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! 😍
I have loved you since the mid-1980s when I saw you drive across the big screen with Paul Reiser and some actress in some movie. He drove while "she" (whoever she was) rode in the passenger seat of that cobalt blue rag top, hair blowing wildly, and delight radiating from both faces. For the life of me, I can't remember the movie, but I remember that car.
"I want that car," I uttered.I promised myself that very second, that at some point in my life, I would own a convertible Saab and my hair would do that, too. And, I would be happy.
In December of 2007, my mama, Ty and I sat in the showroom at Loganville Ford, contemplating my financial suicide which included a used fire red convertible Saab 9/3 that by all accounts, I could not afford even on my best day. I had no home, no vehicle, no money, and I had only landed a job two weeks earlier; my divorce from crazy had been finalized two months before, and now, the crazy in me was asking my 95-year-old mama to co-sign with me on a car.
I had penned this very point on my six-month goal list back in October when Cheri and I sat outside a Lawrenceville Starbucks. Maybe not a Saab, but a vehicle of my very own. Then, I saw you.
"You just don't understand. I have to have this car." I finally convinced my mama, my son, and the salesman of this life-altering event. The salesman chuckled as he told me how absurd the situation was. "I don't care how good her credit is, she's 95." And then he laughed more. He disappeared, as all auto salesmen do, to the back and remained behind closed doors for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, he appeared and walked toward us, head bowed, papers in hand. "I can't explain it," he said, looking bewildered. "We'll put her name first. Give me a couple hundred down. We might just make it work." I'm not sure who was shocked the most, the salesman or me.
Since that evening when I drove you home from the dealership, I have loved you, cared for you, washed you and protected you. You were the first miracle that I needed to rebound from a long, dark past. Years later, I still tell the Miracle Saab story. 'If I could get that car, I could get anything.' My beautiful red turbo jet ushered me quickly into a future that I couldn't see coming. You squeezed the excitement out of me when I needed it the most, and when days were just drab, I'd push a button, and the sky would open up. Your canvas roof folded back, and the wind would sweep away all the negative thoughts. I felt fearless. You gave me that.
You warmed my buns on cold mornings. And that endless display of buttons - I could mute, change, fold, open, skip - the accessories alone freaked me out! Your cracked leather seats cradled and cushioned me on the long drives home from my Decatur job. You gave Silas shotgun seating as we'd swing through the drive-thru at Brewsters, begging for his ice cream topped with a doggy treat. You were always the topic of conversation with your Swedish backwards design. I convinced people that different is stylish. Not to say you were perfect, for you left me on the side of many roads; Wilson's Towing was on speed-dial. You cradled my sobs when I needed space to let the frustration escape. You raced down city streets, expressways and finally down a country road and landed me on Len's doorstep. What a life you lived. What a life you allowed me to live.
Today, you are leaving. You will be another's jet and hope. I would never leave you behind at a dealership, so I'm sending you off with love to the local Make a Wish foundation. Seems like the perfect landing strip for a jet with super powers who gave life to a lady who had crashed and needed refueling.
As I watched you go down the driveway for the last time, I crumbled to the gravel and cried. Then, the sunburst broke through the trees. You came into my life when I needed a jolt of "get going, life won't wait." You gave responsibility and purpose and happiness. Yes, you're just a car, but then, Jesus was just a man.
dresses. But if the child came first, the mother automatically followed.
3. Never take your eye of the prize. He never left the tent, with the exception of buying grilled corn-on-the-cob near the end of the day. He never moved from his spot.
4. Know your end-game. The women's clothing may have been more expensive, but the dancing animals were golden. I saw him sell one sweater during two days; he sold out of the dancing creatures. Women's clothing was everywhere; only he had dancing neon animals.
5. Have a plan B just in case. He could fall back on selling womens clothing, but he never had to.
6. Be patient. Once he would make a sale, he's go to the back of the tent. Shake it off a bit, and carefully choose the next animal to showcase. Then, he'd walk to the front of the tent and look both ways. He'd spy a small child heading his way, and poof, like magic, the animal would dance and the child would head straight to him. And so did mom.
7. Reel 'em in. No child is going to ignore a dancing neon purple poodle. And even if you didn't notice him and his dancing animals right away, there were three damn dancing puppets/animal/creatures, in a clear box above eye-level, clicking and jumping constantly. Electricity primed their movement. I heard the click. I tried to look away, but I couldn't.
8. Move on. Once the sale closed, he'd do the exact same thing again, in the exact same way, with the same result.
9. Time is on your side. He would take him time with each sale, doing what he had to do to close the deal. It was never time wasted. There wasn't a lot of conversation; just slight smiles from the man. He listened and you could almost see the wheels turning, deciding what must come next. It it was time he needed; then time it was. I watched him spend close to 10 minutes with one kid, and yes, the kid walked away with what he desperately wanted.
10. Believe in your product. There were no dancing neon purple poodles anywhere except here. Be unique. Be purposeful and people (or should I say kids) will come.
So there it is. How to be a success in business (or life) without a whole lot of effort. If we have a plan, set priorities, chronicle the steps to succeed, be patient and believe in yourself (your product OR your life), there's a good chance you'll make the sale (reach your dream). Who knew sitting at my vendor booth in downtown Dawsonville, Georgia, flanked by good ole' moonshiners would I be reminded of how to live life. All it takes is opening your eyes.
Thanks to the man with the dancing neon purple poodle.
A ship is always safe at the shore - but that is NOT what it is built for. ~ Albert Einstein
Albert nailed it. So did Virge Lovell in my book North Georgia Moonshine. In the first chapter he says, "Little boats stay close to shore; big boats venture forth more." Staying close to the shore is a sure thing, but they weren't designed to stay tied to the dock. I can see the likes of pirate Jack Sparrow and Captain Ahab planning their next voyage, ordering a dinky ship because after all, it would simply be tied to the shore. What's the use?
Same with Jack (the horse with his neck stuck out). There's a treat in that hand, but to get it, you have to reach for it. You have to stick your neck out. You have to feel uncomfortable.
Someone recently said, "If you're not uncomfortable, you're not growing." I brushed it off first, but then last weekend, in a situation where I wore distress and agony as accessories, I realized (much later) what she meant. During the moment, all I felt was pain. Afterwards, I all I wanted was to reclaim the moment and offer a do-over to redeem myself. Being that uncomfortable made me realize I had a lot to learn, and I had better get to it.
Days later, I realized the situation wasn't as bad as my mind made it seem, but I had learned what subconsciously I hoped I would. I figured out my next steps, my strengths, my weaknesses, my goals and my where I want this adventure to head.
Staying tied to the shore just isn't an option; I'm a big boat with numerous unknown ports of call. I will stick my neck out (which comes with an colossal amount of angst) even to the point of feeling uncomfortable. There's a cookie waiting for me. I want it. I want it all. I was made for so much more.
It's the best Saturday postal delivery ever!
In a small brown box, six copies of North Georgia Moonshine arrived via my postman in his little red Jeep. The first copies to see the light of day. They were all mine.
Surely, I would rip open the box, but no. It was a slow, savoring process. Securely wrapped in brown paper was the dividend of my last year. I touched, and as any book lover will do, I smelled. Then, I turned to my favorite parts. True, there were sections I wrote because I had to, but then there were the sections I wrote because it was the natural story. The narratives that painted a picture of a man and his legacy. A memory. A history. A story. If pushed, I probably could recite the entire book; I can't count the times I have read the finished book in one sitting. However, my favorite sections still give me chills. As a writer, you know when you nail a line, when the words are balanced in order and time. I nailed quite a few. I still read and ask, "Did I write that? Man, that sounds good."
It was just about this time last year that I switched from low to high gear and began working night and day putting words on the page that would tell a man's life story. It was a real test. This time, no procrastinating would be possible for I had signed on the dotted line. I had to do what I had never done before - finish the book.
I interviewed scores of people, recorded thousands of hours of interviews (and then transcribed them all), read dozens of books, drove thousands of miles to find experts, scoured through archives and captured thousands of photographs - all in the hopes that each little tidbit would contribute to the final story. Some did. Some did not. To this day, evidence of work remains: a tower of books sit on the floor beside my desk, a crate of notes and rough drafts shoved underneath the far corner of my desk, hundreds of files remain on my hard drive. What do I do with them now?
I am proud of the story and the finished product. It was hard work, probably some of the hardest work I've ever done. I hope those involved will feel the same; if not, I still have to be proud of myself, happy with the chapters I wrote, the stories I told, the photographs I captured of a family whose story is fleeting. The story, both the good and bad parts, is complete. And that's all any writer can hope for - a complete story. I have come full circle, and I am a better person that I was a year ago. Not that I'm a better person, but I have fulfilled something that was nothing more than a dream before. I finished the book.
I am a writer; better yet, I am an author. I did it. Yes, Judy, you did it. Enjoy this moment.
September 27, 2014, was a long time coming. It was my dream in December, 1982, and today, it's just a house. Houses grow old, just like me, and if not given love and attention, will die. Such is the tale of Colquitt. After many attempts to spruce up the old joint, it wasn't going to happen without the help of a winning scratch-off. So sell, we shall. After Ty's (gracious and out-of-his-league) attempt to gut and become Mr. Fix-it fell through, the choice of buyers during year one became slim and non-existent. Then, a dreamer like me saw the potential, is taking a chance and will make this little bungalow into a dream once again. I wish him luck and prosperity. I wish the same for us.
So on this overcast fall Saturday in Georgia (while the Dawgs undo Tennessee a few miles up the road), we're loading up and moving out; however, that doesn't come without a few tears and 'remember whens?'
What's a move without a lame attempt at a yard sale?
And then those items that you find that mean absolutely nothing to everyone else, but mean the world to you . . . .
. . . the china cabinet (that began its life as a TV) that mama and daddy transformed (that's what you did in those days). It's been painted a million times. Inside the drawers, you can still see a scant reminder of where "Judy Hill" scribbled her name in crayon.
. . . the oil lamps that sat in my living room in Clarkesville for as long as I can remember. Mama always said, "We must be prepared if the lights go out."
. . . and the table. The table that mama built. She got adventurous, took a class at North Georgia Tech (the Trade School as we called it), and built a table. It took residence in our dining room. We never ate at the table, but always adored it and treated it like royalty. It's gone through three moves now and is a little rough for wear. One day, it's going back home to the mountains - to our little cabin in the woods.
. . . and the ten-ton blue fan that mama kept in the back bedroom window to blow cool air from one end of the house to the other. In hot summers, I would go back to the bedroom, lay at the foot of the bed so that my face would be inches from those steel blades. I would enjoy the coolest place in the house and then start singing into the moving blades. "ahemahemmmmmm"
No matter what this little first house of mine became, it ends as a reminder of my wealth. I remember Mari's first birthday party around the backyard rose garden - stenciling the living room ceiling in purple love birds - mama rocking her first grandchild in the t-tiny living room - the day Challenger exploded and I froze in disbelief - sitting on the front stoop at night wondering, questioning - planting the dogwoods for Logan and Mari and the weeping cherry for Ty - a home for the three of us and mama when there was no where else to turn - where mama took her last breath - where I learned to stand alone.
I haven't left many houses in my life - Clarkesville, Jersey, Monroe - and I have to remember that the most important things I take with me. The boards, sheet-rock and windows are just that and nothing more.
I plan on having only two more in my life time - my current and most important one- Mayne Mill - and another, in Hiawassee. When Len and I get our fill of traveling and photography (doubt that will ever happen), we'll start on our little hideaway in the mountains. After all, mama's table needs a proper resting place.
Tonight, I am pondering Georgia or North Carolina. Which one is it?
I've spent the last week immersed in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley, the lush green soy-beans/grapevines/tobacco mecca of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rolling hills which obviously furnish these plants with the nutrients required set the stage for a simpler way of life that many have left the Fort Lauderdale's and New York's to find. Walk in any shop in Elkin or Mount Airy or Dobson and you'll understand the excitement which propels these shopkeepers on a daily basis. They laugh. They smile; no, they grin - that lippy grin that can't suppress the joy that lives deep down. They've found it here. Miss Angel and Ed Harris and Tony Bowman understand and hope you will, too, once you eat the freshly prepared heavenly treats, sit upon a hand-carved leather saddle, and praise God in person while thousands listen out there in radio-land.
That was yesterday; tomorrow begs the question, Georgia or North Carolina?
Georgia whiskey or Carolina moonshine? The war of words and spirits has raged since prohibition reared its ugly head in the early 1900s and continues today while the now legals still allege their dominance. Then, there's cars . . . Which one raced cars lightning fast around those snaky mountain strips of road and escaped the suits? Which is the purest? Which is just rot-gut crap? It all depends upon who you talk to, I imagine. Tomorrow, I'll get to meet another legend, Junior Johnson. We'll talk and he'll know quickly that my allegiance lies within the peach state; I'll give North Carolina a chance, but you'll never out-shine my Georgia.
No matter where you leave your heart, we do have this in common: it lives in the South. Our deep abiding, soul-inspiring, can't get enough of my South. It's a place where pumpkin pie ice cream is a reality, and it is so good that you'll forget about all the rest; where sonker makes sweet ice tea seem rather ordinary; where French, American or Italian grapes are the choices and they are all correct; where you perfect your mama's skill of monogramming and change the lives of an entire generation; where you can make history simply by what you choose to do with corn, water and sugar.
And these stories are only the beginning. On warm summer evenings like tonight, I can't believe how lucky I am.
Every place we visit leaves behind its mark. The tourist draws, the foodies havens, the pillows we rest upon, the ornate churches and once thriving bridges. We snap our photos and we jot down notes, revisiting and recollecting the moments when we upload photos and review the words upon arriving home. Most of the time we get what we seek, but every now and then we find a shocker of a photo that tells more narrative than our quick expected activity demands.
She sits along the banks of the Savannah River by the playground where children climb and squeal in the background. Across the river sits multi-million dollar homes like dominoes, one practically sitting on top of another, all with a history that might be just as unbelievable as hers. However, neither grabs her attention as she stares at her feet, covered on this 100- degree summer day with tattered striped socks and no shoes in sight. She could be any person, in any city, on any day, sitting on any peaceful riverbank.
But she finds herself here. I assume she is homeless and this is a stop before the next stop before the next . . . She slumps in thought as she surrounds herself with natural and man-made beauty. She is attracted to the very opposite of her life. She isn't caught up in the buildings or the slides, but she takes comfort in knowing they are close. Helping her to belong. To cope. It helps her breathe.
And for a brief moment, everything flows, just as the river, to a more beautiful ending. She is me. More than likely, she is you. If we surround ourselves with beauty, we tend to forget the unlovely. Even for an afternoon . . . .
Peace is always beautiful.”
All this thinking and processing and editing, and well, deciding on concepts that we can live with for a lifetime is exhausting! It has had feet a little over 18 months, but it's the last few months that we've stuck our toes deeper in the sand to make this adventure (not sure if that's the correct word) a reality. Our first finalized piece of two coots: our Seeing Southern logo. We're tweaking on this a bit for other uses, but this is us. Whenever you see this, it will represent us - Len and Judy - and our commitment to excellence, to the South and to the story. Not too shabby.
We hope you agree.
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.