There Is A Small Medium at Large

Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae, the psychic, in the movie Ghost.
Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae, the psychic medium, in the movie Ghost.

Well, my traveling friends, it’s true: there is a small medium at large.  You know how, when you travel, you are met with  new and unexpected experiences?  That’s the draw of it, right?  This is also true when you move to a new region–there are sure to be interesting developments, to be moments of “Oh, wow,  that’s never happened to me before.”

Any number of moments, really.   But here is one for your consideration.

The red stone house in Germany
The red stone house in Germany

As you know, we’ve just moved back to the States from Germany.  And if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was sorely disappointed that the very old stone house we lived in there wasn’t haunted, even though we had enough ghost stories under our belts already.  Anyhoo, as we packed up to bid Germany goodbye and we planned our new life in Florida, we gave up any hope of supernatural tales.  In fact, in our last weeks, we were told that the old German house used to be called Villa Sunshine by the locals.  Not much spooky there.

So off to sunny Florida, where sangria and surf are the norm and atmospheric tales stay at bay.

Then again . . . we hadn’t even gotten to Florida before a Floridian friend was in contact and, on hearing where we would be renting our house, said “Hey, that’s the neighborhood with the psychic, isn’t it?”  zoltarfull02

Was it?  We didn’t know.  Honestly, we didn’t care.   But weeks later, as we moved into the new digs, we found ourselves on the lookout.  Any odd-birds in the neighborhood?  Anyone walking around in a turban, looking like Zoltar the fortune teller?

Our curiosity was peaked, but we had no idea what we might be looking for.  There were no “Sister Rosa, Palm Reader” signs in front yards–the Home Owner’s Association would have frowned on that.  There were no Gypsy caravans parked in driveways.  So we were on the lookout for any eccentrics that we might pin the role on, but we were coming up with nothing.  Which just made us more curious.

I don’t have any experience with psychic mediums.  My only reference points are examples like the Zoltar fortune teller machine and Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the movie Ghost.  (A character whose narrative arc is pretty interesting:  she starts out as a charlatan and ends up being more sage than she ever knew she could be.)  If you don’t remember her, here’s a small clip for you:

 

Yeah, generally speaking, I guess the idea of a psychic makes me giggle.  At worst, this person would be a con man–  ready to prey on folks who are looking for reassurance or struggling through grief.  But then again, there are some people who are intuitive, you know?   And so many of us have stories that defy logical explanations, so maybe . . . just maybe. . .

Bottom line:  I’m a skeptic, but not foolish enough to say it isn’t possible.

So my husband and I continued our neighborhood watch– it was our project to figure out where this eccentric might live.  We embraced the challenge a little too happily:  we watched the neighborhood and the neighbors, we commented on odd decor and strange choices of head-gear, we sat in judgment of peculiarities or individual flights of fancy.

Little did we know. . .

Honestly, here’s exactly where I should have seen the plot twist coming– I’m an English and Religious Studies major, after all, and this is the age old tale.  When you’re looking for the trouble out there–the fault in your neighbor– well, you’re looking in the wrong place.  More often than not, the fault is your own.

So guess where this psychic lived?  Yep.  Oh, yep.

Turns out, we’d moved into the house.

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I’ll give up no information on this person– who by all accounts from neighbors, and our own dealings, is fantastic.  In fact, this makes me want to be more open to the idea of a . . . psychic?  I don’t even really know what that is.  I have this hodgepodge of terms in my head– psychic, clairvoyant, medium, spiritualist, etc.– and I don’t really know what they mean, or how they’d be distinguished one from the other.   Really, all this situation has taught me is that I know nothing and should probably keep my mouth shut.   We’ll see how well that lesson takes . . .

But in the meantime, I’m left with this:  as much as I’m a skeptic in my head, my heart seems to be a total buy in– and it’s causing me some real trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, our landlord dropped by the house with an extra set of  keys that we needed.   I answered the door, was welcoming and polite, as usual, and then suddenly froze  as I was shaking this person’s hand.  I had the thought, “What if _____ can sense my thoughts?  What if they know I know?  That I think being a psychic is strange?”  Of course, these thoughts were followed by a barrage of “Stop thinking.  Seriously.  Right now–stop.  Oh, I can’t control my thoughts!!!”    And, intuitive or not, anyone would have gotten some strange vibes from me then.  I’m pretty sure my entire facial expression went to the deer caught in the headlights pose for a minute or more, and I was pretty much a jabbering idiot.  So again, lesson to the arrogant:  judge not lest ye be judged.   Which is not fun.

And this week the same problem arose.  This time, our air conditioning started limping (freon leak), and we had to call the landlord.  My husband tried to hand me the phone to make the call– I’d noticed the problem and would generally have made the call myself.  But I was not feeling it.  It had been a stressful day –unpacking boxes, sifting through breakage, and muttering obscenities all day– and I just wasn’t ready to call up a mind reading spiritualist.   I had to, shame-faced, take my husband out of earshot of the kids and say, “You really have to make this call, because I think that maybe I DO believe in psychics, and I think that a psychic would pick up on a whole lot of bad juju and general craziness in me right now, and I’m not feeling like being evicted from my house today just because I happen to suffer from this-is-what-it’s-like-inside-my-wierd-head-syndrome.”

God bless my husband.  He asked no further questions and just made the phone call.

I did, however, have to speak to our small medium at large a couple of days later to confirm that the air conditioning repair man had been by.  I think that conversation went well.  Granted, I was manically chipper sounding.  Possibly one toe over the crazy-line of chipper. (I had to talk fast before the “can’t-  control- my- thoughts–you’re a pyschic!” stuff crept in.)  But it is what it is.

Any psychic worth their salt would understand the issue and forgive me.

I think it could be a real burden being a psychic and dealing with all us crazy humans.  Hopefully the voices from the other side are much more sensible.

 

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The Things We Leave Behind: Childhood and Chitty Chitty

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There was a blog-space challenge making its rounds this week, for posts and photos of “The Things We Leave Behind.”  There have been great photos of, and posts about, crumbling architecture, changing cityscapes, found objects, etc.  The challenge catches me in a nostalgic mood, having just moved back Stateside, so my mind has lighted on personal memories– earlier travels when my children were little.  I’ll share just a few of those photos here.

HPIM0622The first photos come from an early summer day in Yorkshire, England, when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the actual car from the movie) made an appearance at a local manor house one Saturday.   The owner of the car, who had actually driven the car in at least one scene in the movie, was proudly displaying his picture-perfect auto and answering a frenzy of questions from fans of all ages.  HPIM0624

 

One lucky person, whose name was drawn out of a hat, got to go for a ride in the car.  We didn’t make that cut, but we enjoyed ogling the iconic car anyway.  It was a magical day.

I look at the photos now, and it does feel like an era left behind:  our lives in England, our children’s wide-eyed elementary and preschool years, and a certain fabled-space that those two things created in their synergy.

It’s funny, but when I looked at a number of old photos that I might post of “Things We Leave Behind,” I found that my present nostalgic filter made me HPIM0543see each of them differently.   For example, this photo from Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire.   I went looking for a picture of the impressive ruins of the Catholic abbey that Henry the VIII closed down (but which partially stands proud to this day), but what I saw immediately in the photo was my son’s love of the Davy Crockett coonskin cap  HPIM0543 - Copy which he wouldn’t take off of his head, even in the summer heat.  It was a funny phase. . . but eventually left behind.

 

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When I looked at this photo of graffiti on the walls of Kings College Chapel, in Cambridge, England (some of it dating back to the 1600’s), I immediately remembered a lazy afternoon stroll along the Cam River and “the Backs” of the university with my daughter. And I also thought of the graffiti on the walls in the Tower of London, some of it from prisoners kept there hundreds of years ago, and I remembered my children’s amazement at it, and their love of British history when it was so solidly placed in front of them, and so brilliantly re-animated by the British book, TV, and stage series “Horrible Histories.”  Living elbow to elbow with history is something that Europeans do very well, but Americans a little less so.

Maybe that’s just a matter of circumstance.  Europeans simply have so much more history to steep in than Americans, and it’s in your face on every street corner.  Still, it offers a certain long view of the world that is so very valuable–a sense that we don’t really “leave behind” things, so much as we build on and around them.

Like childhood and Chitty Chitty, there are certain things that we should never totally leave behind–and couldn’t, even if we wanted too.

 

Boxing Up My Life– Round Two

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In May of 2014, I posted “Boxing Up My Life,” as we packed and prepared to ship our household goods to Germany.  And then I blinked and it was June of 2016, and I find myself, once again, knee deep in the boxing up process.  I am amazed, and a little dumbfounded, by the inertia of my life.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion– but that doesn’t make the move process any easier.

Nobody likes goodbyes– it’s hard to wrench yourself away from people and places that you love.  And for some of us, even the simple motion of boxing up our domestic goods brings on certain pangs.  It’s a hassle, to be sure, but it’s also a poignant process– the handling, organizing, and thoughtful packing of the things you accumulate.  It’s a time to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to remember why you’ve collected certain items in the first place.  Some objects are curiosities, others are fond memories, and still others are nearly totemic in their connection to the arc of your life.

The handling and packing of these things is gratifying in lots of ways– it’s like watching a retrospective study on your life– but it’s also maddening to ship these things out, in hopes that they will come back to you intact in a few months.

Here is my perspective from two years ago:

My material things don’t equate my life–let me just say that up front.

And yet.

I’m a magpie.   I collect threads and scraps as I move along, and they pad my nest.  No, that’s not exactly it.  They become the fabric of my nest.   The baubles I collect as I keep wandering represent my life. And it’s hard to watch them all be packed up, some to load onto a slow boat to Germany and some to sit in storage for a couple of years.  So many of my things feel like old friends, like artifacts of adventurous times, not like run of the mill stuff at all.

And, yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I have too much “stuff” too.  I’m not proud that among the boxes being packed up in my house there are “As Seen on TV” products, old DVD’s and VHS tapes of bad sitcoms, some dog figurines…well, it just gets ugly.  But let’s focus on the beauty here:

There’s the portrait of Teak, the first dog my husband and I owned–so beautiful and so smart.  He was the beginning of a small menagerie of children, dogs, and goldfish who share our life.

There’s the old dollhouse from England, bought at auction.  It’s a Tudor, half-timber design, handmade, and sporting a “Toy Town Antiques” sign over the door  and a little antique shop in the front room, visible through the window.

There’s the 300 year old walnut chest that may or may not house a ghost.  (We call her Emily.)

The church pew from the Ripon Cathedral in our old hometown of Ripon,  England  (legitimately bought, not carried out of the cathedral–thanks for asking).  It is quite beautiful, but impossible to look at without imagining the people who were there before you.  Brides and widows.  Carolers and clerics.  Young, old, rich, poor, inspired, and downtrodden.  A microcosm of life on one short bench.

There’s the  old pocket Bible from WWII that bears King George’s stamp and message to soldiers in the front cover, and is partially  hollowed out in the middle so the owner could hold cigarettes or pass notes.  It came from the estate of a former British soldier; he was a POW in the Pacific theater.

The Turkish carpet we bought from a man affectionately (?) known as “the one-armed bandit” in Kizkalesi, Turkiye.  He lived in a coastal town not too far from where we lived and knew our car the minute we drove into town for the weekend.  He’d flag us down, bring us into his home, close the curtains, and then pull out his stash of carpets, jewelry, and antiquities for sale.   All a little shady, but in a seductively  high intrigue way.  We felt like James Bond in Istanbul, wheeling and dealing.    And, yes, he  had just one arm. (No doubt, there’s an interesting back story there.)

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

Each item is its own story–some love stories, some comedies, some tragedies, some mysteries.  Inanimate objects?  No way.

Some of it is just stuff.  But so much of it runs deeper than that.  The artifacts of a life lived and loved.  Who could possibly fit that into a box? 

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Traveling Companions

You’re likely to find lots of photos of the when and where–the seasons and the sights–in my blogposts, but less of the who. My kids don’t like to be plastered across the internet, and I’m okay with that, so I don’t offer many photos of traveling companions.

Sometimes that seems radically at odds with what my blog is all about.  Nobody would ever mistake this blog for a travel guide or a treatise on “how to travel.”  More often than not, it’s all about “the feels” for me.  Did I laugh, did I cry, was I horrified or amused, or surprised or underwhelmed, etc, etc.  

But “the feels” and the way they linger in our travels are just as much about our traveling companions as about where we went, what we saw or did.  Right?  No journey is just  about the road you travel, the views you stop to marvel.    They are just as much about the companions we travel with.  It’s a simple thought, and it should be a simple post to write.

It’s anything but. 

Ollie and Bebe
Ollie and Bebe– the dynamic duo.

 

Some months ago, our most loyal and loving traveling companion passed away, and I’d like to honor her in this blogspace.

Her name was Bebe, and she was a very bright light in our lives.  She passed away at 15 years old, and she loved every moment of life right up until the end.

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Yes, it’s unbelievable!

She was a rescue dog who came into our lives when my daughter was just a toddler.  Bebe was so full of love and personality– from the moment you met her it was clear that she was one of a kind.  Even her questionable breeding made her stand out:  she was a Mini Dachshund/Black Lab mix.    Just let that sink in for a minute.

We used to call her our “pocket lab” — a 20 pound version of those gentle giants.  She had no idea that she was tiny.  In true Lab character, she chased every frisbee you threw, and (if you threw them low enough) she caught most of them expertly.  Dragging them back to you was a little harder, as some frisbees were taller than she was.  But she was young, eager, and very athletic . . . and we quickly discovered soft, flexible frisbees (easier to drag, so problem solved!).

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Bebe was the first to kiss away your tears, the fastest to steal your breakfast if you weren’t vigilant (which we quickly learned to be), and the most eager traveler, always with her nose to the ground and leading the charge.   On a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Bavaria), she sat at attention for a rickshaw ride and, I believe, enjoyed the experience more than our kids did.

It was inconceivable to us that she would ever not be in our lives and our travels.

But there is no life without death, and the unbridled joy of sharing life with a pet does exact the steep price of grief when they are gone.  Unquestionably a price worth paying.

Bebe changed our family is so many ways, and all for the better.  How did she change our travels?  When she couldn’t join us on the travels, she gave us a compelling reason to come back home when the trip was done– instead of grumbling that our trip was over, we cheered to see our pup again.  When she did join us, she reminded us to venture down each alleyway of a new town–and sometimes we’d find something unexpected and wonderful.  She reminded us to run full speed ahead when there was something interesting in front of us.  She reminded us to roll down the window and let the breeze greet us as we cruised into a new town, to stop in the parks and sun ourselves in the green grass, and to turn all of our senses over to a new place.  If we were in the French countryside and grumbling that there was no wifi to check our messages, she’d drag us out for a walk, or stick her nose in the air to say “Do you smell that?  There’s lavender, sunshine, and fresh baked bread– get up and let’s get moving.”  And she’d be right, every time.

There was never any lack of joy or openness to new adventures with Bebe– she was our better natures in every way.   We miss her terribly, but she taught us well.  And she left us her trusty sidekick Ollie to continue the lessons.

Have dog, will travel.  This is our motto.

I’ll leave you with photos of just a few of my traveling companions, past and present.

With baby in Zeugma, banks of the Euphrates (just a week before the town was flooded by the new dam. Interesting place--see links below if you want to learn more.
With baby in Zeugma, banks of the Euphrates in 2000 (just a week before the town was flooded by a new dam). Interesting place–see links below if you want to learn more.
With kids in Lindesfarne, Northumberland, UK
With kids in Lindesfarne, Northumberland, UK
With pups in Bremen, Germany
With pups in Bremen, Germany 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy riders, in the Yucatan Penninsula 1988.
Easy riders, in the Yucatan Penninsula 1988
With our first pup, Teak, in Turkey. 1998
With our first pup, Teak, in Turkey. 1998

 

 

 

Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza, Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey, 1998 or 99

Turkey, 1998 or 99

1998 or 99 --our neighbors, in a Byzantine cave church in the Ilhara , near Guzelyurt, Turkey
1998 or 99 –our neighbors, in a Byzantine era cave church in the Ilhara Valley, near Guzelyurt, Turkey
Cousins in Edinburgh, at Greyfriar's Bobby Memorial ,2007 or 2008
Cousins in Edinburgh, at Greyfriar’s Bobby Memorial ,2007 or 2008
Bashful travel companions, Salzburg 2015. My son came prepared to erase his identify from any photographic evidence.
Bashful travel companions, Salzburg 2015. My son came prepared to erase his identify from any photographic evidence–at 13 years old, he’s already a man of mystery.

 

*To read up on Zeugma–which I should get around to blogging about some day, it’s a fascinating place– check out these links

http://www.archaeology.org/issues/44-1211/features/252-features-zeugma-after-the-flood

http://www.archaeology.org/issues/44-1211/features/252-features-zeugma-after-the-flood

http://eu.greekreporter.com/2014/11/11/mosaics-revealed-at-ancient-greek-city-of-zeugma-in-turkey/

 

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

HPIM1042I feel like I’ve become an expert in the art of faux pas while living in Germany.  Once I stopped grinning and waving at strangers in my austere German neighborhood, and being thought the village idiot (I was only being friendly!), I moved on to linguistic lunacy and, apparently, asked for foreplay (“Vorspiele”) instead of appetizers (“Vorspeise”) in local restaurants.  Who knew?

There is a certain amount of idiocy that you can’t avoid when you live in a foreign country–whether because you don’t speak the language well or because you don’t understand the customs.  I can live with that.  I forgive myself these missteps, and the locals are usually forgiving of them too.

But sometimes you just do something stupid.  We all do it.  (Some of us more than others.)  It’s especially awkward when you do something stupid and you are a foreigner.  You see the eyes roll, you can almost hear the thoughts filling the heads around you, “Oh, those Americans!”

We’re heading back to Yorkshire for a visit in the days ahead, and we are considering a stop by Hemswell Antique Center, in Hemswell Cliff.  We’ve picked up some interesting things there in the past and thought we’d take a look again, if we have time.  If  they’ll let us through the door.  My last visit there, I was the person who sent eyes rolling, or at least squinting and watching me like a hawk.

But it wasn’t really my fault.

My husband and I had a big day planned.  My mother- and father-in-law were in town and had offered to watch our children for the day while James and I drove a few hours away to the Newark Antiques Fair–it bills itself as the biggest in Europe, and it is a whopper!  But we wanted to get there early and we had a stiff drive ahead of us, so we had to leave before dawn.

Our house in Ripon wasn’t a big affair, so we had to tiptoe around not to wake anyone.  That day, we decided we wouldn’t make coffee or eat breakfast, we just planned to dress and get out the door quickly and quietly.  But for some reason–I’m guessing a child that sneaked into our bed during the night–we even had to dress in the dark and tiptoe around our own bedroom.  Which we did, and out we went.

newarkOff to Newark and treasure hunting!  We had a great day–it started off grey and maybe a little drizzly, but we wrapped up and it didn’t bother us much.  Many vendors were in tents and we made out well– enough small treasures to feel satisfied, not so many as to break the bank.  I will say my husband bought some questionable art, but he always buys some questionable art.  At this point in our marriage, it would worry me more if he suddenly stopped that habit.

The day grew warmer and sunnier; our coats came off; our arms filled with loot; and we finally felt ready to return home from our adventure.

But, if we made good time on the road, we could just eek out a visit to Hemswell on the way home.  Off we went!

hemswell logoThe Hemswell Antique Center covers a lot of ground–many buildings and antiques of all kinds.  It also houses a cute, but simple, cafe with a Royal Air Force World War II theme. (I think Hemswell may actually be an old, decommissioned RAF base, but don’t hold me to that.)

We knew we could only make a quick run through, so we took off at double speed.  We zipped through this building, we zipped through that building.  Then, in the final building, tired out from the day, I found myself slowed to a stop in front of a case of vintage jewelry.  A few cases, in fact.  As I stared sleepily into one of the cases, a fly caught my eye.  He was stuck inside the case and trying to fly out of the glass.  Repeatedly, he flew at the glass, only to strike it hard, and tumble back to the shelf under the hot lights.  I am no friend of flies, but this little guy was struggling and I felt bad for him.

I turned around to see a salesperson close by. (In hindsight, I think he may have been hovering around me–a very suspicious woman.)  I called out to him and  explained the plight of this poor fly stuck in the glass case.  I wondered if there might be any way he could free the poor animal, who was getting fairly panicky behind the glass.

The salesperson gave me a very perplexed, but gentle, look and said that, yes, he’d make his way over presently and attend to the situation.  I slowly moved around the room and browsed some more.  Two or three minutes later, I heard a voice call out from across the room:  “You’ll be happy to know that the fly has made his bid for freedom!”  I looked up, and the salesman shot me an amused look.  I smiled and said, “Thank you so much.”  He nodded and added, “That should send some good karma your way.”

It was a humorous exchange.  As I left the building, the salesman and his colleague gave me a cheerful, if oddly watchful, send off.  Clearly, as far as they were concerned, I was an awkward American, or maybe the nutty Zen lady.  So be it–I can live with that.

I walked out into the bright sun of a crisp autumn afternoon, pleased with our day of high brow foraging.  I dropped my tired body into the front seat of the car and began fastening the seat belt around me …. only to be stopped cold by what I saw.  What I couldn’t have seen as I dressed myself in the dark that morning;  what I never saw, as I apparently looked in no mirrors as the day progressed; and what my husband, in his own wide-eyed but sleep deprived frenzy of antiquing, had apparently never noticed.  I was wearing my shirt inside-out.

I wasn’t the nutty Zen lady after all.

Oh no, it was much worse.

I was the utterly lunatic bag lady who befriended flies.   Oh, those Americans!