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.

My Magpie Fall Into Winter

Mushrooms

See what happens when you leave things untended for too long, you come back to find mushrooms sprouting everywhere. Seriously, my spam folder is full of little gems and none so nice as these lovelies found growing in our back garden.

I did not mean to abandon GOTJ, but my everyday life wrapped its arms around me and slowly seduced me away so that every time I thought I might stop by and leave a word or two, something else caught my eye. Like the easily distracted Magpie, I have filled up the days and minutes of the last few months with whatever shiny distraction looked more appealing in the moment.

It would be great to say that the distracting moments have all been golden, but dark shadows have passed over our sweet village with one terrible secret coming too close to where we call home. The fallout is ongoing and has felt overwhelming at times, stirring up old ghosts for me as the details have been revealed. I know I am being vague and I promise it is not with intent to tease, but rather a desire to wait until things have worked their way through the legal system.

Things are ‘all go’ here as John and I make our home ready for a quiet Christmas and I promise to be back with some more seasonal photos over the next few days beginning with images from a lovely candlelight Christmas carol service I attended in a tiny village church nearby.

Hand to heart, I shall endeavor to do better by my blog and my readers in the new year and if any of you are still out there, I would love a little roll call or a cheery hello.

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.

What’s In The Bag?

Heathrow Airport Arrival 2013

Coming home is particularly sweet after an extended time away.

There’s the obvious happiness of seeing my husband John waiting for me, and the ahhh feeling I get when the plane lands safely and I make it through customs and immigration, but this time has been different and I have been trying to figure out why.

I recently returned from a ten-week stay in the US and have been a bit overwhelmed since my arrival a little over a week ago.

I hear you thinking, What do you mean overwhelmed … how long can it take to unpack your bags and settle back into your routine?

Sometimes, it’s not about the stuff in the bags.

As you can see I am pushing a very full luggage cart and it’s not the first time I have arrived from an international flight looking like a smiling beast of burden. This collection of suitcases is fairly light compared some of my past Heathrow and Gatwick arrivals. Due to decreasing weight allowances, but increasing checked baggage costs, I tend to travel lighter on my trips between what I think of as my two homes.

Except this time.

This time the extra bag I checked carried some favorite product brands I can’t get in the UK along with some new clothes and other things I have needed for a while.

Needed might be questionable, but …

I tend to be a big charity store shopper with Salvation Army, Goodwill, and second-hand shops being my ‘go to’ places. This does not mean I don’t buy new, but when I do I tend stick to the sale section. Thrifty shopping can be just as bad as spending too much on new, a lesson my normally bulging closet would illustrate had its contents not been recently whittled down.

Thursday, John and I took seven huge garbage bags filled with clothing to a local charity shop along with several bags of barely worn shoes and two big boxes of books. I think I struggled more deciding which books to give away than I did with clothes and now after looking at my bookshelves and wardrobe more critically, I have decided to go back through and do another purge.

Remember when I said it’s not always about the stuff earlier …

I have been working on multiple parts of the house since I got home, clearing away clutter and organizing what is left. I have even been in the attic going through boxes and throwing out or giving away things while doing a total overhaul of what is allowed to stay. I’ve emptied a wardrobe and a too-full dresser in the guest room and I’ve reorganized other parts of the house as well even giving away loads of my books that were cluttering John’s study, but what I haven’t done is finish tidying up my studio space.

Studio sounds a bit grand for what I do there, but it is my creative get-away space and where I do most of my writing and photography work. It also doubles as my dressing room and has an en suite bathroom attached to it both of which have been an absolute tip (trash site) since I arrived ten days ago. I left it very tidy when I flew to the US in early July, but with the big clear out over the last week things have fallen into a bit of state.

Looking at it feels overwhelming and I have been finding ways to avoid slogging through what’s left to finish it off.

I decided to take a look at how my need for perfection keeps me from getting more done creatively after reading this post by Nadia Eghbal titled  Why I Wore The Same Outfit Everyday For A Year.  As good writers and bloggers will often do, she got me thinking.

Sure I can clean like I’m still in the Army getting ready for an inspection, or make a time-consuming special something _________ insert what ever suits you here, but be sure it’s something that could use a bit more of this, or a touch of that because that’s what my rarely satisfied self would do with something I make.

I could say I’m only nesting with all this clearing and decluttering, making room for the birth of some semi-new blog or book idea, or even some business daydream that can travel with us when John and I pack up and go and some of that would be true, but I have to wonder if there’s not something bigger underlying my need to restrict and control disorder in my environment to the extent that it distracts me from other parts of my life needing attention.

I’m not going to spend any more time mulling that one over as I do better when I make a decision and move on. With that in mind, I am committing to tossing a few extra things into my partially full give-away bag.

I am willing to begin by dropping in my perfectionist tendencies along with a too tight sweater and a dress that’s really a little young for me. Then there’s that old comparison rag where I tend to judge my work against that of others. Yep, that’s going too.

That will do for me for now, but what about you?

If you’ve got something you want to get rid of, something that’s keeping you stuck or distracting you from your next best thing, feel free to leave it behind in a comment.

Go ahead, I’ll bag it up and dispose of it for you.

Because you know I do like a tidy work space, and I’m already going that way.

Remembering Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert

Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert (Photo by Elizabeth Harper)

It can be frustrating when you spend several hours searching for someone online and can’t find them. We’re all so used to easy access to information, but what if you spent your whole life searching and wondering.

Captain Bradley Gene Cuthbert went missing on November 23 1968 during a flight over North Vietnam. It was his 28th birthday.

When agreements were reached and the POWs came home, Captain Cuthbert was not with the survivors. According to information I found online, it seems he was declared dead based on two teeth, a dog-tag, and differing tales from witnesses some as old as 21 years after his plane was shot down.

Two teeth were repatriated and his military file was closed.

His daughter, Shannon Cuthbert Sassen believes he may still be alive somewhere.

I’d like to think we wouldn’t leave a solider behind and that all efforts to find him were exhausted, but 45 years is a long time and it seems unlikely that her father will be returned to her now.

After reading his story and her comment with it, I tried to find her online to give her a copy of the image above. I took the photo of the POW bracelet with her father’s name on it during a trip to Washington D.C. when John and I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The long dark wall is a powerful memorial to loss and suffering and like many memorials, people sometimes leave mementos behind. Placed along the wall are personal touchstones left by people connected to someone whose name is etched on the reflective wall of war dead.

A lasting memory from my childhood, the POW bracelet caught my eye placed as it was in front of the wall next to an American flag.

I tried to find Captain Cuthbert’s daughter through a variety of search routes before giving up. I hope this post finds its way to her so she will know that her father is not forgotten and that I too, will be thinking of him today.

I’ve written more than a few words about Memorial Day over the last few years and you may be interested in those stories as well.

Bridge Building & Invitations

Newquay

I tend to be pretty competitive, but not with everyone.

When it comes to those close to my heart … I let a lot slide.

In those relationships, love is always more important than winning.

That’s not to say I don’t feel disappointment, I just try not to linger there too long.

I can be a relentless bridge builder when a misunderstanding threatens a relationship.

But it doesn’t always work and it’s no good pushing too hard.

Sometimes all I can do is build a bridge and offer an invitation to the other side.

After that, I let go.

How do you handle disappointment in relationships. 

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.

Accidental Meetings – A Place Where Past And Present Intersect

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Most of my friends and family know of my fascination with photographing old churchyards and cemeteries. I can get lost in a one for hours if left alone and I was delighted when I first came to Cornwall to find John living in a village with a lovely church only a short walk from home.

Since marrying him and moving to the UK, I’ve spent a lot of time in the churchyard especially when I felt a need for a quiet moment, not that it’s very busy or noisy in our village of 500. It’s a peaceful spot to watch the birds fly in and out of the church tower or to photograph the seasons as they change and I used to stop there for a rest at the end of a run. Even though my runs have become more of run/walk in the last few years, I still like to have a look around when I’m passing by.

I am always interested in photographing the gravestones, especially the old ones, and I notice when I spot an unusual name. The gravestone below first caught my eye because it is next to one (not in the picture) that has Elizabeth on it. I know it may sound strange, but I always look for headstones with John and Elizabeth lying next to each other. Click here to see a post about a churchyard over looking the sea where I posted some gorgeous photos and wrote more about how we always seem to find our names together.

Like any small community, you can discover a lot about its history through the names on the gravestones. Unusual names like, Axworthy tend to make me head for my computer pretty quickly to see what I can learn, but I have to admit that until I met a member of the Axworthy family last Sunday, I had not followed up on the research.

The Return 2009

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK and I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was born in the cottage which use to house the old post office for our village. She moved away when she was seven, but still comes back a few times a year to have a bit of lunch and a look around the village. I recognized her maiden name right away when she told me because Axworthy is one of the more interesting names in the churchyard. She was in the pub with her son and daughter-in-law who told me she still lived in a village nearby.

Gwendoline Axworthy

Gwendoline Axworthy

After she told me her name and where she had been born, her son mentioned that there was a photo on the wall in another  room of the pub that had some of their relatives in it. I went around ‘borrowed’ it and after talking about the men in the photograph, I asked her permission to take a picture of her holding a copy of the photo of her great-grandfather, Austin Axworthy and great-uncle, Edgar Axworthy.

Cornwall 2013

They are sitting in front of the cottage/post office where she was born in 1926. While I don’t think there are Axworthy’s in our village anymore, there are certainly Pengelly’s living here. Tom Pengelly was the postman according the family.

I was pleased to meet such a delightful woman with a history and link to this place that has become my home and I was happy that she and her family gave me permission to use the photo and share our meeting online.

The stone cottage she was born in has changed a lot over the years. You can just see the edge of it where the women are standing in the doorway in the photo above.

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In this old black and white photograph provided by Shirley Runnells, the cottage that housed the old post office is on the right side with the phone box near the doorway. With a family living upstairs, I can’t imagine there was much privacy when trying to use the phone. The two cottages attached to it were later joined to form one.

Cornwall 2013

I took this photo taken last week and while you can’t see it, there is a window behind the blue car that used to be the doorway to the middle cottage. I am not sure when the two became one, but the old post office was housed in the white cottage until 1999.

Cornwall 2013

The stone cottage across from it is the ‘Old Smithy.’ I am not sure why we still call it that when we don’t have another blacksmith in the village.

When I researched the Axworthy name, I confirmed that it was Saxon in origin, something John had already told me, and the earliest recording of it in writing was during the reign of Henry VIII when Harry Axworthy was christened in 1542 in Lezant, Cornwall.

It might be easy for some to take the history of a place for granted, but in a country where you don’t have to go far to see something like the Celtic cross which marks the intersection of two lanes on the left in this photo, it’s difficult not to occasionally imagine the ghosts of those who lived here before me.

Talking with the great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson of the man in the photograph may have answered a few questions, but the real gift was more of a day-dreamy one as I imagined the lady before me as a baby and young girl learning to walk the same paths I’ve come to love in the village where we live.

Have you ever had an accidental meeting of a similar sort?