Diamond Jubilee

Life in the US of A is good, but it’s such a shame we’re missing the festivities in the UK for the Queen’s Diamond Jubillee and the Summer Olympics!

The BBC reports:

The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant is one of the biggest live events to ever take place in London. It has taken two years to plan and is costing £10.5m of private money. That sum does not include the cost of policing which falls to the taxpayer but Lord Salisbury, who chairs the team that organised the pageant, is promising “a hell of a show … to thank the Queen for 60 years’ hard labour”.

I have to say that as an American, I’m both baffled and interigued by the monarchy of the United Kingdom. In many countries, 60 years in power signals a dictatorship, not a democratic society. Yet, in the UK the whole monarchy has a romantic fairy-tale feel to it – with Lords and Ladies and castles. Just take the queen’s royal rowbarge Gloriana. It’s the “largest rowed vessel in the UK. It has been specially built for the occasion and will lead the whole flotilla of more than 1,000 vessels. The gilded barge is made from wood from sweet chestnut trees grown on Prince Charles’ own private estate.” Chestnut trees from Prince Charles’ private estate? I wouldn’t be surprised if he also has a magic beanstalk.

When Elizabeth was crowned queen in 1952 The British Empire stretched across the globe and posessed about 90 ocuntries. The changes that have taken place in the 60 years of the Queen’s reign are incredible, but both the monarchy and people of the United Kingdom seem to have adjusted well.

The UK seems more content with grey areas and have successfully managed to maintain both a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system. And even the British weather won’t stop the celebrations today!

Holiday in England

20120209-194440.jpgAlready our holiday in England seems like ages ago. Back in the throes of work and activities, I’m alarmed at the pace of life. Shouldn’t we still be hibernating? At the very least, let’s reminisce back to our holiday!

We saw great sights, had brilliant company and feasted on goregous food. One of the best things about the trip was eating the most delectable meals and not cooking a single one of them! Plus, with everyone chipping in, the clean-up for our lavish banquets was an ease. To be honest, I don’t mind cooking, it’s the dishes and clean-up afterwords I can’t stand!

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We spent Christmas with Dan’s phenomenal Granny, who’s 97 and still does a fitness regime every morning and mostly looks after herself! As Granny recovered from the full Christmas meal (very much like an American’s Thanksgiving sans pumpkin pie), we enjoyed a shot of sunlight while walking in the Clent Hills.

Christmas PuddingI have to confess, I’m not a huge fan of British Christmas desserts – they all seem like a variation on the same. Christmas Cake is like fruit cake with super-sweet frosting (though, I’ll happily eat the thin layer of marzipan!); Christmas Pudding is fruitcake dosed in Brandy (though I do like when they light it on fire!); and Mincepies are more dried fruits and booze, but baked into little tarts. However, I adore Brandy cream and Brandy Butter – which are a delightful addition to any dessert and may have even appeared on my toast at breakfast.

D&P’s house is always a place of supreme serenity. Pietro coaxes flowers into bloom even in the winter and the lighting is always cozy and perfect for snuggling. Dee made Bana Caldo, an immensely creamy anchovy fondu we greedily dipped an assortment of root vegetables into.

After dashing about the sales in Oxford, we regained our equilibrium with lobster bisque and samphire, a delicate green that grows on the British coasts. We’ve discovered that men’s clothing that is small enough to fit Dan does not exist in the US, so we made the most of the Top Man sales while in England. My dad, upon hearing of a store that sold Dan-sized clothing, mixed up the name, calling it “Little Man”!

We met up with friends in Aylesbury and London – our mini-reunions with Dan’s school friends are always great! Next, we were off to Nat & Umbi’s beautiful flat in Canterbury.

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In addition to it’s fame from Chaucer’s tale, Canterbury has many charms. The old walled city has a large pedestrian-only area with an eclectic mix of cafes and shops that entice you inside. We went for a walk in the seaside town of Whitstable, and took shelter in a small yet picturesque castle when it began to rain. Plus, we discovered a lovely path along the river that allowed us to run on trails, without the customary ankle-deep British mud.

On New Year’s Eve (remembering to wear our red underwear for good luck!) we all headed to London to Matt & Pete’s flat. They have the top floor of a terraced house, complete with clawfoot tub, gas fireplace and tiny garden too! Matt had fixed us a feast for lunch and Pete had made a scrumptious stollen, which I will have to ask for the recipe for.

After lunch, we participated in our annual book exchange, a tradition Dee began, in which we all bring books we have enjoyed to swap with others. We do this in lieu of presents and agree it’s a great way to give something meaningful, without falling into the holiday consumerism trap. This year I gave, Our America, a powerful yet disturbing book based on a project in which 2 young teens were given microphones and cassette recorders to interview people from their Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. If only more of our news was not just about the poor, but from their perspective, what changes there would be!

The book I received is God of the Small Things by Indian author Arundhati Roy. I haven’t read it yet, but it won a Booker Prize and many Pizzo’s recommended it!

That evening, after a curry supper, we headed up the hill to Ally Pally with mulled wine in hand. The park overlooks practically the whole of London and so eyes darted back and forth, watching fireworks light up the silhouettes of St. Pauls, Big Ben and the London eye against a velvet sky. In front of us, revelers set of small fireworks and sparklers, while in the distance larger displays sparkled on and off spastically. It was dizzying trying to watch all the colourful sparks.

At that was it, good-bye 2011, hello 2012!

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Warming wisdom from across the pond

Last night we got a dusting of snow and this morning school was delayed 2 hrs. I went on a run through the glittering woods, following the footprints of deer, foxes, rabbits and raccoons… but no other humans. Our backyard rocks.

Early on the roads and sidewalks were plowed and salted. However, when we were in England recently, it snowed a similar amount but didn’t melt much or get plowed. Weeks later there was still a slippery mixture of ice and snow on sidewalks.  So the Brits may not be masters of snow removal, but they do have a lot to teach us about staying warm.

May I present to you 3 of their simple yet magical techniques:

1. The electric kettle. This little baby is crucial and widely available. Most can boil water in about 5 minutes and lift off their base for ease of use. But heck, we’re happy using a $10 hot pot I bought 11 years ago for uni.  And, no, I’m not suggesting you pour boiling water on yourself to warm up, but the electric kettle will greatly assist step 2 & 3.

2. Tea. Ok, so I know Americans drink tea, but when it’s cold out, we could learn a lot from the Brits about the RITUAL that is tea. They drink 5 cups a day.  But, really, fill yourself up with hot liquids – tea, coffee, hot chocolate, soup – for an instant warming effect. Just don’t burn your tongue!

3. The hot water bottle. About $10 and you’ve got a warm body to cuddle all night long. Seriously, mine are still warm in the morning! But no hot bottie is complete without the proper attire. Check out http://www.etsy.com for a great selection of cute sweaters for your hot water bottle, like this one from A Crooked Sixpence from… yep, you guessed it, the UK.

Seriously.  Try these out – you’ll be hooked and hott!

Of engelond to caunterbury they wende

Canterbury Cathedral

12/18  It was off to snowy Canterbury to visit Nat & Umberto.  It’s an picturesque small city with a large pedestrian-only area.  Their flat is just minutes from the train station and an amazing farmers market/delicatessen called The Goods Shed. Sunday we went to the seaside and then evensong at the cathedral.  My high school English teacher would be dismayed because I couldn’t recall any of the Canterbury Tale’s Prologue which we’d had to memorize.

Our time there was far too short, for soon we were off to York. It was strange in some ways being back in the city where we’d lived for a year.  Many of our old friends were already away for the holidays but we did get to catch up with our old housemates Dave & Nichole.  And, of course, we had a great time with Matt & Pete.  Then it was off once more, this time to a cozy cottage in Sherwood Forest where the 8 of us (Pizzos + partners) spent Christmas.

12/22 This was the true holiday portion of our holiday…. lazy days of reading, eating fabulous food, running in the snowy woods, spending quality time with Pizzos and screaming as we went down waterslides at the huge indoor tropical pool area.  Christmas day I made the legendary Moll Cinnamon Bread for breakfast and then we enjoyed a time of sharing. In lieu of presents we did a book exchange where we each brought a book we’d enjoyed and swapped it with someone else.  (Great idea, Dee!) For Christmas dinner we had pizza made from scratch by Nat & Umberto along with Christmas Cake, Pan d’Oro, Panettone and mince pies – YUM!

I even saw Robin Hood…. well, I saw a beautiful red fox that looked very similar to this one:

Only the fox I saw wasn’t wearing any clothes.  But still!

Our time in England flew by… two more days in ‘Nam with friends and family and then we were back at Heathrow… it seemed like only yesterday we’d arrived.

The Magic Pig and more

Our holiday in England continued with a few days in London where we met up with old friends, ran around (literally) Hyde Park, explored the Natural History Museum, Piccadilly and Soho, and ate steamed buns in Chinatown.

Unfortunately I came down with a horrid bout of the flu upon our return to Haddenham. I had a fever but felt ice cold. We got a beautiful dusting of snow in time for Dan & P’s long walk in the Chiltern Hills.  D & I went to see the a play of Rapunzel or the Magic Pig at the enchanting mirror tent.  We brought mulled wine and lemon polenta cake to enjoy as we watched the delightful tale.

England in December

England! I’ve realized this is my fifth winter in the UK.  And as lovely as England is, I’d like to spend my next winter holiday somewhere a bit warmer!  There’s record breaking freezing temps here at the moment!



Still, I’m enchanted by the charming cottages, milk that’s delivered to your doorstep in glass bottles, tremendously tiny roads and beautifully packaged food.  No honestly, going through the supermarket even the store-brand items have gorgeous design. Mind you, this was at Waitrose, but even Tescos has some nicer packaging.  Why can’t things be beautiful, functional and inexpensive?  In addition to looking good, I am so impressed with how many fair trade foods are available (a good portion of the chocolate, bananas, coffee) in the UK. It’s also easier to get ethical products – milk and meat from pastured “happy” animals and sustainably fished salmon. Plus, in Britain you don’t find corn products hiding in all of the food.  Grr… the industrial food system in the US is shameful!

Meanwhile, Dan’s friend Sameer got married… on the London Eye!  What a fantastic venue… but as only 20 people can fit in a pod I wasn’t able to be there 😦

The 11th we enjoyed a delicious brunch with Granny & co. to celebrate her 96th birthday! She’s doing wonderfully and even had enough strength to arm wrestle D!

Sunday we went to Oxford. Wandering around the back alleyways it was amazing to think that 5 years ago we’d been there searching for an engagement ring!  Later in the evening we saw blind, autistic, musical savant Derek Paravicini in concert.

He’s extraordinary! We first found out about Derek a few months earlier while watching TV during our hike of the Contintial Divide Trail. It’s amazing how things come full circle.

Ice cream & Eschatology

Fear not faithful readers, we are still alive. We’re just in a Butlin’s Bubble. But yesterday we managed to escape and go for a walk in Exmoor National Park. It was so beautiful and little lambs were everywhere! I’m still hoping to get a lamb for my birthday tomorrow. Meanwhile we’ve been busy trying to manage 400+ 8-11 year olds, going to eschatology discussions, enjoying the unlimited soft-serve ice cream and going on carnival rides here at Spring Harvest. And on the 15th we celebrate our second anniversary and head out backpacking in the Yorkshire dales. Got to run, but I thought I’d leave you with this joke from one of the kids.

What do you find inside a clean nose?

Finger prints!