Birthday Surprises!

John Winchurch (Painted by Lauren Finley)

John Winchurch (Painted by Lauren Finley)

You probably already know this about me, but if you don’t I’ll say it now.

Sentimental and Mushy

I am a seriously sentimental mush and my gift giving behavior usually reflects this. 

Knowing that John had a significant birthday this year, I wanted to be sure that I acknowledged it in a way that would be lasting and memorable. I try very hard to give thoughtful gifts that will be appreciated and I rarely give something that someone could buy on their own unless I know it’s something they want but wouldn’t splurge on for themselves.

A Constant In Our Relationship

One of the unexpected gifts of my life has been my time with John, a good bit of which has been spent walking. I know that may sound awful to those who don’t enjoy walks in the country or along the sea, but even when the trails have been tough, I’ve loved the experience and sharing it with him.

Long walks and mountain climbing have always been a part of his life, along with periods of dinghy building and sailing when living near the sea. While I’ve been an outdoorsy sort and have done a good bit of running over the years, I’d never considered doing something like our 105 mile hike through the Alps in 2008 or thought that my everyday life might include the coast path walks we do regularly in Cornwall.

We’re just a four months shy of the fifth anniversary of our first face to face meeting and I have thousands of photographs of John. I have always taken more photos than he necessarily liked, ten images where two would have been welcomed and I can often be heard saying, ‘Just one more shot, please?’  

It was one of my photographs that inspired my birthday gift to John. I took it during one of our coast path walks in Cornwall and it reflects his spirit in a near perfect way. Looking rugged and windblown, I can almost smell the sea behind him and I am reminded of the times I’ve tasted a faint bit salt on his lips when we’ve stopped on the path for a kiss.

My friend, Lauren Finley turned the photograph into the more lasting gift you see above. She is an accomplished artist who does lovely things with watercolor and I never considered anyone else once I decided to give John a portrait of himself for his birthday.

(A Side View To See What It’s Painted On)

Lauren and met for coffee last summer while I was in Atlanta to discuss the photo I’d chosen and when I returned to England a few weeks later, I brought the painting back with me. John never saw it until the day of his party and was very pleased with what he thought was a more handsome version of himself.

My Birthday Surprise – A Dream Of Things To Come

Some of you know the story of how I woke up dreaming of John on my birthday, in September of 2007, a few months before we met online. 

You read that right, I said before we met!

I’ve had some other dreams and waking experiences that were unusual, but even I thought it was strange to dream of having such an overwhelming feeling of love for a man who I identified in the dream as my husband even though I’d never met him and had no idea why I would dream such a thing.

It was very powerful and stayed with me for a few days, but as it didn’t fit the life I was leading in Atlanta and made no sense, I forgot about it until five months later when I made a trip to Cornwall to meet John.

We were out on the coast path and I was walking behind him pausing as I do to snap a photo and I looked up as he crested the hill in front of me and watched as he walked into the sun causing his body to appear mostly in shadow and backlit.

He was the lean image of the man I seen in my sleep and I was suddenly flooded with the memory of the feeling I’d experienced in my dream.

It was an ‘Ah hah’ moment of grand proportion. I got a bit teary as the awareness flooded over me, whispered a quiet thank you to the origin of the dream and hurried on to catch up. 

People often ask me how I could change my whole life as I did by following my heart to another country and the only answer that really makes sense is, how could I not? 

 

Time Of Death – Reading The Obits & Waiting

I dreamed my mother showed up last night. She looked ten years younger than when I last saw her in 1994 and she came with a message.

She breezed into the room where I was sitting as casually as if she’d not been missing  from my life for the last 18 years and said in a loud voice, ‘I’m dying,’ much the way one might say, ‘I’m here’ after having arrived at their intended destination.

Before I could think how to respond she pulled a printer, already out of its box, but new and unused, from a handbag that looked like something Mary Poppins might travel with, an image totally incongruent with who my mother was when I was a child.

I took it from her when she offered it to me saying nothing as I did so, but inside my mind was a race track of whirling questions each thought like a numbered car going round and round with the lead car representing the overriding thought, a printer, 18 years of silence and you bring me a printer for my computer?

I considered for a moment that it might be a peace-offering of sorts although I’m not sure why as she had not said, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I wish things had been different’ or any one of many things that might have made room in my heart for healing.

Instead she walked about the room looking out of the window and checking the corners much like someone might go behind a cleaning crew, on a mission to find an overlooked speck of dust.

Her voice sounded unnaturally upbeat for someone sharing details of their funeral arrangements and the one-sided conversation seemed more as if she were planning a big wedding than an end of life ceremony.

I was still sitting in the same chair I’d been in when she arrived, holding on to the printer that I’d foolishly assumed was a gift. As she listed from memory all the things still left to do, I slowly realized that the printer was to be used to complete the tasks for her funeral and rather than an end of life reconciliation, what she really wanted was a personal assistant.

My mother’s birthday is only a few weeks away and I wonder sometimes if she remembers mine as I do hers or if she’s forgotten it as easily as she seems to have forgotten me and my sister, Margaret.

Our three birthdays all occur within 28 days of each other making it difficult for me to let hers slip by unnoticed.

I always notice and I wonder … is she still living and how will I know when she’s not?

Given her upcoming birthday, I’m not surprised to be dreaming of her now or even that she might be dying. Checking the obituaries is the only way I know she’s still alive, a sad end to a mother-daughter story that I feel sure began quite differently when I was born in 1960.

I wonder how many other adult children search the internet for signs of a parent’s passing and if there is any peace for them or closure when they find it.

If you’ve got a story similar to mine, perhaps you’d like share it in a comment below.

Kitchen Renovation x Three

When my husband John bought our home seven years ago, two years before meeting me, he chose it thinking he would do a bit of renovation and sell it as he had all the houses before. He enjoys remodeling homes and selling them on and has done quite a few since he finished working in television about fifteen years ago.

Built in 1997, it had spent its whole life as a rental before he saw its potential and made the local owner/builder/landlord an offer they both found acceptable. When you live in a house built by someone who still lives in the village who you see in the pub, you may find you are also surrounded by others who had a hand in the building process or who lived in the house before you. I won’t go into it now, but we’ve heard some interesting stories that could fill more than a few pages.

I’ve seen a lot of John’s before and after shots of his renovation work in earlier properties and I appreciate how he is able to see possibilities where someone else might walk away. The first three photographs will give you an idea of what the kitchen looked like when he first bought it. There was a great deal of reddish dark wood throughout the house like you see in the window of the first photo giving it a completely different look than it has now.  (All of the early photographs were taken by John)

I don’t know if this is the original kitchen from 1997, but having always been a rental before John bought it, I can’t imagine anyone investing money to leave behind. I know it’s done all the time in New York city apartments and I’ve known people who have spent $30,000 on a kitchen renovation in a place they did not actually own, but they’d lived in for twenty years or more.

While I never had to live with the linoleum tile pattern on the floor, until recently the brass switch plates that came with the house were still on the walls. I’m glad John agreed that it was time for them to go. The new lighter ones blend so much better and are easier to clean.

You can see the beginnings of the first of three big kitchen changes dating from when he bought it in 2005. Thank goodness he added more ceiling lights too. I can’t imagine working with only one or two lights in the kitchen as this one had.

Here you see the cabinets going in. John bought the cabinet doors from Ikea and built the rest of it from big sheets of furniture board because it was as he said, “less expensive than ready-made and more flexible.”  The countertops are the old ones from 1997 just before John tiled them black like you see in the photo below. He believes in reusing materials when possible.

The second kitchen redo was much smaller, taking place in 2009 when my things arrived from the US. John added more glass fronted cabinets for my china and other glassware along with another solid cabinet on the left side of the window over the sink.

The other side of the room where the table sits is shown during the first renovation in the third photo above. As you can see by the funny bit of wall sticking out in that picture and the one below it, our table placement choices were severely limited and it never felt as if the space was large enough to move comfortable in especially when family and friends joined us.

Here’s a last look before the wall came down. After John built the extension so I might have a room of my own to write, the configuration of the house changed making it unnecessary for the entry door you can see in the photo below. Before building what he jokingly refers to as the East Wing, that door opened into the master bedroom. After the addition of a hallway, my studio space, and two bathrooms, it became possible to take down the corner wall and open up the room a bit more.

The out-dated Artex ceiling went too, along with the door leading from the main hall into the East Wing hallway. Then he pulled up the small bit of dark wood that had been part of the hallway floor and took out the door you see on the right. He fixed the wall afterwards and then put a new door and partial wall in where the hallway begins. The ceiling is dark in this shot because the plaster was still drying.

Here’s how it looked yesterday when I tried to catch a bit of light on a rainy day. I could have used my blogging friend Kerstin’s property photography skills as my pictures don’t do as good a job of giving you an accurate feel for the space. Notice we still have the leather chairs along with four more in the attic. John is okay with them, but I have a different vision in mind and I’ll update you later when we make a change. That lamp in the corner needs a bit of work or replacing. John enjoys a softer evening light so we’re likely to keep something there.

This cool piece is one of two that came out of an old smithy that was attached to another much older home that John owned years before meeting me. Both were stored in the garage and I’d imagined them inside the house from the first time I saw them. Renovating the kitchen created a place for this larger one and the smaller one found a home in the living room.

The little potty was one I used as a child on overnight visits with my great-grandparents who did not have indoor plumbing. I can see a few cobwebs in the slot where it’s sitting. (Note to self: dust more!) This piece was missing a drawer and I put the potty there as a funny reminder of a time when grand houses would have a screen off to the side during dinner parties so guests might relieve themselves without straying far from the table. Given that we are fortunate to have three bathrooms, this will never be necessary if you come for dinner.

John suggested this one might look better painted the color green you see in the kitchen, but that’s not happening! I love the primitive look of it and like seeing the dings and peeling paint from its use in blacksmith’s work space.

John built the new cabinets in the photo above using old materials to create units that were more shallow than the ones there before. He replaced the laminate floors with hardwood and I found a smaller entry rug for the door in the things I brought over in 2009. We think it’s a good match. Everything had a fresh coat of paint and the cooker hood or range hood as I’d call it is one that John found online. It works so much better than the old one making me especially happy when John cooks fish.

You may notice that we have not settled on a decision for the backsplash. John likes it as it is, but we tend to be messy and I think we’ll need at least a sheet of glass or acrylic to cover the green part up to the molding he installed. He also turned an unused space into a cookie sheet storage area by hinging the small wooden strip below the oven and adding a pull.

The lights in these cabinets are actually pale blue, but they’ve turned deep purple in this photo. You can see the new countertops John installed. He did a lot of work on them to help make them less prone to staining.

See the two raised boards he made from leftover counter-top wood … this works well to keep wet products off the wood so it doesn’t stain. You must be more careful with these, but I love the look of them and have not had to work that hard to get used to working with dry ingredients in one part and wet in another.

I moved some of the art that I brought from the US. These pieces had been in other parts of the house and added one (on the left) that I bought during a trip we made to Wales. I think it all came together fairly well.

You may have noticed that the art work on the sides of the window near the sink is in the spot where cabinets used to be. We had considered open shelving there for dishes and stuff, but I’m glad we found another way. I prefer the art and like how the space feels bigger and less cluttered.

John is already on to his next project, working on plans to change to the interior stairs and the entrance to the house. He never stops.

My friend Jean commented the other day on how lucky I was after seeing pictures of some of the renovations we’ve been making and “by we, I mean John.” That little saying about what we are doing has become a bit of humorous phrasing for me, but one meant to playfully acknowledge all the effort he puts into making our home so comfortable and appealing. He does such a nice job and I do feel lucky, but it’s his gentle spirit and kind heart rather than his construction skills that make me feel fortunate to share a life and space with him.

How about you … any projects on your list this summer? Share a link if you have one or leave me a link to your favorite home remodeling blog. I’m more than a little addicted to bloggers who are known for their DIY skills.

Where Do Broken Blogs Go … Can They Find Their Way Home?

If I said I had been kidnapped by a monster to explain my lack of posting here over the last two weeks, it would not be far off from the truth. I took this photo at Eden Project over four years ago when I was in the process of relocating my life to Cornwall from the US. The monster in the background is made up of old electronic equipment, broken bits of televisions, washing machines, out-dated computers and other kinds of gadgets that can improve our lives or sometimes imprison us.

Held Hostage By My Indecision

Computer changes are at the top of the long list of distractions that have kept me from writing lately.  I’ve been getting updates from Apple for months letting me know that I needed to move to iCloud as Mobile Me was ending. Don’t worry if none of the details make sense to you, just know that over the last year I’ve known this was coming and put it off making a decision until now.

Keeping My Email

One of my chief concerns with not moving to iCloud had to do my email and I was only able to decide once I discovered I could leave it as it was and let some other significant parts of my online/connected life go. Even then, I waited until the last four days possible to do so and only after reading loads of confusing information. See what I mean about monsters and indecision.

No More iWeb

My first blog was through iWeb, which was a big part of the problem because it was affected by the discontinuation of Mobile Me and the required move to iCloud.  That blog became an archive for my earliest posts after I moved to WordPress in early 2009, a move necessitated by my lack of ability to moderate comments that were being left by a female stalker who did a variety of things to try to make my life miserable.

The early version of GOTJ no longer exists now. What you will see if you look for giftsofthejourney.com is this post as I mapped the domain name to my WordPress account knowing my iWeb version of the first GOTJ would disappear at the end of June.

I saved a copy of the first 80 or so posts and plan to move them over to this blog one post at a time, backdating them so they show up in the time period in which they were originally created. Even though it will take some work to republish them along with their comments, I think it will be worth the effort to have all of my posts since June 2008 finally in one place.

I’ve been wanting to use my domain name here without the addition of wordpress.com and hopefully this change to giftsofthejourney.com won’t create any problems for those of you who have subscribed to my blog. We’ll know after this post.

 

Speedy Evie Fairman Carries The Torch For The 2012 London Olympics

Evie Fairman, London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer with her proud Mom

There are times when I’m fortunate to be standing in just the right place to see and capture a moment that touches my heart. On Saturday I got a bit teary watching my friend, Julie greet her daughter, Evie as she arrived at the spot where we’d been waiting to cheer her on. Fifteen year-old Evie was one the special folks chosen to carry the Olympic flame through Cornwall and she did her family proud in her role as an Olympic Torchbearer.

The Olympic flame will pass through quite a few more hands before reaching London in time for the 2012 opening ceremony in 67 days and while I won’t be able to see any of the events live as I’ll be in the US for most of the Olympics, I won’t forget watching Evie run or the tender mother-daughter embrace on Evie’s big day.

I managed to get a few shots of Evie posing for pictures while she waited for the torchbearer before her, (#105) to arrive with the flame. You can see her with her torch as it looked before the big kiss … (the moment the flame is passed is called a kiss.)

I’ve lifted a bit of Evie’s nomination story from the Torchbearers site so you can read more about her, but let me just say having run along side her through the crowds yesterday with her dad, brother, and loads of other people all trying to get a photo, I learned that  … Speedy Evie Fairman can really run!

“Although Evie was born with only half a working heart (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome), she has always lived life to the full. From playing football and taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme to singing in the school choir and performing in musicals, she takes everything in her stride. She is an active member of the Youth Council of ‘Little Hearts Matter’, a national charity set up to provide support and information for children with single ventricular heart problems and their families, as well as raise awareness of the conditions and the care and attention these children need. As part of her Youth Council work, Evie spends a lot of her time mentoring other younger members, giving them advice and a chance to discuss their anxieties. By participating in major fund raising efforts and writing to celebrities for their help, she also works hard to help raise awareness which will only lead to more heart babies being treated swiftly soon after birth. Recently the City of Birmingham (where the charity’s offices are situated) recognised the extraordinary efforts of the Youth Council by giving each member the Freedom of the City. Evie may only have half a heart but she uses it to the full. She is an inspiration to all who come into contact with her and I feel honoured to be one of them.”  (Evie was nominated by one of her teachers at school)

Evie with her brother, Fred and her mom, Julie. (Sorry about the focus)

She posed for photos like a red carpet veteran.

The Kiss
I love the look on her face in this shot and the energy of the crowd scrambling to get a photograph. There were people in trees and hanging out of windows along the way.
This one looks as if she’s getting some last-minute advice before she takes off.
Security was tight with loads of police officers along the route.
In addition to the police, Evie had Olympic escorts who ran with her and kept the crowd from getting in her way. She was just about to begin running in this photograph. Notice the van in front with the camera crew in the back. There was point when the van driver had to speed up because Evie was running so fast.
And then she was off!
I was running along with her dad, Ben while he was trying to hang on to her brother, Fred and shoot video at the same time. People were running all around us so it was a bit hectic, but very exciting.
I stopped briefly for the dog shot below. It had come off its leash somehow and was frightened by all the bodies running past. I was going to try to help catch it, but the dog’s owner grabbed it right after I took the photo.
I got behind them after slowing down for the dogs and it was about here that I realized my friend Nicola Mitchell was there too when I saw her just above Fred’s head. She’s holding the cell photo with the pink stripe around it.
Fred couldn’t see a thing as was the case with me in the next minute and then he was lifted up for a better view. This was the moment where Evie passed the flame on to the next torchbearer, but I couldn’t get a shot of it. You can see the flame and torch just behind the police officer’s head.
On the far right you can see the last bit of the flame. Evie’s dad, Ben is right in front of me with the video camera and her brother, Fred has the best view of the exchange.
The was a party afterwards at the pub with family and friends making a great finish to a fun afternoon and evening. Well done, Evie!

Kitchen Renovation Week 2 – Is that Dust In My Soup?

I have to be really honest with you. Aside from emptying some cabinets of their contents, taking a few pictures and helping with the design decisions, I haven’t done any of the real work involved in our kitchen renovation. John’s the workhorse here. After Bob and Brian packed up and went home late last week, John got out his tools and went to work. Here’s a bit of what he’s been working on over the last few days.

I know the ceiling looks as if we’re making a dubious color choice, but have no fear … we are not going with a milk chocolate-colored ceiling. It  turns light pink as the plaster dries and then we’ll paint it white. Remember the door that was on the other side of the wall? If you look below you can see where it used to lead to before John closed it for good.

The master bedroom and my studio space were until a few days ago only accessed through a door at the top of the stairs that no longer exists. After John sealed it up, my feet kept wanting to walk the same way out of habit so I stuck a note on the wall to remind me. It’s only a few steps beyond the remaining door, but I got tired of having to back up. The “Closed” sign made John laugh when he saw it and later when I went into the kitchen I noticed he’d posted a sign of his own.

I thought his “Open” sign was pretty cute, but I was really impressed with how he reused the old doorway to close in the new opening from the kitchen to the hallway. 

This photo should have been before the last one as he hadn’t completed the door frame yet, but it gives you a good look at the wall to the right where he closed off the old doorway. The dark boards against the wall are from the hallway. It’s the same wood flooring that runs through the master bedroom and my bathroom and studio space.

Here’s what the space looked like today. Didn’t John do a great job? I’ll be painting the door white over the next few days so it blends in better with the wall and we’re getting rid of all the brass wall plates too. We’re leaving the half-glass door as it is with its natural wood finish.

We’re thinking of oak planks for the kitchen floor, but we’ve got to live with it kind of patchy (like the spot above) while the rest of the kitchen is being finished. John said it’s going to be a few months (more like August) before we’re through with the kitchen/dining room renovation so if you’re coming to see us this summer consider yourself warned. It’s pretty dusty here.

Pillow Talk

You wouldn’t believe what I went through to find these little darlings. I’ve been searching for months and it was not without some amusing misunderstandings along the way. John had no idea why I kept saying I was looking for pillows for the sofa and one for our bed.

Because I wasn’t very descriptive as in, “We need more color in those two parts of the house,” and we weren’t shopping for them together, he never had a clear idea of what I was looking for until recently.

Here in the UK, a pillow is something that goes on the bed and under your head at night. After seeing that the term “pillows” seemed confusing, I moved on to words like, “throw pillows and decorative pillows” which produced a few more strange looks before he said. “Oh, cushions, you want cushions!”

To which I replied, “Nooo … cushions are what we sit on, not put behind the small of our back for support or use to provide an accent color.” When I asked him if he knew about accent colors he said, “Accent colors … not really no.”

In the end it all worked out fine once he discovered what I wanted and why it was important to me. I say again important to me, because he didn’t see the need for them. I know I looked at hundreds of “cushions” online and spent months physically looking in various stores here and in the US when I happened to be someplace that sold them, but last week I finally decided that I would just have to make my own and asked John to take a trip to Truro which has a great fabric store.

Of course, it was the same thing … loads of choices and none of them right. It was only after I went into a little market area nearby that I narrowed my search and found the perfect and lovely pillows below. House of Rugs was the store where I snapped these up and put an end to a long hunt.

The sweetest part of it was when I took John into the store to show him the pillow, he took one look and said, “Right then, let’s get it.” He didn’t even pause at the price although I had a few minutes earlier which was 33 BPS or the equivalent of $51 for my American readers.

I was pretty surprised because even I thought they were a bit pricey, but we paid for the one we took with us, ordered a second one, and I walked out of there all giggly that I had found the perfect pillow.

I asked him later why he didn’t even hesitate over the cost as he’s usually fairly frugal and he said, “I could see they made you happy.”

What a sweetie, huh?

Now if I can just convince him that we need a new rug to go with the cushions … or maybe even a blue comfy chair for me … I have just the spot in mind.

I’m holding this up at a funny angle so you can see the colors I was trying to add to the room. The colors I wanted are in the artwork around the room with some right behind it in this photo. These are just two that have the blues and greens I was hoping to duplicate in my pillows.

Here’s a look when we just had the one cushion and later with both after we picked up the second one yesterday. I can imagine a blue chair off to the left side of the fireplace … can you?

The coffee table is not as bright white as it looks here and it usually has something on it such as flowers or a plant. John made it 42 years ago mostly from driftwood he picked up on the beach in Ireland. I like how it provides some lightness with so much dark furniture and the pillows help as well.

I pulled the oil painting above the sofa out of the attic when we were decorating the living room a couple of years ago and I’m thinking it may be time for a change to something else now.

It’s funny how you begin by thinking that adding a throw cushion or two will complete the picture and suddenly see that there’s more to do.

Suggestions anyone?