The Day The Antiques Roadshow Came To Lanhydrock

The first time I visited Lanhydrock it looked like much the photograph above. John and I went early in the day hoping to get a good look at the gardens and although there were more people about than you see here, I managed to get this shot with the family alone in the middle pane of glass as they walked up the path. I love how tightly they stayed together and I have to say I was holding my breath hoping no one else would rush in as I waited for them the hit the spot I had in mind. We are fortunate to live close enough to ride our bikes to Lanhydrock and it remains one of my very favorite of the National Trust Properties that I have had the good fortune to visit.

Two years ago this summer, Lanhydrock played host to the Antiques Roadshow and John graciously agreed to go along with me as I brought a few pieces from America in for a closer inspection and evaluation.

We thought we should get there early because of expected crowds so after parking the car, we joined what looked like a group of early birds like us and headed for the main grounds.

Is this the back of the queue? Looks like I spoke too soon about beating the crowd.

Hmmm … that woman looks familiar.

Yes, it’s Fiona, Fiona Bruce!

It seemed as if Fiona was everywhere that day, but John remembers one place in particular when he tells the story of our afternoon at Lanhydrock. (I’ll say more about that later) We did a fair amount of standing in lines as we waited to have the items I brought appraised, but with all the activity going on there was a lot to see.

Notice the man with the green bag on the dolly or sack trolley as John would call it …

I had to sneak a quick picture of what looked like a carved stone of some kind.

The fancy ceremonial necklace on this man tells me he is the Mayor of Bodmin. Well, it really tells me he is the Mayor of somewhere, but I assumed it was Bodmin, based on Lanhydrock’s proximity.

After waiting patiently, I finally got a chance to learn a bit about a painting I had bought in America. It is painted on silk and I bought in an antique store about 10 years ago. I’ve kept it covered and in the closet for much of that time as it looked so fragile and old. (That is me on the right.)

This is the painting. It is signed, I.Weiss and bears the date Jan 1, 1841. I paid $28 for it and it was appraised at 200 to 300 BPS which translates to about $300 to $450 US dollars. Not a bad investment for a pretty piece of work.

Who’s this … why it’s Fiona Bruce again … and the story I said I finish that John likes to tell about our day at the Roadshow… well, when we were waiting in one of the lines, our line was blocking the path and when Fiona Bruce needed to break through she came straight to where John was standing and made eye contact with him as he stepped to one side to open a pathway through the line. As she passed in front of him, she smiled and said, ” Thank you.”  So if you asked him about the day, he’ll be more than happy to tell you about the ” conversation ” he had with Fiona Bruce.

I Thought Those Sheets Were Clean

If you have slept in our guest bed anytime in the last year, the cleanliness of your sheets may be questionable. When I first moved to Cornwall, I used John’s choice in laundry detergent for a short while, but given the lack of a tumble dryer combined with John’s desire to buy the cheapest best value soap powder, I found my line dried clothes felt a bit like cardboard. So I launched a campaign for something that would satisfy my requirements and went in search of a laundry soap that would not have an overbearing fragrance or be too hard on my clothing.

After several trips to Morrisons, I found what I thought was just about perfect. I read a lot of packaging information while trying to decide which one would work best. You would think it would not be too difficult, but being an American living in Britain can sometimes make product recognition a little confusing. Even if it has a name I recognize it is often packaged in a completely unfamiliar way or smells differently than the American version. For the record, I have yet to find an unscented laundry soap over here, but I thought using the product below that was made for babies was a good compromise. It had an acceptable smell and it left my clothes soft.

I think it was an easy mistake to make, I mean it looks like liquid laundry soap … right? It clearly reads 42 WASHES at the top. I see wash and I think detergent which seemed reasonable until I tried to buy some more yesterday in a different store. Something in the display made me think hmmm … followed by, uh oh!

Do you see what I see in the box midway down? That’s right, the words, ” Comfort clothes conditioner.”  In America this would be referred to as fabric softener, a product designed to make your clothing soft to the touch, not to wash away dirt.

Okay, so now I’m better equipped with the bottle of Surf detergent above, but you should have seen the look on the faces of the two women who were stocking shelves at Trago Mills when I said, ” You mean Comfort concentrate is not laundry soap.”

I can’t say for sure, but I think I saw a smirk and a head shake pass between them. I was too busy thinking about how long it had been since my clothes had seen a bit of soap. On the positive side, it’s nice to know that my itchy skin is more likely due to excess fabric softener instead of early menopause.

If you happen to be some of our friends or family that have been planning a visit this year … rest assured, I have it sorted now and you will definitely have clean sheets.

The Light Of Friendship

I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are places on the moor where clumps of trees stand so tightly together that it is possible to step in through an opening and find yourself in a dark place with no light. Moss covers the rocks that line the forest floor, but you cannot see the beauty of the green or even your way clearly, without the light that sometimes manages to find its way in.

Your words and support over the last few days have been like a light in the forest working your way into my dark places. We think so often that we are strong on our own and there have many times when I have had to be, but the kind way in which you reached out to me through your comments was deeply appreciated and something I needed. It meant a great deal to me and I wanted to be sure you knew what a difference it made. Thank you .

Marilyn Jefferies 1949-2010

I took this picture on our last walk on Dartmoor with Ray and MIJ. I had already snapped a few shots of the cross when MIJ stepped into the shot. I took two or three photographs with her back to me wondering if the cross marked a grave or had been placed there as a memorial of some kind. I know now that many of the stone crosses on Dartmoor were placed there as guideposts to let travelers know they were on the right path. It seemed appropriate to use this photograph today.

Ray called this morning. John was out so I took the call knowing before I answered what he was going to say. He told me that MIJ had died about 7:00 this morning and that she seemed peaceful and appeared to be in no pain.

He said that he had just finished writing a poem for her and had turned to open the curtains as it was just beginning to get light. When he turned back, he could see that her breathing had changed so he took her in his arms and held her as she slipped away. That’s the way he said it, ” I took her in my arms and held her, and she just slipped away.”

As much as MIJ loved Ray, I cannot think of anything she would have liked more than to be held by him at the end.

Ray & MIJ on Dartmoor – November 8, 2009


I took the fuzzy picture above from a fair distance through our kitchen window. It’s a view I see at various times of the day as Fudge, the cat in the picture sits waiting for his owner to come home. John says he is only waiting for his next meal, but he is out there at the end of the drive twice a day, just as he always was before his owner died a week before Christmas.

Several neighbors have taken turns feeding him, but when I try to coax him over for a little snack, he runs away. The man’s daughter lives several hours from here and does not know what to do with Fudge. He won’t go with her and he won’t stay put. As far as we can see, he likes to roam. He keeps his distance from people … sometimes even those like me with hand out for comfort and a bit of food to nourish. I keep reaching out, but Fudge cannot bring himself to be comforted or even fed by someone he doesn’t recognize.

I on the other hand, wanted to say how much I appreciate the kindness of  all of those who stopped by … even the new names that I do not recognize yet. Your messages of support and encouragement after reading this post were a great comfort to me as I am sure they will be to Ray when I am able to share them with him. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

As for Fudge, if you live in Cornwall or close by and would like to take in an independent outdoorsy cat, I can put you in touch with the right person.

The Last Walk – Measured Steps

Our friend MIJ is desperately ill. She won’t get any better and it is really bad now. That knowledge sits so uneasily with me that it stays with me in the back of everything lately. I pester John for answers he doesn’t have and ask him to call her partner Ray for updates when I know there is not going to be any good news.

Twenty years ago, MIJ had breast cancer with a reoccurrence five years later, but with good medical intervention and diligent followups it seemed unlikely that this would reenter her life, at least not in this way. In November, she turned sixty with the kind of energy you would expect to see in an athletic forty year old. As active as I am, I always felt pleasantly tired after one of our five hour walks around Dartmoor, while MIJ never showed any signs of fatigue.

She has been in so much pain that Ray said she has given up and her doctors are now focused on just keeping her as comfortable as possible. Already a tiny slip of a woman, her weight loss is shocking when friends stop by to see her and it has been difficult to find the right dosage between controlling the pain and allowing her some lucidity in the short time she has left.

From everything we hear, she is receiving wonderful care from a compassionate medical team who spent weeks searching diligently through symptoms that were so unusual that they thought she might have something they could treat … something with a different outcome than the one she has now, a terminal diagnosis.

Mid November was the last time we saw her. I wish I had known it would be our last walk, I might have talked of other things. From all appearances, everything in her life was fine. She’d just had her sixtieth birthday becoming eligible for her state pension and we discussed the ways a bit of extra cash would be useful to her travel plans. After retiring at 58, she and Ray would often go off for six weeks at a time, walking and camping in conditions that while beautiful, would have left me grumbling. When we saw them in November, they were planning a trip to Nepal with a departure date of next month, and I listened to her explanation of why they were going there and putting off the New Zealand trip I knew she had been dreaming about.

She also told me in great detail of the new kitchen installation she had decided to go ahead with. MIJ has a doll house of a cottage and had wanted to make changes for some time, but had put it off, concerned as are most people on the edge of retirement, about money. The kitchen was finished about a week after MIJ went into the hospital. She never even had a chance to use it. My mind fixates on things like that. I tend to get stuck on thoughts such how she won’t ever cook a meal or wash a dish in the new space. I think about how she will never see New Zealand or swim again with her grandchildren. I keep thinking about how sad it all is and what she will miss.

I have been getting stuck there lately thinking about the twenty years she won’t have, but John encourages me to shift my thinking by gently reminding me of the twenty years of living she has been able to have since her first cancer diagnosis. In those years, MIJ has seen her son marry and have children of his own and she has been able build memorable relationships with her grandchildren who are old enough now to remember her when she is gone. Having twenty more years meant she had time to meet and fall in love with Ray eighteen years ago and travel to places she might never have seen had she been traveling alone.

When I came back from America early in December, I anticipated we would see Ray and MIJ for New Year’s Eve like we did last year, but around the time I began to think we should call them to make a plan, Ray called us to share the bad news. They were with us on our wedding day and I thought we would have more time. That’s often the way it is. You plan for a future that may not come and put off the things you might do or say differently if you only knew that this moment might be all you would have.

It is so natural to say, ” When I retire, I shall do ____ or when I get a new ___, I’ll be peaceful and happy,”  but if anything ever illustrated the point that we should not wait to do the things that matter, the finality of death does in it in an unmistakable way. It is that period at the end of the sentence, the full on stop that says, ” Your time is up.”

As Ray watches over MIJ in the hospital, I find my focus shifting to what we can do to help him. MIJ is getting all she needs now and is barely able to communicate more than a few words a day. He is at her side, all hours of the day, staying late into the night to keep her company as she gets ready for the final part of her journey.

Looking back over my photographs from our last walk together, I saved this one although I wasn’t really sure why at the time. It is not particularly pretty like many of the others that day, but in looking at it now I can see a future that was not apparent to any of us three short months ago.

MIJ, as you can see, walks on ahead while Ray waits, looking off in another direction. She is getting closer to the end now and I feel such sorrow thinking of her dying in a hospital bed. A still and quiet MIJ is so unfamiliar that I can’t quite get my head around it and my mind looks for something more comforting. I find it by picturing her walking, looking as I remember her best and thinking of these last days as measured steps, where MIJ is only going on before us, on a last walk alone.

Remembering The Day We Met – Valentine’s Day 2008

I took this picture last February when John and I were in Paris on our honeymoon and I’ve been saving it for just the right time. Today is the third Valentine’s Day we will spend together and the anniversary of the first time we met face to face.

Yesterday evening, John called out to me from his study and I went in to find him rereading a series of short emails that passed back and forth between us on February 13, 2008. We were emailing each other right until they closed the airplane door, documenting our thoughts and excitement as I was getting on the plane to fly over to meet him for the first time. He’s that kind of man, tender, romantic, and permanently etched on my heart. I am grateful everyday for him and I love how he remembers the details of our romance. Well loved, every day is what I am, but on Valentine’s Day it is especially nice to remember how we began.

If you don’t know our story yet and you’d like to know more, you can read about our first meeting below. After I take him a little breakfast in bed, we’re going back to Bedruthan Steps to recreate that first walk. We didn’t manage a photo the first time, but we took one a year ago and if you come back later you will be able to see a photograph from today’s walk posted underneath the one from last year at the bottom of the page.

Will You Stay With Me, Will You Be My Love

February 14, 2009

Today is the anniversary of the day I first stepped off a plane in England and into John’s arms. We’d spent the previous six weeks first emailing and later talking on Skype so we’d seen each other online for quite some time, but had never touched. Very quickly, I developed a huge crush on the darling Englishman who is now my husband. That we met for the first time in person on Valentine’s Day was more because it suited my work and travel arrangements than by romantic design. Because I had so many frequent flyer miles and a keen interest in seeing John in his own space, I suggested the idea that I come to him. I came with an open mind and a tender heart, but no expectations beyond the idea of getting to know him as only one can when actually in the same physical space.

As I write this, I have just been reminded by John that one year ago today, exactly 30 minutes from now, my plane touched down in a tiny airport in Newquay.  It is a vivid memory for us both and it’s funny now to look back and remember the thoughts and feelings I was having as I walked down the steps of the commuter flight across the tarmac and into his warm embrace that morning.

Any of you who’ve been reading my old blog at ( for long are aware of how this first meeting progressed from friendship and mutual attraction to the sweet ceremony we went through not quite two weeks ago. It seems appropriate to share our buttercup story and why these tiny yellow flowers have such meaning for me now.

When I arrived on that chilly day February 14, John asked me if I felt up to a little walk along the ocean on the coast path at a place called Bedruthan Steps. It was on the way back to the tiny village where he made his home and he was exited to show me a bit of the Cornish coast that he’d been telling me about for weeks. Despite having been too excited to sleep on the plane, I was definitely interested in seeing any of the places I had heard him refer to during the hours of talks we’d had using Skype.

We gradually worked our way back to the village and after putting on wellies we took a walk though a beautiful wood that opened into what I now refer to as the buttercup field. Of course, in February there were no buttercups, but I was intrigued as John described how by May the field would be covered in gold as the buttercups competed  with the constant green of the grassy space. As he told me this I thought how lovely that would be, but it was only after having spent the better part of two weeks with him that I knew with absolute certainty that I needed to come back to this field and stand in the middle of the buttercups that he said would come with the month of May.

Jumping ahead here and skipping over the activities that happened in order to bring me back, I arrived  back in England on May 13th. As I got closer to my travel date, I kept asking John, “ Have the buttercups bloomed yet? “ I was so worried that I would miss them.

Below are some of the images from the day I arrived in May last year. Few things in life are just as we imagine they will be, but this day was special and it was better than I could have imagined.  When I first saw the field of gold, I could almost hear Eva Cassidy’s voice singing in my head providing a romantic soundtrack to accompany the images that filled my eyes.  The song I heard was Fields Of Gold and I now think of this as our song. Take a minute and listen to it here.

I love the part of the song where she sings, ” Will you stay with me, will you be my love…”  These words were embroidered on a special linen tablecloth by my new friend Tina to use on our table for our wedding reception. The flowers you see are the two buttercups I picked that day in May. I tucked them in a pocket on the side of my pants and played in the buttercup field with them where they stayed until we returned  home. I forgot they were there and when I noticed them again, I took them out and pressed them in a book. They dried twined together having fallen into the position that you see in the picture. I took a photograph of them and Tina created a sketch from it and the tablecloth design is a now a lasting memory of the day I came back to John and saw the buttercups for the first time.

I’m off now to climb Bedruthan Steps with John as we go back to the place we walked one year ago today. Today we’ll celebrate old memories and look forward to making new ones…and soon we’ll be walking in fields of gold again.

Bedruthan Steps – February 14, 2009

Bedruthan Steps – February 14, 2010

Sweet Domesticity – Not Exactly Yet

The other day I was on the phone with my friend Carla in America and she commented that I was becoming such a domestic goddess after I described a day of sewing and painting and re-upholstering. Now I ask you, ” Do those waffles look like the work of a domestic goddess? “

A couple of weeks ago Karen, who I met through quiz night at our village pub and mentioned here, very kindly gave me her lovely Chisinau Belgian Waffle Iron as she was moving back to Canada and could not use it there.

(Internet Photo)

I’d like to take credit for the yummy looking waffle above, but the sad truth as you can see by my unappetizing pile of waffles is that my waffles looked nothing like the internet photo. The waffle iron itself was a mess as the Oatmeal Pecan waffle mixture squished out through edges and spilled over the side of the waffle iron sending it into a serious lockdown mode as soon as the aggressive oozing began. Mind you, it normally locks when you close it, but then it beeps and releases when the waffle has cooked the required amount of time.

This had worked with fine for the first two batches, but they were not very pretty because I had not put enough batter in to spread evenly throughout the four segments of the waffle iron. By the third pour, I decided to give it a bit more mixture so I might have four good waffles for my efforts. What I got was a waffle iron lockdown tighter than Alcatraz during a prison break and a steam bath that might have opened up even the tightest pores.

Added to the excitement, was the wheezy, moaning sound coming from it, along with the incessant beeping as it baked my locked in waffle to what I envisioned would be more like a blackened fat cracker than a sweet breakfast treat.

Lacking a directions manual, I quickly turned to my laptop to search for emergency directions before thinking Good grief, Elizabeth … just pull the plug. Just so we’re clear in case you ever use one like this, pulling the power source from the wall does not release the latch, not right away and not before you might have to later reapply your makeup and blow dry your hair.

Disclaimer here, the waffle iron is great when you don’t overfill it. Thanks again to Karen for the gift and I’ll let you know later what John thinks of the waffles. He passed on them this time, but there’s a big stack in the freezer with his name on them for later.

Just in case you are looking at my waffles and thinking,” They don’t look that bad ,” you should know that I showed you the good side. My first shot is below and one last thing that you might find funny, I worked at a Waffle House in the summer of my sixteenth year.

We Won!

Wednesday night you will generally find us down at the pub having a bite of dinner and enjoying a little friendly competition with the folks who turn up for Quiz Night. I have written about this before on my old blog here and mentioned it in a few other places as well.

John and I tend to be somewhere in the middle of the teams and don’t often move too far up or down in the rankings from week to week. There are some brainy groups who always seem to win or at least finish in the top three, but it’s rarely been us. Well, once we did finish first, but we were part of a team of six instead of our usual two so while it was fun, it didn’t feel as sweet as it did last night.

I have to say here that I always feel a bit of pressure when there is what people in the pub would refer to as an ” American” question. Last night, we played with Jean and Robert who were also at the pasty making competition. They always do well and frequently win or come in second so we had a much better chance right from the beginning than we normally do.

It was a killer quiz and seemed much more difficult than usual and I struggled as I often do to come up with the answers to questions I think of as ” British” questions. One example of this might be a rugby question about a famous player from 1970. Now there is no way I am going to get a question like that one right, but the pressure is always on when it’s about something related to American trivia.

Last night’s combination of Jean, Robert, and John left little for me to do much of the time as they were usually whispering the answers to each other while I was still digesting the question. In fact, there were only two questions I answered that my teammates needed help on and while I knew a few others, they were the type most of us would know.

I am often teased here in a good-naturedly way about my competitiveness which I prefer to laughingly call enthusiasm. One example of my “Enthusiastic nature ” might be the difference in how I react when the answers are read at the end of the quiz. In a room full of people who at most give off a soft murmuring sound when they’ve found they have answered a tough question correctly, my loud ” YES! ” coming out of the corner tends to draw a bit of attention.

Last night, there were two questions like this for us, questions that I answered that no one on our team could answer. I can’t remember them both, but the one that stands out was, ” What was Nancy Reagan’s maiden name ?”  It seems easy until everyone looks at you for the answer since it’s an American question and for a few minutes I was blank only remembering it when I thought of her daughter Patti Davis who used her mother’s maiden name after disagreeing with her father’s politics.

After we placed first, I was excited, but felt like it was more their victory than mine as I had only known two answers that they couldn’t get on their own. This morning though I can see it a bit differently. While writing the details of last nights win, I just realized that the points difference last night between first and second place was … two questions.

This is the regular team of folks that Jean and Robert usually play with on quiz night. Robert and Jean are in the darker purple shirts at one end of the table with Helen and Jeff at the other. Karen is sitting in between Jean and Jeff and has moved back to Canada recently freeing up a spot on their team. Jeff and Helen couldn’t be there last night so we joined Jean and Robert to create the Anglo-American Alliance.

Obsessions In Photography

Chris Sneddon is talking about her recent obsession over at Shutter Sisters today and she’s asking readers to share any obsessions they may have when it comes to photography. Her question made me think about why I photograph what I do. My photography tends to be closely linked to what I write about here on my blog. This would include images that provide a documentary look at topics such as the pasty competition posts from the last few days to photographs that are inspiration for personal essays and others that illustrate the mini short stories I’ve written for TMAST.

I take photographs to tell a story and there’s always a story. Whether it’s real or imagined, mine or yours, every picture has a story waiting to be told. My obsession is in the finding, first the photograph and then the words. I have included a few of the 32,000 photographs I’ve taken in the last two years.  32,000  photographs in two years … does that seem like an obsession to you?

I would love to hear what you like to photograph and if there’s any subject matter you think you get a bit obsessive with when you have a camera in hand.