Monthly Archives: September 2013

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!

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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!