Friends With Benefits

If you are American you are probably are familiar the expression, friends with benefits that I’ve used as a title for today. John thought it meant having friends who receive state benefits when I asked him what he thought so after explaining the American meaning of the phrase to him, I decided to add a link for those reading who might need more information. I’ll be using those three little words a bit differently today to illustrate a few of the benefits I have discovered after making new friends here in Cornwall.

My husband John and I have a great life together which I would say is only missing two things, one of which I barely notice now, but most of my American readers would think impossible to live without. I know I did at first and still struggle a bit with it on some of the cold and wet days that seem to stay with us for long stretches in the winter.

Georgia winters are cold and wet too so that was nothing new, but making it through the damp days without a tumble dryer as Brits call the other half of the washer/dryer combo was a whole other beast. John thinks they are a waste of energy and has never owned one. Two years into a dryer-less life, I find that I have adjusted to hanging them on a clothesline in all sorts of weather and I am no longer ” bovvered “ as Lauren Cooper might say.

The other thing I miss is having my own dog. We travel so frequently that it really is impossible to consider getting one. It would be too hard on the dog to board at a kennel and too costly as well. So for now we remain dog-less at least in our home anyway.

You see everywhere I go in this village there seem to be dogs and some people don’t stop with one, they have two or three. So there are always plenty around to play with like Cherry and Nigel’s new puppies that I had an opportunity to photograph in the churchyard on Saturday.

Remember what I said earlier about friends with benefits … well, having a chance to play with sweet puppies like Alfie and Dougie are two of the benefits that go with having Cherry and Nigel as friends. Not that those too aren’t great on their own, but letting me cuddle up to their new boys makes it just about perfect.

Remember what I said about having not one, but two …

I almost can’t stand the cuteness whenever I am around these two.

Dougie chasing Alfie through the primroses.

Looking for something to nibble.

Striking a pose.

Alfie discovering someone else on the scene.

Mark and Nigel trying to get Dougie to pose while Alfie pretends he is a patch of white primroses on the ground in between them.

Dougie doing his best to look aloof.

One of me in the pub with Alfie … pubs with dogs … heavenly!

Reading When I Should Be Writing

A variety of books litter the landscape of my new studio space with those from my own pared down personal library mixing in with the plastic protected books belonging to the public one. Scattered throughout the house, they can be found in a variety of places such as my desk, the daybed, and dare I reveal it, even the bathroom. I tend to read two, three, or even four books at the same time and an impromptu visit to our home might lead a visitor to think that there are more than two readers in the house.

I have noticed that John tends to read one book before starting another, always leaving it on a small table next to his favorite chair in the living room. I hesitate to call it his chair as he will always offer it to guests and has frequently said that I should sit there whenever I feel like doing so.

Occasionally, I take him up on his offer and when I make a move to change places when he comes into the room, he will say, ‘Stay,’ and choose a place on the sofa settling in so comfortably and with such little fuss that I can see he really means it when he tells me that I am welcome to sit in what I think of as ‘his chair’ anytime I wish.

Going back to how I read instead of where, I tend to treat books the way some people do food by going on word binges instead of fried chicken or Hagen Daz ice cream. That said, anyone who knows me well can tell you of times when I have made a meal of the partial contents of four or five pints of my favorite flavors of what most would consider dessert rather than dinner.

Because I like a variety of taste and texture in my food, I generally buy the flavors with crunchy nuts, toffees, or cookie dough, always rounding it out with my favorite, Hagen Daz vanilla. That vanilla would be my favorite seems strange to me even based on my desire for the variety that comes with a mix of flavors and textures. I think there must be something in the silky denseness of the vanilla that acts almost like a glass of milk along side a plate of cookies. After all the taste testing of the other flavors, the vanilla brings things back to a simple, almost palate cleansing final taste.

Lately, I have been scarfing up books instead of ice cream, unsure whether it’s the result a too tight waistband or a desire for more facts and fantasy. You see, I go from book to book depending on which room of the house I happen to be in at the time. If I am sitting at my desk, I may be reading Write Away, by Elizabeth George which is a gift to writers wishing to become novelists. I have read a few on this subject and her writing/teaching style makes perfect sense to my brain which tends to absorb information in through the right versus the linear left.

If you popped into the family loo, you would find a very dated travel guide to Tenby, Wales complete with advertisements, black and white images, and old maps from 1929. I have been using it for research and it is just one of several well preserved travel guides that belonged to my husband’s grandfather who documented much of their families travels in the old photographs that John still has today.

In my personal bathroom, you would see a copy of The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe that I picked up in a hurry during my visit to the library last week to drop off books. I can never leave books behind without grabbing up a couple on my way out. I noticed it because of the color of the book spine which may seem odd, but color can often attract me to a book when browsing long before I notice the title or author’s name.

Of course even when in a hurry, descriptive blurbs that begin with words like, ‘epic and painstakingly researched,’ along with ‘ spiritual quest and murder,’ draw me in and when I see phrases like, ‘richness in writing,’ it quickly goes into a special bag that I reserve for trips to the library.

Yesterday morning I was still musing over The Lady Elizabeth, by Alison Weir which I had finished just before going out for a run. It was an easy read that provided a somewhat fictionalized version of Elizabeth I’s early life, written by an author known more for her nonfiction. Alison Weir doesn’t appear to depart too far from her normal role as a historian as she weaves her own version of Elizabeth I’s life before becoming queen into a dramatic tale based on historical fact.

She does however allow herself the liberties needed to help the reader feel as if they were tucked behind a curtain ease-dropping on a conversation between Elizabeth and her sister Queen Mary in much the same way that some of her characters did in the book described by one reviewer as, ‘an exceptionally perceptive as well as imaginative interpretation of the most significant monarch in English history.’

Ms Weir’s book carried me so throughly back to the 16 century that I found myself wondering if the famous queen had ever traveled to Cornwall as I was running past structures that predated her birth. Moving in the direction of Helland bridge which was built in 1381 before renovations in the 15 century left it in its present state, I thought about how long ago she ruled and how the bridge on which John proposed to me, had already been in use for 152 years by the time she was born in 1533. I love a book that has such a hold on to me that it stays in my imagination as this one did even after reading the last word.

This morning I began another book I took from the library called, The Widows of Eastwick. Some of you may remember a movie made in 1987 called, The Witches of Eastwick. With a cast of characters played by American actors Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer along with singer turned actor Cher, it was a hit with movie goers looking for something different on a night out. A mix of comedy and gothic horror tied up with a loose red ribbon of sensuality, it worked in reverse as some movies do and sent me in search of the book almost before I had licked the last of the buttery popcorn off my fingertips.

Remembering how much I enjoyed the The Witches of Eastwick, I picked up the sequel which begins three decades later and started reading. I was only a few pages into it before I began to notice the writing and not just the story line. This can happen for one of two reasons, not surprisingly reserved for writing I consider either very good or very bad.

Shades of grey writing tend to be the everyday meat and potatoes of word assemblage for me and while bad writing is more akin to a cold reheated fast food hamburger with wilted lettuce and a slightly off pickle, really good writing is like a meal made up off all your favorite foods along with an appetite that turns you into the most voracious nibbler of all time. With authors I enjoy the most, I tend reread certain sentences or whole paragraphs directly after having it read it the first time.

Being someone that doesn’t always check the author when reading a book especially one picked up during a hurried trip to the library, I sometimes have no idea who I am reading at the time. There are authors who can write something like, ‘We are all swaying on the makeshift rope bridge that society suspends above the crevasse.’ that make it impossible for me not to pay attention to the writer whose words I am reading.

I was not surprised to flip the book over to find the author was John Updike whose novels have won a variety of awards including the Pulitzer Prize. I can see already that this new book will be a more leisurely read as is my way when beautifully done. Occasional gluttony may be one of my sins, but when it comes to feasting on a well written book, I only worry when it takes me away from my own work. Well … that and the fact that the sedentary life of a reader and writer can over time cause as much damage as a Hagen Daz binge when trying to keep ones aging backside from increasing in size.

As much as I would like to keep reading Updike’s book this morning, I think I should lace up my shoes and go out for quick run first and be thankful that the village shop doesn’t stock Hagen Daz before I settle in for the days reading, I mean writing, of course!

Public Libraries & Me

Date: 16/04/10
REMINDER: LIBRARY ITEMS DUE BACK SOON
According to our records the following items are nearing their return date.
Please return or renew them as soon as possible as fines may be charged on overdue items. Please be aware you may not be able to renew your items if the item has been reserved or your account has expired.
Please contact us if you have any query regarding this notice.


Recently, I received this noticed for three days prior to my books reaching the deadline for their return. I have loved public libraries for almost as long as I have loved books, but I must confess, I have not always been diligent about returning my borrowed books in a timely fashion. The first thing I got when I began my transition from America to England was a library card for the Cornwall public library. I began checking out books right away and I must admit I have been late getting them back a couple of times, but nothing too horrible or so I thought until recently.

This time as it drew close to the return date, I began receiving email updates each day letting me know it was almost time to return my books. When I got the first one I thought what a great idea, but with another coming each day, I began to wonder if I was on some sort of list. You know, the kind where someone out there feels like you might need a little instruction or guidance to put you on the proper path.

I decided I was being a bit silly thinking that this might be some sort of behavior modification program designed for people like me until I returned my books yesterday on the last and final day before they would be overdue. And while I can’t say for sure, I think I might have seen a look pass between the two librarians along with a subtle head nod if you know what I mean. Now I am wondering if there’s a repeat offender list for book borrowers … and if so, am I on it?

Bought or borrowed, I hope you are getting your nose in a few good books and I promise if you ever loan me one, I won’t keep it so long that you have to ask for it back.

Remembering Virginia Tech 4.16.07


Last year on this day, I wrote a memorial post to mark the sad anniversary of the tragedy that occurred during my daughter’s second year as a student at Virginia Tech. The Ways We Remember, Those We Cannot Forget details more from April 16 and the days that followed.

When we moved into April a few weeks ago, I noticed my daughter had changed her profile picture on Facebook from her regular photo to the image below. It is familiar to many associated with Virginia Tech and the one I have seen most often in the three years since the Virginia Tech shootings.

After seeing the change on April 1, I asked her about it when we spoke later that day. I usually switch to the same image on my Facebook profile a few days before the anniversary, but never so early as the beginning of the month and I wondered why she had changed hers so far in advance. Miranda told me in so many words that in the month of April, the anniversary is always at the forefront of her thoughts so she wanted to note the significance for her.

When I hung up the phone, I considered that while most people were celebrating spring and new beginnings, she was remembering the day when so many died. It saddens me to think that this will likely always be a rite of spring for her. I wish there was something I could do to change that, but it is beyond my control as are so many things for parents when children grow into their independent selves.

Miranda is generally pretty quiet when it comes to that day. When people ask about it, she is polite and almost matter of fact. She tends to keep her feelings to herself. I imagine these kids, now adults walking around like war vets in a way … only really discussing that day with people who were there and lived through it too. As a mom who believes in the healing power of conversation it is difficult for me to stand back and wait to give comfort when needed, although I smile as I think, I am always at the ready.

I take comfort in how she chooses to honor the memory of those no longer living with her desire to risk more and live more fully for those who lost that opportunity on 4.16.07. I didn’t know she felt that way until I saw something she had posted on Facebook the other day that suggested that sentiment as a way to remember those who died.

I understand that thought completely as it is something I have tried to do when grieving the loss of friends and family who died too young. It gives me some measure of peace to see that we share a similar idea because I know it has been a source of comfort for me when I could not understand the why of premature death. I cannot think of a better memorial for those lost than a life well lived when searching for ways to honor those we can never forget.

Dixie Carter – A Strong Southern Woman

(Internet photo)

When Dixie Carter died last Saturday, Julia Sugarbaker breathed her last too. Although Julia Sugarbaker was only one role she played during a lifetime as a working actor, it is the one I will always associate most with her. Writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason may have created the feisty southern character, but it was Dixie Carter who made her come alive.

During the late 80’s and early 90’s there were several television shows I tried never to miss, and Designing Women was one of them. While I always pictured myself as more Murphy Brown than Julia Sugarbaker, my step-mom Cullene could easily have been the model for the well heeled, articulate character, who was always willing to fight for the underdog or let someone know when they had pushed her just a bit too far.

As I’ve gotten older, I know there have been times in my life when I might have been channeling versions of all three women, calling on some secret source of inner strength that even I was not always aware was waiting in reserve. Take a look at this video where Julia speaks her mind one more time if you are not sure of what I mean. Dixie Carter may be gone, but she lives on in her children, in the roles she created, and in women who cheered each time Julia Sugarbaker stood her ground, leading the way for southern women who were watching like me.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Photographs of Mollye are lifted from Facebook

I am stealing a song title from a Beatle’s tune this morning to say a few more words about the post I wrote here a couple of days ago, which I followed up with this one yesterday where I thanked everyone for their supportive comments. If you are someone who reads comments left by others as I sometimes do except over at Pioneer Woman’s place because one post can garner thousands of comments and who has time to read that many … anyway, if you happen to be reading the comments left on the post, Are You Judy’s Daughter, you will see a comment from someone named Mollye, that could do with a bit of an explanation.

My dear friend Mollye is one of the sweetest souls I know. We met about ten years ago when we were both working with folks who were either infected or affected by HIV. While I worked mostly with the physicians and medical providers who managed their care, I also had an opportunity to meet people like Mollye who worked at the time for one of the AIDS service organizations in Atlanta. After reading her comment on the revealing mother-daughter post I wrote, I decided it might be a bit confusing without a little backstory.

Mollye is quite accomplished in many ways, in addition to working as a gifted therapist, she is an amazing artist and photographer. She specializes in pet photography when she’s not helping people searching for their best selves and I only wish I had more of her art hanging on my walls.

I sent Mollye a message yesterday with a link telling her of the dream I had a few days ago that prompted me to write the mother-daughter post. What I did not say publicly in that post was that Mollye had been in my dream too, showing up right at the end just as I was waking up. I told Mollye that I was not sure whether it was because I had looked at her art just before I went to bed which deals directly with ghosts and is titled “Spirits of the Field,” or because she is an Alabama native which is the last place I saw my mother who has lived only two hours from my former home in Georgia for about the last twenty years. For whatever reason Mollye popped in at the last minute, it was comforting to wake up with a sense of her nurturing presence after the familiar rejection by my mother in the dream.

When I woke this morning and sat down to check my messages as I do while the coffee is brewing, I read the sweet comment she left me and felt so lucky to have friends in my life like Mollye. We all have histories and ghosts that haunt us, but who we become in spite of it all is a true measure of a life well lived.

I could make excuses for my mother’s behavior, but there is nothing so horrible in her history that would have made her into the bitter narcissistic person that she is. She is what she is by choice and although I understand that intellectually, that knowledge has provided little emotional comfort over the years.

There is one thing I am very sure of and that is while we may not be able to choose the path we on which we begin our journey, we can choose which direction we take once we gain our own footing. The love and kindness of friends like Mollye are some of the gifts of my journey and an example of the good you receive in life when you choose to walk in the light.

Please feel free to share your story of someone who might be a ” Mollye ” in your life in a comment below.

Cleaning Out The Attic

Sometimes when you least expect it, a moment happens that reminds you of another life. A life you thought you had packed away, carefully folded, like clean clothes in an old suitcase. It waits, stuffed into a dusty corner with the forgotten bits of a past you no longer have use for, a neatly packaged collection of memories waiting to be discovered by another generation when cleaning out the attic after your death.

You forget it is even there except for the times when you feel obliged to shift the Christmas boxes or saved baby clothes to make room when the roof needs repairing or the pest control people come by to take care of the scratching sounds you hear late at night when sleep won’t come.

In shifting the suitcase to a new location, you wonder why you put it there and when you open it, you remember and you think, maybe I should get rid of these things that no longer fit me. So you shake them out and hold them up to the light. You might even step outside the attic where the light is better and you can see more clearly.

At the very end of it all, you may share some things with your friends who are happy to reminisce with you and remind you of all you have that fits the you that you have become. You consider what to do with it all after picking through the past, and after ruling out recycling, you stuff it into a large garbage bag and put it out with the Monday morning trash.

When I thought I had no more tears left for the sad mother stories that are at the very core of my history, I found myself wiping them away yesterday after reading your lovely comments. The sweetness and sensitivity you shared was healing and so appreciated. I hesitated for several months before sharing the accidental awareness found in a strangers question last January, but the dream of bowling balls and my mother pushed me to share a part of my life that sadly is similar to others out there. My deepest thanks to each of you for your support and kindness.