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.

Bedsits

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.

Image

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…

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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.

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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!

Wait.

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.

Because…

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.

http://youtu.be/Ov8nyg8g8CY

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!

http://www.cafepress.com/BonnyScotland

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!

Cemetery

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

Magical Numbers, Magical Dates and Our Magical Power to Decide What They Mean

I wanted to blog about The End Of The World, which is quickly approaching us. Once again. And I wanted to do it on 12 12 12; not only because it gives you several days to enjoy my blog (prior to the end) but also 12 12 12 feels a bit auspicious, doesn’t it?

So, here we are (not me personally, but many of my human brothers and sisters) once again predicting our demise. There was a Facebook post this week that said: “People stocking up on bottled water and dried beans in preparation for the end of the world are missing the point.”

Indeed!

I think we generally miss the point of these impending dates because in spite of our centuries old preoccupation with The End Of The World, and our exhaustive efforts to pinpoint a specific date (Oh Puleeze!), down in our deepest collective psyche we know there will be no catastrophic ending. We know that this beautiful planet and the gift of life are precious and should be guarded and protected. We know that we are the custodians of this sacred space called Earth and we are the caretakers of our brothers, sisters and all life therein. But in an effort to enjoy life we became so entangled in greed and isolation that we forgot we were all family and Plant Earth was a gift. It was far easier to live in greed and detached from those people—you know… the evil people, the poor people, the dark people, the light people, the non-Christians, the non-Muslims etc.—and attach to an end of the world philosophy that let us off the hook. I’m not sure how envisioning a judgmental God who would come to planet earth and slaughter all of those who were deemed evil became a more attractive and realistic philosophy than Loving and creating sustainability on Planet Earth, but it did. But, slaying the evil is where it gets sticky. To every exclusive group, everyone else is generally evil. Muslims believe Christians are evil and vice versa… Rich despise Poor… Mormons are disliked by… um… almost everyone, it seems and vice versa… You get the picture. To many, I am evil because I write about questionable topics, I support same-sex marriage, women’s rights over their reproductive organs and I don’t adhere to any religion. In fact I ask people to define God before I admit to believing in Her.

But as we approach this next Ending of Our Planet and I try to blog about it, without talking politics or religion—oh whoops, too late—I am being powerfully drawn to blog about the magical appearance of numbers as opposed to magical dates; not wishing to swim against the flow I am going with it.

The appearance of certain numbers magically appearing in clusters—at much greater rates than would be mathematically expected—began suddenly, in my life, in the summer of 1992, and then disappeared as quickly as it had begun, in the autumn of 1993.

Reading this you might think that I have an extraordinary memory: not so. Those were simply extraordinary times—the kind of times that change the landscape of our lives forever and leave behind indelible memories. I also journal.

In 1992, my husband, John, and I worked for a small international tradeshow company. John worked in the main office, while I worked from a home office that I shared with my friend of many years, and co-worker, Lynda.  Lynda and I frequently sat behind our desks in my basement office without make-up (or even fully dressed), sipping coffee until noon; we did, however, have the professional telephone voice down. Ours was the perfect job for women friends who were willing to trade long unpredictable hours for working at home—munching on Chinese take-away whenever the mood struck or giving ourselves a pedicure while negotiating massive contracts via phone and fax—while in our pajamas. Other than some ongoing marital issues, my life was good.

In May of 1992, Lynda and I noticed the number 3 showing up more than would be expected. Then, almost as soon as we acknowledged it, the single 3’s became 333’s and the frequency of appearances increased exponentially. Initially it was mostly phone numbers xxx 7333 or xxx 3331, and so on. Since we made a lot of phone calls we thought perhaps we were simply noticing the 3’s more. But then addresses began coming in—one address was 333 33rd avenue… Almost daily we got a fax at 3:33 (with the number printed on it) and our take-away receipts consistently had 333 or 33 on them—either as a time, amount of purchase, or customer number. We laughed and contemplated its meaning: Was it an omen of sorts? Was it a message from a greater intelligence? We played an assortment of 3’s in the lottery: 3, 33, and then our birthday; 33, 3 and our birthday… and so on, with no wins.  At first it was exciting every time a group of 3’s popped up; in time it became almost passé, but never completely.

Oddly, no one else seemed to share our experience. The 3’s were like ghosts dancing around us but disappearing when others entered our space. John considered Lynda’s and my fascination with 3’s fanciful. He didn’t completely discount them, however; even he admitted that the frequency in which 3’s occurred on our receipts and faxes was remarkable.

In June of 1992, Lynda, John, and I attended PC Expo—a major tradeshow—in NYC. I don’t recall why Lynda and I took the train from DC to NYC or why John wasn’t with us, but we did and he wasn’t.

By June the 3’s, 33’s, and 333’s were coming fast and furious. Our train ran late getting into Grand Central hours after we’d planned to arrive. Completely disoriented and unaware of the time, I asked, “What time is it?” as Lynda and I looked up at a digital clock on the wall— which, at that precise moment went to 3:33. “Of course it is,” we said in unison. It had become more normal than not by that time.

We walked out to the street and hailed a cab, number 33, I believe, although it might have been 133 or some variation of that. I do remember that it had two 3’s. When we got to the hotel, on Time Square, where our boss had made our reservations, we checked into room 333 or 33; I actually can’t recall which.

We speculated that these numbers were from The Great Beyond or perhaps The Great Within… They had meaning. They were meaningless. They were a coincidence of a bizarre magnitude. They were far too numerous to be a coincidence. Mostly we just enjoyed them.

Staying in a hotel on Time Square, enjoying every meal at a different ethnic restaurant, leisurely walking the bustling city streets in late afternoon and window shopping, having my four children tended and supervised back in Virginia by competent adults—who were um…  not me—I was a million miles from my basement office in rural Loudon County, Virginia.

PC Expo was a spectacular trade show for many reasons and it was chocked full of 3’s.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better a railroad strike stranded us in NYC for 4 extra days—at the company’s expense. We were all overjoyed.

On Thursday, June 25th 1992, John turned 50 years old. It was a wonderful place to celebrate his 50th—a gift from the Universe (and the railway system and our boss who picked up the tab). We had a beautiful dinner (our bill was 33 dollars; try and do that today!), walked around Time Square and talked about life. We had been through some extremely hard times in our marriage and looked forward to better times ahead…

On Friday June 26th, Lynda and I decided to walk to a nearby Indian restaurant; John took off on his own.  As we walked down 3rd street a woman came running from her apartment with her shirt on inside out—presumably she’d seen us approaching through her front window. She breathlessly begged us to come into her home. She held tightly to the sleeve of my blouse as she told us she had a gift; she could read fortunes. She had some serious things she needed to tell us. She had seen us approaching and felt compelled to read us.

It just so happens that I have a gift, too. I can shake a fortune-teller off my cuff in a… well… in a New-York-second, as it were.

But this tiny Romanian woman was not too be shaken loose.

“What part of ‘we’re not interested’ don’t you get?” I laughed.

“Please just listen to me and I will ask only 5 dollars from you at the end.” The amount had come down by 20 bucks inside of 45 seconds but her tone of voice remained serious and pleading. “If you’re not impressed with what I tell you, you can walk away with no money exchanged.”

These were hardly terms that we could turn down, even as we salivated for Indian food.

Lynda went first while I sat looking at her back, listening. The woman went on and on about stuff that was supposedly happening in my friend’s life. As Lynda’s friend, I was certain the woman was crazy. She was detailing things in Lynda’s life and telling her how to extricate herself from a very specific situation, that, to my knowledge, didn’t exist.

I listened silently—planning my exit—with my 5 bucks still in my pocket, as the woman rambled on and on about someone else’s life—certainly not Lynda’s.

As my friend rose from her chair and turned to face me, I was poised to say, “Yeah, right! Shall we head out, now?” but the look on her face stopped me short.

“Um… she’s really good,” Lynda whispered. It turned out Lynda had a situation that I wasn’t privy to—the fortuneteller however had just nailed it.

I sat down in The Chair. The woman held my hand, looked at the palm and asked: “Who is JMP?”

“JPM is my husband,” I replied.

The woman dropped my hand, as though it had suddenly turned hot or perhaps cold.

“He loves you deeply,” she continued in a softer tone of voice. “No matter how he appears, he is deeply committed to you and is doing the best he can do. He has always loved you and will always love you …even after he is gone. You must remember this.” She looked at me sadly. I cringed. We had been through serious relationship problems but they were in the past… we were working on them; or so I believed.

Is he leaving me? I wondered, quickly followed by: What the hell am I doing, letting this fortuneteller make me question my marriage? But her guessing all three of John’s initials—albeit in the wrong order—left me very uncomfortable.

“My husband and I want to travel Europe with our family and do music. Will this happen?” I asked, moving to something more neutral—or so I thought. John and I wrote, played and sang in a small family band, in our spare time. We hoped to raise enough money to travel and perform in Europe, one day.

The woman shook her head slowly, “No, but you will live in Europe, one day. Not with your husband, but not alone. And you will write, but not music.”

Cryptic witch, I thought, as I threw 5 bucks in her direction and stood to leave.

Once out on the street I tried desperately to discredit her; on some level, however, I had clearly believed that she deserved the money. In retrospect I realize I was trying desperately to kill the messenger in spite of not actually understanding the message.

It was exactly one year later, to the day, that John died—with almost no warning.

Within two years of John’s death I had moved, with Jessica and Erin—my two youngest daughters—to live in Europe, where I wrote a book and later wrote for a newspaper and magazine.

One might argue that this woman had planted seeds in my consciousness that dropped into my unconscious. Later I had, like a programed computer, lived my life according to her predictions, even though I had not thought of the fortuneteller—at least consciously—until 2006, when reviewing some old journals. But there is no explanation for John’s sudden death or the near fatal car accident that left me in recovery for two years with nothing to do but write a book. There is no explanation as to how the editor of the only English newspaper accidentally ended up in my living room in Riga, Latvia, one warm autumn afternoon and offered me a job.

Sometimes the mysteries of life leave me breathless and I simply stop looking for logical explanations.

There were two other predictions, made by the Romanian fortuneteller in NYC that summer of ‘92, which have not happened as of yet… But life continues; so who knows?

The 3’s began disappearing almost immediately after John’s death. By autumn—after his midsummer departure—there were no more 3’s than one would normally expect.

Flash forward 17 years to 2009.

I had been living in Europe for 14 years when—after a massive slide into financial and political no-man’s land—My partner Egils and I were left no option but to flee the region we had called home.

It was a gut-wrenching move that would have been better made a year before we finally packed up and headed out. But it was too painful to make that decision prior to having almost no choice.

As we locked up our house, our baby girl, Bianca sat waiting for the new residents who would love her and take care of her in the future.

As we locked up our house, our baby girl, Bianca sat waiting for the new residents who would love her and take care of her in the foreseeable future.

It’s very difficult to describe the sorrow that accompanies such an event: loading up our small car with a minimal amount of personal belongings, saying good-bye to our friends, giving our precious cats a goodbye cuddle… Then with our bikes on the roof rack, we drove south to Lithuania, caught a ship to Germany, before driving to Netherlands where we spent time with friends before catching a ferry to UK…

Our first morning on the ship to Germany. We felt a million miles from Riga and a million more from Scotland...

Our first morning on the ship to Germany was sunny. We felt like we were a million miles from Riga—our home, friends and cats—and a million more from the home we would create in Scotland…

Egils wore a pin that said "Dream" the entire journey. We wanted to remember the magic of dreaming, I suppose...

Egils wore a pin that said “Dream” the entire journey. We wanted to remember the magic of dreaming, I suppose…

Our one overnight with friends in Netherlands was spent visiting and biking. How do we survive without friends?

Our one overnight with friends in Netherlands was spent visiting and biking. I can’t imagine life without dear friends …

We were in shock when we arrived at our destination, a small village in mid-Scotland, at 11:11 on Wednesday, August 26th.

Later that night, as we crawled into bed, I noticed the time 11:11. In spite of the fact that it had been a long day, we both laughed at the fact that we’d arrived at 11:11 and were now bedding down precisely 12 hours later. Other than that, 11:11 held no significance for us.  Then.

We planned a day trip up to the highlands on our first Saturday—three days after arriving in Scotland. We packed a picnic lunch and attempted to head out early. In spite of rising early and preparing quickly we left shortly before noon. In fact as we pulled away from the curb, our car clock went to 11:11. This got my attention. Egils casually acknowledged that it seemed odd.

Our first drive to the Highlands was magical and uplifting... it's difficult to be sad in Scotland.

Our first drive to the Highlands was magical and uplifting… it’s difficult to be sad in Scotland.

But when we arrived at our destination a few hours later Egils became a believer. “Um… you won’t believe what our odometer reading for this trip is,” he said, as he put the handbrake on and prepared to cut the engine.

“What?” I asked, absentmindedly, having forgotten the magical number completely.

“One hundred and eleven point one,” he said.

It took me a second to process: 111.1.

This was the beginning of the 11 11’s in this most challenging, yet magical, time in my life.

I believe that we can train ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, to look at clocks at precisely 11:11. For this reason I stopped considering these daily occurrences—that happened twice a day, like clockwork (no pun intended)—as part of the phenomenon. I do not, however, think we control numbers showing up on sales receipts. Standing in a long grocery queue and getting the receipt stamped at 11:11 is hardly within our control, even unconsciously; nor is being the 111th customer of the day or racking up a one-hundred and eleven £ 10 pence grocery bill (111.10). In spite of the odds, however, there was seldom a day that we didn’t receive several eleven elevens in one form or another. For these reasons I concluded, these random events—sharing the common feature of 11 11—went well beyond the mathematical odds and were not of our making.

In February of 2010, I returned to America for a visit. The 11:11’s embraced my life and followed me back to the USA. Within a week or so I called my friend Lynda. We spoke for a while—caught up on each other’s lives—and just before hanging up, I said, “Remember the 333’s that were so crazy around John’s death?” She remembered them well. “I’m having a similar thing now, but it’s eleven eleven.”

Lynda was silent for a second or two before responding, “Um… so you do know about 11:11, right?” she asked.

“No,” I replied. As much as I rely on the Internet, it hadn’t occurred to me to Google this one.

“Google it,” she said. “It’s a phenomenon.  There are literally millions of people talking about it.”

I was stunned.

I can’t recall the exact number of 11:11 hits, in Google, three years ago. Today there are 220 million.

Theories abound: It’s a warning. It’s a blessing. It’s foretelling the end of the world (of course it is!). It’s bringing in a brighter future.

Since everyone has a theory on these number sequences, I have a loosely woven one of my own: I believe that there is one pure source in and of the Universe. We call it a lot of names and attribute a lot of human characteristics to this source: God, The Universe, Parabrahman, ehyeh, Gitche Manitou…  I think this is simply the pure, uncorrupted essence of love.

Perhaps these magical numbers are a wink and a nod from this source that exists beyond my understanding; a hug or a pat on the shoulder, reminding us of the great mysteries that surround us, no matter how challenging our world looks.

Factually, I don’t know what these numbers mean.

In my bones, however, I feel that life is miraculous and our inner world—or spiritual self—is the last great frontier… And we are being invited—or perhaps strongly encouraged—to connect with our essence: Love!

We are mysterious, miraculous, magicians! Perhaps numbers connect us to that which we dream of, hypothesize about, and unfortunately, frequently fear: God, The Universe, Parabrahman, ehyeh, Gitche Manitou.

Perhaps it’s time to take responsibility for our planet, our family, and our lives, right here and now on 12 12 12.

Or perhaps we should tightly lock up our doors and our hearts, stockpile bottled water and beans and miss the point. Again.

Is Connected the New Alone?

I was raised in an uber Christian family, in the 1950’s—that’s probably redundant since most American Christian families of that era resided in zealotsville. Biblical stories, superstitions and rhetoric—carefully explaining right from wrong, unsoiled from tainted, good from evil—were the glue of our society.  They informed the monsters under our beds and the fairies in our gardens; collectively they were the cornerstones of our psyches as we grew and flourished in our black and white world.

 It seems that part of this legacy is questioning change—forever judging new ideas and technologies, as good or evil. Then again questioning change may simply be inherent to humanity…

 2,400 years ago Plato said, “Writing is all very well and good, but it’s going to destroy people’s memories,” as reading and writing moved into the mainstream. Fact: People no longer memorize lengthy verses of poetry or hours of folklore. Where would we be, however, if literacy were not a daily part of life?

 Later in the 18th century, Alexander Pope said: “If man was meant to fly, God would have given him wings.” I suppose if one determines that our world should look precisely as it did on the 7th day of creation, there is some logic in this statement—at least as much logic as there is in the 7 day creation story.

 Within my lifetime, my grandmother—a woman well worth quoting—warned, “Television will rot your brains,” as well as, “Food should never be stored in plastic!” The jury remains out on the TV warning. And while my sister thinks the latter admonition may have been more related to our mother being a Tupperware dealer than intuition, current studies show plastic to be a bad choice for food storage, leading me to believe: It is important to question innovations.

 My point is, there exists this dichotomy: It’s as human to question and resist innovative thought and technologies, as it is to pursue them. They are the forbidden fruit—equally repellent and irresistible—and we are the Garden of Eden’s children. The challenge: We can’t really assess the forbidden fruits—or put them in their proper place within our lives or society—until we’ve tried them.

 You can call me Eve; it’s fine.

 So my burning question is this: Can we move forward into places we’ve never been before—using (even abusing) these amazing new tools and toys—and find a middle of the road prior to unraveling some of the essential threads of the fabric of society?

 That’s what my blog is about: The wireless, mind-boggling, rapidly evolving, high-tech, world we now live in and the many ways that it has transformed our social landscape—even the way we express ourselves in print IMHO.

Here we are, living in a world where massive information—more than we will absorb in a lifetime—is as far away as our Google access; a world where we can reach out and touch someone 24/7 (thank you AT&T for teaching us that a voice on the phone is actually touching someone!) and a world which—in terms of communication—is now compressed into the size of a neighborhood: A beautiful, ethnically diverse community of Planet Earth citizens.

In so many ways this is a great thing!

There are very few arguments these days. If people disagree, on virtually any subject under the sun—and they happen to be face to face—one swift motion of the left hand produces a smart phone, while the right hand is poised to push buttons, before the phone is visible; Google is a touch away; the argument is resolved.

Information propagation is the new duel—the smart phone the new gun.

And that’s a good thing, for the most part. I think…

But it seems that with the end of arguing about small issues or beliefs we now feel compelled to argue about larger and more personal issues: ideologies, politics and religious beliefs to name a few—often not face to face but remotely, electronically. And I can’t help but wonder if this impersonal communication might have contributed to the division and polarization we’ve watched rapidly increase in our world in recent years. For years now there has been so little eye contact… so few shaky, insecure voices… almost no tired faces, tears, or sighs of exasperation within dialogues. Instead, there have been words on screens and icons expressing the emotions we chose to share.

When did we come to accept the absence of discussion just for the sake of connection and broadening our understanding of one another, choosing sides and becoming adversaries, instead?

After scrubbing and sanitizing our homes and bodies, did we follow suit with our relationships?

I miss casualness. I miss perspiration and laughter and honesty.

In the 70’s, when two or more people gathered together and hung out talking, it was called rapping. There were exchanges of thoughts, beliefs and ideas. There were sometimes heated arguments; there was sharing. Frequently there was too much wine and often the rooms were thick with incense and various types of smoke (Sorry: TMI). The rooms buzzed with energy and emotion but not electronic devices.

I miss the smell of incense and too much wine… I miss that world of smell and touch, of watching people blush and flirt by batting eyelashes…

Chatting is the new rapping. Sigh

The smiley and frownie faces are the new expressions of joy and sorrow in our relationships. Acronyms are the new clichés. Blogging is the new storytelling…

Please understand that I’m not opposed to the new technologies. I am, right now, on my laptop, writing—assisting my of-a-certain-age-post-menopausal brain by fact checking on Google.

Wait a sec… I want to make a comment on my Face Book… My daughter out in Virginia is such a stitch… I love her status updates…

Okay, I’m back.

When I moved to Estonia in 1995, I regularly received 600 dollar a month phone bills for scratchy, barely audible phone conversations with loved ones—which frequently ended in a disconnection. I’m over-the-moon that I can now summon my granddaughter in England to my computer screen in Scotland and tell her how nice she looks in her new uniform before she goes off to school. I love exchanging pictures of our latest adventures with my other kids in the States on the same day of the events.

But every time I sit in a restaurant and watch the smart phones emerge from pockets, or drive in cars where the passengers are working on their iPads or listening to their iPods broadcasting their favorite music or eBook while drivers chat away on their hands free, I miss rapping.

Where has this preoccupation with our technologies brought us?

After learning how to emotionally disconnect from the peers in our cars, was it easier to disconnect from those people? You know who those people are: The less fortunate, the elderly, the dark skinned or light skinned, the immigrants, the sickly… Remember them—the ones that aren’t us? At least not yet…

And where will this new type of electronic connection take the next generation?

Will it be easier to disconnect from global warming and the havoc it’s wreaking on our planet, assuming it’s not in our state? Will wars, poverty and disease be diminished to chats and bulletin boards—or maybe reality TV show—allowing us to ingest juicy bits of carefully selected information about those people?

Okay, I’m going to the dark side… I feel it…

So we continue traveling this road—where technology leaps to new heights daily. We dash blindly forward—hoping to catch up—struggling with the financial burden of doing so.

We upgrade our Smart Phones and laptops; we buy iPads, iPods and Kindles. It’s how we stay current. It’s how we stay connected with one another—at best with a live (albeit fuzzy) image on the screen, but more often through words punctuated by smiley faces with no lines or creases around their mouths and missing the twinkle that lives in a human eye.  We’ve exchanged a cute bear hug for the feeling of flesh and muscle around our shoulders and breath on our necks. We call people we’ve never met our friends. And when we want to end one of these friendships we simply un-friend the offending party with a swish and few taps of our finger. These ex-friends seldom notice our absence because their friends are so abundant that losing one here and there generally goes unnoticed.

Strangers are the new friends. They’re plentiful and expendable.

Why do I miss the pain of breaking up and the joy of reconciliation? That’s just weird. WTF?

Hold on, my daughter in England just came on Skype and I need to set up a good time to see my grandbaby… She’s 3 and growing like a weed… You should hear her little British accent. OMG talk about cute!

Okay, I’m back.

I want this blog to be interactive. I want feedback. I want your assistance. I love this technology. I hate this technology. The Buddha spoke of finding the middle path—the middle of the road. I want to find the middle of this super highway. But navigating is hard when it’s all virgin territory—with no maps or even road signs. Can we find the best of both worlds: A way to enjoy remote connections and limitless information without losing intimacy?

Or will we continue blindly rushing forward—cementing our connection to the world, while becoming increasingly isolated?

Is this new technology the monster under our bed? Is it Armageddon? Or is it the fairies dancing in our garden? …or is it simply a neutral offering created by our collective intelligence—a gift from the universe—awaiting our response? Might we be the judge and jury deciding whether it’s a blessing or a curse, good or evil, black or white. What will we decide? Will we find a balance? How? What are your thoughts?

This is Holly Morrison signing off with an LOL

[On the old planet that meant lots of love—and so it does tonight!]

Magic, Miracles and Gifts From Those Who Came Before

A warning to all who know me or have read prior blogs: I’m going to break redundant for just a few sentences—until the end of the italicized writing— in order to bring any new readers up to snuff.

I was widowed in 1993.

Two years after my husband’s death I packed up my two youngest children and moved to Europe, where I raised them in the small countries of Estonia and Latvia. I was financially ruined, after my husband’s death, but was able to scrape enough money together to make a decent life for my daughters and myself in North Eastern Europe. I bought a small home for cash and we had affordable medical care. It was a safe, clean environment in which to raise my little girls. My older children remained in the USA.  In 1999 I met a wonderful man named Egils and we joined together to create a family and lived in Latvia.

Flash-forward: After the economic collapse of Latvia, in 2009, we moved to Scotland where we now live. Okay that’s it for the backstory of my blog today.

In 2006, while living in Latvia, I rented a fisherman’s cottage in Anstruther, Scotland, with friends. We spent two weeks living by the sea in The Kingdom of Fife, touring castles, walking along the rocky coast, eating fish and chips and sampling whiskey. In the evenings I watched, mesmerized, as the tide slipped into the village—seeping up the narrow cobbled alleyways that ran between old stone houses—on the sea side of the village. One night I sat up most of the night listening to the wind whistle and howl as it drove the beating rain against the old windowpanes of our cottage. I had been in love with Scotland, prior to that visit. From that time forward, however, I was consumed by a longing to return. Referring to my longing as homesickness sounded pretentious, even to me; but it was the only word I knew that came close to describing the aching I felt—when I thought of my time spent in the beautiful Kingdom of Fife—and my burning desire to return.

That same year, after my time spent in Scotland, I began researching my ancestry on my father’s mother’s side. Rachel Scott, my father’s mother, had offered me unconditional love all of my life until her death in 1973, just three months before the birth of my first child. I adored my grandmother, as did my brother and sisters; we called her Noonie.

Noonie taught me how and where to plant pansies, how to grow hearty vegetables and how to knead and bake bread. She’d wiped my tears, rubbed my sore muscles with Black Salve (an herbal concoction her mother had taught her to make) and tucked my body into bed with satin comforters—which smelled like her old cedar chest—every night I slept under her roof.  She had endlessly tended, worried and fussed over me all of my childhood, but she seldom spoke of her parents. I knew that she was very close to both of them—especially her father— and that they’d come from Scotland; beyond that I knew nothing. I certainly didn’t know that my great grandfather—Noonie’s father—was raised in the small town of East Wemyss, only minutes from Anstruther, in The Kingdom of Fife, where I had fallen so deeply in love with Scotland. I’m not sure my grandmother even knew the name of this small village, since her father referred to his younger life as having been spent in Edinburgh—no doubt because it was the nearest large city.  When I found the exact farm where my ancestors had worked as laborers, I realized that I had driven within a mile of that farm and their cottages, several times while staying in Anstruther.

This synchronicity came at the beginning of my journey into my genealogy. There were more to follow.

Within a few months of researching, I learned that my great-great grandmother, Agnes Scott (Noonie’s grandmother), had been widowed at a young age and moved with two of her children to America—one of whom was John Scott, Noonie’s father—leaving the rest of her grown children in Scotland.  The fact that I had been widowed at a young age and had moved with my two younger children to Europe, leaving my adult children in USA, instantly created a bond between Agnes and me.

My nephew, David Cosentino, and I worked obsessively on this particular branch of our family tree, for several months in 2006.

Gradually my ancestors became more than names in an old bible in the attic. In particular my great-great grandmother: Agnes was a real woman who’d loved and lost her husband, William, as I had lost my husband, John. Her children had lost their father as had mine. Agnes left her homeland with little more than her clothes, two of her children and the wish to survive, exactly as I had. This small family left their homeland not knowing if or when they would see the rest of their family and loved ones again. In this sense our realities differed greatly; I knew I would frequently see my older children, family, and friends in my homeland. I could only imagine Agnes’s pain and insecurity with this additional burden. But in many of the fundamental ways Agnes and I were very similar. We buried a husband and father who was too young to die. We made the hard and drastic decision to leave our homeland, as widows, leaving our grown children and loved ones behind, to create a better life. We survived.

In 2009, when Latvia collapsed my partner, Egils, and I headed west landing in Scotland. I hadn’t thought much about my great-great grandmother Agnes—and our paralleling lives—for almost 3 years. David had been busy working and raising a young family; I’d been trying to survive financially… With neither of us nudging the other forward, the old stories lay silently tucked away in attics, drawers, and old archives.

I didn’t pursue researching my ancestry, here in Scotland, for the next two years. My life was busy with days crammed full of projects.

Then last year, while I was in the States, my mother broke her hip and was confined to a nursing home for what promised to be an indefinite period of time. My brother, Tim, and I began the laborious process of sorting through my mother’s home: The same homestead where my beloved grandmother had lived and raised her family; the home where my parents lived in their later life and where—after my father’s death in 1998—my mother had remained and grown old. This home has always been a reminder of the happiest memories of my childhood and my connection with those who have gone before me. It has always been magical…

As I sifted through mountains of paperwork including old photographs, documents, bills, and personal letters (my mom saved virtually everything she touched) my eyes fell upon something interesting: A document printed on cardstock, created near the end of the 19th century, somewhere in Scotland. I read it slowly:

“In Affectionate Remembrance

 of

Janet Scott,

Aged 21 Years,

Who departed this life, 1st of January, 1874.”

My body went cold. Janet Scott was a daughter of Agnes and William. It wasn’t the fact that Janet had died that started my hands shaking; Janet would have died many years prior to 2012. It was the date on which Janet died that disturbed me. This document revealed something I had not known before that moment: Barely six months before, William, her husband died, Agnes had lost her daughter, Janet! Sitting in the living room of the house where my Noonie had kept me tightly tucked beneath her wing throughout my childhood, I thought of Agnes—Noonie’s grandmother—and she was once again close to me. Her story was unfolding: Now I knew that she had not only lost her husband, William, but also a daughter in that fateful year, shortly before deciding to migrate to America.

Found in my mother's home in summer of 2012: Janet's Death Notice

Janet’s Scott’s death notice: found among the piles of papers in my mother’s home last summer. The death was not shocking; the dates were.

When I returned to Scotland in July 2012, I was overwhelmed with projects: A new Internet store to organize and build, a new lifestyle to construct (after having CHF as a part of my life, I now swim 40 minutes a day, eat very differently and require more sleep). Consequently my genealogy was once again on a back burner.

But, even without any direct attention aimed at Agnes and the Scott branch of my family tree, they entered my consciousness from time to time—like each time I traveled up to Fife or baked bread or saw a movie set here in Scotland in the late 1800’s…

Then on September 3rd David sent me a picture of a middle aged man standing next to a monument.

Monument dedicated to William, Catherine, Janet, and Margaret Scott

This is my great grandfather, John Scott, standing next to a monument erected to his father William and three sisters: Catherine, Janet and Margaret.

The email read: Here’s one [a picture] of John Scott. The monument refers to William Scott who was his father. Janet is mentioned here (the one from the death notice [that I’d found last summer at my mother’s house]) – she would have been John’s sister. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could track this down and take a pic today? 😉

I loved the picture. I was, however, confused as to how Dave could think this picture was from Scotland. John Scott left Scotland with his mother, Agnes and his sister Rachel in 1874 when he was 19 years old. How could this monument to his father and sister, Janet, be in Scotland, with him standing next to it, as a middle aged man?

I wrote back to David:

Dave I’m 90 percent sure this [monument] is in USA. It was erected by Thomas and Rachel Scott Blythe in loving memory of their father… my guess is they erected this in the States in memory of their father William and sisters who had died here in the old country.

Holly 

But there was more to this monument than just the mystery of “where in the world was it?” This monument clearly stated that Agnes had lost three of her daughters. Catherine had died in 1870, Janet in 1874, and Margaret had passed in 1877; three years after Agnes had migrated to America. All of the girls were in their 20’s.  I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. The sorrow that I felt for my great-great grandmother was now physical—my stomach was in knots. After a bit of research I learned that there had been a massive epidemic of Scarlet Fever in Scotland, between 1874 and 1875 that had killed 11,000 Scots. This explained both William’s and Janet’s deaths; the other two sister’s deaths remained a mystery. I told myself that this had happened many years ago; it was not an uncommon scenario in the 19th century and my visceral emotional reaction was illogical if not ridiculous. But I couldn’t curb my feelings and I continued struggling with this overwhelming sense of grief.

Egils, sensing my sadness, and always up for an adventure, suddenly said, “I get off work at 5. Why don’t we head up to East Wemyss and see if there is a cemetery or church that might have a trace of the William Scotts?”

It was a brilliant plan. Getting out of the house and looking for some tangible evidence of my ancestors would occupy my mind with something other than the Scarlet Fever epidemic of the 1870’s and the pain and suffering of my people.

I shot off a message to David:

I just got a bee in my bonnet. Egils and I are driving up to East Wemyss after work and a quick swim and going to the cemetery. 

H

To which David—shocked and excited by the abruptly hatched plan—wrote back simply:

Well, [removed expletive]. You go! 🙂

I honestly feel that my ancestors—at this point, if not prior—actively stepped in and took the reins…

We left our village, intending to take a quick swim before starting the hour drive to East Wemyss. Swimming is a daily routine, conducted at specific times; we very seldom reschedule.

As we headed out, however, Egils said, “We have plenty of time before the pool closes; let’s go to East Wemyss first.” This was the first touch of destiny: Had we gone swimming first, we would have gotten caught in a massive thunderstorm that was, unbeknownst to us, heading for East Wemyss. Heavy rains would have undoubtedly made walking the cemetery impossible.

We arrived in East Wemyss just after 6:00 to sunny skies, parked our car in front of the only church we could see, on Main Road. Apparently there is a small cemetery in the back of the church but for some reason we didn’t even look there. Instead, I asked a passerby if there was a main cemetery. (In hindsight, I realized how out of character this was for us. This church cemetery would have been the logical place to bury people in the 19th century. But again, if we’d spent any time looking through that cemetery, we’d have gotten caught in the coming storm.)

We were told that if we followed the same road a short while we would find a large cemetery on our right. We got back in the car and drove maybe a half-mile to the enormous MacDuff Cemetery, sandwiched between the Main Road and the Firth of Fourth (just this side of the North Sea). From the time we left our village our world seemed a bit surreal, but from this point on I recall feeling like a character in a play—going through the motions of a prewritten script.

We parked the car in a parking lot at the far end of the cemetery, not realizing that we could drive into the cemetery and began walking back towards town through thousands of stone markers and monuments. If we’d driven on the small roads that, we later realized, ran through the cemetery we’d never have ended up where we did. It’s hard to imagine that we didn’t notice the roads and drive them… It simply wasn’t part of the script, I suppose.

We arrived at MacDuff Cemetery and immediately felt slightly deflated. The size of the cemetery was daunting. The old and new stones and monuments stood side-by-side and the weather was looking dodgy. But something made us move forward…

As we walked slowly across the grounds, we searched for old stones or markers of the type that might have been placed by a poor family in the late 1800’s. We quickly realized, to our dismay that most of the older markers and stones had worn down too badly to read.

Initially I’d hoped that the cemetery might be divided into sections according to eras. It was quickly apparent, however, that the very old and fairly new (1850-1960’s) markers stood side by side.  Logically there was little room to hope we’d find anything, but for some inexplicable reason we continued walking forward through the center of the massive cemetery, slightly veering left, for no reason that we were aware of. We did not meander; we walked in only one direction, through the grass, making our own route towards something, or—more likely, it seemed—towards nothing at all.

We both quickly agreed that the calm walk along the seaside was probably more of a reason to be there than any realistic hope of finding anything.

After perhaps 10-15 minutes of wandering, we realized that a storm was coming in off the sea. Clearly understanding the improbability of ever finding evidence of William, Janet, Margaret and Catherine Scott in this beautiful, massive, maze of a cemetery, Egils (who was walking slightly ahead of me) turned around and said, “Maybe somewhere there’s a directory of names and where people are buried.” And then he reiterated what we’d already recognized, “Because even if there is a marker somewhere, most of the really old ones that are close to the ground are not readable…”

I knew, at this point, that he was tired after a long day’s work and the importance of our journey was probably just getting out of the house and spending some time together.

“Yeah, and there may not even be a marker if they were as poor as I think,” I added, as I prepared to turn around and return to the car.

Then suddenly I stopped in mid turn-around and said, “You know we had this exact same sense when we were looking for Stella. We knew there was a good chance that Stella was killed in the war or had died afterwards or had married and changed her name. We had every reason to doubt that we’d find her and then we did. Just like that: There she was!”

(Note: Stella was a Latvian woman who had disappeared pre WWII. Against insurmountable odds, after years of searching through old Soviet archives and just as we were about to give up the search we found her.)

It restored my faith a bit to remember how I felt when—against all probability, feeling deflated and helpless—Stella seemed to materialize in front of our eyes.

I began walking towards Egils, again, but after only two or three steps forward, I had to step around a monument just to my left. I looked at it and read “William Scott.”

I was mentally unable to process what I was seeing.

Monument at MacDuff Cemetery

This caught my eye but was too shocking to completely process, mentally.

When I continued reading, my first thought was, “Huh… this stone is full of names exactly like my family’s. Those Scotts really liked those particular names!”

Holly at monument in East Wemyss Cemetery

This is seconds after stumbling across the monument that I was “90 percent certain” was in the USA.

As I realized what I was looking at, I almost fell over: I was standing in the exact same spot where my great grandfather stood, in Dave’s photo; I was looking at the same monument!

The ground beneath my feet felt sacred—not in the cemetery sense, but in the “Something really blessed is happening right here in this moment.

As dramatic as it sounds I was completely overwhelmed with a sense of my ancestors presence. I sat down on the ground and touched the base of the obelisk as I read the names: William. Catherine. Janet. Margaret.

I’m not sure why, but touching this stone, made it more real to me. It was actually unreal until the moment that I felt the stone beneath my fingers.

Agnes’s husband and three of her daughters. Gone.

What immediately struck me as odd (and continues to) is that I suddenly felt happy. Seeing this monument and reading these names didn’t sadden me more. I felt my people smiling down at me. I felt they had brought me to this point and were pleased that I now knew a bit more of their story. We were connected in that moment; they were once again engaged in life—my life and that of my children and living family.

By the time we walked back to our car it was raining and it rained all the way home…

This monument made a statement: How incredibly important family must have been to my ancestors. This pilgrimage back to the motherland, at the turn of the century, to erect this monument to William and the three girls—Janet, Catherine, and Margaret—took money, courage and a commitment that speaks volumes about the terrible sense of loss they felt but it also speaks of immense love, loyalty and bonds that lived within the family.

I emailed Dave as soon as I returned home:

The monument is here!!!! I found it!!!!!!

And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our ancestors led me to it. It was bizarre beyond my wildest dreams.

Love you!

H

And Dave replied:

This ancestry stuff can take some weird twists and turns…

David is the master of understatement.

David and I agree that sometimes the magic and miracles that surround this genealogical research leaves us thinking the ancestors want to be heard. They want their stories to be discovered and shared. It’s important—perhaps only because it makes us stronger to know what our people went through in order to get us here. Today.

I thank them, today, for all of the pain, grief and sorrow they endured those years gone by, as well as for leading me to a monument in East Wemyss on September 3, 2012 so I could unravel a bit more of their story and share it.

And as I sit here, in my wee Scottish village, writing this blog in the 21st century, I feel the completion of a circle. Agnes left and I’ve returned.

A note to Agnes: I’m home, Agnes. My babies are all grown and some have babies of their own. I have cousins and second cousins with babies who have babies… Your line lives on… It’s not always an easy life here on planet earth but I think I can speak for all of us—your descendants—we are grateful for the opportunity to travel these roads. And we are here thanks to you, your perseverance and your strength. It was all worth it.

Well done!

The Insanely Fluid Ramblings Of An Optimistic… no wait, Pessimistic… no wait, Optimistic Storyteller

After breaking with my pattern and writing the emotionally difficult blog about my mother, in May, I had a revelation: Prior to that post I had been blogging about experiences and events in my distant past; it was easier, less painful, less personal. It was also less authentic because it didn’t include the raw uncensored aspects of my journey. It’s not that I intentionally bend the facts, later; it’s just that during the time that lapses, between the experiences and when I relate them, I have ample opportunity to soften the edges of the memories—or sharpen them, given my sporadic vacillation between drama and comedy—because first and foremost: I am a storyteller. So regardless of the chosen direction—waxing philosophical or breaking cynical—the recollection of events experienced months or years prior to my telling, are not raw and real. They are tainted and reconstructed with humor, irony and goodwill; whatever makes them easier to live with. But I fear that ultimately these stories become like “easy-listening” radio as opposed to full-on Leonard Cohen… Okay, I’ll never be Leonard Cohen… But hopefully you get my drift.

From here on out I resolve to be more honest—by being more current—when blogging.

Here and now I want to relate a not-too-distant-past event that I survived, but chose not to blog, because it was and is still painful. I realized a few weeks ago that I’d avoided almost all mention of this enormous, life-changing event—even on Facebook.

A short backstory for anyone just entering this blog:

I’ve lived abroad for the better part of 17 years, during which time I raised two amazing daughters and chose a lovely partner, Egil, to share my journey with. Three years ago, after the girls left home, Egil and I relocated from Latvia to Scotland. The reason for relocation was the collapse of the Latvian economy. The reason we chose Scotland was our love for the country.

Reinventing our life has been maximally challenging for many reasons—being people of a certain age is one; conducting a job search in the midst of a terrible recession, as immigrants, is another… The list goes on from there.

Americans are not permitted to live in Scotland for more than 6 months at a time without a visa or living permit. I couldn’t acquire a visa /living permit until Egil—my sponsor—was able to generate enough income, on a regular basis, to support me. Being a European National, he had the right to live and work here in Scotland; finding work was another matter altogether.

So every 6 months I traveled back to the US for 6 months, while Egil worked diligently on finding a niche here in Scotland.

I am now approaching the aforementioned event.

I returned to the US for 6 months in May, 2011. About a week into my visit I contracted an upper-respiratory infection extraordinaire. I was ill for almost 2 weeks. Being one of the 50 million uninsured Americans—and certain I would recover with enough vitamin C, chamomile tea and rest—I did not see a doctor.

Shortly after recovering from this flu I went on a cruise to Alaska; this had been a high priority on my bucket list and was a gift from my cherished friend, and former boarding-school roommate, Brenda. I had said, repeatedly since the early 1970’s, that I would cruise to Alaska before I died. When vowing this, I had no idea how these two events—an Alaskan cruise and my death—would almost simultaneously occur.

In early June, floating off the Alaskan coast, I had an anxiety attack; or so I believed. By the end of July I was having these attacks regularly but believed they were asthma. By the end of October, instead of packing my bags to return to Scotland, I was so ill I could not raise my arms above my head without losing my breath. My feet were swollen and I was coughing up blood…

On October 29th, one day after my 60th birthday, I was hospitalized—insured or not. To my horror I learned, very quickly, that I was in congestive heart failure.

It turns out that almost any flu, if it feels so inclined, can attack any organ of our body after it completes its initial mission. In my case, the bug that attacked my upper respiratory system in May continued its onslaught, well into June, only now it targeted my heart.

I will interject my non-scientific personal beliefs here: My heart was deeply saddened as I watched the sudden and terrible decline of Latvia and was further burdened when Scotland ejected me every 6 months; it was broken a bit more with each prolonged separation from Egil. My heart was weak and vulnerable—an easy target—by May 2011. That flu saw me coming a mile away.

For five and a half months I struggled to move from room to room in my friend, Bette’s, house. For the last two of those months I struggled to breathe even while sitting in a chair. Bedtime was a nightmare; I awakened every hour or so bolting upright, gasping for breath. My dreams were of suffocating and being strangled…

I need to write about this event to get it outside of me… I need to relate how dark and murky that place is—that place that we go when our heart is broken and malfunctioning and we have no medical insurance and no idea where to turn for help. That place where I went. I felt completely helpless and frightened out of my mind for months, with nowhere to turn. I wish I could break philosophical here and tell you that I learned a huge amount and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to_______. You fill in the blank space with your choice of great learning experiences that you’re pretty sure you would have had. Make up all sorts of reasons why this was a gift from the Universe. Go ahead. I dare you… Because the way I see it is this: I got ripped off of more than 5 months of my life (time that I now recall as one muddy, ugly snapshot flowing into the next) followed by another 8 months of recovery time. Factually, I do believe in a divine plan and that all is well. Somewhere. But here, in my little corner of planet earth, I lost months of my life to illness and more months of time with my partner: Time I will never get back. Then there were the thousands of dollars of medical bills racked up—after trying with all my might to avoid getting help—because my country doesn’t believe its people have the right to healthcare.

I am so pissed-off…

Wait a minute… As I wrote that last sentence I realized how ungrateful I sound.

Okay, let me clarify: I know I’m fortunate to be alive. Of course, I’m blessed to have received the help I needed—albeit in the nick of time because of the lack of healthcare thing… I’m incredibly fortunate that I was born in an era when the medications necessary to save my life were available… I am blessed with good friends and family who hosted me for months while I was immobile and later while recovering…  I know all of that! But that’s not the point; is it?

Wait a minute I need to sort through my feelings in order to stay real.

Okay, I’m back…

Something just hit me: I’ll bet you that if blog about this event in the future, I’ll be disgustingly upbeat about it. At least I’ll have turned it into a black comedy of sorts—smoothing down the edges and fine-tuning the humor… I will have philosophized this event up one side and down the other until it’s hardly recognizable… I’m slipping into it—that saccharinely sweet Pollyanna place—already…

That’s me. That’s how I roll. Damn it all!

It’s not that I’m actually disingenuous. I’m just an incurable optimist—probably bordering on being a romantic—who needs to put every memory into a tidy happy, aesthetically pleasing box, prior to filing it away; that way, when reflecting back on my life, I smile if not laugh.

Now to the present:

Welcome to Scotland!

I always get a lump in my throat when approaching Scotland and seeing this “Welcome” sign. But this trip was even more emotional.

I returned home a little over two weeks ago. I’m now back in Stirling, Scotland with the Symes (my Scottish family) and Egil. As I write this blog, Egil is on the phone, interpreting and working with other immigrants who also fled dire economics. Yes, he found his niche and we’re heading towards a normal life again…

And oddly, as frustrated and angry as I was when I began this blog earlier today, at some point I began remembering other aspects of this horrible, amazing, eventful, year: Because of my illness I was in the states when my mother fell and broke her hip—a story that ended with her in a nursing home. I was able to visit her as she made that transition and I was there to support my sibs at this most difficult and important time. I spent months with my dear brother, Tim, and his wife, Mia, (my sister of choice not birth) and their children and their children’s children—more time than I’ve had with that branch of my family in… well, actually more time than I’ve ever had with them. I was there when my namesake, Holly, gave birth to her beautiful baby, Trey, and I watched him become a toddler. I had time with my sister, Jeannine, who battled breast cancer for the better part of this year and had the privilege of seeing her beautiful baldhead defiantly sprout brand new, soft curly hair, declaring her victorious over the disease. I spent time with my devoted sister, Heather, who walked herself into blisters this year, to raise money for breast cancer research and hovered over Jeannine and me like a mother hen, at every opportunity. I enjoyed time with my children and my beautiful blessed grandchildren. I was present for my daughter Jessica’s graduation from University and proudly cried through the entire day. I had months of quality time with my old and dear friend Bette, who never once commented that my 6-month visit had turned into 15. And Bette and I reconnected with Donna, another friend from childhood… I experienced an earthquake, survived a derecho and had the opportunity to say goodbye to a beloved uncle. I turned one of my children’s books into a musical with the great jazz artist, Heidi Martin. I practiced yoga with my precious friend Mary Lou, who became a certified yoga instructor during this most auspicious and terrible year. I spent time with two of my wise and beautiful, aging aunts…

Damn it, I’m glad I wrote about how pissed off I was with my ill health, and the US lack of healthcare, before I began reflecting on all of the wondrous and beautiful happenings of the past year and a half…

I feel the sharp edges of my memories wearing away as I write, replaced with gratitude that I’m alive, I’m loved, and I have so many beautiful people in my life to love.

My man in the heather

Egil coming out of the heather after a photo op.

I’m sliding into a smile… because I really am incredibly thankful to be alive and writing. I am also supremely grateful for my partner, who waits patiently for me no matter where I go or how long I stay…

Loch Leven

Loch Leven… What can I say? One of the many beautiful lochs in Scotland that welcomed me back.

How can I hold a grudge against my life with all of its perfect imperfections when the bottom line is: I am alive, living in Scotland and loving it, with all of its midges, mountains, rain and lochs? The fact is: I see unicorns and rainbows in my rearview mirror. I can’t help myself. But I will blog about current events and experiences more often—if for no other reason than to travel through the raw painful honesty of it all.

And that’s me, tucked safely back in the arms of my life here and signing off for now~

Gallery

Photo of the Day!

This gallery contains 12 photos.

On good days my mother sits in her wheelchair…

 

I am in the USA right now, recovering from some health issues and visiting with friends and loved ones, one of whom is my mom who is now in a nursing home.

On good days my mother sits in her wheelchair—on bad days she lies in her bed—staring out her window at a hillside where she remembers playing with childhood friends. My aunt says this is a false memory; she never played on that hill. Mom has a lot of false memories; this isn’t new. She created a world that met her needs. She was the center of her endlessly theatrical universe; it was clearly an alternate reality—generally high-drama—that separated her from others. I had hoped for something more from her as the years marched by. As a teenager I hoped that Mom would snap out of it and join reality so that we could connect and truly communicate.

Ours has always been a complicated relationship; I found it difficult to relate to someone living in a different world than mine. In many ways her endless theatrics frightened me; to this day I hate to be afraid or see others frightened. It’s a painful reminder…

Last week, after my brother and I explained to our mother that she was financially broke, she suddenly inherited millions of dollars—in her dramatic alternate world. She’s now planning to build a hospital for people with arthritis. Mom always admired altruism and so she created a persona of selflessness many years ago… someone to be admired and adored. Even now she’s planning to use her imaginary money to help others and be adored. My sibs and I will be in management positions. She doesn’t want to spoil us by handing us any of her millions. We need to understand the importance of a strong work ethic in spite of the fact that we have all worked hard and are now of retirement age or close to it.

When we ask questions about her newly acquired fortune she wonders why we don’t know all of the details; haven’t we read about her huge windfall? Certainly it must be in all the papers!

Mom would be as hard-pressed to tell you what her children did throughout their lifetimes, as to tell you where her millions came from. She was never involved enough in our lives to know what we were doing. She was much too busy caring for those in terrible crisis and worrying about the less fortunates. Obsessively. In all fairness I must say that my mother helped thousands of people—men, women and children. Now at the end of her life she worries and obsesses about her children and their salvation. She knows her place in heaven is secure; not only has she worried as much as anyone on the planet (an absolute prerequisite to gaining entrance to her heaven) but her good works alone should afford her passes for at least a hundred guests to escort her through the pearly gates. I tell her not to worry about us: You will not live in heaven without your children, I say. It’s a safe statement. If there is a heaven, we’ll be there; if not, well… she’ll be none the wiser.

Mom once told me that one of the reasons she married my father, at eighteen years old, was because he promised her they would travel the world. Being from a poor family she couldn’t imagine seeing the world on her own. She felt eternally blessed to meet a man who shared her travel priorities. Once their children started coming and bills piling up, however, my parents’ travel was put on a back burner. Her life was much like mine would one day be.

And so my mother created a fantasy world to live within—or maybe she lived within her imagination from the day she was born; I’ll never know. I do know that, within my lifetime, she lived in a reality that differed greatly from the one my sibs and I lived in. Her memories of her life experiences—even incidents that we experienced together—had little resemblance to our reality. Our childhood home—driven by the whims of a mother whose extraordinary mood swings within an alternate universe dictated her behavior—was a confusing, frightening environment, lacking any emotional security.

Mom remembers me as a perfectly well behaved child, silent and cooperative—this is quite possibly because I spent my early childhood hiding from her—avoiding her unpredictability at all cost. Then again, it might be a false memory; it’s impossible to say.

My sibs and I grew and matured, spent time in therapy and developed a wicked sense of humor. It was how we survived. As an adult I hoped and prayed for a healing for my mother. Instead she remained consistently herself—stuck in her own ever-increasingly dramatic reality, without any desire to join the rest of us, dreaming her dreams and living within them. And I remained frustrated, waiting for a magical age, revelation, or miracle that would bring us to a common ground.

In 1997 my mother lived one of her greatest dreams: She experienced her first real travel when she and my father visited my daughters and me in Estonia. In the middle of their visit Mom requested that she and I take a trip down to Latvia (where Soviet mentality and culture were much more obvious than in Estonia) without my dad and stay somewhere that would truly reflect the Soviet culture—not a Holiday Inn. I agreed but with reservations: This translated to two full days of Mom Time with nowhere to hide.

We took a night train down to Riga, the capitol city of Latvia, and checked into an inexpensive, dimly lit, damp, Soviet hotel called Sport Viesnīca (or perhaps Monika Viesnīca; I knew of several cheap digs that were almost identical to one another that most definitely reflected Soviet culture). Neither the rampant cockroaches nor the rusty bathtub that drained onto the cracked ceramic tiled floor—then down a central drain in the middle of the room—dampened my mother’s spirit. She said they were interesting, even exotic because they were part of an experience she’d awaited all of her life. Some might think she had a low expectation of life. But I believe that she just wanted the rush of being somewhere completely different from where she normally lived… in her head. The roaches, rusty tub and newspaper-instead-of-toilet-paper reality shook her world, demanding that she live in the moment. She was there in that Soviet hotel— not writing a story, altering her reality, or living within her imagination—she was completely present in every single one of those dark, mildewed, moments as they ticked by—smiling the smile of a young girl falling in love for the first time.

Several hours into touring the city, on the day we were to return to Estonia, a policeman grabbed my arm and yelled at me in Latvian language, of which I spoke almost none. My attempt to speak Russian with him gave my English language away and he shouted back at me in perfect English, “You must leave immediately! There is a bomb in this building,” as he pointed upward at a building looming above us. In my preoccupation with showing my mother the city, I’d failed to notice the bomb squad and others converging on the building.

Mom’s seventy-two year old legs were limited and her stamina had long been reduced to less than a child’s. “It’s okay Mom,” I said calmly, as I took her arm and ushered her quickly away from the crowd of firefighters and policemen. “We’ll be fine. I’m not at all frightened so don’t you be afraid. We just need to get down the street quickly.” What I wanted more than anything was to spare my mother fear. I reasoned that if we died we would hopefully go quickly and if not… well… this would be a life experience. The one thing I couldn’t bear was to see my elderly mother frightened.

As we walked away from the building she looked at me and smiled elatedly, “Oh, I’m not at all frightened. I was just thinking what a monumental event this is. I’m here in the former Soviet Union. There’s a bomb in that building. This is real and I’m here; it’s all so exciting!”

I held her hand as we walked quickly down the street towards safety. If I’d been alone I probably would have taken a few pictures before retreating. I truly believe if she’d approached this building without me she might have stuck around, just to see a real live explosion in a former Soviet city… We were sharing a bizarre reality with some skewed emotional responses but I understood her in that moment—although I knew many people would not have—and I loved her with all my heart.

Last weekend my brother and I went to visit our mother in the nursing home. We said goodbye and walked out to the lobby to leave, when I realized that I’d left my car keys on her bed. I walked back to her room and entered it. She was sitting in her wheel chair looking up at the hill, her back to me.

“I forgot my keys, Mom,” I said, as I entered, not wanting to frighten her.

She didn’t turn around but kept her gaze out the window.

“There’s a big black bear waddling up that hill,” she said, pointing her crooked pointer finger at the hill. My mom’s finger is crooked because it was caught in a coffee grinder or a flourmill or the wringer in her mother’s clothes washer or stepped on by a bully in boots… her story, about how her finger became crooked, changes; the bent finger does not.

“Yes, of course there’s a bear,” I replied, as I turned to leave. Then on second thought I turned back to kiss her head one more time. As I bent down to kiss her I glanced out the window, there was indeed a black bear lumbering up the hill.

“Mom, there really is a bear, there,” I whispered, in amazement.

She looked up at me and smiled. Maybe she was relieved that I saw it, too. I don’t know. I put my hand on her shoulder and we watched silently as the bear made his way to the top of the hill.

“I used to play on that hill when I was a girl,” she said, as the bear vanished into the woods.

“Of course you did,” I said. And I thought: There could be much worse alternate universes to live in. She could be frightened; she could be seeing spiders or demons…

But she’s not; she spared us that. She’s enjoying memories of playing on hills and inheriting millions of dollars.

A big fat Hollywood ending isn’t going to happen… there will be no magical age, revelations or snapping out of it for my mom. But there might be closure for me… Mom and I have been blessed with occasional moments of overlapping realities in which I’ve seen an essence of her and realized ways that the apple actually fell quite near the tree. And then there was that one extended overlapping reality in Riga… in 1997. And, oddly enough, today, I’m thinking these simple blessings might be enough for a quiet, low drama closing to our story.

 

Lessons Of The Body, Mind, And Soul

 

Our first winter in Estonia was cold, confusing, magical… and talk about an accelerated jaunt up the learning curve.

Within a few months I learned: When no one is out and about in a Nordic town on a sunny winter day it’s best to stay inside, because clear days tend to be colder than cloudy days and temperatures can easily dip to 40 below zero. When this happens people stay inside. It’s an unwritten rule or maybe just common sense. If one doesn’t know this rule, however, and doesn’t own a thermometer and goes outside in these low temperatures—oh let’s say to go sledding—when one rubs one’s tingling nose (which is a sign that body tissues are freezing) said nose can actually bend and stay bent off to the side until one bends it back. Apparently this is an early sign of frostbite. I also learned that -40 Celsius is the same as -40 Fahrenheit, although it doesn’t actually feel that different from -15 Fahrenheit. The injurious affect -40 has on the human body, however, is noteworthy and the speed at which this severe cold does its damage is remarkable. I also learned that contact lenses can freeze in your eyes at these incredibly low temperatures. I won’t share the details of how I learned these lessons. I’ll simply say: I survived with little more than a shattered contact lens and a nose that stayed red for many months.

Winter

Winter in Baltics

Avto, the postman, bought me a thermometer after the bent nose incident (from the thermometer store, no doubt) and said something like, “You know everyone vill sink you need AA, now, because you look like drunkard wis zat red nose.”

“I’ll explain that I went sledding in -40 weather and got pre-frostbite,” I replied.

“Great plan, Hol! Zen everyone will sink you are only stupid and zere is no cure for stupid…”

I held my head high, walked very straight lines and used a lot of foundation makeup that winter.

Both girls picked up Russian language quickly since we lived in a Russian neighborhood. I studied Estonian language in an attempt to fit in with the Estonian population (who didn’t like speaking the language of their oppressors). It seemed like the polite thing to do.

Unfortunately Estonian language is (arguably) considered the third most difficult language to learn (just below Cantonese) when coming from English; this, combined with my uncooperative 44 year-old brain, created a pathetic mish-mosh of vocal sounds that bore little resemblance to Estonian language. I learned words, albeit with a terrible accent—bread, milk, shampoo, sorry, yes, and no—as well as simple phrases—pardon me, how much does this cost, when is the next train—and how to count from one to a thousand. Speaking with any level of fluency or understanding this language when spoken by locals, however, forever remained a pipedream.

Aside from studying Estonian language, my life was busy learning simple things like where and how to shop in a country that appeared to have invented the specialty shops: the meat market sold only meat, the vegetable market sold veggies, the chemical shop sold chemicals, the light bulb store had the strangest array of light bulbs imaginable but nothing more. The chair store, which sold only chairs, was across town from the table store. We’ve already covered the thermometer store…

Then there was figuring out how to do laundry—which I ultimately ended up doing in my bathtub with a little scrub board my mom sent me. Within weeks I realized that unless I could add a few hours to my day, home-schooling the girls wasn’t going to happen. So, since they were already picking up Russian language, I enrolled them in Russian schools.

Each day it seemed that one or both of the girls came home with a story about what they were learning beyond the school curriculum. Erin learned to love Borscht topped with sour cream and served with hearty black Russian bread, every single day for lunch. And then one day Jessica learned what a patronymic was and how to create her very own…

Jessica Ivanovna

Tanya, a classmate of Jessica’s, spoke some English. With Jessica’s quickly developing Russian language skills, and the occasional pantomime, they enjoyed fair communication. On this particular day Tanya, with an audience of several other girls, announced that she was going to give Jessica her patronymic.

 (FYI Patronymics are names used instead of last names in Russian culture. They are created by taking the father’s first name and adding the ending Ovna for a female and Ovitch for a male. For example: if a father is named Ivan (which is actually John in Russian), his daughter’s patronymic is Ivanovna and his son’s is Ivanovitch.)

Before I continue with this story I should mention that John Morrison, my late husband and father of my four children, loved to laugh. Since he married into a family of people who also love to laugh and have an incredibly irreverent sense of humor, all was well—within the family, that is. Frequently, our humor was considered inappropriate outside of our family, however…

So on this particular winter day Tanya, with her less than perfect English, said to Jessica: “Today we give you patronymic.”

“Okay,” Jessica said, expecting a gift of some sort since she’d never heard the word patronymic before.

“What is you father’s name?” Tanya asked.

Confused at the question, Jessica said, “He’s dead.” I have no idea why this seemed like the time to share this particular information.

Tanya, who was unfamiliar with all of those weird American names, thought carefully for a moment and then said, very proudly.“Uh huh… Okay… so your patromymic is Jessica Hesdeadovna.“

After a short, confusing hesitation Jessica said “No, he’s dead. I mean literally he’s dead!“

“Yes, I know; I understand. This is you correct patronymic. Hesdeadovna,“ Tanya was adamant.

“No; what I mean is he died!“ Jessica said emphatically.

“Oh!“ Tanya said, now certain that she truly understood, “Yeah, yeah, now I see… So you name is Jessica Hediedovna!“

With this Jessica heaved a sigh of resignation, crossed her arms in front of her chest, rolled her eyes back in her head and said, “My father is dead,“ clearly making her point. Unfortunately she was not beyond finding humor in the situation and she began giggling uncontrollably as her Russian friends looked on in horror before walking away. Within Russian culture laughter and death don’t mix. Ever.

That evening Jessica told the story to a more appreciative audience—namely her family—all of whom shared both the pain of the moment as well as the undeniable humor.

“Your dad would have loved this story,“ I said as I wiped my eyes.

“He is loving it,“ Jessie said. “Right now he’s laughing his butt off; I feel it!“ I couldn’t disagree. There’s just way too much mystery in life for me to have any clear opinions on such things.

When I look back on that winter afternoon I think that was the beginning of my understanding of the strange, solitary journey my daughters and I were on—for better or worse. We would never be Russian, Estonian or even European. But neither were we typical Americans in any of the ways I could readily identify. We were blazing new trails without role models or mentors… I had wanted a new beginning after John’s death but I’d gotten a newer beginning than I’d ever imagined.