We have been on this mountain top for a full month, and we're well into our second.
It seems like it has rained every single day (que the thunder and lighting), but with a tin roof, it's a luxury soundtrack in which we didn't have to subscribe. Simply taking the trash out to our bright orange bear-proof container provides a walk in the woods to clear the mind. If you look out back, you'll see remnants of the lightening strike a week back, where it split the tree and sent all of us running for cover. Cody, our fearless old man pup, ran toward the flying bark while I screamed for Len. All of us had to change our underwear that evening.
At the very top of the hill is the resting place for members of the Long family. We walk there about every two days, remove the leaves from the path, kick away the fallen branches, and say hello to the neighbors who we hope will never reply. It is also is where we will leave Bonnie, our white kitty I rescued from a chimney when she was about a week old. We fed her from a dropper several times a day, and she and her brother, Clyde, survived. Clyde left us a couple of years ago, but Bonnie remained as Len's rocking chair mate. She made the move to the mountains seamlessly, but after a couple of weeks, she wandered. A few days later, Cody found her and brought her home. We're leaving her on top of the mountain with a spectacular view of event sunsets. A part of Len's heart will remain at Long View.
Cheese straws for everyone! We completed our first BIG commercial product shoot and it rocked! Not only did we photograph for a national campaign, we got to eat the product. Win-win! Prep is beginning for the launch of our first collaboration, 100 Things to do in Athens, Ga. Before You Die. Technically the last 13 years has been a collaborative effort, but this is the first one with royalties! Wedding season begins mid-September and it will be a marathon until the end of the December. We've missed our couples and the parties. We have sprinkled family sessions, branding sessions, and commercial work through the hot days of summer, and we are grateful for our new clients. What a team!
The hardest reality of month two is starting all over with the entire build. You learn to read the signs, and even though the signs were there sooner and you should have changed direction, you ignored them. Consequently, this is where we find ourselves. Builder. Let go. Bank. Fired. GC. A keeper. We've scrambled quite well over the past couple of days, made hard decisions, and moved forward. Forward is a good place that, in a few months, will not include rent. Concessions of smaller living space and less amenities will work just fine. However, the hand hewn d-logs spaced with white chinking will frame our homestead - however small it might be.
Month two is halfway over, and we remain full of gratitude. Len still feels a bit homeless, as I guess I do, but with answers found, it becomes easier to find home.
"I like where we're headed," he said as he climbed the stairs of our rental cabin that he would now call home for the next five months. For the first time in over a week, there was a calm face staring back at me. A little bit of exhaustion still remained, but a small smile spread across his face, one I had not seen in at least a month.
We closed on Mayne on a Friday. It had been listed on the downward spiral of the once-hot real estate market for two months. First, crickets. Finally, we lowered the price and prayed for a cash buyer. I remember praying and asking God that if this was not the direction we should be headed, no offer would come. A cash offer came. No contingencies. No loan. The phone call from our agent sounded perfect until the part about the 13 day closing.
"Of course we can do that," I said as I thanked God for the buyer and the cash. Then, the 13 days began to shrink as multiple households (all stored in our attic) were sheltered in boxes and containers and placed somewhere secure until our home could be built. After the first day of non-stop schlepping with very little change, I knew we were in trouble.
Four storage containers, two days of College Hunks and 12 days later, we arrived at the closing more exhausted than ever. If ever there was a smooth closing, this was it. In less than 15 minutes, we walked out of the attorney's office, hopped in the Trans Am, returned our yellow Penske van, deposited THE check, grabbed a Larry's Giant Sub for the last time, and said goodbye to Athens.
Len's odd phrase, "sometimes, I a surprisea myself" proved to be what would propel us forward. When you're pushed into a corner without a fraction of a chance of escape, you either fold and forget, or you come out with guns blazing. The guns are still smoking.
Our first Sunday morning at Long View begins with an espresso (we found the cups during packing and used them for the first time since purchase) on our screened-in porch right outside our bedroom door. Next, the regular brew downstairs continues our morning ritual while bagels with Nutella provide energy. We're learning ROKU TV; I like it. Now, all those subscriptions we have will be put to use. We offer "Good Mornings" to our animals on the deck and spend time with them, making sure they are secure that we're not leaving them. Of everything we are most grateful, it's our gratitude that the animals feel at home. No one jetted. No one cried. Tails wag and snuggles continue.
More surprising than anything is the goodness of people who didn't have to step forward. Sherry and Joel. Polly and Ed. Ed and Ann. The BIG things. Goodness still remains in this world, and sometimes, you don't even have to ask. Blessings appeared. If you ever wonder if God's hand moves in your life, just try to explain the unexplainable. Can't do it.
It's been a week now, and we're settling in. Boxes decorate the house, and we can't get away from the Home Depot presence. Len perches at the bar for work; I consume the dining table with papers and agendas. We're both still catching up with business, writing, emails and rest. Getting accustomed to little space to maneuver might prove to be a challenge. A learning experience for our new home.
Today is Saturday. Pancakes and bacon. Coffee on the deck. Roosters in the distance. Fog rising off the blue mountains. Perfection, I think. Afternoon plans? A street festival in our new home town, Hayesville. Camera in hand, we'll capture our beginning in this lovely mountain town.
It's Easter morning. Traditional services and gatherings are taking the back seat this year. Not that it's the right thing to do, but it's THE thing to do.
No matter what I do today, Easter and its promises are not lost in the hours of painting and schlepping and making this house ready for the sale.
This is my Friday. Endless "to do lists" and money payouts scare me. Both, thank goodness, are shrinking. Len is much more worried although he will never say it. He nods and allows my dreams to proceed, doing the work and making the commitment. I might be too much the dreamer but it's been a part of my life for so long, I'm not sure I could function without the probability of dreams floating over my reality. It's what got me beyond the heartache, to this place, and beside this man.
Shortly after we met in 2008, I invited him to go with me to the mountains to check on my mountain property. I was gifted one-half an acre decades earlier by my uncle who had a weekly date at auctions and would buy, sight-unseen. This mountain was a sight-unseen purchase. The mountain ownership of family lots shrunk to simply my lot, and I held on to it for dear life. No matter how little i had in my pocket, I would not sell it. It connected me to my family, to Uncle Ivet, the beast-of-a-man who would squeeze me silly every time I walked into a room. He was the only one of my family to do that; it wasn't lost on me.
Len didn't make the trip with me then, but he is today. From the ground up, it's the first thing that will be truly ours.
I see Sunday approaching. It's not in clear sight yet, but I know it's there. Without all these Friday moments, Sunday would not mean as much. Without the struggle and hard work, the resolution might be less than expected. Without the years of uncertainty and overwhelming pain, the place where I find myself today might not be as miraculous. Without the Friday dreams of mountain living, the little log cabin in the woods might remain in my head or lost in the shuffle of life.
Granted, my little piece of heaven in the mountains and getting this home ready to sell is NOT the Sunday or Friday to which the Easter story speaks. However, I think it is exactly what this day should remind us about living life, having faith, accepting Christ. I hold the promise that Easter morning brings and claim it in every aspect of my life. I think that's what Jesus was teaching us. You must do the hard work to get to the victory. Nothing is every easy and it's going to hurt. You'll struggle, and that's okay.
Yesterday, after our millionth-hour of painting, Len said, "Remember what we're doing this for. Keep going."
Much like Jesus reminds us each and every day. "Remember what I did for you and why I did it. Keep going."
Photo: On our honeymoon in Bermuda in 2010. Babies, mere babies. Ha!
It's been almost a year since I've been here.
It's been a jam-packed 2021. Weddings. Assignments. Book.
I'm exhausted. Simply drained.
The words I've written belong to others, so I've spent time on their words rather than mine.
But just to check in, I'm still here. I have 18 days until my book is due. Number 2. I always knew I had another in me. Just not this one, but this one will be nice.
For you, UGA. 100 THINGS TO DO IN ATHENS BEFORE YOU DIE.
#writer #travelwriter #100things
He is most happy when he travels.
It took a pandemic for me to understand him.
When he's packing, carefully shoving all those cords and plugs into his mint green expandable pouch that is a staple in our carry-on; when he lays out too many clothes on the bed to pack in the small suitcase, and then asks, "What should I carry?"; the care he takes as he decides which lenses he will need for a city sunset or a mountain landscape or long cobblestone street; his symmetry and purposeful placement of everything in his suitcase that drives me nuts; his thinking and rethinking of scenarios for which he must be ready; and then, he grabs his hat.
It's not until he puts his hat on that I know he's ready. A signal to go. Get in the Jeep. Head to the airport of the hit the road. He's ready. There's a look in his eyes that I only see only now.
Joy. Excitement. Anticipation. The world is his. And we go. We will keep going until we write our final story.
*Photo: Salerno, Italy
This new year has potential. At least, these are the words I verbalize over and over each morning.
I watched the inauguration yesterday, and I exhaled. As a believer in words, rhetoric and tone, I have watched the past four years with hope that it was merely a blip or an oversight of those who chose to tear down the integrity of what I have spent my life upholding.
I believe in words and their power. Positive and constructive words have lifted and propelled me higher than I ever thought possible , while I have been broken and defeated by those delivered with hateful tone and devastating intent.
Words usually win, at least that's what I think. Every day, I fight to overcome a history of words that had me convinced of my inadequacies. As these little words swarm like bees in my brain, they attach to the others and grow, explode. It's a constant battle to shove them away, replacing them with my truths and positivity.
Whether you have a big audience or a social media platform or a private audience of two, words stick.
No matter for whom you voted, the new leader's calming tone was refreshing. Hope is refreshing.
And then you hear twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman voicing "The Hill We Climb" and we're moved`
"... And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired, we tried...
...We will rise from the golden hills of the west.
We will rise from the wind-swept north-east where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked south.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.
In every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country,
our people, diverse and beautiful, will emerge, battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it."
As a lover of words, I'm overjoyed. As a human being, I'm empowered. As a woman, I'm proud. As a writer, I'm inspired.
Simple words and letters but when connected have the ability to uplift or tear down. No matter the platform, take a fresh look at the words you choose.
Our lives together started at this very spot, 10 years ago.
Well, technically, we became legal on this very spot, 10 years ago.
About a month ago, Len said, "Let's recreate our first photo."
Me, "Sure," thinking he would forget about it.
Sure enough, he came from work and yanked his suit (that was still in the dry cleaners bag from 2010) out of his closet and looked at me and said, "Get ready.'
"Oh, you're serious?" I responded. And with that, I reached inside my closet for my white flowing dress, still with its safety-pinned dry cleaning tag from 2010. It had been months since I had worn make-up, so the usual five-minute application was bumped to seven minutes, carefully covering those annoying sunspots and wrinkles that weren't there 10 years ago.. Len would pop his head into the bathroom every now and then, grinning from ear to ear, amazed that his suit still fit him like a glove. All I kept thinking was "Oh God, please let my dress fit."
It did. So the girl with the now white hair and the boy with the salt-n-pepper hair went to the exact spot on the porch where (now) Superior Court Judge Eric Norris hitched us to a star in front of a few family and friends.
And when the vows were said, everyone went inside our home, drank champagne, ate cake and celebrated the creation of a family. It was mostly unicorns and rainbows that day, and for the most part, the rainbows have still remained over our heads. Hailstorms crept in from time-to-time, but we figured that if we kept our focus on God and on each other. we'd be okay.
Dreams have changed. We're living through a pandemic. Parts have been tweaked and shifted. More geography separates us from those who joined us that morning, but the one constant - our front porch.
Still, there's white rockers for sitting and reflecting. And every morning and evening when I plop down in my rocker, I remember that moment on a June morning when the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife, that two very lost people found a reason to live.
And live we would for the next 50 years - IF we are very, very lucky.
2010 Photos: Bennett Brian
Our 2020 family photo.
Len, Judy and our very own T-Rex.
And about a million gallons of pollen.
And so, this has been our world for the last four weeks.
Len has been working from home for four weeks. He now says, "I don't know how you do it" meaning "How do you do this lonely life?" He's loves his current commute from the bedroom to his office and his through-the-wall office mate, but that's about it. He forgets to get up and stretch his legs. I have to remind him because that's mandatory if you think you're going to stand erect at the end of the day. Drink water. Take breaks and get outside. Catch a little TV to get the creative juices flowing. Scan Facebook. Read a little when you see anything interesting. And when all else fails, crank up "Schitt's Creek" for the win.
We will get through this together.
Ty has begun the blacksmithing phase of his life. Papa Hill would be proud.
I've baked, and I really need to stop. Irish Soda Bread. Southern Living's Caramel Cake. I can just die a happy woman now. And, I've ordered Magnola Table Volume 2, so I have a feeling there's more cooking in the future. Plus, I'm taking food photography classes so I'll need a subject. Priorities without apologies.
For now, wash your hands. Stay at home. Say your prayers. Count your blessings. #inthistogether
Can this really be our new normal?
It's week #2 of the Corona virus global pandemic. Those are words I never thought I would say.
We (Len, Ty and me) have been hunkered down on Mayne going on our second week. Len took the initiative the first of last week to inform his employer that he would be working from home. Too much at stake to take chances. Ty has worked a couple of days in the last two weeks, but upon entering the house, he strips down, throws clothes in washer, wipes himself down and runs upstairs. That's my boy!
I, well, I've been preparing this for my entire life. As a freelancer and a self-proclaimed introvert, this feels like a normal Tuesday - with the exception of trying to land an open spot on the Wal-Mart pick up app while washing clothes daily on hot with an extra soak. Since the weekend, my last repaired Achilles has chosen this time in history to blow itself up. I'm hobbling and reaching for ice packs in between coffee runs.
As of today, I'm still working on six assignments that were commissioned before the pandemic. I lost one of my outlets - for the foreseeable future - due to Europe's closed borders. No reason to write on traveling to Europe if we can't. Totally understandable. As most freelancers will tell you, we'll continue to pitch relevant pitches to magazines that request certain topics. It's an endless process. It's a frustrating process. Now, it's even harder. Inflight magazines are halting production due to no planes in the sky, not to mention all those germs in the seat pocket. Another possible outlet gone - for the time being.
Today, I research. At 6 p.m., I'll drive up to the orange spot outside of Wal-Mart in Athens, log into the app and wait for the worker to bring my $200 worth of supplies. Most of that is dog and cat food, just so you know. Another normal thing. No toilet paper in the order; however, there is some ice cream and chocolate that normally doesn't make the cut.
As a photographer, it's hard to put the camera down. I keep walking around my yard hoping for a new subject. Nope. It's just the cats, the horses, Cody and grass. So, I shoot grass sometimes. This time, it was Fitz in Ty's cherry blossom tree.
That's a win for the day.
Stay safe friends. I pray for my children and their families every day. That's the best I can do at the moment. Take care of yourself and each other.
Len's mother has been gone eleven years. Today is her birthday.
Although I didn't get to spend many birthdays with her, the one that I did brought strawberry cake and purple balloons. Purple, her favorite color, was splattered on everything that was special to her: gloves, blankets, broaches.
She lit up the room as she rolled in. By the time I knew her, her feet has given out and all those classy pumps that I saw her wearing in photos were a distant memory. But oh my, what good taste she had. From her suits to her lingerie, she showed her delight in being a woman.
Not long after her death, I took an online poetry class at Northwestern University. NOTE: I am NOT a poet. I took the class for credits because it was online and I figured the worst that could happen would be the teacher reading my horrible scribble in the quiet of her own home; I would never have to face her or people. Oddly enough, I enjoyed the class and garnered everything I wrote from the events of my life and the lives of those around me. Some made me cringe; others, delighted me.
When Len reminded me that today was Veta's birthday, for some reason, my mind went to the time she inspired my writing.
I loved her name. VETINA. It just speaks to beauty. It sounds beautiful. Soft like a Rembrandt painting. It floats off the tongue. You can't imagine anyone not falling in love with a woman named Vetina. Len often spoke of his father Neil and how the love between his mother and father superseded everything in life. The kind of love that all of us want but rarely find. During her last year, Vetina longed for Neil. It was almost as if he was waiting for the right moment to come get her. And in August of 2009, he did.
So in reality, it was a joyful time. As casual as that might sound, it held us together. Reunited lovers is always a good thing.
So here's my tribute to that one great love that we all want. I'm lucky enough to say I found it in you.
Come to Me
Come to me, Vetina, come to me.
Shed those earthly effects and fly.
Fly home to me on the wings of doves, and with the longing of a thousand yesterdays,
I will meet you.
Come to me, Vetina, your time is done.
Wither not anymore, my love, the pain is complete.
Ascend to the heavens, and know that my arms will be open wide and
I will hold you.
Come to me, Vetina, let our moments carry you.
Climb out of today and abandon the hurt.
Remembrances of homecomings, thoughts of a lifetime only intensify my love and
I finally catch a glimpse of you.
Come to me, Vetina, you are almost here.
Lament not for those who remain.
Short-lived is their pain, forever does your spell linger, and
They will never abandon you.
Come to me, Vetina, I feel you near.
Say goodbye to earthly sorrows and pain.
Forever is truly complete, and with your face to shine upon me,
We are both home.
I have no doubt I was a handful. Yet, she chose to bring me home—60 years ago today.
I honestly believe she and Kimsey had no idea what was before them. In their 50s, they were just excited that the number at the table would be three rather than two. They didn't realize how exhausting a child could be, how annoying, difficult, obstinate, self-serving, messy, needy, pushy, demanding . . .
And as I grew, I realized how old they were. None of my friends has parents the age of mine. No one had white hair except my mama. "What was with that?"
"Why do I have to go with daddy and Besse (the mule) and mama gets to stay home? That corn patch doesn't need me. Daddy doesn't need me. I'm only 10! I don't want to go . . ." I went because mama said to — and, she pointed toward the hickory tree.
"It's noon already?" Mama would bang on my bedroom door and urge me to get up. It was Saturday. Saturday's were for sleeping or so I thought. It was also for washing clothes and then hanging them on the line, ironing, picking beans, washing the car, cutting the grass, and anything else that needed to be done. Idle hands (children) are the devil's handy-work!
"Daddy, turn that radio down!" Every school morning like clockwork, the Pentecostal preachers on WCON Cornelia would be daddy's school enthusiastic wake-up call! He would turn the radio on full blast, make his coffee, and sit at the end of the dining table—waiting for me to get up.
By the time I graduated high school and moved on to the big leagues of junior college, I started feeling a twinge of sadness. Could it be I actually missed my parents? The parents - that to me - we equally as annoying, difficult, obstinate, self-serving, messy, needy, pushy, demanding - as I.
Years came and went, and I was the weird kid that always went home on weekends from UGA. Then I married, and I was the girl who had to see her parents at least every other weekend.
Then daddy died, and I wasn't sure I would be able to catch my breath again.
When my life fell apart in 2003, mama stood beside me. She'd offer me tidbits of wisdom (from the Bible of course). Some I took to heart; others, I just let flow through me like the wind. She stayed until Len picked up me and my three children, gave us a home, and made everything alright.
Then, mama died, and I wasn't sure I would be able to catch my breath again. And, when my daughter disappeared, well, I was sure that family was simply an illusion.
Somewhere in the back of my heart, words rose to the surface when I needed them the most. "You can do anything you put your mind to," I would hear mama say often. Never words of love, but always words of encouragement. She knew that more than love, I would need encouragement in this life. Love would find its way to me, and with her prodding, so would happiness.
I love baby's toes. When I see a little one, I always reach for the toes. There something unique and tough about toes.
I looked at my 60-year-old toes yesterday while I was out feeding the animals. "These toes have been around for 60 years." Think on that. I never in a million years would have imagined making it to the old age of 60, yet there are my toes. Holding me up like they have always done. Celebrating 60 good, hard, rough years.
Thank you Juette and Kimsey for giving those toes a home. For teaching me right from wrong, for teaching me how to live.
These toes aren't as cute as they once were, but they're still standing. From the tip of my toes to the top of my white head of hair, I'm grateful to see another decade. I'll keep standing.
"You know he waited for me," Ty said as he cussed and chiseled at the cement-like red Georgia clay.
"He did," I answered in between sobs.
Thirty minutes later, the young man cradled the old man reverently into the top of his dog house and moved him next to Bear, another old soul that broke our hearts when he left. Even though Silas had lost weight, he was still hefty and he was going to make Ty work for it. Ty laid him into his space within sight of our front porch. We borrowed Bear's rock - just for a while, we assured Bear - and placed it on the broken dirt. "Grow old with me. The best is yet to be." Thank you for growing old with us, old sport.
Silas was about 13, at least that's what we think. The kids found him at Pet Smart in 2008 during one of their pet adoptions, and assured me, he was the one. They forced me to take a look, and when I saw him, I was afraid he would eat all of us. His pit-bull/boxer mouth was primed for force, and I wasn't sure. I caved, of course. He came home with us and never left our side, except for when he chewed up all my leather shoes within the span of one week. You can't do something like that in front of the world.
He was a happy chap, but it was obvious when you went to reach for him, that he had been hurt once upon a time. He would draw back as if he expected a slap. We tried to work through that but that reflex never left him.
We became a family of five when Silas came home with us that day. The three kids, me and a dog. All of us were broken, and miraculously, Silas mended all of us. Who says God doesn't send what you need when you need it?
Thank you for your extraordinary life. When I speak of the important people in my life, you'll be at the top. Companionship, loyalty and unconditional love sat on your mighty shoulders.
As Ty and I walked away, he turned, "No more animals. You got me?"
I nodded. They give you everything and then in one swoop, they take it all back.
No more, that is, until the next time I need mending.
Yesterday, I found myself in an online conversation actually defending my opinion against profanity.
Here's the backstory.
Sundays belong to me and Len. We choose very carefully the spots where we land. After a bridal show in Dahlonega and since we were in the area, we decided to go to an Irish pub in town, one that had been called the best one in the state. We consider ourselves somewhat of a pro at this. Having traveled to Ireland several times - and upping the count this fall - we know about pubs. Their ambience. Their food. Their charisma.
Seated, we scanned the menu although we all know the only thing you order is Guinness. For what seemed like a long wait, the waitress showed up, took our order and within five minutes, we had our coveted black ale.
It's what happened next that changed the tale. At a table to the left of us, a restaurant worker (hence the labeled t-shirt) was chatting it up with a table of four. Somewhat young but not on the twenty-side, she spoke in steams of four-letter words, punctuating her tale with f-bombs, c-bombs, d-bombs. Loudly. Proud. I finally looked at Len and said, "Can we leave?" Without finishing our drinks and food, we walked out the door.
On the drive home, we talked about how life has changed. Neither of us grew up in a home surrounded by foul language or even raised voices. It wasn't until we both were well into our 20s that we heard the possibilities and even then, they were random. It wasn't a declaration of power or youth but of filth and trash, of ignorance and want.
My "What Would Jesus Do" turned into "What Would Juette So." In fact, what would I have done had my mother been sitting beside me in the restaurant? I scream at my children when they say these words. They tell me, it's different now. It's acceptable. Not by a long shot.
And yes, we're all human and there are moments when we all let them fly. Hopefully, it's not in a setting where people from all walks of life gather. Assuming it's okay with everyone is as ignorant as the words themselves. In private, do as you wish. In public, take the high road. It has nothing to do with taste. My view is not discriminatory or prejudicial but my opinion on the way I live my life. I might be older. I might be a little wiser, come to think of it. That happens when you've been taught high standards and values by America's Greatest Generation.
The last time I went to Panama City Beach was 30 years ago - several pounds, children, husband and family ago.
Today marks a new relationship with this city.
One of the hardest things for me is returning to a destination where I had ventured a lifetime ago. Seeing places with long-ago relationships walking through the door, old memories of people who have been removed from my life sitting beside me. Cringing at laughter that moved through the doors.
Soon, I decided that rather than let the old take over the new, I had to rewrite the memories. Rewrite the places and my association with them. It's not easy. There's a barrier you have to break, but it doesn't take long to knock it down. You simply have to bring your posse with you and infiltrate the setting with all your being. Eat it all. Soak up all the sun. See new places. Hear new laughter. Let these moments define this place.
Panama City, you no longer belong to the past. You belong to me and my boys and my honey. Like the big trucks on the strip, we're taking back the land and we're doing it loudly!
I'm not sure what is holding their attention, but it must be spell-binding. After all, there's a wade pool involved and they are on the floor. How mundane could it be?
The boy is in Laos. He's accompanying Som to Som's school where he teaches English. Ty said during his last call that he will help Som, do whatever is needed and maybe, take a turn at teaching himself. I predict that is a story in the making.
Go. Learn. Teach. Change the world. Change yourself.
I've never been a girly-girl and when I heard these words from Evelyn's mouth, I choked.
"You are simply so lovely to look at," she said, sitting across from me at a crowded table filled with journalists and coffee drinkers in a Myrtle Beach bakery. "You are," she said humbly and earnestly as if she knew it was going to take some convincing on her part.
Truly, I had no words. and those words, I'll never forget as long as I live. At 59, I'm not exactly the me I would love to be, and with 60 on the horizon, I'm literally mortified. As I get older, I feel mortality creeping around the corner like a cat on the prowl. I wonder, "How in the world did I get here?"
Getting here was probably the easy part; staying here might take a little work.
I look in the mirror and see my mama. Although we share no DNA, I see the wisdom of her wrinkles, her concern for everything, her stoutness of character, her want for a world where good outweighs the bad, her adoration for her family, and her desire to live a good and long life. She was all of those things; I am all of those things, too.
I'm glad I'm here. I made it to the double nickle plus four, and if God-willing, twice that. I think about what Evelyn said to me that day, and I realize that other people see us so differently than we see ourselves. Yes, some opinions are for the birds and should be kept silent and if not, ignored. But for the majority of those with whom we share our time and table, their hugs and words and touch lift us higher. We must listen to those who applaud that which we might not even see, and when they suggest, "Fall in love," we do it. I have yet to do that, but I hope I can get there in the next 59 years.
I hear Evelyn's words every now again as they drift through my mind. I'm as amazed this very moment as I was then. And this week, I met a new friend and she made me feel the reality of Evelyn's words. I had a make-over; again, it was a first. Through our mutual connection at the chamber, we had a little fun and formed an alliance that will take us far beyond her dining room filled with beauty.
Feeling good about yourself is empowering. Women empowering other women is even more transformative.
I doubt Evelyn realized the enormity of what she said. I am sure Kirsten didn't know the gift she gave that went beyond powders and gloss. It's about time we make each other feel extraordinary, and (I'm screaming at myself most of all) learn to listen to compliments and internalize them. Feel the weight of their goodness. Let those words confirm and transform us into the women we truly are.
It's about time . . . we love ourselves.
One thing I have discovered that aids me in writing, flowers of any kind. This week it was roses, two-for-one at Publix.
I have a dozen white roses to the left of me, just outside my vision yet close enough that I can see a few petals. They have been there a week, so wilting and leaning is more prominent. Their lives are almost complete. All they have done it sit and be. And they have done it marvelously.
Seems somewhat insignificant but their influence, massive.
My life could be these roses. I'm mostly insignificant to the masses. I haven't done anything truly extraordinary. I haven't changed the world. No discoveries that I can acclaim. I'm only here for a short time. At the end, I will wilt and fade and stoop and lean. And, I hope I will have done my job. If it's nothing more than to sit and be, I hope I have done it well.
A writer's life is solitary. The four walls actually do move in when you need them be balanced and calm. I keep relics of travel to inspire my words, family photos to remind me of faces I won't see again, tons of pens and pencils each with a power of its very own, post-its of reminders and stubs of what once was. I live for the future, and I memorize the past. Living in the present seems to be hardest part of all.
Only another writer understands the writer's enigma. The quiet and seclusion are not only our necessities but also our demons. A paradox of sorts.
Nevertheless, I will sit and be and let the words escape. And when those demons appear, I'll look to my left - to my roses - for inspiration and reassurance - that I'm right where I am supposed to be. 🌹
They do say, "when one door closes, another opens." AND they also say, "be careful what you wish for."
In this honest-to-God, not-as-easy-as-it-looks, NO-you-can't-make-millions-with--travel-writing, NO-you-can't-travel-the-world-for-free, travel writer's world, I'm giddy this morning. Although many out there tell you how easy it is, it's not. It's tough. It's competitive. It's ruthless.
With that said, I freakin' love it! ❤️
Len and I chose to give it our all about five years ago. We're a package deal! Team player and all. And just now, we're finding ourselves reaping the result of our hard work, proving that never giving up is always the best course of action. We closed a couple of doors in the past few months, and wildly enough, windows are flying open. This morning, in my INBOX, a long-sought-after contract! Delta Sky. Can this be real? On my face, a smile.
Don't give up folks. I say that loudly enough that it reverberates within my four writing walls. I'm so thankful. I'm so grateful, especially to those who have helped along the way and to those who believe in Seeing Southern.
Gotta go write! 😍
It's the day after Thanksgiving, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring - especially Judy and Len. On this day, the house is a little cabin tucked away in the North Georgia mountains, with only a vague view of neighboring structures and a few vehicles in sight. And by creatures, we mean animals and the occasional blast of the house phone which we never answer yet still rings incessantly.
No creatures equals quiet, which is a very good thing.
As you can tell, we have discovered - or should I say re-discovered - the Polaroid camera and the art of shaking (like a Polariod picture!) Everything instantaneous. Who knew that would be such a thing thirty years down the road. It's the little things which make us grateful.
But that's only the beginning . . . teeth. Again, not so significant for those which have but for those of us gummers out there, it's a chance to live again. It's kind of cool not to second-guess a smile.
We're relatively healthy. We're not the Chrissy Tiegen-John Legend look-a likes, but we'll give them a run for daily joy!
Len and I get to travel together and see the world arm-in-arm, crutch-in-crutch, boot-in-boot, to tell stories and capture images. I get to see Len's face as he experiences the Acropolis for the first time. And, experiencing it together, reaching out for his hand and holding on, tells me all I need to know about this moment and the many more to come.
Our children are moving forward with their lives, and we are thankful. Although, for the most part, we have faded in the background, we give thanks that they are living the life they choose.
Possum Hollow is in full swing. My dream. Uncle Ivet's dream. Soon, in these very mountains where we are now, our little cabin will sit with a welcome placard reading, "Welcome to Judy + Len's Dream."
We are thankful for Bailey + Cody, Kelly + Joe, Renee + Michael, Mandy + Jason, Leah + Rich, Dani + Andrew, Joanne + Tommy, Claudia + Casey, Emily + Jay, Meagen + Ricky and Chelsea + Austin. We are honored and thankful that you are part of our 2018 story.
There are more things of which we are grateful, but these are the biggies. I hope that the changes that will happen in 2019 will be moments of gratitude when I write this a year from now. I pray that each day I will voice my gratitude for even the most insignificant things in my life so that I will realize how truly lucky I am. I yearn for more courage and a louder voice in my life.
So as we watch our fire and count our blessings, we're making our third pot of coffee and reaching for our vanishing pack of Oreos (okay, the healthy thing is being thrown out the window this morning). We're also dabbling in a little portrait photography before the rains begins and then heading toward the Old Sautee Store. Why? Because it's there - and that's the only reason you need!
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.