nevereatenmcdonalds

a British military family's move to Georgia, USA

A balancing act

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The High Divers, a band from South Carolina, play ‘Second Sunday’ on Coleman Hill: Miss J is diverted by balancing stones on the footpath

Three months is a quarter of a year or, on average, 90 days. Two months into a three-month-long summer holiday can be expressed as 66.66%. If a mother spends four hours a day encouraging her children to complete one hour’s worth of journal writing and maths, how many hours are unproductive and needlessly frustrating? Times that number by seven days a week. Times that answer by twelve weeks. If a day is 24 hours long, how many days in total has the mother spent needlessly frustrated? Express that as a percentage of her year.

Reader, our school holidays Stateside are simply too long – unless you are some kind of saint, of course. I begin to see our holiday – not to mention my life – expressed as one big maths problem…

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My daughter’s Picasso-like sketch captures ‘me’ beautifully.

Fearing ‘The Summer Slide‘ (academic regression) Mr J and I work doggedly on reading, writing and arithmetic with our two children. Our return next year to the UK’s more rigorous National Curriculum makes the summer slide more troubling. We devour box-loads of books from the library, and pick out our free book from completed summer reading schemes. I incorporate maths into our grocery shopping, pizza cutting, and Master J’s ‘golf ball business plan’. Car rides create a captive audience for number bonds and times tables.

However, it takes a balance of discipline and freedom to get through a school break this long, so we also: paint and draw; photograph our hummingbirds; practice our golf swing; horse ride; swim; and even spot President Trumps’ Air Force One alongside the airfield on squadron Family Day…

It has been a busy summer for the tooth fairy too.

My daughter loses two front teeth in close succession, just like the same milk teeth cut through. Then my son needs a tooth extracted for his orthodontic work. Before his appointment we have a few minutes to spare and so check in on the restoration of Little Richard’s childhood home at its new location on Craft Street in downtown Macon. I don’t see Russ, the project’s manager, but work is coming along nicely with completed crawl space and new roof beams.

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Facing up bravely to minor surgery, Master J insists that he doesn’t want any money from the tooth fairy. A tooth extraction is apparently ‘cheating’. He leaves her a note to that effect. The tooth fairy slips a book under his pillow instead:

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I’m not sure the book covers meticulously checking bubble gum machine change slots… This habit won’t make my son a millionaire but does bring a wealth of excitement; this week the penny counting machine at the supermarket yields a rejected One Cent, dating from 1919.

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Part of my balancing act is to squeeze in the odd date night with Mr J. Tonight I am bringing together Mr J, friends and neighbours, to watch a Special Screening of Brave New Jersey. But first I have to prep the house for the babysitter, make dinner, and of course find a few minutes to get ready for my hot date. Wish me luck with that! I hope to report back on the opening night of the Macon Film Festival next week. Until then, I wish you luck with your own balancing act.

 

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Regime change

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Harold Nicholson’s writing desk in the gardens of Sissinghurst, Kent.

I am flying solo, bound for Britain, my second trip home alone in four years. Last February’s visit was to help my sister prepare for her wedding, this time I am looking at schools for our return posting.

Firstly though, I head to Yorkshire, to my best friend who I have not seen in two years.

Like the trainspotters at Leeds station, I find myself recording every detail of my journey into the heart of ‘God’s own country‘. From the gaggle of boys splashing in the river and waving at our carriages, to passengers exchanging ‘ey-ups’, to the Victorian waiting room at Shipley with its original fire place and curved wooden benches, I take it all in like a complete tourist.

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The station’s cafe, ‘Just The Ticket’, serves bacon rolls, tea cake and hot chocolate.

While the weathered Yorkshire stone buildings, pub grub and canal boats are quintessentially British, weather-wise I could be back in America’s Deep South. Temperatures in England top 30˚ for five consecutive days.

Predictably, the air conditioning on my train up from London is not working. It is still not working two days later when I head back south… My carefully curated travel ‘capsule wardrobe’ works around jeans, cowboy boots and a faux red leather jacket; an indication that a heatwave hotter than Georgia, was unexpected

I soldier on.

In my jeans.

I enjoy the small changes in regime: English honey on toast for breakfast, a constant supply of hot tea and – most notably – adult company during the day.

After a tearful farewell to my best friend, I meet up with my father in Lincolnshire. He will be my chauffeur and surveillant for the next three days; as a school governor he has done his homework on Special Educational Needs compliance for his grandson. Together we visit a perplexing array of seven schools.

My dad is a ‘shirt, tie and jacket’ kind of gentleman. I support his over-dressed-code with my own, apparently en vogue, ‘modest‘ ensemble. Monday is so hot our hotel’s fuse box to bursts into flames…

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SOLD OUT! Demand for ice cream outstrips supply at this motorway service station.

 

Wednesday is warmest June day since 1976. I remember that summer well: the fields turned to bare cracked earth and the ladybirds turned to humans for succor… None of the schools we visit have a hot weather dress code – an oversight highlighted in the national press by a cohort of boys in Devon, who swap their trousers for skirts in a protest against their school’s ‘no shorts’ policy.

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These allotments bring back memories of playing with my sister on dad’s allotment in the 70s.

I spend the last three days of my trip with my parents in Kent. They have their own regime and I synchronise without too much effort: newspapers at breakfast, left-overs and salad at lunchtime, ‘meat and two veg’ at dinner, and the News at Ten

I stock up on Marks and Spencer underwear, attend the funeral of an old friend’s father, and enjoy a day out with my folks at Sissinghurst – former home of Vita Sackville-West and now a National Trust property. Here, one can indulge in pure Englishness: crumbling Tudor brickwork, a boat house on a moat, rambling roses, Irish linen tea towels and local fudge in the gift shop, and pots of tea in the shade of Kentish oast houses.

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Sissinghurst’s famous garden makes this one of my favourite National Trust properties.

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It is all in the detail: colour-coded canes; wonky sign; a wall of plant labels.

All too soon it is time to leave one home for another. Over the next 24 hours I experience several moments of utter confusion over which continent I am on…

London has endured a turbulent few months, but the unique spirit of Londoners – epitomised by The Blitz – is still palpable amongst the capital’s ever-diversifying population. ‘Thank you‘ to the stranger who stopped to help me with my heavy suitcase as I head to Heathrow airport…

Stateside, I breeze through border control in the Diplomat queue and am soon greeted Mr J, plus two happy children with four limbs apiece. There has been a quiet revolution in my absence: their day now starts with some yoga stretches, and includes chores and strictly enforced literacy and numeracy sessions, broken up with basketball breaks. My son shoots five hoops on our neighbour’s drive!

As a military spouse, regime change is ever present. The sense of impermanence never really goes away; it drives us to make the most of the roots we put down, and to be mentally and physically prepared to uproot at short notice. If this summer’s trip is a taste of the regime change to come it simply confirms – despite the battles ahead for decent schools and housing – that it will be good to be heading home.

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Oast houses were used to dry hops for beer making; few Kentish ‘hop gardens’ remain.

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The Road Goes on Forever

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Cher attends Greg Allman’s funeral in Macon, GA.

It is impossible this week to avoid mention of current events back home. Last Saturday’s horrific terrorist attack on pedestrians and diners in the heart of London releases a wave of stoic unity in Britain. Last night’s general election results show a country in deep political divide…

Mr J and I have a sense of being on the outside looking in in horror – like an out of body experience. We know the UK we return to next year will not feel like the country we left in 2013. We can only trust our difficult transition will be eased by much-missed comfort food: fish and chips, British curries, and steam pudding and custard…

Thousands of miles from England, a live radio broadcast from the James Comey Congressional Hearing leaves me enthralled. It is the candid testimony from America’s former FBI boss that I will remember from this week in politics. A possible “where were you?” moment…

Last Saturday heralds a sad moment in Southern Rock history – the funeral of Greg Allman. Greg is laid to rest next to his brother, Duane, who died in 1971 while the Allman Brothers Band were living in the Big House in Macon.

By the entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery a lone piper plays Amazing Grace. There is a higher than average display of mushroom iconography, long beards and greying pony tails in the crowd. As the funeral procession passes through the gates peace signs are exchanged between limos and onlookers.

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Surviving band member, Jaimoe, gives a peace sign to his fans.

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View over Rose Hill Cemetery, and a fan’s tribute: ‘The Road Goes On Forever’.

I bumped into Greg Allman at a special screening of ‘Amy’ (Winehouse) in Macon, in 2015. I’m standing behind a vaguely familiar looking man at the concessions stand. He’s sporting a Big House t-shirt and a white ponytail. A young man asks for some Reeces (peanut butter and chocolate sweets) and the older man turns and jokingly says, “I thought he said reefers.” Yeah, that was Greg.

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Frog in Pink Bucket

Yesterday demanded a visit downtown to check on the tadpoles at Washington Park and the Hollywood film crew at City Hall. The tadpoles beat the movie set hands down in terms of entertainment. The kids have learned that froglets are fast and film shoots are slow!

 

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Macon has provided backdrops to numerous films.

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Local extras take up position as civil rights era potesters outside City Hall.

Summer’s Mix Tape

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Swimming lessons from a 7 year old perspective.

With the 50th anniversary of ‘Sgt Pepper’ my kids are listening to some of most iconic tracks of the c.20th in dripping wet bathing suits. This is the stuff childhood memories are made of…

Or it should be.

What my children actually remember of this summer is anyone’s guess.

Growing up in the 1970s, my own childhood was heavily influenced by my mother’s Beatles cassette tape, and swimming lessons in the frigid sea off Sussex in late summer. My children have been raised on a Patsy Cline Live at The Opry cassette tape* and barmy temperatures that support unheated training pools in May.

*We Brits run the oldest vehicles in car pool: our teenage babysitter paid ten times more for her Toyota than Mr J paid for his Mercedes, and if our Chevi Suburban was a PC it would still be running Windows 2000. Consequently, our offspring have spent the last four summers listening to tapes that time forgot -like Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, with ‘They’re Hanging Me Tonight’ providing road trip pure gold.

Of course, I could really mess with their young minds by encouraging them to create mix tapes on my c.1984 Philips cassette recorder…

However, some things are better timeless – like the simple joy of swimming, a big box of books from the library, and pond dipping.

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Free entertainment at the park: catch and release tadpoles; we will return in a week to see if any have grown legs.

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Following our picnic in the park, my experience as an art director comes in handy as I run through all the photographer’s equipment with my curious daughter.

Our three month long holiday (trans. summer vacation) gets off to a great start with free-flowing journal entries and a positive attitude towards long division. Reader, I will take my holiday-tutoring wins one day at a time.

Summer is a time to reconnect with my fast-growing children, unencumbered by the daily grind of term time routine. I put aside the daily grind of our posting’s admin for expressive painting sessions and smoothie recipe experiments.

“Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone”

Childhood is fleeting. The summer is long. What tracks, in years to come, would my children choose for their Summer of 2017 mix tape?

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Getting creative with Jenga, shadows, and poster paint.

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Let it go…

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My children entertain kids calling in on our yard sale with a ‘War Zone’ set up around their play house.

Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day and – perhaps like you – I had no idea until an hour or two ago. So, the first eight hours of being publically honored for Best Supporting Role in a Foreign Drama have slipped by without me knowing. Typical. I imagine this Sunday’s Mother’s Day will pass in much the same manner…

I let it go.

Thinking about it, I have had to ‘just let go’ of a few things this week…

On Tuesday, I bid farewell to an old and familiar mole, and undergo minor surgery. I foolishly inform my Primary Care Giver (in battle fatigues) that I gave birth to both children using the power of hypnotherapy alone. So, she razors an additional skin tag without anaethesia. I haven’t taken a look, but I suspect my back looks like a Swiss cheese… Oh well, I was only a year or two off giving up bikinis completely, anyway.

I let it go.

Early May brings some of Georgia’s ‘prettiest weather’, to coin a local expression. It is Yard Sale season. Mr J and I empty the loft (transl. attic), put out the signs, and get up at an ungodly hour. It is funny what the children are sentimental about; Miss J crys genuine tears into her super-soft dressing gown. I reassure her that we are unlikely to sell a warm dressing gown at this time of year – and blow me down, it is the first thing to go.

“Let it go. Let it go…”

We have also let go our entire TV package. The meagre television we used to watch was usurped this year by homework, and will now be replaced with Wii Sport or board games. Reader, I need to learn how to play chess. Fast. Because I know my seven year old will soon be whooping my @®$#…

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My son combines two of his loves: Tintin and engineering.

Finally, we say goodbye to our wonderful local library. The only upside to this inconvenience is today’s book sale. I buy 11 of Middle Georgia’s 21 Tintin books. And despite our recent efforts to downsize (see yard sale, above) I buy several books for myself:

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I’ve been looking for something like this sumptuous ‘Georgia Quilts’ book for ages; Slightly geeky ‘Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture’ – both for $1

Okay, okay, when it comes to the habit of collecting books, it is hard to let it go.

 

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Moving stories

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Synchronicity: the butterfly pops up as a symbol of hope in both ‘moving stories’ this week. Community garden on Craft St. Macon, GA.

This week’s blog brings together two very different moving stories. While the lives of Richard (b.1932) and George (b.1939) are not connected, I find a common thread as I begin to write: salvation in the midst of destruction.

‘Little Richard’ Penniman was born and raised in Pleasant Hill, Macon, in a time of segregation. He sang gospel music in church from a young age but was “always changing the key upwards,” and even “screaming and hollering.” By the age of 14 Little Richard had landed his first paying gig and soon drifted from school towards itinerant musicanship.

At home he faced prejudice for his ambiguous sexuality, and fell out with his father who called him “half a son.

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In 1955 Little Richard was back on Fifth Ave. W. in Pleasant Hill, living with his widowed mother and making ends meet by washing dishes at the Greyhound Line. It was while he was living in the property below that his new record label released ‘Tutti Frutti.’

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Now, this is what you call moving house!

In 2010, the New York Times called “Tutti Frutti” “one of the detonating blasts of the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll explosion,”… and not just because it was a rock and roll original that inspired generations. It was sexually suggestive rock and roll, performed by a mascara-wearing, pompadour-sporting black man for a mixed-race audience, released at a time when segregation was still legal. shmoop.com

On Tuesday I navigate a ROAD CLOSED barrier to witness the old Penniman home being prised from the path of bulldozers.

I am one of a handful of witnesses. I’ve missed the television cameras and formal speaches and now just a couple of local residents watch from a low bridge spanning an open storm drain.

The salvaging of this humble home – and a dozen others that can withstand the move – comes at the behest of the automobile… again. Back in 1966 the arrival of the interstate cut Pleasant Hill in half. This black community was presumably judged to be ‘the path of least resistance’ during an era of flagrant inequality.

Sixty years on there has been positive collaboration to preserve the history of this commmunity in the face of essential road works: Little Richard’s relocated boyhood home will become a resource centre and there are plans for two new parks and 17 new homes.

On Wednesday I venture down a narrow lane known as Craft Street, the finishing point of yesterday’s dramatic ‘moving story’.

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Little Richard’s home will have a new lease of life on Craft Street.

As I take my ‘After‘ photos, Russ immerges from the new site office. Russ is taking on this restoration job and I am invited to view the plans:

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The home’s porch, roof and rear addition are all gone – removed to faciliate yesterday’s mile long journey. In its present condition it is hard to believe Russ’ guess that this house was still occupied as little four or five years ago.

The original floorplan was just two rooms sharing a central chimney stack, with a separate kitchen out back to reduce the heat and fire risk inherent with cooking. The house would have been approximately 800sqft when built, with later additions bringing a modicum of extra room to Richard and his 11 siblings!

Russ has already met his new neighbours – Mr Gibbons, and other key members of the community garden opposite the site. As we chat in the blazing sun a cooling mist of water drifts over from the water sprinkler system. Russ tells me he has donated some gardening tools and a pot of home-propagated amaryllis from his extensive collection.

I sense that Tuesday’s Herculean effort to salvage Little Richard’s home is part of the long overdue reprarations to the community of Pleasant Hill. I promise Russ I will return in a month’s time to see the progress he has made…

George was not born in Macon.

George Rishfeld was born in Warsaw, Poland, a few month before the outbreak of the Second World War. We hear George’s remarkable story of salvation in the midst of Nazi destruction on Monday, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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George Rishfeld c.1949, and sharing his story at Fort Gordon, 2016 ©Bill Bengtson

Mr J, our children and I, are sitting in the Museum of Aviation at a table with a centre display of paper butterflies. George explains the significance of the butterfly: a few years ago Texas school children created 1.5 million butterflies to remember the lives of the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished under the Nazi regime.

George’s parents did a remarkable thing to save the life of their ony child. First they sought refuge in Lithuania. But in 1941 the Nazi arrived and established a ghetto and life soon became “horrific”. Then, from inside the ghetto, George’s parents made contact with a former employee, who agreed to take care of George until the end of the war. George, a small three year old, was wrapped in fur coats and thrown over a barbed wire fence to the employee’s daughter, 20 year old Halinka Fronckvics.

The Fronckvics, a Gentile family, risked certain death for sheltering a Jewish child, but they smothered George with love as if he was their own son. Despite several close shaves – including a Nazi poking a bayonnet through the bed he was hiding under – George escaped detection.

Miraculously, both of George’s parents survived too: his father escaped the ghetto and joined a resistance movement; his mother was able to sew, and avoided the extermination camps. Incredibly, after the war ended his parents arrived at the same railway station on the same day hoping to find their son alive, but fearing the other must have perished.

Only 9% of Poland’s 3 milion Jews survived the holocaust. The Rishfeld family’s neighbourhood in Warsaw was completely destroyed.

In 1949 George and his parents landed in America. In 1994 George decided he must start speaking about his experiences: “I was saved to do what I am doing right now,” he has said. “I am a witness to the fact that it did happen. As long as I can speak… I’m going to be in front of people telling the story.

You can read more about George’s moving story here.

For more about Little Richard’s remarkable life I recommend this article in the Oxford American.

 

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Welcome

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Watching eagles soar over Dowdell’s Knob near Warm Springs, GA, with my sister and family. This was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favourite spots in Georgia.

My sister’s eagerly anticipated visit from England is narrowly preceded by another momentous family moment: the purchase of our second income property, stateside. This is (for now at least) the final piece of our half-formed retirement plan; a bolt-hole from the dreary British winters.

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Yes, it is a cute house, and YES it is FOR LEASE.

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I plan a packed itinery for my sister’s visit, leaving no room for two days of unplanned tornado warnings! Still, Spring Break itself brings beautiful weather we enjoy a night away, close to Calloway Gardens.

I find this apt quote from a President Franklin D. Roosevelt speech engraved on his statue which over looks Dowdell’s Knob:

Fourteen Years ago a Democratic Yankee… came to Georgia… His new neighbors there extended to him the hand of genuine hospitality, welcomed him to their firesides and made him feel so much at home that he built himself a house… and has been coming back ever since.” 11.08.38

My sister is introduced to the laid back nature of the Deep South when we try to sit down for an evening meal in Warm Springs, home of FDR’s Little White House. A 2011 tornado has impacted local tourism and at the Thai restaurant we are met by locked doors and this confusing sign:

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We end up having an amazing meal at The Oyster House instead, not far from our log cabin in Pine Mountain.

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The sky goes dark as the storm rolls in. My daughter prepares her tornado shelter. School closes, giving my sister a bonus day with her neice and nephew before she flies home.

Tornado warnings aside, we have embraced a multitude of events over recent weeks…

Our son has turned ten – a momentous milestone. I am left wondering, “where did those years go?” and recall the mantra of more experienced mothers who warned me it would ‘go so fast‘ as they admired by newborn baby.

Not all developments are welcome. We receive a new diagnosis for our son, who has ADHD. After a night in a hospital armchair, watching my boy’s head being attached to a colourful trial of wires, I am somewhat prepared for the diagnosis of Cataplexy with Narcolepsy. It seems strange that our ‘Tai Chi Baby‘ – who would calmly stretch rather than kick in my womb – is both hyperactive AND able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat.

Finally, my sister’s all-too-short visit includes a bespoke behind-the-scens tour of CNN thanks to Don who I met at Plain’s Peanut Festival last September, a day strolling round Calloway Gardens, and various events from Macon’s International Cheery Blossom Festival:

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Watching world news break in the heart of CNN’s headquaters, Atlanta, GA.

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The beautiful 1930’s Ida Cason Calloway Chapel at Calloway Gardens, GA.

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Macon’s International Cherry Blossom is a chance to bring the whole community together.

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Spring in your step

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After the second warmest February on record, spring is in the air in Georgia and we are ready for the International Cherry Blossom Festival.

Mary Ellen crosses the car park to talk to me. We are strangers when we meet and friends when we bid goodbye.

Mary Ellen is interested in the British flag on our car. Her daughter’s friend in Florida is English. I have had countless conversations start like this but I am patient. The friend’s name is Nigel. “Nigel,” Mary Ellen repeats with satisfaction, “The English have great names.

It has never occurred to me that Nigel is so curiously British. This tickles me too.

Mary Ellen states that she is ‘Irish’. I ask which county her family hail from.

She has no idea.

We’re Catholic,” she says, clearly hoping that narrows it down a bit. I offer a 10-second synopsis of four hundred years of Catholic-Protestant geopolitical turmoil. Yes, we Brits made a real mess of things – but I feel comfortable enough to say I have never liked the way Americans funded the IRA either: indiscriminate bombings left an impression on my formative years.

Mary Ellen is the youngest of five children: a menopausal surprise, and an embarrassment to her brother 16 years her senior. “He probably thought his parents were too old to still be doing that,” she laughs. She was ‘born in the bed I was conceived in,’ and we talk briefly about home births and how pregnancy is now treated like an illness. Mary Ellen is retired nurse, which might explain her unabashed nature.

Mary Ellen is originally from South Carolina. “We are like the Chinese,” she laughs, “we eat rice and revere our ancestors.” Her great great grandfather – Abednego – was one of triplets. Naturally, his brothers were called Shadrach and Meshach. Remarkably, all three babes survived into adulthood and Mary Ellen paints a fanciful picture of the little mites being incubated in boxes by a warm stove.

Shadrach and Meshach both lost their lives in the Civil War. Mary Ellen calls it the Civil War, which is somewhat unusual around here – so many southerners call it the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States.

Then somehow we get on to the long and critically acclaimed career of the British actor Ralph Fiennes (pronounced Rafe as in ‘safe’). I confide in Mary Ellen that Mr Fiennes and I exchanged brief pleasantries early one morning on Kensington Park Road, in Notting Hill, London. It was 1997, around the same time that Richard Curtis was directing the eponymously named film, Notting Hill. I said, “Morning,” and Ralph said, “Hello”.

I did say brief pleasantries.

Mary Ellen and I pause to remember how handsome Ralph was back then, just after The English Patient

At 75, Mary Ellen has aged well. Perhaps it is those robust Irish genes. Her 78-year-old bother was a naval pilot and still flying (and jogging) to this day. We do not discuss her health but I notice that Mary Ellen has had a mastectomy and does not hide it. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” is all she says, quoting Dylan Thomas.

Mary Ellen in on the way to the cat rescue shelter. She is also keen to tell me that she is about to get a Yorkshire Terrier. She pronounces the second syllable very clearly: ‘shire’. “Yorksher,” I say, “you should really pronounce it Yorksher Terrier.” We practice together.

Mary Ellen can’t wait to tell her English friend Nigel all about me. I tell her that when we arrived in the U.S. we told our children they were ambassadors for the U.K. It was a way to draw out their best behaviour when they were jet lagged and homesick. I still feel all our family are unofficial ambassadors for our home country. It is one of the reasons we never hesitate to stop to talk to strangers, that, and being naturally plain curious.

I wonder if I will be able to establish a similar level of connection back home, with Brits whose nature is quintessentially more reserved…

Yes, Mary Ellen and I were strangers when we meet and friends when we said goodbye.

 

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Driftwood revolver

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Driftwood Revolver, Amerson River Park. One young lady running with her dog amongst grandparents and children still feels the necessity to ‘open carry’ a gun.

My birthday is marked by a difficult transatlantic conversation with my parents: we are not returning to the UK this year as planned. I respond to my sister’s cheerful birthday email with the same, unwelcome news…

Along with a sense that the lives of my closest friends and family are passing me by while I am four thousands miles away, this year’s birthday marks the irrefutable onset of middle age

…and possibly a midlife crisis.

After all, I can easily tick 10 out of 35 diagnostic boxes on personaltao:

1. Looking into the mirror and you no longer recognize yourself.
5. Unable to complete or concentrate on tasks which used to be easy.
7. Wanting to run away from everything.
11. Desire for physical -free flowing- movement (running, dance, fast red sports cars).
14. Sudden interest in drawing, painting, writing books or poetry.
16. Wondering about the nature of death.
17. Taking dietary supplements for the purposes of extending life.
19. Taking more time to look good.
28. Desiring a simple life.
31. Keep re-asking yourself: “Where am I going with my life?”

I know I am not alone in pondering the fundamentals in my life. My best friend contacts me to say she is ditching her job (No.2. ‘Desiring to quit a good job’ ), although we can all agree her career of 20 years has been no bed of roses.

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So, life is a constant balancing act between commitments and fun. While I ‘sub’ at the last minute for a manically busy Mr J at Monday’s Daddies Breakfast – the only mum in a lunchroom full of dads – we do manage to keep our weekends free for having fun together.

There is nothing quite like a beach to keep our children happy (and happy kids mean happy parents) and so on our cycle ride around Amerson River Park we are delighted to find a secret beach, set back from the Ocmulgee river amongst the trees.

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Live STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) as our son digs four interconnecting tunnels in the deep sand dumped into a tributary by a recent storm.

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It is the perfect time of year to get out and about on our motley collection of bicycles (‘motley bicycles’ being a bonafide inherited trait). Yes, some things are cool when they are ‘vintage‘ – like Mr J’s classic American bicycle c.1947. So, perhaps one secret to ageing well is to accept and value one’s accruing history while still bravely looking forward.

As our son said rather philosophically this week, “I’m sorry, Daddy. It’s a confusing world that you weren’t born into.

 

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The fear of humdrum

 

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Is my life becoming humdrum?

Well, if preparing British and American tax returns doesn’t light your fire, then yes, January was a little humdrum. Fortunately, life in America never quite fails to surprise me – be it the latest political fracas playing out like a reality TV show, or that “Imminent extreme alert” text message warning me to take shelter from a possible tornado.

The start of 2017 has felt like a struggle though.

If the lingering gloom is less the Excel spreadsheets and more my old nemesis ‘Seasonal affective disorder’ I wonder how on earth I will cope when we are posted back to England…? After just two months of cooler, greyer weather, I crave the return of summer to the Deep South – scorching heat, humidity, maddening mosquitoes and all.

Georgia’s relatively mild winter dips momentary to freezing, before shooting back up into the 60s; my immune system implodes and I take to my bed with mum flu* for three days.

Happily, last weekend we were all well enough to venture out in our vintage caravan (Transl. travel trailer) and go ‘glamping‘ with some friends – and fellow Airstream owners – on their farm.

farm

Our friends enjoy getting away from it all at their farm.

Our four children enjoy an idyllic weekend. Here, on a hundred acres of pasture and woodland they can enjoy the simpler things in life: climbing an old, bent tree by the horse barn; paddling barefoot in the sandy creek; and poking the dying fire against their parents’ better judgement.

fire

My son’s Scout camps included a generator for the Keurig machine… Here, it is chainsawed fire wood, and venison sausages cooked a few hundred meters from where the animal once roamed free.

In the evening, with the children safe and warm in front of a movie inside a trailer, the grown ups stave off the biting cold with freshly chainsawed logs heaped on the fire – and Tennessee whiskey. Our friend carries a pistol on his belt but there is not a single howl from a coyote…

farm_2

Our aluminium Airstream glints in the morning sun.

The next morning Mr J and I tell our drowsy daughter we are going for a quick walk. The low sun radiates a pleasant warmth and we take a stroll through the woods, down to one of the creeks and then retrace our steps. There is plenty of evidence of the local food chain in action, including a large raccoon tooth in a dropping.

signs

An old coyote or bobcat dropping yields a raccoon tooth; fresh deposit upon our return

4-prints

Early morning stroll: there are signs of life all over the impressionable ground: raccoon and coyote; white tail deer; unknown track; bobcat?

On our return our son proudly shows us the cryptic pictogram message he has crafted out of Lego©. It is meant to explain that he and his sister are about to pop over the other family’s Airstream; our short stroll was too long and they were growing concerned. Of course, writing a note would have been quicker – and easier to decipher – but so much less fun!

pictogram

Say it in Lego. The black pieces “point towards the other caravan.”

creek

The timeless pleasure of running and splashing around barefoot. Our daughter looks like Huckleberry Finn as she pretends to fish with a discarded rope. The creek evoke memories of my own childhood holidays.

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*Like man ‘flu – but for mums who never normally slow down.