England 40 Years Ago — September 20, 1981

We see so little of the neighbors who live under the same roof, that when they come over for a chat, we try to shoo the children outdoors. Phillipa had twisted her ankle in her own garden, tried to track down her own parents for sympathy, but they were busy getting ready to come over here. She came here for treatment. John filled a basin for a soak and sent four children outside. Quote of the week from Kate: “May we have umbrellas? It’s raining and we’ll get wet.” Would that we had such obedience ALL the time! We shepherded them all to the kitchen for a snack to keep them quiet.

John $ has a new way of going downstairs. He opened a book, began singing, then slid down each step on his bum, facing forward. It isn’t as efficient yet as the cog movement of arms and legs going down on the tummy.

Many of you will be happy to note we had leg of lamb for John’s birthday. It’s the first time I’ve ever cooked one! Surprise of surprises, everyone loved it and asked for seconds! After dinner the neighbors came over for a piece of birthday cake.

Kate’s first day of school, Wednesday, was successful. She had a good attitude to begin with, which is half the battle. Caroline H came here for the morning, we ate lunch, and Gillian took both girls to Dunottar School for Caroline’s La Crosse practice. The games mistress had Lisa join in some of the exercises. They were told secretly by a member of the staff that both are in the advanced section of their form and will be in the same classroom.

Kate on the first day of school this term

On Lisa’s first day of school, John $ and I walked her to the front door. The head mistress was there to greet new girls and tell them where to go.

I thought the rest of the day would be peaceful. Haven’t most of you at some time had the “help” of a two-year-old in making beds? The fitted sheet posed no problem since $ couldn’t get a good hold on it. When it came to the top sheet, he had his strategy prepared. I’d get the sheet in position and he’d dart around to pull it off with all his might, giggling all the while. I chased around several times before using my head: position sheet, hold with knees, lunge across to break $’s hold, tuck like lightning. Whew! After he stole the pillows twice, disrupted the quilt and the spread, he gave up. I’m glad he gave up before I did!

I made a statement early in the week about being in the car an hour a day. Wishful thinking! We leave at 8 in the morning, dropping Lisa first, then Kate, and I get home about 9. In the afternoon I leave at 3 and get home at 4:30. Kate is through at 3:15, Lisa not until 4. [Lisa was attending a new school, having aged out of her last one.]

Lisa came out radiant after her first day, saying how much she is going to enjoy going to Dunottar. Of the four girls from Micklefield, three of them are in the top class. Speaks well for the school, doesn’t it?

We’ve had lots of extra traffic in our town because the Ryder Cup Gold tournament is going on in our back yard. The club house is two to three blocks from here if you walk a footpath or two. We heard the roar of the crowd and saw the same brilliant rainbow they showed on the TV screen. Jennifer said they enjoyed the TV coverage because they take their dog to the gold course every day for a good run. Today we had the TV on watching the final bit of the ceremony, stepped outside, and heard the words first hand!

Last night George (nickname for Georgina next door) stayed with our children while we went to a farewell party for a couple of Americans in Gotaas Larsen. It was held in a small flat in Wimbledon and catered! I was surprised to see a man and woman in uniform attending to everyone’s needs. The cold buffet was beautifully laid out – chicken salad surrounded with lettuce, a delicate green mold decorated with slices of cucumber, lettuce salad, and tomato aspic with caviar. The unusual thing was mushroom rolls. They were warm buns filled with creamed mushrooms. The dessert was a choice of rich chocolate mousse or cheese and biscuits. I had a chance to chat with Phil H and John G whom I’ve met on many occasions. John G is the one famous for not liking anything in England. He did admit last night that he has mellowed somewhat and now enjoys his life in London, especially compared to the hurried pace of New York. Wonder of wonders! I also enjoyed talking to John’s good friend Udo K and his wife. There were about 20 to 25 people there.

I knew from seeing lots of horses around that this area supports riding in a big way, but I didn’t realize what a business it is. In a local leaflet dropped at all the homes was the statement that there are 20 commercial riding establishments in a radius of five miles!!! Riders were being urged to stick to their allotted paths.

This morning the girls and I went to the family service at St. Peter’s. John is going to try going to evensong. He is still in great pain from his neck bones down and has to walk around waving his arms frequently. I know many of you think he does it all the time, but this is exceptional. Wonder if he has warned the rector. Poor [Rector] Derek might think John is trying to speak in tongues and can’t get the words out.

A Tale for Shawn

It wasn’t until I was telling John the story two days later, that I knew I needed to write it for Shawn. Neighbor Holly and a relative had come to sit on the porch with me for a little while. Neighbor Logan heard our talking and came across the street to show us some of his Pokemon cards. That in itself was something, that a boy of 11 would want to join our conversation.

After a short while, he said, “I’m going home. I’ll tell Mom you are out here so she can come and join you.”

It sounded so matter-of-fact that I didn’t get the importance of it right then. An eleven-year-old boy was thinking of his mother and knew she would love to be there talking with us! Not only that, he said it aloud and acted on it! What an extremely thoughtful thing that was! You can see why we stay impressed with Logan. You are doing a marvelous job of raising him, Shawn and Bob.

John’s Eleventh Birthday

John was a history major, not a mathematician, so the way he calculates his age differs from most. At age 70, he decided he would count backwards, starting at 21. He is now eleven years old, although most of us think he is 80.

Here are two photos of the celebration his sisters had for him in June.

Barbara, Anne, Thom, Steve, Chris, John
Barbara, John, Chris, Steve, Thom

Then there was the cake on his birthday.

The Gray-shirts — David, John, John $pencer

It was followed the day after with a visit from my brother Bob and Beth.

Thank you to all of them and you who called, emailed, and texted. He enjoyed all the quiet attention and feels he has been properly launched into his eleventh year.

Happy Birthday, John!

We Met on Monday

Former neighbor Marla has Sundays and Mondays off. She has to miss our lunches when her dog Albert is groomed, so we met on Monday.

Anne, Shawn, Marla and Connie

We also celebrated Marla’s recent birthday. Can you guess she is a Big Foot fan? The shirt says, “Big Foot saw me, but nobody believes him.”

Do you know anyone who likes Big Foot?

England 40 Years Ago — September 13, 1981

We watched the first in a series about Winston Churchill on the telly, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes filmed at Blenheim and Chartwell. There were outside shots of both, a dining room scene from Blenheim, and recognizable backgrounds of the bedroom and dining room of Chartwell. It was like history coming alive to see these things taking place in rooms we had been in!

Had someone inspected our parcels at the end of a shopping trip, they would have known the opening of school was near. Six pairs of shoes and nine library books demolished the morning.

Phillipa and Catherine went with us to Gatwick Airport just to watch planes. We’d noticed when driving near Heathrow that Phillipa got terribly excited at the sight of planes (aeroplanes). It was fun to be with them on their first visit to an airport – enthusiasm unbounded! We first went to the observation deck, then wandered around the major terminal areas.

[I’ve added the photo below, just because it shows the four girls I wrote about in this letter. It was the first day of term for Lisa. You may remember that we rented half a large house that was owned by neighbors at the bottom of our garden. The other half was owned by the parents of Phillipa and Catherine. These girls were the same age as Lise and Kate, and we loved the fact that they were constantly in and out of each other’s homes. For over a year they were closer than cousins.]

Phillipa, Lisa, Kate, and Catherine

Cooperation was the name of the game one day when Kate went with me to Co op and Lisa volunteered to water all the roses while I was setting out about a hundred pansy seedlings.

John $ has no need to talk. He doesn’t fight having his hair washed, but doesn’t relish it, either. He picked up my hand, put it right on the shampoo bottle, and said emphatically, “UH..UH!!”

John has been in pain recently. He woke up with a stiff neck and tingles around the shoulder. A day or so later as he was writing at his desk in the office, his arm became numb. Not about to play games if something were serious, he sped to a doctor. X-rays showed that the bones in the left of his neck have settled too closely together and must be pinching nerves. The doctor advised aspirin, said it should go away in a week, and if it didn’t John could consult a neurosurgeon or osteopath. His health has been so good all his life that we’ve decided having 40 staring him in the face this week must be his undoing.

We wanted to go somewhere close by since John felt better walking about but not sitting. I drove us and Phillipa to Guildford. The car park we found had entrances directly to stores. Many major London stores have branches there – Marks and Sparks, Debenhams, C and A, A and N, etc. We walked along the deep canal running through the downtown area of the city. Imagine, if you can, a car with three wheels, the solo one being in the REAR! We are used to seeing the three-legged variety, but the one wheel is in the front. This one was really different. We walked cobbled streets closed off for pedestrian malls and wandered in a lovely toy store. The height (literally) of the tour was seeing the ruins of Guildford Castle high on a hill. The gardens flowing from one bed of colourful flowers to another were the prettiest I’ve seen since we moved to England. Each bed was a different fancy shape cut out of lush grass. No camera! You’ll be amused when I tell you the featured tall plant in several groups was maize (corn)!!

Napping, I tried to rouse myself when I heard Phillipa insistently saying, “We’ll cope. We’ll cope.” There were no more distress sounds, so I went on drifting. Kate came quietly to stand by the bed to wake me by staring at me. Works every time! How can I pretend to be asleep feeling those eyes boring into me? She proudly announced, “We (meaning Phillipa) changed a dreadfully dirty nappy. Could you take care of it in the loo while we put on his clean one?”

Wow!! Phillipa said, “It looks terrible when YOU do it, but it’s not so bad when I did it myself.”

Afterwards we had a special tea with homemade biscuits to celebrate.

Sadie’s Drinking Fountain

When Sadie and I came back from walking, she checked the drip bowl for water as I plugged in the fountain. It was dry, of course, since the leak had not yet begun. Hearing the water flowing in the fountain, she decided it would be much more elegant to drink standing up. She didn’t say if it were more efficient or not.

[Grammarians and proofreaders — Barbara, Ellie, Nancy, Chrissie. Would you comment on “if it were”? That was proper usage when I was in school, but I suspect common usage today would be “if it was”. I tried looking it up on line and got hopelessly lost. I would like to know what is proper usage today.]

My New Game

Thanks to neighbor Bob, I have a new game. Bob repaired a faulty wire in the electric line to the front porch. After John cleaned out the angel fountain, I set it up again and ran it. I hoped the fountain would work better in its new position. It didn’t. It has leaked for seven years, because the water clings to the under side of the middle pool instead of falling into the pool below. Changing the slant at three different levels did nothing. This year I added some plastic film to encourage the water to fall straight down instead of running back to the base and dripping. There is one improvement. The sound is better than it has ever been.

The new game is a race. I plug the fountain in, read a devotional book, and work the daily game of Set on line. I win if I finish before the drip bowl on the floor is full. I’ve done well, except for the days the scripture readings are exceptionally long.

Sadie was on the porch with me after our walk. She was sure the fountain was her new watering hole. She wasn’t quite tall enough to get water from the lowest pool, so she helped herself from the drip bowl.

If anyone has another idea to fix the fountain, please let me know. Sadie can get her water elsewhere.


I was happy when the cancer test came back negative a few days ago. I had cancer seven years ago – diagnosed on June 1 and removed on July 1. You don’t take life for granted after that. Although there are no guarantees, I expected to feel free longer than a few days. John put his hand on my back this morning, paused, and asked, “What is this?”

There was a lump on my shoulder blade. Although I couldn’t reach it, I could see it in the mirror. He went on to his doctor’s appointment in Asheville, and I walked to the stop sign. It was a sobering walk, with lots of things going through my head. It’s best to pray before panic sets in. By the time I got home, I had seen two paths ahead. It would not be my choice which to take, but I could choose to ask God to lead the way. John had suggested I call the doctor’s office, and I got an appointment for early afternoon. He was home in plenty of time to drive me. As I sat in the waiting room, a message came on the phone that a young family member has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Doctors will be considering the next step. What a blow! Lots more prayer is needed.

Amid all this serious stuff, get ready for amusement. The doctor’s assistant asked many questions, typing things into a computer. After she left, Dr. Ramsey came in and glanced at the computer. She examined the lump briefly and said in a pleasant voice, “It’s fat. Nothing to be concerned about.”

My brain went into overdrive, processing an hour’s worth of material in a few seconds. Fat has been the bane of my existence all my life. How can a serious lump be FAT??? It can’t have been there long, because the dermatologist would have noticed it a few months ago. FAT??? I’ve been worried about FAT lumping around my back? How useless! That inch I lost around my waist – are you telling me it was FAT creeping up my back, unnoticed and unhated? FAT deposits, you say? No! I make a deposit at the bank, and that is good. I made a fat deposit here, and I want an immediate withdrawal.

Having good manners, I let her talk. She explained that fat accumulates under the skin and is not dangerous. If it becomes painful or bothers me, all I need to do is call her, and she’ll set up an appointment with a general surgeon. She measured it and was most reassuring. I thanked her profusely for seeing me quickly and putting my mind at ease.

I went out to the car and immediately told John the news is good. It isn’t cancer. It is FAT!! Of course, I didn’t stop there. I want a transplant! You remember years ago a doctor told me I’d lost the fat pads in my feet? Well, I want that lump on my back to be transplanted to my left foot. What good is it on my back? Let’s put it somewhere useful. FAT!! OK. Shall we go home and have lunch?

For those who pray, please thank God with me that my cancer has not returned. Also, please pray for healing for our young family member and for guidance for her doctors. I appreciate it. God bless you.

Neighbors on Labor Day

Our marvelous neighbors can pull a party together in 18 hours. John and I texted six households, and four were available to celebrate Labor Day. The photos show the crowd from each end of our porch.

Since my posts have become my memory, I’ll list the people. Deb, Joyce, Jeff, John, Logan, Mark, Bob, Dawn, Shawn. Deb and Mark are college friends of Shawn and Bob, visiting for the day. Mark was too far away for me to hear him, but I enjoyed hearing about Deb’s background. Her dad was in the service, and she lived in 18 different places before she was 18 years old. All the states were on the east coast. The state she enjoyed the most was South Carolina.

When Joyce asked what she should bring, I said our impromptu gatherings should be run like a come-as-you-are party. Instead of coming to a party dressed as you are at that moment, you should bring food that is already in your house. She immediately said she would break that rule, because she has very little that is extra. She keeps mostly foods that she eats on a regular basis. I might envy that. We could feed a small army for a day or so by pulling things from the freezer and the pantry.

For the foodies: Our table had hot dogs, hamburgers, buns, condiments, salsa dip, chips, baked beans, potato salad, warm blueberry muffins, cantaloupe, and TWO pans of warm Brownies. I told Joyce that Brownies were always welcome. It turned out that two kinds of Brownies were doubly welcome. The ones that Joyce and Shawn prepared were different, so of course everyone had to eat both. Indulgence at its best! A year or so ago our pot luck non-planning resulted in a different set of Brownie doubles, ones made by Holly and me. It’s safe to say that Brownies are very popular in the US.

Did you celebrate Labor Day?

England 40 Years Ago — September 6, 1981

After a whole year of living here, I made another discovery. To = of and past = after! We sent word to the neighbors that their girls should be ready to go with us at a quarter of nine the day we went to Blenheim Palace. Jennifer told me later they did a bit of head scratching and decided we meant before the hour rather than after. They would have said a quarter TO nine or a quarter PAST nine. They never say three thirty, either; it’s always half past three. (Be sure to put “Aah” in half and past.)

Blenheim Palace
Fountain garden

Monday was a Bank Holiday. We stayed at home, though John was on the phone quite a bit since Europe and the US were open for business. John $ and I walked to Old Tadworth where I found the fishmonger and poulterer. I must return to sample their wares.

The highlight of that day was the horse race in the garden – Kate on John and $ on Lisa. Philippa was here all day, and we briefly met Catherine’s friend Brigitta who has a Canadian accent but is Danish.

Tuesday I intended to run errands in the afternoon, but Mr. Hughes (owner of our first house Tymberly) called to say he was coming by with a package. He and Mrs. Hughes were so nice – said they felt we’d taken good care of the house and that they were able to move right in. They are going to put the house on the market because their four children are grown and they don’t need the space. The package was a pair of Kate’s jeans we’d left in Oslo.

We met Paula (a check out girl) at Co op, did our shopping and went on to Woolworth’s in Redhill and Reigate. After lunch we took her to Polesden Lacey for the afternoon. Lisa and Kate have been there several times, but there was a new dimension that day. Each child was given a clip board of questions if they wanted to participate in the quiz. There were several things to look for in each room such as two golden fish in the drawing room and who gave a cabinet in the library. What a marvelous idea! It kept children interested and quiet for ages! I know other parents appreciated it as much as I did. Lisa and Kate did very well; think they only missed two things – the number of soldier jars and the pink lobster in the hall.

In that mansion, one elderly crippled lady was slowly making her way around the house. She smilingly studied $ for a few minutes and said, “I wish someone would hold me up in a harness!” I felt like telling her I was sure she wouldn’t be as much trouble as one small boy.

I had thought Paula might mention future plans, but she didn’t. She has finished working in Co op and expects her baby to be born in November or December. We are really going to miss her when we go shopping.

The girls kept $ in the car for the 15 minutes it took for my hair to be trimmed. Then we picked up Caroline and her French guest, Muriel, to spend the day with us. Several hours were spent watching the Royal Wedding on tape. They also played tag outside and got out all the Fischer Price toys to play with in the entrance hall.

Thank heavens for understanding neighbors! They accept the love behind funny gifts. I made Phillipa a birthday cake – chocolate cake with fudge frosting. I almost misspelled her name with her sister standing at my elbow advising two “L’s”. After the cake was delivered, I heard Catherine in our hall saying in a concerned whisper, “Don’t tell her, Lisa.” Lisa replied, “Aw, she’ll just laugh.” Louder, “Guess what, Ma! You left the ‘A’ out of birthday!” Who could help laughing? We talked about”birth-ay” the rest of the day. What was just as bad was that the frosting appeared to have set, but the weight of the piped border pulled half the decorations half way down the side of the cake.

We were invited to tea next door to celebrate the birth-ay and have some of the cake. As Phil cut her slice of cake, she screamed. I had visions of maggots in the middle, but it turned out to be a custom here to make a wish and scream as you cut. Phew!

Yesterday Lisa elected to enjoy a day by herself while the rest of us went to the Cotswolds for the day. She had lunch next door and was with Catherine much of the time.

We were slightly north west of Oxford seeing the mellow yellow stone buildings of this area. All the towns seem squeezed together surrounded by mile upon mile of lush farm land.

Modern house in the Cotswolds

We walked around Bourton-on-the-Water where the River Windrush ripples through the center of town. Behind an inn is a model of the village in 10/1 scale built of concrete and slate. The buildings are about 2 to 3 feet high, and you walk around the streets. The model is complete, even with running water for the river. We were surprised to find the model inn had a model behind it – about 3 feet x 3 feet. Even it had running water for the Windrush! In that model was the tiniest model of the village, just as cute as could be.

Near Chastleton we went through a dusty, ill-kept manor house that made us appreciate the sparkle and shine of all National Trust houses. If it were dusted and polished, it would be impressive. I was intrigued with the 425 year old book of Roman History bound in wood with pages NOT yellowed because of the linen content. Also there was the carved Bible box the Archbishop of Canterbury, who happened to come from the area of Chastleton, had presented to King Charles I at the scaffold where he was executed.

The guide pointed out some hideous antlers and said it had to be explained. It seems that one of the early owners of the manor house had been to Denmark to a castle there and had been impressed with antlers. He took the measurements and had a set carved for himself in England out of wood. Then the fake horns were mounted on a funny looking animal head and mounted on the wall. At some later date someone painted a brown body on the wall that did nothing to enhance the original antlers. I think this house seemed to have belonged to more real people than those in which odd things were weeded out by people of good taste and breeding.

Catherine spent the night with us last night so she could go to church with us this morning. She, Lisa, Kate and I went around the corner to St. Peter’s. John will go this evening.

Do you want to know what a “gang kit” is? It is not a packaged version of West Side Story. It is $’s pronunciation of “blanket”, still a very important part of his day and night.

This afternoon Phillipa and Kate went to the parish children’s party down the lane. They started off with pony rides, a tug of war, jumping mats, and such and went on to a barbeque in the rectory garden, ending with a service in church. The weather couldn’t have been better – sunny, but not hot.

Speaking of weather, I don’t think it has rained during the day at all since we returned from our holiday. It may have rained or sprinkled once or twice during the night. This is so different from the cold, wet time we had for the first several months after we arrived here last summer.

Our tomato plants are doing fine, showing small green tomatoes in profusion. I don’t know when they might decide to turn red, but when they do, we will be inundated. I’ve already planted indoor ones for the winter. We’ll have to wait to see if my black thumb is turning green or just molding.