When The Rocky Road Brings You Laughter

Colorado Outward Bound 2003

When my daughter was fifteen we took a mother-daughter trip to Colorado to take part in an Outward Bound wilderness experience with some other parent/child combinations. We quickly made new friends and became part of an impromptu group of cheerleaders as we encouraged each other to take on a variety new experiences such as rock climbing and white water rafting. While I found rock climbing a bit scary, (I hate heights) but now love climbing, the most memorable for me was the camping part of our week together.

By the time we had hiked up the mountain and slept in the woods for a few nights, I was ready for a shower and a real meal. We had some hot food while we were camping, but back then even I didn’t care much for my own cooking so I had to get creative.

Elizabeth Harper, Outward Bound, Camp Cooking

Eleven years later, I can still remember what I tried to put together from memory over an open flame. Those who’ve been reading GOTJ for a while know that I love peanut butter and have a terrible sweet tooth so it should be no surprise that the glob of stuff in the pan in front of me contained most of the ingredients needed for a big peanut butter cookie.

Elizabeth Harper, Backpacking in Colorado with Outward BoundNow here’s where the story gets rocky and no jokes about my camping hair, please!

As we were hiking down the mountain, I may have done a bit of moaning about how heavy my pack was and how it was killing my back, but I remember that backpack feeling like it weighed a ton. Even with a couple of rest stops for wilderness potty breaks and  snacks, I was glad when we finally reached the cabins where we’d started our journey a few days earlier.

I quickly plopped down and began pulling out the contents of my pack so I could give back what had been provided by the Outward Bound crew and set aside what was mine. Imagine the confusion on my face when I discovered a large rock mixed in with my belongings. After seeing my daughter exchange a look with another camper who clearly was in cahoots with my little prankster, I burst out laughing realizing I had been tricked into hauling a big rock down the mountain.

The next day, Miranda and I boarded a plane and headed for home. I snagged our bags at airport and began unpacking my duffel almost as soon as I made it through the door not wanting to wait too long to tackle a week’s worth of dirty clothes. I unzipped the bag and began pulling out my stuff only to find that same rock. I still don’t know how she managed it, but my sneaky teen was able to get the rock into my duffel bag without me noticing and I carried it home to Georgia.

I put it on a bookshelf to save because it made me smile to think of the trouble she’d gone to surprise me and to make me laugh. So when I was shipping my things to the UK, it seemed only right that such a well-traveled chunk of Colorado should make one more journey, this time to Cornwall.

Colorado Rock In UKI know it just looks like a rock to you, but it’s memory of a time when everything seemed a struggle and I’d forgotten how to have fun. That trip marked the beginning of several life changes for me and it was when I began to get my laugh back.

It’s funny how a bit of silliness can do that for you … if you are willing let it.

A Romantic Story For Valentine’s Day

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Written by Edward Lear and translated by Francis Steegmuller

In 1975 my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John sent me this book in a birthday gift box for my fifteenth birthday. She always sent the best presents, and packages from her were special even when I was uncertain as to why she gave me certain things.

I collected owls or owl themed items when I was growing up and since I did not speak French, this may have been what led her to choose The Owl and the Pussycat translated into French as a gift for me, or perhaps she imagined I might consider taking French in high school. Having a terrible facility for foreign language, I went with Spanish which was said to be easier than French and saved this book  for sentimental reasons even though I could not read it.

When I moved to Cornwall I had loads of books that had to find a new home. This one made the cut because Aunt Wylly had given it to me and it found a home on a bookshelf that my husband John built for me after we married. I displayed it in a way that made the cover visible and it sat there looking pretty next to a little owl that had been a gift from her as well.

A few weeks ago, just before our fifth wedding anniversary, I looked up from my desk and saw it on the shelf and it occurred to me that while I still did not speak enough French to read it, my British born husband did.

John seemed a bit surprised when I brought it in as we were getting ready for bed and asked him to read it to me. I think his exact response was,  “Now ?”

Even though the poem was not new to me it sounded pretty sweet to hear him read it in French, 39 years after opening it on my birthday.

I know most would argue that it was just a bit of coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder what my aunt would think about our love story and how the romantic in me never gave up on finding lasting love.

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Today is the sixth anniversary of our meeting face to face having met almost “by accident” online six weeks earlier. I flew to Cornwall in 2008 on Valentine’s Day and when my visit was over two weeks later, we both knew our future was set.

Despite an 18 year age difference that created loads of initial objections from my family and friends, I think we both would agree that the ocean between us, a five-hour time difference, and the limitations imposed on the amount of time immigration would allow me to stay were some of the bigger issues in our early relationship.

Being wooed from across the sea was full of surprises and I can still remember when John quoted these lyrics not long after I had returned to the US from my two-week long Valentine’s Day visit.

How could I not fall madly and deeply in love with a man who said such reassuringly sweet words.

At 17 he falls in love quite madly
with eyes of azure blue,
At 24 he gets it rather badly
with eyes of a different hue.
At 36 you’ll find him flirting sadly
with two or three or more;
When he fancies he is past love,
It is then he meets his last love,
And he loves her as he’s never loved before.

~ Peter Dawson

Please feel free to share your own stories  in a comment or links to a blog post you have a special one for today.

I have told our story in different places on my blog, but I will include a few links for those who might be here for the first time. The highlighted words above will take you to other earlier posts if you wish to know more.

The Gift You Keep

Will You Stay With Me Will You Be My Love

Remembering The Day We Met – Valentine’s Day 2008

Buttercup Madness and Mid – May Diversions

A Lot Can Happen In Five Years

Wedding Day - John Winchurch & Elizabeth HarperThis photograph was taken a few minutes before John and I married five years ago today and despite all that is happening in the background, it remains one of my favorites.

I use to moan about the car, and the way our family and friends are all doing their own thing in the background, particularly the two people right behind us. I even tried to edit the couple out with Photoshop, but it never looked right.

John hates feeling like he’s the center of attention so when he asked that we forgo a professional photographer, I agreed thinking if we had one decent photo of the day that would be enough for me.

I figured if a handful of folks were equipped with a camera we would surely have a few we would like from the collected effort. I wrote about the outcome of that decision in a post titled, Everyone’s a Wedding Photographer and there are loads of images there if you’d like to see more of our day.

Because I know how much a professional photographer can add to your wedding day memories, the photographer in me has been a bit wistful occasionally when looking back at the images we have especially the one above, but five years on I can see it from a different perspective and I don’t mind the activity in the background so much.

A lot can happen in five years and some of the people in the photo are no longer in our lives.

The couple that I tried to edit our photo who on that day seemed destined for a little wedding day happiness of their own, they got engaged a few years later, but decided to go separate ways a few months before their wedding.

The woman in purple with the white hair was our friend MIJ.  She died a year after this picture was taken from a reoccurrence of breast cancer after having been in remission for 20 years. She had no idea she was even ill until a few months before she died. I wrote about her several times in The Last Walk – Measured Steps, and Memories and Music in a Full House.

I’ve written a great many posts about John’s granddaughter always masking her identity with the name, Jersey Girl.  She’s the little four – year old girl you can see in the arms of John’s eldest daughter. JG has a little sister now who will be three not long before JG turns ten. Some of my favorite posts have involved fun times with Jersey Girl so click here to see a list of some you might enjoy.

I told John today that nothing has ever seemed as easy as the decision I made to marry him and while not all of the 620 posts at GOTJ are about us, there are more than a few that show why it was the right one.

What Do You Do When The Lights Go Out?

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With our dinner only half-cooked last night, the power suddenly went off and we had to make do. Having a gas range made it easy to finish cooking most of our meal, leaving the frozen garlic bread the only casualty.

For most people losing power is a blip, a minor inconvenience that is sorted almost as quickly as flipping a switch at some central location miles away. Last night our house  went dark for a little over eight hours. I know that’s nothing to people who can go without for days and weeks due to bad weather or for those in countries where electricity is a luxury not the norm, but I have to tell you, I was getting a bit twitchy after about four hours without an internet connection. Our home phone was out too and since we don’t have a need for cell phones that do more than make calls and text, I felt a little anxious being disconnected from the rest of the world.

At first we used flashlights to get around once the sun set completely and then I remembered the candles. Clearly we had not been using them enough because they were not the first thing I thought of as we settled in for our evening in the dark.

Kindle By Candlelight

In total, I spent a few hours reading my Kindle by candlelight and the rest of the time John and I spent talking in that old-fashioned way before computers and other linking devices, by actually looking at each other while speaking.

We found the evening so enjoyable that we talked about setting a date once a week to turn off the power and the distractions that go with it.

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I’ve got a few ideas for what to do when we take our planned, ‘lights out’ night, but if you have any suggestions to share, feel free.

Mac vs PC – The Computer Cold War In Our Home

Cracked MacBook 15 inch screen

Mac vs PC

I would be lying if I told you there was any really real frostiness in our home over the Mac versus PC issue, but my husband John and I certainly have different opinions on Apple computers.

Until a few weeks ago I was the only one in our relationship who had used any Apple products and I was less bothered by his anti- Apple stance than he was my devotion.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

I know they cost more and there are limitations to what one can do to upgrade an Apple computer or repair them yourself. Until recently I’ve had to place my faith in the Apple Genius bar because the internal workings bit seemed too intimidating to attempt to dig around in there myself.

Apple Genius in the Making

John has always scoffed at the name given to the folks who sit behind the Genius bar in the Apple stores, but he has shown himself to be one of those, dare I say it, slightly geeky computer guys who can and does build his own computers. I should add that he’s not limited to desktops, I’ve seen him buy a used laptop,  take it apart, and rebuild to suit his needs too. While I haven’t always understood how he could do what he did, I have always had a healthy appreciation for his ability to do it.

Some of you may remember that the screen on my MacBook cracked about seven months ago which severely limited the ways I could use it. Lacking easy portability, I found myself doing less writing and photography. I blogged less, I read less on-line, and although I had an older model iPad that was helpful, it was still not enough. I had planned to buy a new Macbook this summer to replace the damaged one, but other things got in the way and I had to put that big purchase on hold.  After this morning, I am glad I waited.

Picking at the Fruit.

While I was in the US this summer, John’s brother spilled something on his MacBook making it unusable. Cost estimates to repair it made it too much to consider so he offered it to John knowing he would want to take it apart.  John happily settled in to see what the inner workings of the great and powerful Oz , oh wait, that’s another story … anyway, he went to work and learned so much about MacBooks that mine now has a new screen that looks great and works as well as the old one.

The quote for replacing my screen by an Apple Genius  was about $700 US.

The total cost of having John do the repair was $0 and only required his time, his brother’s broken laptop, and my having a little faith in my new home-grown ” Apple Genius. “

Replaced Screen On MacBook 15 inch

Just so you have an Apples for Apples reference point ( sorry, I couldn’t help myself ) John said if he’d had to buy the screen instead of using his brother’s it would have cost about $140 US for him to personally replace it.

(My Desktop image was taken by Tim Hollister and is the St Mabyn Inn where John and I had a lovely dinner on his birthday last week.)

So one question for anyone reading this post … Mac or PC?

I’ll be interested to see which one gets the most comments.

Sweet Indulgence – A Key Lime Pie Birthday In Cornwall

Key Lime Pie In England - John Winchurch

I’ve always been a cake fan when it comes to birthdays, but after last week, I think some of the best birthdays may be those that begin and end with pie. Such was our day last Friday when we had a breakfast of coffee and homemade Key Lime pie for John’s birthday.

Later on we split a slice for a snack and then finished off the rest of the pie after a lovely dinner at the recently revamped St Mabyn Inn which is definitely going to be one of our new go to places in Cornwall.

In between our marathon pie moments we went out for a bit of exercise and managed to visit Trerice, one of our favorite local National Trust properties for a walk and a bite of lunch, (but no pie) as well as a seaside visit in the afternoon to the beach at Bedruthan Steps. 

We took loads of pictures if you want to have look through to see what a warm day in late September looks like in Cornwall.

Trerice, Cornwall UK - Elizabeth Harper

First stop as I mentioned was Trerice, a Elizabethan manor house near Newquay. It’s always gorgeous even in bad weather and I’m never surprised to see something new.

Well, almost never.

Gates at TrericeWhile backing up to get a shot of the house through the gate, I captured one of those unexpected finds I sometimes experience on outings with John. ( See photo below)

John Winchurch - Trerice - Elizabeth Harper

Yep! That’s the birthday boy jumping into my shot. It’s good to remember that playfulness doesn’t end at a certain age.

Trerice- Garden View of House - Elizabeth HarperI am not sure there is anything to say here other than oh, or maybe ah! Except that I think this was the prettiest Trerice has looked and it was a perfect place to begin our day out.

Trerice Front Garden - Elizabeth Harper

Thinking Spot - ELizabeth Harper

 There are benches all around the grounds that call out to you as you walk past … Come on over, rest a while and think about life.

Resting At Trerice - John Winchurch

After lunch I spent some time inside the manor house while John moved quickly through it and on to a bench in the garden to soak up some sunshine. If it’s sunny and I can’t find him this always the kind of place I look. He likes to pause for sunshine break and would tell you that he prefers to get his Vitamin D the natural way.

Bedruthan Steps -Elizabeth Harper

Not long after finding him in the garden we were walking down the path at Bedruthan Steps, a place that will always have special memories for us.

Bedruthan Steps - Elizabeth Harper

Beach at Bedruthan Steps - John Winchurch

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Elizabeth Harper

John Winchurch - Beach at Bedruthan Steps

Sorry this one is a bit in the shadows. I’m still learning to use my new camera and it was so bright outside I did not notice the image  was too dark. It’s a cute one of John though so I wanted to post it. This was where he was standing when he took the two pictures of me above.

We stepped through an opening in the rocks as the tide was going out to find this little private beach spot. The Cornish coast has loads of lovely places like this with few people.

Steps to Beach at Bedruthan StepsAfter swishing through the water a bit and drying our feet in the sun it was back up the long set of steps.

Bedruthan Steps - ELizabeth Harper

A last look back before heading home and dinner at the St Mabyn Inn.

Key Lime Pie

The ‘ before ‘ shot of pie that was gone in a day. I can’t believe we ate the whole thing.

Higgledy-Piggledy & My Shifting State Of Commotion

Smiling Ginger Pig & Me

Smiling Ginger Pig & Me

It’s been a bit busy around here the last 22 months or so and even longer if you include the 3.5 months I was in Atlanta in 2011 dealing with real estate issues. I’m happy to say that I made a few major changes recently, chief of which was quitting my part-time job and I am now ready to move on to other things.

Pet petting was on yesterday’s to-do list. Okay, maybe it wasn’t on the list, but when the opportunity presented I thought, I really want to pet that Ginger pig on the nose and I’m not going to let that electric fence stop me!

I’d never seen Ginger pigs before and it seems Tamworths, as they are actually known, have an interesting history. This delightfully written website will answer loads of questions about the breed and tell you much more than I could about these friendly pigs.

I can say that giving these little ones a couple of pats and ear scratches may well have put me off bacon.

Ginger Pig

Ginger Pig

IMG_9450 Who knew that some pigs had such long eyebrows and eyelashes. That’s going to put me off sausage too.

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Ginger Pig Nose

Birthday Party Bonfires & Ghostly Faces

Elizabeth Harper Ghostly Face in Bonfire Smoke

I’ve been in the UK long enough to have attended a bonfire or two especially since they occur routinely on the 5th of November every year, but last night was actually my very first one. John and I went to a 50th birthday party for a friend in the village and in addition to fireworks, there was a huge bonfire. While I expected to see a roaring big fire, I did not expect to see the faces that you see in two of the images I took.

Elizabeth Harper 2x Ghostly Face in Bonfire Smoke

An interesting observation is that these two photographs are separated by six photos in-between, none of which have anything resembling a face, making it seem to be a look that came, went, and re-emerged from the smoke.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen something unusual in a photograph and I’m sure there must be an explanation, I’m just not sure what it is.

What about you, have you ever had a ghostly image show up in your photographs? 

Selling A Dream – Where Are They Now?

Elizabeth Harper 1979

Elizabeth Harper – Woolco Department Store -1979

In 1979, I worked briefly in Woolco department store which was owned by a name you may more easily recognize as Woolworth’s. While my job title was ‘Camera Department Manager’ the only thing I had to manage beyond inventory and sales was the boredom I felt on the job everyday. (See goofing off image above)

Woolco was well into its decline when I landed there as most of its potential customers had moved on to the new malls that offered more excitement than our discounted merchandise and a long-term lay-away plans.

While I did my job well enough to receive an employment offer from a local station (religious broadcasting, as I remember it) for finding some dated equipment that they had not been able locate anywhere else, the biggest deal I closed was with two young men about my age who were passing by the camera counter during a slow day in March of 1979.

After realizing pretty quickly that they were not interested in camera gear, I remember talking about the future and what I wanted to do with my life. At that point, I was secretly considering joining the military. Having graduated early from high school and spent six months studying commercial photography by the time I’d turned 18, I was back at home with my parents while working and trying to decide what to do next.

I probably told them that I had three immediate goals which were,  to see more of the world, save money for school (University) and become independent. I can’t remember what they said or how I convinced them that three years in the army might give them opportunities they could not get by staying where they were, but by the end of our across the glass counter chat, I had talked two strangers into a life changing decision.

A few days later, they met me at the recruitment office and before anyone could say, ‘ I’ve changed my mind,’ we were all in the employ of  our Uncle Sam. I came in at a higher pay grade having earned one stripe for bringing two qualified candidates in with me which fit the requirements for the Buddy program in place at the time.

All this occurred 34 years ago this month and I can’t help but wonder how things turned out for the daring young men who joined the army after talking with me. I guess I was doing a bit of life coaching before it was trendy.

One of the things I like about Facebook and the internet is the ability to see what folks you haven’t heard from in years have done with themselves. I enjoy seeing who they’ve become, what dreams came true, and what new ones are in front of them. I wish I could remember the names of the two young men who enlisted with me so I could see if the leap they took on an afternoon in March was one that helped them live a bigger life than they had imagined possible in 1979.

I know it sounds crazy, but I thought with the internet being what is today and the way we can share information, if you could pass this along to your social network, then perhaps someone who has heard a similar story from a man, describing how a young woman with a dream talked him into a bold adventure at a camera counter on an afternoon in March … maybe I might find out how things turned out for them.

Thank you.

A Castle For Your Dreams

13th Century - Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

13th Century – Restormel Castle, Cornwall, England

Hundreds of years ago someone imagined a life on hillside overlooking the River Fowey. Not content with the natural height provided, they scooped up the earth to build a motte and bailey design castle. The first structure appeared around 1100 in what would eventually become the stone remnants you now see in the photo above. Restormel Castle in Cornwall is considered one of the best remaining examples of a motte and bailey castle and according the English Heritage site, one of 70 remaining in Britain.

Fulfilling the dreams of others

When my best girlfriend Patrice came for a short visit in 2011, she had a list of things that she wanted to do while she and her partner Lisa were here for a few days. One of which was a visit to a castle.

I took them to Sunday services on St Michael’s Mount and later John walked with us through the attached castle, but I wanted more for her. I wanted her to see a remote castle with no furnishings and few people, a place where she might have a moment alone to think about her mother who had died a few years earlier without going on the ‘Castles of Europe’ tour she’d always imagined she’d see one day.

I remember Patrice telling me how she’d asked her mother if there was anything she wanted to do in the time she had left and how they had talked about castles before her mother began chemotherapy. Her mother died without going on that trip so this was more than just another tourist stop for Patrice, it had a special meaning and while she didn’t mind which castle she saw, I wanted it to be really special and I had a feeling that Restormel Castle might be that place.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

When I see this photograph of Patrice, I can almost hear her saying, ‘I’m here, Mama’ as she pauses in the first entrance to the castle.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see a second entry point into the castle where the person in blue is walking under the arch. The gatehouse was originally three stories high but was partially dismantled during the Civil War. I found the history of this building style fascinating when I researched Restormel Castle. If you’d like to know more, I have done some of the work for you by providing the highlighted links above.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see the entrance to the chapel in the center of the photo above. The chapel projected out past the circular structure and had points of entry from smaller side doors.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleLooking to the middle left of the photo above, you can a side entrance to the chapel as well as an arched entry leading directly into the sanctuary.

Patrice & Lisa

Here’s a shot looking mostly down into the space. I’m afraid these images are not my best work as it was wet and windy shooting that day, but perhaps you can still get a sense of the space.

Patrice & Lisa

From this angle so you can see how thick the walls are and get a glimpse of the lovely view from the castle walls.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

There are stories about a dungeon, but I’m not sure they are more than stories.

Patrice & Lisa

There are stairs which lead to all kinds of hidden areas like this one with Patrice. I said she looked like a monk from a distance with her dark hood up to avoid the rain so she assumed a prayerful position at the end of a moss-covered passage way.
Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

In this photo, you have a window in the center with an open space  to the left where a fireplace once stood. There’s a matching window (not seen here) on the other side of the fireplace shell.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

I wondered how many faces must have looked though these great stones windows over the last 800 or 900 years and thought about how the view must have changed along with the ownership of the castle. My imagination goes wild thinking about the lives of those privileged to have been able to stand or sit near the windows in a room with such an important function.

Patrice & Lisa, Restormel Castle

You can see how the windows and fireplace might have looked in the great hall by double clicking on this image of a plaque from the castle grounds.Patrice & Lisa, Restormel CastleHere’s a last look at what the interior of the keep might have looked like. You can see the window outline and the fireplace off to the left in this photo of one of the English Heritage information plaques. I usually take a quick photo of these to use later as a reference when I want to do more research online at home. I thought these might be helpful for this post.
Duchy Nursery

One more shot of Restormel Castle from a distance … the first and last photographs were taken during the last week and all others in September 2011.

It was good to help Patrice complete a goal that had been one of her mother’s dreams. Two castle visits may not have been the ‘Castles of Europe ‘ tour her mother dreamed of, but walking through Restormel Castle and St Michael’s Mount, I can’t help but think that Patrice’s mother would have had a little chuckle to see her daughter fulfilling a few of mom’s unfinished dreams.

I imagine most of us have something like that. There are so many places I see living in the UK that I know my dad would have loved to see himself, but the thing I feel most keenly is the connection he and I shared with writing and imagination.

My father left a fair amount of unpublished words and ideas and at least one story he wrote for his daughters. I know he would have been a big fan of my writing (being my dad) and would have encouraged me to go beyond the limitations of my blog. I hope to manage that one day and do something that he, like Patrice’s mom, never had a chance to do himself.

How about you? Are any of you secretly hoping to complete a dream desire that someone special to you can no longer do for themselves or maybe one like mine that you shared with a parent or other loved one?