‘Tis the Season for a Reckoning: Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) — Travels and Tomes: One Expat’s Amblings and Ramblings

Maybe you are late getting the message: You’d better be good, for goodness sake. Or if you live in certain regions of Germany and Austria, my friend, you’d better be good, and quick, for badness and brimstone’s sake. A reckoning is coming and coming quickly. Today is the eve of Nikolaustag– St. Nicolas Day, aka […]

via ‘Tis the Season for a Reckoning: Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) — Travels and Tomes: One Expat’s Amblings and Ramblings

Halloween Challenge: Graveyard

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Link: JNW’s Halloween Challenge: Graveyard

Once upon a time, I lived near the Moors of Yorkshire– a beautiful, heathered, but also atmospheric and haunted, landscape.  I lived in Ripon, an old, old market town with this beautiful cathedral where we attended church (and I even taught children’s Sunday School).

We usually entered the cathedral from the side opposite the graveyard, but on the rare occasion we’d venture a walk past the eerie tombs on the cathedral’s downward slope.

Our new environs in Florida are . . .nice.  But some days, you yearn for a touch of sinister.

Happy Halloween!

St. Jude: The Patron Saint of Lost Causes

stjude Fragile

I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep.  General anxiety was gnawing away at me–that pesky, but quite dangerous and infectious rat that sneaks up and nibbles away when our guard is down.  He’s a small, ugly thing, and he seems easy enough to shoo away.  But then it occurs to you that if you close your eyes in the dark, he may return with a dozen friends, and then you’ll be in trouble.  Serious trouble.  So your fear of that rodent-like anxiety produces more anxiety, and you resolve to simply get up in the middle of the night and wander the house, read the news, and fight off the anxiety rats.  Like some cock-eyed staging of the Nutcracker, but without the enchantment of Herr Drosselmeyer or the Sugar Plum Fairy.

That was my night last night.

So no surprise that I found myself this morning in a church named St. Jude’s.

God bless St. Jude–the patron saint of lost causes, of impossible cases. . . of fragile situations.  lostcause

And of hope.  Because as long as there is a patron saint, there is hope.

I started this blog, four short entries ago, thinking of the humor, and the sure irony, of moving to a town named Niceville.

I will tell you that the town has not disappointed, as far as that goes.  We have braved the wilds of storms and snakes and gators, with well-coiffed hair and sangria glasses in hand.  We have endured the surprise of landing in a neighborhood of retirees with good humor and giggles.

But the irony that must be implicit in living a life, any life, in a town called Niceville, is harder to stomach.  Funny sometimes, stinging other times.

The sweat-inducing hard work of moving into a new house; the anxiety (and adrenaline)-producing task of trying to make new friends, and the heart wrenching business of trying to settle your teenage kids into a new social situation–a new posse of kids who aren’t eager to take in the new and different that falls into their midst.   This is excruciating.

There is plenty of Nice to Niceville, but there is plenty of heartache too.  Do you think the founders of the town considered that?  Was the choice of names simply a Pollyanna-inspired attempt at putting a cheery face on life?  Was it a call to arms to make this place better?  Was it a literary irony– a wicked bit of humor as they knew things would often get hairy– or a humorous attempt at Americana?

I’ve no idea.  But, by God, I’m glad that this so-named town has places like St. Jude’s, where you can take a little respite and peel the yellow smiley face facade off for a while and simply say, This is life, and it is fragile and difficult, and beautiful and precarious, and so many things that can’t be swept under the banner of “Nice.”

Because if you’ve had a bad day, or the rats have come nibbling in the middle of the night, then “Nice” is just a slap in the face.

I think the patron saint of lost causes must hear this complaint a lot.

So today, I’ll think of this blog site as “Greetings from Judesboro.”  Perhaps some day soon, with more sleep and fewer worries, I’ll learn to use the nice-word again.

 

 

 

Daily Prompt: Ghost

via Daily Prompt: Ghost

From my sister site, Travels and Tomes, and originally posted in December of 2015

The Ghost of Christmas Past

DECEMBER 18, 2015 ~ TRAVELSANDTOMES

I have no idea where this story starts– only Emily could tell you that, and she has been silent for years now.  I can’t fill in all the details, but I can tell you when her shadow crossed over our doorstep.  HPIM1355

It was a fine and cozy doorstep in Ripon, North Yorkshire, England,  and it was our home for four fantastic years.  We dove headlong into the spirit of British life and tried to pretend that we were Brits ourselves.

We fooled no one, but we had a good time.  The kids attended British schools, my husband and I drove on the left side of the road (more often than not), and I learned how to make a mean steak and ale pie and sticky toffee pudding.

When we returned to the States in the summer of 2009, there was a posh lilt to my children’s speech, a cupboard full of treacle and hedgerow jam in my kitchen, and a ghost in our walnut chest of drawers.

These things happen when you live close to the Yorkshire Moors.

The old Queen Anne walnut chest — did we buy more than we bargained for?

HPIM1161 - CopyThe chest that housed our shadowy friend came from an auction house twenty minutes north of our home.  She is a beautiful old walnut piece–Queen Anne era, so roughly 300 years old– originally a chest on stand with longer, probably delicate, legs.  But three centuries of life had, literally, brought her to her knees.  Now she stands on stumps– ball feet that are likely over a hundred years old at this point.

I think the chest is beautiful. . . the hard knocks of a long life have made her quirky, but she still sings to me.

So I was overjoyed when we brought her home from the auction house and carried her into our dining room.  We dusted her off, gently cleaned the insides of the drawers, and whooped and hollered when we found a secret compartment.

It was cobwebby, and James shuddered as he stuck his hand in there.  We both hoped there would be old coins or letters, some relics of the lives lived in times beyond our reach.  But there were only cobwebs.

Or so we thought.

While we moved furniture to settle the new piece into its spot in the dining room, my daughter (who was about 7 years old) was upstairs digging into her dress up box.  She came down the stairs in a colonial era dress, saying that we must call her Emily.  It was cute, and she kept up the charade, never breaking character, until it was finally time to march upstairs and take a bath.

Meanwhile, after dusting our chest and admiring her beauty in a tidy corner of the dining room, we continued on with our life.  Dinner had to be made; children had to be bathed; bedtime stories were read, and, eventually, we all tucked in for the night.  Unsuspecting.

In the wee hours, someone woke me up.  My young children were standing at the edge of the bed.  Without even fully opening my eyes–as this was an all too common pattern with my son, and it was a ritual I could very nearly perform while still asleep– I got up and cupped my arms around my two children to lead them back to bed.  My left arm scooped my son, but my right arm came up empty.  I opened my eyes and turned to find Kate, but she wasn’t there.

“William, where’s your sister?” I asked.  “She isn’t here,” he said.  I shrugged it off, just happy to have only one child to put back to bed.

But I woke up the next morning and sat bolt upright:  two children, I thought, Isaw two children.  I saw two children–a boy and a girl.  There were two, and then there was one.  I asked my son again that morning where his sister had gone, but he told me that she was never there.

I don’t spook easily.  I’m not particularly superstitious.  And, oddly, I was fairly pragmatic about this.  I told my husband about the incident and put it out of my mind.

For a few days.

Until I woke up in the middle of the night to find my husband standing up and running his hands all around the bed, looking for something.  “What are you doing?” was my question, naturally.  “One of the kids is in the bed,” he said.  “No,” I said, “there’s no one in the bed but me.”  But he wasn’t convinced.  Something was in the bed; someone had come into the room.

Someone.

There was really only one explanation.  Only one new member of the family in the past week.  And apparently she was more ambulatory than those ball feet let on.  Could a piece of furniture harbor a ghost?  We decided to call this maybe-ghost Emily.  I suppose she had tried to announce herself the minute she came into the house.

We spent the next few days sipping a strange cocktail of emotions–a shot of intrigue, a splash of fear, a dash of dread, and a big old chaser of humor.  Honestly, who buys a ghost with their furniture?  And a ghost that tries to climb in bed with you at that?  There is a whole lot of creepy to that–but, as  much as I squeezed my eyes tight the next few nights and swore to open them for nothing until the morning came, my motherly instincts kept askingwhy?   I mean, assuming there was a ghost and we weren’t just nuts whose imaginations had run away with them (not a sure bet, I know), why would a child keep just showing up in our room?  Loneliness, I suppose.

I wanted to know the story–this ghost was going to kill me with curiosity, if nothing else.  So my husband and I drove back to the auction house and asked the owner, Rodney, if he could shed any light on the piece of furniture we’d bought.  He disappeared in the back office and quickly reappeared with the only paperwork he had on that piece of furniture–paperwork indicating that the chest had been removed from The Old School House in Thoresway, Lincolnshire.

This told us absolutely nothing about the circumstances of the chest, but it also did nothing to quell our interest.  A School House?  A building with a long history of children, children, and more children?  Our heads were spinning.

But what can you do?  We didn’t have an answer at hand, we didn’t even have a problem on our hands, we just had a curiosity.  A couple of incidents in a couple of weeks’ time.  And plenty of friends to add in their two cents:  antiques have bad feng shui, and did we know that young children used to sleep in dresser drawers (pulled out) before there were cribs?  My favorite reaction came from the wife of the local cathedral’s canon:  Oh how wonderful!  I’ve always wanted to see a ghost!  

DSC_0197Within the next week or two, I purchased an old painting from an antique market: a portrait of a child with her dog.  We named her Emily and hung her on the wall by the chest.  If you can’t beat them, join them, right?

**

I’m not sure how to tell you the next part of the story–this is where those glasses of wine really make sense of things.

I’m a softy, and I’m sometimes a kook, and when something lies heavy on my heart and I drink wine–you know.   Emily didn’t show up much in the next year, but this is no surprise because she and I had a heart to heart late one night, and I think this put her at rest.

James and I had been out to a friend’s party–homebodies that we are–and we’d had a very good time.  I had an especially good time, and came home feeling very generous and earnest and just a bit wobbly.  When we got home, I pulled a chair up to the chest and proceeded to tell Emily, at great length, that we just wanted her to be happy, and that we were terribly sorry if we acted terrified of her, but we’d be honored to have her in our home.

Because that’s how everyone talks to their ghost-furniture, right?

Well, you know, I meant it.  And it worked.  Peaceful nights from then on.

**

And then we moved Emily over the ocean on a slow boat and resettled her in Georgia.  We laughed a slightly nervous laugh and joked that she’d be really angry about that–brace for chaos.  But no chaos came.

We moved into a new house, re-floored, painted, and set Emily up in the formal living room.  The house looked good; the chest looked good; the feng   shui felt right.

And then my husband threw a curve ball.  He saw a wierd, shadowy something in the corner of the front hall–right by the living room.  He didn’t know . . .he was just saying . . .it was strange and his first thought was Emily.

But I didn’t believe a word of it.  James likes to play pranks, and as much as he insisted, I laughed and said right, like I would believe that.  End of conversation.

Until a few weeks later, when I was scrolling through messages and pictures on my new flip phone (it was 2009).  My daughter, then a 4th grader, had been having fun with the camera phone–catching her grandmother in her pj’s, photographing her brother with a cabbage on his head, taking a photo she entitled Haunted Hallway. . . . This stopped me cold. She had photographed the same spot in the house James had described and she gave it that caption.

I very nonchalantly asked her about the photo.  She said, “Oh, it just looked wierd, so I took it.”  No more reason, no more thought.  It was haunted seeming, so she took the picture.  The photo didn’t look that strange to me, but then how photogenic are ghosts?

And what a strange, strange coincidence.

**

You can be a skeptic, and I won’t blame you.  But me, I’m a big fan of Emily.  At least for now.

When we moved to Germany, we left her in a storage facility until we return next year.  That could make for one mad ghost.  Check back with me in a year, and see how she took it.  Or, better yet, come over and drink wine with me next year–we’ll have a heart to heart with Emily and smooth things over.

 

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.”

 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol  

 

Oh, My Aching Back

From my sister site, Travels and Tomes

Travels and Tomes: One Expat's Amblings and Ramblings

July 20, 2016

I woke up this morning in my new house.  I’ve been here about two weeks and been living out of a suitcase for over a month now.  Often as not, I’ve been sleeping on a blow up bed on the floor.  DSC_0260 - Copy

This is part of the move madness that holds you in its grip when you stage a move from overseas—it’s a protracted madness, because when you move an entire household of furniture over the ocean, you move it on a slow boat.

So I woke up for the umpteenth day on the floor, and I had to use considerable effort to haul myself upright. I’ve developed  a wicked catch in my side that Advil only dulls.  I didn’t have that problem two weeks ago, so I think there is some cumulative wear and tear that this sort of living takes on you.

Then again, I wasn’t…

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The Creek Don’t Rise

From my sister site “Travels and Tomes”– about the beginnings of the move from Germany to Florida.

Travels and Tomes: One Expat's Amblings and Ramblings

DSC_0018 Rain fell this morning.

I have a buddy named Vic. I haven’t seen him since about 2001, but never mind that– Vic is one of those friendly people that you count your pal despite the decades that may intervene between your visits. I can’t say that I’ve had many occasions to think about Vic in the back and forth of my day to day life, but this week he’s been a constant companion, whispering in my ear every time I look out the windows off the back of my house.

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Vic is from Georgia, down to the very marrow in his bones. He’s prone to phrases like “knee high to a grasshopper,” so when he whispers in your ear it’s a voice that is distinct and immediately recognizable.
One of Vic’s favorite phrases back in the early 90’s was “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” It was applicable…

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Before We Begin

Not that I need to explain myself, because if you show up to read a blog called “Greetings from Niceville — we’re all mad here” then you probably don’t get hung up on rational explanations.

Still, I have to begin somewhere . . . and before I do, here’s what you need to know.

travel-suitcase-clipart-1I am, in the near future (or possibly the present or the past–depending on when you show up to this party), packing my worldly belongings and moving from Europe to a town called Niceville.   By the sea.

My acquaintances love Niceville; the photos look breathtaking; the sun is always shining. It’s all very suspicious.

Join me if you like– down the Rabbit Hole.