Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday 29th September

I felt very lucky this weekend as I’ve spent the whole of it with people I love, and that is such a blessing in today’s world of hustle and bustle! Guy, Alex and I drove down to Dorset today to visit our dear friends near Beaminster. It was a pretty good drive there, aside from the Stonehenge effect on the A303 on the way down. You can see Stonehenge from the highway, and it appears just as you come over the crest of a hill. This causes nearly everyone to think “oh my goodness, it’s Stonehenge” and slam on the breaks. Even though I’ve driven this route a number of times, the Stonehenge effect gets me every time and it’s always a shock to have to break so heavily almost totally unexpectedly! Next time, I’ll remember.

Stonehenge is gorgeous in the sunshine and it was a beautiful sunny day today. At times the temperature was over twenty degrees Celsius. What a treat for this time of year. We got to our friends’ house just before noon, and then headed off for a visit to the beach at Eype. We spent an hour or so just strolling along and enjoying the wonderful scenery. People were even swimming – although they were very brave to do so! They came out of the water looking rather blue. The North Sea in September is far from warm. The beach at Eype is a stony one, but the stones are the most gorgeous colours. There are even little blue stones that are almost like crystals. You can find fossils there too. It’s stunning, one of my favourite beaches in the whole world. It was lovely to be in the company of our wonderful friends too.

We had a super home cooked dinner with them before we headed off home. My friend and her daughter (our God-daughter) made an apple and blackberry pie, with apples from the tree in their garden and blackberries they had picked from the hedgerows. Delicious! The time to head off home came way too soon, but being a Sunday night you have to be careful or you get caught in terrible traffic. We didn’t do too badly, but did catch some of the Sunday rush so the journey home took longer than the journey there. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with our friends and I do hope we can get together again soon.

Saturday 28th September

It had been quite a strange few days actually as first thing Wednesday morning as I was getting ready to drive up to Burton on Trent with Alex I had a text message from a dear friend saying that her husband had left her. This couple have been together for over twenty years, and married for eighteen of those. In fact, they are Alex’s Godparents and I was, quite simply floored by this totally unexpected news. So over the next few days I spent a lot of time on the phone with my friend, as did Guy – and a lot of time thinking about how blessed Guy and I are to have weathered the storms that we have – and believe me there have been a few! I am so grateful they have made us stronger as a couple instead of tearing us apart. It’s something I do not take for granted for even one second.

I spent Friday doing a lot of tidying up and getting ready for the get together we had planned on Saturday with my cousins. Somehow, in the midst of that tidying, I started to feel a connection with our house for the first time since we moved in last December. Throughout all the chaos and upset of our first few months in this house, I had felt nothing for it, nothing whatsoever. This was extremely strange for me as I always develop a connection with the homes I love, and this house is really beautiful and something I was very keen to purchase. Still, with everything that happened, and the amount of time we spent away, I felt a huge sense of disconnect. But somewhere in the late hours of Friday, I began to feel a real sense of being at home. It’s amazing what a bit of clutter removal and a sense of gratitude will do!

Saturday morning I woke up with a wonderful joyful feeling for the first time in months. I felt like a great weight had been lifted from me, and I was really excited about being able to entertain practically an entire side of my family at one time in my own home. And we did have a wonderful day. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It was great to be able to go through old photographs and talk about the people in them (some of whom my cousins recognised and I did not so that was brilliant). And just being able to visit, all of us together for the first time in England, was totally brilliant. We were able to talk about our family members who had died recently with smiles on our faces, remembering lots of happy memories, and I began to feel a real sense of healing. What a fantastic day! The weather was gorgeous and Guy, Alex and I were able to show our cousins round our local area, including a visit to my favourite little local village, Pangbourne, and a walk down by the Thames.

It was, quite simply, one of the best days we’ve had in ages.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Saturday September 20th - Clarence House

Clarence House was amazing. I had always wanted to see it because the Queen Mother lived there, and once, over twenty years ago, when I took my courage in both hands and wrote to her to ask she send a letter to my Grandpa on his 88th birthday – even though she only normally wrote to people when they were a hundred years old – she wrote back to him on Clarence House headed notepaper. It was probably the best birthday present he ever had. I had seen the outside of Clarence House of course, but never the inside. This is because it is now the official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and also to Princes William and Harry. But this year the reception rooms were open to the public and I decided it would be a very good idea to go along. I rarely put things off anymore, because someday very rarely ever arrives.

So we found ourselves in the gardens of Clarence House on this sunny Saturday afternoon. The entries are timed, and you go through with two guides, but each group only has about twenty people in it, so it is very intimate. It also struck me as we walked through the elegant but simply designed gardens, that this was very much a home. Of course the residents were not visible, but it is clear that there were definitely people living upstairs. In fact, it turned out that Prince Charles was due to return that evening, and when asked what happened when he did arrive, the guide said simply, “Well, we have to stop where we are and he slips in a back door privately.” So there was very much a feeling of being in someone’s garden at that point, and indeed in someone’s home later on. As we walked through the very sensitively redecorated rooms (our guide explained that the corgis had been allowed the run of the house and some restoration was necessary when Prince Charles moved in after the Queen Mother’s death), there were no red ropes to hold us back, only plain carpeting over the priceless antique rugs. This was, our guide explained, not just for the protection of the rugs, but also for our own protection as well because apparently some of the antique rugs actually have holes in them and they didn’t want any injured tourists! We were very politely requested to keep to the plain carpeting and not step on to the antique rugs, but as they plain carpet covered pretty much the entirety of nearly all of the rooms we were in, our access was not restricted in any way whatsoever. At one point I was literally inches from a Monet. What a privilege to be able to go through someone’s home like that!

Clarence House is beautiful, there is no other word for it, but it is also very welcoming and intimate. Aside from its grandeur and the antiques and art works contained therein, it seems very home like. It is, unlike many other stately homes I have visited, very much alive. And it is very, very beautiful. So much thought has been put into the decoration. For example, the dining room has been decorated virtually around a painting of the Queen Mother, using colours from the canvas and bringing it almost to life. And the blues they have used are so wonderful – particularly in the one room which was left virtually unchanged from when the Queen Mother lived there, except to restore the damage done to it by her beloved dogs. There are family photographs everywhere, not just of people you would recognise, but also of those who seem to be virtually unknown. It is, in short, someone’s home. I cannot say that I would have been so generous in sharing it if I lived there, that is for sure (particularly in view of the Monet)! But I am very grateful its current residents were so much less selfish than I would be! It is lovely and well worth seeing. I believe it is only open in September this year, but should it be open again, I highly recommend a visit.

After a very pleasant hour exploring Clarence House and its beautiful gardens (which incidentally produce over 95 kilos of vegetables for their table every year), we set off to do some shopping. We headed for Harrods as it is such a fun store to explore, and also because we are looking for some items of furniture and technology and it has to be the best place to look for things like that. They have everything – and if they don’t have it, they will get it for you. After about three hours of exploring we left with our heads full of ideas, and both Guy and I had a shopping bag! Guy had got a new laptop bag, and I had finally found a pair of knee high black boots that I not only liked, but that fit me. Unfortunately running has given me what might be described as “substantial” calves, making it difficult to find knee high boots that are comfortable, but at Harrods I found the perfect pair.

All this shopping had made us hungry so after a brief stop at Russell and Bromley to get Guy a new pair of black shoes, we headed back to Regent Street to our favourite restaurant. Piccolino is in Heddon Street, just up from Piccadilly Circus off Regent Street. It is a wonderful Italian restaurant with amazing food and fabulous service, and we had a lovely meal there. My Escalope Milanese was just delicious and my Pear and Fig Tarte with Amaretto Ice Cream was worth every single calorie!

It’s been a wonderful day, spent in great company. I’m very grateful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gratitude


After Wednesday’s entry, I received five emails asking me what the sewing machine part of my “dressing table” looked like. To those five readers, it was very nice of you to ask, and please see the photograph above. The sewing machine is circa 1920 – 1930, I’m not entirely sure, but based on stories my Mom told me, that is my guess. I do love receiving your emails, so please do get in touch. The address is april@21stcenturyhousewife.com .

The week is finishing as it began – very busily! My sewing machine / dressing table is now comfortably placed in my room and looks quite nice there. It’s such a pretty piece of furniture it is nice to have it in a place where I can see it properly. I have been sorting, de-clutter, tidying and cleaning nearly non stop, but sadly unless you saw everything to start with the change is not yet all that noticeable! I can see progress though, and that makes me very happy indeed.

In many ways, it has been a wonderful week. I had not less than three major prayers answered which makes me feel incredibly grateful and happy. Gratitude has been a major theme in my life this week actually. Funnily enough, I was listening to a podcast while I was running on Wednesday about gratitude. Oprah Winfrey was interviewing Sarah Ban Breathnach on her Soul Series and their discussion was fascinating. It involved the principle of keeping a Gratitude Journal, in which you list five things that you are grateful for every night. Sarah discusses it at length in her wonderful book “Simple Abundance”, which is a real pleasure to read and which I highly recommend. I got to thinking about things I was grateful for and there really were an awful lot of them! Even silly little things like a chance encounter with a herd of cows on my way back from my run.

You see, part of my run takes me through a field. I run on the Thames Path, a very long (184 miles!) path that runs from the Cotswolds right through to London. Needless to say, I run on only a very small part of said path! Anyway, the path cuts through a number of fields, and this field is located just between the Mapleduram Locks and the first bit of road in Purley on Thames. There is another field adjoining it, and they are divided by a hedge. The hedge has a gap in it that the cows come through when they wish to change fields. (I don’t know why they do it, but never mind!) So on Wednesday, as I was running across the field, I saw the first of a line of cows coming through the hedge. They were coming through single file in a very orderly fashion, but there was no human to be seen. I was not unduly alarmed as I’ve crossed in the middle of these cows before (albeit when they were grazing) and never had any problems. As I got closer, I watched as the cows continued to walk unhurriedly, single file, from one field to the other. They did seem to look at me curiously – kind of like, what the heck are you running for? So I decided to slow down and walk for a bit. I must admit, I was beginning to wonder what would happen next, but I decided to trust and just carry on. When I got to the point where I had to cross the line of cows, a large black cow stopped and looked at me. I stopped too and thought for a moment about what to do. I felt a tiny bit frightened as this was one huge cow (it may even have been a bull, but being a city girl, I’ve no idea). After a minute of regarding each other curiously – and I have to say I have never been so close to a cow before in my life – I simply said “Good morning” and “Excuse me” as I walked in front of the animal. She (he?) watched me pass and then carried on as if I had never been there. I turned and watched this parade of livestock for a minute or two, and was delighted to see that, at the end of their parade, walked three tiny calves. I still was not far away from the group and felt really privileged to be able to be so close to animals I had hitherto been kind of frightened of. This brought to mind gratitude again, not just for the experience, but for the fact that we live where we do, I am fit enough to run, it was a sunny day, and on and on from there. It’s kind of addictive, this gratitude thing.

I encourage you to read more about Gratitude. Check out Oprah Winfrey’s website, Sarah Ban Breathnach’s website, or get a copy of Simple Abundance from your nearest bookstore or on Amazon.

Have a wonderful weekend. I’m off with the 21st Century Husband and Teenager to visit Clarence House in London, the former home of Her Royal Highness The Queen Mother, and now the official residence of HRH Prince Charles and family. This property has never been open to the public before, but the reception rooms are open in September this year, so we are very interested to see it. Anyway, a day out in London will be fun, especially this time of year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Acres of Diamonds


I’m eating my breakfast as I write. It’s tea and toast, which is, I think, one of the most comforting things in the world. As a nod to my health conscious side, the toast is made from soya and linseed bread (which is quite wonderful with orange blossom honey) and the tea I’m drinking is Assam, so this is comfort food with twist. But I’m loving every bite.

Like most of my weeks, this one has started out busy and promises to continue in the same vein. Monday was taken up with a personal training session, a visit from the decorator to hang new curtains in the library, and lots of tidying - which seems to have had absolutely no effect whatsoever. I also had to get things ready for the 21st Century Husband’s business trip. The only thing not so quite 21st Century about my aforementioned husband is that he doesn’t do packing – except of computers and electronic items! But that is another story. Yesterday was Pilates, more tidying, one on one yoga class, more tidying, ferrying the 21st Century teenager to music lessons and band, ironing, and writing. Oh, and about an hour spent studying the arrangement of the furniture in the library and realising that if I want to show the new curtains to best advantage I need to move most of the furniture in the room (including bookshelves which is going to take ages as they are absolutely full of books). This also involved running round with a tape measure as one piece of furniture needs to be placed elsewhere in the house. I now know where it is going, but not quite how it is going to get there as it is a very heavy antique sewing machine. It’s beautiful, and I learned to sew on it (it was antique when I learned on it, so no comments please!) and as it belonged to both my grandmother and my mother it is incredibly cherished. You cannot even see it is a sewing machine when you look at it as the machinery part (which is very beautiful in its own right) is enclosed in a gorgeous wooden case that looks like a table. I have always wanted a dressing table with a stool to sit on and realised yesterday that my sewing machine was perfect for this as it is, after all, a table in appearance, and it has a matching stool (of a different origin and vintage but never mind!) tucked underneath it. It’s like the poor man who went searching for his fortune when he lived on an acre of diamonds – my dressing table has been under my nose for over a year. I am disproportionately pleased by this discovery and cannot wait to move it into my bedroom. 21st Century Husband won’t recognise the place when he gets home tomorrow. (You can see my beautiful sewing machine – I mean dressing table – above.)

I am also finding myself – very reluctantly – starting plans for Christmas! I’m currently investigating personalised Christmas cards (and have narrowed it down to two choices), finalising my gift list, and I find that I have also managed to plan much the season already. I have had invitations both for Christmas and Boxing Day and we’ve already booked Alex’s 16th birthday treat – a trip to New York over New Year and his birthday – thank goodness for air miles! I’m actually having trouble finding a date for the cocktail party we had hoped to have for our neighbours, living here as we have for nearly a year, and aside from to say hello to, hardly knowing a soul in the surrounding houses.

So it has been an incredibly busy week so far. I’m hoping to get out for a run later, if the rain holds off – but I need to wait until about ten o’clock, so that the school run crowds have disappeared, and the lunchtime rush has not yet begun. I get very nervous when I’m out running - certain as I am that everyone is looking at me saying “what on earth is that incredibly unfit woman doing out running?”. Of course months of personal training, Pilates and yoga have ensured that I am not unfit. And as a well proportioned size 12, I don’t look too bad in my running gear either, but inside my head I am the Michelin Man. Yes folks, distorted body image is my middle name.

Oh, and I think I may need to investigate a new washing machines. Mine has been acting a bit off colour for ages, and suddenly it’s making some very dodgy noises. In fact, you’ll have to excuse me while I go and check it out – it sounds like it might be about to come visit me in here from the next room. Or is that the dryer? Neither one of them were very happy about moving and time has not improved their condition. No rest for the wicked!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wonderful Weekend

We had a wonderful weekend with our friends. They are building a new home in a small village in Buckinghamshire and we stayed in it for the first time. It is absolutely gorgeous, set in three acres of fields backing on to a river. The house is not totally finished, but it very comfortable. It was great to catch up with them and we thoroughly enjoyed a very relaxing weekend.

On Sunday we went to Waddesdon Manor (photo above) and enjoyed wandering through its beautiful rooms and gardens. The sun was out and it was positively summery which was wonderful. It was amazing to see what is essentially a French chateau in the middle of Buckinghamshire. They have loads of events year round and you can even hire various rooms for entertaining. With the Rothschild connection, of course wine plays a big role, and there was a wine tasting going on when we were there. Needless to say we came home with two very nice bottles of wine!

After a very nice dinner with our friends on Sunday night we headed home to get ready for a very busy week!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The strange metaphysical connection between my skin, Hamlet and a BMW

I’m having an interesting sort of day. In the first instance, my skin can’t decide if it is fourteen or forty, being plagued as I am today by dry patches interspersed with the odd spot! How can you be dry and oily in the same place at the same time? There is something about this that just is not fair. Thank goodness for concealer.

I spent half an hour this morning trying to get tickets for the production of Hamlet in London starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart. The website just fell over completely, showing a screen with “server too busy” on it every time I tried. As for the phone, it was just constantly engaged. It’s amazing how I can multi-task – typing with one hand whilst holding (and dialing!) a phone with the other. Oh the life skills I develop!! Despite all my efforts, the tickets sold out within minutes. Never one not to let an experience teach me something, I’ve taken out membership of the Royal Shakespeare Company so this doesn’t happen again. As a member you get priority booking. I had no idea this was the case having had no time to investigate this. Luckily a nice lady has now told me. I also joined the Royal Horticultural Society at the same time just to cover all my bases. That way I’ll get priority tickets to Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Flower show as well. I hate queuing – in person, on the phone or on computer – so this might be a way to avoid it. We’ll see. At this rate, between these two, the National Trust, and English Heritage, there are not many organisations I don’t belong to anymore!

I also managed to test drive a BMW 7 series with Guy today. The dealer sent it to the house for us as it was the only way we could both drive it at the same time within the next few weeks. They must be keen, the dealership was over forty miles away. It’s a lovely car, and it drives beautifully, but it’s very, very black. Black exterior, black leather interior – very masculine. This is a good thing as it is, after all, a car for Guy. On the flip side, it kind of scares me. It’s really big, really wide and really black. To me, it looked like a car that the devil might drive on his day off. We’re very much in two minds about it. I can’t say I love it, but then, it isn’t for me to love. Still, I’d like to feel a tad more enthusiastic about it. Maybe I can be convinced. The jury is definitely out at the moment.

The downside of both these activities is that by now I had expected to a) get a lot more writing done, b) get a lot more housework done, c) get some of the rubbish to the dump as I’ve been having a massive clear out and d) get out to pick up a housewarming gift as we are going away this weekend. Oh yeah, and e) pack. I still don’t understand how people can ask housewives what they do all day.

One of the things that has gone very well today is that Guy is working from home. I always like that. Even though he is clearly busy, at least he is here and I do enjoy his company. The other thing is that I had a delivery from Abel and Cole, the organic food delivery company. It’s brilliant. Just before 8am on a Friday, the driver leaves my shopping right by the back door. Anything that has to be kept cold is wrapped in ice and everything is beautifully presented. You can get eggs (none of which have ever been broken on arrival), bread, vegetables, fruit, milk and even meat (although I have not actually tried that yet). It’s lovely. I also like that the delivery day for this area is Friday, it’s just right for the weekend. Oh yes, and I’m looking forward to visiting our wonderful friends this weekend as well. So on the whole, it’s a great day, I’m just feeling a little muddled.

Just like my skin apparently! And how’s that for full circle?!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Small Steps


You may wonder what on earth the photograph is of. You can only see part of it in the photo, but that is the gantry that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins walked down to get to Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon. It’s at Kennedy Space Centre in their Rocket Garden now, and you can walk in their footsteps, imagining what it felt like, wondering if that was the last earthly surface they’d ever walk upon, not knowing if, or how, they were going to change the world. Not only did they make it, but now, thanks to them, we have made huge advances in the fields of medicine, technology and other fields they could only even dream about. I watched them walk down that gantry when I was just four years old, as we watched Apollo 11 blast off. My Dad was absolutely crazy about space exploration and he passed that enthusiasm on to me. I remember Dad saying they would have eaten steak and eggs before blast off which I thought was unbelievably exotic, and I remember dear old Walter Cronkite reporting. I never realised the gantry was red, I thought it was black, but then we had a black and white television in those days. A few days later, I watched Armstrong and Aldrin walk on the moon. It was late, and I kept falling asleep, but Mom and Dad kept waking me back up. I think it is the only time they ever did that – most other times they were trying to get me to sleep!

The other thing that was amazing at Kennedy was the Mission Control display. It was the actual room, including the very computers and chairs (even a jacket worn by a team member thrown over a chair) used in the launch the Apollo missions. Accompanied by a video of what happened in the room during a launch, it was so evocative, it was like stepping back in time. Much to Alexander’s disgust (“oh, Mum!”), it actually brought tears to my eyes, so utterly did it remind me of those early mornings spent watching the countdown, eating breakfast on TV tables in front of the television on Krug Street with my parents.

You may wonder where on earth I am going with this. Trust me, I do have a point.

And that is - we all have the potential to be Neil Armstrongs and Buzz Aldrins in our own way. Most of us are not going to take steps as big or as publicly as theirs, and certainly not as dangerous as theirs, but we all take huge steps in our own way during our lives. Whether it is immigrating, moving a large distance, getting married, having kids or putting your life back together after it has fallen apart, everyone has the opportunity to step up for themselves and triumph. And walking down that gantry reminded me that we can. With a bit of faith, and a lot of courage, we can change our lives and the world, if that is what we want to do.

And it reminded me that almost anything is possible. If, on that July morning in 1969, you had said to the four year old me that one day I’d walk down the very gantry I was watching those astronauts walk down, I’d probably have laughed at you. I’d also have been incredulous if you said I’d immigrate to England when I was 23, find my very own Prince Charming and raise a family with him, travel as much and fulfil as many of my dreams as I have. But making your dreams come true is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. So whatever it is - swimming with dolphins, eating dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower, Afternoon Tea at the Ritz, going to Disney or travelling round the world, take just one step today to put you a step closer to it. Like they say, carpe diem – seize the day. I hate it when people say “someday”. The last time I said it was in the context of “yes, Alex, someday we will fly on Concorde.” Two months later, Concorde was decommissioned. I’ve never been allowed to forget it.

Take “one small step” (my apologies to Mr Armstrong) – start a savings account, make one phone call, even actually book a long dreamed of trip – and it can start the ball rolling on some great adventures. Just remember, every great adventure I have had has involved careful planning. Don’t leap off into the unknown without thinking and planning or you could be hugely disappointed. One step at a time. And don’t think you have to go a long way away to make your dreams come true. Just for the record, some of my greatest adventures have happened really close to home.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Wonderful Weekend - Saturday and Sunday September 6 and 7

It’s been a fabulous weekend. The best part of it was that we all spent it together, which is my favourite way to spend any weekend. Guy has been looking at cars to replace his four year old, very practical Peugeot. It’s an estate, and has been fantastic for ferrying everything around when we were living between two places and moving, but it’s beginning to get a little past its sell by date. So we’ve been looking at other cars, still estates, but some with a little more style. It’s fun test driving them and discussing all their pros and cons. At the end of the day, it will be Guy’s car so what is important is that he loves it, but we all get very passionate about our favourites!

Last night we went to see An Ideal Husband at the Theatre Royal in Windsor. It was really entertaining. Oscar Wilde wrote the play in 1895 and yet the parallels with both public and private life today were quite astonishing. The play is about a prominent politician who unfortunately began his career with a youthful indiscretion, along the lines of what we would call insider trading today. His wife, and society, see him as a paragon of virtue. When a colourful woman from his past comes on to the scene and threatens to reveal the indiscretion if he does not co-operate with her plans, plans which will involve him compromising all his principles, the plot begins to thicken. Although the subject matter is serious, and the play becomes a real study of society and its hypocrisy, the witty banter between the characters and some thoroughly entertaining situations make for a really funny play, with, I am pleased to say, a happy ending. The version we saw was extremely well acted, and had many famous faces of yesteryear in the cast, so that in itself made for an excellent evening.

Today, we did one of the things on my “list”. I’ve always dreamed of going to The Ritz in London for Afternoon Tea. We booked our table for today back in June as they do book up well in advance. (You can book online if this is a dream of yours as well.) Located in Piccadilly, just across from Green Park tube station, the Ritz has been a London institution for over one hundred years. Afternoon Tea is held in the Palm Court restaurant. It seemed relatively bereft of palms to me, but was very beautiful nonetheless, with decorations in white and gold, and a huge floral arrangement of lilies and other exotic flowers in a massive urn in the centre. It’s a magical place, not least of all because it is one of the few places in London to still enforce a dress code. Men must wear jackets and ties, and ladies must dress nicely too. Jeans, trainers etc., are totally forbidden. And the one man who did remove his jacket during tea (and to be fair it was terribly warm) was very politely asked to put it back on. The air conditioning was immediately turned on at that point. The service is impeccable. It’s totally discreet and yet you never want for anything that it does not appear within seconds. The cutlery and tea services are all silver, and you eat and drink from a china tea service. A three tier tea tray is brought to your table, with beautiful finger sandwiches on the bottom tier, an empty tier for warm scones which appear later in the middle, and the most beautiful miniature cakes on the top tier. There are over ten different types of tea to choose from, all of which are served as leaf tea. You no sooner get close to finishing the contents of one tier that you are offered more of the contents to refill it. Although they have three sittings each day for tea, you never feel rushed and at £37 each, I think it was a fairly affordable indulgence. It certainly is very good value for money. We all left the restaurant totally replete! I could not have eaten another bite. It was a super experience, one I heartily recommend, and dearly hope to repeat!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Choices


The photograph of me above was taken in a shopping mall in Florida. They have a shop there entirely devoted to M&M candies. For anyone who does not know, M&Ms are a candy – bits of chocolate wrapped in a crispy chocolate shell, sometimes with a peanut in the middle. At least, when I was a kid, they were. The M&Ms in this shop came in every imaginable colour (that’s them in the huge tubes on the wall) with lots of different kinds of chocolate inside. Peanuts were not the only nut variety in them either, some of them had almonds. There were even five varieties of gourmet M&Ms in special wrappers.

We used to buy our M&Ms in small brown bags (or yellow bags if you wanted peanuts). In this shop, the M&Ms were sold by weight. You took a white bag and helped yourself to what you wanted from the wall itself, before having your selection weighed. At one point there were several people just staring at the tubes on the wall. With such a huge variety of colours, where do you start? Like so many things, it’s all about choices.

I’m realising that a lot these days. Over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of stress dealing with many of the government agencies in Canada to do with my parent’s estate, both while we have been in Canada and while I am here in England. No one I have spoken to seems to be able to understand that families do not always live in the same country or share the same citizenship. We’ve lurched from one difficult encounter to another, during most of which I am accused of trying to steal my parents’ identities or worse (the lady in the vehicle licensing bureau implied I was trying to commit grand theft auto). When I insist I can prove who I am and that I have the right to do these things, I am asked to do so in the most complicated way they can possibly dream up. Or I’ll be told to send in various documents, which I will do – only to be told when I call to ensure they have received them that they cannot talk to me as they do not have the document that they need – which is always the document their representative specifically told me it was unnecessary to send. Then, after sending that document in, when I try to call back to ensure they have received it, I get the recorded message saying “None of our representatives are available at the moment”, every call I make – or I call and no one has any idea what I am talking about. AARGH!!

I am having another one of these delightful experiences at the moment. It’s been going on for about a month. Yesterday, in the middle of scanning yet more documents so they could be faxed, I found myself feeling physically sick, and quite simply shaking with the stress and frustration of it all. It took me ages to calm down. This morning, having still not been able to get through on the phone, I woke up thinking, “Oh no, here we go again. More stress.”

And that was when it hit me. I have a choice. I can choose how to feel about this. I can allow other people to stress me out and push me to the end of my rope, or I can choose to take control of the situation. And the huge irony of that is that taking control of the situation actually mostly involves letting go and trusting that everything will come out fine in the end. Because it will. Every single one of the situations we have dealt with in the past has been sorted out in the end. And yet with every single one of them I have gotten upset, lost sleep and worried. What a waste of time.

It’s like when you wake up in the morning and the weather is awful. You can let it ruin your day, or you can choose to ignore the weather – or even go out and jump in puddles if you’ve got the time. Or when someone says a cross word to you and you can either get incredibly angry and have a row with them, or smile sweetly and make them feel like an idiot by being nice to them. Every single situation in life, every single emotion we feel, every single word we say, it all involves a choice. And that – even in the middle of a situation where we feel utterly helpless - makes us more powerful than we can ever imagine.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Another Busy Day in the Life


It’s wonderful looking back on the fun times we had together this summer. The picture above is (from left to right) is me, Alex and Guy at Epcot in Disneyland. We are in the Germany area, in a little shop/wine bar where I’d just bought a corkscrew. (There wasn’t one in our hotel.) There was a couple who wanted their picture taken together, so Guy did it for them. So then they offered to take one of us. I was pleased with how well it turned out.

What a busy day today has been. I’ve been working on my website – check out the new page on www.21stcenturyhousewife.com . I also went to Pilates. It was my first class for three weeks and I could feel a difference almost immediately. It really helps with your posture as well as flattening your tummy. Then this afternoon my yoga teacher came for our one on one class. After that it was time to try out my new breadmaker which seems to work very well indeed, although we’ve yet to taste the results – we are going to have some of the loaf with stew for dinner. Add to all of this some other minor domestic tasks, and suddenly I’m sitting here at 7pm and Guy is on his way home for dinner. And these are the Days of Our Lives….

It’s been a great day today though. I love being busy and the weather has not been that bad at all. In fact, Alex and I even managed an hour long walk down by the Thames today (forgot to mention that earlier!). I really am full of energy today but then again, exercise always does that for me. Also we’ve got lots to look forward to these next few months. It all starts this weekend with a super play on Saturday night and afternoon tea at the Ritz on Sunday. So I’m very excited about the Fall (oops, that’s my inner Canadian trying to get out - I mean Autumn!).

Monday, September 01, 2008

I'm Still Standing


For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated September 1st with new beginnings. When I was a child in Canada, we always went back to school on the Tuesday after Labour Day, so Labour Day itself was spent getting my new school bag ready with pens, pencils, Crayola pencil crayons and notebooks. I loved that task. There is something about the smell of fresh paper and new pencils that makes my heart soar. I still stand in the stationery aisle and covet the huge packages of Crayola crayons and pencil crayons, their myriad colours looking like a surreal rainbow on the shelves.

Of course, there is no Labour Day here in England, and it has been over twenty-five years since I have gone back to school on 2nd September. But I still get that sense of a fresh start on the first of September. It makes me want to deep clean the house, sort out my life, set goals and get moving forward. The crisp, cold autumn days I grew up with positively encourage that sort of behaviour, and even though the country I live in now tends more towards rain in the season I still secretly think of as “Fall”, I seek out coloured leaves, rejoice in the sunshine when it chooses to grace us with its presence and metaphysically sharpen my pencils ready for a new year.

I love the clothes we can wear in the autumn as well. Stacks of brightly coloured turtle neck sweaters appear in my wardrobe and smart wool blazers and furry “gilets” (which we used to call waistcoats or vests) make their way into my shopping bags. Fair skinned and prone to sunburn as I am, cooler weather suits me much of the time, and autumn provides that coolness without the icy blasts of winter. Unfortunately we get a lot of dampness with it here in England, but I try to ignore that! I thoroughly enjoy clearing out my wardrobe in preparation for the new season, finding things I’ve forgotten about hiding at the back, adding a few new pieces and clearing out the ones I’ve tired of.

This year, September means a lot to me because I really do need a new start. After the last difficult months, I’m ready for one. That said, I’m so much stronger for what we’ve been through, I feel an incredible sense of optimism. And as the clouds roll in again and block out the sunshine I was so enjoying on this autumn day, I’m not concerned. With apologies to Elton John, “I’m still standing” and I’m ready to take on the world.