Toward the sunshine

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Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you. – Walt Whitman
One of the habits I am trying to cultivate in 2019 is positivity. I’m a natural-born cynic with a giant sarcastic streak and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Add an emotionally abusive upbringing into the mix, and it’s no wonder that I tend toward the negative.

If you hear often enough that you’re worthless and stupid and fat and useless, those words become who you are. At least until you can think for yourself and realize none of that is true. Then it’s a battle to overcome those words that shaped your identity for so many years, to strip them of the power they held over you for so long.

It was just over seven years ago that I had one of the defining moments of my life. I realized the person who had been showering me with these negative words since I was born (even before then, according to family members) was not entitled to be part of my life. As an adult, I decide who gets to participate in my life. I suddenly realized that blood/genetic ties and convention don’t dictate that – *I* do.

It’s powerful to realize that. And it changed my life.

That toxic influence was cut out of my life. I’ve been on a path to healing since then. It’s a rocky path, to be sure, but I know I’m heading in the right direction. Each day I get further away from that toxic influence, I get closer to finding peace. I’m shedding the weight of those ugly words and finding my true self.

I’m walking toward the light, and the shadows are behind me.

Goals

I had two major goals for 2018: Read at least 50 books and find a new job.

I’m pleased to say I did both. I’m currently on book 56, and I started a new job in June after working in a very toxic environment that was wreaking havoc on my emotional health. I’m in a much better place mentally now, and I’m doing work that fulfills me in an office environment that is sane and mostly drama-free.

Oh, and I did yoga for 30 straight days in January to kick off the year, which was pretty cool, too.

I’m still thinking through my 2019 goals, but I know I want to simplify my digital life and get my house better organized. Oh, and be less ambitious with the vegetable garden so I don’t bite off more than I can chew.

I also want to do more with my photography. I entered one photography competition this year, which was huge for me, and I want to do more of that. But that also means I actually need to get out more with my camera.

Anyway, in case you’re curious about my reading list for 2018, it’s here.

Tights and Tutus and Christmas Tradition

The holiday season is now in full swing, though I’ve barely managed to do anything so far. I at least started my shopping and have some decorations up. (No tree, yet – not until tomorrow.) And I’m about halfway through my cards.

Later today, I will indulge in one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

I grew up with The American Ballet Theatre’s 1977 version of The Nutcracker, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. It debuted on PBS when I was just two years old, and it became a holiday staple. I was enraptured by it as a little girl, and I am sure this was a big reason I had dreams of being a ballerina. (Never came close to that dream, though I took a ballet class when I was at Ohio State as one of my electives.)

Mom and I watch this every year. As I got older, I began to see how very cheesy a lot of this production is. It’s very dated – a lot of ‘70s hair going on, for starters. And the special effects are laughable now. It’s a bit anachronistic, given that the story is set in the 19th century. And Drosselmeyer…. oh, Drosselmeyer. This Drosselmeyer is especially entertaining. In a goofy way.

But the dancing is swoonworthy. Baryshnikov and Kirkland are absolute magic together. And I have never seen a male dancer yet who can compare to Baryshnikov in his prime (which is when this was filmed). Holy moly, his solos just blow my mind.

I’m glad Mom and I are in the same geographic area now so we can watch this together. While I was living in Germany, Seattle, and Maryland, we at least tried to watch it on the same day. There were a few years when we’d watch it at the same time and discuss it over the phone. (We now have this MST3K sort of thing going on with it.) A tradition is a tradition, and we did our best to maintain it even if I was halfway around the world.

So, Mom, prepare the eggnog. I’ll be over in a few hours.

Thankful

Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Thanksgiving. That was always the big holiday in my family.

We’d gather at my grandparents’ house in Findlay, Ohio. My aunt and cousins would drive in from Illinois. I had cousins who would come from South Carolina. For a few days each year, we would eat, laugh, play several games of Trivial Pursuit, and just generally enjoy being in each other’s company.

The last time I remember one of these big Thanksgivings was, I think, in 2005. I may be off by a year or so. My husband and I came in from Germany. It snowed. A LOT. I’ll always remember that – not only for the snow (which was a bit unusual) but also because Thanksgiving changed after that.

That’s how life works, doesn’t it? The grandkids grow up and get married. They get busier with adult responsibilities. It becomes more difficult to get together in large groups.

Our grandparents are gone now. Grandpa passed away in 1999, Grandma in 2011 (the last time we were all together again like old times was for her funeral). And with Grandma’s death, we had to say goodbye to their home forever. No more family gatherings there, no more making memories.

Thanksgivings have been smaller since then.

For several years, we couldn’t make it to Ohio. Thanksgivings in Seattle often included friends. In Maryland, we either had a quiet Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us with the dogs, or I ended up alone because my husband had other commitments. (Military life!) I didn’t mind being alone – I had the dogs after all. I made myself a nice meal, spent the entire day in my pajamas, and binge-watched TV.

Since we moved to Columbus, Thanksgivings have been at my parents’ place. My aunt and uncle come down from Cleveland. My youngest cousin, a student at Ohio University, also joins us. It’s the new normal, and I’ll always reminisce about those earlier Thanksgivings with a slight ache in my heart. I miss my grandparents. I miss those times.

Today, I’m thankful I have those memories. I’m thankful to have such a large, loving, joyful family that loves being together. I realize that I’m lucky. Not everyone had such happy times with their families. For some, holidays are fraught with anxiety and drama.

This morning, I will make my family favorite macaroni and cheese and some apple crisp. In a few hours, we’ll head over to my folks’ place for a wonderful feast. I still love Thanksgiving. It’s not as exciting now as it was when I was growing up, but it’s still family time, good food, and laughter.

 

Ask for their stories

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Today is Veterans Day, and while my husband was in the Air Force and my younger brother served in the Navy, the first veteran in my life was my grandpa, Tom Sheaffer.

He served as a Radioman on the USS Cowpens during World War II. Growing up, I never heard him speak much about his service. I saw his old Navy photographs. He mentioned a deep loathing for Spam because of his Navy days. There were other snippets of information here and there that he shared with us. But I don’t remember any specific stories. Maybe I should have asked.

After his passing, we heard from one of his shipmates. He was a good friend of Grandpa’s during the war, and he had kept a journal of his experience. Grandpa was mentioned in it. (There were photos of him, even.) He had copies of his journal printed out for his family, and he also shared it with us. It’s the only insight I have into what his experience might have been like. That journal is a gift. I will treasure it always.

Those veterans in your life? Ask them for their stories. Some may not want to tell their stories, and that’s okay. We have to respect what they went through and what they still carry. But if they want to talk, be there to listen. These stories are their legacy, they’re OUR history, and they’re important.

I’ll share this story from Art Daly, my grandfather’s shipmate, who shared his wartime journal with us. This is his account of a typhoon that hit the Cowpens (exactly as written without edits), and it mentions Grandpa. I never heard Grandpa mention this!

December 19, 1944

Our ship and task force are all beat up. We were smashed by a typhoon the last two days. All men not on duty were ordered to lock themselves in their bunks. Ships were in danger of crashing into each other.

We almost hit a destroyer that cut across our bow. Cowpens and San Jacinto were in danger of colliding.

Our propellers would be out of the water and would almost shake the ship apart. The stern took a beating. On the 17th I was on duty in the radio shack. We had everything tied down. Even our chairs were tied to the deck. Some broke loose. Things were flying through the air. At times we listed 45 degrees and we thought we would turn over.

Up on top waves crashed through the steel rollers on the hangar deck. Water poured in. A fire broke out on the flight deck as one of our planes broke loose and crashed into the catwalk. One of our 20 mm guns was smashed as we rolled in the sea.

Bombs broke loose and rolled around in the bomb magazine next to the radio shack. Planes and tractors broke loose and went crashing into each other. Some went crashing over the side of the ship.

Waves were coming over the flight deck. The wind was reported to be as high as 124 knots (a knot is approximately 1.15 miles per hour). Waves were reported as high as 70 feet from trough to crest. The barometer was recorded as low as 27”.

We lost our radar and was guided by the destroyer Halsey Powell by radio. I watched a lot of the storm from the top of the bridge. Destroyers would plow right through towering waves and out the other side, knocking their smoke stack right off them. The big carriers and battleships were tossed about.

I was supposed to be tied to my bunk when not on watch, but I just had to get topside. I did help with securing some planes.

During the height of the storm, we lost our air group commander over the side. He was on the flight deck trying to save his planes. He had been shot down in June 1944, was rescued, and sent back to the States. He came out again as ship’s air officer. This time he didn’t make it.

Tom Sheaffer told me that during the storm, he grabbed an overhead pipe and was flush with the ceiling. During the storm, we lost the destroyers Hull, Spenser, and Monohan.

 

 

The Ghosts of Warwick Castle

Fright Nights – Warwick Castle (Warwick, England)
August 4-5, 2006
9 pm – 5 am

The small group participating in the ghost hunt met in the castle’s café. We were introduced to the Fright Nights team and got an explanation of what they do and what to expect.

After this brief introduction, we got a tour of Warwick Castle – the grounds, gate house, dungeon, and ghost tower – along with the historical background. At certain points, the guides paused to tell us that they felt spirits around, but most of the participants couldn’t see/feel/hear anything, except for one person in the group who had a very strong sense of the ghosts that were in each room.

After the initial orientation of the castle, we met back at our base of operations – the café. The tour leaders passed out ghost hunting equipment – various thermometers and electro-magnetic field detectors – and gave us a brief tutorial their use. Then we were allowed to go off on our own private tour of the castle.

Reluctant to fly solo, I paired up with another woman who was also on her own. We decided to explore the gate house, but our equipment detected nothing. The gate house was allegedly haunted by the spirits of soldiers who tried to invade the castle, as well as a witch and various other spirits.

Eventually, we reconvened at the café to meet up with our medium, Michael. We introduced ourselves to each other, and two men (a gay couple…this will be important later, which is why I’m mentioning it) struck up a conversation with me. I stuck with them the rest of the evening.

As a group, we went with Michael to tour the castle again. Immediately, he picked up the presence of ghosts: Roman soldiers marching in the courtyard; a man who had been trampled after being pushed to the ground; a drummer boy standing by a doorway who was sad because he lost his drum; a mother carrying a baby who stood outside the castle gates, begging to be let in.

Inside the dungeon, he saw the torture master, who didn’t want us there. On the ceiling hung an iron maiden. He saw a woman in it.

In the gate house, he saw various other ghosts. At one point, he saw a ghost named Guy, a member of the Knights Templar, standing next to me. The room was hot and stuffy, but my right side, where he allegedly stood, was freezing cold.

In various rooms, depending on how spirits had died in them, people complained of correlating body aches: terrible headaches if the person died of a stroke, stomachaches if a person died from being stabbed in the stomach, etc.

There was one room where the air kept getting sucked out of my lungs, and I gasped for breath – it happened to other people at the same time. We smelled random scents like lavender or mint, when there was nothing that should have caused those scents.

In the ghost tower, Michael picked up on a ghost in the first room named Brooke (last name), who told him that he’s Sir Greville’s servant. (Sir G once resided in the ghost tower.) Michael felt a heavy pressure in his body, which he said was due to the pervasive sadness in the room. Brooke was not just Sir G’s servant, but also his lover, and he stabbed Sir G. to death in a fit of passion before killing himself. Michael related all this to us as he communicated with Brooke. This account was consistent with the history of the castle, which Michael said he did not study prior to coming.

In Sir G’s bedroom, Michael described Sir G’s ghost and began to feel very uneasy. The other men in the room noted some odd sensations, but the women didn’t feel anything. We all stood in the dark, and we were advised to turn on our flashlight and run if we felt we were in imminent danger.

One of the men did – he suddenly panicked, turned on his flashlight, and ran down the stairs, followed by one of the paranormal experts. They were down there for several minutes (they picked up on another ghost at the bottom of the stairs), and those of us remaining in Sir G’s bedroom stood very still and quiet. We heard footsteps walking around in the middle of the room. The men downstairs also heard them.

We eventually went downstairs and into a very narrow room. The medium panicked. There was the presence of an elemental, or animal spirit, and several people picked up on it being a wolf or a dog. Michael, who has had contact with ghosts his entire life, told us that he had never felt more scared in his life, and we had to strongly convince him not to flee from the building.

At this point, I was still not convinced any of this was real. I didn’t feel this panicky/dangerous vibe that several other people were picking up on.

After this intense scene in the ghost tower, we headed back to the café, where we were split up into two teams. One team went with Michael to the gate house and dungeon. My team joined the two other guides to go into the ghost tower.

We started out on the first floor. One of the ladies in the group said she felt a very playful spirit in the room. We stood in a circle, holding hands. People claimed they could feel the presence of the ghost behind them as it walked around the room – it would lightly touch people. One of the guides said she felt the ghost was walking in a very comical manner. One lady in the room got a random fit of the giggles.

We went up one floor, back to Sir G’s bedroom. All flashlights off, and we stood in a circle holding hands. Suddenly, we hear hissing sounds coming from various parts of the room. Some people said the hissing was directly in their ears.

We heard screaming, and flashlights came on. Several women were shoved around very hard. They moved to another part of the circle.

Once we calmed down, we rejoined hands and the flashlights went out again. The guides were asking, “If you’re here, give us a sign. Make a noise. Touch someone. Let us know you’re here.” (They repeated this several times throughout the night.)

More pushing, screaming, flashlights coming on. Lights out again, holding hands again…

I heard a shout from one of the men in the group. It was one of the gay guys I was hanging out with, and he said someone was trying to pull up the back of his shirt. (Remember, Sir G. was in a homosexual relationship.) He explained that he was gay, so perhaps the ghost could sense that.

We settled back into our circle, lights out… A guide sat on Sir G’s bed. A woman claimed to see a bright flash of light moving onto the bed. The guide announced that Sir G. sat next to him.

We heard a sound coming from downstairs. The guide on the bed shouted, “We know you’re down there, come up and join us.” A minute later, he told us, “the elemental has joined me on the bed.”

Despite all this going on, I still hear/see/feel nothing. Just about everyone else in the room was panicky and scared, and I felt disappointed because I wasn’t experiencing anything.

After this, our group joined Michael in the gate house and dungeon. Michael should have gone to the ghost tower, but he refused to go.

We went to the dungeon first, which was, in my opinion, the creepiest room in the entire castle. All lights out. Instead of standing in a circle and holding hands, we sat around the room very quietly. I sat in a little alcove next to a trapdoor where they would throw some of the prisoners (the oubliette). I figured that surely I would feel something there, but I felt absolutely nothing. We sat in silence for a while, and the medium finally announced that nothing was there, so we moved on to the gate house.

Nothing seemed to be going on there either. In one of the rooms, Michael said that he saw ghosts moving in and out, but none of them stayed. We sat for a really long time. My legs fell asleep. One guy fell asleep and started snoring. Two women finally got up and left. I followed them out. We sat in the café for a bit, talking about how disappointing this was. Nothing we had seen had truly convinced us.

A short time later, everyone else joined us in the café. Michael arrived first, a minute or two before the others, and he was shaking and telling us he was absolutely terrified to go back in the ghost tower. The rest of the group joined us, and we went back into the ghost tower and stood in a circle, holding hands. All flashlights off, and the only light in the room was a tiny red dot coming from the tape recorder.

Michael was sitting apart from us in a corner. I got a very odd sensation at this moment – the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I got this hot flash. One of our guides announced that Michael was in a trance. As a transmedium, ghosts can enter his body and speak through him. We felt a whoosh of cold air, and Michael’s breathing became really shallow. He moaned.

The guides asked him questions, and slowly he started to talk. He said his name was Guy and he lived right after the Crusades in a place not far from the castle. He told us that he didn’t want us in the room, but he agreed to answer some questions on the condition that we promised to leave. He said that his wife lived in the castle. She was the daughter of an earl, and she jumped into the Avon River and drowned at the age of 25 because she was possessed by demons. He said he lived as a recluse until he died at age 50. We felt another burst of air as he was talked about his wife, and he said, “She’s here.” The guides confirmed that his wife entered the room. In a minute, we felt another rush of air and heard footsteps leaving the room. The spirits were gone. Michael was sputtering and choking on the floor and needed assistance.

A large chair was then placed in the middle of the room with a wine glass placed upside down on top of it. Three people volunteered to place their fingers lightly on the base of the glass (like an Ouija board). One of them asked questions:

“If there is a spirit in the room, please move the glass.”

The glass moved just a bit.

Through a series of other questions, we determined that the ghost moving the glass was once again, Sir G. More questions:

“Do you know there is an elemental in the room?”

The glass moved so hard and fast that it nearly crashed off the chair.

“Can you move the glass in the direction where the elemental is located?”

The glass moved toward the stairway, where this wolf/dog spirit was first encountered.

A series of other questions were asked, and then the wine glass stopped moving. After several minutes, we concluded that Sir G. was tired of playing with us and left.

The ghost hunt was at an end.

Back at the café, Michael was slumped in a chair, complaining that his body was burning. A woman touched his arm and said his skin was boiling hot. It looked like blisters/boils were popping up on his skin.

The last hour was perhaps the most convincing for me, but I’m still skeptical. Whether it was real or a bunch of smoke and mirrors, it was a very cool experience. I was happy to have access to the castle at night, which few people before me have ever had the chance to do.

15

My husband and I celebrated 15 years of marriage on October 18.

Well, the celebration wasn’t actually on that date. We celebrated our crystal anniversary by doing yard work. After work the following day, we drove nearly an hour away to Yellow Springs, Ohio, for a weekend getaway.

Hiking at John Bryan State Park, a visit to the Glen Helen Raptor Center, good food (Saturday lunch at Ye Olde Trail Tavern in Yellow Springs and Sunday breakfast at Clifton Mill), a cold (brief) hike at Clifton Gorge. We didn’t get everything in that I wanted to, but we can always go back. We made a quick stop at Young’s Jersey Dairy on the way back to Columbus to pick up some cheese.

Also, if you ever find yourself needing accommodations in Yellow Springs, I highly recommend Jailhouse Suites.