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Florida Snowman

Somehow, all of a sudden, it was the middle of December and I still had so much to do before the Holidays. On my day off there were a few errands to run, as usual. With Patrick, my eight year old Black& White rescue dog loaded in the back seat, I set off. Post Office first, groceries next and the pool store last. Then we could have a half-hour in the Park for sniffing and other dog business! Probably ninety minutes at most, right? Wrong!

With the last of my overseas packages stamped, stuck down, and chucked into the large canvas cart at the back of the counter I swiped my card at the desk and set off on the next errand on my list. Patrick always looks happy to see me with his head stuck out the window when I get back to him. Groceries next, I announced to myself, and off we went. My steering felt a bit heavy, but I carried on regardless.

Carefully, I loaded the few bits of groceries in the trunk, alongside several empty chlorine containers for my pool chores later and off we went again. Turning the wheel had become strained as we got to the parking lot at the pool store. I parked under a tree for shade as the sun was coming up by then. I figured I could stop at my usual car repair place on the way to the park as soon as I had my pool water checked and loaded up with more chlorine.

The Winter display inside the pool store blew me away! I instantly fell in love with the coolest inflated snowman I have ever seen. There he was standing a few feet away from me in the whitest of white, wearing a tall black hat, he had three black buttons down his tummy and a plaid tie painted around his neck. His arms were reaching out to me and I loved his crooked carrot nose. His big sad eyes cast a spell on me! I was in awe! I was in love! He was coming home with me.

Sure enough, the shop assistant took my money and one of the men took my refilled chlorine jugs to the car. I assured him I would get my snowman in there somehow. There was no other way than to drop the passenger seat back and lay him in it, next to me. When we stopped at the lights people were looking and smiling at my new friend riding up front with me.

Then disaster struck! My already stiff steering froze solid and my front wheel buckled! I had a flat! Oh God! Maybe this was not a good day to bring home a 56 inch inflatable snowman after all! I pulled into the middle of the road and, with some trouble, on into a gas station right there. Thank-you Jesus! I called the number of a local tow company and we waited. Patrick had to make do with a short sniff around the perimeter away from the gas pumps for his business that morning.

Soon the tow-truck showed up and the guy found the spare where I had looked, but not seen! He changed the wheel. At one point he had to reach over the snowman, who relaxed back in the passenger seat in the front of the car, to pull the hand brake all the way on. The snowman didn’t care. I was mortified.

Back on the road again, we headed for the car repair place where I dropped off a very shredded tire and agreed to pick up a replacement the next day. Patrick got to go to the park after all for a good sniff and I had a very unexpected good laugh. Finally we got home after a long morning and I set my snowman free in the pool. I posted an image of him floating around on social media and my friends loved him. Do you?

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Hope, Love, Peace

Hope, Love, Peace

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These are the things I usually wish for my family and my friends for the New Year. Then I get to wonder which of these is the greatest. When I was young, Hope was by far the greatest. Hope for the future, hope for success, hope for health, and for happiness. I hoped I got a good job. I hoped I kept my job and that I did a good job! I hoped I would meet someone and fall in love. I hoped that I would have kids and I hoped they would be healthy. There was always an abundance of hope all around me.

As I matured and developed a responsible view of life, I decided that love was the greatest. Love for my husband and love for my kids. I cultivated deep feelings of love for all of my family members, my parents, my siblings and their partners, and love for my home and my home town. As great love grew into all aspects of my life, hope grew also.

Then life happened with its challenges and struggles. There were triumphs and sacrifices. My kids grew up and made lives of their own. We all moved around and changed who we were, what we wanted, and what we were not going to accept. Lots and lots of changes happened. Life became a ship tossing this way and that over the ocean in a storm.

All of a sudden; stillness surrounds me now and I basque in its peace. Now I see that Peace has somehow become the greater! This year I wish all my family and friends, in particular order Peace, Hope and Love

Paris 2018

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It was mid-morning on a bright sunny day in September, 14 degrees Celsius in West London. We had been sitting around in our pajamas catching up and sharing stories of the goings-on in our lives over tea. The kitchen door was open so the cats could come in and out like the welcome breeze. My sister’s flat always felt like home to me. Her husband had already gone out for the day, but we were lazily preparing to head out to St Pancras International Train Station for me to board the Eurostar train to Paris. I had never been to Paris before, nor traveled through the tunnel under the English Channel to France. Of course I had been in France before, but never to Paris and never by myself.

The people in London walk so fast all the time. They hurry past you on the escalator like they are saying, this is MY city and YOU are in my way! I could have been on another planet compared to where I live on a Barrier Island in the Gulf of Mexico, twenty-five miles west of Tampa Florida. Rush-hour had ended, but the Tube was busy. A quick hug and kiss on the cheek and I entered a security checkpoint. I only had my rucksack, jammed  full of what I thought I needed, and my purse. My suitcase, safely stored back in my sister’s bedroom behind the door, awaited my return. There were no issues as my bags passed through the x-ray scanner, my passport accepted, and online tickets printed back home, checked by French Customs Officers. The lines moved quickly. I looked back a couple of times and saw my sis smile and wave to me amid the hustle and bustle. I reciprocated. That feeling of belonging is such a beautiful, timeless thing.

Soon I claimed my window seat facing the direction of travel. I had planned the details of this trip from my sofa several months before. Today it was really happening. I plugged in my phone and pulled out the lunch packet I had grabbed at Pret-A-Manger at the station before boarding. It felt like I was a kid again going on a school trip without my parents. Primal excitement pulsed through me. The train started moving!

We flung along the track at an amazing one hundred twenty-five miles an hour. Quaint English country scenes flashed in the window and were quickly replaced, like in a video game, by brief moments of nothing. Short tunnels punctuated the tracks with darkness as we hurled in and out of them going faster and faster. A longer tunnel sucked us in and then another even longer one, without fanfare. Are we in France? I have only ever read about wormholes in the universe, but I imagined this to be a slow-mo version of what it could be like to travel through them. Suddenly, no more wind turbines in view and the electricity pylons took on a more stylish shape. We are in France, I concluded as the world of Claude Monet opened out before me. The romance of French country images kissed my eyes. My  imagination soared.

We arrived on time at Gard Du Nord train station in the center of Paris. A little dazed, I made my way out into Rue de Dunkerque and Paris greeted me like a recurring childhood dream. That’s when my heart abandoned me. My inner compass shifted. I took a few steps forward and turned to look up at the majestic white stone facade from the 1860s. This train station is said to be the busiest station in Europe or indeed the world outside Japan. It sees 214 million passengers a year and it looked to me like they all gathered there for my arrival. Not surprising, the leading city in the world of beauty, fashion, and couture, gave the station a one billion dollar face-lift in 2015. The majestic beauty and sheer enormity of it with glinting statues along the top, took my breath.

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Bundled into the back seat of a car, the hotel sent to meet me, I quickly discovered it is not a good idea to look through the windshield while being driven through the city. For as hectic as the inner-city commuters are in London Paris people have them beat by the power of ten. Add to that equation many high-speed scooters traveling randomly through an absolutely unorganized traffic flow. Meanwhile, a slew of quintessential Parisienne al-fresco-cafes, squashed onto narrow strips of sidewalk between tall buildings and congested traffic, harbored clutches of afternoon espresso drinkers and cigar enthusiasts. Yeah, this was Paris alright and my pulse leaped.

Endless red-lights on skinny avenues, piled high on each side with white limestone buildings in the Romanesque,  Baroque, and Medieval architectural styles, choked me through the center of Renaissance Paris. A few minutes later, the route opened into rambling tree-lined parks that suddenly appeared and disappeared just as quickly. I saw a sign which read, Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Overwhelm filled my senses to bursting as the car cut through this city thick with history. We crossed over the river. Oh! My! It’s the Seine! Then I saw it – my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower piercing high up in revolt onto an iridescent blue sky.

I checked-in to my eleventh-floor premiere room – with complimentary robe and slippers – did I do that – must have checked the wrong box when I booked it! Oh well! I dropped my bags and hurled myself onto a comforter atop crisp white linens, and tried to center my self. Wine, I will have wine with dinner tonight for sure, I thought as I flicked on the remote and the TV started to spawn out Homer Simpson dubbed in French. Oh brother! Reaching in my purse I pulled out my pre printed ticket for 7:45 pm no-waiting ascent of the Eiffel Tower. Pinch me I must be dreaming. The hot shower felt so good against my skin and the provided shower gel filled the space with a spicy fragrance. I pulled on a change of clothes, but no perfume. I had entered the world-center for such and planned to load-up with perfume right there in France. I would buy the newest one! At the front desk the concierge gave me directions to the meeting point on my ticket and off I strode into a warm Paris evening.

Two short blocks from the hotel I joined a joyful group of sightseers at the designated office where our Tour Guide joined us and lead us toward the enigmatic iron marvel, the iconic symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. As we walked, he divulged all the specs and secrets of its inception and history, but my brain had already been saturated that day and besides, my heart was in charge of me by then. I did not retain any of it. Pinch me again! We passed effortlessly through the large crowd gathered at the base and through the security checkpoint to board the elevator. Did I mention I’m not good with heights! Yikes!

Slowly the crammed carriage slid up the rail to the first floor and on to the second. The sun was just about to set as all of Paris stretched out in every direction below us.

It had been a beautiful day, but the evening air had a chill to it. Lines to the gift shops and restaurant were long, but I waited to fill a bag with purchased trinkets to take home. While I was busy doing that, the external lights came on. Magic filled the air and Paris came alive. On the way down, sparkly lights randomly darted all over the tower in some sort of orchestrated light show – amazing!

On the ground, I realized abruptly; darkness had fallen. Oh No! Suddenly aware of my isolation, I shuffled through the crowd in the general direction of my hotel only a block and a half away. Voices of friends back home telling me not to go out alone after dark swirled around in my head. Many of the people around me seemed to be headed in the same general direction where I was going, so I kept close to a middle-aged couple, smiling and nodding my head agreeably like Diane Keaton in many of her films, and moved fast. Before I knew it, I was back at my hotel. It was already 9:30 pm. I headed for the dining room to be ushered to a romantic little candle-lit table in the Jardin-restaurant amidst an array of fragrant flowering shrubs. I ate well; fresh fish and leafy greens with a couple of bites of garlic bread, all washed down with sips of the recommended white. Brie on toast-pieces with a little red berry garnish complimented the meal. I took my glass with me and the elevator whisked me up to my cloud where I slept a beautiful sleep.

I was already awake when my alarm went off the next morning. I ran from the shower to silence it. Saturday came fast and I had my tickets for Le Louvre and the Hop-on Hop-off City Big Red Bus Tour out on the dresser all ready. Continental breakfast fit with my schedule and before long I was heading to the taxi stand outside the front lobby of the hotel. We got there fast. Once again, a Tour Guide escorted the group along a few tight avenues and into the world-famous square. Morning sun glinted on the glass pyramid as we neared the entrance.

Security behind us and armed with our maps we descended the escalator into the heart of one of the most famous museums in Europe. Crowds of people congregated here and there along the many huge hallways and inside gigantic rooms aligned with art works of all kinds which included life-size marble statues and framed art masterpieces bigger than my house. My ultimate rendezvous, however, burned in my heart forcing me through long hallways and off into anterooms galore. Finally I looked at her – the one and only, the Mona Lisa. Was she looking back at me? What a thrill!

I ate lunch in one of the many cafes in the museum and wandered through the floors and up and down stairs and escalators in awe until I had no appreciation left in me. Fascinated by the shopping mall two floors down, underneath the museum, I made a couple of purchases before attempting to leave. I got lost. Since I had travelled from the USA to London only a few days before and hit the ground running, Jet-lag started to weigh me down and I could not find the way out. A few seconds of almost panic slammed me amidst gilded furniture and ornate rugs. I couldn’t breath. I found the information desk and made it out exhausted. Up on the streets, the temperature had climbed up with the sun to 26 degrees celsius, just under 80 farenheit. Paris was abuzz and in full swing with tourist hoards and the regular weekend shopping circus combined.

When the Hop-on bus showed up – I did just exactly that – I hopped on. Glad of a seat and a little breeze flowing through the open windows, during what had become a humid ‘last day of summer’ in Paris. I hooked up my ear buds to the overhead gadget in preparation for guided tour commentary. There might not be much of the Hop-off part of this joy-ride going on here today, I thought smiling contentedly to myself. And off we went. I chose my language and, in perfect English, the French male voice described each building and monument on the tour. Passing in front of my eyes were Notre-Dame Cathedral, Moulin Rouge night club, Trocadero Museum, and Arc de Triumph Monument. I  was in heaven.

Beautiful music complemented the soundtrack between stopping points in the form of Gary Moore Parisienne Walkways. The solo guitar tore through my blood and rendered me senseless plunging me into an unreal dream state – I fell in love with Paris right there.

I perked up on Champs-Elysees as the tour guide told us it was the most sought after area for leading designers to have their flagship stores. I looked and looked and even got off the bus to look some more, but it was too hot with droves of people and I could not find Channel nor Dior anywhere. I got back on the next bus for the end of the line. We headed back to the Eiffel Tower where I disembarked for the night.

After my ten-hour day of pure tourism I was dragging. Dinner became a sleepy affair in the hotel dining room and off I crawled toward the elevator and up to pack. From the eleventh floor window, Paris sparkled all around as the Saturday night party people came out to play, while this weary traveler crept under the duvet to rest and prepare to leave in the morning. An all-consuming sleep came easily and took me away.

Again I had set my alarm to wake up early and check out by 9:00 am to get to the station in time for the train back to London leaving 12:55 pm, with required check in 45 minutes before departure. Not many people were at the desk so check out was a breeze. At 9:30 I stepped  outside to the taxi rank, but to my astonishment found no taxis! In fact, there was no traffic at all, anywhere to be seen. The entire area around the Eiffel Tower hotels and roads, along the banks of the River Seine on both sides, were closed off with barricades! Help me God!

I took off hurrying as fast as I could, fully loaded with my stuffed backpack, shoulder purse, and several gift bags of souvenirs clutched in my clammy grip. The temperature had climbed up already to a balmy 26 celsius. As I got to the bottom end of the road I saw people running in groups with brightly colored shirts on behind a barrier. OMG! It was the Paris Marathon – a very worthy cause, but less than perfect timing for me. I hurried along the side of the barrier in desperation.

Four blocks later, there still was NO way to cross the road. I was struggling painfully along in the same direction as the runners, but found myself weaving through thick crowds gathered on sidewalks to watch the marathon. Making little headway, I back tracked a bit and crossed over the river via a footbridge. On the other side, I started to climb up a hill, three blocks long, to reach a road where I could see moving traffic glinting in the sun. Thank you Jesus!

At the top, a taxi appeared, but it had its red light on, not green like I needed. It was already 11:08. Suddenly, the taxi pulled in and people got out of it. Thank God for marathon spectators! I asked the driver if he would take me to the train station. He nodded and flashed a grin at my ‘pigeon French’ as I clambered into the back. It was a mad dash through Paris with seconds to spare. It felt like I was in a James Bond movie. I had previously discovered it’s best not to look through the windshield when riding in a taxi in Paris. The previous day, I had planned to go to the station in a more leisurely manner and take pictures of the many designer stores I had been informed lay just off the Champs-Elysee, but instead found myself strapped into the back seat of a taxi with a formidable G-Force as Channel, Gucci, Dior and other glamorous store fronts whizzed past me. Not in tourist mode anymore, I had fallen into survival mode, slammed by panic same as I had been the day before when I couldn’t find the exit two floors underground in Le Louvre. Unable to even muster an ounce of energy or enthusiasm, to reach for my phone and start snapping pictures, I surrendered to the will of the Universe. Paris had me in her clutches; her spell forever cast.

We got to the train station with a couple of minutes to spare – I dashed in to the Duty-Free shop and exchanged the last of my Euros for a bottle of Dior Joy – eau de par fume! This was to be her parting gift to me because that is precisely what Paris gave to me on this visit – joy.

Pieces of Me

I recently went back for a visit – back to my starting point on this planet, to my home town in West Central Scotland where I was fortunate to reconnect with my family, my lifelong friends, but most importantly, I reconnected with my self. Had I gone back in time to a place where life was simpler, my initial hope, or was I about to discover that the place hadn’t changed at all – I had!

Just as the Earth pivots around the Sun my soul continues to pivot around my childhood home in memories of clean air, wellness of spirit, and emotional ties that bind. Initially, I observed that the passing of time, however slow, had left its mark in the town on old buildings, drawn soft lines on faces and sprinkled silver in the hair of the people I hold most dear in this world.

Excitement in the unexpected vibrancy of emerging generations of new souls rooted there, stirred in me. Times had changed in my home town, a discovery which challenged my foolish heart.

Warm welcomes rekindled abandoned feelings of belonging and love which enabled my weary soul to pull on its old comfy slippers and sit by that fire for a while. Fortified by this deeply personal evolution, I ventured out to seek the places in my memory where, through my lifetime, I had left pieces of me.

My first stop – the family home. I casually drove over there and sat quietly in the car outside for a long time as many memories from my childhood, young married life, and early parenthood flashed around me turning the inside of the car into a glittering snow globe, of thoughts. The gable ended building, wearing a new coat of fresh paint and gravel chips, acknowledged my presence.

Undaunted by overwhelming emotions rising in me, I headed over to the graveyard to say hello to the old, and young, kin-folks residing there. I felt them.

In other parts of town I visited all four homes where I had raised my children. One where we brought them home from the hospital when they were new-born, the next where they first started Primary School and another where they attended High School, and ultimately, the house where it all fell apart. Somehow, the details of that last episode are fuzzy and no longer matter – I am finally at peace with it.

I gave the best years of my life to raising my children, something I will never regret. It comforts me to know that their continued success is evidence of my love and nurturing through some of the worst times of my life. They have persevered through the changes, as have I. My kids were and will always be the best thing that ever happened to me. I have drawn tremendous courage from having them in my life. They have inspired me to continue as they, in turn, overcome obstacles in their own lives. My kids have grown to be balanced caring adults.

For a long time I avoided going back to look at the pieces I thought I had lost, however, in going back I have found healing, belonging, and bounteous love. Those early seeds of conviction and change I had dropped on the ground have since flourished and grown into tall trees deeply rooted in the culture and history of my hometown.

Back in my current home, I am grateful to wake up everyday and continue to dedicate my life to the care and healing of my fellow-man. The challenges of an Intensive Care Nurse are just that, intensive. I have found that in this life everyone is exposed to physical or emotional pain at some point on their journey. Loss and gain are not always delivered in equal measure, however, if harnessed in a deliberate and thoughtful way, our responses to these forces can become an integral part of building empathy towards others, to be the bigger person. If someone is able to take the energy from a negative experience and turn it into something positive then the world stands to benefit from the unbridled potential within that action.

Humankind is capable of many things, but we can make mistakes on our quest to pursue true happiness and unwittingly, drop pebbles into someone else’s pond. Most mistakes can be forgiven whether or not they are acknowledged by the perpetrator, so in my lifetime I have decided my heart will accept the apologies I never got and freely give the ones I feel I owe.

One of my all time literary loves, Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese born American poet and philosopher, wrote poignant notes on this matter when he said, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Another gem of his, “How shall my heart be unsealed unless it be broken?”

Life’s experiences mold us and expand our understanding in ways we cannot fully imagine unless we might have the opportunity to reconnect with a previous version of ourselves. Therein lies our peace, grace, and dignity – components of the glue necessary to find and bind all of the pieces of ourselves back together again. And for this opportunity I am truly grateful.

Putting on the Ritz

         When I got to London, the weather was typical for late Autumn in Shepherds Bush, dry, overcast, and breezy. My sister’s flat was up on the second floor. She wasn’t home so I followed her directions to locate the key and let myself in. I struggled up the narrow stairway, dropped my bags in her bedroom, and opened the window in the living room. I struck my head out into a quick rush of wind, breathing in the freedom of a short business trip away without my husband and teenage sons. I loved my family, but these small breaks helped me to keep it alive. I loved my sister’s cozy flat and her neighborhood with tree lined avenues crouched between rows of Victorian terraced houses. All around, small articulate front gardens popped with color and twirled gusts of leaves that scratched among fallen pink geranium petals. Mostly, the houses had been converted into flats, three or four stories high.

I loved my job, in interior lighting sales, and this was my first all-expenses-paid adventure to the BIG city by my Edinburgh based company. The Covent Garden area of London, loaded with architects and interior designers, had recently been added to my existing sales patch covering Ireland and the West of Scotland. I was good at selling stuff, but in that world, you are only ever as good as last week’s sales figures. In my new found celebration of success I decided to show off a bit to my younger sister. The next morning, we would go out and have tea at the Ritz, utilizing my shiny new company credit card.

Sure enough, in the morning, the taxi picked us up and we shot off into town. The weather had turned wet and a bit colder forcing us to pull coats on over our best outfits. The Hackney cab pulled up outside the Ritz Hotel, in Piccadilly, and out we bounced laughing and carrying on like a couple of giddy girl, where we pretended to get stuck in the revolving door joking and having a great time to ourselves. We went around a few times. When the door eventually threw us into the foyer, time froze. The four string quartet continued to play, but pinky-up women in chiffon hats and jewels looked at us with such disdain. Formal morning wear was the preferred attire! Oh dear! The Maitre d’ approached us with the same courtesy as he would royalty, however his acknowledgment of our lesser stature, in a room filled with duchesses and dukes, was rather palpable. He led us to our table, pulled out or seats and when we sat, pushed them back in for us. He then reached out gesturing for our coats. We timidly gave them up and he walked off holding them at arm’s length, like we had just handed him our dog’s beds. We burst out laughing again, drawing a few more harsh looks, making it all feel like we were scullery maids having breakfast at Downton Abbey being waited on by Carson

The menu lay atop bone china and highly polished literal silverware, it felt heavy. Our waiter showed up and bid us good morning. He motioned to a waitress, dressed in a black long-sleeved dress with white frilly apron and hat, to place fluted crystal, with orange juice and champagne from her silver tray, in front of each of us. His appearance resembled a window display at Harrods or Selfidges. He wore a black jacket with long tails and striped gray pants with white shirt and, get this, white gloves. He had one arm behind his back, the other bent across his chest with immaculate white linen napkins hung over it.

He shook out the napkins one by one and placed them on our laps. We dared not move or respond in any way. He took our order, my sister chose white crab sandwiches with India tea, I chose salmon sandwiches with Earl Grey tea. In a flash, or so it seemed, our tea and sandwiches arrived and the waiter poured out tea from individual silver teapots. He bent forward asking, “Will there be anything else Madam?” We shook our heads and he walked off ending the ritual, for now.

Gracefully, we dipped our hands into the doily laden china and drank down the booze. Turning our heads as we ate, with pinky fingers up, we surveyed this genteel place as the classical music played on.

We started a rather intellectual conversation of our own and morphed ourselves into the aristocratic environment like chameleons. It seemed to be working. Paying no mind to previously learned impulses and behaviors, we proudly ate postage stamp sized sandwiches, slathered with watercress and cucumber, with expensive knives and forks afforded by this luxurious upper crust establishment.

That’s when it happened. My sister glared at my tea plate with an alarming look on her face! The waiter was coming to clear away the dishes. I glanced at my plate. Oh God! I ate the doily! The outer edges were still crisp, pretty, and lace, but the center was gone. I ate it! Oh no! How can I hide it. Quickly I threw my napkin up over the table, to cover my embarrassment. The waiter picked up each napkin by the tips of his lily white gloves and shook them. My face burned in total mortification as he omitted a punishing ‘Tut tut,’ under his breath.

When he returned with the bill, I gave him the credit card and a nice tip, by way of ‘hush money.’ He nodded a faint forgiveness in my direction. We left our seats under the same formality as we had taken them. With our coats returned to us, we took the stairs to the ladies’ room and immediately burst into fits of laughter. What a relief to be out of that stuffy stuck up world where one is judged by any departure from expected protocol. It felt as though we were in time out for bad behavior. Out through the revolving door we went, laughing and spilling fancy soaps and lotions from our pockets onto the wet sidewalk, while inside the music played on.

We hailed a cab and were gone. Over the years since, I have developed a fondness for Earl Grey tea, but never drink it without thinking about my sister, whom I love dearly, and our brush with aristocracy, while putting on the Ritz.