Reflecting on Treasures.

Yesterday an article was published about me in The Sunday Times. A lovely article by a lovely reporter with a lovely accompanying photo.

And yet, for a variety of reasons yesterday I did not feel so lovely. I was, in fact, awash in melancholy.

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I’d gone to a moody movie with an equally moody score that sent me spiraling alone. Into myself.

I was aching for something. Something missing.

My thoughts turned to my grandpa. Robert Raven.

A man who had the kindest, twinkly blue eyes that matched the star-sapphire ring he wore on his right hand.

Above is a photo of Grampa and Grannie Raven and my mom. He may look ordinary to you, but if you look closely, you can see the extraordinary twinkle behind the glasses.

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Grandpa was a man who could and would happily strike up a conversation with just anyone. A man who never met a stranger. He knew that a friend was waiting after the warm greeting, “How do you do?”

A man who, while not formally educated after high school, had a voracious love of reading about history, nature – in particular the red rocks and sage brush of the western United States, and people. He kept every single copy of National Geographic in pristine condition in a bookcase in the basement. I used to thumb through them when I’d visit. Learning about places I never thought I would ever travel to. But many, by now, that I have been fortunate enough to have even lived in.

We would take long exploring walks in the Indiana woods behind the home he had built and that he still shared with his equally kind wife, my Grannie, Dolores. He loved that woman so. And she loved him back joyfully. The bond those two humble humans shared is something I envy.

Right now, I can’t think of anything dramatic to illustrate the love they had. It was the composite of little things.

For me, my grandpa’s love was expressed through small moments that made lasting memories – during our walks in the woods.

Grandpa showed me how to make Sassafras tea from the root of a small Sassafras tree sapling.   He taught me how to find Morels that seemed to purposefully hide under the broad, low leaves of Mayapple plants.

The spongy mushrooms were so abundant; it was only after I had grown up and moved away from Indiana that I realized they were considered a rare, culinary delicacy. Maybe most important of all, he taught me to stop talking for a moment as we meandered amidst the trees, stand still and just listen.

Listen.

Grandpa Raven, or just Grampa, as I used to call him, wasn’t tall. He was only about 5’6” before cancer began to curl his body forward. But to me, especially after my own dad died when I was 11, Grampa was a solid, strong refuge.

His strength was his kindness. His natural curiosity and his enjoyment of others. He was a steady presence of comfort.

It’s been many years since cancer finally won over my grandpa’s inner strength. I still have his star sapphire ring that he bequeathed to me, his eldest grandchild. It’s a treasure.  My daughter’s middle name is Raven, in tribute to him. She’s an even greater treasure.

I hope each of you has a Grampa Raven.

Someone who shows their love and strength through consistent and confident kindness.

I hope you treasure them too.

Kindly, Gina

I’m so grateful you are reading my essays. I train, consult and speak about leadership, better communications, business and life empowerment. Please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and reach out to me directly to support you or your organization via LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook and at GinaLondon.com or with my terrific new strategic communications alliance at Fuzion.

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You CAN go back home. But you won’t have enough time to do everything you want….

I can’t believe it.  After living in Italy for three years, my first visit to the United States is drawing to a close.  This trip back home again to Indiana: the state where I was born, grew up and where my mom and step-dad still live has just one full day left.

My parents' Indiana lakeside home
My parents’ Indiana lakeside home

I landed on American soil on July 18.  With more than a month ahead, in addition to feting with my family, I thought I had plenty of time to reconnect with everyone.   I had so many plans!

Scotty, Lulu and I drove up to northwest Indiana to visit my college-buddy-like-a-brother Sam Wakim and his family for a combined dentist and friendly visit.

Sam and the fams!
Sam and the fams!

I zipped over to La Porte, the town where I was born, and toured Pine Lake where I spent  happy summers with family, and peeked at the house Grandpa and Grannie Raven had built and lived in forever.

Pine Lake in La Porte, Indiana
Pine Lake in La Porte, Indiana
If you look closely, you can see "Gina Andrea Brad" written in this bit of sidewalk that is still at my old grandparents' house - commemorating the births of me, my sister and my brother!
If you look closely, you can see “Gina Andrea Brad” written in this bit of sidewalk that is still at my old grandparents’ house – commemorating the births of me, my sister and my brother!

I had dinner with my fire-chief cousin and his family.

Cousins! Cousins!

I met again with Eric Schneller, the first friend I ever made at Indiana University when I first sat next to him in my freshman biology class.  I had dinner with ADPi sorority sisters Beth, Dottie and Elizabeth.  We moved beyond the shallow ties of youthful sisterhood to wiser bonds forged through surviving the unexpected twists and painful turns real life often deals. We are still hanging in there, but I am not kidding when I say we laughed and we cried.

Sorority Sisters then and real-life sisters now.
Sorority Sisters then and real-life sisters now.

I had dinner with a couple of close youth group friends, Anita and Curt, who got married shortly after high school.  They openly shared the incredible ups and downs that tried and ultimately strengthened their enduring union.

Curt, Anita and me
Curt, Anita and me

And speaking of my school days, I had dearly hoped to travel to Randolph County to the tiny town of Farmland to visit with the friends who were instrumental in creating the many colorful memories I have of my childhood.  We’ve kept up virtually on Facebook, and I wanted to reunite with them in person.

But the weeks flew by and I didn’t make it happen.

I also didn’t get a chance to reconnect with my cousin Debbie and some other people I had envisioned seeing.

But I did get to hug a lot of my immediate family including Mom, Jerry, Andrea, Tony, Sophia, Brad, Jayson, Patience, Helena, Sam, Celeste and my ninety-nine-and-a-half-year-young Aunt Anita aka “Neatie.”

Many of the awesome members of my family!
Many of the awesome members of my family!

We have had boat trips on the lake.

Boat trips, yey!
Boat trips, yey!
C'mon in- the (green lake) water's fine!
C’mon in- the (green lake) water’s fine!

 

We have had bonfires.  We have had dinner parties. We have had cake, cookies and Mom’s famous chocolate chip coffeecake.  Have I mentioned the mountains of ice cream?

Lulu LOOOVES ice cream.
Lulu LOOOVES ice cream.

Did I mention that even though Lulu has already eaten her weight in delectable Italian gelato, one of her new favorite places in the world is Dairy Queen?  Okay, we have had too much eating, I must say.

But we simply have not had enough time to do everything I hoped.

To everyone I saw, I love you and am so glad we were able to see each other again.   To everyone I didn’t get a chance to see.  I am sorry I missed you.  I do miss you.   Please come to see us in Ireland.

Tonight, as Lulu and I looked out across my parents’ backyard on Morse Lake, the setting sun was shimmering on the water.

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“It looks like diamonds. Real ones,” Lulu said.

“Yes, Lulu,” I replied,  reflecting on the memories of the past four weeks.  Although I didn’t get to see and do every single thing I had hoped to when I first arrived, the glow of my time back here in Indiana has been shiny and priceless just the same. Like diamonds. Real ones.

Morse Lake and the things that memories are made of.
Morse Lake and the things that memories are made of.

Love to you, no matter where you are!

Gina

P.S.  How was your summer?  Did you spend it with family? Friends? What’s in store for September?  Let me know!

 

 

 

 

Countdown to Departure. 25 Days to Go.

Cypress trees are the sentinels of Tuscany.

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When I lived in Paris, I dabbled in some oil painting. I wasn’t very accomplished, but I did manage to have some of my paintings displayed in a small gallery in our arrondissement or neighborhood in the City of Light.

One of my canvasses showed some rolling hills awash with a sunset’s glow in oranges, yellows and reds.  Over in the right corner, stand the dark silhouettes of three cypress trees.  I don’t have the painting any more, a dear friend bought it from me after my vernissage or gallery opening.

In Paris at the art show opening at "Le Fee Main" Lulu was two and clearly not impressed!
In Paris at the art show opening at “Le Fee Main” Lulu was two and clearly not impressed!

I never dreamed, then, that one day soon, we would be leaving Paris and moving to the real source of inspiration for the painting – Tuscany, Italy itself.

I can see the painting now – every day – in real life here in Arezzo.    Those slim distinctive trees really do line the country streets and dot the hills in our adopted home.

Just outside Arezzo Centro Storico, cypresses flank the "Torre di Gnicche" - where a famous local bandit once hid out from authorities...
Just outside Arezzo Centro Storico, cypresses flank the “Torre di Gnicche” – where a famous local bandit once hid out from authorities…

I love them.  They’re comforting to me in their iconic way.

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And now that we are about to move to Ireland, I imagine them as silent watchmen – waiting for us to return.

Baci, Gina

Tuscany to Tipperary
Tuscany to Tipperary

P.S. What’s iconic about where you live?  How do you feel about them?

 

 

Copyright 2014 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

 

Different and yet the same

Lulu’s first trip to the beach was yesterday.  It just happened to be to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea in the shadow of an ancient fishing village complete with a small castle.  The town is called Castiglione della Pascaia which dates to pre-Roman times.

Castiglione della Pascaia

We went with her preschool buddy David and his wonderful mother Pavlina – who was gracious enough to invite us and drive us – past the sunflower fields and round bales of straw of the Tuscan countryside to reach the lagoon and then the hot white sand of the beach.

The sea’s water was warm and clear.  The beach was full – but not packed – with friendly families, energetic teenagers, and chatty seniors.  Lulu and David splashed in the waves, lounged in the inflatable boats Pavlina brought, ate pasta al pesto for lunch and made an entire sand village under our blue striped umbrella.

Lulu and David playing on the beach

Vendors passed by offering to sell bracelets and sunglasses and even knock-off purses.  I paid for a kind Senegalese woman to weave a strand of Lulu’s hair with three different colored threads into a bright streamer. All the little Italian girls seem to come back from a trip al mare wearing one of these as a sort of souvenir.

Lulu getting her souvenir weave

It was a lovely and memorable day.  And it made me think back to the beach where I had spent so much of my early childhood, Pine Lake in LaPorte, Indiana.  Not the vivid blue of the Mediterranean, Pine Lake was more seaweed green.  There were no vendors, no restaurants, no blue and white striped umbrellas and certainly no castle-fortressed villages looking down from above.

Instead, we had a small white clapboard house that my Aunt Neatie and Uncle Dick owned, a long wooden picnic table filled with homemade food and drinks.  Fresh lemonade from Aunt May, two kinds of potato salad from Great Grandma Stombaugh, macaroni and cheese and amazing baked beans from my Grannie and fried chicken from Colonel Sanders. My sister and brother and our cousins floated on rafts, swam and played like crazy.

They were also lovely and memorable days.  Different and so much the same. Because of love.

Lulu and the lovely day.

P.S. I would love to hear stories of your favorite beach days.  Or of those of your children.

Baci, Gina