beginning of the end

ok, we’re down to the wire.  a truck is coming today to cart off the last bit of furniture and household detritus that no one else wants. utilities are about to be canceled and prescriptions refilled. the suitcases (all seven of them) are lined up, about to be filled with must-have possessions.

all around me,  life in dacula, georgia goes on as normal. inside our home, nerves are jangling and stomachs are fluttering. or is that churning?

life as we know it is about to change big time.

our house closes at 3:00 on Friday. the new owners gave us one more day to get the house cleaned and last few items picked up. then we get on the road Saturday afternoon for our cross-country farewell tour.

chicago, iowa, nebraska, california, texas, arkansas and florida here we come! with car loaded, we’ll head due north then west.Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 9.45.09 AM

i keep listening to myself for any deep insights about this upheaval we are creating.  none today. all i know is that despite an occasional tear, katherine’s intermittent despair of not being able to go to prom (even though that event is about 6 years from now), the heart tug of having to find homes for our cats and saying more goodbyes to dear friends, we’ve made the right decision.

each step along the way i see/feel affirmation. a flash of red outside my window signals to me that we are not alone and all is well.

years ago i spent the day at the monastery in conyers, georgia, enjoying hours of quiet and reflection. i can’t remember the minor or major crisis i was having at the time, but i desperately needed the silence of that sacred space to help me make it through.

that day was overcast just like my mood. intermittent rain and strong winds reflected my inner turmoil. i was really quiet miserable.

after hours inside, i moved outdoors to a small courtyard. sitting on a bench, i felt the wind die down. the sun broke through the clouds.  the flash of a cardinal’s wing in the nearby tree caught my attention. at that moment, my heaviness of heart lifted. peace flooded in. all was right with my world. all was well.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 10.13.42 AMsince that day, i’ve seen the flash of red on many occasions. times when i needed a boost or reassurance. that cardinal or one of his many cousins has been a silent  visual reminder to me that the words of Julian of Norwich are profoundly true:

“all is well, all will be well.”

that flash of red appeared this morning. right outside my window. it was there a few days ago as well. this adventure of ours is going to be just fine.

do cardinals live in Ecuador?


What’s this about?

IMG_2207i’ve made a life for myself with words. from the first poem i penned in second grade about puppies to selling some of the  world’s most comfortable shoes.  through all those years i had teachers, editors, account people, clients even clients’ wives telling me how to make my copy better. and on occasion they were right.

but now, i am the arbiter of what goes down word-wise on this site. so…no capital letters. plenty of dashes, ellipses and commas used wherever and whenever i choose. grammar rules be gone.

expect to read more of the adventures of the Thornton-Vander Plaats as we move to South America and discover a new heaven on earth. go with us as we say so long to the Big Dipper and hola! to the Southern Cross. you’ll learn more about the joys of scaling back and living with less, the challenges of learning a new language after 60, the exhaustion of keeping up with a high-energy 11-year old and ultimately finding out more about the meaning of life in the Andes.

glad you’re here. share our adventure.

Pachamama mama

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 10.46.26 AMpachamama: goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. she is also known as the earth/time mother.

i first encountered the Pachamama in the mid 90’s visiting the Andes. walking through a street market in La Paz, i spied a statue of a rather corpulent woman with a child in her lap. being somewhat large myself, i connected immediately.
some say she is the equivalent to the Virgin Mary in Christianity and that makes sense.
though not raised Catholic, i am deeply drawn to the imagery of the Madonna and child.
i purchased the small statue and brought her home with me. she has found a place in each of my many homes. sometimes tucked away on a shelf, usually front and center on the mantle.
today, however, Pachamama is packed away in storage where she’ll remain until who knows when. she won’t be making the trek to Ecuador with david, katherine and me.  no need to take her along as her presence will surround us every day in her home in the Andes. Continue reading

talking to myself

you’ve got to know your audience.

when i first started out as an advertising copywriter in the 70s, i was told to have a specific person in mind when I wrote.  one book suggested i write to my grandmother. if i could make her understand whatever i was selling i’d have done my job. for a while i wrote to a cousin, though he never knew it. i’d craft my copy in the form of a letter to him,  translating technical speak into a personal conversation and make my way through my project. but the imaginary audience that worked best of all was my farmer. a poster of an aging farmer, dressed in denim overalls and leaning on a wooden fence, hung above my grey IBM Selectric typewriter. i’d gaze into his eyes and commence to type.

Those were the days before Macs and copy and delete keys.

Those were the days I’d scribble out the first draft by hand on a yellow legal pad. when i thought the copy was close to being finished, i’d transfer to the typewriter.

so who is my audience now?  i have no account executives or copy director or exacting client to review copy and make comments.  i’ve been set free from writing for the approval of others.

this blog is for me only. after 30+ years of writing for others, being edited by others and being confined by creative briefs and clients’ demands, i am writing for me. should my family and friends and occasional stranger who happens upon this blog wish to read it, welcome.  but this is an exercise for me.

here i will describe our next steps as a family, our breaking free of what is normal and traditional, our setting out to experience life with a new language in a new land. i hope to leave a collection of observations for my daughter that allows her to get to know me in a different way.

and i want to see where faith fits in all of this moving around and meeting new people and adapting new ways.i look forward to seeing what remains constant in our changing world. i hope to become a wiser, kinder, more observant and patient woman.

so, this is all about me then. and my audience may be limited to just a few. but right now that is fine. i have nothing new to say that hasn’t been said much better by someone else.  but i will discover new things for me.

read along if you wish. or not.




Life in six suitcases…Blog 101

(this is an exercise for a blogging course I am taking. if this reads like i’m introducing myself, i am.  to those who already know me, bear with me as I learn more about blogging as I blog!)

I retired at 10:35 AM on New Year’s Eve day. With a broad grin on my face and a definite spring in my step I walked away from 30+ years of nine-to-five.

On March 2, just a little over a month from now, my husband, daughter and I will board a jet bound for Ecuador to start a new life as expats. We will have squeezed all of our worldly possessions down to six suitcases and three carry-ons and embarked freeimage-19582461-webon a new life in a new land.

And we want to keep in touch with family and friends.  I want to document this adventure of a lifetime for our 11 year-old daughter through images, insights, recipes and personal musings.

I choose to go public to make access easy for those who want to keep in touch. To keep things simple for me.  And to keep up with the times.  I love to write and many have encouraged me to write more and this is one of the ways I plan to do it.  We’ll see the outcome.

A year from now?  I hope to be able to communicate fluently in Spanish on the blog. I’d like to have a growing base of readers and perhaps enough material from which to start a book.  Or not.  I’m open to whatever.

So this is a project of indeterminate length, really.  But one that will help me be disciplined in documenting this wonderful next stage of our life.



packing it in

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone or about gone. At least that’s what the song says. Feels that way to me.  Last week friends in the Copy/Creative Department at work surprised me with a going away party. And I didn’t really realize what a great group of people I’m blessed to work with until I’m about to leave.

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 10.18.28 AM

The President of the company spilled the beans, kind of.  “I have an appointment, so I’ll miss your party,” he said. “What party?” I asked. Silence.

So I knew something was up. But I figured they knew I don’t like crowds so it would be a cupcake or two over the desk.  Wrong.  Julie (fellow writer and one who is closest to me in age–we alone can talk about the 60s in first person) urged me to walk with her to the Hub for a snack. We were engaged in conversation when we rounded the corner and came face to face with an lively crowd.

We crashed a meeting, I was about to say, when the meeting turned, people cheered and the festivities began.

At first, flummoxed. Then, definitely Verklempt. What a crowd!  Such a great group of people work in this crazy place. Hard working, kind-hearted, smiling-in-the-face-of-great-stress people who have made work life much easier through some rough times.

Fake catalog covers, depicting me as a native Ecuadoran dressed for folk dancing, adorned poster boards around the room. Publix decorated the chocolate/vanilla cake to match. Spiked punch kept us in great spirits…and the spirits flowed.

Where I work has a bit of craziness about it.  Stress level runs high. Deadlines loom, last minute changes, deadlines still loom, more last minute changes.  I’ve had the privilege of working with many of the same women (mostly) and men for years.  And while I have shown my rather emotional side probably one too many times, I am amazed at the calm many of those I work with demonstrate day after day. I have good points, I know.  Emotions aren’t all bad.  But there is a balance.  And as I am leaving, I’ve got to thinking about what I want to show Katherine … what I want to teach her about living in the world and being a good contributing worker in the world.

Here’s a few things (not a complete list of course)  I’ve learned later than I should have and want to instill in her sooner if possible:

  1. It’s your job. Do it well.  Do it thoroughly.  Don’t wait or decide to let someone else pick up your slack.  It’s not fair.  Not respectful–to them or to you. Truly, if you do it as unto the Lord (as my dad and mom used to say), you’ll be just fine.
  2. Keep perspective. Keep balance. It’s a job. It’s 9-5 or 8-6 but don’t make it much more than that.  It’s not worth it. It’s not your value. It’s a JOB. It’s not rocket science (unless it is rocket science). But it’s Katherine we’re talking about so I’m pretty sure  it’s not.  She’ll be singing not sciencing!
  3. They pay you to do your job, to give them something.  They don’t really owe you anything.  If you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed.
  4. Look for satisfaction, praise, value, fulfillment from within yourself.  From your sense of God.  Don’t look for kudos from outside. Find your strength from within.
  5. Be wise.  Be smart.  Be careful  you trust at work. Not everyone who says they have your best interest at heart does.  Look and listen at what people do, not say.  Mama’s not been so wise on this one.
  6. It’s better to risk than not risk.  Better to trust your gut than your head most of the time, at least that has worked for me.
  7. Also, best to listen to what your heart is saying and follow that. You’ll know when it is time to stay or time to leave.  Time to buckle down and learn a thing or two or take off and try something new.
  8. You will always be ok.  You are not alone. You are not on your own. We may not be here but God is. Friends are. Family is. You are loved.

To Katherine, to anyone reading and to myself, I  say if I could do anything over again, I would not be filled with so much self-doubt during my career as a writer. I feel I have lost so much energy, creativity, fun and challenges because I doubted that I could. The fact is, I could have done so many more things I wanted to do but limited myself.  Don’t do that.  I don’t think you will.  You came out of the womb confident that you can do anything.

For some reason the familiarity of doubt was far easier to hold onto than the uncertainty of moving ahead with confidence. Warning:  DO NOT FOLLOW THIS PATH!

Ruminations done for the evening.  I sit at the dining room table with Katherine across the table playing Minecraft, headphones on and rocking to some irritating song and I just hope some of these thoughts of mine get passed on to her in time.

She’s an amazing child with unbelievable talents. Almost eleven, and she’ll be retiring before she knows it. She’s got a lot to learn!

Buenas noches, mis amigos