Tag Archives: London

…And Then I Found My Dance

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

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

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

And then…

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

The block where we live.

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

Our Front Door.

Our Front Door With Black and Whilte Tiled Walkway.

Going Sideways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Ugly High Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Back To Where I Started

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

Signing off from London with a wee dance!

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How To Create and Exacerbate Embarrassing Moments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colors and textures adorn the street where I live

Colors and textures adorn the street where I live

As do families of all shapes and sizes …

As do families of all shapes and sizes …

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

Beautiful little faces also grace my street

Beautiful little faces also grace my street

... And fruits and vegetables

… And fruits and vegetables

... And merchants and sellers of all things imaginable

… And merchants and sellers of all things imaginable

There is also a mosque on my street.

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

And onward to my next humiliation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then glancing down …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signing off—with love—from the East End.

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

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

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.

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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~