the windowsill with as little damage as possible, so it could be reinstalled at the end. The problem was, the sill had been painted so many times that it seemed impossible to find the best place to begin prying it up in such a way that would cause the least damage to the sill and wall. During this process of attempting to find the best place to begin the process of removal, several men inspected the old windowsill and wall and reported that it appeared to have been untouched for possibly up to a century.

After great deliberation and head scratching they began prying the old wood up and quickly realized, to their surprise, that beneath the windowsill was a hidden chamber. This was amazing enough but the next discovery nearly brought the men to their knees: inside of the chamber, all lined up neatly, were their missing tools—hammers, chisels, screw drivers … carefully organized in this chamber that appeared to have been sealed up for many decades if not a century or more.

Shirley ended her story with a question like: “So were the spirits playing games with the workmen? Did they object to having their space inundated with noise while being torn apart?” We all laughed and clapped in amusement.

The End

That was another lifetime for me. In that life I was married to a hot-blooded Italian-American man—an engineer by day and musician by night. My time was spent birthing, breast-feeding and raising a brood of four children in rural Virginia—baking bread, signing local petitions and writing children’s books. My life was good but often more fluid than I liked. Primarily because Fluid amounted to chaotic, at that time in my life, and that didn’t always suit me …

Anyone who has raised or lived within a large family knows that disappearing objects are part of life—combs, hairbrushes, pens, and car keys… Quite honestly, it’s more phenomenal when nothing goes missing for any extended period of time. If we experienced any DOP’s during those wonderful years where life was dominated by rambunctious children, misbehaving pets and various other forms of pandemonium, there would be no way of knowing. So while this story perplexed me, I pretty much chalked it off to … well, I’m not sure exactly. But I decided that there could have been a few flaws in the men’s observations that could have changed this story dramatically.

Flash forward 20 years: I am now in my next life. I was widowed many years ago and am now living with a chill, levelheaded Baltic man called Egil—a graphic designer, a traveler, and a committed long-distance bicycler. We live a quiet life with my two youngest daughters, Jessica and Erin—who are now both in their teens—in the capital city of Riga, Latvia, in Northeastern Europe. I spend my time doing photography, bicycling, home-schooling my daughters, and writing a book of the adult variety. Life is good but still fluid. I’ve come to realize that I thrive on change and create lives that feed me—lives that constantly swirl, morph and change. I’ve also learned, however, that fluid doesn’t necessarily equate to chaos and I now create less drama in my life. I accept the waves of change; I even enjoy them for the most part.

Story Number Two


In 2002, Egil and I have some vacation time coming up and decide to take a road-trip. We do this frequently since our home in Riga is central to a variety of wonderful places. A few hours of driving and a ferry crossing can have us in Stockholm, Sweden, Rostock, Germany or Helsinki, Finland in less than a day. Warsaw, Poland is a mere 8-½ hour drive away… Oh yeah, a sweet little B&B—with kiełbasa and sauerkraut for supper!

Several days prior to our planned mini holiday, we begin packing and preparing for our journey. Oddly, our atlas of Europe is missing when we go to the bookshelf where it always resides. When asked if they’ve seen it, both girls, ages 14 and 18, reply with answers like, “Yeah, like you guys’ atlas is my all-time favorite reading material. Duh, no I haven’t seen it.”

Here is the atlas. Obviously this large, brightly colored book was easy to see.

Here is the atlas. Obviously this large, brightly colored book was easy to see.

We search our entire flat, then the car and finally the garage—but no atlas. We’ve had this particular book for several years and it contains notes about our travels: cool places to see and stay, fuel consumption during various trips; it’s our personal journal, detailing chunks of our life together. So it’s a personal loss, as well as an expensive purchase, that’s also frequently difficult to find. By that evening, however, after thoroughly searching our home, car and garage with no sign of our precious atlas, we resign ourselves to buying a new one and hope that one of the bookstores in Riga will carry it.

The following morning, I wake before Egil and look down over the railing in our bedroom loft at our living room. Sitting front and center on the coffee table—with absolutely nothing else on the table (that might have obscured it)—is the atlas. I can’t believe my eyes. I run down the stairs to confirm that I’m not seeing things. It is indeed the atlas in question. I yell back up to Egil to get out of bed and look down at me. He looks over the railing and his expression turns slightly confused; then calmly he says, “Great! Where did you find it?”

Looking down at the coffee table from our loft, the coffee table is in clear sight.

Looking down at the coffee table from our loft I almost fell over the railing when seeing the atlas.

“I’ve not touched it,” I reply. “It was precisely where you see it when I woke up a few minutes ago.”

Egil doesn’t do well with the unexplainable. In fact he needs to find an explanation for everything. After several seconds he yawns and says, “One of the girls must have lent it out and didn’t want to admit it and they got it back during the night and…”

I cut him off, “That’s insane,” I say, “but we’ll ask them, even though you know that didn’t happen.”

I almost hate shooting down his absurd solution because I despise seeing his dazed and confused look. It’s heartbreaking since Egil is a Mr. Everything’s-under-control-at-all-times, kind of guy. He thrives on methodical scientific reasoning; all things rational; a place for everything and everything in its place. He wilts in the absence of logical explanations.

“Perhaps someone broke into our flat and left this here as a token of their esteem for us?” I offer, my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. And for a split second I honestly think he’s going to choose that explanation over the obvious one—which is: There is no logical explanation.

At this point, I was certain that something very strange and unexplainable had just happened. But what it was, I had no clue. So I was quite willing to file this experience away in a WTF? file and move forward in life.

I didn’t share this story with too many people because I fully realized how insane it sounded. I did, however, recall the Harpers Ferry story and felt there was a common thread.

The End

It would be seven years later that Egil would finally say, “Okay, this has absolutely no logical explanation.” We’ll get there in a minute …

In April of 2009, the crumbling Latvian economy, appeared to be gasping its final breaths. Neither Egil nor I had received a full paycheck for months and the promise of a lump sum to be paid as soon as things turn around was sounding less promising with every passing payday.

We formulated a plan that we called Plan A: We would head west. Egil took a week off work (which was essentially a volunteer job at this point) and flew to London with the extremely naïve expectation of finding a position. After several days of doors slamming in his face, he turned tail and ran up to Scotland to continue his search. Since we had limited funds, I sat at my desk in Riga, Latvia, Skyping advertising agencies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and everywhere in between, attempting to set up appointments for Egil to interview, thus saving him the high cost of using his mobile phone in Scotland. After several days of this routine, and no job in sight, he returned to Riga.

Exhausted and discouraged upon his arrival home, we had dinner and went to bed, leaving the unpacking, organizing and discussions of a plan B, for the following morning.

I want to acknowledge, right here, that this was a very stressful time for us and I’m certain that a cynic would argue that our absent-mindedness and preoccupation with our dilemma was behind our perception of what happened next.

I can tell you: They were not!

Here is where the story about Egil becoming a believer in DOP, and my discovery that we were not alone in experiencing this phenomenon truly begins.

Story Number Three:

Becoming a Believer And Learning The Name 

The morning following Egil’s return from UK, he gets up and goes off to work and I begin unpacking his suitcase, throwing laundry in the washer and generally organizing. When we travel, Egil—possibly one of the most pedantically organized people I know—wraps up our many chargers and their cables, tapes them, and packs them in a burlap bag with long handles that he slings over his shoulder. He also counts them to be certain that he’s not left one plugged in somewhere in a hotel or hostel. He has phone, camera, computer and various other cables and chargers so the bag is quite packed.

Around noon, I decide to use the laptop and seeing that it’s low on charge, I suddenly realize that I’ve not seen the charger bag in my organizing. I call Egil; he says he knows it’s there and he’ll find it when he comes home. I go to my desk and use the desktop computer, instead.

Later that evening, Egil and I search together for the missing charger and cable bag, well into the night. Nada. The following day I search again but to now avail. It seems to have disappeared. I call, on Skype, the hostel where Egil stayed in Scotland since he knows that he had it in Scotland… I begin doubting that he actually brought it home, in spite of his insistence that he recalls carrying it up the stairs to our flat.

After calling the hostel and getting the response that I dreaded—“No we’ve not seen anything like that here”—I go back to work, once again using the desktop computer. Later that evening, Egil needs to finish a side job so I relinquish the desktop computer to him.

Our bedroom is a loft area that also houses our office area. On the third morning, I awaken and, still in bed, look towards our desk. I see something draped over the computer chair as it sits in front of the desk and computer. I decide that wishful thinking has gotten the better of me. I get out of bed and gasp loud enough to awaken Egil. There, dangling off of the chair that we’ve both been sitting in and working from for many hours over the past two days is the missing charger and cable bag. The truth is no one could have sat in that chair without feeling the coarse burlap handles of that bag in their back, even if we were both somehow blinded to the sight of it.

And that was the morning that Egil said, “This is completely impossible and defies any logical explanation.”

I was shocked when I googled Things disappearing and reappearing and found a name for what we’d experienced, at least twice that I could swear to. And we were not—by a long shot—the only people to have had this experience.

The End (Sort Of)

What I’m telling you is exactly the way this happened. I smile when people say “How can anyone believe in the paranormal when there is absolutely no evidence?”

My dictionary defines evidence as: A. an outward sign: indication B: something that furnishes proof.

I saw and experienced this phenomenon with my eyes and mind on two separate occasions that I feel truly qualify as examples of DOP. Many other people have had this experience, as well. I consider this evidence. It may not, as of yet, be something that can be replicated in a lab, but if we as humans had stopped searching for answers to that which presented itself to us, but we didn’t understand—500, 100, 50 or even 5 years ago—science would have stopped progressing in its tracks. I believe, to question that which we do not understand and is not yet scientifically provable, is far more indicative of a curious mind, then it is to blindly deny the existence of that which many experience and document but have yet to prove.

I am writing these 4 blogs, knowing full well that I will be criticized and judged by some people. But I think it’s time to come out of the closet with our experiences and declare that we are investigators; we are open to experiencing life to its fullest!

Please feel free to share your stories!

My Quest To Find The Magical, Mystical And Truly Unexplainable

I had a column in City Paper EE, an English language magazine in the Baltic region of Northeastern Europe, a few years back. This particular gig was quite literally my dream job. My editor was a young Australian woman who asked little from me other than once a month handing her a 2,500-word article with pictures. The content requirements were loosely defined: Make it fun, fascinating, and (preferably) grammatically correct, about The Unseen (that’s a link to one of my articles) that lives within the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Any and everything that existed beyond the sense of sight was up for grabs: Ancient as well as urban myths, mystical forests, haunted homes and castles, UFO’s, orbs … This was a job tailor made for me, by the editor, because she’d learned that I was working on a book with the working title The Unseen.

I had several experiences, during the writing of my column, that I never wrote about, but have now decided to share with you: those of you who follow, or just popped into, my blog. There will be four posts of this sort in my blog unless you, the readers, want more; in which case I am thinking about pursuing my interest in these topics, here in UK, and continuing to blog along these lines on occasion.

But for now I am planning my next four blog entries with the following titles—more or less. #1. A Journey Into The Unseen (the one you’re currently reading). #2. DOP Disappearing Object Phenomenon: Valid Or An Excuse For Failing Memories? #3. An Unexpected Image in a Photograph in Jaunpils Castle Built Circa 1301 (obviously that title needs some streamlining, but you get the idea). #4. Be Careful What You Ask For (or an alternate title) An Enchanted Church In The Forest.

Those who know me, know that I am fascinated with The Unseen, perhaps because I love playing detective and the vast majority of paranormal experiences, mysterious photographs and unidentifiable sounds as well as objects are—if you delve deeply enough and keep an open mind—quite explainable within the physical plane. I’m not speaking of intentionally constructed hoaxes; I’m referring to cases where people witnessing these events are baffled and often frightened.

When working on my column I was contacted by my Latvian friend, Dace, who told me of a Russian man—we shall call Igor—living in the countryside, who believed he’d found The Holy Grail hidden deep in a cave in Latvia. Igor was in hiding—communicating only via prepaid mobile phone cards—because he had apparently received some (extremely unwanted) publicity in several Russian yellow newspapers and now, he claimed, Big Money Men, who wanted to know what he knew, were hunting him. At first I was amused that anyone actually believed The Holy Grail was more than part of King Arthur’s myth, that it was an actual object, and that it was still floating around somewhere, waiting to be discovered. After some research, however, I learned this belief was not exclusively Igor’s; in fact many people believe that The Holy Grail is the Arc of The Covenant, or the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, and that it does indeed still exist; even more surprisingly, some believe it is hidden in Latvia.

Igor was moving to a new location every few days in an attempt to hide from his would-be captors and swapping out his phone card even more frequently. To me creating such a challenging lifestyle around his own personal Quest for The Holy Grail was reason enough to meet with him and hear his story. I began laying the groundwork, for an upcoming interview with Igor, in my next article for City Paper, by presenting a loosely woven theory: Perhaps the handful of Knights Templar who were known to have escaped France, slipped into Latvia between 1307-1314 while King Phillip The Fair—a nickname, most certainly referring to his hair and complexion; not his character—systematically annihilated the rest of the knights. The most widely accepted belief is that these few Templar escapees were in possession of the vast Templar treasures, one of which may have been The Holy Grail … and since these treasures have yet to be recoveredIf one were to accept the possibility that, rather than UK or western Europe, the Knights Templar, slipped instead into a backwater territory of northeastern Europe, now known as the Baltic region, and that The Holy Grail was among their treasures, it would not be unreasonable to launch on a quest similar to Igor’s. Not completely unreasonable, I mean …

The same possibilities that sent Igor on his search could also serve as a launching pad for my investigation, or at the very least for an extremely entertaining, semi well documented, article.

Igor changed our meeting place twice on the afternoon prior to the evening we were to meet, demanding each time that I not share the location with anyone other than my interpreter, Dace, who was also taking his calls and whom he’d already met and trusted.  We had no phone number on which to reach him, since he replaced his phone cards several times a day, so we waited patiently by our phones prior to our meeting at a secret location in Riga—which he changed for a third time at the last minute. Just for good measure.

Arriving an hour late, at the designated place, Igor cautiously scans the room before entering. I wonder what he considers suspicious since the most dubious looking person in the place, by a long shot, is him: half-hiding behind a partition, his eyes dart from table to table beneath a furrowed brow; he has a large bundle of papers tucked securely beneath his arm. His appearance makes me sit up and feel something … Fear? Compassion? A good story?

Dace nods, tilting her head towards the door, and then between clenched teeth, with a slight smile—ventriloquist style—she whispers, “That’s him… and he is totally freaking out!” To which I reply, “No shit, he’s freaking out! But do you think he has a legitimate story?” and then on closer inspection I add,  “Or did he—did he derail a few stops back?”

Dace grins impishly and then says something that will become my touchstone during the remainder of my paranormal investigations: “Who knows? Maybe both: he’s derailed and holds an interesting story…. Which means we’ll have to follow him down the rabbit hole and try not to get derailed ourselves.”

In order to investigate and verify, or dismantle, claims that exist concerning The Unseen, the investigator—that would be me as well as you the reader—must be willing to move into unorthodox places, if only in our minds. We must entertain thoughts that frequently defy conventional wisdom; but we must also stay grounded and as objective as possible. Woo-woo lies just inside the rabbit hole and once you enter—which you must—you can quickly become disoriented, leaving you vulnerable to all sorts of craziness—which is fine if all you want is an entertaining story and you can find you’re way back to reality after you’ve gotten it. If, however, one wants to honestly determine whether or not something is unexplainable within current understandings of how the world works, one must remain grounded and objective but with an open mind. It hurts our credibility as an investigator if we detach from reality because A.) It impairs our ability to investigate. And B.) We are not sane according to standards set by the rest of the world and they happen to be our audience; so better not to alienate them.

Whether we have the ability to rejoin reality (as we know it) when we’ve completed the project, is yet another story …

Dace gave Igor a warm smile of acknowledgment and motioned for him to join us at our table when it appeared he had finished his room assessment.

Many beers and several hours later, I was feeling more awkward and with more unanswered questions than when I’d been sober and less informed.

Igor could not tell me what The Holy Grail looked like, because he had not yet retrieved it from its hiding place since, touching it, unless you were completely pure of heart, would mean certain and instant death. He would not tell me where it was, for my own protection. Apparently my purity of heart was not even worth discussing. He told me that several people who had been working with him to find this treasure had now been murdered, although their deaths were made to appear as though they came about from natural causes. I can’t recall the exact scenarios in which the two gentlemen had died but one was made to look like heart disease or something and the other guy was 98 years old. Okay I am improvising here but, after hearing how they died, had I been the coroner I would have called both deaths in question naturally caused.

Igor had years of documentation within his folders and files of papers. He showed me copies he had made from ancient writings, that gave clues to what the Holy Grail was and where it was hidden. He showed me page after page of documentation and data—some of which I understood and some of which was so far over my head that I asked for copies to study. Igor respectfully declined giving me copies of even a shred of his documentation—which, in all fairness was understandable—but not having any access whatsoever to Igor’s documentation brought my ability to investigate to a grinding halt.

Igor’s belief in his documentation was as unfaltering as was his belief that his protégés had been murdered. Challenges to his beliefs fell on deaf ears. He had been working too diligently and way to many years on his research to allow any cynical American journalist to rain on his parade.

And herein lies the trap. If we go into an investigation with a preconceived idea of what we will find, we probably will find exactly what we believe we’ll find—or believe that we have.

The more focused we are, the more the evidence—whether it actually does or not—appears to support our beliefs. If we are also closed to any opinions or even questions of others, our beliefs become more concrete and our findings less scientific and more anecdotal because we know we are right.

This is why double blind scientific studies—whenever possible—are so important. Generally when investigating a paranormal or mystical experience—or in this case finding a hidden treasure—a double blind approach isn’t possible, however.

Initially Igor had my attention with objectively collected and well-researched documentation; it was compelling and believable. But as he moved forward through his years of research, his evidence began relying more and more on dowsing, premonitions, mediums AKA channels  and synchronicities. While I don’t completely discredit any of these things, I also don’t use practices or techniques that live inside the rabbit hole, when attempting to substantiate, mystical, magical or paranormal events, to those believing exclusively in the physical world.

In the end Dace and I agreed that Igor might very well have discovered something of value—both ancient and mystical. But his unorthodox modes of research and inability to share any pertinent data as well as his failure to even see, let alone extricate, this treasure from its hiding place, led us to abandon any further investigation.

To this day, I wonder how Igor is faring. Has he followed in the path of his peers who are now living in the spirit world? Is he still hoping to become “pure of heart” to the extent he needs to be in order to retrieve his treasure? Is he in a padded cell somewhere?

I’m not making light or demeaning Igor or his quest. Not at all. I believe that, at some point, he was probably on his way to discovering something extraordinary. Perhaps he even found it. But I also believe that he didn’t stay grounded enough to bring his treasure back to the real world—perhaps he was even unable to return to reality himself. In the end Igor was a frightened man, unable to explain or share enough of his quest or his findings to give him any credibility. And he was living alone, moving from place to place, discarding telephone cards and leaving people with a lot of questions.

Which brings me to my reason for this first entry into The Unseen: I tried (and continue trying) when researching and sharing my findings with others, to rely on physical evidence when drawing my conclusions and whenever possible I have objective witnesses.

If you are interested in my paranormal experiences I’d love to get a comment below. I’d also like to hear any thoughts you may have concerning Igor. If you think I should have pursued him and his story more aggressively bear these facts in mind: If Igor was correct about the murders, I would be next in line. If Igor was wrong about the murders, he had become paranoid and possibly derailed. Either way, I would have been in for a strange and challenging ride. But I do sometimes wish I’d gone further with him … What are your thoughts?

That’s Me Signing Off~


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…And Then I Found My Dance

I stood in my open doorway last night, face immersed in the cool, damp, autumn air, smiling for no real reason, waiting for Egils’ bike light to pierce through the darkness. Our residential street has sparse lighting, so the intense halogen light on the front of his bike announces his arrival several seconds prior to his tired body—clothed in a bright reflective yellow jacket—breaks through the night. Egils bicycles eleven miles to his office and eleven miles home… Twenty-two miles a day, one hundred and ten miles a week… By Friday, he is bone tired and ready for a hot meal, glass of wine and a weekend. Luckily for him it was all standing right behind me in the open doorway; well, the weekend would unfold, but the rest was imminent.

I never stand in the door and wait for anyone; I have no idea why I did last night. Maybe it was the cool night air which, defying the laws of physics, carried the aroma of my smoked haddock chowder, simmering on the stove—along with the comforting smells of old wood and wax that live in our house—down the hallway and out the front door at nose-level; or perhaps it was the sliver of a moon beckoning to my romantic side… then again maybe it just seemed like the perfect way to end a really good day.

As I stood in the doorway I surprised myself by suddenly whispering—like a prayer in church—I live in London! And then, as though saying this once, wasn’t weird enough, I repeated it, louder and slower: This time with a silent wow underscoring it: I… live… in… London…!

And then…

Well, here it gets even more odd, so I’m going to go sideways before I go forward…

The block where we live.

The block where we live. “Our House is a Very, Very, Very Fine House…”

Our Front Door.

Our Front Door With Black and Whilte Tiled Walkway.

Going Sideways

 Our house is a two-story turn-of-the-century English row house in which 7 people reside: On the top floor there’s me, an American, WAS (minus the P which I deleted years ago). I’m the oldest in the house, the only person who currently works from home, the one who continuously turns the thermostat back, grieves for the mice in the wall who are about to be exterminated (they’re just trying to lead a normal life!) and uses more words than necessary to say what needs to be said—at least according to one editor and my Baltic man. Which brings me to Egils, my silent, serious, Latvian man, who speaks 5 to 10 languages (the irony of a silent person speaking multiple languages is not lost on me) and who is probably the most pragmatic of our lot. Egils spends very little time and very few words in jest. He is a master of solutions; generally finding them split seconds after recognizing a problem and then, without invitation or complaint, fixes the problem. Upon moving into this house Egils began tightening loose screws on pots, pans, and hinges, balancing wobbly legs on every piece of furniture and appliance in the house, and oiling anything that squeaked or threatened to do so. In other words: When I hug my man and say “Wow, Babe, are you happy to see me?” and he says, “No that’s a screwdriver in my pocket,” he’s serious.

Egils Coming Down The Stairs After Fixing God-Knows-What…

Egils Coming Down The Stairs After Fixing God-Knows-What…

Shiva—a tall, young immigrant from India who appears completely contented with every aspect of his life, says he will one day return to his homeland and marry (not necessarily in that order)—also lives on our top floor. Although Shiva claims to be a less than excellent cook, the aromas that come from his meals create a Pavlovian response in me, when he even approaches the kitchen.

Also sharing our floor is Chanel: A beautiful, young, dark-skinned English woman whose ancestors came here from The Commonwealth of Dominica, and who reminds me so much of my middle daughter, that I have inadvertently referred to her as Jessie, more than once. Chanel possibly rivals me in wordiness, but unlike me, she mostly uses her mobile phone to do so. Yep, that’s my Jessie… Erm…  (that’s British for “Um”) I mean, Chanel…

Downstairs, Hungarian Anita lives with her Bangladeshi partner Quamrul. Anita has a degree in teaching but works the night shift at MacDonald’s—a typical immigrant’s tale. Quamrul is an entrepreneur who works incredibly long hours but perpetually smiles—even when he looks completely exhausted, which is most of the time. Quamrul is also a fabulous cook but unfortunately I seldom smell his cooking because he and Anita eat close to midnight due to her schedule.

The final downstairs inhabitant is Tommy from Glasgow…  Amazingly, with all of the English as a second language flying around our house, Tommy is the person I find the most difficult to understand. With his first language being Glaswegian (and despite this being closely related to English) I understand roughly 60 percent of what Tommy says. When I asked him, recently, if he had as much trouble understanding me, he looked puzzled, cocked his head dramatically and said, “Huh? What?” Then straightened his head and said, seriously, “Holly, you ken better than ta set yerself up like that, wi’ me, aye?”

I love Tommy’s humor—made even better when delivered in his accent—especially when I understand him.

Our space is a mishmash of cultures, languages and belief systems but we share certain essential qualities: We are all quiet, clean and respectful and these traits have created a safe, comfortable home. I’ve already blogged about home and how I’ve come to define it. And yes, I am now at home here in this late 19th century house in the area called Seven Kings in London.

Our house is quaint with a huge back garden (a yard in USA is called a garden here in UK; I try to do as the Romans do when in Rome) and small front garden with a black and white tiled walkway—that appears to have been born at the same time as the old brick house—leading from the public walkway to our beautifully ornate front door and all of this is located only one (extremely-long) city block from The High Street.

[Informational: In UK, The High Streets are generally happening places, allegedly the site of everything from cool upscale shops to great bargain basements. It was clear to me at first glance, however, that The High Street here in Seven Kings, was going to be a cornucopia of disappointments for me.]

On Friday morning—after spending the last three weeks mastering every appliance and device in our new house, when not organizing the stacks of brown boxes and plastic bags full of stuff that had to be unpacked and then repacked into pretty fabric boxes, burlap bags and newly assembled Ikea flat-pack shelves—I spent over an hour wrestling with writer’s block extraordinaire, before deciding to investigate The High Street, however disappointing it promised to be.

The first block of The High Street, after turning right from my street, consists of several used car lots.

To me, used car lots house collections of abandoned dreams, broken promises, and financial devastation, from which disreputable souls are now attempting to make a profit. There was a time when I could counterbalance those miserable images with passionate backseat encounters and drive-in-movies (AKA the excuse given to parents when the actual goal was passionate backseat encounters). But the Drive-in’s have mostly been bulldozed over and it’s been many years since kids tolerated such inconveniences as climbing over a stick shift or worrying about cops with nightsticks investigating steamy windows… Today young people have sexting, cyber-sex, and their own bedrooms, since most parents are far too busy with Facebook, Twitter and their finances, to actually supervise them …  Anyway, due to changing times and cultures, used cars have lost their charm, in my book, which leaves used car lots looking like cemeteries without enchanting old stones, interesting epitaphs, or trees.

Our Ugly High Street

By No Stretch of Even My Imagination is This a Cool Street, Right?

So browsing the rows of used cars was hardly an uplifting way to begin my High Street investigation … no great surprises there.

I was, however, slightly surprised by one aspect of the used car lots: There were no obvious salespeople poised to ambush anyone pausing long enough to scratch his nose. In fact, between three huge car lots I saw only one woman who appeared to be affiliated with the businesses. She had on a shorter than recommended red dress (given her years and girth) and looked like she was smiling in spite of wet burps. Even if I’d needed a used car I’d have avoided her on principle.

In the absence of aggressive salespeople, however, each lot had a website displayed overhead; implying to me that either customers actually come to them (oh yeah, as if) or they were simply attempting to give the appearance of a marketing infrastructure while actually being money Laundromats. I imagined dodgy web addresses—since they apparently had replaced disingenuous car salesmen—saying things like: or Factually I didn’t stop to read any of them.

Just past the used car lots were shops selling automotive parts and used tyres (UK for tires; when in Rome, remember?). My favorite shop was called Part Worn Tyres. Personally, I’d have gone with Nearly New Tyres, but far be it from me to impose my cup-half-full version of capitalism on anyone. The abundance of parts and cheap tyres, just past the car lots, seemed to scream—to me anyway—when that best car of your life doesn’t hold up, once you’ve left the parking lot, you have readily available options.

Okay so you get it: this was a bleak and boring walk whose only redemption was not so fresh air and minimal exercise.

There was not a cool, cutting-edge boutique, fancy hair-stylist or even a vintage clothing shop in sight as I continued down The High Street… but it was a glorious autumn day so I walked forward, albeit not in the best mood.

When biking this route earlier, I’d noticed heaps of fruits and vegetables on a long table beneath an awning; overhead a sign—seeming more like a demand than shop name—read: Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. What I hadn’t seen was the actual shop itself—and I use this term loosely. Below the awning was essentially a lean-to—which looked like a slight breeze would be its waterloo—with old wooden planked flooring that wobbled beneath the weight of the shoppers—leading into a gutted, turn-of-the-century English row house that had once looked very much like the one I live in. Realizing that this once grand home had been violated in this way turned my stomach. The beautiful door was long gone as was the old brick and plaster façade. I wanted to cry. The massive space created by the gutted house, however, contained the most amazing produce—many items of which I’d never seen before—and I couldn’t help but explore further.

The Small Cupboard Beneath the Stairs (I Love This Cupboard in Our House) is Now Gone in the Gutted House. How Harry Potterish, Huh?

The Small Cupboard Beneath the Stairs (I Love This Cupboard in Our House) is Now Gone in the Gutted House. How Harry Potterish, Huh?

[Backstory: Frequently when I check out of the local grocery store, a young cashier will hold up a fruit or vegetable and say, “I’m sorry ma’am but what exactly is this?” To which I look at his (or her) pasty white—I’ll have a large coke with that Big-Mac—complexion and reply condescendingly with something like: “That’s an artichoke, Dear; you might try one sometime.”]

I avoided asking what the mysterious fruits and veggies were yesterday, because I don’t like being judged, although—or perhaps because—I’m incredibly skilled at judging.

I walked deeper into what was probably once the living room of the house—Middle-Eastern music growing louder as I pushed through people. And then suddenly I saw her: A tiny, beautiful, bronze-skinned child wearing billowing pants beneath a flowing dress—perhaps 3 or 4 years old—dancing through the crowd as though she were the only person in Seven Kings—or London—or on earth—occasionally lifting a tiny hand upwards towards the heavens and kicking up a small foot behind her.

She was utterly and completely engaged in her dance. In fact she was living in her dance.

Everyone, including me, carefully walked around the small girl, not wanting to interject our consumer energy into her sacred space …

Had Spielberg been directing my day, the little girl would have been in color and the rest of us sepia; she would have danced in slow motion while we quickly filled our shopping bags, talked on mobile phones, worried and judged…

… She had no idea that this shop had once been a grand home. This was, now, simply where her mother bought fruits and vegetables; it was the place that played beautiful music and where she danced… and this place would live in her memory for a lifetime—a safe, warm, welcoming shop with lots of noise and rough planked floors that bounced beneath small feet.

Her innocence made my heart ache for a time in childhood—back before expectations and rampant opinions took over—before I cultivated peculiar adult priorities that kept me looking at my watch and checking my bank accounts. In that moment I suddenly felt naïve and childish as joy poured over me like warm chocolate; and within that awareness of joy, I smiled as I clearly saw myself: in bare feet and a bathing suit, twirling a baton, dancing around the kitchen of my childhood with my sister Jeannine while we sang High HopesAnyone knows an ant can’t—move a rubber tree plant… my legs, feet and soul tingled with the memory.

And I wondered: Why would anyone give a child the message, “You cannot experience bliss anytime you please and you can’t just dance anywhere!” But more importantly: once that child reached an age of reason, why would they continue to believe it?

I skirted the little girl and filled my canvas bag with fresh produce—all mostly identifiable to me—before leaving, with my smile, and walking further down The High Street.

My next stop was a Polish deli where I bought pickles because Egils loves all things Polish, so much so that he studied the language; unfortunately he later informed me that the Polish label on the jar said Swedish Style Pickles. I also bought butter that turned out to be margarine (which we don’t eat) and sauerkraut. It’s hard to go wrong with sauerkraut, although technically it’s German… I said, “dziękuję,” (which means thank you in Polish) to the cashier, as she tallied up my goods. She snapped to attention and smiling, began speaking Polish to me (God I never learn), which left me no choice, but to interrupt her and admit that I’d already used ½ of my Polish vocabulary and the other word was probably inappropriate. She said that I did a fine job delivering my dziękuję before I left. Although I noticed that I’d put the accent on the wrong syllable when she repeated it back to me, which caused me to wonder: How had a poorly pronounced dziękuję led her to believe I was fluent in Polish? But I smiled back at her as I silently blessed her for attempting to connect with me in her mother tongue. Then I walked out the door and rejoined The High Street.

On my glorious yet arduous walk home—lugging several kilos of fresh veggies and fruits, a huge jar of Swedish pickles and a massive jar of sauerkraut—for some reason I began reflecting on my early days in Estonia and a particular cultural misunderstanding that had occurred early on: I’d had several conversations with friends—both Russian and Estonian—where my friends had referred to living in various foreign locations. “When I lived in France, I was almost hit by a car!” or “When we lived in Spain the heat was unbearable.” For months I thought that people residing in Estonia must have suddenly become nomadic and moved all over Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Then one day, after a close friend had related one such story, I asked: “Exactly when did you live in Czech Republic?”

“Oh for two weeks in 1994,” she replied.

I instantly understood: Northern European people use words very sparingly, as I’ve mentioned; in fact they are virtually incapable of indulging in lingual superfluity, like some of us… So their logic prior to putting their story into words would have been: I was in said location for more than a day. I was alive. Ergo: I lived there.

I liked the idea, in theory, of referring to any place I’d ever visited as a place I’d lived. Like seriously, how pretentious and verbose could I get with that one?

“Well, when we lived in Croatia on Krk. “(roll R aggressively, then chuckle) “Ah… yes, those Croatians do keep a tight grip on their vowels, don’t they? So as I was saying, when we lived on Krk—that’s an island, don’t cha know—we so loved the nightlife!” (Smile with faraway look in eye; puff on electronic cigarette protruding from faux silver holder; appear deep in thought)… “But, alas, it couldn’t touch the music scene we enjoyed when living in Prague!”

Okay, so I never actually did it; although I gave it some thought. Clearly… But it was obviously duplicitous for an American with English as a first language to do what comes naturally for Baltic folks; besides it would have cheapened the places in which I actually have lived.

Defining where I live has always been somewhat complicated for me—and more than slightly spiritual; it has become even more so in recent years. I don’t live where I pitch my tent or check into a hotel. I don’t even necessarily live where I pay rent, put my sheets on the bed and cook in the kitchen. I did all of those things in the bedsit from hell, but never did I say, or feel, that I lived there. I spent over a year staying with my dear friend Bette, in the States, but didn’t feel that I lived in her lovely home or neighborhood… This is because I have some rather strict criteria that need to be met before I consider myself living somewhere. Where I live is where I share space with my life mate. It’s also where I find joy and intimate connections with others. Where I live is where I can grow, learn and change because I feel safe … safe to browse through fruits and veggies I can’t name, or try out language skills I don’t have … or stand in a crowd smiling, as every cell in my body remembers a dance I once did in my childhood kitchen … Where I live must also include a home that’s safe enough for me to stand facing an autumn night and smell the air as I smile for no obvious reason and talk out loud to myself …

 Back To Where I Started

 Our house was quiet and clean, with soup simmering on the stove, as I stood in my open doorway last night, and surprised myself by whispering—like a prayer in church—I live in London! And then, as though saying this once, wasn’t weird enough, I repeated it, louder and slower: This time with a silent wow underscoring it: I… live… in… London…! And then, right there on the black and white tiled walkway that runs from my door to the sidewalk—beneath a sliver of a moon—I danced.

Signing off from London with a wee dance!

A Houseless Adventurer Defines Home

The following is a blog I wrote last April, just prior to receiving my UK visa and returning to my Principal Home where I reunited with my Safe Man. At the time I wrote this I decided it was too personal and possibly too rambling to post. After returning to Scotland, relocating to London, spending a month in a rented room—which, while it housed my body, was never my home—and a short Face Book chat with Taylor Keitt about giving ourselves permission to rejoice in our inner life experiences in spite of clearly not meeting societal expectations … I was drawn back to this blog and decided to slightly rework and post it:

A Houseless Adventurer Defines Home

(Written in April 2013)

I‘m blogging on the road, so to speak. Essentially I’ve been on the road for 3 and 1/2 years.

As we made our final departure from our home in Riga our cat, Bianca, promised to wait for our return.

As we made our final departure from our home in Riga our cat, Bianca, promised to wait for our return.

Within my better moments I see myself as an adventurer and explorer of countries and lifestyles; a questioner of the status quo, a non-conforming free spirit … In my occasional pathetic, self-indulgent moments, I perceive myself as someone who’s made some really whacky choices and, although had an incredible life, has currently, landed, face first in the thicket: bruised, battered and homeless

Wait a minute; I’ll be right back. I’d no sooner written the word homeless than I felt compelled to look up the word home.

I’m back … Home: Residence. Birthplace. Place of origin of something. Headquarters. Safe place. These are Microsoft Word definitions. There were others, but I liked Safe Place so I stopped there.

Okay; clearly I have never been homeless; I have actually been blessed with many homes or Safe Places in spite of the fact that I don’t actually have my own house to live in, at the moment.

I’m in Philadelphia, today, with my precious daughter Jessica, after staying with my dear son, Jonathan, and his wife, Emily, for several days; followed by time spent with my wonderful daughter Morgan, her husband Dave and their beautiful, precocious, four-year-old daughter, Ava, all in Virginia.

Ava spent the better part of one afternoon, during my stay, planning how she would celebrate my life after I’d died; this after watching a Lavar Burton video, which I assumed, was created to help kids grieve for loved ones who had already passed on. Ava, however, interpreted it as a toolkit for kids to explore how they’re going to feel when this event occurs. She needed to focus on a specific relative that might be heading in that direction and I was her first choice—she said my proximity (sitting on the bed next to her) and gray hair were the criteria. In spite of my exhaustive effort to point out that her other grandma was my senior by 20 years and still going strong, Ava insisted on mourning my passing: “And I’ll remember how you cooked that oatmeal with berries and nuts in the mornings…” She said, her eyes welling up—neglecting to mention that she actually doesn’t like my oatmeal … I was touched that she chose to share how much she would miss me when my time came although slightly disturbed with the sharing of her vivid imaginings of my demise, including a run down of the guest list for my memorial service—this after some rather disconcerting questions about the alternatives to funerals and burials … But she did seem better mannered and a bit more considerate towards me after her faux-grieving and paying tribute to me …

I spent the better part of 20 years, living and raising my family in Loudoun County, Virginia; so spending time with my children and grandchild in Virginia is always like returning home.

My son Jon and his wife, Emily's home on the mountain.

My son Jon and his wife, Emily’s home on the mountain.

I lived most of my childhood in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so in many ways it feels like I’m home here in Philly, too.

I went to boarding school outside of Reading, Pennsylvania, where my brother, Tim and his wife, Mia, now live; so enjoying a Safe Place with them, for many months over the past 3 years, was like being home on many levels.

I have two major homes in Silver Spring, Maryland and Sleepy Creek West Virginia with my long(est)-term friend, Bette [*note the skillful—although clunky—way I avoided using the term oldest friend].  Bette and I are heading to a Safe Place in Coco Beach, Florida, in a few weeks to spend time in the home of another dear friend, Brenda …

Relaxing by the fire at Sleepy Creek WV.

Relaxing by the fire at Sleepy Creek WV.

Hot-tubbing in Cocoa Beach, at Brenda's; feeling quite at home, I must say...

Hot-tubbing in Cocoa Beach, at Brenda’s; feeling quite at home, I must say…

Last year Brenda and I shared a Safe Place onboard a ship that sailed along the Alaskan border for 2 weeks … What an amazing and blessed adventure that was!

A dining hall on the ship that Brenda and I cruised on.

A dining hall on the ship that Brenda and I cruised on.

For years I lived in a tiny Safe Place in Tartu, Estonia. I still maintain a home in Riga, Latvia—albeit with renters currently living in it. I have yet another home in Stirling, Scotland. This particular Safe Place includes the warm body and smile of my Safe Man, most of my clothes and my bicycle. Quite honestly the Stirling, Scotland Place, with The Safe Man, my clothes and bike, trumps all other homes; I consider this my Principal Safe Place at this moment.

Looking down the stairs in our Safe Place in Riga, Latvia. I can still smell my plants.

Looking down the stairs in our Safe Place in Riga, Latvia. I can still smell my plants.

My Safe Man coming through the garden gate in our Safe Place in Scotland.

My Safe Man coming through the garden gate in our Safe Place in Scotland.

I’ve spent the last 18 years of my life falling in love with places, moving there, settling in, creating a home for myself and remaining there until something or someone disrupted my Safe Place; then I moved on. But there was always one location—one Safe Place, one residence—that I called my home.

This is my family home in upstate Pennsylvania. This has always been both a house and a home to me … It’s where my dear father grew up and where he passed away. It’s hard to think of this as only a structure because of the years of love and history that live within it.

The past 3 years—of splitting my life between the USA and UK—however, have caused me to redefine the meaning of home because I haven’t had one actual place of my own.

My first step, in redefining home—was to differentiate between a house, which is a stationary, material structure, and home, which I’ve decided, is a Safe Place and in my case, needs to be an inner condition.  So, in dire need of a home, I set out to find my inner Safe Place: That inner place of well-being where I could rest, relax and experience joy and peace of mind despite waking up in different beds— frequently not knowing know where I am for several seconds after opening my eyes—as well as living out of other people’s dresser drawers and my suitcase…  I needed to live in a state of joy and gratitude even when my primary connection with my man was hearing his voice through speakers and touching his face on a computer screen …

Whoops! I came dangerously close to a pathetic self-indulgent moment there; did you feel it?

That’s because I constantly struggle with the downright humiliation of not having my own house, in spite of having a home—albeit within myself; because one of the most powerful cultural messages our society has whispered in our ear since the day we were born is: Your personal worth as a human being lies within your having possessions; needless to say a home is pretty much at the top of that list—and our society is most definitely not referring to a warm Safe Place in our soul.

I found the home that lived within me but needed to consciously connect with it while detaching from the importance of having a house; it had to be this way given where my life choices had taken me. I’ve frequently wondered, What was I thinking?  when looking back on my life. But within the process of redefining Home, I clearly saw that I needed to do whatever it took to bring me face to face with this realization: A home simply can’t be a specific building or location because those things are destructible: Places can collapse economically or politically, houses can burn down, or be lost during natural disasters. But the Safe Place that lives within me—where I embrace all of humanity, and all that exists on this planet; that place where I feel joy simply because I’m alive—travels with me and is indestructible.

I have recently been reflecting on an extended camping trip that Egils and I took in 2008, traveling throughout South Eastern Europe.  We happily drove from country to country in our tiny car and made our home in a small tent for over a month, peeking out through our tent flaps and through our car windows into the lives and cultures of others.

We lived in this small tent when not biking or driving, for 5 weeks. It was wonderful, exhilarating, and challenging. Moving back into the other world of  stone walls and glass windows was very difficult.

We lived in this small tent when not biking or driving, for 5 weeks. It was wonderful, exhilarating, and challenging. Moving back into the other world of stone walls and glass windows was very difficult.

As we traveled through the various countries we were amazed at the resilience of humanity; how, when faced with enormous challenges—like the recently war-torn former Yugoslavia or the once economically devastated Romania—people survived, and even flourished… But what surprised me the most was that people appeared to be genuinely celebrating life—in spite of having only their very basic material needs met. It seemed that societies recovering from devastation, have different expectations regarding what their lives should look like, leaving people free to live as best they can without pressure to reach a higher standard. I looked on in amazement at people who seemed genuinely happy to be alive in spite of—by western standards—extremely harsh living conditions. And a part of me felt sad for them, because at that time I believed that having, at least some material wealth was necessary to sustain joy.

A man enjoys a smoke out of his window. When I asked if I could take his picture he belly laughed and shook his head wildly. This was in a war-torn area of Croatia.

A man enjoys a smoke out of his window. When I asked if I could take his picture he belly laughed and shook his head wildly. This was in a war-torn area of Croatia.

People dancing and celebrating in what appeared to be a wedding. We could hear the music and laughter even after we drove away.

People dancing and celebrating in what appeared to be a wedding. We could hear the music and laughter even after we drove away.

My postman friend Avto once said to me: “Life is just a series of habits. If something disrupts those habits our life feels difficult at first. But that’s only because we have to change our habits…  Once you’ve done that you can get back to enjoying life.” This was in response to my incessant complaining about having to heat water for our baths during the 3 summer months that Estonia turned off the hot water supply. Avto’s words turned out to be true. Within a month, we had an accepted routine that allowed us to bathe without a second thought and we quickly returned to enjoying life.

If our quality of life is measured by joy, satisfaction and feeling safe and connected to our world and one another, could it be that those who reside in their inner Safe Place—living simpler, materially minimal lives—might actually be having a better time than those of us who value the house above the home?

Addendum to my April blog

It would be hypocritical of me not to state: I thoroughly intend to have a house again. I am not implying, for one second that a material place to call home has no value to me. But one of my greatest wishes is that I might grasp, on a cellular level, the difference between a house and a home. I wish to bask in the joy of my inner Safe Place as I sip fine wine in my house …

But I have another wish in life—are you reading this one day in the future Ava?—at my memorial service, someday far down the road, I hope someone will say: Holly carried her home inside of her and she left a little of her home—a Safe Place—everywhere she went.

Signing off—with love—from my beautiful new home in London!

How To Create and Exacerbate Embarrassing Moments

I entered a stream-of-consciousness the other night, after a short Facebook exchange with George Tiller, about embarrassing moments in our lives. George and I are people of a certain age and, as such, we admitted to having quite an arsenal of humiliating memories.

What I failed to share on Facebook, attempting to maintain a bit of dignity (which I am now abandoning) was this: I’ve actually created two such embarrassing moments in as many weeks. As I was falling asleep, that night, what hit me pretty much out of the blue (getting back to the stream-of-consciousness) was how Righteous Indignation was a key component in both of these events. I’ve always blamed my Christian upbringing for my attachment to Righteous Indignation… because… well, assigning blame to something outside of myself has always seemed like a better alternative than taking personal responsibility. I was taught from an early age that Jesus’ temper tantrum in the Temple—that big scene He made, one Sabbath afternoon, regarding the moneychangers—was perfectly okay because he was displaying Righteous Indignation. This term roughly translates to: Throwing tables around, yelling like a banshee, and making whips out of miscellaneous ropes and cords prior to chasing people around with these weapons, and is completely appropriate; but only when you’re in the right.

So certainly looking down one’s nose and copping a major attitude towards other’s is okay… I mean if I’m in the right and they’re not…  let’s be real here: When my retaliation, to something wrong, includes a few sneers and an attitude but excludes whips, flying tables and verbal abuse … Honestly that’s totally righteous, right?

So factually you’re not entitled to Righteous Indignation unless you’re right. But since I go through life thinking I’m right … Don’t we all? Does anyone wake up in the morning and say, “I think for a change, I’ll do everything wrong, today?”

Okay, so since I go through life believing I’m right, Righteous Indignation is perpetually just one-step-on-a-banana-peel away…

If you’re confused just read on. I thoroughly intend to pull this blog together. Just consider this post a kind of stream-of-consciousness…

 So let’s cut to my first humiliation two weeks ago

[My last blog covered our leaving the village of Fallin, Scotland, to settle in London; a gut-wrenching event for Jim, Thilda, Egils and me. For more details see my last blog this is not a plug, I just don’t want to waste a lot of time boring regular readers.]

Early on Sunday morning—two weeks ago—we left our familiar nest in Fallin and headed south towards London—me sobbing and Egils tearful. We had barely gotten on the road, however, when we decided to stop and buy food for the drive to save on restaurant costs. I was going to wait in the car but realized that I had not used the bathroom at home prior to getting on the road and it was going to be a seven-hour drive.

Wiping my eyes and stifling my sobs I followed Egils into the shop, making a sharp right turn into the Women’s Room. When I walked into the empty room I was immediately looking at an out-of-order sign on the first stall so I entered the second stall. When I came out and looked to my right, I saw a man standing against a far wall, obviously relieving himself. My thought process was “What in the world is that man doing in the Women’s Room?” Then the Righteous Indignation kicked in, “Oh God, he’s probably some drunk who tied one on last night and can hardly see this morning… then he wandered in here…” I stuck my nose up in the air as I thought (I kid you not), “But what the hell are those things, that look like urinals, on the wall next to that drunk guy? And why in the world would they put them in a Women’s Room?” Even what I was clearly seeing, with my own two eyes, was being over-ridden by my belief that I was right. I just knew I was in the Women’s Room!

In all fairness to myself, these thoughts happened within a split second; but I swear to you, my mind fully formulated these exact thoughts. And it was only when another, quite sober looking gentleman, walked into the Women’s Room and looked at me in utter shock (well, yeah!) that the light dawned and I muttered—absolutely involuntarily—“Oh, shit! Sorry!”

I walked slowly from the Men’s Room, leaving behind me the roaring laughter of two men.

Before paddling further down this stream-of-consciousness, a little background is necessary

[Quite honestly, I had not wanted to admit to some of what I am about to write but I think I need to do so… It’s kind of a purge.]

Colors and textures adorn the street where I live

Colors and textures adorn the street where I live

As do families of all shapes and sizes …

As do families of all shapes and sizes …

I live in an amazing neighborhood in the East End of London. I’ve never lived in a more colorful, interesting, aromatic setting. We have fresh fruits and vegetables galore, fabulous ethnic restaurants, and beautiful fabric shops that include in-house seamstresses and tailors. Merchants often stand in front of their shops smiling and speaking to one another and to passersby. The reason for the abundant beauty, texture and diversity in my life is that my neighborhood is almost exclusively comprised of Middle-Eastern immigrants from various countries and cultures but generally sharing a religion.

Beautiful little faces also grace my street

Beautiful little faces also grace my street

... And fruits and vegetables

… And fruits and vegetables

... And merchants and sellers of all things imaginable

… And merchants and sellers of all things imaginable

There is also a mosque on my street.

Now here is the part that I hate owning: I frequently feel uncomfortable walking on the street without my head covered, let alone wearing cool/revealing summer clothes because I fear that my neighbors consider me an infidel. I have, inadvertently, turned the dialogue in my own head into a we/they conversation, with very little assistance from my neighbors. Honestly, I blame the fear and hate mongers: CNN, Fox News et al…  because… well… because it’s a lot easier than blaming myself, damn it!

And onward to my next humiliation

 A few days ago I realized that I needed to submit the paperwork for my long-term UK Visa; this would include a passport photo that I didn’t have. I went online and found a place that appeared to do these photos and decided to walk there, as opposed to biking, because it was a heavy-traffic street without bike lanes.

I don’t have a lot of clothes with me, here in London, as we haven’t entirely moved out of Fallin (Scotland) yet. But within my scarce inventory of clothes there was a summer dress that Thilda had given me as a going-away present: A beautiful, long, sheer, loosely fitting, sleeveless, dress with tiny buttons from the neck all the way down to just above the ankles. This dress seemed modest enough for my neighborhood, but cool enough for the day, albeit a bit more formal than I normally would have worn for an afternoon walk in the city. So I felt that I stood out a little, but given my limited choices, this dress seemed like a good compromise; to be on the safe side I wore a camisole beneath the dress.  I finished the outfit off with a shoulder bag slung around my neck and over my shoulder for my mobile phone, passport and cash.

It was a particularly hot day and I was already out-of-sorts with the heat when I realized that I was going to end up walking, not two but closer to three miles, in the heat, since the place I’d thought did passport pictures, didn’t, but a Middle-Eastern market several blocks further on, did.

Exhausted and overheated I entered the market, suddenly realizing that A.) I wasn’t in a small minority; I was the only woman without my head covered (many were veiled) and B.) Virtually everyone was staring at me with that look.

All I could see were judgmental eyes, shaming and blaming …

I became livid. Let’s hold the heat responsible. That’s far less painful than … Well … than the alternative.

I held my head high and walked through that market like Joan of Arc on a mission from God. I was free to dress as I wanted and yet hadn’t I tried to accommodate my neighbors by dressing modestly? I don’t like any religions so why should I bow to Islam, just because I accidentally rented a flat in a Muslim neighborhood?

I was seething with Righteous Indignation that hot afternoon as I walked through the market of rubbernecking men and women and then into the shop where they would take my picture. I was close to combusting when the man behind the counter gave me a number and told me to wait my turn. But I came dangerously close to breaking Jesus in the temple as I noticed him staring down at me with that look

Then glancing down …

I saw that my shoulder bag had swished and swayed across the tiny buttons on the front of my modest summer dress, enough times to unbutton every single little button from my neck to just below my navel.

So there I stood in an open front dress, camisole, and exposed bellybutton.  With an attitude. In the market.

I later realized the camisole was why I didn’t feel a breeze as the buttons began popping open …

As I discreetly buttoned myself up, my thoughts joined the real world: Those looks weren’t shaming and blaming, saying, “Look at that infidel without her head covered.” They were, instead saying:  “Oh Dear Allah, does that woman know that she’s flashing all of London?”

So here’s my primary point: When we go through life with cast-in-concrete-beliefs like “I’m always right!” or “It’s us against them,” or “I need to judge this situation and have an opinion on it,” we create fertile ground for seeds of embarrassment, as well as hatred and separation, to grow, leaving little room for, self-awareness, compassion, and understanding, to thrive.

The reality is we are one family sharing this neighborhood, this city, this island, and this planet. Thinking otherwise is madness… But yet we’re surrounded by the mad message that we are separate from one another and we need to be frightened and protect ourselves … Look at our political systems, listen to our leaders, the media, religion… The same fearful messages day in and day out. But what if that’s all concocted and unreal? And what if the cure to the madness lies within us—you and me—and our choices as to what we want to harbor in our souls, which in turn dictates what we see?

My secondary points are these: 1.) Never wear an around-the-neck-and-over-the-shoulder-bag with a button-up dress and 2.) Always double check which restroom you’re entering.

Signing off—with love—from the East End.

This is the view as I look out my window and sign off—with love!

This is the view as I look out my window and sign off—with love!

My Name is Holly and I am a Paradigm Shift Junky (Alternative Title) But London? Really?

Years ago, my mother-law Julie, announced to my husband John and I, that she had worked very hard to get rid of any accent.

“You mean within your associates and friends, here, in New York,” John said, assuming he was stating the obvious.

No, I mean I have no ac-cent at awl. I speak per-fect English with no accent what-so-evah,” she clarified, distinctly enunciating each syllable and letter (other than the final R in whatsoever).

I quickly decided to forgo asking how a South Carolinian or Texan might respond to her comment and reached straight for the big guns: “But what about speaking to people from England? You would certainly have an accent to them,” I said, watching for the veil to lift.

She chuckled. “You’re kidding, right? Everyone knows that the English have accents! That’s why they call it a British accent.” Julie looked at John with an amused: Wow, I think she was serious expression.

So much for any acknowledgment of The King or Queen’s English …

I must say, in all honesty, that Julie was a dichotomy: An intelligent, well-read, remarkably liberal woman (qualities that I adored in her); she was also a stubborn little Taurus that resisted change like it was the plague. The youngest child of Italian immigrants—who spoke very little English—Julie was a proud American, who refused to learn her parents’ mother tongue, communicating with them through her older siblings, instead. I am certain that she worked diligently to lose any suggestion of Italian inflections or traces of a guttural New York accent, developing instead, a beautifully refined New York accent.

But with all of her wonderful qualities, Julie’s world-views were limited to … well … to her world. And she liked it that way. Julie happily curled up in her comfort zone with her stories (soap operas) and her daily routines (perpetually cleaning and fastidiously organizing her life). Never a rampant consumer—perhaps leftover values from her immigrant parents—Julie lived very simply. I greatly admired that, in her, as well.

For years John and I joked that his mother kept a low profile hoping that Fate would overlook her and spare her any bad blows.

This was not, however, to be her destiny.

Julie buried her first husband before her 30th birthday and was left with two young boys to raise; later she buried her second husband. Her youngest son, John, passed away suddenly one day after his 51st birthday, as Julie stood by his bedside. She buried all of her siblings and nursed her older brother through a horrible death …  I watched changes and tragedies occur in her life in spite of her desire to stay within her comfort zone. But I witnessed more than just challenges. I watched Julie consistently twist, turn, bend and surrender to the most difficult times—ultimately embracing and accepting what life gave her with grace and dignity. And as she did, her paradigms shifted—broadening her world-views—with each challenge that she survived.

After Julie’s youngest son, John, my husband, passed away in 1993, I entered some paradigm shifts of my own. In fact I seemed to shift on a cellular level, overnight, as did my basic values in life.

Material possessions lost all meaning to me and I became almost obsessed with traveling light. As horribly as I grieved for my lost mate, I suddenly enjoyed being alone with myself; something I’d never done before … I also began waking before dawn to watch the sun come up, after being a late sleeper all my life. But perhaps the greatest shift was ending all affiliations with churches and religion but seeing Divinity in everything.

In the same way that Julie believed that she had no accent, prior to Jon’s death I had believed: spirituality was tantamount to religion, the-larger-the-house the-happier-the-occupant, and being alone was synonymous with being lonely. Once these fundamental beliefs unraveled, I began questioning everything.

I wanted to understand more about life, but quickly came to the not-exactly-profound realization that my understandings were always going to be limited by my world-views, which were limited by my … well … by my relatively small world.

The problem is: It’s difficult to question principles that you don’t even realize you’re accepting.

How could I question the indisputable laws of the world I lived in without seeing that world from elsewhere. I hated being hurled from the world of wife to that of widow—But I loved the shifts in consciousness.

It appeared that changing my world-view probably entailed changing my world …

So I changed my world.

I chopped off my hair, got rid of almost everything I owned, then packed up what little was left and moved, with my two little girls, to Eastern Europe. I bought a bike and learned the public transportation systems. I bought a one bedroom flat where I lived happily with my daughters. I met a new life-mate who happened to be Latvian …

One absolute consistency in my life has been the continuous slamming shut of doors while others came crashing open—creating endless surprises and infinite possibilities. And I ran through those newly opened doors full speed … Sometimes to my obvious credit and sometimes … well … not so much.

The bottom line is: With every one of these changes—I became aware of new ways to perceive life and I savored and delighted in every single one of those Aha moments.

In fact, I became a paradigm shift junky.

I moved forward, forever searching for new doors leading me to new dimensions. Camping under an open sky for weeks on end in different countries was a quick fix but moving into, and setting up homes in different countries—allowing time to crawl inside of these new environments and study them from the inside out—worked even better. Choosing a life partner from an entirely different culture was a major, out-of-this-world, eye-opening … let’s just say I’m still shifting …

So here’s a premise for a sitcom: A demonstrative, romantic, American and a pragmatic, highly self-disciplined, Latvian decide to make a life together. She wears tie-dyes and goes barefoot in winter; he speaks 5 languages and reads instruction manuals to air mattresses, just in case. She lives in her heart, he in his head. Her heat captivates him; his ice keeps her from self-combusting…

Okay, so that’s my life … although there have been many times the two —my life and a sitcom—were indistinguishable from one another. At other times I’ve lived within a Dostoyevsky tragedy.

A few mornings ago I groggily listened as Egils read the morning news. I heard: “Same six couples queue to say I Do in New Zealand.”

“Wow, is it like a hobby for those same six couples? I wonder how often they queue, weekly, daily …?” I asked, while thinking What a strange pastime …

“Same-sex,” Egils dryly clarified. He stopped seeing the humor in these moments many years ago; I on the other hand I still get a chuckle from them, especially in the wee morning hours.

When Latvia collapsed into a recession extraordinaire in 2009 and we scurried west to Scotland, we lived inside of a paradigm shift for months.

Essentially a Scottish family adopted us. Jim and Thilda Syme taught us how to survive in Scotland with gentle nudges like: “You can’t call that a fanny-pack here in Scotland, at least not on the street!” And the not so gentle: “It’s called Haggis; you’re in Scotland. Who cares what’s in it. Eat it.”

They fed us, watered us, advised us, and never once asked how much longer we were going to stay, over the four years that we lived with them. And we connected in a most astonishing way. I believe, given the love that we developed between us, in spite of our incredible differences, we were and truly are soul mates.

While living with Jim and Thilda, we traveled throughout Scotland, falling in love with the country, as well: The Highlands, the lochs, the people …  Returning home after each adventure to one of Jim’s hot meals, a cozy house and good friends—our new family, actually.

I am tearing up as I write this …

If there is a geographical equivalent to soul mate, Scotland is that to us: our Mother, our solace, our emotional safety net—and she came to us complete with a loving family to watch over us.

What Scotland did not offer, however—in spite of our most diligent efforts to find it—was viable, long-term financial stability. We free-lanced for years and stayed afloat—supporting ourselves and keeping our property in Latvia off the auction block—with a little left over for fuel to travel. We were blessed, well beyond our expectations. But we both knew that, with our ages, we needed more security.

I have to admit that while the first 3 years of our life in Scotland were full of new understandings and shifts in consciousness, we had, more recently, become very comfortable in every way but the financial security bit. On some level of my being, I wonder if I was planning my next challenge—my next paradigm shift op …

With our precious granddaughter, Sophia’s 4th birthday in sight, near the end of July, we made our preparations to make the 5-hour drive south to Nottingham. During the week, in mid-July, that we spent getting ready, Egils received an email: Would he consider interviewing for a job in London?

After countless jobs falling through—some of which had even included interviews—neither of us felt much more than a passing sense of the fortuitousness: This interview could be set for the Monday following Sophia’s birthday.  This meant a 2 1/2 hour jaunt down to London and Egils would have another interview under his belt and possibly a new company to freelance for. We wouldn’t have made a special trip down to London just for another interview but …

On July 22nd Egils drove to London and interviewed for the position. He received a call on July 23rd: Could he begin work on the following Monday, July 29th?

A job in London, aside from coming with a substantial salary, is a coup for any designer. For people, like us, who had been praying for a job that could even modestly sustain them, this job popped through the open doors of heaven.

There was only one hitch … For anyone geographically challenge, I will now explain: London is nowhere near Scotland. London is, in fact, many, many hours away from the Highlands, the lochs, Jim’s hot meals or any of the Syme family.

Culturally, London is light-years away from all of the above.

Egils relocated to London immediately. I stayed in Nottingham for two weeks while he found a bedsit in the East End of London for us to move into.


For any reader not familiar with this term, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of a bedsit, either, prior to moving into one. Apparently this is a quaint term used to describe a shithole that houses 7-10 people, with one incredibly filthy bath and one equally disgusting toilet. You have no idea how quickly a cold shower wakes you up in the morning… The stove has only one working burner but the good news is that the water leaking from the upstairs faucet into the kitchen doesn’t fall onto that one working burner. There is a broken smoke detector dangling from the ceiling, in the common hallway, that reminds us of the front door, which is kept locked, and requires a key to open; I imagine finding the key and fitting it into the lock in the midst of a fire would be nearly impossible. This particular bedsit was advertised for one price but when the burley Spanish guy shows up demanding more money I fork it over.


This is me trying to sleep, the first night in the bedsit. This is without exaggeration the lumpiest mattress I’ve ever slept on. Ah, yes, a night to remember…


Egils had the right idea. He avoided the bed and stayed on the computer half of that first night.

And the paradigm shifts are almost audible.

Swoosh …There goes another one as I realize, “Wow the adrenalin rush of biking in London traffic all but obliterates the depression I feel about living in the bedsit!”

This is probably the time to say: We found a beautiful new place to move into and will leave our East End bedsit in 10 days.

But living here in the East End brought with it some great realizations:

When you’re with someone you love you can laugh at almost anything—not excluding checking the bed and each other’s heads for bugs—none found, remarkably.

Vigorous exercise can clear away almost all thoughts of revenge toward … oh let’s say, for instance … unscrupulous slumlords and their lackeys. I did say almost right?

There is always a silver lining. Always. Sometimes it’s looking back at us through the lenses of our cameras on a sunny afternoon in Hyde Park and sometimes it’s in the smile of a fellow bedsit inhabitant when she says, “I am so happy you moved in!” after we cleaned and put boxes of tea bags out for house consumption.


I snapped this picture as I stood looking through a window at The Tate Modern Gallery. Within this moment all was right in my world.

But maybe the greatest realization is this: Nowhere is too horrible to break us in half if we twist, turn, bend and surrendered to whatever comes our way … It’s how we refuse to be broken …

So here I am in London, awaiting my move in 10 days, writing this blog with at least some of my American sensibilities still intact and clearly doing so with my American accent.

If I had one wish, it would be that I would learn to love London with all of its energy and culture. I would wake up every morning blessing this city; its people and its culture and that would include its seedy underbelly, bedsits, slumlords, and traffic.

I don’t want to spend the next few years pining away for Scotland’s clean fresh air, sparkling water and the Syme family … I truly want to move forward, learning, appreciating and experiencing.

I still dream of Scotland with her clear air and sparkling lochs. Who wouldn't?

I still dream of Scotland with her clear air and sparkling lochs. Who wouldn’t?

I’m not quite there yet but I’m shifting as I write.

I know that I create these things in my life and I know, in time, London will feel familiar if not like home … It’s who I’ve been for years now and how I’ve rolled.

I thrive on change and reinvention…

But, London? Really?

Post Scriptum

I do believe that I am entering a recovery period in my addiction—or perhaps paradigm shifts can be instigated with slightly less drama. I’m working on it. But for now the plan is, we will stay in London, save every penny possible and return home to Scotland to retire in the foreseeable future.

Signing off now from London with love~

I’ve Been Gone For A While But Wait Until You Hear Why…

Since my last blog I received my UK visa!


Even with that exclamation mark this sentence doesn’t begin to reflect the monumental nature of the event: Receiving my UK visa …. And  I will not stoop to a double exclamation mark. I have way too many English Majors in my life, who keep tabs on me, for such faux pas….

Perhaps my blogs should come with a disclaimer; something along the lines of the one on my rearview mirror: Images in print appear much smaller than in my reality!

Okay let’s start over.

In April of this year, I received a UK visa after Egils and I worked towards that end for 3 1/2  long years of our lives.  UK law requires that anyone coming from beyond the European Union borders (that would be me) must have a sponsor (that would be Egils) who can adequately (financially) support him/herself as well as the person being sponsored. The UK government is unaware that people coming from the former Soviet countries (namely: Egils and I) can live on air, so the amount of financial stability that they required was um… ridiculous, by our standards.

Screen goes wavy then white and we fade into a backstory…. I’ve been dabbling in video recently.

It’s July, 2009, I’ve lived in Latvia for almost a decade with my Latvian partner, Egils. Both of us received slashes in our, already pathetic, salaries prior to all paychecks ending, a few months ago. We have gone through most of our savings. Every day one of our friends or associates leaves Latvia. The grocery stores’ supplies are dwindling. My close American friend of more than 40 years, Bette, says gently, during a Skype talk, “You have to leave. You don’t really have a choice. I’ll help you, but you must go. Now.”

I’ve been denying this obvious fact for almost a year. But within this moment, I know she’s right. We must leave.

I apply for a UK visa, based on what’s left of our paltry savings,  123 online job applications that Egils has submitted for jobs in UK, and a heartfelt plea to return to the land of my great-grandparents.

A week later I receive my visa application back with a “WTF Woman! You can’t seriously think we’re going to let you reenter the sacred land that your ancestors  abandoned 100 years ago, based on a few bucks in an Eastern European bank account and some auto-response replies to online job applications!”

The official wording is “Visa Denied” but in retrospect, I totally know what they wanted to say.

We spend less than a month packing our small car, renting our home, and finding keepers for our cats, before fleeing our home in Latvia, in August, and arriving in Scotland one week later.

Egils enters the UK workforce on the bottom rung of the ladder, trying to make enough money to sponsor me. His masters degree, rich work experience,  fluency in multiple languages, and strong work ethic are of almost no value. He has an accent. He’s unfamiliar with local culture and traditions. He’s come here, uninvited, from a poverty stricken country, at a time when local people are scrambling for the few remaining jobs in the midst of their own recession.

He takes any and every job that comes his way: he works with disabled people, hangs banners over kiosks, scrapes old signage off walls and applies new, drives people to and from the airports…. I help when I can but have no legal rights to work without a visa.

Our time together, in Scotland, is spent in a rented room with the Syme family in a small village in Stirlingshire—the gateway to The Highlands. The Symes become our Scottish family. On good days they are our safety net; on bad days, our guardian angels.

In spite of the Syme family’s boundless hospitality and our endless efforts to make money, I am forced to leave UK 6 months after we arrive because I am an American without a UK visa.

This  6-months-in-UK-6-months-in-USA  requirement continues for 3 1/2 years. Ultimately Egils and I live separately for more than 2  of those 3 1/2 years—him working odd jobs and looking for full-time employment in UK, while I live in the USA with my dear friend Bette ( yes, we are still best friends!) and her husband, Mike.

This gave me more than 2 years of time in the USA to visit with my adult children: Morgan, Debra, Jonathan and Jessica, as well as my grand-babies. I had months  with my brother Tim, his wife and my dear friend, Mia, and their clan—more time than we’ve ever shared in our adult incarnation; what a blessing! I had time with my dear sisters Jeannine and Heather and their clans. I traveled from Coudersport, PA—where I spent time time with my physically and mentally declining mother and her amazing, young-at-heart, sisters—to Cocoa Beach, Florida where I reunited with my dear friend and boarding school roommate, Brenda (and her man, Bert). Brenda and I also cruised to Alaska, walked the ship’s deck in the (nearly) midnight sun and witnessed the birth of an otter on an iceberg.

Many aspects of these past 3 years were miraculous— rewarding in so many ways and on so many levels of my being…. But they were also years of separation from my beloved partner; they were years of incredible insecurity; they were times of learning the true meaning of faith. They were times that taught us the essence of what it means to be an immigrant: A person with many homes, while lacking a real home. They were times that challenged me—challenged us—to the core.

I have many  other visas and each picture tells a story: I’m over-the-moon to be going to Russia and experience a country I never thought I’d see, in early 1993…. I’m trying to smile, as I have finally succeeded in getting an Estonian visa, but my eyes are bloodshot. It is the week my father died … I have a lopsided smile in my next Estonian visa. I came straight from the dentist’s office with a numb, paralyzed jaw (but the appointment with the photographer had been hard to get)… I’m smiling like I have a secret in my first Latvian Visa. I am in those first days of new love with my partner….

My UK visa picture is quite different from any of the others. I am looking pleadingly, at the camera. I look exhausted and like I’ve been crying for years… I’ve been through heart failure. I’ve been away from my man for… it feels like forever. I’ve been living on the edge for way too long….

There were good times in these past 3 1/2 years. In fact there were great times that I wouldn’t exchange for anything. But there were some godawful, I-can’t-believe-I-lived-through-them times as well.

But now they live only as memories.


I got my UK visa!!

Now let me address the above statement: I’ve been dabbling in video recently…

After 1 & 1/2 years of working on a video, I’ve now completed it and posted it on YouTube! I am pleased and honored to share this with you.

In Search of Home: A photographic essay of our journey from Eastern Europe to Scotland. I really hope you’ll enjoy it and pass it along to others.

I have also pretty much set up my online store where, should anyone desire to own prints of—or products containing—some of my best photos, just click below and voilà!

So that’s what I’ve been up to since January and my last post (shame on me!). I hope to be blogging more regularly now that I have ended my regular commute between USA and UK.

For now, I’m nestled back in my wee village in the foothills (or hellfits as it sounds when the Scots refer to them) of the Ochils.

I will end this blog with a few pictures I took this week on the moor. Sheriffmuir, to be exact.

Gorse on the side of a hill

The gorse is blooming; the heather is next!


An amazingly colorful cemetery as I entered the road up to the moor …

Ewe and Lamb

Once on the moor, the ewes and lambs welcomed me!

Sheep scratching

Snow capped mountains, blue skies, sheep scratching their necks. Life is good on the moors