It’s Alive … Honoring The Gardener

Horse on Village Green In EnglandI have never been much of a gardener although I’ve purchased more than few books over the years on designing, building, and maintaining  an outdoor space, and I can certainly perform the routine maintenance tasks that go with a typical American yards such as grass cutting, hedge trimming, and weed pulling, but living in Cornwall I’ve had a chance to slow down and appreciate the green-thumbed efforts of others like never before.

Not long after I married my husband and moved to his home in England, I met a very interesting man who at the time was in his late 80s. On my way back from a run one day, I noticed him walking slowly at the edge of the village green carrying several small bags looking as if he’d just come from the local shop. I realized as I got closer that he lived in one of the houses on a road nearby and I stopped to chat and to offer a hand with his shopping.

Walking back to his house, he told me how he use to bike around Cornwall in his 40s and his travels took him through our village. It was our good fortune that he moved here after retiring from a career in forestry service because when Dutch elm disease took most of the trees on the green in the 70s, he was part of a group of folks who replanted the trees we now enjoy.

Not long ago his house was sold after his health deteriorated and he could no longer live on his own. His house went to someone who lived locally on the edge of the village who wanted to downsize and be closer to its center. Mr. Thomas had a lovely garden although there was so much there that it was easy to over look much of what made it special. I always loved his huge hydrangea bush and an unusual pine tree that I’ll say more about in another post.

I was never much a fan of the hydrangea until I saw some of the gorgeous full ones that grow here. I think my experience in the US made me think of them as being chronically spindly with big heads.

When I saw that the lady who bought Mr. T’s house was making major changes to the front and back garden, I meant to ask about snagging the hydrangea bush if she didn’t want it. I assumed she might not after seeing it cut back to the ground, but I almost waited to late to ask.

John and I were on our way out one day and saw a truck at the house filled with roots and bits that had been in the front garden. John stopped the car when I shouted and I went around the back of the house where I could see some men using a mini digger to pull up more of the tougher roots.

After explaining my sentimental connection to our former neighbor and his hydrangea bush, I asked if I might go through the roots in the truck bed to see if I could find any parts of the hydrangea and they not only said yes, but they stopped to help me sort through it. After a bit of digging, we found a couple of limbless chunks of root and we took them home hoping we had managed to find some parts of the hydrangea.

John does the gardening and said he’d plant them the next day as he was on his way out, but I got worried and dug a couple of holes while he was away because I too impatient to wait.

I’ve been keeping watch over two root bits in particular of the four I planted a few months ago, and I was over the moon to see new shoots popping out of the two I thought were part of the hydrangea.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UKIt may not bloom this year, but I hope it won’t be too long before it looks like it did when it was nurtured by Mr Thomas.

Purple Hydrangea Bush, UK

I wonder if any of you, like me, are developing a inclination towards gardening due to sentimentality.

Mac vs PC – The Computer Cold War In Our Home

Cracked MacBook 15 inch screen

Mac vs PC

I would be lying if I told you there was any really real frostiness in our home over the Mac versus PC issue, but my husband John and I certainly have different opinions on Apple computers.

Until a few weeks ago I was the only one in our relationship who had used any Apple products and I was less bothered by his anti- Apple stance than he was my devotion.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

I know they cost more and there are limitations to what one can do to upgrade an Apple computer or repair them yourself. Until recently I’ve had to place my faith in the Apple Genius bar because the internal workings bit seemed too intimidating to attempt to dig around in there myself.

Apple Genius in the Making

John has always scoffed at the name given to the folks who sit behind the Genius bar in the Apple stores, but he has shown himself to be one of those, dare I say it, slightly geeky computer guys who can and does build his own computers. I should add that he’s not limited to desktops, I’ve seen him buy a used laptop,  take it apart, and rebuild to suit his needs too. While I haven’t always understood how he could do what he did, I have always had a healthy appreciation for his ability to do it.

Some of you may remember that the screen on my MacBook cracked about seven months ago which severely limited the ways I could use it. Lacking easy portability, I found myself doing less writing and photography. I blogged less, I read less on-line, and although I had an older model iPad that was helpful, it was still not enough. I had planned to buy a new Macbook this summer to replace the damaged one, but other things got in the way and I had to put that big purchase on hold.  After this morning, I am glad I waited.

Picking at the Fruit.

While I was in the US this summer, John’s brother spilled something on his MacBook making it unusable. Cost estimates to repair it made it too much to consider so he offered it to John knowing he would want to take it apart.  John happily settled in to see what the inner workings of the great and powerful Oz , oh wait, that’s another story … anyway, he went to work and learned so much about MacBooks that mine now has a new screen that looks great and works as well as the old one.

The quote for replacing my screen by an Apple Genius  was about $700 US.

The total cost of having John do the repair was $0 and only required his time, his brother’s broken laptop, and my having a little faith in my new home-grown ” Apple Genius. ”

Replaced Screen On MacBook 15 inch

Just so you have an Apples for Apples reference point ( sorry, I couldn’t help myself ) John said if he’d had to buy the screen instead of using his brother’s it would have cost about $140 US for him to personally replace it.

(My Desktop image was taken by Tim Hollister and is the St Mabyn Inn where John and I had a lovely dinner on his birthday last week.)

So one question for anyone reading this post … Mac or PC?

I’ll be interested to see which one gets the most comments.

Low Lying Stakes On A High Water Wellie Day

You may have heard that 2012 has been the wettest summer in Briton in 100 years and I’ll admit that all this rain has had an effect on our normal outside activities. That said, I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my party plan when Jersey Girl came to visit. When she was with us two years ago we had a Pirate Party for her down by the river just off the Camel Trail and invited the children of some of our friends who live in and around the village.

She still remembers that day even though she was six at the time. When she asked John if we were going to have another one just before he brought her back from Jersey to stay with us last week, I wasn’t sure I could create a memory as nice as the one in 2010. Given how wet things were and the tight schedule we had between my work and the availability of the children we wanted to invite, we had a few hurdles to get over. The main one was the weather and we decided that rain or shine we were going to DIG!

Some of you had a chance to try to guess what the stakes were for when I posted this photo in an update on Facebook. Sorry to make you wait for it, but this year I decided to give the kids experience of archeological dig even though the items waiting to be discovered be planted by me.

So I dressed for nasty weather and went out about an hour before the party was to start to stake and tie out an area for the dig. I left the string loose to avoid young feet getting tangled in the barriers and then I dug down a bit to bury the objects. It was raining so hard that the raindrops quickly made the earth look pretty natural and undisturbed.

I wanted to get the best shot I could of the area before the children came to dig it all up so I climbed the closest tree to snap a few photos. l intended to just take the one you see below, but liked the look between the limbs of the tree I was standing in and wanted to share it with you too as well.

Two of the children who came to the Pirate Party had family in from America and couldn’t join us, but Jersey Girl was happy to see Archie even though his younger brother decided to stay home and dry. My friend Tina’s twins, Maisie and Ella came, but we miscommunicated on our location and they didn’t have as much left to dig up once they realized where we were.

Archie is holding a brass bracelet, one of four that I buried ahead of time. I tried to talk them through why one might participate in a real archeological dig, but it was a bit tough to have many teaching moments with the rain pelting down. They had a good time digging up pottery pieces, old miniature bottles, and jewelry and seemed to have as much fun rinsing their finds in the river as they did discovering them.

In all the drama of digging in a downpour something I told them we would not have done if it had been a real dig, I forgot that I buried one more thing. I remembered it later that day when it was dark and we were tucked in for the night and I wondered if the river might have washed it away. I’ll share more about that in my next post.

Here you can see Tina and John standing on the bank watching as Ella and Maisie make their way down the slippery bank. We went back to Lara and Brian’s (Archie’s parents) house to dry off and eat the snacks that Jersey Girl and I had made hoping to eat them at the picnic tables near the river. Big thanks to them both for opening their home to a wet and slightly muddy group despite having had a good rinse in the river.

Once we had rested and eaten a bit of the white chocolate tea cakes and Coco Pops ‘Krispie ‘Treats, the children put on a show in the living room that made me think that perhaps they might have had a bit too much sugar for a rainy afternoon.

 

After watching the wall climbing and flips off and on to the sofa, I decided that the fossil painting I’d intended as a final activity intended to slow the energy level down was one the children could do at a later time. JG chose one of the fossils we’d made the day before and we left the rest to be divided between the remaining four children.

I may need some ideas for next year’s party when Jersey Girl comes back to Cornwall and I’d be happy to know what you may have done in the past to create fun and memorable moments for your children or others you know.

Kitchen Renovation x Three

When my husband John bought our home seven years ago, two years before meeting me, he chose it thinking he would do a bit of renovation and sell it as he had all the houses before. He enjoys remodeling homes and selling them on and has done quite a few since he finished working in television about fifteen years ago.

Built in 1997, it had spent its whole life as a rental before he saw its potential and made the local owner/builder/landlord an offer they both found acceptable. When you live in a house built by someone who still lives in the village who you see in the pub, you may find you are also surrounded by others who had a hand in the building process or who lived in the house before you. I won’t go into it now, but we’ve heard some interesting stories that could fill more than a few pages.

I’ve seen a lot of John’s before and after shots of his renovation work in earlier properties and I appreciate how he is able to see possibilities where someone else might walk away. The first three photographs will give you an idea of what the kitchen looked like when he first bought it. There was a great deal of reddish dark wood throughout the house like you see in the window of the first photo giving it a completely different look than it has now.  (All of the early photographs were taken by John)

I don’t know if this is the original kitchen from 1997, but having always been a rental before John bought it, I can’t imagine anyone investing money to leave behind. I know it’s done all the time in New York city apartments and I’ve known people who have spent $30,000 on a kitchen renovation in a place they did not actually own, but they’d lived in for twenty years or more.

While I never had to live with the linoleum tile pattern on the floor, until recently the brass switch plates that came with the house were still on the walls. I’m glad John agreed that it was time for them to go. The new lighter ones blend so much better and are easier to clean.

You can see the beginnings of the first of three big kitchen changes dating from when he bought it in 2005. Thank goodness he added more ceiling lights too. I can’t imagine working with only one or two lights in the kitchen as this one had.

Here you see the cabinets going in. John bought the cabinet doors from Ikea and built the rest of it from big sheets of furniture board because it was as he said, “less expensive than ready-made and more flexible.”  The countertops are the old ones from 1997 just before John tiled them black like you see in the photo below. He believes in reusing materials when possible.

The second kitchen redo was much smaller, taking place in 2009 when my things arrived from the US. John added more glass fronted cabinets for my china and other glassware along with another solid cabinet on the left side of the window over the sink.

The other side of the room where the table sits is shown during the first renovation in the third photo above. As you can see by the funny bit of wall sticking out in that picture and the one below it, our table placement choices were severely limited and it never felt as if the space was large enough to move comfortable in especially when family and friends joined us.

Here’s a last look before the wall came down. After John built the extension so I might have a room of my own to write, the configuration of the house changed making it unnecessary for the entry door you can see in the photo below. Before building what he jokingly refers to as the East Wing, that door opened into the master bedroom. After the addition of a hallway, my studio space, and two bathrooms, it became possible to take down the corner wall and open up the room a bit more.

The out-dated Artex ceiling went too, along with the door leading from the main hall into the East Wing hallway. Then he pulled up the small bit of dark wood that had been part of the hallway floor and took out the door you see on the right. He fixed the wall afterwards and then put a new door and partial wall in where the hallway begins. The ceiling is dark in this shot because the plaster was still drying.

Here’s how it looked yesterday when I tried to catch a bit of light on a rainy day. I could have used my blogging friend Kerstin’s property photography skills as my pictures don’t do as good a job of giving you an accurate feel for the space. Notice we still have the leather chairs along with four more in the attic. John is okay with them, but I have a different vision in mind and I’ll update you later when we make a change. That lamp in the corner needs a bit of work or replacing. John enjoys a softer evening light so we’re likely to keep something there.

This cool piece is one of two that came out of an old smithy that was attached to another much older home that John owned years before meeting me. Both were stored in the garage and I’d imagined them inside the house from the first time I saw them. Renovating the kitchen created a place for this larger one and the smaller one found a home in the living room.

The little potty was one I used as a child on overnight visits with my great-grandparents who did not have indoor plumbing. I can see a few cobwebs in the slot where it’s sitting. (Note to self: dust more!) This piece was missing a drawer and I put the potty there as a funny reminder of a time when grand houses would have a screen off to the side during dinner parties so guests might relieve themselves without straying far from the table. Given that we are fortunate to have three bathrooms, this will never be necessary if you come for dinner.

John suggested this one might look better painted the color green you see in the kitchen, but that’s not happening! I love the primitive look of it and like seeing the dings and peeling paint from its use in blacksmith’s work space.

John built the new cabinets in the photo above using old materials to create units that were more shallow than the ones there before. He replaced the laminate floors with hardwood and I found a smaller entry rug for the door in the things I brought over in 2009. We think it’s a good match. Everything had a fresh coat of paint and the cooker hood or range hood as I’d call it is one that John found online. It works so much better than the old one making me especially happy when John cooks fish.

You may notice that we have not settled on a decision for the backsplash. John likes it as it is, but we tend to be messy and I think we’ll need at least a sheet of glass or acrylic to cover the green part up to the molding he installed. He also turned an unused space into a cookie sheet storage area by hinging the small wooden strip below the oven and adding a pull.

The lights in these cabinets are actually pale blue, but they’ve turned deep purple in this photo. You can see the new countertops John installed. He did a lot of work on them to help make them less prone to staining.

See the two raised boards he made from leftover counter-top wood … this works well to keep wet products off the wood so it doesn’t stain. You must be more careful with these, but I love the look of them and have not had to work that hard to get used to working with dry ingredients in one part and wet in another.

I moved some of the art that I brought from the US. These pieces had been in other parts of the house and added one (on the left) that I bought during a trip we made to Wales. I think it all came together fairly well.

You may have noticed that the art work on the sides of the window near the sink is in the spot where cabinets used to be. We had considered open shelving there for dishes and stuff, but I’m glad we found another way. I prefer the art and like how the space feels bigger and less cluttered.

John is already on to his next project, working on plans to change to the interior stairs and the entrance to the house. He never stops.

My friend Jean commented the other day on how lucky I was after seeing pictures of some of the renovations we’ve been making and “by we, I mean John.” That little saying about what we are doing has become a bit of humorous phrasing for me, but one meant to playfully acknowledge all the effort he puts into making our home so comfortable and appealing. He does such a nice job and I do feel lucky, but it’s his gentle spirit and kind heart rather than his construction skills that make me feel fortunate to share a life and space with him.

How about you … any projects on your list this summer? Share a link if you have one or leave me a link to your favorite home remodeling blog. I’m more than a little addicted to bloggers who are known for their DIY skills.

Where Do Broken Blogs Go … Can They Find Their Way Home?

If I said I had been kidnapped by a monster to explain my lack of posting here over the last two weeks, it would not be far off from the truth. I took this photo at Eden Project over four years ago when I was in the process of relocating my life to Cornwall from the US. The monster in the background is made up of old electronic equipment, broken bits of televisions, washing machines, out-dated computers and other kinds of gadgets that can improve our lives or sometimes imprison us.

Held Hostage By My Indecision

Computer changes are at the top of the long list of distractions that have kept me from writing lately.  I’ve been getting updates from Apple for months letting me know that I needed to move to iCloud as Mobile Me was ending. Don’t worry if none of the details make sense to you, just know that over the last year I’ve known this was coming and put it off making a decision until now.

Keeping My Email

One of my chief concerns with not moving to iCloud had to do my email and I was only able to decide once I discovered I could leave it as it was and let some other significant parts of my online/connected life go. Even then, I waited until the last four days possible to do so and only after reading loads of confusing information. See what I mean about monsters and indecision.

No More iWeb

My first blog was through iWeb, which was a big part of the problem because it was affected by the discontinuation of Mobile Me and the required move to iCloud.  That blog became an archive for my earliest posts after I moved to WordPress in early 2009, a move necessitated by my lack of ability to moderate comments that were being left by a female stalker who did a variety of things to try to make my life miserable.

The early version of GOTJ no longer exists now. What you will see if you look for giftsofthejourney.com is this post as I mapped the domain name to my WordPress account knowing my iWeb version of the first GOTJ would disappear at the end of June.

I saved a copy of the first 80 or so posts and plan to move them over to this blog one post at a time, backdating them so they show up in the time period in which they were originally created. Even though it will take some work to republish them along with their comments, I think it will be worth the effort to have all of my posts since June 2008 finally in one place.

I’ve been wanting to use my domain name here without the addition of wordpress.com and hopefully this change to giftsofthejourney.com won’t create any problems for those of you who have subscribed to my blog. We’ll know after this post.

 

Prom Night – My Grand Entrance

The American tradition of a prom night bash for teens migrated to the UK some time ago and a conversation with some of the girls at our pub about their dresses sent me searching through my files for a photo of mine. I seem to remember floor length and sweet as being very in style in 1977 unlike what I think of as the “sexy too soon” look that has been the rage for a long time.

I’d be willing to bet none of the girls I talked with will be wearing anything as demure as my cream-colored Gunne Sax dress with all of its lace, and pearl buttons. I’m not saying sleek and glamorous should be ditched in favor of a dress that looks as if you’re practicing for a premature walk down the wedding aisle, but do girls have really to look so old, so soon?

In the photo above, I’m standing in front of my high school sweetheart’s house making some serious googly-eyes at him. Looking at it now you’d never believe the experience we’d shared less than an hour or so earlier when he’d arrived at my house to pick me up for the evening.

I’d spent all afternoon getting ready as I struggled to make my normally stick straight hair bend to my will. It took less time than I expected so I was ready before my date was due to arrive. My step-mom, Cullene saw his car (no limo for us) coming through the trees down the long gravel road that connected our home in the woods to the rest of the world. She suggested that I should go back upstairs so I could come down the curving staircase and make an entrance befitting my dress and the occasion.

Lifting the hem of my dress a few inches so as not to trip, I ran up the stairs and stood off to one side so I couldn’t be seen from below. I listened as my dad opened the door and greeted my boyfriend and then heard Cullene say, “Elizabeth, Scott’s here.” Pausing for a moment at the top of the stairs, I looked down over the railing smiling at my boyfriend who was wearing a dark suit that he could wear again instead renting a pastel tux, a look that was very popular that year.

It was the most dressed up I’d ever seen him as he lived in jeans and t-shirts no matter what the season, but I didn’t have time to think about how handsome he looked or what he might be thinking about my dress because as my eyes met his and I took the second step intending to glide down the stairs like a romantic figure in a Jane Austin novel, my new shoes slipped on the carpet causing my feet to go straight out in front of me as the heels of my shoes snapped off. I hit the stairs hard and slid on my backside, bumping down three or four steps before coming to a stop.

I was shocked out of my embarrassment when I heard Cullene say, ” Oh Elizabeth! Are you okay? ” Almost as soon as I said, ” Yes,” I heard my family begin to laugh nervously as if they were having trouble keeping it in but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I was laughing too before long and poor Scott, who didn’t know what to make of us by now laughing like we were coming unglued, shook his head and walked towards the door doing his best to keep from losing it too.

After realizing my high-heeled opened toed sandals had suddenly become flats, I worried aloud about what to do for shoes until my dad grabbed a hammer and some small nails and pieced them back together so we could go on to the prom.

There are of course other parts of the evening that I remember, such as our expensive dinner with its tiny portions and the grandness the Fox Theatre’s Egyptian Ballroom, but the most memorable moment for me remains my dramatic entrance and how quickly I bounced back afterwards.

I’d love to hear your prom night stories if you have one or a most embarrassing moment if you’re feeling brave. 

Kitchen Renovation Week 2 – Is that Dust In My Soup?

I have to be really honest with you. Aside from emptying some cabinets of their contents, taking a few pictures and helping with the design decisions, I haven’t done any of the real work involved in our kitchen renovation. John’s the workhorse here. After Bob and Brian packed up and went home late last week, John got out his tools and went to work. Here’s a bit of what he’s been working on over the last few days.

I know the ceiling looks as if we’re making a dubious color choice, but have no fear … we are not going with a milk chocolate-colored ceiling. It  turns light pink as the plaster dries and then we’ll paint it white. Remember the door that was on the other side of the wall? If you look below you can see where it used to lead to before John closed it for good.

The master bedroom and my studio space were until a few days ago only accessed through a door at the top of the stairs that no longer exists. After John sealed it up, my feet kept wanting to walk the same way out of habit so I stuck a note on the wall to remind me. It’s only a few steps beyond the remaining door, but I got tired of having to back up. The “Closed” sign made John laugh when he saw it and later when I went into the kitchen I noticed he’d posted a sign of his own.

I thought his “Open” sign was pretty cute, but I was really impressed with how he reused the old doorway to close in the new opening from the kitchen to the hallway. 

This photo should have been before the last one as he hadn’t completed the door frame yet, but it gives you a good look at the wall to the right where he closed off the old doorway. The dark boards against the wall are from the hallway. It’s the same wood flooring that runs through the master bedroom and my bathroom and studio space.

Here’s what the space looked like today. Didn’t John do a great job? I’ll be painting the door white over the next few days so it blends in better with the wall and we’re getting rid of all the brass wall plates too. We’re leaving the half-glass door as it is with its natural wood finish.

We’re thinking of oak planks for the kitchen floor, but we’ve got to live with it kind of patchy (like the spot above) while the rest of the kitchen is being finished. John said it’s going to be a few months (more like August) before we’re through with the kitchen/dining room renovation so if you’re coming to see us this summer consider yourself warned. It’s pretty dusty here.