Can I Get A Witness

DSCF9540

One year ago today I began blogging at my original site for Gifts Of The Journey. I began my blog with a specific goal of keeping my family and friends updated on my travels last year while I was going back and forth across the ocean primarily between England and America. What began as a way to stay in touch with folks in the U.S. evolved very quickly into something more to me.

I’ve been telling stories and writing my whole life, but before I began posting at Gifts Of The Journey I rarely handed anything over for anyone to read or comment on not because I was overly concerned that the content might be no good, (okay..maybe a little) but more because it always felt a bit unfinished as if I’d left something undefined out of whatever I’d written. Blogging here on a regular basis has provided an unexpected gift in that I’ve learned how to write a piece quickly and let it go. There’s no time to over edit or over think things in the blogging world and I’ve grown to love that part of the process.

There’s certainly more to all this blogging than just an exercise in writing though and I want to touch on a couple of things I’ve thought about as I considered why I blog on this first anniversary of Gifts Of The Journey.

About eleven years I spent a weekend at a retreat with a friend and a group of women who’d gathered to share their stories. She’d spent time with this group before and I can’t remember why they let a stranger join them, but they made me feel welcomed without reservation. The experience of that weekend left a deep impression on me as woman after woman told different pieces their story. As an observer, I was frequently shocked by the intense emotion of some of these women who at times would move from tears as they talked to something that sounded like a kind of wailing release of grief. My caretaker self could barely sit still though the most painful parts and I found myself wanting to comfort and reassure. The group was not there however to perform any kind of therapy in fact I have no recollection of any real group leader or guide, but rather a collective a women just sitting and listening to anyone who felt compelled to share.  Some talked and some just listened offering nothing more than a hug and tissue when emotions overflowed.  My friend and I talked at length about later this especially after one woman in particular became so overwrought that her heartache made me want to weep along side her.

As I remember it, my friend explained that sometimes just being a witness to a person’s story is enough. Having someone sit and just listen as they told their stories was clearly powerful and appeared  in some cases to be healing for those who wanted to share.

I am reminded of this sometimes when I think about the blogging world and what this medium has done for me.  For instance, when I consider the pain and personal nature of this post one might wonder why I would publish it on the internet for the world to see instead of just typing it up for my sister and sending it off for her to read privately. There’s something very healing in sharing a story like Peanut Butter & Jelly. Could it be similar to those women who gathered to sit and witness the stories they felt compelled to share. Has the internet and the blogging community replaced those women sitting around the circle…I’m not sure, but I do know that I learn more about myself every time I remember and write about experiences like the one I had in the post, At Fifteen and sometimes I feel a need to share it.

There are times when a blog post can be a subject too happy not to share like the story told here or little messages of love like those here and here. Others have been sent out to help anyone who may have felt like this or needed to hear this.  Some of you have been reading my posts since I started writing here while others may have found me after I moved to this site. Either way there’s plenty to read as I was surprised to see when the number of posts from both sites totaled a 139 snippets of my past and present waiting to be found.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time these will not be new stories to you…you’ve already been a witness. Many of the 19,260 plus views have been silent witnesses choosing not to comment and that’s okay… just stopping by is truly appreciated. To those of you who left messages of hope and support after reading certain posts or who joined me in the celebrations of the last year…I want to say thank you to you all. You’ve been wonderful and so appreciated and I am thrilled to have formed new friendships through this now familiar medium.

Whether we’re telling our individual stories or listening to someone else’s we are a witness…of good times and bad, hope and heartbreak, joy and discovery, and sometimes when we’re lucky, healing.

With all that goes on in each of our lives sometimes a witness is just what we need.

I’m leaving you with a favorite song, Marc Cohn singing,  Let Me Be Your Witness and thanks again…for being mine.

Puppy Love

Ry In His Online (Pick Me) Photo

Two years ago a sweet little puppy changed my daughter Miranda’s life. She’d grown up around dogs adopted from shelters or from other families, but hadn’t had one she could call her own. While she loved those furry faces, she still longed to have a pup she could choose and raise herself. After researching a variety of breeds, she made her decision and has loved him fiercely since she first held him.

Ry will be two years old tomorrow and I wanted to show you a few pictures of his life with Miranda. You can’t help but fall in love with this sweet boy. I know I have.

IMG_0042

Miranda With Her Little Puppy

Looking at Miranda

Look Ma No Cavities

Look Ma No Cavities - But He Lost A Couple Of Teeth Playing Rough

Playmates

Playmates (No Cat Was Harmed In Making This Picture)

3350596508_37558a5c05_b

Snow Days

Snow Days

DSC_0123 2

DSC_0089

Me With Ry

DSC_0038

DSC_0083

Buttercup Dog Days

DSC_0014

Water Dog

DSC_0013

He Insists On Running With Sticks

DSC_0015

Learning To Jump Through Hoops

Ry With His Little Saddlebags For Day Hikes

I sent him a little something special for his birthday… I just hope the bank will let him cash that check.

Saying Goodbye – A Death In The Family

IMG_2056

MICHAEL JOHN BENCH 1926-2009

This is a difficult post to write. Michael Bench, John’s cousin died yesterday morning about 5:00 am. We had received word late in the afternoon on Wednesday that he was suddenly responding verbally to questions when asked by the medical staff. This was in direct conflict to what anyone had expected. We were quite excited to hear about this positive shift as he’d been totally unresponsive the morning before and had planned to be at the hospital at 10:00 the next morning to see him. Before we could get there, the hospital phoned at 5:20 am to tell us that he had died.

All of this has been terribly shocking to everyone. Last Saturday we’d shared a lovely meal with Michael and his sister Mary. John’s eldest daughter came down from London and his brother David was there too along his daughter and her boyfriend who came down from the north of England for the reunion. Michael and Mary had traveled to Polzeath for a holiday and were scheduled to go sailing with us all on Monday. The picture below shows us at a local pub in Cornwall on Saturday evening. The black and white photo above was taken at the same dinner.  Michael and Mary had been out for a small bit of coast path walking earlier that day and both seemed fine with no health complaints.

IMG_2058

I had the good fortune of being seated next to Michael during dinner and we talked about many things throughout evening. There were still many questions I wanted to ask him about and I said goodnight that evening thinking that we’d have plenty of time for that over the next few days.

After a late lunch on Sunday, Mary and Michael went to beach in front of their hotel and before long Michael decided he wanted to go down to the water and changed into his swim trunks. Leaving Mary high up on the hill watching his belongings, he walked down in the direction of the water  and was gone so long that Mary began to wonder where he was …it was about the same time she noticed a commotion on the beach and a crowd gathering.  As she approached, she realized that it was her brother Michael on the ground with someone administering CPR. It turned out to be a physician who happened to be at the beach with his wife. I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for her to find Michael in such a state.

An air ambulance was called and Michael was airlifted to the hospital where his heart was restarted. At the time and for several days after, no one had any real hope of his survival much less recovery so it was a shock when he began to say a few words on Wednesday evening.

If I’d known Michael for more than the evening I spent with him last Saturday I might tell you more of the regular things you expect to hear when someone dies and people speak of who they were or what they did during their lifetime. I might tell you how he was a Senior Architect who spent his career with the National Health Service designing hospitals and other medical facilities.  I might tell you how in 2003,  his life partner Leo Breach had died on Christmas day after many years together and how at 83 he still lived on his own in London. Or I could tell you about all the ways he was important to his sister Mary, how at one point they’d shared living space for 18 years of their adult lives or about how they’d travel all over with Mary at the wheel of the car even though she was the elder of the two.

If I’d had more time with him I might have been able to share the stories he had from a childhood spent traveling with his family to various parts of Cornwall and how much he still loved to holiday in the southwest of England as an adult. I don’t know all the details of his life, but I do know that walking along the water’s edge that day was something he loved.  John helped me to see it from that perspective as I wondered aloud to him …asking  no one in particular…what in the world was Michael thinking when he put on his swimsuit and headed for the water.

I’d like to imagine him walking across the sand carried along by the excitement of a beach holiday and not think about how it would be the last time he would ever dip his toes into the coolness of the Cornish sea. I’d also like to think that he might have been looking back along the shoreline in the direction of where he’d left Mary when he felt the first pains in his chest and how perhaps in the moments just before he lost consciousness he might have seen his family sitting on the shore whether a fragmented memory remembered from a picture of his family like the one below or perhaps a gathering of those gone before waiting to lead him to the other side…I just hope he saw more than the sand of the beach as he slipped into it before closing his eyes.

The Winchurch & Bench Families On The Beach

“We are the boat, we are the sea, I sail in you, you sail in me”

-Lorre Wyatt

Many thanks to all of you who’ve reached out to us during this time..we are very grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.


Unexpectedly Sad

 Flowers From Our Garden & Empty Chairs

Flowers From Our Garden & Empty Chairs

This weekend has ended much differently than it began and I don’t quite know what to say except I may be away for a few days. John and I are safe, but someone very near to him is not. Yesterday, after staying behind to make sure everything would be ready for a family gathering and a barbecue at home, I received a call from John letting me know what little he knew and that he was on his way to the emergency room at a local hospital. He had so little information initially that it seemed as if everything might be all right so I stayed calm and continued on with the preparations holding on to the idea that it would all turn out to be just an exciting story told around the dinner table later that evening.

Once he saw the doctor it became clear that everything had changed. As the family gathered at the hospital and later the bedside, I lit the charcoal fire and carried on. The rain that had been threatening our garden party and outdoor supper seemed suddenly unimportant as it rolled in soaking the area I’d worked on earlier to make functional and welcoming.

At home alone with no car, I did what I’ve seen women in my family do in these situations, I cooked. I had piles of food waiting to be grilled for our supper so I rummaged in the garage looking everywhere for the charcoal briquettes John had mentioned were there only to find them sitting in plain sight and right in front of me overlooked by my distracted mind.

Moving the grill to the outside edge of the garage, I cooked under the overhang of the garage door so the rain wouldn’t wet the fire that I struggled to create. My little fire flamed and gave off a good bit of smoke as I stood moving the sausages and burgers around the grill… alone in the rain. I thought of John at the hospital waiting and when bits of smoke hit me full in the face, I teared up until I couldn’t tell if it was from smoke or sadness. All I could think of was love and loss and how the lyrics to “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” would forever have a new meaning for me.

Our dinner party guests arrived with John late in the evening… minus one.  As they sat down to the food I’d kept warming in the oven, they ate and talked carefully around some things such as next steps and “how long” while openly laughing at some of stories they shared …stories that connect them through their common history and blood ties.  New to this family… I could only listen and serve…glad to have an activity to take my mind off how differently the day had begun and the “what ifs”  that I’d been trying to push away all afternoon as I struggled to make sense of the events of the day.

There is little now we can do but wait.  The doctors have given no hope of recovery and have said it’s just a matter of time. While the staff at the hospital focus on a painless transition for this much loved family member, I’ll focus on the care and comfort of those who are now a part my family.

I may be away for a few days, but I’ll be back.

Walking The Coast Path With Cows And Caution-No Bullies Allowed

The title for this post takes its name in part from an email I received from a coast path walker who found my blog through some of my previous posts about walking the Cornish coast path. I hope she won’t mind my ” borrowing” a part of her email subject heading for my post today.

Yesterday John and I headed out to find a bit of adventure along with some fresh air and exercise. I’ve been doing a lot of computer work lately (editing wedding pictures) and the weather was too nice to stay inside. Additionally, even though I’ve been back since May 25, it was our first walk along the coast since I’d gone back to America in late April. John suggested a short walk from Port Quin to Port Isaac both of which are about ten miles from where we live. After packing up a P B & J for me and some fruit for him…we were off. 

It was beautiful as it always is and I promise I’ll include a few pictures near the water, but my main reason for this post is to have a little talk about the cows and bullocks we encountered so walk with me now….

 

Sometimes on our walks we have to walk through fields that are already occupied.

DSCN0836

DSCN0839

DSCN0840

Me saying hello…this one was quite happy to let me touch him on the nose before moving along with his buddies.

The question came up from one of my readers as to the safety in crossing though these places where the public footpath herds (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) you right in with the big animals.  I told her I’d never encountered any problems and then she recounted how she and her family had a bunch of cows come charging across the field startling her, her husband, and their children. In the past I naively thought cows and bullocks were just happy to see me whenever I saw a herd of them shift direction and move in mass at a clip towards me.

IMG_1662

John said if they ever look scary to just say boo and throw your arms out at them.  He demonstrated this technique below without warning me so you can’t see the hand motions. ( I missed it)

IMG_1603

A couple of guys trying to look tough…”Whadaya mean you want to pass through us?”

IMG_1605

John approaching the bad boy brothers just moments before saying BOO!

IMG_1606

After they’d scattered …giving him some sulky looks.

IMG_1609

This one did not look amused either.

IMG_1663

This brown one was pretty interested in me however… deciding that I might be worth investigating further.

IMG_1666

Right!  Now I’m usually okay with a nudge but I think I really must draw the line when it comes to taste testing.  John was getting his camera out here while I was trying to capture this beastie licking my arm.

DSCN0842

DSCN0843

For the record…cow tongues are rough, slimy and strong.  

IMG_1610

All joking aside, when I mentioned to John what my reader Sarah had said in an email to me about cows and safety on the path he said…people are usually quite safe and that cows are more curious as you can see above than dangerous. He did go on to say that they will get angry when dogs are around especially if they have calves with them.  An incident was in the news here recently that illustrated this when David Blunkett, a prominent politician in the UK who is blind was out walking with his guide dog and was trampled by a cow who was trying to get to the dog. So I’d say caution is key when passing by these gentle seeming two ton Toms and Tessies. ( Okay maybe one ton not two, but it worked better).

Wrapping up the walk from yesterday…as I was taking this picture.

IMG_1616

John was climbing up and over here.

IMG_1619

Then while I was trying to get a decent closeup of these drying flower heads below….

IMG_1620

John slipped back and stuck his head through a gap in the wall and began to make woo woo scary moaning sounds as I approached the fence and started to climb over.  Going back I saw this….

IMG_1625

IMG_1628

On  the other side…you can actually walk down to the water…no one’s stopping you.

IMG_1654

Back on the path

Port Isaac

Port Isaac from above.   We had a little pub stop for a pint and a coffee and walked back to Port Quin totally ignored by the cows who’d lost all interest in us by late afternoon.  

NEXT TIME: Celebrity spotting in Cornwall.

I’ll be back with my experience with celebrity spotting yesterday in the supermarket. We were actually side by side scanning the parking lot for our cars after stepping out of the store at the same time. 

Here’s a hint…there’s a TV show that uses Port Isaac as its location, but with a name change. The man I almost  bumped  into is a regular character on the show although not the male lead. He’s associated with a trade profession in the show…anybody want to venture a guess?

Baking Scones In 2009 – With A Recipe From 1907

I will be the first to admit that if you ask my family and friends in America what kind of cook I am, you’re likely to get a mixed response. Some will say they think I make the best sweet potato casserole they’ve ever tasted and I’d have to agree with them. Unfortunately, it’s a family recipe that I’m just recreating…this in itself does not make me Martha Stewart or Alton Brown, but it is one of the better things I can cook. Ask Miranda about the last time I made her turkey meatloaf (1994) and her cat food comparison food review and you’ll understand why I didn’t attempt that recipe again.

I must admit I’ve had to learn to cook a bit differently here in England as they measure things in grams and milliliters. Ovens are a bit different too. Ours is an electric fan oven which reminds me of a convection oven, but it measures temperature in Celsius not Fahrenheit. I generally do alright if there’s a recipe to follow and yesterday while out with my friend Tina and her twin girls, I discovered a darling little cookbook filled with some of my favorite English goodies. I was up early this morning going through the book below looking for a scone recipe that might be good for my first attempt at scone making.

Cookery-07

Mabel I. Rivers published this little book in 1907

Cookery-06

If you notice the price above, poor Mabel’s 75 page cookbook only sold for 1 shilling which according to John, would have been about 20 cents. Below is the recipe I used only instead of currents, I put sultanas in mine.

Cookery-05

Currant Scones

If you’re like me the very idea of using lard is not even within the realm of possibility. I made a few healthier substitutions. I decreased the salt and had to do a little research to decide what exactly qualified as a moderate oven temperature which was easier than deciding what a quick oven temp might be.

The results were very pleasing…scones can be square or round so I made a little of both.

IMG_1542

After spreading on a generous portion of my favorite Scottish jam and a dab of Cornish butter,  it was just about perfect.

MACKAY'S Scottish Three Berry Preserve

MACKAY'S Scottish Three Berry Preserve

Nothing left to say here but Mmmmm!

Hot From The Oven

Hot From The Oven

June 6, 1944 – Surviving To Die Another Day

 

HUGH LEE STEPHENS

HUGH LEE STEPHENS

While June 6, 1944 is a day that many will gather to remember the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion and the wartime sacrifice of human life, in my family there is another date that we remember someone lost to us on French soil in 1944. Like many other families it’s more personal than just another breaking news story where they bring out the oldest surviving vets and listen as they recount the horrors of that horrible time.

Stories are powerful, they shape opinion and leave a lasting impression on how we view the world around us. I grew up hearing stories about my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens. He was one of only two children born to my father’s maternal grandparents in a time when families were usually larger, when more children in families like ours meant more hands to work the farm and fields. On the day my family learned of Uncle Hugh’s death, his mother, my great-grandmother, had what I believe was first of several heart attacks she would have throughout her life. She was 53. She forever mourned her dead son acting in some ways as if her life ended with his. By the time I was born she almost seemed like a frail reflection of the sturdy woman I saw in family photographs before 1944.

My father was only a few days away from his 10th birthday when he heard the news and spoke often of how he’d looked up to his uncle who at 18 years his senior, was in many ways like a second father to him. My grandmother Clara Mae, his only sibling, told the kind of stories one might expect from a someone still clinging to the unfinished business of sibling rivalry … choosing to hold onto old hurts instead of feeling the pain and finality that comes with death. Each one had a different story … each one the truth for them. As for his father, my great-grandfather, I cannot ever remember him sharing any stories of his lost son … almost as if it was too much to remember what must have been to painful for him to recall.

Hugh Lee, as he was called by his mother and father also left behind a wife who loved him. When he died at 27, he was just a simple Georgia boy in a foreign country. He found himself in a country he never imagined he’d be growing up as he did on a rural farm in the south. A place across the ocean where he’d struggle to find his footing and fall dying as he did beside his fellow soldiers, the sons and fathers and husbands we still remember 65 years later.

Because I had served as a soldier in the U.S. Army, when it came time to pass Uncle Hugh’s flag to the next generation for safe keeping my father offered it to me, the eldest of his three daughters. I took this photograph in Georgia just before I passed it on to my daughter Miranda who while only 21, was appreciative and eager to accept it into her care. While packing up the small amount of things that I value most to send over to England, I made the decision to leave behind the flag that draped the casket at his military funeral not because I did not value its meaning or because there was no room, but because I believed my great-uncle Hugh’s American flag should stay in the country he called home.

IMG_1206

The reflection of the empty chairs in this photograph of his flag reminds me of the family and life experiences he never got to have. Leaving no children of his own, his story exists now only in a few genealogy notes, this flag and the memories we share.  I honor his service and sacrifice in the best way I know how by sharing his story with a group larger than the boundaries of our little family and hope that he like so many others who gave their lives on the battlefield, will never be forgotten.