Mixed Memories And Our Traveling Tree

Someone asked me if we were decorating for Christmas a few days ago when I was sitting on a stool in our village pub. I responded with an enthusiastic yes, but acknowledged that the house was a bit of a mess and the tree was unfinished. I went on to say that John had dug up our Christmas tree from the front of the house and moved it inside after putting it in a pot.

Living Christmas Tree, Digging Up A Christmas Tree

Even though we’ve known each other for almost four years, this will only be our second Christmas in the house together. I wrote a couple of posts about our first Christmas and the tree in the posts from then is the same one you see here.

I stayed up late last night to put the rest of the ornaments on it so that I could tidy the room and but the box away that holds the Christmas lights and ornaments. Notice how I said, ‘the box’ not boxes? There was a time when I would unpack loads of Christmas decorations for the house and tree, but after moving to the UK, it all fits in one medium-sized box.

The effect of having less decorations for the tree and house makes the holiday season more fun and I’m less rushed to get everything out quickly and assembled. This makes it easier to linger over the memories that come up for me when I unwrap the ornaments.

This year, I was impressed by how many ornaments we already have from our travels together. Most of what hangs on the tree came with me when I moved to Cornwall, but since John and I married in 2009, we’ve managed to pick up quite a few more.

Paris Letter 1862, Christmas TreeThis ornament made from letter written in 1862 reminds me of our honeymoon in Paris. It was a gift from my dear friend David in Atlanta. He sent me home with another carefully wrapped wooden hummingbird when I was in Atlanta for the summer and it was one of the first ornaments I put on the tree this year.

Wooden Hummingbird Christmas Ornament, Crocheted Snowflake, Christmas TreeHere’s the hummingbird along with a crocheted snowflake that my step-mom Cullene gave me from her tree. It’s one of three she gave me that remind me of home. When I put these on the tree I can picture her washing, starching, and ironing the ton of snowflakes that she hangs on her own.

Kiwi Christmas Ornament The Kiwi came home with us from our New Zealand trip last year. It was difficult to find a Kiwi ornament that was not bejeweled and overdone.

New Zealand Sheep Christmas OrnamentThis New Zealand sheep was handmade by a woman in a yarn store in Christchurch and is my favorite of the two we brought back.

Wreath From Kansas Wheat

It’s funny how many ornaments are actually gifts from other people such as this one my sister Margaret gave me of a wreath made from Kansas wheat.

Santa In A GondolaCullene brought this glass blown ‘ Santa in a Gondola ‘ back from Venice. My own stop in Venice was a quick trip to change trains on my way to Greece in 1981 so I’ve not really been there yet myself.

These two are from Scotland, a place I love no matter how rough the weather.

I carried thistle in my wedding bouquet when John and I married.

This came from a trip I took with Miranda to Alaska in 1986 to meet my nephew Sam when he was born. I made this from a key chain that I bought when John and I did the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2008. I thought the St Bernard was a good reminder of our long walk through the Alps. These three combine the land of my birth in America with my new home in England. Miranda and I bought the guard and the Westminster Abby ornaments on our first trip to the UK in 2003. I could not have imagined the life change five years later that would have me living here.

This one is from a trip to Bali which was the longest flight I’d ever been on until flying to Australia and New Zealand last November.

Some ornaments look rather ordinary, but remind me of my resilience such as the one from Aspen, a place where I went snowshoeing only ten days after major surgery. Not the smartest thing I know, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without an attempt.

This one reminds me of my military service and my memories of jeep driving in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

This Christopher Radko ornament reminds me of people living with HIV and the good folks who provide care for them.

This one has a story too long to tell in a blog post, but it makes me smile to see it.

A bird in a nest for John who has increased both my knowledge and appreciation for birds in ways I would not have imagined. The penguin in the background is was a gift from a sweet woman I met when I first worked in HIV. Annie works in Hospice and is the kind of person you’d like by your bedside at the end of your days.

Butterflies always remind me of my dear friend Marty who had a conversation with me before he died while standing next to his butterfly garden that changed my life.

My favorite ornaments are those made by my daughter Miranda as she was growing up. I love the simplicity of the hand colored one above and the sweet one below with her little fingerprints made when she was only two.

 I made the bear angel that sits on top of our tree for Miranda’s first Christmas 24 years ago when she was a few months old. She had a bear theme in her bedroom and I carried it over to the tree that year with bear ornaments and bear garlands. I didn’t plan on it being a forever tree topper, but it’s so connected with her that I love seeing it there every year.

The same person who asked if I was decorating for Christmas also asked me if our tree had a theme and I said that was really just a mix of ornaments and not one based on color or anything else with a common element. Thinking about her question later, I think there is a theme to our tree and it’s more than just travel and pretty colors.

Our tree is a live, slightly lop-sided one that is also recycled in that we keep digging it up. It’s covered with a collection of ornaments that are there because they mean something and it feels to me like a way to have people I love around me at Christmas if only in memory of other moments we shared with together.

An English - American Living Room At ChristmasHere’s what it looked like a few minutes ago. If you’d like to share a link to your tree or any other decorations you have this time of year, feel free to leave a comment and a link below.

A Georgia Transplant’s Dogwood Days In Cornwall

Dogwood trees in the American south are some of the early signs of spring and one of the things I missed about my home in Georgia when I moved to the UK. I had no idea they grew in Cornwall as my first spring here came and went without the unmistakable explosion of blooming color.

We were well into a month I would normally associate with summer time when I discovered some gorgeous dogwood trees during a garden walk at Lanhydrock, one of my favorite National Trust properties. Noting my delight, my sweet husband John surprised me with one on a birthday trip later that year.

My dogwood has been growing in a pot outside since we brought it home, living through the building extension, waiting to be planted in a place in the garden where I might see it from my desk as I write. Last winter, Cornwall was blasted with freezing temperatures unusual for this part of England and I worried all the way from New Zealand where we were on an extended holiday, that it might die from the cold sitting outside in its container.

A few days ago, John gently cleaned my little tree of all the dead leaves still clinging to its branches and noted as he did so that it had new leaves. I was thrilled to hear this as I had not held out much hope as poorly as it looked a few weeks ago.

I have to thank Mary for her words and beautiful images this morning. Seeing her dogwood trees in flower made me take a closer look at my special tree. While my tiny dogwood is not in full bloom yet, it looks as if it may have flowers for the very first time later this year.

If you click twice on these photos, you can see some texture that reminds me of the fuzzy softness of a newborn lamb’s ears.

I had to add this imperfect photo which turned out to be my favorite. I went outside twice this morning in my robe and bare feet to photograph my tree and ended up loving the way my robe picks up the color in the tiny dot of pink near the bud on the tree. (Click twice to see)

* The burgundy colored robe I’m wearing was my dad’s and has kept me warm on many cold mornings in the twenty years since his death. There’s something kind of special about seeing it sneak into my dogwood picture along with my barefoot completely unnoticed by me until I downloaded the image. I’m usually pretty aware of what else might be happening when I shoot and was pleased to see this one got past me.

Dancing Lessons In The Great Hall In Christchurch

Walking into the building known as the Great Hall, in what was formerly part of The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, I saw a girl onstage doing what appeared to be a ballet jump. She paused for a second when I came in with my camera, but went back to her leaping after I encouraged her not to let me interrupt her dance.

I took photos with and without flash and became frustrated when I could not get the shot just right. You’d think that I would have studied the instruction manual from front to back before going on a seven week trip to New Zealand, but even after having had the camera for three months, I was not ready when an opportunity presented and I struggled to capture her leaping in a way that I thought showed her delight in what she was doing.

I shifted focus to take a couple of photographs of the opposite side of the room and saw that like many of the buildings being used as part of the Christchurch Arts Centre, this one was still being repaired from damage sustained during the September 2010 earthquake.

Turning back to the stage, I noticed the man now in the picture and spoke to him long enough to confirm that he was her father and that it was alright for me to take her photograph. She had given me permission earlier, but I wanted to be sure it was okay with him as well.

We spoke briefly about the beauty of Christchurch, how they were Americans on holiday too and how we both wished we had more time to explore the city. While we talking, his daughter never stopped practicing her dance steps and when I left a minute or so later, she was still leaping through the air.

Reviewing my photos later, I decided the blurred images of her body as she practiced might be a lesson for me, a reminder of just what it takes to perfect a skill.

Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

~ Martha Graham

Between The Earthquakes In Christchurch

John Winchurch In Christchurch, New Zealand

Waking this morning to the news of another earthquake in Christchurch, I searched the internet and was sad to see the loss of lives during this most recent quake. When John and I were in Christchurch two months ago there were still many signs of the previous earthquake in September. Our hotel was right around the corner from the cathedral that was hit so hard yesterday in the center of Christchurch. Pictures of the 110 year old ChristChurch cathedral are everywhere showing the collapsed spire and roof damage and I wanted to share with you what it looked like when we were there in December, only nine days before Christmas.

I loved the angels which I imagine were up for the Christmas season.

Also near our hotel was this older building which housed several shops where I enjoyed meeting the owners and making a few purchases. I hope the people I met survived the earthquake.

I searched for them online, but could not find an email link to one in particular. Vanessa Hardy has a wonderful shop in the green building above and I wish I could find a way to see if she and her shop, Tete-a-Tete made it safely through the quake. I had hoped to write about her earlier, but I have not had time to write about my New Zealand experience since we returned so it is only now that I am taking a minute to tell you about her. I bought one of my favorite new (to me) scarves in her shop and we shared our stories about how we met our lovely men. I stayed so long that I had a chance to meet her sweetie, Warren Chilton when he arrived just before closing time.

I also bought the book above in a bookstore on site, Fortuna Books. It feels like a strange coincidence that I happened to be reading that book last night when I went to sleep.

Judging by the time difference, I was reading about pioneer women in New Zealand when Christchurch was breaking up. I pulled it off the bookshelf late last night choosing it over the three or four books already on my bedside table. I had been reading a book of short stories by Tobis Wolf, but last night felt like reading this one instead.

Strange, but true … it feels kind of woo-woo to me now, but John would say it was just chance.

I sent an email off to the bookstore owner and hope to hear all is well in the building since I can’t find a way to check on Vanessa. If one of my New Zealand readers hears any news, I would appreciate knowing that Vanessa and those around her in the other shops in the Green building made it safely through the earthquake.

ChristChurch Cathedral - Christchurch, New Zealand

Cornish Ghost Tales From New Zealand


While in New Zealand last year, I went into a bookstore based on the name and the look of it. Wanderlust Books, in Alexandra was just the kind of shop where any book lover would be happy to spend an afternoon searching the shelves with the help of Tim Julien, the proprietor of the quality second-hand book store.


Wanderlust Books - Alexandra, New Zealand

Supernatural In Cornwall

I was not inside the store very long before this book caught my eye and when I picked it up for a closer look I saw the image below.


According to the publication date, this photo was taken before 1974 and it has someone standing on Rough Tor in the same spot that I am in my header photo at the top of this page.

All of the places mentioned in the chapters are familiar now to me especially the one below.

When I found this book in New Zealand, I couldn’t help think about how it came to be so far from home. John thought fifteen New Zealand dollars was too much to spend, but how could I not buy it and take it back home to Cornwall, especially since I love a good ghost story.


Silent Unspoken Memories

John and Elizabeth - February 2, 2009

It’s been two years since we made our promises in front of family and friends and it feels like both yesterday and forever. I knew eight weeks after our first email that I wanted to have forever with this man and I knew without speaking that he wanted it too. Some things are so right you don’t even hesitate, no looking back, so second guesses, you just know that you are where you are meant to be.

To Be One With Each Other

What greater thing is there for two human souls

than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen

each other in all labor, to minister to each other in all sorrow,

to share with each other in all gladness,

to be one with each other in the

silent unspoken memories.

~ George Eliot


John and Elizabeth - Coromandel Town, NZ - 11/11/2010

If you are new to Gifts Of The Journey you might enjoy reading and seeing some of our early moments together. Click on the colored links above and it will be like you were there with us.

Why Some Goals Are Easier To Complete Than Others And Some Lessons You Never Forget

My daughter took up knitting when she was student at Virginia Tech and after she made a scarf for me and later some blankets and other things, I asked her to teach me how to knit. I picked out a yarn that I thought would be soft around her neck and had a mix of her school colors and after she started it for me, I set to work to complete it.

What I overlooked was that she doesn’t wear scarves, not now, not ever. I am known for almost always having one looped around my neck in all kinds of weather and I’ve worn them since my mid-twenties so it’s rare to see a photo of me through the years without one, but Miranda doesn’t wear them.

She did try to tell me this more than a time or two, and it took me a year of ripping out mistakes and redoing it before I heard her. I was so intent on presenting my first project to her especially as she had introduced me to it, that I never thought that this gift was more about me than it was her.

Miranda took me through the basic stitch so many times when I saw her over the last year that you think I could have worked it out, but I had such trouble with it that I began to knit only at the pub on quiz nights when my friend Jean could fix it for me when I made a mistake.

In the end, I shipped it unfinished to Georgia with my knitting needles to wait for our arrival from our New Zealand trip with the hopes of finishing it before Christmas. By Christmas day it was a major mess and when I showed it to her after lunch, unfinished and still on the knitting needles, she suggested gently that while I was good at many things, knitting did not seem like one of them.

There was something in the way she said that along with repeating once again that she did not wear scarves that I finally heard and suddenly I was able to let go of my need to finish the thing!

So she tied it off for me and I decided that I would give it to her dog for a neck warmer at least for purposes of a photo shoot because he doesn’t wear scarves either. Even though he won’t wear it again, it didn’t look so bad on him.

Afterwards, I told John that having tried my hand with the first one, I had some lovely yarn in just his color. He has not really protested, but thinking about it now, I am not sure I have ever seen him in a scarf either.


Life In The UK Test

There are still some things I seem to still be able to pull off with a better outcome than my knitting experience and the letter and news above was really big for me. I shared it yesterday on Facebook and received so many lovely responses that I was quite overwhelmed by all the support and since some of my readers only see me here, I wanted to tell you my news as well.

There are many steps on the way to being able to stay in the UK and most people assume if you marry a Brit it’s an easy-peasy process. Except for shaving a few years off the time it takes to become a British citizen, married folks go though the same process as everyone else.

Yesterday, I completed a major step in my goal to stay in the UK with John. I passed the Life in the UK test!

My next immigration appointment is on the calendar and if all goes well, I will have my Indefinite Leave to Remain approved after we are interviewed in a few weeks. Passing the UK life test was necessary to complete before the interview so I managed it just in time. I had mistakenly thought it was not required until you applied for a dual citizenship so I was on a tight timeline to get it done.

After I get though the next stage in a few weeks, I can apply within a certain period of time to become a naturalized citizen and have the right among other things, to vote, run for public office, and carry a British passport.

I don’t have to give up my American citizenship to do this and will have a dual citizenship when I finish the process.

I do want to acknowledge my long time friend Diane and her unknowing help with my test yesterday. We were roommates during my first year and her last at the university we attended together in New York. After she graduated, I transferred to the University of Georgia and she spent a year with an élite group of educators traveling and teaching University students study skills they might have missed in high school.

As a nontraditional student, I was older and had already served in the army and even though I was doing well in my classes, I spent many, many, hours studying to make this happen.

When Diane came to town in 1985 to spend a few weeks with the brainy young women of Agnes Scott, a college in Atlanta, she took a some time to show me a few things about note taking and review which changed my life and still help me to this day.

I kept the book she left for years until Miranda went off to VA Tech and I offered it to her in case she found she needed help to keep up. I don’t think she ever used it and I cannot remember the name of the book, but I will send a link to Diane in hopes that she can leave the title in a comment below.

Long story today to talk about lessons learned, but I did want to acknowledge how Diane’s help back in 1985 made prepping for the important test I took yesterday fairly easy and made me feel pretty confident going in to it.

If you live in the UK and want to test how much you know about your own country, you can take an online official practice test of 24 questions by going here.

I want to thank Miranda too for her patience in teaching me how to knit and let her know that I may try to make something else for her in a few years after (if) I manage to finish John’s scarf.


Love Languages And Connection

We were leaving Auckland last November to begin our tour of North Island when I noticed the man on the motorcycle in front of us. I could see the city reflected in his helmet, but what made me lift my camera was the love message written on the round rearview mirror on the right side of his bike. Do you see it … the heart with two small xx’s underneath?

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the ways in which we communicate and particularly with the people we love. It is a huge topic with endless amounts of information available in bookstores or a quick click or two on our computers. It’s a great source of frustration for many and one most of us will spend hours of our lives discussing at some point.

One of my favorite books on this topic has been around for some time and when I went to the website of Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, I found the short assessment that I took a few years ago. Back then it reaffirmed what I already knew about myself but more importantly, it gave me an easy and concise way to share how I interpret love when trying to explain it to others.

There are some additional assessments added that deal with children and a few other topics that you might find a worthwhile use of your time especially if you’ve been feeling disconnected lately from the important people in your life.

Have a look and let me know what you think and I will be back tomorrow to share my assessment and tell you which love language I speak.


Counting Sheep On Christmas Eve

It is late here and everyone but me is tucked in bed resting up for tomorrow and all the excitement and activity that comes when family and friends gather to celebrate Christmas. It’s no surprise to me that I am still awake. I usually am on nights like this.

This week has been a whirl of going and doing right from the time we arrived late last Sunday and sleep has been even more scarce for me than normal. I think I will rest when we are finally home again in Cornwall next week.

For now spending time with the people I love is well worth missing a bit of sleep and with a little South Island sheep like the one on the Christmas tree above, I can imagine I am counting them in the field of New Zealand buttercups below.

For all who celebrate during this Christmas season, I hope you have the company of those you love around you now. Have a safe and Happy Christmas and I will be back in a few days.

Dinner For Two At Lake Tekapo

Okay … so it wasn’t really dinner for two. We had dinner lakeside at Lake Tekapo last night with a large group of folks who all pitched in making a big cookout for about forty people. I made my grandmother’s potato salad with John’s help (tons of chopping) and we had a lot of compliments even though it was missing a couple of ingredients.

Here are a few our dinner companions post meal and cleanup waiting for a little Hokey-Pokey ice cream for dessert. Hokey-Pokey is said to be a favorite flavor of travelers through New Zealand and I have definitely become a fan.


We’ve just arrived in Christchurch where I am posting this now from an outdoor café. This is our last stop before we fly to Auckland to spend a couple of nights before leaving for Christmas with my family in Atlanta. It’s been a wonderful trip and Christchurch looks at first glance as if it has enough charm to continue adding to the memories we’ve been busy making.