Saturday, June 27, 2015

England 2015: Day 2--Pencarrow House & Gardens in Cornwall

Day 1 of my week's birthday trip to England was a breeze because, was a short day.  I told you each consecutive day would be longer.  But at this pace, I may just finish the trip before g'son Nicholas arrives on July 17th!

So, moving right along....

Lisl and I got up bright and early on Tuesday, 16 June, to take the train from Westbury Station, Wiltshire, to Cornwall, where we would spend two nights with Pauline, a long-time friend of Lisl's and another Shutterchancer.

How many times have I told you I love the trains of Europe!

And the longer the ride the better.  This one was 3.5 hours,
with enough time to have a bacon-buttie elevenses.

See how close we came to the coast?

There were spots when we were right at the water.
In fact, last year the heavy rains actually covered the tracks!
I especially felt lucky to get the Pegasus vane in focus passing by!

By the time we got to St. Austell, we both had taken photos and enjoyed the sun.

Pauline met us in St. Austell and drove us to her home nearby where we got settled for our stay.

Back at the end of her yard near the shed are her gorgeous chickens.
You'd swear they were her children by how much she loves them.  Seriously.
And guess what!  I never once heard them crowing the two nights/mornings I was there.

 Here's a sampling of the scads of flowers all over Pauline's yard,
preparing me for what was yet to come.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

We spent the afternoon at the Pencarrow House and Gardens in Bodmin, 30 minutes away.

 We weren't there to visit the house but to walk the land and see the gardens.
From the house there's a one-mile walk down the carriage drive to the iron age hillfort.

The closer we got, the trees whispered to us and drew us in.

By the time we got to the hillfort, we luxuriated in the strong energy of the area.
The banks and ditches aren't archeologically excavated but go back to the 3rd-1st centuries BC.
The ladies knew I wanted "old" and old I got!

And while walking along, I also got flowers!

These weren't in gardens, mind you.  They mostly just lined the road,
both coming and going back to the house and the Peacock Café.

It was time for an English afternoon tea when we got back to the house,
but what I didn't know was that the ladies had planned a proper Cornish CREAM  tea for me,
with candles, no less, for my 70th birthday.  I'm actually welled up with tears in that above photo.
A cream tea, in case you're clueless (as I was), is tea with scones smothered in clotted cream and jam!

And that's where we saw the peacock and hen, strutting their stuff.

After tea, we headed off to the small lake on the other side of the house, 
passing the largest Cornish cross of its type, found in a hedge at Trescowe ca. 1870.

Cows were off in the fields along the way, caught by my 1200mm lens, thankfully.

 But it was the wee lake, covered with lily pads, that became a long resting place for us.
All 3 of us walked around, sat, and absorbed Mother Nature.

Even the flowers there seemed different.

We didn't see any foxes but the weathervane of the Pencarrow house was a treat,
in shadow and in sun.

What a way to start a 3-day stay in Cornwall!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I can't leave this post without a shout-out to the SCOTUS decision yesterday,
ruling that Marriage Equality is now the rule of the land nationwide in the USA.
I'll never forget the date:  26 June 2015.
My mom would have turned 99 were she still alive.
And it's still my birth month, celebrating my 70th birthday.

It happened in my lifetime, Folks!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

England 2015: Day 1--Batheaston to Bathampton Walk

Did I mention that one of my gifts to myself for my BIG 7-0 is flying grandson Nicholas over for the last 2 weeks of July?  He turns 15 on July 12th and will arrive on the 17th, just 5 days later.

So, having just returned from our week in England, I'm on a hot trot to get as many posts done before the Big Boy arrives.

As they say, let's start at the very beginning, Monday, 15 June, when hosts Lisl and Michael picked me up from the airport in Bristol (Astrid arrived 2 days later).

  First of all, this was my Facebook overview of Day 1.

On the ca. 25-mile drive from the Bristol Airport to Batheaston, where they live,
Lisl and Michael stopped at the reservoir along the way for a nice treat.
A 99 Flake is an ice cream cone with a Cadbury flake inserted in it.
Now you know.

Of course, the reservoir, or bird sanctuary as I call it, was very nice, too.
I remembered it from a year ago when we stopped there with Chris.

Once I got settled at the house, Lisl and I started out on a walk,
from Batheaston to Bathampton (where Chris lives).  I call them suburbs of Bath.

You know me.  I want to see every little thing, which Lisl totally understands.
I don't remember the name of this little park but it was worth seeing.
[Addendum:   Lisl says it's Batheaston Garden.]

Near the park was a new bridge we didn't cross, except to the center, to get a view.
Looking back on it as we walked along the River Avon was lovely (good English word).

When we got to the toll bridge, we knew we were passing from Batheaston into Bathampton.
It's a privately-owned bridge, btw, with all the tolls going to the family that owns and maintains it.
It's the Bathampton Toll Bridge, from 1872, with 9 pointed arches.
Can you imagine that as your family business?

 Lisl's goal for our walk was to see the narrowboats on the Bathampton side of the River Avon.
We had already seen them last year on the Batheaston side.
You know that we have scads of canals all over Dutchland, of course,
but the Dutch do not have narrowboats.  They intrigue me to no end,
especially by all the stuff they put on top.  
These are their homes, you know.

Both going to and coming back from the narrowboats,
we walked through the cemetery of Bathampton's Church of St. Nicholas from the 13th century.
Besides Arthur Phillip's grave inside the church (Founder of Australia
and first Governor of New South Wales)....

...the grave of Walter Sickert (1860-1942), a painter and printmaker, is outside (middle left).
Three books in modern times maintain he was Jack the Ripper from the late 1880s.
Lisl believes the theory is very convincing from what she has read.  WOW.

We didn't spend much time inside at all, only for these few images.
But you know me and church cushions!
Lucky for me to find one of St. Nicholas, just days before he comes to visit!

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Day 1 down, now, and 6 to go.....(all longer than this one, I might add)....

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My 70th Extravaganza

First of all, it didn't start on my actual birthday, which was yesterday.

It started almost a month ago when I began to color again,
wanting to get back into that rhythm for my new decade.
Interestingly, on my birthday yesterday someone sent me this link on Facebook:
"It's official--grown-up colouring keeps you calm!"
I can so agree.

And since friends know this about me, look at one of my gifts received from England last week.
It's only 5"x7," making it a great travel book.
Thank you, Anne and Quinn!

Another English friend, Bill, custom made this card for me.
Bill and Ange were here with us two years ago, in June.
We're both Gemini.  :)

Then, surprise of surprise, a package arrived from sister Ruth 
with these 2 placemats and matching napkins.
She had already shown them on her blog, which I had seen,
little knowing they were for ME.  What a sneak!
(In fact, I clept these images from there.)

Remember, it wasn't even my birthday yet!
On Thursday, I gave myself the gift of eating at our nearby Malle Molen (Silly Mill).
Every Thursday evening they have "what the pot serves" for €7.75, including dessert.
A long story short, Astrid finagled with them to serve one of my favorites of theirs:
chicken with cream cheese and bacon.  How could I say NO to that.

 On my actual birthday, yesterday, I opened the laptop to this.
I don't remember that they've ever done this before.  Have they????
But then, Microsoft did just buy Facebook, right?!
Big Brother is watching me!

At 2p we went to Jeroen and Eva's for supposedly only birthday koffie and Astrid's famous appeltaart.
But it ended up becoming a BBQ, along with Astrid's ex, Jaap, and Eva's parents.
6.5 hours of birthday celebration.
It so happens that Eva's 25th birthday was 2 days before mine.
Another Gemini.

It was a perfect day for eating outside and taking photos.
Jeroen and Eva have been together since 2009, like Astrid and I.
And they bought me new felt pens for my coloring!

 Their cat, Mitzie, was her own person, at 11 years, doing her own thing.
The life of Riley, showing us how it's done!

This morning, the day after, I lined up all my cards thus far,
and the Kopke port that Jaap gave me for the occasion.

 And then this early evening, Astrid pulled out all the stops and treated me to a dinner outing
at our favorite Greek restaurant overlooking our city's main canal.
Orestis (top-left) is the host with the most, young and industrious,
the one who bought the flowers for the grand occasion.
He knew it was my 70th from previous planning with Astrid.
And our favorite waitress (bottom-right) knew exactly how to make everything just right.

Together, the 3 of them planned a 4-course dinner for us.
They didn't know that leg of lamb is pure bliss for me,
as well as stuffed sea bass, both of which Astrid and I shared.
And for dessert, obligatory baklava with ice cream!

Happy Birthday to moi!

And now this from my Big Sis in England, Lisl, making 70 sound like a good number.
Tomorrow I fly to England to spend the week with her and Michael in Bath,
with Astrid joining us on Wednesday.
It's my birthday gift to me!

That's why I've called this big number an extravaganza!
A gift that just keeps on giving....

Friday, June 12, 2015

Virginia Louise Hart: Post-[Straight]-Marriage Years (45-70)

Pre-Script:  What you are about to read is a narrative many people I know would never share publicly.  I'm very aware of this.  However, it's important to me, as I face a new decade, to be up-front and honest, for the record.  I leave it up to you to read in between the lines...or not.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Bill and I watched our 21st wedding anniversary come and go on Thursday, 6 September 1990.  That Saturday all four of us, as a family, drove Amy from Atlanta to her freshman year at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL.  By the end of that next week, I had moved out into a brand new condo.

Our divorce was finalized on 21 December, 1990.  I had "come of age" after 21 years of marriage and, at 45, was ready to live my life as an openly gay woman...for the first time.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

My condo was absolutely the most wonderful place for me in my first years of "coming out."
I had been working in Accounts Receivable at a nearby computer company.
But I wanted more and thus initiated the option of becoming a Licensed Massage Therapist.
It took me a full year of evening school, plus Saturday clinics, at Atlanta School of Massage,
all while still working a 40-hour/week job!
I continued as an LMT for the next 7 years, to supplement my income.

 In March of 1991, Mom and Dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
My family of origin kept growing!

But this was the real family of origin...and the "Step Sisters."
Nobody knew that I felt so lonely and lost during that celebration, just recently divorced.

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Remember that I had fallen in love with our church's choir director when we moved to Atlanta.
Everything about her was 6 years younger than I, including her 2 children.
At the same time as my divorce, she, too, was going through her own divorce.
However, for her to keep joint custody of her children, we weren't "allowed" to live together.
So it meant Glenna and I were "together" in alternate months for the next 2 years.
During that time she graduated from Candler Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta.
A year later she was ordained by the Metropolitan Community Church (gay).
Together, we started the second MCC church in the Atlanta area.

However, at the end of 2 years, Glenna left me for another woman in our church.
I had been her first gay experience; I had hoped she'd be my last.
But the "candy store" had just been opened to her.
Besides the break-up of my family, this was the most devastating experience of my life.
I cried for days on end, finding comfort only in the minor chords of Enya.

Ironically, I have no photos of Glenna from that time.  These are 25 years after the fact.
It took 15 years before we became friends again and have since stayed in contact.
She eventually married Claire from England and now pastors a UCC church in Tennessee.
We're both happy for each other.

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Within one month of Glenna's break-up with me, I met Jo and started dating her.
If you had told me then that she was a rebound, I would have laughed in your face.

 Many milestones were celebrated while I was with Jo.
Amy graduated from Flagler in 1994.

Mark first graduated from Norcross High School in 1993 (left),
and then from the University of Georgia in 1997.
Jo also was a Georgia grad, so they had lots of memories in common.

 In 1995, the Wednesday before Easter, my preacher dad died of lung cancer, age 78.
The following year in February, 1996, my brother Bennett died of heart disease, age 47.
On Easter Eve the next year, 1997, my mom died of Alzheimer's, age 80.

And on 27 April 1996, Jo and I celebrated our civil union.
It was a huge thing, especially for our gay-friendly United Methodist church.
I had been leading seminars all over Atlanta on "Homosexuality and the Bible,"
similar to what I had done in Madison on "Women and the Church."
We were all so ready to be recognized as "real" couples.

A year later, 12 April 1997, Amy and Nick got married.
Jo and Nick worked together at the same sporting-goods store,
where the connections were made.

But by the Fall of that year, a year after our civil union, I made the decision to leave Jo.
There were too many cracks.  We were from different zip-codes.
By then I realized she really was a rebound from Glenna.
Older brother Nelson said he knew I had been more in love with the ceremony than with Jo.
Maybe I was with her more for her than for me, he said.
It was true.  I had brought her back to financial solvency...and to her faith roots.

I was with Jo for 5 years, during which time my condo building burned down,
the week before Christmas 1994.  Within 6 months it was rebuilt and we moved back in.
Within a year I bought a house to give us more room.

I will always love Jo but I was not "in love" with her.
After our "divorce" in 1997, she moved to south Georgia and lost contact.
We both, sadly, just went our own ways.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

By that time, in the summer of 1997, I had met Donica on our bowling and softball teams.
She was the one who helped me "see" the cracks in my relationship with Jo.

Donica worked for a local pharmaceutical company in a low-level position when I met her.
In the next 11 years of our relationship, she became one of their highest-paid VPs.

Together we built a house in a northern suburb of Atlanta on 3 acres of land, in the woods.

My kids had just gotten used to their mom living with a woman,
so the break-up with Jo threw them for another loop, though I detected the loss of her wasn't hard.
They quickly grew to love Donica...and all the benefits of her life with me.

 And now we were a new couple at our same gay-friendly United Methodist church.

With more than enough money to spare, we took cruises:
Alaska's Inside Passage, New England-Quebec, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean.
We visited Prince Edward Island, Barcelona, Rome, Venice, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Corfu,
Helsinki, Copenhagen, Stockholm....  All on Royal Caribbean.

We also took trips to places like New Orleans, Provincetown, New Hampshire, California, etc.
All the travel/wander lust I ever had was being filled to over-flowing.

 In 2003 I left the computer company to work in assisted living as a resident staff coordinator.
By 2005 we made the decision for me to stop work to join Donica on her frequent trips to Europe.
First it was two years in Hannover, Germany, two weeks of every month.
Then it was 2 years in Amsterdam, two weeks of every month.

At the same time that I retired from work, and with Donica's technical expertise,
I started this blog, at age 60.  It's all here, in other words, from that point on.

During that time, all kinds of things happened,
like the birth of grandson Nicholas, 12 July 2000.
18 months later, Amy divorced Nick and was on her own as a single mom for the next 6 years.

We were our own little family at this point in time, 2002, in "our" woods.

 I now had three kids.

And by 1 June 2008, I had four, when Amy and Dennis married.
Donica and I flew Nicholas with us to Honolulu, HI, and took care of him for them.

 Though Mark wasn't with us that day, he's always been with us.

 In 2005, when sister Susan married Rodger in Chicago, Donica was part of my extended family.

But when we weren't in Europe, we mostly did everything with Nicholas.
In fact, you can see it all in the book I made in 2013 of his pre-teen years.
[I'm so glad I no longer have that bazooka lens!]

 For several years we together visited sister Ruth's farm in Michigan and met up with family.
This was one time when all 7 of us sibs were together, minus Bennett.

But by the fall of 2008, there were cracks in this relationship.
I no longer knew Donica on almost every level.  I was no longer in soul with her.
I went back to my very first post here to see it through Thomas Moore's paraphrase of Ficino:
"What we need, he said, is soul, in the middle, holding together mind and body, ideas and life, spirituality and the world." 

I had absolutely everything I could possibly want materialistically with Donica, but without soul.  
I was empty in spite of a life filled with travel, financial security and ease.

  Once again, I made that terrible decision to leave a relation that wasn't working for me.
And once again, the loss, the loneliness, the disappointment, the disillusion.
What was wrong with me????
[I have a theory about the maturation process of gays who come out in later years:
it takes longer because we don't have role models around to mentor us.  
It's all by the seat of our pants.] 
 Donica legally married Cindy in Massachusetts in June of 2010.
Amy, Dennis and Mark meet up with them monthly in Atlanta where they all live.
After all, Nicholas knew Donica as my 'partner' for the first 8 years of his life.
However, Donica is not yet ready to have personal contact with me.  

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

At niece Lesley's wedding the summer of 2009, which Donica also attended (apart from me),
we "step sisters" posed with our daughters:
Susan-Shari, Ginnie-Amy, Ruth-Lesley, Nancy-Jennifer (l-to-r)

 ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Now enters Astrid, the Dutch lady I met on our Shutterchance photography blog in August 2007!

Because I was in Amsterdam 2 weeks of each month, we started getting together for photo hunts.
I guess this is when you can say the rest is history...except Astrid did not know she was gay.

She had a son, Jeroen, and a husband of 27 years, Jaap.

It's a longer story than this but after she met me, she started scouring the internet about being gay.
I helped her when I could but I knew it was not my place to "persuade" her.
When she recognized who she had always been (everyone else knew she was "different",
including her son), she started pursuing me.
It has always been important to her to say that she made the first move,
even though I suppose I could say my love for who she is wooed her.

Once we started talking about being a couple, I said "NO."
I did not want the same thing to happen as with Glenna.  I was Astrid's first.
I told her she needed to go out into the "candy store" to figure out what she wanted.
But she would have nothing to do with it, saying, "I'm too old for that s**t."

Before I moved my entire life to the Netherlands at the end of 2009,
we were starting to be a couple.

And two months after I moved, we got legally married at the city hall where we live in Gorinchem.
Astrid's son Jeroen and best friend Ingeborg were our witnesses.
Cora was our city-hall officiator and there were 34 of us altogether.

To be officially recognized as married in the Netherlands, you must get married by city hall,
but can also add a church celebration before or after, if you wish.
The Dutch do a good job of separating church from state.

Now the rest really is history, all here on this blog, which I won't repeat.
 The culture, the dancing, the travel, the photography, the love...all of it.

I firmly believe that had I not been gay, Bill and I would still be married, 46 years in September.
Now that I am legally married as a gay woman, I firmly believe this marriage will last. 

All those stepping stones to find my soul's delight and resting place.  

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This now completes the 3-part saga of my 70-year journey.  Tomorrow I turn 70.
I wrote the first and last parts with relatively little emotion, true to my Gemini nature.
"Just give me the facts, Max."
It was the middle part that wrenched me to the bone.  The break-up of my million-dollar family.
There was a long, primordial groan that finally escaped the core of me....

And while I know I have put my kids through the wringer since my divorce,
I am finally learning to live my life in love and in soul, not based on what people think.
My belief now is that when we do what's right for ourselves, it WILL be right for everyone else.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Post-Script:  It is not lost on me that, as we speak, the US Supreme Court is making its ruling about Marriage Equality nationwide (13 states remaining, including Michigan and Georgia), by the end of June.  Is it possible that I will have the best gift of my 70th birthday with a YES decision?!  We'll soon know.