Thursday, April 29, 2010

All Things English

One of the greatest pleasures in my life is reading English Home & Garden magazines. I literally can't get enough of them! You can often find me in the cafe at Borders or Barnes & Noble perusing the latest issues. Yes, I am one of those people. I'd actually buy them all but they're expensive at $8-$10 a pop. When I want to really treat myself, I'll buy an issue to bring home and drool over from time to time. Today, as I was losing myself in the pages of the June 2010 issue of "The English Home", I starting making a mental list for myself. You see, I have always been convinced that I am, in some way, English. Could be that I existed in a previous life as an English man or woman. Could just be that I have English blood in my family (yes, this probably makes more sense!). Whatever it is, here is my list of reasons why I am, in some part, English (in no order of importance):

1.) Among my list of favorite things in life, gardening and tea are right at the very top. Hello....English and English. In an English publication that I read recently, someone suggested that many English folks take better care of their gardens than they do of their children. While that doesn't apply here, I do certainly spend more time thinking of the outdoors than the indoors (you won't find a domestic diva here!). And anyone who knows me at all can tell you how much I adore tea. The only thing that comforts me more is a nice hot shower. When I lived in Europe, I babysat for two English families and I would get giddy when they'd make me a "spot of tea" in the afternoon. Try as I might, I still have not mastered that perfect cup of Black English Breakfast tea with the precise amounts of cream and sugar added.

2.) I love their simplicity in decor. Also, they're the only folks I know who love the color blue more than myself and who aren't afraid to use it. Look at any Colefax & Fowler book and you'll see what I mean.

3.) Space comes at a premium anywhere in Europe and England is no exception. SO, naturally, they've learned to make really good uses of small spaces. In general, I find their homes to be much more cozy, warm and welcoming than a lot of the cavernous homes here in this country. They make use of every square inch of their homes - no space is wasted. There is no shortage of character. I really appreciate that when I see it. And it gives me good ideas....

4.) Who has more adorable tea towels than the English? And I do adore me some cute tea towels....

5.) They are not afraid to use vintage flower, checked and/or striped fabrics. I love that!

6.) This is a very important one. SCONES WITH CLOTTED CREAM AND JAM. Yes, that could easily be my favorite food on Earth. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been lucky enough to enjoy this treat. Oh my. It's simply divine.

7.) I've only ventured out of London once. My dear friend, Helena, and I took a tour bus trip out to Stonehenge and Bath and some other charming little villages. I'm telling you, the rolling, lush, verdant hills took my breath away. And the precious sheep. And the sweet little cottages dotting the hillside. I was smitten. And I felt like I belonged there. It's a feeling I don't get all that often. God was in a good mood the day he created the English countryside!

8.) I will never forget that day back in 1993 when a friend and I chose to skip our studies and go to the movies. We didn't know anything playing so we took a chance and saw a little movie we'd never heard of. Yes, Four Weddings and a Funeral. I was not myself for days. Those of you who know me know that I have a small little infatuation for Hugh Grant. Yes, I know. I know what you're thinking. Trust me, no one was more upset by his little "incident" than me. Okay, maybe Elizabeth Hurley. But still. Who has hair like that? And the glasses? And the accent? And the height? And who is that smart (he went to Oxford)? And who can pull off a pair of cords, an oxford and a nice sweater like Hugh Grant? Not many. Swoon. That scene in Love Actually where he dances? It kills me. Just kills me. I think it's the closest I've ever come to actually fainting.

9.) While we're speaking of innocent crushes, let's also not forget Colin Firth. He was born into an academic family and just seems so smart. He has an air about him. Interesting tidbit -> these two fellows were born only one day apart (September 9th and 10th) back in 1960.

10.) Duran Duran. I was president of their fan club in my elementary school. While my parents never allowed me to go to their concert when I was young, I've since forgiven them and made up for lost time. I've now seen them five times. They do not disappoint. While I was always a John Taylor fan, I've come to really appreciate Simon LeBon. Boy, he is an entertainer the likes that I have rarely seen. Dad, you were wrong when you said they wouldn't last. I'm just sayin'.... :-)

11.) Princess Diana. We watched the Royal Wedding back in elementary school. It was the first time I realized that princesses could be real. Diana was beautiful, regal, charming, elegant, sweet, unsure, lost, a victim of unrequited love. I adored her. Still do. AND, she seriously has to be one of the best dressed women of all time (in the later years, once she came into her own). Jackie O ~ no thanks, not for me. But Diana, now she was really something.

12.) I've always gravitated to anyone English. In school, one of my closest friends was Shnook. He has since become American but, trust me, he is SO English. I love that about him (along with many other things). In my small town, he was the most foreign friend I could find. And my good friend Carl was the ONE English exhange student - I found him on his very first day of school and told him we were friends. He never had a choice. And he'd always laugh when I'd ask why on EARTH he would ever choose to leave Surrey to come to Lynchburg. For the record, he still lives there!!!

13.) I LOVE movies and some of the best (for me) are English. About A Boy, Bridget Jones, An Education (if you haven't seen this one, you should!!!), Notting Hill, The Holiday (I love the English bits!).

14.) The English can take credit for some of the best words in the English language. Loo, bloke, Wellies, stodgy, blimey, knickers, lolly, chap, knackered, bugger (and who says this better than Hugh Grant?), bangers, bum, dodgy, gobsmacked, jolly, Mum.....need I go on?....and one of my favorite sayings...."you are off your trolley".

15.) I have English humor. Dry, black, sarcastic, caustic. I adore Benny Hill. And I'm quite fond of Rowan Atkinson (although I preferred him before he came to America and was just overdone). I love how the Brits make fun of themselves, foreigners and social ineptness.

16.) Still to this day, I think nothing can make you sound more sophisticated than an upper crust English accent. And my how I love to practice.

17.) The song "Misunderstanding" by Genesis. Read my 5/24/2010 post to understand. (Added 5/24/2010)

As I was making this mental list, I kept thinking to myself that there must be some good reasons why I was born American. Yes indeed, there are several:

1.) I don't like pubs. Yikes. I know a few of you are groaning. But they're dark and smoky and I don't drink beer.

2.) While I appreciate their influence in the music world, I despise the Beatles. And I don't actually care much for the Rolling Stones either. Channel change material.

3.) For me, the #1 biggest luxury in life is a hot shower. And, still to this day, no matter where I've stayed, I've never had a full-on hot shower in England in my life. Without fail, it always turns cold. Ask my husband or my parents ~ you don't ever want to deal with me if I've had a cold shower. Yikes.

4.) I have no patience for royalty. Snooze.

5.) Marmite makes me gag.

6.) And the last reason I can think of is that I don't care much for roses. Crack open ANY English gardening magazine and you will quickly find that they are obsessed with roses.

So there you go. I guess I just needed to get this out there. Any good English things that I missed???

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happiness is....

* Central Park. This image speaks for itself.

* Having breakfast at Bouchon Bakery on my birthday. Thomas Keller just doesn't disappoint. On this particular visit, Soledad O'Brien was sitting at the table next to us and made a comment or two to Sophie.

*Still feeling love after 17 years together.

* Getting to visit my dear friends, Dave and Jordan, while in New York. Guys, if you're reading, thanks for carving out time to spend with us. It meant a lot to me. You're always missed!

* Sharing my (very exhausted) daughter's first viewing of the Statue of Liberty. (NOTE: Yes, my daughter still uses a pacifier when she's really tired. People love to make comments to us regarding that. All I have to say is you should find more important things to worry about.)

* All of the amazing food we sampled while in New York. This will deserve it's own post at a later date.

* The amazing growing garden I came home to yesterday. More to come....

AND, since I didn't make my happiness list last week, I need to include this here:

* Fiddleheads, fiddleheads, roly poly fiddleheads. I never knew this was how ferns were "born" until I took a Botany class back in 2001. I've been amazed by them ever since. Our hike at Crabtree Falls was the first time I was able to see so many in one place. Can't really explain why but I LOVE them.....

Friday, April 23, 2010

Start spreading the news...........

..........I'm leavin' today! I wanna' be a part of it. New York, New York.
For me, New York City is the Center of the Universe. It is truly my favorite place to visit. I never tire of the noise, the energy, the culture, the diversity, THE FOOD!, the people, the places, the action. So when Alain and Sophie asked what I'd like for my birthday, I could only reply "to go to New York". When I worked, I traveled to Manhattan once or twice a month. And I miss it more than you can imagine. It's been a year and three months since I was last there. And I am mostly excited to share it with my lovely daughter. I only hope she shares my passion for the Big Apple. Fingers crossed!!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April Showers bring.....

............STRAWBERRIES!!! I've been deprived. Last year I made the decision to only buy seasonal fruits and veggies (as much as I possibly could stand). So it has been a very long time, my friend, since I last bought strawberries. Well, yesterday was the day I'd been waiting for for a long time. It was perfect weather and the first day of the season at Hall's Family Farm here in Charlotte. It's just a hop, skip and a jump from our house yet it was the first time I've been there. It was also my first strawberry picking experience. I'm so happy I was able to go with Sophie ~ she was so much fun!! We were both so excited that we ended up picking and buying six pounds!! The farm also had a lot of other activities for the kids - a maze, pump duck races, a play area....we spent the entire morning there. This family and farm has been written about a lot locally because they've been holding out and not selling their land to developers despite receiving amazingly attractive offers. You have to respect that!!! Glad we could give them a little business. And we will definitely be repeat customers.....

Central Virginia Highlight: Crabtree Falls

If life happens to take you to Central Virginia, Crabtree Falls is a highlight well worth the time it takes to get there. These are the largest cascading falls east of the Mississippi, falling a total of 1,200 feet. There is a three mile hiking trail climbing up right next to the falls. The views of the falls and the surrounding mountains are really gorgeous. As an added bonus, there's also a very nice creek with a rocky bank which proved to be fun for all ages. This would be the perfect spot for a nice picnic.....especially if you could complete the three mile hike up to Crabtree Meadows. We had a toddler in tow so only made it about 1/3 of the way up but it was a great time! Funnily enough, I grew up about 45 minutes away and only visited the falls for the first time last year. And this was my first trip there with my husband and parents. Depending on the time of year you visit, there are also some local farms that you'll pass on the road to the falls and they often sell their fresh produce to passersby (strawberries in Spring, apples and pumpkins in the Fall)!

In case you do plan a visit to Virginia in the future, I highly recommend the state's official website.....

Friday, April 16, 2010

My New Favorite Thing

When I was growing up, we took a trip to Myrtle Beach every year in a trailer almost identical to the one below. Lemon yellow. 1959 Shasta. Little wings flying off the back. It's so cute!!! The problem is that I didn't know that when I was young. My parents can attest that I HATED this camper. Hated it. With a capital "H". I've always been a clean freak and can only sleep if it's freezing cold. Well, this cute little bug had no working bathroom and no A/C. Recipe for disaster, right? I remember wishing so hard that we could just stay in a hotel (and I still wonder where my "snob" reputation comes from!!!). I remember thinking that when I was six/seven years old. It's really sad because I have the BEST memories of camping out at the beach with my family. It definitely formed part of who I am. I love the outdoors. I think there's nothing grander than a hammock. I met a lot of Canadians, ey. I adore my beach memories (my personal favorite being when Mom & Dad got in the hammock together and it fell to the ground - ouch!). My parents were providing the best darn vacation they could. I mean they were still in their early 20's!!! Now, firmly ensconced in my mid 30's, I regret that I couldn't just chill and enjoy myself back then. Because little "canned ham trailers", as they're now called, are THE THING. And my new favorite thing!

There's a whole cult of people who love nothing more than to restore little canned ham trailers. See this example...wouldn't be the same without the pink flamingo....

AND, best of all, there are a few people around the country who are using their trailers for their catering businesses!!! I LOVE IT!!! This beauty is GORGEOUS and serves.....wait for it....CUPCAKES. Enjoy Cupcakes. Genius. Visit their website to see how cute -

Last week, while Dad was visiting, I was reading through some old Organic Gardening magazines and came across this article below. In Kansas City, this lady serves ultra fresh snowcones from her 1957 Shasta. Brilliant!

My poor Dad. He sold our old Shasta (may she rest in peace) back in 1989 for $500. A quick Google search and we found that a restored canned ham trailer now sells for somewhere between $10-15k. Criky! What I wouldn't give to have our old 1959 Shasta now. Dad and I could REALLY make something out of it. I know he wants to hit me for thinking/feeling/saying all this because I know I must have made his life miserable back then.
In honor of our little yellow retro bungalow on wheels, I am ordering the below t-shirt for my daughter ( How friggin' cute is this shirt??? I wish they had them in my size.
But see what I mean? I can't get away from them. They're everywhere. Just another of life's silly ways of trying to tell me something..... :-)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happiness is.....

* Hanging out with Dad for four days. We built two new raised beds, he built some shelving in our garage (including a potting desk!!!), we pruned trees, he worked on various other projects. We made about seven different trips to Lowe's. It was a BLAST. Thanks, Dad ~ you're the best!

* This guy.....taking pictures of him NEVER gets old. Not for me anyway. Who gets to be this gorgeous in life and not have a clue???

* Growth. Just the green and purple colors in my red cabbage plant inspire me.

* Watching from the sideline as my daughter flourishes in her art class. Image sent by Jennifer at Smalls Hands, Big Art (

* A very crowded and colorful window box. I am now very thankful that we accidentally picked up the mixed petunia variety. It's much more interesting....

*Shopping at Renfrow's with my friend, Leslie. This is her first year gardening and it's so nice to have someone to plant with. And I will never tire of shopping at Renfrow's. What a store! What a staff! I think they know everything....

* Some sweet little birds are building a nest in the bush/tree right outside our dining room window. Last night, as we were eating dinner, they were flying back and forth with sticks in their mouths. It was so sweet. I can't wait to hear (maybe see?) some little baby birds.

* That my daughter now says to me, "Mommy, you're lovely", several times a day. Wow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Could this be my future?: Closet Office?

My husband and I have made a life choice - to purchase and live in a "smaller" house. It's just over 2,000 square feet so I feel silly calling it small. Folks from the Northeast or Europe would scoff at that statement. But in Charlotte, where McMansions seem to be the norm, trust me, people consider our house small. It works well for us though....with 5 warm bodies inhabiting it at all times. It can get tight though and, therefore, I am always searching for ways to make more space.....given what we have. For several years now, I have been contemplating turning the closet in our computer room into an office/workdesk. I saw an example a few years ago in Better Homes and Gardens and I've been thinking about it since. My idea/interest has been reinvigorated because I came across this image yesterday. WOW! I really love it, mainly because of the Graham & Brown wallpaper used. I found this image on the Country Living website .

If I work up the courage to take on this project, I'll post my before and after pictures here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Oh, Anna Quindlen.... speak to me. I'm cleaning up my "office" (read guest room/computer room/junk stashing place/mess) and I found a piece of paper where I'd written down two of my favorite Anna Quindlen quotes....and I just have to share....

"You are only real if you can see yourself, see yourself clear and true in the mirror of your soul and smile upon the reflection."

"Begin today to say no to the Greek chorus that thinks it knows the parameters of a happy life when all it knows is the homogenization of human experience."

I discovered Anna Quindlen at a time in my life when I was searching deep and hard for women to admire, women who could inspire me. And I was working so hard, running around in circles in my own mind really, to inspire myself. I read everything Anna's written (in book form) back in the summer of 2008. These two quotes really, really spoke to me - so much so that I jotted them down on a piece of paper. This slip of paper hung at my desk at work as I made the decision to resign and take some time off. I would read these two quotes over and over and they would instantaneously make me feel better. And calm. I'm so happy I came across this paper today. It's no longer in a pile of mail/magazines/articles/etc. It's back on my desk, right where it belongs.


No, not really. But we have this gorgeous plant growing up the side of the berm in our backyard. I'm pretty sure it's a weed. We didn't plant it and I don't think it was something planted by the previous owner. I could be wrong. Who cares - it's just beautiful. I took some shots of the plant and my daughter happily posing as a hand model to display a few of the purple flowers. Nice, huh? I definitely won't be pulling those "weeds"!!!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

For the Love of Bugs

I love bugs. Not all of them but most. Especially bees, butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, luna moths and worms. I've tried to instill a love of bugs in my daughter as well. With some success. When she was younger she loved nothing more than to dig in the dirt looking for earthworms. She'd even help pick them up off the sidewalk to put them back in the moist grass. Last year she'd stand with me next to the garden to observe the bees flirting with the basil plants. I felt like we shared a love of bugs.

Not so fast. Just this week she started showing a crazy, irrational fear of bugs. If one comes anywhere near her she runs around like a headless chicken screaming at the top of her lungs. My husband and I stare at each other dumbfounded when this happens. This odd behavior is obviously a result of seeing someone else's behavior while at school.

Since we can't lock her up in the house for the rest of her life, I've been searching for creative ways to lure her back into my "bug camp". Silly Mom that I am. So far, this is my favorite idea.

What do you think? I truly believe cupcakes could solve just about anything....

(Images borrowed from

Friday, April 2, 2010

Barefoot In The Park

Okay, so we weren't barefoot. And it wasn't Central Park! Robert Redford didn't grace us with his presence. Neither did Jane Fonda. But, on this particularly beautiful sunny day, Freedom Park in Charlotte did suffice....and here are some photos to prove just how nice and beautiful it was!!!

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