I Don’t Want A Big Birthday Party!

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How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? 

~ Satchel Paige

Even though she was born in America during The Great Depression, my stepmom Cullene seems almost ageless. She’s been that way to me for years and so much so that once she moved into her sixties, I never could remember exactly how old she was.  After asking her more times than I should, I finally just started doing the math myself and even now I still have trouble reconciling her actual age with her active life.

As you may have guessed, today is her birthday.

She doesn’t want a fuss and has countered each suggestion for something more noteworthy with the dexterity of an athlete and firmness of someone who will not be swayed from what she wants. We finally settled on a small family celebration with just a few of us gathered round to eat, sing, and celebrate what is certainly a special day for us even if she would rather not make a big deal of it.

My sister Jennie and I have not been very closed-mouthed about which birthday this is (think big one) and Cullene would likely be horrified to know how many strangers now know about her birthday.  I think we are just so impressed with the way she seems virtually unchanged by the passing years that we cannot help but brag on her.

She has been my guide in so many ways since she married my dad in 1972 and watching her carry on as she does makes me rethink what life can be like as I move through my fifties and plan for the future.

I have been in the Atlanta area for about the last month and I arranged the dates of my visit in part so I could be here to celebrate her birthday. Most of us would think of this one as a more significant birthday, the kind where a big party is almost expected, but respecting Cullene’s wishes, we will keep the gathering small.

I have written about the profound impact of her influence on my life in several earlier posts and you can read some of them here and here or even more if you put her name in the search column on the right.

Cullene has agreed to let me take a few photos, but she has never been a fan of having her picture made and from the look on her face in the photo above I think her lack of enthusiasm for the camera began at an early age.

Happy Birthday, Cullene!

Finally … I’m Going Home!

When I left England for America on April 22, I had no idea I would still be here in July. Much has happened that I did not feel free to share online at the time, but now that I have finally booked my return ticket, I will be back blogging regularly.

Henry David Thoreau said, ‘ We should come home from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.’

It fits perfectly with what I’ve come to think of as my ‘lost and found’ summer experience and I hope you’ll come back to hear all about it.

Even though I won’t see my  ‘Dancing Ladies’ until early August, my final countdown has begun.

The Dancing Ladies On The Hilltop - Almost Home

I’ve imagined my airport reunion with John more times this summer than I can count and while his face looks very dear each time I think of him waiting just beyond the arrival checkpoint, it’s the memory of our last embrace that I cling to in my mind and how it will feel to finally be back in his arms again.

John Winchurch

Homemade Faggots Or Food For Thought

Of all the adjustments people ask me about in my relocation from US to the UK such driving on the left while sitting on the right side of the car or learning how to use different systems of measurement or money, the most interesting is the difference in what certain words mean here versus in America. Take faggot for example. Last night John had faggots from the special’s board at our local pub.

Being raised in country where faggot has a whole other meaning, I had to snap a couple of photos to use in discussion here later. This caused a bit of chatter at the table we were sharing with our friends, Jean, Robert, and Jeff. Robert had the faggots too and after seeing my interest in photographing both the menu board and John’s dinner we talked a bit about faggots and the meaning and use here in the UK.

After doing some research this morning, I found more than a few sites which talk at length about how the word faggot came to be used in America as a derisive word that is often thrown about to bully or dismiss someone of a different sexual orientation. While one might assume that Americans were wholly responsible the shift in perception, I discovered this morning that at certain points in time, Britons have themselves used it to describe more than meatballs and wood for a fire.

It seems that during its evolution down the ugly path it has been used to describe not only a homosexual male, but according to a post over at The Straight Dope, it has also been a way to label and dismiss women during certain periods in history, ” Nineteenth century Britons also heard “faggot” used in reference to an ill-tempered woman, i.e., a ball-buster, a battleaxe, a shrew. That meaning of the term continued into the early 20th century, and the usage was gradually applied to children as well as women.” How all of this evolved from what was originally used primarily to denote a bundle of sticks is discussed in detail here, and to a lesser degree here as well.

This post was originally intended as a post about food and word use and the differences in people and countries, but another thought kept nudging me, tickling the edges of my concentration saying, ” Hey, why are you skirting around the really ugly stuff ? “

Which led me to something other than the neat wrap up I had intended. I wish I could forget how word use and name calling are linked to bullying by people with a need to wield power and control over others.

Most of us have experienced some form of it growing up or even as adults, but I can’t imagine a life tainted by some of the horrendous acts that I have read about over the last few days. Some of the blogs I read have offered points of view not really touched by the news media and there are a few I want to leave you with.

A little food for thought.

Anniegirl1138 sometimes shocks my toenails off with what she has to say, but she almost always leaves me with something to think about as is the case with her post today. It is well worth reading and I would suggest you watch the video if you have time, but be prepared.

Jennifer Petkov is You over at Anniegirl1138

Penelope Trunk wrote a very interesting post the other day which while dealing with what looks like a different subject matter is really more of the same with regard to bullying and ugly places some people go to when trying to dismiss someone’s value and credibility.

Generation Y in Politics: Krystal Ball’s Candidacy can be found at Penelope Trunk’s blog.

Jayne Martin usually focuses on the funny, but gets very serious with her post below.

How Many More Kids Have To Die ? which can be found over at injaynesword.

I will finish with a gentle and important message from Karen Walrond.

love thursday: on bullying, modeling behavior and making it stop which can be found over at her blog home, Chookooloonks.

Memorial Day – Because Sometimes We Forget

Captain Eleanor Grace Alexander died on November 30 1967 in a plane crash in Binh Dinh, South Vietnam. I did not know anything about her until I made a point to find out who she was and how she died after seeing her name at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Eleanor Grace Alexander was one of eight active duty women who died during that war. She was 27 and unmarried.

Born the same year as my mother she would have been 70 on September 18 had she survived. Having read first hand accounts from people who knew her and several who served with her including Rhona Marie Knox Prescott who wrote this moving letter which is part of the Veteran’s History Project in the Library of Congress, I am grateful there was a record so that some of my questions could be answered.

As an American child of the sixties, it was the Vietnam War that was the backdrop of my daily life with body counts and war updates delivered each night by men like Walter Cronkite of CBS news. Sadly we are still at war, still fighting, and still burying the dead. Although we do battle in different countries now, the result is the still the same for many and unless your life has been touched directly by loss it can be easy to forget why we recognize Memorial Day, why it’s more than a precursor to summer fun and pool side parties. I’m guilty of forgetting in the past, of treating the three-day weekend that leads into Memorial Day as a much needed respite from a too full life. What I hope to never forget is that I’ve had a chance to live the life I have thanks in part to men and women who died in wars long before I was born.

I plan to take a few minutes today to think about Eleanor Grace Alexander and my great uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens who died in WWII.

Is there someone today that you need to remember … I only ask because I know from experience that sometimes without meaning to, we forget.

Leaping Ginger Cat Takes Flight

Dexter, the leaping cat is a Ginger … well at least that’s what he would be called here in Britain. In America, we would likely refer to Dexter as an Orange Tabby. Living on my street, I’d call him just about the most playful cat I’ve ever met.

If he’s outside when I am walking past his house, what you see in these photographs gives you an idea of what’s bound to happen. He doesn’t seem to forget his playmates and once you’re his friend, he will come running up the street to see you if you call his name.

He has taken to stopping by the house now which is not something John encourages. It’s not that he dislikes Dexter or cats for that matter, but he enjoys watching the birds that come to snack on the bread crumbs he leaves on the bird table and Dexter’s tendency to leap out at the birds seems to put them off. My daughter Miranda took these photographs last Friday, two days before she flew home. We laughed and laughed as she tried to catch Dexter in mid leap.

Speaking of leaping, I did a little myself yesterday when I signed up for Kelly Rae Roberts e-course titled, FLYING LESSONS: TIPS + TRICKS TO HELP YOUR CREATIVE BUSINESS SOAR

It looks as if it’s going to be a good one and it’s filled with a talented mix of people. I know because I’ve been reading their introductions in the comment section and snooping through their websites to learn more about who they are and what they do creatively. I’ve pasted my own intro comment below if you’d care to read it. It came out quite naturally and seemed appropriate for a course titled Flying Lessons.

Elizabeth Harper said…

The best dreams are always the ones where I fly. Those of you who are night-flyers know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes my own technique varies when going airborne, but the one consistent thing that always happens in beginning of the ascent … is the leap.

The leap is required before I can feel the air under my body and take flight.

The leap is essential for flying.

This morning as I was reading a few of my favorite blogs while waiting for my coffee to brew, I clicked on Kelly’s post and noticed as I have for a while that she was talking about this e-course. I frequently make major moves on intuition and when I feel the nudge, I move so before I had my first sip of coffee or the sleep had been rubbed from my eyes, I had signed up.

The leap … remains essential.

As an American married to a Brit, it was just such a leap that lead me to find love and a new life on the Cornish coast of England.

A quick look at the comments tells me I am in the company of talented group of folks and I am so pleased to be here too.

My name is Elizabeth Harper and you can find me at http://giftsofthejourney.wordpress.com

If you feel like leaping, there’s still room in the five-week on-line course that begins May 30 … maybe I’ll see you there.

Image belongs to Kelly Rae Roberts

UPDATE : This just in … I got an email about an hour ago from my sister Margaret with a receipt for the Flying Lessons class. She was up late working on a website, read about it on my blog and decided to sign up too. This should come in handy for the creative project I mentioned here, (second item on the list) that we’re working on together.

These Are The Days

In the first few minutes of the day when my eyes are barely open and I am still shaking off the last bits of sleep, there’s an increasing sense of expectation as I pull myself back to a waking awareness that I can feel around the edges of my consciousness, a sort of shadowy sense memory that today is a special day and I think to myself, what’s happening today … because it feels like Christmas and birthdays all rolled into one and then I remember that someone very special is sleeping in the next room and I smile as I stretch and think about how excited I am to have another day with her.

Another beautiful blue sky day where we get to explore the world or at least our part of it and I have a chance to see her across the table from me sharing a meal and the kind of table talk you miss when you are separated by distance.

Later we’ll have moments lost in uncontrollable giggling as we look over our pictures of the day and laugh at the funny ways the wind can make our hair look when it catches it and whips it high above our heads where it is captured forever in photograph that neither of us will want to share.

She won’t because she thinks that it’s not her at her best and I won’t because the moment of laughter is so special that I will want hold on to it … keeping it private for just the two of us, a memory of the laughing sweet days we shared in Cornwall she when goes back to America .

I think to myself over morning coffee that these are the days, and how I remember hearing a song with the same title for the first time, in a car, at a traffic light, in 1992, when moments with my then four-year old daughter were everything I wanted to hold on to and remember. These are still the days …


Going Solo – Road Tripping In Southwest England

Yesterday was a day of exploration for me. Since moving to Cornwall I’ve not had the same need to be in the drivers seat as I previously did in the US. This change in position from driver to passenger and the ease at which I made the transition surprised me having been somewhat controlling when it came to driving in the past.

My previous career in pharmaceutical sales kept me on the road daily for years and I’ve driven back and forth across the US and as far north and south as you can go on several occasions with all manner of short trips in between. I drove for a couple of years on the German autobahn with no set speed limits in my late teens and early twenties while stationed there during my army tour of duty.

Having been to the UK three times before meeting my husband John, I had a rental car each time where I was the designated driver. While much of that driving was limited to the wide open spaces of the western part of  Scotland, I did make the trip twice from Isle of Skye to a London airport covering a distance of 650 miles, all while sitting on would normally be the passenger’s side of the car, while driving on what would be considered the wrong side of the road in America.

And did I say, the car has a manual transmission as many do here and because I sit on the right side to drive, I have to shift with my left hand. It’s not as hard as I thought it might be, but you can see why I was content to enjoy the ride with John behind the wheel.

So you have to wonder with all of that driving experience, why make such a big to-do about yesterday’s excursion. My solo road trip was important because it was the first time since moving here that I drove alone and for such a long way. I’ve done a few trips alone of five miles or less and I know that thirty miles isn’t really that far, but this trip had me pointed in an unfamiliar direction as I made my way to a village in Devon to meet up with a new friend.

Armella, is an American who lives in St Louis with her British husband. Over the last few years she has done an amazing renovation on a property that she and her husband inherited from family. After finding me through an Expat Blog site, she sent an email a few months ago and yesterday, I fastened my seatbelt and went for a little ride … alone.

It was actually pretty easy once I got underway. I did make a wrong turn at one point, but followed my intuition until I found my way to the pretty little village where Armella and I met for lunch at the White Hart Inn and Pub. I also had a chance to see the work she’s had done on the property during a tour of the rental house before her new tenant moves in a few days.

I didn’t take any photographs of the rental property as there was scaffolding blocking much of it with work being done to an outside wall, but I do have one or two of Cardinal Kiss Cottage named for a love of the St Louis Cardinals, and the three x’s on the outside wall that offer additional wall support. After one of her renovation folks referred to the x’s as kisses, she decided kiss should be part of the new name.

Armella will be back and forth from the US to the UK for a while as she isn’t quite ready to retire to Devon yet, but after spending only a short while with her I could tell it’s only a matter of time before she’ll be one of my more permanent neighbors.

Cardinal Kiss Cottage (See the Church to the right)

Notice the river that runs past the cottage, you’d never guess that CKC was an abattoir before it became a holiday home for Armella and her husband.

The upstairs window in the bedroom.

The amazing view from the window above.

St Bridget’s Church Bridestowe