Birthday Cake Again?

Elizabeth & Margaret Celebrating Cousin Wally's Birthday

September is a birthday filled month for me and if I had an opportunity to eat cake every time there was a birthday this month I’d need to diet through October to make up for it. My birthday on the 10th begins the potential cake fest and my sister Margaret’s birthday today ends it.

Our September celebrations feel like bookends with some significant volumes on the shelf in between. My daughter and husband make up the most important middle part for me with their birthdays falling halfway through and near the end, but Margaret’s big day completes it.

Never in all the years we were separated did I not think of her and it makes me happy to know that I can connect with her for a proper birthday greeting today.

We’ve spent years supporting each other in different ways and the bookend analogy seems right. Margaret was one of the people who helped keep me sane during my unplanned summer in Atlanta and it was no surprise that she rallied to help me when I needed her artistic design and savvy computer skills. I was desperate for online sales materials including flyers I could print while I was trying to sell my house in Atlanta and she put together a lovely website on very short notice.

Additionally, she modified the website and flyers several times as my price shifted, and when it wouldn’t move fast enough to suit my time frame, she turned the website into one designed to attract renters.

Last year I had the good fortune to spend the month of September with her traveling to Paris for a week and having my 50th birthday during our week in London. The rest of the month we traveled around Cornwall and finished with her birthday and a special cake just before she flew home to Alaska where she lives with her husband and their two boys.

Margaret & Elizabeth - London - September 2010

Happy Birthday, Margaret … I think I’ve got room tonight for one last piece of cake.


Burning Love

Today is John’s birthday.

It’s the fourth one I’ve been able to share with him and while he doesn’t like to make too much of his own birthdays, he goes out of his way to make mine special. Right about now you may be thinking, “If it’s John’s birthday, why are we looking at a picture of you blowing out candles?”

Let me tell you a story …

Remember when I wrote here about being in Scotland for my birthday? Well, we were there because John had big a reunion nearby with former colleagues from the television station where he’d worked before retiring. A few months before the event, he noticed the date was on my birthday and he kindly asked if I would mind going that evening.

Once he was sure I was fine with sharing the day, he began planning how he might make it memorable for me too. He knows I love a trip to Scotland so it was big part the fun we had on my birthday and our evening finished with a small carrot cake in our hotel that night after the reunion. The cake part presented a little problem though.

I’m a big believer in candle blowing and wish making on birthdays. There’s something hopeful, thankful, and celebratory about the act that feels necessary to me and I can’t imagine a birthday without it.

John is not that bothered by it on his own birthday but he knows how important it is to me. We took the cake with us on our outing thinking we might have it during our day out in Scotland, but stayed in motion so much that we decided to save it for after the reunion. When we rushed in to shower and change for the evening, we realized that we didn’t have a way to light the candles for the cake.

He went out to buy some matches or a lighter and was gone so long I was beginning to worry. I didn’t know that since we were in a hotel in the center of Carlisle and it was evening that the shops would be closed.

Poor John searched everywhere for an open shop to get what we needed and finally ended up a good distance away in a pub that he was familiar with from his days of living there. They didn’t sell matches, but the guy behind the bar gave him a box they had for the pub’s use.

After hearing about his search, I asked him how far he’d had to go before finding them and was really touched when he said, ” About a mile. “

Life with him is like that. A million little sweet gifts of service that say love. I am a fortunate woman to have found this gentle man and I am so happy to be able to celebrate another birthday with him today.

Of course I had to save the matches … I’ll use one later to light a candle or two for John and hope to post a picture here later today of him making a wish.

Here’s a photo to save the spot for now. I think of this look as his determined face. I’ve seen it before although it does look a bit different with the beard and all.

I imagine this was the expression he was wearing all around Carlisle a few weeks ago and it makes me smile just thinking about it.

Unedited E – Getting Silly On The Path To Kynance Cove

Elizabeth, John, & Lisa on the path to Kynance Cove (Photo by Patrice)

This post is going to be a bit funny as we move through it so stay with me until the end if you want a laugh. In the background of this shot you can see me doing what I do most of the time when we’re out on the coast path.

I was taking this photograph while Patrice was snapping the first photo above.

After she handed the camera off to John, I heard him say something about me being in the picture he was trying to take so I decided to get really silly. Now, I don’t usually show you the silly stuff and I need to tell you why. Most of the time you see me smiling and posed in photographs. I’ve always been that way. My mother once said that even as a small child I would always strike a pose when the camera was aimed in my direction. Rarely were these silly poses and I think I was particular even then about how I thought I should look in a photograph.

People that know me will tell you that I am particular about what photos of me are allowed on the internet. Yesterday, I showed you a hair-raising shot of me that I would normally keep private because I knew the ones below were worse. John would say I’m pulling faces. There’s rarely record of me doing this kind of thing, but I’m working on laughing more at myself and letting you have a chuckle too.

Here’s where John indicated I was messing up the shot. That sounded like a challenge to me so …

You can see what happened next and just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse … what kind of look is that on my face in the photo below? You can double-click on it for the full effect.

 So there you are … an unedited and slightly out of control version of me.

Sundays On St Michael’s Mount

Last Sunday found us fighting the wind to cross the water to get to church. Patrice and Lisa were finishing a three-week, three country, tour and we were happy to have a chance to share our part of the world with them before they went home. When I knew they were arriving on a Saturday, I insisted we plan a trip to St Michael’s Mount for Sunday services. I been a few times on Sunday morning and I’m always aware of its age and how people have worshiped there for over 700 years.

We spent a few minutes watching as the windsurfers left the beach and we had to run to catch the boat that would carry us to the island.

Speaking of running … here comes Patrice with Lisa right behind her snapping photos.

The boat filled before we got there so we had to wait for the next. I was worried we would be late for the service because having climbed the steps before, I knew that it might be slow going for Patrice who had knee surgery a few months ago. I used Lisa’s camera to get a windblown shot on the boat. It only takes a few minutes to get across, but it was long enough for the sky to clear.

We still had a long way to go once we got off the boat.
I was a bit pushy, nicely so, but still pushy. I found out later that Patrice told Lisa that she and I had run a marathon together and she’d had to listen me being encouragingly pushy most of the way.

Almost there …

We made it with a few minutes to spare. Lisa snapped a quick photo before the service began.  

  It was Harvest Sunday and the chapel was decorated with things from the garden.

There was a special card with a prayer not in the book. I thought it was interesting that it was Prayer E as E is what Patrice calls me and I recently wrote about my struggles with prayer in this post.

I took this picture of Patrice while Lisa, who you see behind her was taking the photo below.  

I came out first and the wind attacked me making it seem as it I’d had a hair-raising experience in church. Even the Vicar turned to look from the doorway. 

You can see part of the church behind Lisa as she’s walking towards us. It’s the building over her left shoulder not the one to the right. The one on the right was the Lady Chapel before it was converted to a sitting room.   

Lisa snapped this photo of me with John. It was pretty chilly that day, but not as cold as we look.

You can see the tide going out in this photo and people beginning to walk across the causeway instead of talking the boat.

Here it’s fully revealed and Patrice and Lisa are right behind me. John went on ahead to get the car.
 There they are!

I think I was saying, ” Hurry, we’ve got a lot to see today!”

I thought this was a blot on my image until I enlarged it and saw it was a bird. It may be time to get reading glasses soon.

The last photograph below shows the wind blowing sand across us. I turned my back to snap this and curled around my camera to protect it from the sand. It was pretty to see it skipping along the shore looking almost like smoke.

I’ve got more from our travels coming up. We took loads of pictures and while I won’t share them all, I think you might be interested in a few more.

Tearful Reunions Taking Place In Cornwall

Patrice & Lisa Arrive By Train

We’ve been showing off Cornwall to friends Patrice and Lisa over the last few days and I wanted to share our reunion with you. I think the sweetness in this hello has to be seen.

Patrice was saying “E,” a nickname some of my friends like to call me, only when she says it, it sounds more like “Eeeeeeee!”

I think everyone should have this experience at least once in their life where someone shouts their name with delight and opens their arms for a big embrace. We do it with our children especially when they’re young and I wonder how much better we’d all feel if greetings in general were more joyful and enthusiastic.

Lisa took this picture of me giving Patrice a big happy hug and the one below as well!

Happy Tears To See Each Other

Patrice and I have known each other for ten years and found a compatibility in our communication right from the first when I showed up in her physical therapy office needing help with a painful hip injury.

We chatted our way through my physical therapy appointments always running out of time with more to say so I suggested we get together for dinner after completing my course of therapy and we’ve been friends ever since. It’s difficult for some of us to find close friends later in life especially the kind you can trust with your secrets and it’s comforting to me to know Patrice is that kind of friend.

We’ve seen each other through some extreme times of sweetness and sorrow watching and supporting each other through major life changes that seemed to happen all at once in our 40s. We’ve laughed and cried our way through romantic disasters, shifts in employment, and the death of both of her parents in the last ten years. It has not always been easy.

Our 50s have a different look about them as we’ve worked to create lives that are more of what we want and while we still struggle occasionally with our individual areas of stress and compromise, I think we’ve both learned the joy in holding tightly to moments with people we love and value.

Patrice is here with her partner Lisa for a few days and John and I are having a blast showing them all the places we love. Their clear delight in everything (except apple cider) makes each day an exciting race to see more and I’m taking pictures of them like a mad paparazzi documenting moments we’ll want to remember.

The pictures above were taken at the train station Saturday evening and capture our happy reunion. We were both teary even though we had said goodbye in Atlanta only last month. I feel sure my tears were more about welcoming a dear friend to my life here in Cornwall than about anything else and it thrills me to see her enthusiasm and appreciation for the places I’ve come love and think of as home.

How Can She Be 24

It hardly seems possible that 24 years have passed since I heard multiple voices saying the words 8:03 and after calling time of birth, they formally introduced my daughter with the words, “It’s a girl! ” Not having had an ultrasound I knew intuitively I was a carrying a girl in the first few weeks of my pregnancy and their confirmation made me smile.

With so much geographic space separating us, I tend to look for ways to feel connected. One thing that helps is keeping the clock on my computer set to the same time my daughter sees in America. It’s silly, but it makes me feel a bit closer to her in a way and makes the distance between feel us smaller than the ocean between our two countries. A few hours ago I watched as her local time rolled over to 8:03 making her well and truly, 24.

I hate not being there to celebrate with her. We saw each other for an iChat this morning and I did a little singing, but I wish I could give her a big hug. This makes the fourth year I’ve had to write about missing Miranda and it doesn’t get any easier. I have three previously written birthday posts complete with photos which can be found here and here. They’re kind of mushy so be prepared.



Hermitage Castle – Bordering On Trouble

I wanted to show you more pictures of the Scottish castle John and I saw last Saturday and I even found some excellent inside shots of Hermitage Castle on Flickr since I was too chicken to go in for a look. If you read my post yesterday, you’ll remember I got an uneasy feeling so I only photographed the exterior.

After doing a bit of research, I found that Hermitage Castle had a bloody history and some famous associations. Mary, Queen of Scots made a daring visit to Hermitage to see the man who would become her third husband while she was still married to her second one. This led to a good bit of gossip even though the two hours she spent with the Earl of Bothwall were well chaperoned.

The castle’s border location between England and Scotland made it a target for the Border Reivers and it became known as ‘The guardhouse of the bloodiest valley in Britain.’

I took the quote below from the Historic Scotland website and it gives a brief overview as to why Hermitage Castle gives off such scary energy.

‘Hermitage, in deepest Liddesdale, is a lonely spot. The feeling of foreboding is heightened by the presence of the awesome castle ruin. It has inspired colourful local legends – of the wicked Lord Soules and of a giant Englishman with impregnable armour who drowned in the nearby Hermitage Water. In truth, though, Hermitage has no need of myths. It has a history of torture, treason – and romantic trysts – sufficient for a host of castles.’

  The castle sits along a river that you can see in the shot above.

A woman with a dog is going into the entrance of the castle. It’s not as large a doorway as I would have expected especially with castle walls high enough to have held five or more floors. (Double click on any to enlarge)

The ruins of a chapel nearby.

These last two photos have nothing to do with the castle, but I thought you might find them interesting. I took them in Carlisle Cathedral. I was trying to shoot the window you see in the distance and when I downloaded my images, I was surprised to see the white shapes against the pillar.

I didn’t see them when I was taking the photographs. Things looked dark through the camera and I was worried these two shots would be worthless since I was shooting without a flash and really needed more light.

I don’t think it’s a reflection as there was no flash or window light and I’m stumped. Any ideas?

Birthday Travels & Scary Castles

Double Click On The Image To Step Into The English Countryside

John and I went north last week to attend a reunion with some people he used to work with in Carlisle. Since my birthday fell during that time, we added a few days to make the long drive more fun. I’ve got about 700 photographs from the area where Beatrix Potter used to write about her friends on the farm, and I’d love to show you a few, but you’ll have wait until tomorrow when I’ve had time to sort some out for you.

We skipped over the border of England into Scotland on the 10th for my birthday and came across an 800 year-old castle that too scary to me to even go into. John wouldn’t have minded, but I had an odd feeling and was content to snap my photos from a distance. I’ll tell you what I discovered later when I researched the castle online. Here’s a photo or two so you can see what I mean about spooky.


I’m usually quite fearless when it comes to poking around ancient monuments, but some places feel less inviting than others. Although John never seems to feel this way, I’d be willing to bet that some of my readers know what I’m talking about.


9/11 Ten Years Later

NYC - September 21, 2001

Like many people, I have a story about where I was ten years ago today. There’s nothing very different about mine and the details of my morning don’t really matter, but I do have something to say.

Ten days after September 11, 2001 I took my daughter to New York. I’d planned the trip for months hoping to make some special memories while celebrating her fourteenth birthday.

Within days of the destruction, we debated whether to carry on with our plans or cancel and stay home. Air travel became scarier in those days right after 9/11 and flying into New York so soon after was a challenge for me.

Every corner seemed to have an impromptu memorial or a flyer for a loved one who didn’t come home and the familiar landscape I’d visited many times before looked unrecognizable in places. It was a city cloaked in sorrow.

I haven’t written about my memories of that time on my blog before. I’ve blogged my way past three 9/11 dates with nary a shared story. I just couldn’t do it.

Every year as the anniversary approached I would go through my photos trying to decide which to use and what I might want to say, but most of my images seemed too personal to share so I didn’t.

Ten years later my story still doesn’t matter, but I do wish I knew more about the owner of the car above. I took the photo early during our trip and out of all my images this one affects me the most.

To say I find it haunting sounds melodramatic, but I can’t forget it and often think about why it was still there ten days after 9/11. I can’t imagine too many answers that have a happy ending, not after what we all saw, not after that terrible day.

Birthday Surprises

Elizabeth's First Birthday - September 10, 1961

This photograph is fifty years old.

Taken September 10, 1961, it’s one of me with my parents, Judy and Gene Harper.

It is a bit faded and blurry, but I’ve seen it so often I think I know it by heart.

For the longest time I focused on the hugeness of the cake preferring its sweetness to a sad memory of a mother with no contact and a father who died too young.

It’s funny how your vision can change as you grow older.

You go along adapting to the shifts that occur with perception and depth until one day you look at a photograph you’ve seen forever and your eyes see something you’ve missed.

Suddenly, this still young family looks different to me.

It’s no longer the size of the cake or the look on my mother’s face that draws me in, but the image of my tiny body leaning ever so slightly towards my dad and my small hand reaching for his.

I never really noticed it before … my hand in his, and it feels like a gift of awareness, a happy birthday of sorts fifty years later from my father to me.