You Look Like Me

My sister Margaret was born within a few weeks of my second birthday. She came into the world at a difficult time in America. Born at the end of September only a few weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October of 1962, she was barely six weeks old when our family life blew apart in a way that could never be repaired. While the rest of the world was still catching its breath after the compromise between Kennedy and Khrushchev, our lives were spinning off in terrible directions that we would not be able to control.

A year ago today when I wrote the post Peanut Butter & Jelly for her, I offered a bit of insight into the challenges we faced as children. If you take a moment to read that post, found below the baby bracelet, the rest of this will make more sense.

Margaret was blond to my brunette with blue/grey/green eyes to my brown ones. Growing up no one ever questioned that I was our mother’s child having her hair and eye coloring in addition to a bit of her overall look. Margaret however, took after our father’s side of the family with her fair coloring and light eyes.

It must have been so obvious to our mother who still maintained throughout Margaret’s early years, ” I don’t know who you look like ”  saying it in a way intended to keep her at arms length even more than she did with her other behaviors. Never a warm or loving woman, it was one more way she found to inflict pain on someone she should have loved and protected.

I wish I could have stated what was so obvious back then, but we barely knew our father’s family and they were all but strangers to us when we finally had a opportunity to spend time with them in the summer of 1970. Children don’t always see things as clearly as adults and we certainly don’t always know the right thing to say.

As Margaret and I age, the physical differences are shrinking, I can’t look at my hands without seeing hers and although our mouths have a slightly different shape, the laugh lines around them look the same and we share a worry line right between our eyes that is always there when we’re trying to solve a problem. We both are short waisted although she has me on height and if you were to hear us laughing together you might have trouble telling us apart.

Margaret is and always has been, courageous and talented. She is a woman of many skills with an attitude that defies the possibility that what she wants is not within her reach. As someone who can design and build just about anything, if I were ever trapped on an island, she’d be someone I’d want there to help me sort things out. A tender message of love and affection has more value to her than any material possession and the welfare of her family is foremost in all of her decisions. We’ve struggled through some difficult times together and apart, but I hope she can hear me when I say, you are my family Margaret, and you look like me.

Happy Birthday Margaret

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Kansas 1984

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Alaska – December 2008

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Peanut Butter And Jelly

September 28, 2008

We were warriors together from our earliest days, standing together in defense as children against things too terrible to speak of even to those closest to us.

Born two years after me, she is part of my earliest memories. She was my first audience, listening as I created elaborate eulogies for the roly-poly bugs we found belly up in the back yard when we were six and eight. Seated among the stuffed animals who made up the mourners at these morbid dramas, her face was the gauge by which I measured my ability to connect with the heart of my audience. It was through her that I first learned the power of my own words and awakened my love of storytelling. Shy and outgoing, blond and brunette, quiet and chatty, we have been opposites, but so alike in different ways.

For years we were always,“ Elizabeth and Margaret,” said in the same mouthful like peanut butter and jelly or cake and ice cream. Never just Elizabeth or Margaret, until one day, thinking only of my own salvation, I fled from the daily war-zone of our lives and I lost my sister. Her name was changed and she was taken away to a state where I couldn’t find her. Suddenly, I was no longer one of two, no more Elizabeth and Margaret, just Elizabeth with no peanut butter for my jelly. Not knowing where she was or more importantly how she was, was an open wound to my young heart.

At fifteen, I convinced an older boy with a car to drive me 636 miles round-trip back to the last house I’d lived in with her. I told my dad and step-mom a bodacious lie and jumped into the car that covered the distance like it had wings attached to the roof rack. She was already gone but I didn’t know it then. I was too afraid to venture down the rocky driveway to get close enough to look for her, but I stood at the end of the road wringing my hands and thinking of escape plans that had no place in a mind that should have been focused on teen worries.

I wondered for years if I would recognize her if she passed me on the street and I felt her missing presence during all the times you’d like to share with a sister. Our father suffered terribly in his quiet way and sometimes in an unguarded moment our normally stoic dad would drop his calm demeanor and his sadness would leak out through his eyes.

At 23, after a tip from a young cousin, I made a few phone calls to a college in the middle of nowhere and told a couple of lies so big even I wouldn’t have believed them to an unsuspecting soul in the registrars office. It worked somehow and she confirmed my sister was enrolled that semester before giving me her home phone number. I was scared as I called the number and I held my breath waiting as I said, “Margaret…this is Elizabeth, don’t hang up.”

We saw each other for first time in ten years a few months later on my 24th birthday when I flew in to surprise her. She said later that she had a feeling she was going to see me that day. Sister connections and DNA …she knew I was coming. I wish I made it back to her sooner. I wish I could have gotten her to a safe place before she found it on her own. I wish I could have explained 34 years ago that I wasn’t trying to leave her, but trying desperately to save myself. There are a lot of things I’d change if I had the power, but there’s one thing she can count on now. I’m not going anywhere….anymore.

Today is a special day for me. It’s the 46th anniversary of the day my sister was born.

I’ve missed a lot of her birthdays in the past and it feels really good to be able to say that I hope today will be a happy day to the peanut butter to my jelly.

Happy Birthday Margaret.

Margaret Turns Six-1968

Beautiful Babies & Birthday Suits

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You must’ve been a beautiful baby

‘Cause baby look at you now.’

-Johnny Mercer

Birthdays are special days and I am delighted to celebrate John’s birthday with him today. Finding each other later in our lives, it’s only the second one that I been able to share with him and I’m grateful and happy to be able to be able to say Happy Birthday to my darling husband. When trying to decide which picture to use today, I asked him if he minded if I used the one above where he’s wearing only a curious look and his birthday suit. Easy going as always, he was fine with appearing naked in my blog. Today we’ll have a special lunch out in Padstow, a pretty little port town we both enjoy and a birthday cookout later in the evening with a carrot cake I’m making for dessert. I’ll be back with a few pictures of the day, but for now…here’s a few more of the beautiful baby who grew into a wonderful man.

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My Birthday boy in 2009

A Room Of One’s Own – Week 11 – Update

Can you believe we have been living with dust and disruption for 11 weeks? So far no one’s gotten snappish, grouchy, or stroppy as John would say. Stroppy and cross are popular expressions here and might be used in this way,

” Don’t get cross with me….”  Or  ” Someone’s being a bit stroppy…”  which might translate to ” Boy are you a grouch!”

All remains peaceful here despite my tendency to be messy one day and tidy the next. I’m generally a bit scattered with my stuff, but in fairness I don’t have a study to tuck it away into like John although his study has some of my things that arrived on this day stored in there too. My boxes are everywhere and so are our clothes, which are currently scattered throughout the study, guest room and the attic (loft) since we’ve vacated our bedroom during the renovation. Enough of this housekeeping chatter…here are the pictures from this week.

You can see a change in the pictures for today in that the wardrobe (closet) that John built last week is no longer there. We decided it didn’t look right once the bedroom lost a few feet to the corridor (hallway) so he shifted it back to the original space before the work began. It’s about the same length only now it’s slightly more narrow. It’s plenty deep enough and will be able to hold his chest of drawers, but it will run the length of the wall now.

This closet repositioning means we have had to change in the style of the new bed we had picked out because the closet takes up a bit of the bedside table space. We found a perfect remedy for this online this morning and I love the new bed frame we picked out.

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Look to the left of John’s elbow (sorry for the bad picture) to see the closet he put in and then ripped out.

It’s one mirrored door and one solid one off to the left.

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Here’s another view. (Sorry about the post being in the way)

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This is the corridor (hallway) that took some of the bedroom width with it.

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John putting up the plasterboard (sheetrock)

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Rebuilding the wardrobe (closet)

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Looking down the corridor (door to bedroom on left)

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Just so you don’t think all I do is sit at my computer…that’s me giving the house a coat of paint last Saturday

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John caught me with painting with my tongue sticking out (necessary for concentration)

Stop by on Sunday to see a little birthday blog I have planned for John if you get a minute. I’ll be baking his cake tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who sent me a carrot cake recipe, I’ll post the results after his birthday on Sunday.

Birthday Greetings From Cornwall

Karen Walrond over at Chookooloonks has a sweet post today about her husband, Marcus.  As you can see by my title, today is his birthday.

You may be asking, ” Sooooo what does that have to do with you Elizabeth? ” You’d be right to wonder because it’s not as if I know him personally, in fact I only know about him through Karen’s stories and the lovely images of family life that show up in her blog from time to time. What I do know about Marcus….is that he’s Cornish and seeing how he’s so far from his roots in Cornwall, I thought I’d put together a few images of my new life here to remind him of where his began.

Happy Birthday Marcus!

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A full English breakfast.

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The Cornish Flag

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Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – The Revolution

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Sister Teresa had a gruesome collection of toy doll heads that she had collected from students this year. In the beginning she had not realized there was a problem developing until two of her students had gotten into a fight over a missing head. The doll’s head was later located in the accused child’s book bag tucked into a pair of rolled up socks.

In order to stop the fighting, she settled the dispute by taking possession of the head. Taking it out of the hand of the boy who was shouting the loudest, she walked over to the bulletin board and stepped up onto the small step ladder. At 4’10” she frequently ran into trouble when trying to reach the top of the chalk board or upper levels of the storage cabinets where other teachers liked to hide the confiscated collection of items that children should have left at home.

She reached up into the corner of the bulletin board, where she had several long stickpins, and moved one over to the top center, pushed the pin in and stuck the toy doll head firmly down over the big metal pin head. The head stuck out at a slight downward tilt so that from where the students sat in the classroom, it looked as if it were a head on a stake. It didn’t help that it was directly above the written book reports they had turned in last week.

Evan Anderson had written his report on the French Revolution mostly because he wanted to build a guillotine in his grandfather’s workshop for his class presentation. Because of the no-tolerance policy with having knives at school, he was forced to modify it a bit making the blade from cardboard,which he painted silver with some of his mother’s eye shadow. Evan had stolen one of his cousin’s dolls to to use as a victim and he’d taken the one wearing a big pouffy dress so the doll would look more like the pictures in the book he’d read. He’d even dipped her blond hair into flour so she’d look more like Marie Antoinette and less like Malibu Barbie in a party dress. Evan watched as Sister T stuck the head on the pin and positioned it right over the picture of the guillotine he’d drawn on the cover of his book report. He snickered quietly, thinking that it really was true what Riley Watkins said about Sister T being too spacey to see what was right in front of her.

All last week since the first fake beheading, heads had been rolling up and down the aisles between the desks. Evan and Riley, along with Scott and Justin, had been practically bouncing them off each other and still she had not caught them.

Even though his school report had been the reason for bringing the doll that day, it was Sister T who had inspired the game of rolling the heads and as of yesterday, the formation of the Rolling Heads Gang of Four, the name they christened themselves with over peanut butter sandwiches and juice boxes in the cafeteria. Of course his little brother Eddie, started moaning about why couldn’t he be a member too, but Evan had shut him up; ” You gotta be a 5th grader, ” saying them over and over in what soon sounded like a chant. Eddie had started to cry and said he was going to tell their mother about it when she got home, but Evan figured he would forget all about it by then.

His mom had been working so many late shifts down at the Handy Pantry it seemed like she was never home until just before bedtime. He wished sometimes that she could be there waiting for them after school like Riley’s mom.  When they’d moved here from Michigan to be closer to his grandparents after his dad died, he thought they would do more things together, but with his grandparents getting older it seemed like whenever she asked for a little help watching the boys there was always some reason why they couldn’t do it. He was getting kind of tired of hearing the same old response;  ” Roberta,” they’d say, ” we really love those boys, but we’ve already raised our kids and we’ve got things to do.”

He felt sorry for his mom when he wasn’t busy feeling sorry for himself. Whenever he began to feel too sad, he’d get angry instead and it wasn’t too long before he’d developed a reputation at the private school where he spent his days. Sacred Heart was considered the best school in Hattiesburg and it didn’t seem to matter that they weren’t Catholic as long as the tuition checks kept coming. That was one thing his grandparents did insist on doing. It was tradition in the Anderson family that children living in Hattiesburg had to go to Sacred Heart. Their dad had gone there for all of his 12 years of education before joining the Army and running off to see the world. Evan was beginning to see why the Army had seemed so appealing. Hattiesburg was pretty small and he missed the friends he’d left up north.

He would rather have gone to the elementary school that was walking distance if you cut through the woods from the red brick apartment complex where they lived. He halfway thought that if he made enough trouble, the school might kick him out and he could go to public school with some of the friends he’d made closer to home.

Sister T had a thing she always said whenever the class got too rowdy or wouldn’t stop talking. Sometimes she’d add things to it like, “If you all don’t get in your seats, or If I have to repeat myself one more time,” but the ending never changed and after a while the class would mouth the words silently as she said them, ” Heads are going to roll!”

After the first head went up as an example, Evan lost what was left of his self- control. Whenever he heard her beginning the heads are going to roll threat, he’d signal the other members of the Gang of Four and the head rolling would begin. As much as Sister Teresa tried to maintain classroom discipline without being heavy handed, she knew no one was taking her seriously. Still, she kept collecting the heads as they rolled down the aisle and putting them on stick pins in neat rows across the bulletin board.

She didn’t think much about her collection of heads as they multiplied until one day when she turned to face the board she suddenly thought, there was something so gruesome, so perverse looking about those dismembered heads that she was going to have to find a new expression to use when dealing with those disrupting her class. She had not let her students see it yet, but sometimes she caught herself choking back a little giggle whenever  ” Heads are going to roll ” slipped out.  She’d need to give it some thought to come up with just the right thing, but she’d had enough of the “head games” these kids were playing. It was time to end the revolution.

Thanks to David Engel for the topic suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST and also Gaelikaa who helped me finish the story with her sentence. I’ve highlighted in their sentences in bold so you can see what the inspiration was for this weeks story.

Gaelikaa has a story of her own this week so head over here to take a look. I also want to thank Karen for her topic sentences.

Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST. Her story can be found on her blog here.

Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.

Additionally, I want to thank each of you who leave a comment especially on TMAST days. These little stories are fun to write and are the seeds I hope for the bigger stories and real work I imagine for my writing future.

Remedial Bread Slicing 101

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”

~ Robert Browning

I am not sure there is a food group I love as much as I do bread, I can eat it in almost all forms, but I think I like a simple slice of toast with butter and jam best of all. I’m used to buying hearty multigrain breads loaded with bits of heathy things that are prone to sticking in the teeth. Unless traveling where bread is unsliced, I almost always buy mine already cut into pieces perfectly shaped for the toaster. In this house, John prefers to buy his bread in long loaves untouched by the baker’s steel. He does a nice job with cutting his own gauging the width based on his mood and appetite. Since his loaves do not come with a sticker on the side listing ingredients along with the all important (to me) fat and calorie content, I have tended to have a different bread in the house which has been previously referred to as my bread. This weekend, they were out of  “my bread” so John came home with extra loaves of  “his bread.” In the past, I’ve had little experience with slicing my own and it seems I’ve been making a bit of a mess of it. John commented on it in a funny sort of way yesterday. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I worked a bit harder this morning trying to keep it on a straight line. Below are the results…

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At a glance it doesn’t look too bad baring the hole in one slice and the missing edge of the other. The loaf itself looks reasonably straight, but see it as it really is below…

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Tips on technique would be greatly appreciated.

A Room Of One’s Own – Week 9 & 10 – Update

I skipped last week’s update so I wanted to post a few pictures or “piccies” as they are frequently called here. Brits seem to have fondness for adding “ies” to words I wouldn’t normally consider changing in this way, such as rellies for relatives and wellies for Wellingtons the rubber boots we sometimes wear on our walks. Putting the language lesson aside for now, let me show you what John has been working on over the last two weeks.

When I posted the last update the new master bath still looked like this.

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The pictures below show the most recent developments and how close it is to completion.

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John tiled everything including the window ledge and all around.

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Thankfully, this shower is larger than the current one in the family bathroom which has a shower and a separate tub.

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These are typical shower fixtures for here where you can control the temperature independently from the water pressure. I still haven’t mastered this very well yet and ouch can be frequently heard when I’m washing up. I will not have this kind in my tub/shower combination.

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The wall is tiled even into the exit where the door will be into the master bedroom.

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Testing the toilet and sink placement… (not permanent yet) the hardwood floor will go down first.

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View of the layout from the shower (No wasted space)

In addition to all of this work, John painted part of the outside of the house (The master bedroom and ceiling multiple times to get a good coat of white.) and began knocking out parts of the fireplace so he can install a small woodburning stove. The one below is the one we’ll have in a few weeks. These are cute little mini ones compared to the ones I’m used to in America. I’m still deciding on paint colors and what I’ll need in the way of furniture. I’ve made some decicions, but this post is running a bit long so I’ll share that with you later.

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