The last two, or maybe three times we moved, Drew and I said, "That's it! No more moving." Surrounded knee-deep, sometimes neck-deep, by boxes and upended, unassembled pieces of furniture, we vowed to stay put. But here we are moving again, of our own free will. Obviously each change of address has brought its own share of positive opportunities.
So, to put a finer point on it.... it's not the MOVE, but MOVE-ING we dislike.
For all of you who have moved – and who hasn't? – I know you can relate. Moving turns your whole life literally upside down. We've now been living in our new house for 3 weeks, and I still look for the trash can under the sink rather than in the pantry. I pivot to the left for the fridge instead of the right, and right instead of left for the microwave. Sometimes I stand in the middle of the kitchen and literally twirl, unsure in which direction to find the silverware.
Granted, we only moved five houses down the street in our current Hendrix Village neighborhood of Conway, Arkansas, which is considerably less than when we packed up our belongings and moved from Arkansas to Alaska 34 years ago. But change is change, no matter the distance. And if I've learned nothing else in moving to 12 cities across 4 continents during our 49 years of marriage, it is that transitions take time.
I'd like to say that I'm a pro by now at transitions, but that would be stretching the truth. Or, in plainer terms – a lie. I still struggle through them. But I have learned that the key word in that struggle for me is "through." The only way I will get to the other side of the transition tunnel is to keep inching forward... one box, then another, one room, then another, until the light of normalcy begins to return.
And it is...
As you can see from one picture to the next, there are at least some books on shelves, and I'm still smiling (kind of).
Despite the temporary upheaval, Drew and I are grateful for this move to a lovely new home among a community of caring neighbors. We love it so much that we've vowed to never move again. This time we mean it, we really MEAN it! Really.
Come see us!
This blog posting is not about me, even though my picture is the first thing you see. I dusted off my 1973 college yearbook (I'll let you do the math) to locate one photo that would place this story in historical context.
Notice the silver bracelet on my left wrist. When this photo was taken, I had been wearing the bracelet continuously for about a year, ever since it arrived in a package marked POW/MIA Bracelet Campaign. Other students on campus were wearing them to draw attention to America's prisoners of war and missing in action in Vietnam, and I wanted to join them. I mailed 2 dollar bills and 2 quarters to the LA-based student organization and waited for 4-6 weeks.
The nickel-plated bracelet is as shiny today as the day it arrived.
I remember rubbing my fingers over the name and date, wondering about Major Ralph Balcom. Where was he from? Did he have a family – wife, children, parents, siblings? What happened to him on May 15, 1966, the day he was officially listed as lost or taken prisoner. There was no internet to search in 1972, no way to learn about the man whose name I would wear around my wrist for the next two years.
Yet I wore it with pride, feeling an almost personal connection to a man I knew virtually nothing about and would never meet. As years passed, however, Major Balcom and the bracelet faded from my memory and into the depths of my jewelry box. I would occasionally recall his name at the mention of the Vietnam war, but then let it slip back, unexplored, into the past.
Then two weeks ago, that all changed.
Drew and I were in Washington D.C. with a day to explore the major sites. Walking from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, I noticed on the map that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was nearby. The names of all 58, 318 service men and women who died in the war are engraved on the wall.
Could I possibly locate Major Balcom?
I flipped through the pages of the alphabetical directory located at the beginning of the wall's long, black expanse. My finger slowed as I reached Ba, Bal, Balc...and there it was – Colonel Ralph C. Balcom, panel 7E, line 61. The "date of casualty" matched the date on my bracelet, 5/15/66.
Past thousands of names, each with its own intensely personal story, I found panel 7E and counted down from the top to line 61.
Thanks to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Virtual Wall, I can finally see Colonel Balcom's face and share basic information about him.
421ST TAC FTR SQDN, 388TH TAC FTR WING, 7TH AF
United States Air Force
Declared dead 12/27/1977
Promoted when in MIA status
On this Memorial Day, I give deep gratitude for a name on a bracelet, to a man who died in service to his country, and to a connection between us.
As I share Colonel Balcom's story, may we all share stories of service men and women...
so they are remembered and honored.
I'm really good at To Do lists, creating them, checking things off them, then wadding them up in a satisfying little ball and tossing them in the trash. Done! Until the next list.
I keep a paper calendar, which would probably be considered old-fashioned in some circles. I like to call it classic – the feel of pen on paper, each square just waiting for a birthday, travel date, Zoom meeting, pickleball game – not to mention the art work and quotes that inspire.
Granted, it's not too handy when I'm out-and-about and someone asks, "Are you free for lunch on Thursday?" I have been known to take a photo of my calendar, just in case.
My on-going To Do Lists are on individual post-it notes stuck to my nightstand, a kitchen cabinet, stacks of papers on my desk, even to the console of the car. Excessive, I know. But it keeps me organized, and like I said, I'm good at it.
What I'm not so good at is Want-To-Do Lists. In fact, I don't have a single one hanging around. Nothing is listed on my calendar such as read book, experiment with watercolors, or try out felt art kit. To dispel any thoughts you might have that my life is totally unbalanced... I do have a puzzle going, am starting to read a new book, walk in nature daily, visit with friends and more. It's just that To Do's can too easily take precedence over Want-To-Do's.
They seem more pressing, and many times are. Groceries must to be bought and Zoom meetings prepared for. But it easily becomes a habit to choose the flaming pink post-it list over the quiet book waiting patiently on the chair.
Granted in retirement, I have more opportunities to choose one over the other; but at any stage of life, it is Want To's that bring forth the bliss Joseph Campbell encourages us to follow. Without it, life is merely a list.
Drew and I recently took a car trip – starting at our home in Conway, Arkansas – south through parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and back. Our Southern Trip, we creatively called it, stopping to visit family and friends along the way.
Coastal Florida was relaxing...and chilly.
Mardi Gras parades were electrifying...and chilly.
Extra layers were certainly helpful.
But it was the flowers, oh the unexpected flowers – in February! – that warmed my winter-weary soul. Tulip trees laden with pink blossoms, daffodils bedecked in yellow frills, tulips and azaleas aglow in shades of Easter basket delight.
(My word choice... too flowery, perhaps... but if flowers don't inspire poetry, what does?)
There was one camellia bush, in particular, that caught my eye. Its brilliant red flowers seemed to shout, "Spring is Really Here!" (at least in Florida.) The blossoms were too beautiful among the glossy leaves to snatch one off the branch, so I searched the ground below for a recent dropping. I found one, fingered its soft petals, and placed it gently in my pocket.
I took it back to our bed and breakfast and positioned it on a window sill to admire throughout the evening.
Then left it the next morning floating in a fountain, the redness adding a hopeful sign to the leftovers of winter.
And I carried a piece of that hope with me, as we drove on down the road.
The first, and only, time I heard the term "High Tree Day," I was attending a day-long journaling retreat at the Shrine of St. Therese in Juneau, Alaska – around 30 years ago. I still recall the weather, one of those treasured days in Southeast Alaska when the sky is a brilliant blue, and the only clouds are merely passing by. Not a hint of rain.
The facilitator led us through a series of writing prompts. The five other participants and I wrote, shared, listened, drank herbal tea and longed to get outside. The host's log cabin, although cozy, felt more confining as the morning passed. Everyone in Juneau knows that on a sunny day... you get outside.
Finally, she said that the remainder of the day was ours – to wander, write, sketch, sit, walk the labyrinth – but not talk. "It's a time to listen to yourself, to nature, to reflect, or simply clear your mind." A High Tree Day, she called it.
Of course, we didn't rush to the nearest evergreens and start climbing to a perfect perch. But the image was, and still is, a powerful one for me. High in a tree is time away from foot traffic, from details of the everyday. It is a change in perspective, a chance to see the bigger picture.
A time to be open.
Over the past years, I have taken many High Tree Days, some in nature, others in a comfortable chair or on the floor in our house with books and journals spread around me. I leave my phone and Apple Watch, and their distractions, in a drawer. I climb up my imaginary tree and wonder what I may learn.
Another High Tree Day is way overdue. Last June, I attended a Veriditas labyrinth pilgrimage in Chartres, France and filled a journal with notes and ideas, quotations and inspirations. Ever since then, I have intended to re-read my words, but have allowed daily To Do lists to take priority.
What, I wonder, did I want to carry back home with me, to integrate into my life? Only in quiet reflection, will I know.
I'll sit on the window seat in our upstairs room, looking down on the street, as if I'm perched in a tree. I'll open my labyrinth journal and allow the words to transport me back to France.
What might your High Tree Day (or half day or couple of hours) look like? Is there something, in particular, you want to reflect on? Or perhaps you need time and space for yourself, for whatever bubbles to the surface.
If so, there's a tree just waiting for you.
On this super cold (6 degree F) morning in Arkansas, these four Russian Santas are basking in the sunlight that pours through our dining room windows. And I'm basking right along with them. Thankfully, we've been spared the snowstorms, which much of the country has experienced. But the frigid temperatures remind me of the days in Moscow when I purchased the Santas.
No matter how many layers of clothes, gloves, socks, scarves and hats I put on, I still froze each December when I went shopping for gifts at Izmailovo Market.
As I wandered among matryoshka dolls, lacquerware, amber jewelry, Frabergé eggs (replicas), paintings, fur hats, carpets, Soviet memorabilia, and endless rows of booths – my fingers and feet quickly grew numb. I could hardly unzip my purse to pull out rubles or clomp down one more lane to find just the right item. But, of course, I did!
When it came to selecting one Santa from hundreds, I had a clear priority. He must have a kind face. Even if I couldn't see his entire mouth, I could tell kindness in twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, an upturned mustache.
The kindness in their faces is the quality I remember most about the Russian friends Drew and I made while working for seven years at the Anglo-American School in Moscow and St. Petersburg. We shared meals, conversations, cups of tea, an occasional sip of vodka, and spoke of our families, our commonalities – despite our countries' historic differences.
Santa, aka Ded Moroz, Pére Noël, Sinterklaas, Saint Nicolas, Weihnaachtsmann, Kris Kringle, is not bothered by boundaries, nationalities, governments or even stop lights as he faithfully delivers gifts to one and all alike. One chimney, pair of shoes, stocking or tree is the same to him.
I wonder. Might we, as recipients of that generosity, likewise spread peace and good will to our neighbors, wherever we may find them?
I simply need to look into the faces of my Russian Santas...to believe.
When I showed Drew the bouquet I collected on my morning walk, he said, "Well, it looks like it's seen better days."
"True," I conceded, as I turned the brown, crispy, shedding remains of once vibrant wildflowers in my fingers. "But there's a story here."
"I thought there might be," he nodded, knowing that the story wasn't far behind. And it wasn't.
It all started last Sunday morning when I set forth on a well-trodden path, a ritual of sorts, from our condo in Portland, Maine to Portland Head Light, a 15-minute drive away. The Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in Maine, completed in 1791, along the rugged shore of the shipping channel into Portland Harbor. The lighthouse was my destination, but I rarely reach it by simply traveling from point A to B.
Step 1 – Stop at Scratch Baking Co.
Bypassing the fresh-baked bread and bagels, maple banana bread, breakfast sandwiches and scones, I select a bran muffin, brimming with Maine blueberries. With a cup of decaf in hand, I head out the door before the scones coax me to take a few of them along.
Step 2 – Park at the Head Light and walk the cliff trail.
Step 3 - Veer off the trail to my favorite rock.
I discovered the rock at least five trips ago, or maybe it discovered me. I needed an outdoor place to be, a solitary spot where I could listen to what was around and inside me.
The landscape is browner than the last time I was here, more on the winter side of fall. The world feels quieter, like it's taking a deep breath, which will last for several months. I look more closely at the generic brownness around me, so easily dismissed as drab. Breaking off a stem here, a dried flower there, tiny seeds fall in my palm or fly upwards upon pieces of fuzz. Within the brownness, rests new life. Within me, stillness.
Step 4 – Follow path to the lighthouse
Gently clutching my bouquet, I walk the remainder of the path to the Head Light. I circle its broad base, pause at the railing to watch the surging waves roll then splash, and re-read the bronzed stanza from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Lighthouse.
Sail on, sail on, ye stately ships!
And with your floating bridge the ocean span;
Be mine to guard this light from all eclipse.
Be yours to bring man neared unto man.
The story goes that Longfellow, a resident of Portland, frequently followed his own well-trodden path to the lighthouse. I picture him sitting on a rock, waiting for the words to come.
Step 5 - Retrace steps
When you arrive home from traveling a well-trodden, or brand new path, you bring things back with you – some tangible, others more abstract. At the end of this lighthouse journey, two new items were in my tote bag, a bunch of dried flowers and a muffin for Drew. Less visible... a welcome calmness, an anticipation of the season to come when I – like the dried, brown flowers – will find rest and restoration.
Take a close look at these photos of the Place de l'Eglise (Church), Auvers-sur-Oise, France. What similarities and differences do you see? No, this is not a test.
When Drew and I visited the church in July, we had not yet seen Vincent Van Gogh's painting of it in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. But we had seen a collection of similar churches in other French villages, constructed of local stone, primarily in the 12th century. While we admired the craftsmanship and appreciated the church's significance to the people throughout the centuries, there was little to set the church in Auvers apart from its contemporaries.
However, the church I saw a week later – through Van Gogh's eyes – was an entirely different story! It was alive with color and movement, as are so many of his paintings. The whole structure looked like it was getting ready to dance off its foundation and fly into glorious cobalt blueness. Who would have thought to cast the church in shades of violet, with streaks and flecks of dazzling orange atop its roof?
I wanted to peek in the windows, sit on the billowy grass, skip along one of the paths that flowed like rivers. I was inspired!
As a person who feels more comfortable coloring inside the lines, I was energized by Van Gogh's boldness. No one gave him permission to paint something different than what stood before him. He didn't watch a Youtube video about how to experiment with color, transform straight lines into waves, and put his soul into his art.
He listened to – and trusted – his own imagination.
Few approved, or even took notice, in Van Gogh's lifetime. But that wasn't the point.
It never is.
Imagination seeks expression, not approval.
Thank you, Vincent!
May we be so bold.
A meter of fabric
A mosaic mug
A felt making pack
A collection of Longwool sheep strands
A counted cross-stitch pincushion kit
A bottle with a fern collected on a walk
A watercolored notecard of smiling sheep
"What do these items have in common?" you may ask.
"Hmmm...," I reply.
I purchased all the items – except the mug (France) – within 50 miles of the little village of West Witton, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (UK), where Drew and I have been staying for the past 10 days. This morning I gathered them from their various packages, spread them out on the window seat of our VRBO and just enjoyed looking at them. Not analyzing The Why of my selections, other than that they simply make me smile... a bit like the sheep in the note card (by Christine Carradice).
Before coming to Yorkshire, Drew and I spent a week at a Veriditas-sponsored labyrinth retreat in Chartres, France. Along with 40 other participants, each on our individual and collective pilgrimages, we were invited to consider images we are drawn to. "What images are we feeding ourselves?" "Are we stuck with the same images?" "Is beauty a part of our images?"
We were encouraged to pay attention to nudges, those intangible feelings, prods, taps on the shoulder, inner voices that encourage you to follow one path rather than another, or pick up that meter of lovely handwoven blue and cream fabric, rub it between your fingers and take it home with you. Our inner voices can lead us in exciting and new directions, give us renewed perspective where we live, inspire us to creativity, encourage us to speak to people who may enrich our lives, become friends ... and more. The challenge, of course, is to honor nudges over naysayers or inner critics, who tend to talk more loudly and with presumed authority.
Images and nudges lay before me on the window seat. Is it their colors, textures, creativity, or perhaps their connections with other people that brought them into my life? It's not for me to question, but to follow and see where they lead.
Right now, Drew and I are headed outside to follow a footpath that starts a few meters from our VRBO. Its image of natural beauty is nudging us to take a walk, so we are!
Walking.... the labyrinth at the Shrine of St. Therese – Juneau, Alaska –May 13, 2022.
Walking... the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral – Chartres, France – June 17, 2022
The labyrinth in Juneau is a Chartres labyrinth, meaning it is designed after the one in Chartres Cathedral, built almost 1000 years ago. I knew none of this when I walked a labyrinth for the first time with my friend Margie in 2004. We were simply spending a sunny Juneau day together, circling the labyrinth at the Shrine of St. Thèrese, then sharing a picnic lunch on the beach. But, in hindsight, I clearly see how that centering, peaceful walk was a beginning – a step toward a new direction in my life. A direction which would ultimately lead to Chartres and years of labyrinth connections.
Drew and I are in Chartres to attend Walking a Sacred Path Pilgrimage, sponsored by Veriditas, a non-profit, which "promotes further understanding of the labyrinth as a tool for personal and community transformation." We will be here in retreat for a week, with our days spent learning, sharing, reflecting and walking with forty other participants.
Every time I step on the ancient path this week surrounded by stained glass and gothic pillars, I will remember its "sister" in Juneau, bordered by evergreens and sparkling water... and offer deep gratitude to both.