Happy New Year – 10 Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today people were worried about what might happen as the clocks rolled over into 2000. I had bigger fears than Y2K back then, but even so I tried to focus on the moments and the experiences of my daily life placing more value on creating a portfolio of memories than banking it all for a mega big retirement plan. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the traditional things as well, investing in property and my 401K, but by far the best rewards in my later years will be the experiences I’ve shared with the people I love.

This was Paris in 2000, with us standing under a damp winter sky in front of the Eiffel Tower where I took my daughter Miranda in hopes of adding to her portfolio of special moments and memories.

Here’s to creating new memories in 2010 and building a retirement fund of a lasting kind … our connections to each other and the fearless pursuit of life worth living.

When It’s Not Just A Turkey Sandwich

John made a soup the other day using some of the leftover bits from our Christmas dinner. He hates to waste anything and decided to dump a good many things into the big soup pot. He made soup instead of a curry because I don’t really care for curries in the same way he does. He thought he was being nice and thinking about me and in a very sincere way, he was but … isn’t funny how there’s a but here … so when he announced that he’d made a nice soup with the turkey leftovers I assumed for a half second that he had used the bones and the bits of turkey left on them. What I quickly discovered was that all the turkey in the house was now in little pieces floating in a mixture that I was not going to eat.  At least not in a turkey sandwich which I was looking forward to having for lunch that day.

To say that I handled it well would be a stretch. As I went sulking off to my unfinished studio space grumbling to myself about how important that sandwich was to me and how could he use all of the turkey up and never ask me and how I was really looking forward it and why did he think I bought the white bread which I never eat except with turkey sandwiches and why couldn’t he have asked me and on and on and on …

Poor John was left there thinking … it’s only a turkey sandwich!

Right! Only a turkey sandwich is what I tried to tell myself too. We normally get along so well and I imagine no woman ever felt more loved and respected than I do so why was this turning into Turkey-Gate 2009?  As I went off to think, I thought about what was it that made the loss of a simple thing like the sandwich so important. Frankly, I’m not even that fond of turkey and tend to think of it more as an accessory item for Christmas dinner than a necessary piece.

It turns out it wasn’t about the turkey sandwich, but rather the ritual of eating it with my family back home. Traditionally, it is almost like putting a period at the end of the sentence and closes out the family Christmas festivities each year. Missing my daughter and the rest of my family and friends back in America made it more painful in a way not to finish things up as we do there. After I had thought for a little while, I came out to talk with John who bless his heart listened quietly, hugged me while I had a little tear, and acknowledged my feelings without being the slightest bit dismissive.

I thought it was all behind us after that until yesterday when we went into town to pick up a few things at the grocery store. As is our way, we split up in the store with each going off in different directions to pick up the items on our lists with a plan to meet at the checkout line. Imagine my surprise to see him standing in a place he never goes, at the deli counter buying something he never buys, sliced deli meat. I knew immediately what he was doing … he was buying a few slices of turkey so I could put some closure on my Christmas in the way I would in America. I was so touched that I almost had a little cry right in front of everybody.

So you can see now why sometimes it’s not just a turkey sandwich, but instead a little gift of the heart.

As well as the best turkey sandwich I ever had.

Our Cornish Christmas – An Open House – Part II

I’m so glad you could stop by for part II of my post about our Cornish Christmas. If you missed part I which was yesterday, you can go here to read it first.

Our Christmas stockings were made by my paternal grandmother years ago. Mine is the largest. I made one of the same size and a similar look in white for my daughter’s first Christmas 23 years ago and while I have it here, I couldn’t bring myself to hang it since seeing it made me miss her even more. I brought it to England with me to make some repairs to it. My version has not weathered the years as well as the one my grandmother made. I’ll take it back to her later when it’s fixed.

This is our Christmas tree. It’s a live one that John used several years ago and has been growing in the garden since that time. I was surprised to see it transfer so nicely to a larger pot and work so well inside the house.  It will stay decorated and in its spot until Twelfth Night when it goes back to a place in the garden. The Christmas angel on the tree top is a special one I made for Miranda’s first Christmas and has been on my Christmas tree for 23 years.

I used to like to think of my angel’s out stretched arms as open and embracing, waiting in a way to envelop one in a big bear hug, but after buying our first Christmas ornament as a couple this year from a local artist, I think of her arms as opening wide to hold the joy that is in my life and in my heart. Instead of hanging the heart embroidered with joy on the tree, I thought it fit perfectly in the arms of the angel.

On Christmas Eve, John’s cousin Mary and I ventured down early in the evening for the children’s Christingle service. I didn’t take any photographs of the service, but the pictures  below give you an idea of what our church looks like from the inside … except it was full of singing children and special christmas decorations and lighting that night.

This is John just inside the door of our village church in a photograph taken almost two years ago. While I have great interior shots of churches all over the UK, I seem to have neglected the one in my own village.

There’s no heat at all in this church so you have a sense of what it must have been like throughout the ages. Of course we have better fabrics for insulating our bodies from the cold, but it was still chilly on Christmas Eve.

After our Christingle service we went to a Christmas open house at my friend Tina’s house, but again I don’t have any pictures to post. John took a few, but she and her husband Henry had a full house and it was difficult to get any that looked very nice.

Because we had icy road conditions on Christmas Eve the vicar canceled the midnight service. I had been looking forward to it so I stayed up late writing my Christmas blog post and watching a midnight mass in the lovely cathedral that you see above. ( I snapped this shot from the television)

This is Mary on Christmas morning. She said later at the end of her five day visit with us that it was the best Christmas she could remember in a long time. I was so pleased since I knew with the recent death of her brother Michael with whom she always spent Christmas, that this was going to be a difficult one for her to get through.

This is John looking cute with a lawn mower razor that was in his stocking. He was quite surprised to see that I still believed adults should hang a stocking for Santa to fill. His was overflowing so he must have been a very good boy this year.

Ah … one of me … holding some spackle, I mean wrinkle filler that my sister Margaret sent me from Alaska. After dabbing on a little, we headed for the pub for a traditional Christmas Day drink.

Mary didn’t let her almost 87 years (she’s a new year baby) keep her from a Christmas morning trip to the pub. In our village, Gary, who owns the pub along with his wife Margaret, opens the pub between 11 and 2:30 on Christmas Day so locals can come in for a drink.

That’s Gary in the Santa hat and Roger in the navy shirt beside him. You can’t tell from this picture, but Gary is wearing shorts. It  was cold outside, but he was still wearing shorts. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Gary in long pants or trousers as they would say here since pants means underwear.

A distance shot of some of our neighbors.

More from behind the bar.

This lovely image was painted by a local artist using Gary, Roger (barman) and Becky (barmaid) along with some pub regulars in her version of the Nativity scene.

After my usual pub drink of diet lemonade, (like a diet sprite) it was back to the house for our first Christmas dinner together. There are a few things on the plate I’ve never had at Christmas before, like the roasted potatoes, parsnips and the bacon wrapped sausages they call pigs in a blanket here.

Here’s a shot of me with Mary wearing a traditional Christmas party hat that fell out of my Christmas cracker.

Burp!  ” Oh, pardon me ”  It turned out to be a lovely mix of my traditional American Christmas favorites along with John’s English dishes.  I almost forgot…

Hello Dolly … anyone?

Our Cornish Christmas – An Open House – Part I

I wanted to throw open our doors and invite you in for a Christmas coffee and some Hello Dollies. I hope you’ll be able to stay a few minutes and say hello. I may even give a house tour if you are interested in seeing what we’ve been up to here.

This is a Christmas decoration I put together using Christmas crackers. I learned that while shopping with John for our Christmas goodies at the grocery store that when I say we need some crackers we are more likely to end up staring at an aisle filled with these than something you serve with a cheese ball. For nibbling with cheese, I now know that I should be asking for cheese biscuits rather than crackers especially at Christmas.

This is our dining area off the kitchen. I prefer the table the other way, but it makes it hard for people to sit when they have to scrunch in next to the wall. We’re planning to redo the kitchen next year once we recover from having built the extension and by “we ” I mean mostly John so this area which is part of the kitchen will look different (bigger) by next Christmas.

This was a Christmas floral arrangement I made for the table. The batik on the wall was the largest “art piece” I shipped over and I was so glad to see it arrive in great condition. I bought the batik on a trip to Bali in 2002 and it was something several people wanted me to leave behind so they could have it. The crystal candlestick holders are very special because they belonged to my good friend Patrice’s mom, Marilyn and Patrice gave them to me when Marilyn died a few years ago.

Here is a slightly better shot of the batik.

You can see my Angel bowl that my daughter painted years ago looking down over our table. I hand carried it on my last flight from America. As good as my shippers were, I didn’t want to risk this special gift from her.

Here’s the other side of the space above … where my ingredients wait on the counter (work top) to create our Christmas dinner.

John made all these cabinets and built some more to hold my good china that made across the ocean in perfect condition. If you look at the countertop you can see a large bread bowl and a rolling pin. Both were made by my great grandfather Harper who was a blacksmith and a carpenter. I used the rolling pin when I made these yummy cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning and made a few extra for some of my neighbors. It was only my second experience baking with yeast and it held a few surprises.

The bubbling over piece was not one I’d anticipated would keep happening.

But the yield was marvelous as you can see below and this is just what I gave away. We which really means, I ate a bunch of them as well. I forgot to photograph the finished product, but you can go here to see Pioneer Woman’s rolls and her recipe which I followed.

Additionally, I made a sweet potato dish that once you’ve had it, all others pale in comparison. I even brought back the same canned yams I normally use from America, carrying them over in my suitcase. I thought this two pound can would be enough. Hah!  The measuring cup was only half full …

… which left me doing what you see below … cooking more sweet potatoes.

What you see here is me using my computer to follow Pioneer Woman’s cornbread recipe so I can use it in my cornbread dressing which came from her website too. That’s my grandmother’s mixing bowl you see there and if you look back by the computer you can see Miranda in a photograph taken in Paris when we were there for the millennium new year … a whole different story to come later.

My daughter Miranda is the child in the leather coat with the bag over her shoulder queuing for the her first visit to the Louvre.

Next on my list was a recipe we make at Christmas which needed raspberry gelatin and this looked like the Jello gelatin boxes back in America with the exception of being a different brand name. Plus, I knew that what I know as Jello they called Jelly so I thought this one be one familiar thing to work with even if the packaging was different. I set the water to boil and opened the box expecting to find a package of powder to dissolve and was surprised to find …

this … I had about a half second where I thought, what am I supposed to do with this? As John would say when I say something a little different because it’s an American thing, ” I worked it out.”

This is the first deep dish pumpkin pecan pie I ever made. I was so proud of it and it tasted as good as it looked. Well, …

… for a slice or two until it slipped from my hands and fell onto the floor making a nasty mix of broken glass and pie. I was so sad and slightly angry that I had not had a chance to fully enjoy my pie made with pumpkin mix brought from America. You can’t buy it here and I was really bothered by the fact that it was all wasted. So taking my last can of pumpkin and what remained of my pecans, I made …

… this!

Which looked like this when it was done and …

… like this just before I had the first piece. Mmm!

Maybe you remember John’s cousin Mary… she was visiting this past summer with her brother Michael when he suddenly had a heart attack and died. It was a sad time for us all. I wrote about it here, here, and here, if you’d like to learn more about her sweet brother.

This is what our guest room looks like now. I still need to build the padded headboard, but since Mary was staying with us for Christmas I had to save that piece for the new year. Do you remember back when I was reworking the curtains and the duvet and making the pillow shams and the bedskirt or dust ruffle … if not you can go here to read about it.


That’s all for now, have another cup of coffee and I be back with another plate of Hello Dollies and some more pictures in part II.

Love In A Box

Margaret & Elizabeth - Christmas 1969

” To me, children’s literature is for escape. Children read to get away from all the bad things in life. “

~Wylly Folk St.John

I found the quote above in an interview clipped from a newspaper and tucked inside a book written by my Aunt Wylly. Finding it this morning was in a way like receiving a last gift box from her. If you’ve spent any time on my blog, you will know that my great aunt, Wylly Folk St. John was a writer who while writing a great many things on a variety of topics, was most well known for her work as a children’s book author. As my grandfather’s only sister, she always remembered us with gifts at Christmas and on birthdays with each one seeming as if she had picked it out especially with us in mind.

No gift box from Aunt Wylly was ever complete without a book and I always looked forward to seeing what kind of mystery was waiting for us. In addition to books, unusually wrapped gifts were stuffed into the scruffy brown boxes that always seemed too small to contain everything that came out of them. It was sort of like Mary Poppin’s handbag with more stuff coming out than could have possibly fit inside.

As I grew older, I learned she bought gifts all year round and kept them in what she liked to refer to as her, ” Christmas closet. ”  Once on a visit to her home in Social Circle, I saw her disappear behind an already closed door she had opened just enough to slip inside. After being gone for a few minutes, she returned carrying something that smelled like the packages that arrived twice a year.

Well into our adult years, Margaret and I would talk about the excitement we had felt as children when a box arrived with Aunt Wylly’s familiar handwriting on the shipping label. Both of us would always do the same thing as the box was opened taking a deep breath and breathing in the familiar scent that we associated with our aunt. There was something dependable and constant about the way her gifts smelled the same every time and even though we couldn’t identify it completely, we later realized it was the scent of her home and daily life.

This year as you may remember, I went back to what was Aunt Wylly’s cabin when she was alive. My cousins inherited it from their mother when she died suddenly last year and have made the tough decision to sell the cabin because it is no longer possible to keep it. While I was spending the day with them, I decided to share the story of the gift boxes, the Christmas closet, and the scent that was so special to me and Margaret.

Not too far into my story, two of my cousins said in unison that the Christmas closet was the whole bedroom (which explained the constantly closed door) and they said that the the long unidentified scent that smelled like Aunt Wylly’s house was … can you guess … it was mothballs.

So this year when I sent my Christmas package to my sister Margaret and her family in Alaska, I tucked a couple of mothballs into the shipping box overnight and then emptied it and left it open to air for a day or two. Then I wrapped up the gifts in the same way Aunt Wylly might have done with the kind of paper and string you see on discount in the value shoppers aisle. Just before I sealed it and shipped it, I took a little sniff and there it was again … Aunt Wylly’s house.

I said nothing to my sister and when it arrived, she opened the box and told me later that the first thing she thought of was Aunt Wylly as the familiar scent of one of our dearest childhood memories drifted up from my box of gifts.

At least twenty-five years after receiving the last gift box from Aunt Wylly, it made me smile to be able to share that again with Margaret and to know that the mystery has been solved.

Speaking of mysteries, Margaret is holding a copy of The Christmas Tree Mystery, a book written by our aunt and one in which the key characters are modeled after the two of us. Like all of her books, it’s filled with clues, but this one has a plot which has Elizabeth trying to right a wrong after jumping to conclusions and Margaret doing all she can to support her so that together they solve the mystery.

That’s supposed to be me on the cover with the light making my hair look blondish. My character has brown hair and eyes just as I do.

I always liked seeing the part about  ” … for the real Elizabeth and Margaret, ”  at the top on the dedication page.

This page always makes me smile too.

I include this page so you can see how little a 141 page hard back children’s book sold for in 1969. It seems as if you would have to sell a lot of books at $3.95 to make a good living doing it.

My Christmas Tree Tells A Story That I Know By Heart

My Christmas tree tells a story that I know by heart. Every year when I open the boxes marked Christmas, I hesitate before reaching in for the first of many memories that wait wrapped in a protective layer of tissue paper and packing. Each ornament documents a chapter or a page from the book that is my life and it is difficult and bittersweet sometimes to remember where I was in life when certain ornaments found their way to my Christmas tree.

Every year for as long as I can remember, my step-mom Cullene has given me a special ornament. She began this tradition with my dad and continued it after he died in 1990, only a few weeks before Christmas. When I was home for Thanksgiving, she gave me my latest one.  Can you guess which one came back with me in my carry on bag? If you need a hint, she wanted to remind me of my American home as if I could ever forget the people I love there, simply because there is one I love here now too.

My daughter Miranda’s tiny fingerprints grace an ornament she made as a gift when she was two and there is a green glass globe to the right with her name written in red glitter that we made together when she was seven.

If you look in the top right hand corner you can see a white crocheted snowflake that has been on Cullene’s tree for years. When my dad was living they filled their tree with them and she invited me to take a few back to the UK. I chose three, one for Miranda, one for John and one for me.

You can’t have missed the Palace Guard to the left and below the American flag. I bought it at Buckingham Palace when Miranda and I spent a week in London in the summer of 2003. It’s been on my tree since, waiting, and perhaps maybe even knowing, that it would find its way back home to England one day.

I bought a new addition for our tree during a craft sale in the village shop last Saturday. It is the first one I’ve purchased for us since we married earlier this year and I think it is a simple and lovely addition. You can’t see it in this picture but there is a hint in the title above.  If you can guess what it might be, I’ll l be back to show it to you later on Christmas Day.

It’s late here about 3:15 a.m. on Christmas morning and I must go to bed before the house begins to wake up so …goodnight everyone and Merry Christmas.

Making Mary’s Magnificent Cheese Ball

John’s cousin Mary has come to spend Christmas with us arriving late last night at about 11:00. While John was pouring her a glass of wine, I got out the cheese ball that I made the night before which interestingly is called Mary’s Cheese Ball. It’s another recipe from my step-mom Cullene and one of my favorites to make this time of year. I promise you that cheese ball will stand out in a crowd of Christmas party trays and people will be asking you for the recipe once they have a bite or two.

It’s very simple. ( Large recipe located at the end of the post )

You mix some finely chopped green peppers along with crushed and well drained pineapple … I chop my pineapple to be sure it’s small enough. ( I’m serious about the well drained part … you don’t want to have soggy balls.)

Then add some onions that are chopped very small.

I prefer a spicy seasoning mix like the Spicy Season – All above instead of a seasoning salt as the recipe calls for. I am not loyal to a brand yet but I look for one with less salt and no MSG.

Mix all your ingredients well. ( Don’t forget to add a portion of the pecans to it )

Put down some foil with a bit of plastic wrap on top then sprinkle some of the pecans into the center and add a bit of the cheese mixture.

Then I sprinkle a little nuts around the sides and over the top and use the plastic wrap to work it in gently.

My picture isn’t the prettiest, but it’s going to taste good.

I like to make different sized cheese balls so I have plenty of fresh ones ( that look pretty) when people stop by.

Uh oh!   Looks like there’s enough for one more.

And there you have it, a tower of Mary’s cheese balls almost ready for nibbling. I like to give these a day to develop the best flavor. It’s one of those things that after a couple of days the flavor just gets better. I serve mine with crackers, but sometimes after Christmas I spread it on my leftover turkey and use it in a sandwich.

Please let me know if you give it a try. I already know what your family and friends will say about it. Last night was no exception as my new British family munched it up and said several times how much they liked it. I’ll be back in a little while to show you what else I ‘m working on. Dare I say there may be more than two or three posts today.