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!
You climb and climb, but do you ever get anywhere.
Meet Bob. He's a climber. He's also one of a multitude of cats that confuses Jack, the beast. That's Jack in the background, eating dinner. Everyday when I take my late afternoon walk to feed our multitude of animals, the cats walk with me. They tease the horses, running along the ground, zig-zagging underneath the feet of the 2,000 pound monsters. Would they really do that if they knew the possibilities? But, everyday, they move in the same fashion, hoping for what, I'm not sure. But, I would be willing to bet, it's fun.
I make my rounds, always in the same order. First the horses, mainly because I don't want to be chided by Lolly (Jack's companion) for being late. And yes, she stomps her right foot and screams at me for making her wait. She starts screaming when she hears the back door open. Being scolded by a horse doesn't quite sit well with me. Feed, water and hay, as the routine goes.
Then, the dogs. My twelve-year-old man Silas is turning gray these days, and like me, old age is bringing arthritis, achy joints and deaf ears. Still, he manages to secure the one bright sunny grassy spot in the yard, plops down and rolls with joy. That's my boy. Cody, the younger, is full of energy and runs at Silas when he sees the food coming, almost saying, "You can't have any." They play for about a second and retreat to their own corners to munch on kibble. Both rescues, the boys are always excited to see me, and for that, they deserve gold for dinner.
Cats are last because, well, they just are. "I feel the earth move under my feet" is more than just a song lyric by Carly Simon. They eat, we sit, and then we fellowship. Every night.
Routine is good. Expectations are good. These guys count on me to be there every day at the same time, and they know I'll be there. They climb, bark, snort, stomp, zig-zag and they do it over and over, day after day. And do they get anywhere different? Not really. But it's the showing up, the doing and the contentment from doing their perfect little thing that keeps them moving forward until the next time they climb, bark, snort, and zig-zag.
So although Bob never gets anywhere in his climb, he still climbs, simply for the joy. I write for the joy of recording my life in words. I photograph, not because you pay me, but because I find joy in capturing moments and doing something I thought I could never do. I make dinner, wash clothes and run errands, not for the joy it brings me (newsflash) but for the joy it brings you.
So keep climbing. Keep showing up. Even though it might be a drab routine day after day, try to find the joy and then think on it. Be grateful that there are horses, cats, dogs to feed. Be inspired to see dogs do cartwheels simply because you show up!
See those HORRIBLE brown spots on my face? A product of being 20 and stupid. To those of you my age, remember laying out in the sun, slathering on baby oil, and dare I say it, a stick of butter. Stupid takes on an entirely new meaning now, am I right?
Yes, we did that. I'd turn a lovely brown, but it took some work. Taking more hours to turn golden than it took my friends, I'd lay out in my back yard, turning randomly (I was a lay-on-your-back girl because I had big boobs), turning bright red almost immediately. Red came before brown.
And I was a bored sun bather. I hated it, but because everyone did it, I did it. I wanted to be pretty, because everyone knows that everyone looks better (and smaller) with a tan.
I grew older and tanning beds took the place of my lawn chair. They were quick. In and out. Nice and brown. I liked that. Then, I became bored of that, too.
Kids plus jobs plus no me-time put an end to my relationship with the sun, real or man-made.
However, it has left it's mark.
Brown spots all over, but the only ones that make my skin crawl are those on my face. Two weeks ago, I (with a push from Len) decided to fix this. After all, I have a new set of beautiful teeth; I need a face to frame them. After a consultation (checking for melanomas and other skin issues) at Georgia Skin Cancer and Aesthetic Dermatology, I called back for an appointment. It's not a cheap procedure (three to do the trick), but it definitely wasn't as much as I had imagined. After a quick first treatment (15 minutes), my face was on fire, and it stayed that way for about three hours. Then, I was fine. Well, then the brown spots became brown boulders on my face, much like Skittles-pox but less tasty! They have to get worse before they get better. Why don't I just engrave that on my forehead for this is the story of everything I've ever gone through.
I keep thinking this; next time I look at my photograph, I'll see me and not brown spots.
It's been two weeks, and the brown crusty spots have all but disappeared. Some color remains underneath, thus the need for additional treatments. It's amazing how much better I feel about me. Who knew brown spots could hold so much power?
This is also my birthday month, and I've made myself a promise for this 59th year. I will learn to love me. I will believe that I'm important and worthy and good. I will treat myself with the respect that I deserve, not because of anything I've done, but because of whose I am. I will take care of my well-being in such a way that as my aging body challenges me, I can hit back . . . hard. I will listen to my husband and my son (NOT to those whose opinions really don't matter) who tell me of my worth and my capacity to do great things. And those great things must start inside me.
Brown spots on face ✔️
Next,a healthy body and lifestyle . . . 😱
I think that scares me most of all.
Let me Listen to Me and Not to Them.
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.