You’re Never Too Old For A Party … Now Make A Wish And Blow!

Earlier this year I had a conversation with my husband, John about his birthday and what he might like to do to celebrate it properly in the way one does a significant birthday, particularly those ending in a zero.

When you’re younger the zeros don’t matter as much as the life events that certain birthdays mark such as those that make it possible to drive a car or vote. Others may remember the birthday that allowed them to buy their first alcoholic drink and belly up to the bar legally but birthdays ending in zeros seem to be most noteworthy after a certain age.

For most of us, it begins with 30 and the recognition that we’ve arrived there faster than we’d imagined we might. After that it can feel like it’s just an eye blink or two before we’re talking about retirement plans with our girlfriends instead of our plans for the weekend.

Although John retired from the television industry at 51 after being offered an early pension, he’s been very busy in the years since buying and renovating houses before selling them on. He’s not really lived the life of a retiree, or at least what I used to think that life might look like and he’s inspired me to rethink aging and the possibilities for my life.

He didn’t want a big birthday party opting instead to have a smaller gathering with family. He picked out a rental cottage in Dorset and we spent a fun week exploring the surrounding area. The first few days saw all the family together in the five bedroom cottage and the last three we had it to ourselves.

Surprise!

Since it was a significant birthday celebration, I wanted to have a bit of decoration so I bought some paper bunting I saw on the store shelves last summer for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. I tucked it away knowing I was going to use it later to display photos from John’s life. I went through hundreds of images and used about 300 that I cut or tore and glued to the precut bunting. I did this on the sly so he had no idea what I was doing or that I even planned on decorating the cottage.

I hung the bunting when he went left to pick up Rachel, his youngest, and her two daughters at the ferry. It was very late when they arrived as the ferry was delayed so when they came into the cottage he was aware that I’d decorated, but he didn’t notice what it actually was beyond some colorful bunting.

We barely had time to speak as I went upstairs to help Jersey Girl get ready for bed while Rachel carried an already sleeping baby to her room hoping not to wake her.  As I was tucking JG into bed and giving her a goodnight kiss, John came in with a sweet smile and said that he’d sat on the sofa and glanced up at the bunting and noticed the name of a boat he recognized and as he stood up for a closer look, he saw he was in the picture and then realized that he was in all the photographs.

Chestnut Cottage, Rodden, Dorset

I cooked a big Italian dinner on the second night beginning with stuffed mushrooms and a hot artichoke dip before moving on to a spicy lasagna, with salad and garlic bread. I had a simple floral centerpiece, but it made the table seem crowded so you can only see it in the first photo.

We finished later with a yummy carrot cake that I made from a recipe given to me by my friend, Scott. It looks kind of funny because I baked it at home and made the frosting at the cottage, but it still tasted amazing six days later when John and I had the last of it.

Wishing On Birthday Candles … Do You?

I kind of insisted on candles on the cake which is the reason for the bossy sounding title of this post. I’m a firm believer in making a wish on your birthday no matter what your age. John was a good sport about blowing out the candles, but he didn’t make a wish.

Later in the evening I snapped a photo of some of the empty bottles by the door … I think they may have added one more after I took this.
Gifts
John received some lovely gifts, one being a weekend away in Wales that came from his daughters. They scheduled it for our wedding anniversary weekend so I get to enjoy it too! His brother, David gave him a Magnolia tree and I had something special made for him that I’ll show you in my next post.
Party Favors
I was so focused on food that I had to forgo a cute idea that I thought of too late to complete. Given a bit more time, I would have framed a tiny photo from the past of John with each person at the party and used it as a place card to show where people should sit at dinner. It would have been nice party favor to send home with them afterwards as a reminder.
My Gift  … Here’s A Hint
Don’t forget to come back and see what I gave him. I think you are going to like it.

Low Lying Stakes On A High Water Wellie Day

You may have heard that 2012 has been the wettest summer in Britain 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 the experience of archeological dig even though the items waiting to be discovered were 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 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.

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.

 

Waiting

It’s dark in the corners of our village church and the light sometimes struggles to find its way in especially when the days are hazy as they often are, but when it does, the contrast between the light and the darkness is so striking it can create a moment of introspective illumination … at least for me.

People don’t come here as often as they once did and while I think it very beautiful, I only feel the ghosts of self-recrimination and regret. I’m sure some housekeeping must be necessary to aid in sweeping these feelings away, but I’m not sure where to begin. The instruction manual no longer makes sense to me and the teachers who garner the most attention feel false.

I usually learn best by doing, but sometimes when I am unsure … I wait.

I tend to be fairly private about my questions of faith and thoughts on God. My experience with the Christian community in general tends to makes me think of the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” where there are lots of extremes and a little girl who’s looking for “just right.”

Celebrating The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee & The Stories Within The Story

Yesterday was a big day for many in Britain as people across the country rolled up their sleeves and created a huge outdoor party to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

There are those who think the time for a monarchy has passed and they were noticeably absent, but I enjoyed the afternoon’s festivities and the opportunity to get know some of my neighbors a bit better. There were games for all but with a focus on the children and the food we brought to share was bountiful and delicious.

We had gorgeous weather yesterday which was much appreciated especially by the people who had worked so hard to make our village ” block party ” a huge success!

Going through my photographs from yesterday’s celebration, I kept seeing images that while they were clearly taken at the two events I attended, they had the appearance of another story, one with details not as obvious as the reason we were all together and some that were completely unrelated.

Ten years ago Britain celebrated the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. I was aware of course, but I wouldn’t visit the UK for the first time until the following summer in 2003 so it didn’t mean as much to me then. I admired the Queen though for a variety of reasons and marveled even then at how much she managed to do at 76. Ten years later she seems to have barely slowed down.

If you had told me in 2002 that I would be here for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, eating Pavlova and singing “God Save The Queen,” I’m not sure I would have believed you, but I would have certainly considered that it might make a good story.

Dora got into the spirit with a few banners to dress up her look a bit.

My sweet tooth and camera went into overdrive with all the colorful cakes and pastries decorating the long table.

I missed the Empire Biscuits when they made it to the table. Interestingly, these were called German biscuits until WWI when they were renamed.

My friend Tina … taking a break from watching the Saffron Maids dance.

The Saffron Maids like to get the audience involved in the dance and you don’t need to be a maid to participate.

For some strange reason this dance made me think of A Chorus Line.

This Pavlova was my favorite thing … I understand why people rave about Pavlova so much now.

Clearly Clovelly … Minus Most Of The Fog

When I left you yesterday, we were in stand of tall trees that I tend to think as Live Oak trees. John said this expression meant nothing to him except the obvious one of an oak tree that was living and not dead. After a little online research, I found that there is a tree in the American south that is called a Live Oak,’ but they tend to be shorter and the limbs grow out more to the sides instead of up like in the last photo you can see here in yesterday’s post.

Since we ended the post with a foggy shot of a sheltering tree, I thought we also should begin with one today. When I saw the tree in the photo above, I wondered out loud about the way it reminded me of weeping willow type of tree that looked as if someone had given it a haircut. John promptly said that he suspected cows were the culprit and they’d likely chewed up as high as their necks could stretch. If you have a different theory I’d love to hear it.

Walking on we reached our destination, the village of Clovelly. This privately owned fishing village has the steepest streets I think I’ve climbed since moving to the UK. There are no cars in Clovelly, you have to walk. People use sleds or sledges as they say here to drag their belongings up and down the 400′ foot cliff that provides a home for a small community of people.

You can see a red sled in this photo … it’s kind of small compared to most of the others we saw.

I thought it was pretty interesting that the Methodist Chapel was next door to the pub.

The chapel popped with color especially after seeing the mostly white walls of the buildings that led to the doorway.

A forgotten communion glass.

Remember what I said about 400′ down … this was taken only part way.

Wear sensible shoes when you visit Clovelly and watch your step.

I’m not sure how they get the sledges or sleds over these speed bumps, but they do.

After hiking out of Clovelly and pausing to catch our breath, we did something we rarely do on our coast path walks, we went back the same way we came.

These boys were were super friendly almost to the point of allowing a head rub before they turned skitish.

This shot was hidden in the fog on yesterday’s post and when we began our late afternoon walk back to the car, we discovered we could see Clovelly Court.

Remember the shelter where we had lunch … it was so foggy we could only hear the sea, but on the way back we could also see it as the fog was completely gone.

Angel Wings, our sandwich stop.

This one’s for perspective. This is more of what we couldn’t see on our walk to Clovelly earlier in the day.

The gorse was everywhere giving off a scent that made the air smell faintly of coconut and we had view so gorgeous it was difficult to move on.

This is one of my favorites and even though it’s still a bit foggy in the distance, I like the look of the rocky coast.

Memorial Day 2012 – Put Down That Plate Of Barbecue And Think About Today

From where I sit this morning, there are no “Buy one, get one free, sales” and no families planning a cookout or any opening day festivities at the neighborhood pool. No one here is celebrating the end of the school year or the beginning of summer. It’s just another Monday. I’m not even sure my friends in UK community know what today is in the US. I don’t expect them to, but it’s kind of lonely in a way.

Today is Memorial Day in America and it’s national holiday meant to remember those who died in wars or other military conflicts. It always occurs on the last Monday in May creating a three-day weekend for vacation-hungry Americans and while it was never intended as a day for shopping or beer drinking and pool-side fun, 147 years after its post Civil War beginnings, that is all Memorial Day means to many people. I will confess that before I moved to the UK and despite having served in the Army myself, I tended to fall into the category of seeing it as a much needed day off from work.

I’ve realized how important the day itself is having watched the Remembrance Day ceremonies here in the UK for those who died in wartime. It occurs every November 11 when the leaves are gone and the sky is more likely to be grey, all of which adds to the solemnness of the occasion. People are primarily focused on honoring the war dead on that day with rituals and traditions that remain much the same as they have since WWI ended and Remembrance Day began.

I wish our Memorial Day had more focus on the sacrifice that inspired it and less on shopping and summer celebrations.

This is not my first Memorial Day post and it’s interesting to see the progression of my thoughts since moving to Cornwall. You can read more if you’d like by clicking the links for 2010 & 2011. In 2010, I wrote about Eleanor Grace Alexander and later about my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens who died in France just before the end of WWII.

If you have someone you remember on this day and would like to share them with us, please leave their name in comment below or if you’ve written a Memorial Day post, feel free to leave a link.

El

Buttercup Madness & Mid-May Diversions

It’s one of my favorite times of the year in Cornwall when the buttercups go mad popping up everywhere. The weather has been iffy for the last few weeks and I’ve been feeling slightly desperate to see a color other than grey. Yesterday delivered big time so John and I went out for a walk in the afternoon after I finished with work.  I was getting ready to photograph him sitting in the buttercups when he disappeared!

You can barely see him in the shot above.

When I looked up to see where he’d gone, I found him flat on his back soaking up the sun. A few weeks ago the buttercups were just beginning to show up, and I wrote a post with links explaining why this meadow is so special to us. You can follow the link if you’re new to GOTJ and interested in learning more.

Ahhh … there he is!

John snapped this one of me while I was trying to get a macro shot.

We posed for a timed shot with the buttercup field behind us before moving on for a walk through the woods.

From this angle you can see the buttercup field through the trees. This area is stunning all year round and John and I often talk about how lucky we are to have this walking distance from our home.

This tree with its fresh new leaves was more beautiful than my camera could capture and too large to get more than a bit of it in the shot.

Walking on a bit, I saw a path I had not explored and was off down the hill to see the water I could hear below.

Again, my little Canon can’t begin to communicate how beautiful this space is or how the water rushing over the rocks in places sounds like people murmuring together, carrying on a conversation I can’t make out.

The banks and surrounding area have these gorgeous bluebells scattered all around.

After hearing John calling out to me saying he was going on, I hurried up the hill to walk the rest of the way with him.

We walked on reaching the village by way of the main road after we left the wood and we saw a common sight, where riders on horseback share the road with cars. That’s our village church in the background.

Have you got a favorite place you go to clear your head or find your balance after a tough day? Nature always does it for me.

Life Without Laundry Baskets – Breaking Bad Habits

Laundry baskets used to be the catch-all for all odds bits of stuff in my life and while they do sell them over here, I’ve not been in a mad rush to go out and buy one. That’s right … there are no laundry baskets at all in this house.

In my previous life, clean clothes rarely seemed to make their way out of the baskets and into the dresser drawers. I’d fold the clothes, put them back in the basket, carry the basket to the appropriate room, and there it would sit until it was practically empty because I hated putting up laundry. These days,with no laundry baskets in the house and no tumble dryer for me to hit the refresh button, things tend to go directly they belong.

An added benefit to our no basket approach is I no longer have a place to stash miscellaneous stuff to sort out later. It either goes into the proper place for it or it finds a new home.

You may be thinking with only a drying rack and an outdoor clothesline … how do they transport the wet stuff?

I snapped the photo below the other day to show you how we do it here. The sun was shining so it we had a big wash day and after filling the clothesline you can see hanging in the very back, I moved the drying rack outside too to take advantage of the weather.

When you live in a place with frequent rain and no dryer by choice (John’s choice, not mine, but I’ve adjusted) you learn not to put things off. And with only one very old baby’s bathtub to get the wet stuff from washer to clothesline, it gets used and put away afterwards so it’s always empty and at the ready for a good wash day.

John’s been using his niece’s old bathtub to transport washed clothes outside to the clothesline since he found it in his dad’s attic after his father died in 1997. The plastic bathtub’s former occupant turned 29 earlier this week and while she looks great, the plastic on the tub is beginning to crack.

If I know my ‘use it up or wear it out’ husband at all, I’m betting we’ll use it another year or two before we buy something more traditional like the one below.

Internet Image

Having had time to learn the new behaviors I mentioned above, I think I’ll be okay having a laundry basket in the house again, but only if we stop with just one.

 

 

Saving For The Future – Yellow Gold

Daffodils remind me of my great-grandmother. She always referred to the golden beauties as Jonquils, a name you’re more likely to hear in the American south, and one which actually refers a variety of the Narcissus flower. I think she would have been very impressed with the mix of daffodils growing in and out of the Cornish hedges. For the longest time I thought that like many flowers they had hitchhiked their way to the hedges, forgetting that they are bulbs and as far as I know, must be planted.

John watched a television program the other night that explained why there are so many different types of daffs improving the views in our narrow lanes. Before WWII, loads of daffodils were grown in Cornwall and exported for sale with bright fields of different varieties harvested each year by hand.

The picture below is one from the National Trust website for Cotehele and shows the harvest.

Photo Credit - National Trust

From Field to Hedge

During WWII, Britain’s food was mostly homegrown so the daffodil fields were quickly changed to fruit and vegetables. When the bulbs were taken out of the soil to make room for something more edible, the farmers didn’t want to waste them so they put them into the hedges where many varieties from before the war still grow every spring.

While it’s not the kind of gold that can fund your retirement, I’m going to enjoy the blooms that much more knowing the history of how they came to be there.