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Hats off to Chris Christie

2 Nov

My heart goes out to the residents of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Densely populated areas don’t often have to deal with the mad wrath of a hurricane, let alone one mixed up with an arctic cold front. So, when I heard our President offer his help and support, I wondered how all this would play out given the recent Republican stumping and stomping the Governor has offered to Romney. In his remarks today, Chris Christie won back my respect.

He had lost it with his remarks that “Obama is blindly searching for the light of leadership.” Honestly, I don’t think Barack was “groping in the dark” when he made the call to take out Bin Laden – a move I happen to disagree with, but one that showed incredible resolve and bravery when making the call. Leaders make the call. I don’t think Obama was “lost in indecision” when he negotiated the largest health care reform law in recent history – again, I personally believe he should have held his ground a little more to keep the mandate stronger, but it was a step. Leaders step. And I don’t think he was “the worse leader in history” when he decided to help the American Auto industry – though, I really wished he had crippled the banks and hope like hell there is litigation to bring the financial institutions to justice for how THEY caused the recession.  Ah, different rant.

So, when Christie took all these opportunities to berate and belittle my president who I think has accomplished much and stands for even more, I was put out with NJ’s Gov.

But this week, Christie stood up to the reporters and gave praise where praise was due, put partisan politics aside, and said that the people of New Jersey come first.  When he said he doesn’t “give a damn right now about a presidential election, and if you think I do, you don’t know me! ” –  he won me back – just a little.

Last Hoorah in England 2012

9 Jul
The Worcester Valley

Overlooking the English countryside on a summer day

Tomorrow is it. In 24 hours, I will be queueing up at Heathrow for my flight home. I have a one way ticket back to the heat and humidity of North Carolina, the mad pace of work, friends, family, children and business as usual. My Dodge caravan will replace my bicycle and my clothes will be dried with electricity allowing me to put ironing back where it belongs – out of my mind. Culture shock, here I come – again!

Of course, I have very mixed emotions about this decision to return to the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I have missed my people terribly, especially all those who could not visit. I have pined for my sons, worried over my mother, and ached over not seeing all those nieces and nephews who have been born and those who are growing up so fast. But most of all, I have been lost without my work.  Who knew how important it is to have a purpose and a meaning to your daily life?   I am an educator.  I belong in a school, and ultimately that is what is calling me home.  Whew, I feel like I am in confession!

What made the decision quite difficult is what I am leaving behind – besides Steve, duh! As predicted, I have made some wonderful and important local friends: upstairs neighbors, Delia and Luca; Steve’s cyber-buddy  incarnate, Jenny Edwards; the infamous Micca Paterson, introduced to me by Dani Black; and of course, the Infields, our Battersea neighbors and British counterparts who are luckily American-phyles.  Invaluable as my network the past six months, I am so grateful for the advice, travel tips, outings and times these dear people have shared with me. It is these connections that make living in a foreign country worthwhile in the end.

Home of the Mappa Mundi, Magna Carta, and a chained library

So, on my final weekend Catharine and Paul Infield arranged a tour of “our favourite (here’s to “u,” Paul) part of Britain and some places American tourist don’t often know to go.”  Who could say no to that? As always, we had a fantastic time with our dear friends.

First stop, the Cotswalds.  The Costwalds are a region of rural England where the stone is a buttery color and so all the buildings look bathed in sunlight, even through the fine drizzle.  We stopped in a beautiful little village called Burford in Oxfordshire and nipped in and out of a couple of shops. Then it was off to Hereford.  The cathedral in Hereford houses the Mappa Mundi (a medieval depiction of the intersection of the physical and spiritual world), one of four original Magna Carta presented to King John in 1217, and the largest and one of the only chained libraries in England.  I couldn’t help but think of several friends who are media specialists – forget checking out books, they are all chained to the shelves. I adore this kind of museum at Hereford.  There are three things to see, each one magnificent and awesome, then there is a cafe right by the door where you can have a cup of tea and a slice of cake afterwards. Perfect!

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Catharine’s childhood home where we added her mother to our group. She is 84 years-old and just booked her winter holiday – a cruise down the coast of West Africa. (British folks of advanced age taking holiday – to get your head around it, I recommend this movie).

Catharine’s childhood home near Bromyard

Now with five people smushed into a VW Golf, we dashed along single lane roads, some unpaved, to our Bed and Breakfast.  We ditched our bags, jumped back in the car, and went to Ludlow Castle  for an outdoor performance of Much Ado About Nothing.  We arrived early along with most of the others, to enjoy a picnic along the castle wall before the start of the show.  A British picnic includes sandwiches, various bits of fruit and veg with dips, and of course, wine with real glasses.  As we enjoyed our nibbles, the rain commenced.  Let me just interject here, that when I read a forecast, I interpret a 50% chance of rain to mean that it is likely to rain at some point during the day and then stop.  In Britain, 50% denotes that it will rain half the day.  Most likely, at 15 to 30 minute intervals. The Brits are nonplussed by precipitation.  The rain begins to fall, they put up their hoods.  It falls heavier, faster or for more than five minutes, they put up their umbrellas (affectionately called brollies). So the play started in the open arena of the castle ruins with a slow drizzle falling, and the audience sat, closed their umbrellas (because blocking the view would be rude and unheard of) quietly watching as the cast got on with the performance.  After about 20 minutes, the water began streaming off hats and jackets and the ground turned to mud.  Rows and rows of people of all ages, sat patiently and enjoyed the performance as the rain continued to fall through the interval and pool in the chairs they had vacated to go buy beer, wine and hot chocolate.  After thirty more minutes, the dedicated fans returned to their seats, pulled out towels and napkins, dried the seats and settled in for the second half which promised to be chilly as the sun was now setting.  As the cast streamed back on stage tromping through the muddy middle aisle, I realized how absolutely delighted I was to be there.  I felt like a pig in the mud, maybe a reference too close to the truth, as I soaked up the Shakespeare in the drizzle against the backdrop of the castle.

Our day on Sunday was equally delightful. After chasing a hare around Catharine’s mother’s garden, we drove to Malvern to enjoy breath-taking views of the Worcester valley. Then, we visited a black and white pub called The Fleece in Evesham.  (Steve wants to write about the pub experience in his blog. Now that I am leaving, he will have his evenings to hopefully get back to some writing.  I know I have droned on long enough so I will leave the pub depiction to him).  In the afternoon, we skirted around the grounds of Blenheim Palace before driving back into London as if following the rainbow.  Yep, I almost burst into tears looking at a double rainbow which looked as if it ended at Clapham Common. I am definitely having a love affair with England so if I still seem far away after I wake up where the clouds are far behind me, please be patient.  I am truly torn between two countries.

Here are some other photos from the weekend showing the beauty of the English countryside in Summer.

Pickles and Onions on Herring – Oh my!

27 Jun

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Amsterdam for the first time.  My son, who is 19 talked me into making the trek from London to Holland so he could visit a friend.  His friend was a girl who had come to live in Mebane, NC (our hometown) as an exchange student.  Initially, the thought of being in Amsterdam with my teen-aged son and other young folks made me apprehensive to say the least.  When I was last in Europe in 1989, Amsterdam was known only for the hash and the red light district.  I’m writing this post to document the error of my prejudices about the city.  From now on, when I think of Amsterdam, I will think of water and houseboats and pickled herring, and bicycles.

The red light district is still there, don’t get me wrong.  And of course, we took a stroll through it just to say we had.  It was dirty and weird and not all like the part of the city we spent the majority of our time in.  But to have the impression that Amsterdam is the red light district is like thinking that South Carolina is Myrtle Beach. As a native of the Carolinas, I can tell you, there are vast and beautiful places that bear no resemblance to the touristy craziness of Myrtle, and so is the case in Amsterdam. We toured all around the city on rented bicycles and enjoyed gorgeous views of renovated buildings, quaint sidewalk cafes, flower markets, and of course, canals lined with houseboats.

My new, informed take on the Venice of the Netherlands is that it is the most quiet and polite city I have traveled in.  I did not hear a single car horn in the whole four days – only the ping of bicycle bells.  My biggest and favorite surprise was the amazing cycling culture.  Women in heels, men in suits, fathers toting up to three kids on a single bike, people with their pets in baskets, all chugging along the cobble stone streets and extensive network of bike lanes.  There were bikes in all shapes with a number of ingenious ways to carry things from here to there.  My favorite was the one with the integrated box on the front.  I saw this style of bike used to shuttle dogs, school aged children, lumber, furniture, and groceries.  It is the minivan of the Netherlands.

My second favorite surprise was how much I enjoyed the food.  I’m guessing fresh produce is good just about everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere in late June, but I had forgotten about Dutch apple pie.  Other staples like bread, cheese and beer were also delicious. Finally, the pickled herring.  Topped with chopped onions and pickles, it is a flavor explosion of a very pleasing combination.

Finally, while Holland is famous for tulips, in June it’s the Hollyhocks that steal the show.  They pushed up between the cracks of the sidewalk next to buildings where they were not purposefully planted.  Hydrangeas and trailing roses were also featured foliage providing a soft and delicate edge to the sharpness of all the brick and pavement.  All in all, I have to say, Amsterdam will be high on the list of places to re-visit.

Storming Provence

7 Jun

A couple of months ago, I went to Paris for the first time since 1989.  While I was there, I kept thinking about the fact that Paris was spared during the Blitzkrieg and is thus physically unmarred by battle scars.  I am no history buff, so mostly my imagination wandered in and out of bits of movies I had seen about the deals made to save Paris, the Resistance, the Germans, the ugliness of WWII. Somehow, I projected a sense of defeat onto Paris of today – as her looks fade, the ghosts of her occupation haunt.

Dad was not quite a teen-ager when D-Day happened.  He was a history buff and so his affection for France, I believe in part, came from his indelible memories of triumphant American and Allied forces. His early impressions were shaped by listening to broadcasts on the radio, and it was these memories of WWII and the pressing urgency of the Korean War that sent him to join up as soon as he legally able.  His deep sense of patriotism and his commitment to never let a tyrant dictator rule his country or any other, fueled his passion to serve.  After 23 years in the Navy he retired and enjoyed a second career, still in government service. This second career afforded him the opportunity to travel for pleasure.  So in the spring of 1989, he  and my mother (along with my youngest brother who was 16 and my oldest sister who was 33) flew to Paris and boarded a train south.  I met them at the station in Montpellier where Steve and I were spending a year abroad. Mom and half their luggage rode with me in my Renault 4. Dad rented a Citroen sedan and followed me back to Domain de Lussac, an 18th century chateau on the outskirts of Montpellier in Languedoc Roussilon, just adjacent to Provence in Southern France. We had rented the one bedroom apartment in the North Tower.

So when I recently was able to return to Montpellier for the first time since I left 23 years ago, I was flooded with memories of my family’s visit, and especially Dad.  My favorite is of the afternoon we heard some kids playing in the courtyard inside this gate.  The kids had a bat and were arranging themselves in a game of cricket, I think.  I was busy preparing dinner for six and not paying much attention.  The next thing I knew, Dad was in the courtyard using hand gestures and broken French and English to organize the kids in a game of baseball.  I looked out just in time to see him get a hit and run the bases.  We hung out the window and cheered loudly.

On our recent trip, we nearly replicated my family’s tour  from 1989. We explored central Montpellier: La Place de la Comedie, Le Perou, a cafe or two.  We walked around with baguettes under our arms, and ate olives at every chance.  We toured the region: St. Gilheim le Desert, and Pont Diablo.  We did not make it to Avignon, and Nimes; nor did we attempt to drive to Spain.  Yes, on one of the days my dad was in Montpellier, he talked me into riding with him to Spain.  He said he wanted to drive really fast.  Who can say no to that?  We got on the tollway early, and I learned Dad was not kidding.  In no time, we were going 110 mph.  At first I was terrified, then I remember feeling really Zen about it.  How poetically tragic it would be to die on a highway in a foreign country while my own father was driving.  I leaned back into the seat and thought how lucky I would be to die so happy.

And that is exactly how I felt during this trip. I could not stop smiling, just like my dad smiled while he was there. Being in Southern France brings me a kind of inexplicable happiness and peaceful feeling.  I love the abundance of sun, the bounty of fresh food, the natural beauty everywhere, the slow pace.  And I love that the place holds such happy memories of my dad.  I am one of the truly lucky ones to have these memories of my dad happily vacationing in France, and not dying there as part of an invasion. For that, I am thankful.

Creeping on Google

16 May

Google ads have been creeping me out for a few months now. This is the one that came up while I was responding to a friend’s quips about silly work stuff. Really? Google concludes that we should head to Hong Kong to get away.  Or that wooden lockers might make End of Grade testing go more smoothly?  Maybe a VPN connection would help stop me from creeping on Google.  A few weeks ago, I sent a particularly bitchy email to my husband about his lack of attention to detail – nothing earth shattering, but a clear message about my discontent over a relatively minor thing and google hawked divorce lawyers from the side bar. That was the first time I really took any notice of the ads. I had to sit there for a moment and regain my composure. Had I been that nasty in my email? Did Google know something I didn’t? Do people who write direct emails about what pisses them off get divorced? Geez. I thought that was one of the things that makes my marriage strong – no festering resentments here. You disappoint me, piss me off, or make me happy, I tell you. No guessing games. It’s quick and to the point. We are very happily married; at least he agrees with me when I ask. And I did ask after the ads I got.

I stopped to think about the fact that someone has written a computer program to scan my text and aggregate a series of targeted marketing messages based on what I write. It’s creepy. It’s also brilliant. The fact that google in turn provides me with free email and other great tools makes it hard for me to complain too loudly about it. I just wonder about the accuracy of my digital profile. Maybe I should write more emails about my love of art or my culinary expertise or my desire to do good in the world.

Yesterday, I wrote an email to a friend about my job search – google offered plumbing school, an MBA program, and psychological counseling services. Maybe I should get some counseling about a new career path that promises to be crappy.

Staying warm and other metaphors

16 Nov

KM- “Did you get a package from me?”  Me- “No, was I supposed to get a package?” KM – “I felt bad that you have been cold so I ordered you an electric blanket – it should have been there by now.”

A down comforter, a space heater, a fluffy white blanket, a coat, ski gloves and nearly an electric blanket…the list of things my dear friends have bestowed on me in the past seven weeks is long.

This is odd because I am not a cold-natured person.  My husband used to refer to me as “the furnace” because of my tendency to radiate.  I used to relish the feel of cold tile on my feet in the mornings as I padded bare-footed into the bathroom.  I loved the chill of crispy cold sheets and have been known to flip my pillow over just to feel the cool side of an untouched pillow case. Cold is not usually what I am – in any sense of the word -at least not until recently.

In early October when I became the tenant of my dear friend in her 100 (+) year-old house in Hillsborough, North Carolina, I expected my first night to be sleepless.  I thought I would struggle because I had said good-bye to my darling for what was an unknown length of time – at that point it was looking like three months; but in reality, I tossed and turned all night because I was freezing.  No husband, record low temperatures, and a drafty old house added up to no sleep for me.  The next day, I told a friend I had been chilly and she loaned me a giant fluffy blanket to put on my bed.  That made things better mostly  because I realized that I am not really on my own even though I am.  On night two my new landlady/old friend came home and I mentioned it to her.  We both laughed when she realized that the heat in the house had actually been off.  She felt terrible and gave me free reign over the thermostat.  With that, I was ready to snooze the night away. Fluffy white blanket weighing me down, thermostat adjusted,  so imagine my surprise when night two found me freezing again.  Extra blankets, adjusted thermostat, still cold…what the?

At this point my husband had been gone a full two days.  He had flown away to live in London and I stayed behind having decided to enjoy a period of simplicity. Well, the real reason I stayed was because I was too nervous to leave.  We have one son who is a brand-new freshman in college and the other who moved into his first house with roommates, bills, and pets to deal with.  It seemed like a good idea to stay on the continent at least until the dust settled.  And alas, my life did get pretty simple.  I went from 2500 square feet to 125; from a family of four to just me; from well over $200 a week in groceries to next to nothing; from five loads of laundry every weekend, to one point five.  My new place is simple.  It has a computer at a small desk, a bookcase, the remnants of our liquor cabinet (providing a definite college dorm-feel) and my bed.   My bed is cozy if small, a little twin flocked with a girly quilt and extra pillows. By all accounts, my life is so much simpler and I am enjoying it.   It’s just that I am cold – unimaginably and inexplicably cold.

Obviously, I keep talking about it and my friends keep trying to fix it.  During a visit with another friend, she also commented on the temperature of my room and the next day, she delivered a space heater.  My friend/landlady saw it, felt terrible, and dragged a down blanket into the room dropping it on my bed.  Okay already, no more excuses to be cold!  I have all the accoutrements to stay warm and obviously a cadre of excellent friends looking out for me.

The truth is sleeping alone night after night is lonely and cold.  It makes my heart ache for the countless military spouses who sleep alone for months on end, knowing their other half is doing the same far away.  I fear this is not the kind of cold that can be solved with blankets and a space heater, though I deeply appreciate the gestures and kindness of my friends.  I’m cold on the inside, homesick for a home that existed between four people who are no longer calling the same place home.  I loved raising my kids and do not wish to do it over, but right now in this moment in time, I am unsure about what to do next as a wife and a mother and it just feels like winter.

Losing my religion and finding my husband

25 Sep

My husband and I are separating.  We have been married for 26 years — since I was 21 years old.  He is moving to London.  I’m staying here.  We are deeply, sometimes even madly in love.  We have decided to live apart for this year for many complicated and convoluted reasons orbiting around his career, my career, our children, my personal need for some alone time, and money.  Money always seems to play a role in decisions.  I have spent the better part of three months working full-time on getting two kids situated comfortably in colleges that are in cities four hours apart, literally touching and sorting every single thing we have ever owned and deciding where it should go next, applying for passports, setting up both local and international bank accounts that can talk to each other, forwarding mail, searching for lost mail, changing insurance companies…the list is endless and boring.  I have spent the last two years in a  tail spin of loss and confusion — see my other post.

What is important is that R.E.M. broke up for real. They didn’t even warn us or ask our opinions.  They just freaking did it.

As you can imagine, when my husband and I got married in 1986 after only knowing each other for ten months — when I was still in college and he was in a rock band – things did not go well.  We fought a lot.  I spent a lot of time with a knot in my chest feeling like “Holy Shit, this is forever!”  Everything seemed to hold deeper meaning and I felt like I was getting nothing I needed from him.  We fought so much, one morning he threw our bagged lunch “toward” (he tells it as toward, I know it was AT) me and hit me in the back of the head.  We were about seven months in when this happened.  Blind with rage, I took a swing at him.  Yes, domestic violence happens!  His response has defined our marriage ever since.  “I love you — I love you more everyday.  Nothing will change that.  I chose to be with you.  (“Now calm down, you crazy woman” must have been his subtext.)

When I met my husband, I was rife with questions.  None of the rhetoric of my conservative upbringing was ringing true within the context of my liberal arts education.  My heart and my intellect were leaning way left and my roots held right.  I felt crooked and unlovable; yet, he did.  My husband loved me unconditionally because he just did.  And in that confidence and safe space he created, some times in silence, I learned to feel safe.  Who gets this luxury?

I know I’m not alone when I repeat the cliché that R.E.M. provided a soundtrack for those formative years, but c’mon, it is true.

Today while we were driving on the Interstate for him to bid farewell-for-now to his family, he began singing “You are The Everything.” He knew all the words and he can sing in tune. He sang it softly and tears rolled my cheeks as I listened.  I looked at him and I knew his love has saved my life.  His unwavering love has changed me into a better person.  I am more because of him: more kind, more interesting, more informed, more patient, more reliable, more of lots of good things.  Now, we have made this choice to separate for a while, and so many people are baffled and worried about us.  Relax, I am confident that it will be okay because it is truly what I need right now.

I need time to write, time to work, time to think, time to listen to R.E.M and memorize the lyrics.  I want time to walk without feeling distracted by anyone and without guilt for wanting my time.  Life is complicated and short.  Love is powerful.

I know I am so damn lucky to be able to make this choice.  I am so damned lucky to be so loved.

“That’s me in the corner…”

My Grandson

20 Sep

In July 2009, Grant was born.  His mother was a beautiful, radiant girl of 19 with long brown hair and his father was a nervous boy with pale skin, a blond afro and searching eyes.  Grant was pink and perfect when he made a very quiet and uneventful entrance into the world.  He was my grandson at that moment he was born.

The next day, the lawyer arrived at the hospital and undid all that was done.  Grant became the son of a wonderful couple who were beginning their lives as parents.  They stepped in. My son and his first love stepped out.  These teens went back to being carefree college students; Grant went home to the suburbs; and I left my heart in the hospital where it all happened.

That day’s tears came in floods while the moans of a broken heart nearly choked me. The emotion was visceral and guttural and unimaginable. I can only compare it in a small degree to grieving the death of a child. – to which it does not compare. No one died.

I waited a year before I could make contact with Grant’s mother again. I am not referring to my son’s girlfriend but to Grant’s adopted mother. Wait, using the word “adopted mother” has too many dated and negative stereotypes to fit the love and respect and hope I had and have for Grant’s family. I like to refer to them as Grant’s “life-parents.” We who have had children, know that the actual birth is often joyous, but the real stuff of parenting happens afterward: diapers, doctor’s visits, clothes, school, homework, healthy snacks, reasonable limits, loving guidance, swim lessons, soccer games – it seems endless. These are all the things every grandparent would want for their grandchild; all the things that his birth parents were not ready or able to provide. So, I waited because I could not let these kind and generous people see the struggle in my heart to reclaim my grandson. No matter the logic or illogic of it, I had a battle on my hands about what to do. In my head, it was clear – he would enjoy a stable and privileged life with parents who adore him and have the resources to provide for him.  They can give him a safe and happy home with little or no chaos.  In my heart, there was a cavernous hole that echoed with despair.  He is part of our family.  How could I walk away?

In both my heart and my mind, I believe that children come first.  I am certain that Grant is having a better life as an adopted child than I could provide him even as a step-in grandparent.  Much of my despair was rooted in fear – as most bad feelings usually are.The adoption was open.  Grant’s parents have a generous spirit about sharing Grant with us.  They have offered visits, pictures, updates.  I was terrified by their generosity and confidence.   The depth of my desire to have Grant for myself, to assert my rights as his genetic grandparent seemed overwhelming, totally engulfing.  Yet, I knew it was just plain wrong to try and change it.

The decision did not come easily.  When I first heard the news of my son’s predicament, I sought the comfort of my 77 year-old neighbor.  After telling her the tragic story of what they were planning to do, she told me her story of adopting her two oldest children.  “They were mine from the minute I touched them.”  She assured me that there was absolutely no difference in the way she felt about her “surprise” daughter who was born several years later.  She told me how deeply she loved all her children and that I should find comfort in knowing how much and how well that baby would be loved.  She was right.

It is true that time heals most things. Grant’s second birthday passed recently. When I opened the familiar email, I only cried a little as I gazed into his beautiful face on my computer screen. Mostly I smiled and thanked those brave souls who were willing to risk heart-break of their own in order to adopt my grandson.  I am thankful for their regular reassurance  to me…Grant is loved and cherished.   He is taking swimming lessons and going to museums.  His birthday party looked like one I would have thrown with a home-made cake and a few friends.  It was reasonable and loving.One day, I will be able to be a grandmother for real and out in the open – complete with my brag book of photos and bags of presents for every single visit.  One day, I  may even get to touch Grant and tell him that his story was written with a very real double dose of love and generosity.