A Word From The Bird


About a year ago, just before I began blogging, I sent a piece I’d written about my daughter to Leon, my brother-in-law. Until very recently, Leon worked as an editor and writer for several large newspapers and while I’d been somewhat reluctant to show him anything I’d written, on some level I think I needed a little feedback as to whether my writing might appeal or be good enough to interest anyone other than myself.  I must admit that I was a bit worried about my punctuation and grammar when I sent my essay off to him. I tend to get what MJ O’Shea, one of my writing instructors at Oswego State University referred to as “comma happy” when I write and I was a bit concerned this might be the only thing he would notice when reading my words.

I cannot tell you how delighted I was by the magic of his words when he wrote back and said, ” Elizabeth, that’s REALLY good. That’s Bird by Bird good. It’s the kind of writing I strive for.”  With words of encouragement like that to boost me, I pressed publish for the first time on June 27, 2008 and never looked back.

In Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life she addresses the fears and frustrations of would be writers and acts as a guide for those of us who are intent on having our say. With her direction and encouragement, she teaches you how to break down the storytelling process into manageable parts by focusing on what is honest and real about the story rather than the results.

Delivering good readable writing that touches the reader in some way is part of my goal in writing what I do. To have someone I respect tell me what Leon did that day about a story I wrote totally from my heart…well that’s almost as good as standing in front of America with my Oscar in hand saying, “I’d like to thank….”

I was extremely delighted a few weeks ago, when I received an email from Diane Hayman, who is Editor-in-Chief of Powder Room Graffiti.  It seems after leaving a comment on a post there by Expat Mum, Toni Summers Hargis, a blogger and author that I read regularly, Diane noticed my comment and popped over to Gifts Of The Journey for a look around. The result of which led to her kind request asking if I might like to be interviewed for Powder Room Graffiti.

My interview can be found here…revealing a few more secrets you may not have known about me. Thanks to Diane and the folks at PRG for their interest and thanks to those of you who keep coming back to Gifts Of The Journey.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays

Years before I ever read my first blog or considered writing these words, I spent a week in a workshop in Taos, New Mexico with a group of people who came together to study with Natalie Goldberg. I can’t say that I know what everyone else’s motivation was for the week, but I had longed for a chance to be in the same space with the woman who had intrigued me with her book Writing Down The Bones since I’d first read it in 1986. The picture above was taken in 2000 at one of the communal meals we shared three times a day in between a good bit of time spent writing and sharing our written words with each other. As you can see by my smile, I was pretty happy during my week there. In Writing Down The Bones, Natalie Goldberg gives the reader her six rules designed to help free the writer within.

After deciding how long to write, as in ten minutes or twenty, whatever time you set for yourself, you must keep writing for the whole time without stopping.

The Goldberg Six:

1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying. Don’t stop until the time is up.)

2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it. Don’t     backspace.)

3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)

4. Lose control.

5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.

6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

While I’ve been writing for years, my internal critic made it almost impossible for me to actually let anyone read what I had written. This workshop was gave me a chance to break free and share my words without fear of criticism. What we wrote we read aloud and according to the rules, we made no comments as to what we had just heard so no one had to worry about having their writing critiqued.

The best discovery in doing this daily is how quickly to find your real voice and how easy it is to begin writing thinking that you’re going in one direction, when the true story develops somewhere further down the page than you first imagined.  I’d like to incorporate a bit of this into my writing again and I would like to offer anyone who wishes to join me a chance to do it too.

With that in mind, I’ve created a new site called, Tell Me A Story Tuesdays and it is my hope that you, (my readers) will join me there on Tuesdays and leave a little of your creative thought behind.

On Tuesdays, I’ll post three photographs along with instructions for those interested in participating to leave a sentence behind with one or all three and I’ll use them to do a bit of free writing. The goal will be to create a story which I will share on Tuesdays. I’m inviting anyone interested in doing a little storytelling of their own to join me by taking a sentence or two to turn into your own creation. Then on Tuesdays, post it on your blog and send me a link the night before so I can include a link to your site with my own Tuesday story.

Since I don’t have a writers group here, I thought this might be a good way to fill that void and have a bit of fun.  Write as little or as much as you’d like and remember the six rules above while you’re writing. I plan to edit my writing before posting, but only after my practice writing time is up. Remember, the goal here is practice writing, not perfection.

Please go to Tell Me A Story Tuesdays to begin and I look forward to seeing what you’d like to share next Tuesday.

A Room Of One’s Own – Week 3 – Update

Brian and Bob have been very busy in spite of the wet weather we’ve been having and you’re not going to believe how quickly things have changed. Before I show you how much they’ve been able to accomplish, I want to show you what Brian’s face looked like when I told him that I was writing about the new addition and putting pictures of the progress on the internet for everyone to see.


I’m just kidding…he wasn’t bothered at all about being on my blog and his real expression almost always looks like the two pictures below.



Getting back to business, let me show you where things stand now.






Here’s a photograph of the finished stonework. I love how everything is coming along so quickly and I’m getting really excited as I try to visualize how it will be to work in my new space. I have to confess to standing in the rain this weekend with a tape measure in one hand and an umbrella in the other as I was trying to decide how much room I need for certain pieces of furniture. Have a look at the stonework and before too long I hope to be sharing some of the choices I’m considering for flooring, paint, and tile.  Oh…and please stop by tomorrow to see something new I’ve been working on lately.


Redoing It My Way

Yesterday I went into our closest town with my friend Tina to get to my hair cut by someone new. The stylist who has been doing my hair is 40 miles away and it was getting to be a bit much for a woman who needs a cut every six weeks so I decided to try the woman who does Tina’s hair.

We had a bit of car trouble on the way there. Tina was driving when the reverse in her car completely disappeared while we trying to back up. This can be a problem when driving on the narrow lanes here as you frequently need to reverse when you meet an oncoming vehicle. We made it back to the village and after parking her car, we picked up John’s car and set off with me behind the wheel.

We had a bit of time to hit the shops before our hair appointments and we went into some of my favorite stores, the charity shops. There are tons of them scattered around everywhere you look in the cities and towns here in the UK.  You can literally walk out of one and within a few hundred yards be standing in front of another. I see these shops as a treasure hunt of sorts and yesterday, I hit gold when I found two almost identical bracelets and a necklace.

Want to know what I did with those three pieces of jewelry (or jewellery for UK readers)…. I made some more….I love reworking jewelry into something I really want. Below are the seven pieces that I reshaped from the original three and I’ve got enough bits left over to make at least two or three more pairs of earrings.








I had a lot fun making these pieces, but the best find of the day was Lisa, who gave me my sassy new haircut.

Because Red Pine Mountain asked about it, here’s a picture of my new haircut that John took in the pub last night. It’s not the best of me, but you can get an idea of how it looks. I know it’s not dramatically different from some I’ve worn in the past, but I was getting so shaggy looking that it feels fresh and exciting to me. Plus, I really prefer my hair short enough to keep it looking somewhat natural…too long tends too end up being too much work and a bit fussy looking for me.


Can you see the new earrings I made earlier in day?


The pub was packed last night as the live entertainment drew a huge crowd that spilled over into the restaurant side where we were sitting as well to the picnic tables outside .


John and I walked home about 11:45 calling it a night fairly early, but there were tons of folks still having fun as we strolled off into the dark.

I See You

I spotted this collection of everlasting love tokens after a long walk on Dartmoor one day with John. We were passing though a village when I noticed this scene in the window of someone’s home. If you look to the far left you can see John’s reflection lined up perfectly with the heart shaped stones in the window. Sometimes in life you think the thing you are focusing your attention on is all important, but if you pause for a minute and pull back, the real gift is waiting quietly just to be seen.

I tend concentrate a lot of energy on my writing and projects and can appear to lose sight of what else is happening around me at times. John is always there…constant and solid like these natural expressions of love in my photo. On this Love Thursday, I’d like to remind him that he fills my life and my view and even when he’s standing off to the side….I still see him.

Here’s a little song for him…from Ray LaMontagne…have a listen and pass it on to someone you love today.

A Room Of One’s Own – Week 2 – Update

Last week I introduced you to the work being done in the back garden. Since John first surprised me with the idea of a room of my own, I’ve imagined all the places I could place my desk and what my view might be while writing. I’ve gone back and forth thinking… should I position it so I’d be looking at the wall or would an outside view be better for my creative process. I’m still trying to decide what would be less distracting and better for my work.

Watching Brian and Bob our builders work over the last few weeks has been a lesson in not letting distractions get in the way. They’ve worked steadily through a heat wave while breaking up the concrete for new the plumbing. It looked like tough work making a space beneath the walkway and along the side of the house. They spent the better part of a week digging deep into the backyard (garden) through three or four feet of dirt and rock to lay more pipes for the new bathrooms and making way for the foundation. Recently Brian and Bob have had to work around the rain with enough stops and starts to aggravate even the most patient soul. We’ve had a wet week or two lately and they never seem put off by it.  All along they’ve moved at a pace that John said was faster than he’d imagined possible and we don’t think it will be too long before we see the roof going on.







A Room Of One’s Own And A Bathroom Too

I have a secret I’ve been keeping from some of you and now that things are taking shape, I feel inclined to share the news. Remember what Virginia Woolf said about a woman needing “a room of one’s own” in order to write fiction…well guess what John is giving me. Yes, that’s right four walls that will exist just to serve me and I get to make all the decisions about fixtures, color, decor, flooring, anything and everything..it’s up to me. Now if a room of my own wasn’t enough by itself…John decided I should have an en-suite bath as well.  As you can see by the building plan we’re actually adding two bathrooms so instead of the bath and a half we currently have, there will soon be three bathrooms and a loo. (half bath)

I can’t begin to tell you how loved I feel by John’s decision to add on to a perfectly reasonably sized 3 bedroom bungalow in order to make me feel more welcome and at home. When I came over last May for three months, he totally restructured the closet in the master bedroom giving me the bulk of the space, later he added extra cabinets in the bathroom and bedroom for me to have enough storage for all the things a woman uses on a regular basis, then he added bookshelves and space in his study for me before revamping the kitchen and later installing more cabinets for my kitchen things that should be arriving any day now.

John’s been so caring and considerate, commenting more than a time or two that he knows how difficult it must have been for me to sell off my things and leave my home and family and move here to live with him. He’s done all these things without my asking, suggesting, or mentioning anything about space.

It’s a tremendous gift he’s giving me and I’m not just talking only about a room of my own. I had an awareness the other day as I was making decisions in my head about how I wanted to do certain things. Having never had the opportunity to design a space from the ground up, I realized I was placing limitations on my creativity out of habit as I’ve always had to work within the framework of those who’d gone before me. The more I thought about this, the more I saw a pattern in some of my creative writing…as in too safe and too predictable. So you see, this room of my own, my quiet place for writing fiction has already has given me a bit of the freedom Virginia Woolf spoke of when she wrote about all the circumstances that kept women of her day from being able to tap into their creative voice. Going forward now, I need to remember sometimes the limitations are not those placed on us by outside conditions, but rather the internal ones we create for ourselves.

I’ll be posting updates in the building process weekly and I hope you’ll come back to see the progress.









What Remains


1948 Bringing In The Milk

A young boy about 7 or 8 walks with his little brother as they follow the tall man into the garage to see what waits inside. Watching intently, he listens as his cousin seventeen years his senior explains patiently and carefully that the boat they’re standing in front of is a varnished, clinker built, sailing dinghy. The boy has never seen one this close before, but he knows from the excitement in his cousin’s voice that this is very special to him. He listens and tries to remember as this kind man takes time to explain the purpose and names of the riggings and fittings. His little brother fidgets beside him too young to absorb much of what is being said. Only 3, his brother won’t remember this day, but later he’ll help his older brother as they build the first of two dinghies when they are only 9 and 13. When they’re grown men, they’ll each buy their own sailboats, but still sail together at times, as they explore the Cornish coastline not too from the Bristol Channel where they first rowed the dinghy they built together as children.


Two Lads In The Dinghy Built In 1956


John Winchurch 1956

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy

Mom Takes A Ride In The New Dinghy With David

It’s this early childhood memory that John will recall 6o years later when he stands before about 30 or so of his cousin Michael’s family and friends as they gather together to share stories of this erudite man whose sense of humor generally made him the life and soul of any party. After his memorial service, they’ll all gather round to look at the photographs that various people will bring to share. Most will contain images of Michael, some from 50 years ago like the one below when he served as best man at the marriage of John Collins and his late wife.

Michael J. Bench - Best Man- 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

Michael J. Bench - Best Man - 1959 (Far Left In Photo)

After sharing his childhood memory of Michael, John will listen with great interest as John Collins, the groom above tells him how he met Michael when they were architecture students and how together with another friend they’d bought the dinghy that Michael had shown the boys in the garage all those years ago. John Collins will say he was interested to hear the dinghy mentioned during the memorial service and he how he can’t quite remember what happened to it. He’ll also add how it came to be in that particular garage when the three of them owned it jointly. Being students still, Michael was the only one with a place to store it and so it was there… tucked in the garage of Michael’s parents, Auntie Millie and Uncle Horace when John and his brother David visited the Bench family around 1948.

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

John And Cousin Mary, Remembering With Michael's Friends

This picture probably more than any other reminds me of the day and how in the end what remains are the memories and stories we share. Michael was well loved and there were many conversations as we talked and talked lingering even as we moved towards our cars reluctant to have the day be at an end. Mary was not really interested in being photographed as so many of us are particularly as we get older, but this sweet photograph of her alone is one I just had to share because with her brother Michael’s recent death and the loss of their younger brother two years ago, in their circle of three, she is what remains now.

Mary Bench Levack

Mary Bench Levack

Stars And Stripes Against An English Sky


On Saturday, I had my second 4th of July celebration here in England. Last year John and I had a sweet little day alone and I made some of my family favorites for our rained out barbecue.  This year was very different except for the rain. Since last year, I’ve had a chance to meet some other women who are married to Englishmen too.  John and I were invited to celebrate the 4th with this new group of friends who’ve very kindly welcomed us into their circle.


If any of you are wondering…yes, we did set up our tables for the meal in what is referred to here as a poly tunnel or a greenhouse. The weather forecast predicted rain and we wanted to be dry just in case. We did get some on and off sprinkles, but not enough to keep us from having a good game of American kickball.


That’s John guarding third base while one of the children grabs the ball to try to tag the little girl in the red dress running to second.



Other activities included a little bouncing on the trampoline which I gave a try after warning the children to give me wide berth.



There were foot races….


and fancy dress….



Even the peacocks wanted to show off their finery.



The food was pure American 4th of July cookout favorites….hot dogs, hamburgers, homemade potato salad and coleslaw.


We even tested our knowledge of American geography with a printout supplied by our hostess. There was a bit of cheating going on with a few obvious glances from some of the English players.


Next on the menu… marshmallow roasting….






We finished up with a bit of music and a sing-a-long


It was getting a bit dark so my last two are a little grainy, but I really prefer to document from beginning to end without the disruption of a flash.


Last songs and tired children.


Of course you need a bit of pyro at the end of the day and we had a lovely bit of fireworks…I managed to capture some of the excitement of the children with a little video footage at the end.(RATS!  I can’t get it to work…check back later if you want to see it and I’ll try to work it out.)