Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time For The Two of You


The photo above was taken by my husband a week ago today. We went out for dinner in London after work (I had been at the Fortnum & Mason Preview Evening and he had been working in the London offices). As you can see from the expression on my face, we were having a lovely time. The weather was balmy - especially for September - and the lights strung along Heddon Street above all its restaurants and cafés made the whole place look like a fairyland. It was time for the two of us - sharing a light meal and a glass of wine - and it was wonderful.

Every marriage needs to be nurtured, and one of the ways of doing this is to spend time together just the two of you. It does not matter what you do or where you go, it’s just about being together. If money is tight, a date night does not have to involve leaving the house. One or both of you can cook a meal to share together over a glass of wine after the children are tucked up in bed, or you can just watch a DVD together curled up with a nice cup of tea. It’s about earmarking time for the two of you, and enjoying being together.

Life is so chaotic these days, I wouldn’t blame you for a moment if you thought I was crazy to suggest this. Date night? During the week? Seriously?? But yes, my husband and I try to have a date night once a week. This is the aim, you understand, not the reality. It’s more like once or twice a month if we are lucky. And back in the day when our son was little, it was more like once every three months! I remember the first date night my husband and I had after our son was born. He was about three months old and my sister-in-law babysat for us. My husband and I went to a concert at Chartwell, the former home of Winston Churchill, now owned by the National Trust. We had a picnic, listened to the music, danced and walked through the rose gardens. All I could talk about was our baby, but then my husband gently reminded me that the whole reason our baby was here was because of our marriage - and for the rest of the evening we concentrated on us.

No matter how busy your life is or what is happening in it at the moment, your marriage (or partnership) is something you really need to nurture. There is so much pressure on marriages these days! My husband and I have been married for over eighteen years (we lived together for two years before that) and one of the things we are keenly aware of is how important it is to spend time together. Even if it isn’t a huge quantity of time, it’s the quality of it that is important.

So if you haven’t had any time together in ages, do try to organise a date night just as soon as you can. It doesn’t require a lot of money. If you need a babysitter, see if you can get a friend or relative to help out - even if you are just having a meal together at home it can be nice to have the house to yourselves. If you are going out, choose an activity you both enjoy but whatever you do, enjoy yourselves and each other. Spending time together is one of the nicest ways to nurture your relationship that there is.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Windsor Festival

Every year at the end of September/beginning of October, the Windsor Festival is held. Founded in 1969, the Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Events are held all over the town, including at The Theatre Royal, St George’s Chapel and even, by kind permission of the Queen this year, in the Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle and the Chapel Royal, Windsor Great Park.

The idea of the festival at its inception was to promote quality performances of music and the arts, increase local access, encourage development of young musicians and other artists and to provide opportunities for local performers. Looking at the events being held this year, it’s apparent the organisers have stayed true to these goals. There are art exhibitions, concerts, lectures, performances and competitions, all of which are open to the public, and many of which are aimed at young people.

Last night my husband and I attended “An Evening With Sir Michael Parkinson” at the Theatre Royal. It was very entertaining indeed. The television broadcaster looked back on 45 years in the business, and spoke about many of his now famous interviews with so many people in the public eye. He talked about interviews with John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Mohammed Ali, Robert Mitchum, Madonna and Jayne Fonda among others. It was fascinating to hear his insights into both the people and their times. Nothing was off limits, not even his disastrous interview with Meg Ryan, nor the now famous interview with Rod Hull and Emu, during which Emu attacked him. He also highlighted interviews with some of those less well known, but truly influential people such as Catherine Booth Clifford and Jacob Bronowski. The most charming story was his account of when he kissed Lauren Bacall, fulfilling a boyhood dream. Many of these anecdotes were illustrated with film clips, helping to remind the audience of interviews they had watched years ago.

Sir Michael Parkinson is so personable, and has such a relaxed attitude on stage that the evening just flew by. He is likeable, funny and wise with a quick and often self-deprecating wit. It is lovely to see someone who has had such an illustrious career carrying on with so many interests. In fact, he is off on tour in Australia and New Zealand from later this week until Christmas. Not bad for someone who refers to himself as a “septuagenarian”!

It really was an excellent show, and such an enjoyable way to spend an evening. It would be lovely to have time to attend more of the events at The Windsor Festival, but it’s impossible to fit everything in these days. It certainly does have something for everyone, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s!

The Windsor Festival runs until October 4th this year.
http://www.windsorfestival.com/

Monday, September 28, 2009

Organic Boxes


I’ve long been a fan of organic fruit and vegetable boxes. Generally delivered once a week, they are chock full of produce fresh from the field. It is an easy way to ensure you are eating seasonally, and it can often be a money saver. The quality of the fruit and vegetables is usually pretty exceptional as you can see from the photograph above. Of course it all depends on your supplier, but most organic box schemes are eager to please and their product reflects that.

There are a huge number of companies in the UK that do organic box deliveries, and more and more abroad. When we lived in the Midlands, I used a company called River Nene, which was a branch of Riverford Organic Veg, but now we live down south I have been sourcing my organic boxes from Abel and Cole.

Most organic box schemes have a feature that allows you to tell them if there are any vegetables you do not like and they will replace them with something else, so you are not likely to get a whole bunch of something you cannot use. It does mean that you have to plan your meals around the contents of the box, but most companies can tell you the week before roughly what they plan to put in, so you can still plan ahead to a certain extent. I can organise my whole delivery on-line, and there are other organic products available that I can order at the same time as a one off, or place on a regular delivery. Many other box schemes operate this way as well.

For example, last week I ordered some organic Double Gloucester cheese in addition to my vegetable box. It arrived in a wonderfully environmentally friendly cool pack made from sheep’s wool.



Basically the cheese was in a bag with two re-usable ice packs. This bag was surrounded by special packs of woolcool. This is a product made (not surprisingly) from sheep’s wool and used for insulation. The cheese was icy cold when it arrived, ready to pop straight into the fridge. I’ll put the cool box, along with the box my vegetables arrived in outside for collection when my next delivery arrives. The boxes and cool packs are re-used again and again.

Often our lifestyles mean that we can’t do as much for the environment as we would like to, but even small efforts do help. Having an organic box delivered once a week is a practically effort free way of doing what you can. It is well worth considering. It usually saves me money over shop prices and the vegetables and fruit really could not be much fresher. The fact that it is delivered by a van that is delivering to lots of other people near to me means that we don’t all have to go out in our cars, and the convenience of delivery really cannot be beaten. So do consider joining an organic box scheme. It can benefit the environment, stimulate the farming economy and if you choose a good company, is a convenient, nutritious and delicious choice.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The 39 Steps


Last night we went to see The 39 Steps at The Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus. Although I have been to The Criterion Restaurant a number of times, I had never been to the theatre. It is actually downstairs, underneath the restaurant which I must admit kind of surprised me!

The first production at The Criterion opened in 1874 and the theatre has a long and illustrious history. Sir John Gielgud performed there, as did many other famous thespians. During the war, the fact that the theatre was underground made it an ideal place for safe radio broadcasts, and the BBC broadcast light entertainment programmes from the Criterion in an attempt to keep the country’s spirits up. After the war, the Criterion became a traditional theatre once again. It’s really lovely, decorated with beautiful tiled walls. It reminds me of interiors I have seen from the Art Deco period, but it was of course built long before then. The architect is said to have been going for a Louis XVI salon effect and he seems to have achieved this. Whatever the style, it is very beautiful indeed. The bars and public areas are small but perfectly formed, and the use of mirrors and tile makes a small space seem deceptively large. The stage and seating area are not huge either, so the plush red velvets used for decoration and curtains create a very intimate effect. I had the sensation of being in someone’s living room, albeit a rather grand one!

The original story of The 39 Steps is, of course, far from funny. It’s a story of pre-war espionage and a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. The production at the Criterion is a huge departure from this, and although it follows the story-line of the film fairly closely, it takes the audience along a much more humorous path. Incredibly tongue in cheek, it is performed by just four actors, three men and one woman. The play is a finely crafted stage production, with numerous scene changes all accomplished by the actors themselves. While there may only be four people on stage, there are often far more characters than that present in the scene. The actors often play more than one role at one time, and yet they still manage to be utterly convincing in their myriad roles.

The whole audience spent most of the time roaring with laughter, whilst also being amazed by the talent in front of us. The 39 Steps is a great play, particularly if you are not a keen theatre goer. It manages to be light and entertaining whilst still being an excellent technical production. It would be a good way of introducing young people to the theatre (although not too young, as parts of it could be a bit scary to small children).

The 39 Steps is at the Criterion Theatre until 13th February 2010. It is also playing in many other cities worldwide, and is actually Broadway’s longest running comedy thriller. It is even opening in Tokyo in January 2010.

There are lots of ticket deals available if your budget is tight, particularly if you are able to attend mid-week. If you live in England, check out lastminute.com by clicking here

The 39 Steps is a really entertaining show and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Taking It Easy

It’s important to give yourself a break from time to time. After all, being a housewife isn’t about doing it all, or doing it all yourself. You are allowed to take it easy on yourself once in a while.

For example, this morning, I made muffins for breakfast from a mix. No gasps of horror please - ninety percent of what comes out of my kitchen is made from scratch. I have nothing to prove and this morning I needed a break. Now I’m the first one to say that it is very easy to put the dry ingredients for homemade muffins in one bowl and the liquid ones in another the night before, pop them in the fridge and just mix them together in the morning. However last night I was really, really tired. I had a great week this week, but I was out very late a couple of nights and eventually that catches up with you. I really didn’t feel like dividing up ingredients. I felt like curling up on the sofa with my wonderful husband, watching some television and then having an early night - so I did.

This morning I made a lovely breakfast of berries grown locally in Berkshire, freshly brewed coffee and muffins hot and fresh from the oven. Yes they were made from a mix, but no, nobody minded. They were just happy to have a wonderful weekend breakfast made with love.




Incidentally, muffin mixes cost only a few pence more than making muffins from scratch, and they certainly cost less than buying them from a shop. I wouldn’t want to use them all the time, but from time to time it is absolutely fine.

Remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Give yourself a break from time to time - and have a wonderful weekend :-)

Friday, September 25, 2009

An Idea for Autumn Colour



In North America, people put wreaths on their front doors at all different times of the year, not just at Christmas. There are so many different kinds, including Easter wreaths with spring flowers, “welcome” wreaths with dried flowers and Autumn wreaths with dried and fresh harvest items. Wreaths are a great way to add a splash of colour, and they look just wonderful. It isn’t the tradition here in England though, so when I decided to get one, I knew I would have to have it made to order.

I had this gorgeous wreath made at Green Parlour in Pangbourne. It is a wonderful flower shop. My husband often buys me flowers there and they are always gorgeous. I also buy a lot of gifts there, as well as purchasing flowers for our home, so it was the first place I thought of when I decided I wanted an Autumn wreath for our front door. I was half afraid the staff might look at me a bit strangely, but of course they are far too nice for that at Green Parlour. A book was produced from the back room which had a photograph of a wreath very similar to what I wanted, helpful suggestions were proffered, and within a few minutes I had placed my order. It took a couple of weeks for the supplies to come through, but there really was no rush as Autumn was just getting underway.

This is the Green Parlour on the High Street in Pangbourne. It always looks so pretty.



There is a lovely big selection of bouquets, plants and potted flowers outside, and as you walk in the door you are greeted with a stunning selection of cut flowers, along with cute little aprons, pretty cloth bags, candles and other gifts. Every bouquet comes with a tiny handwritten tag describing the flowers in it, and plants have a similar tag with care instructions. This one came attached to a hand tied bouquet I bought this morning,



and this one to a beautiful pot of hydrangeas I bought last week.



The quality and attention to detail at Green Parlour hark back to another era of service and I really enjoy shopping there. I was so pleased when I collected the wreath this morning. It was beautifully made, and looks lovely on our front door.



The lady who served me said they had bought more supplies than they needed just for my wreath, as they have decided to start making wreaths like mine in the shop on a regular basis. I really hope we’ve started something. Wreaths are a wonderful way to make your home look bright and welcoming and I would love to see more of them. So if things are looking a bit dull around your front door, do consider investing in one. Of course, if you are talented with flowers and/or arts and crafts you could always make one yourself. All you need is a straw or moss wreath, some wire, ribbon and the dried flowers and plants to go on it. As much as I love flowers, I really am not very good at arranging or making displays with them so I tend to leave it to the professionals.

Of course we will have another wreath at Christmas, but I’m so pleased with how well this one looks on the front door, I’m already planning another one for the Spring!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Budget Friendly Re-organisation

I’ve been on a bit of a roll since last week’s revamp of my bathroom cabinet, which you can see by clicking here if you missed it. I have been gradually working my way through some of those jobs that I have been “meaning to do” - like tidying this drawer.


I just kept putting things in it, making stuff very hard to find, especially as I use a lot of the things in it every day. Yet for some reason I never found time to sort it out. My excuse was I was trying to find some nice new drawer lining paper and could not find any I like. Actually, that was not far from the truth. I find most drawer lining paper costs such a lot that it seems ridiculously extravagant, and it is also usually very highly scented, often with scents I am not all that partial to. So I got to thinking about ways that I could perhaps get round the shelf paper issue. I know my Mom used to use brown parcel wrapping paper to line shelves from time to time in the kitchen and that was very effective, but I was hoping for something slightly prettier in my makeup and skin care drawer. Then I remembered a roll of wrapping paper my husband and son had bought to wrap my birthday presents. It was very pretty would go really well with the decoration in the bedroom. So I cut a piece of it to fit the drawer-

and I was very pleased with the results! It was even better once I sorted through everything and re-organised the drawer contents. (It’s good to go through cosmetic and skin care items every six months or so and throw away the old things - particularly mascara.)

So now my drawer looks like this:

Everything is much easier to find. The best bit is, the whole exercise cost absolutely nothing as I already had the drawer lining paper (wrapping paper) on hand - but even if I had bought new it would have been a lot cheaper than lining paper. The only thing I would say is to be careful that the dye on the wrapping paper is absolutely colour-fast if you are using it to line drawers you are going to put clothes in as it would be awful if it the dye got on your clothes. Perhaps in that case I might use my Mom’s idea of parcel wrapping paper as there is no risk of dye transfer, and just put a drop of essential oil on the paper for a light scent (making sure it was dry before putting anything in the drawer).

So there it is, my drawer re-vamp on a budget. It was so easy, I can’t wait to do the rest of the drawers now!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Sparkling Occasion



One of the things I love about being The 21st Century Housewife© is that it gets me invited to some very cool places. Last night Fortnum and Mason, the iconic London department store at 181 Piccadilly, were hosting a ‘by invitation only’ Christmas Preview Evening. It was being held in their beautiful St James’s Restaurant on the fourth floor of the store. Fortnum and Mason is an amazing place at any time of the year, but at Christmas it becomes nigh on magical, so I was very pleased indeed to be invited.

Once my name had been checked off the guest list and a glass of champagne pressed into my hand, I was free to wander through the wonderful displays of ideas for Christmas 2009. Everything was beautifully organised on tables so that you could pick things up and look at them if you wished. There was an easel with a book of Christmas correspondence cards to look at, and table after table of hampers, gift ideas, delicious treats and decorations. Hampers were available at all price points, from a gorgeous little “Flavour of Afternoon Tea” hamper at £35 to the breathtaking “Windsor Hamper” at £1000. The afternoon tea hamper contained one of the cutest baby fruitcakes I have ever seen. There were also several good value hampers in a more mid-price range including the “Regal Hamper” at £100 and the “Family Christmas Hamper” at £200. These included practical products you would definitely use including wines, teas, cakes, jams and chutneys. Fortnum and Mason are also offering several wonderful hampers and boxed sets of Christmas tipples, including a Champagne Tasting Box at £110 containing four bottles of different champagnes and a Provence Box with two bottles of red wine and two of white at £40. I was also very taken with The Connoisseur Case which might sound expensive at £400, but is actually very good value as it contains a dozen bottles of excellent wines (including Gevrey-Chambertin and Pommerol), champagne and even a nine year old single malt whiskey.

There were some lovely gift ideas for those “hard to buy for” folk on your gift list including musical tins of yummy Christmas biscuits with an actual wind up music box on the bottom priced at only £9.95. You could buy a Heather Honeycomb in a Frame for under £20 or “The Window of Sides”, a luscious selection of nine sauces - from mint to Cumberland - to enjoy with your Christmas meats and cheeses - at around £35. If you were feeling slightly more extravagant there were silver and china tea sets and a Tea Presentation Box containing almost more kinds of tea than you could imagine. Witty gift ideas included a Paul Smith Union Jack design umbrella, not to mention some Beefeater and Guardsmen rubber ducks. For the ladies on your list there were limited edition Lulu Guinness purses at £65 and a myriad of gift sets containing lovely lotions and potions. You really could tick just about everyone off your gift list here, and stock your larder full of delicious Christmas provisions too!


I think my favourite thing of the evening, which really appealed to the child in me, was the beautiful Advent Calendar which you can see above. Made of wood, and painted to look just like the Fortnum and Mason store, its little doors have real wooden handles. No one could resist peeking inside. You can choose to buy it empty or full, and there are even refills available so that this beautiful calendar can be used year after year. I’d buy it full as the treats inside were so beautifully presented and included miniatures of the traditional blue Fortnum and Mason boxes filled with sweets.

As I meandered through the displays, I was offered canapes by waiters and waitresses wandering amongst the guests. I tasted baby scones, mouth-watering fudge and melt in the mouth shortbread flavoured with rose water. Later on I was offered more savoury things such as huge stuffed olives and tiny oat biscuits flavoured with herbs. All of the foods being offered were part of the Christmas range. My glass was constantly kept full; many thanks to the kind people at Fortnum and Mason for their generous hospitality.

I am almost certain I could complete virtually all my Christmas shopping at Fortnum and Mason and I have planned a return visit very soon. They do offer internet shopping, but I would encourage you to go along in person if you live anywhere near London or happen to find yourself there! The store is so beautiful and they have so much on offer for the festive season (and every other season for that matter!) it is well worth a visit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Champagne and Sausages


Thanks to my husband, we had something special to celebrate last night. He’s a very dedicated man and an incredibly hard worker, and when he reaps the rewards of that I like to make a big deal of it. He is quick to celebrate my successes and I want to be just as quick to celebrate his.

Having said that, I’m a real planner and not the most spontaneous of souls, so was reluctant to depart from my planned menu for the evening -sausages and mash. So, in the spirit of being flexible and spontaneous, I decided that just because sausages and mash is not the most elegant of dinners, it was nothing that could not be dressed up with a little bit of bubbly.

I always keep good champagne in the fridge. I’m one of those people who likes to find things to celebrate - and not just because I love champagne! I don’t like the idea of waiting for something huge just to have a celebration. There is lots to celebrate in life; you just have to look out for it. One of the ways we do this in our family is to celebrate every success, however big or small. Interestingly enough, celebrating the little things seems to bring more to celebrate into our lives!

Now I am sure there are some gourmets out there who are cringing as they read this but I have to say, I have yet to find a meal champagne does not compliment. Not only that, but champagne is not the sort of thing that keeps well, and you don’t want to waste it by just having a couple of glasses and leaving the rest of the bottle to go flat. (Despite many attempts, I have never got that silver spoon in the neck of the bottle thing to work - the champagne always loses its fizz.) Furthermore, you don’t want to be drinking both wine and champagne of an evening on a regular basis because it really would not be good for you. So why not open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate and then serve it alongside dinner as well? It really is a lovely treat.

And if the recession has you in its grip and champagne is not really an option, may I suggest a lovely Italian wine called Prosecco? There are many different brands and it really is extremely delicious but about a quarter the price of good champagne. Any bubbles are celebratory; it really does not matter how expensive they are or what the labels says. I’d never complain if I was served a glass of Prosecco, that is for sure!

But last night, it was champagne and sausages to celebrate a wonderful man, a great provider and a super person. He’s a great dad to our son, and a wonderful husband to me - someone loves me through thick and thin, and who buys me flowers for no reason at all. I’m so very grateful to have such a lovely man in my life. He gives me something to celebrate every day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Copyright

I’ve mentioned this before, but it really frustrates me when people violate copyright law. I own the copyright to 21st Century Housewife© and it is clearly posted as below on both this site and on www.recipesfromthe21stcenturyhousewife.blogspot.com-
©April Harris
2003 - 2009
All Rights Reserved
April Harris has asserted her right under the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as the author of the work contained on this website and to be identified as The 21st Century Housewife.
 
My website www.21stcenturyhousewife.com has been up and running since 2003, and that is when I registered the copyright. I also own the trade mark on the front page of the site.

All these are registered under international law and using the name 21st Century Housewife is a violation of that. Anyone can be a 21st Century Housewife, by virtue of being a housewife in the 21st century - but I am THE 21st Century Housewife©.

Copyright infringement is not nice. It’s like copying in school, or trying to steal someone’s identity, and it is very unkind, unethical and furthermore, it is illegal.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Beating the Recession the Delicious Way



Autumn is such a bountiful season. How wonderful that even in this time of recession and economic downturn, we can still rejoice in an amazing harvest. Of course one of the best ways to fight the recession is to eat seasonally and buy locally. It’s environmentally friendly plus it helps small businesses and farmers during these difficult times. It’s also a fantastically delicious and healthy option, as freshly picked fruit and vegetables taste so much better and retain more of their vitamins than those that have been kept in cold storage for weeks on end by large supermarket chains.

Today my husband and I drove out into the Berkshire countryside to visit Cross Lanes Fruit Farm*. They grow apples, pears and plums there. I originally discovered their yummy produce at the local monthly farmer’s market in Purley-on-Thames, sampling some of their Worcester Permain and Ellisons Orange variety apples. Cross Farm also runs a shop at the farm Wednesday to Saturday between August and January.

I was struck by how beautiful the orchards were as we drove in through the narrow gates. It was a pretty cloudy day, but the apples stood out proudly against the stormy skies. There was so much on offer in the shop. They had several varieties of apples and pears, along with two kinds of apple juice and local honey. We bought more Ellisons Orange apples along with some James Grieve apples and sweet and juicy Onward pears (onward to what, I wonder?). Actually the apples and pears you will find available locally do have wonderful names. Of course they vary from place to place and country to country, but some of them sound almost as intriguing as they taste. When I was a child in Canada my favourite apple was “Northern Spy”; it sounded very exotic indeed to my childlike ears. Today, some of my favourite apple names include Greensleeves, Delbarestivale, St Edmond’s Russet, Peasegood Nonsuch and Red Devil. As for pears, there’s a lot more than just Conference out there - you can find Packham’s Triumph, Beurre Hardy and Glou Morceau.

Most places do have farm shops relatively nearby, and if you live in the centre of a town what better excuse for a day out in the country than an excursion to a lovely farm or two? It’s a great day out with kids as well - especially in this day and age where so many children have little opportunity to see where fruit and vegetables really come from. They love to see things actually growing, and in my experience, it makes reluctant eaters much less so. There is something about seeing a thing growing that makes it so much more exciting to eat. Another option is to search the internet for local farmer’s markets, as fresh produce is on offer there, and it is usually only a day or so from the tree or field. In many cases things are much less expensive than in larger shops too.

So for the healthy, delicious option, explore shopping locally as an alternative to the big supermarkets. It might take a bit more time and effort, but when you can manage it, the rewards are well worth it. Money saved, fresher, extra delicious food, saving the planet and helping local producers - it’s a great way to benefit yourself and lots of other people at the same time - and have some fun into the bargain!



*Cross Lanes Fruit Farm
Mapledurham, Reading
RG4 7UW

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Inspiration from The Lettered Cottage


A few months ago I stumbled on a wonderful blog called The Lettered Cottage by a lady named Layla Palmer. She and her husband Kevin are renovating their home, a cottage in the United States. What Layla and Kevin have accomplished in their home (often on a tiny budget) is just amazing and the blog is utterly inspirational.

The photograph above is from a post from back in August about their entertainment unit (which you can see by clicking here). I read it then and thought how beautiful it was, but did not think much about it again until the other day. You see, we have some white hardwood units in our en-suite bathroom. One had been around for a while, but the other one was new - bought because the first little guy wasn’t big enough. Unfortunately, I just could not get my head round organising them and they both looked something like this.



Now I could shut the door on that unit, but the taller one had open shelves (I’m not even going to post a photograph of those!) and I was utterly stuck as to how to make the whole thing as functional as possible but also really pleasing to the eye. Although it was just the master bedroom en-suite bathroom and not a room a lot of other folks come into, every time I walked into it the messy shelves made me cringe with embarrassment. It was definitely not the sort of thing you want to look at while having a relaxing bath.

Finally, the other morning, I remembered Layla’s post about her entertainment unit. Surely if she could use baskets like that, so could I. There was hope at last! So I ordered some water hyacinth woven baskets like this to fit the units...



...and I got to work.

A few hours later and violà! My cabinets looked like this: -



I’m sorry it isn't the best photo, but I had to stand in the bathtub to get these as it was! There are baskets on the shelves inside the sections with doors as well as on the visible shelves. Now there is a place for everything and everything has its place, plus I’ve had room for some fun stuff. The china dish of shells on the second shelf from the top contains happy memories from beaches all over the world, and the dish itself is from Keswick, in the English Lake District. I bought it on a family holiday with friends about ten years ago. The jar on the left of the top shelf originally held bath salts bought on a day out with my Mom when I was a little girl. I remember being so excited by the pretty jar with the sea blue crystals of bath salt in it. When it was empty we couldn’t bear to part with it so we washed it out and began using it to store cotton balls, a purpose for which we have used it ever since. It reminds me of my lovely Mom whenever I look at it.

Now, thanks to Layla’s inspiration, a room that was making me cringe is one that makes me smile.

I highly recommend a visit to Layla and Kevin’s wonderful Lettered Cottage. They also have two other sites, Lettered Cottage Home and Lettered Cottage Art where there are products available to help you bring a little bit of The Lettered Cottage to your own home. I’ve never ordered anything from them because I live in England, but I drool over the Lettered Cottage Home site regularly! If you really want The Lettered Cottage experience, Layla also does design consultations. Do pop along for a visit - even if you are not into decorating, it’s a great read!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Happily Ever After

I have just finished reading “The Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger. I felt compelled to finish it this afternoon. You see, it had become apparent to me over the last few days that there was a pretty big chance I was not going to like the ending. However, the book was far too interesting and I had read far too much to abandon it, so it sat on my night table, kind of haunting me every time I went into the bedroom. I really needed to get it over with, so just before lunch I sat down and read the last hundred or so pages in one sitting.

I can’t bear endings that are not a hundred percent happy. I feel compelled at this point to say that The Time Traveller’s Wife is an excellent book, extremely well written and I don’t mean to criticise the author in any way. In fact, she should be praised! After all, there is no rule that you have to write happy endings. In fact (I’ll word this carefully so as not to give the game away), you could argue that the ending of The Time Traveller’s Wife is a happy one - certainly the last few pages of the book are lovely. But a hundred percent happy it is not, and as such, it seemed at first that it did not work for me. You see, over the last few years I have tried to only read books that I am pretty sure are going to have happy endings.

I know I am not alone in this because recently I was with a group of ladies and we were discussing this very thing. This was sparked by a friend’s confession that she only liked books with happy endings. It was a lively discussion and we found that as a group we were pretty much split down the middle. Half of us really wanted happy endings, and the other half was not concerned whether the ending was happy or not as long as it was a good story. The exception was one lady who said that she felt cheated by happy endings because real life was rarely like that and it seemed a really “Hollywood” thing to do. And it was her who made me realise why I keep trying to avoid books and films with less than perfect endings.

Just like most people, I really hate feeling unhappy. By avoiding sad endings even in fiction, I was trying to protect myself from feeling upset by controlling my environment. But controlling our environment is something that none of us is really able to do. We may try, but in the end, we are not in control of very much beyond how we carry ourselves through life and how we handle everything - both good times and bad - stories with happy endings and those without. All our experiences and how we handle them shape who we are and who we become. The worst experiences in my life have shaped me as much as - and sometimes even more than - the wonderful ones. Maybe all the books I read don’t have to have happy endings after all.

The Time Traveller’s Wife is a fascinating story and a really wonderful read. Not only that, but it appears to have taught me something rather valuable as well. It is available at most book stores, and of course, the film is out in cinemas now too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Future is Now

This morning our son started Sixth Form College. In the United Kingdom, secondary school finishes at age 16 with GCSE exams in Year 11. Years 12 and 13 are referred to as Sixth Form. Because not everyone attends sixth form (you have to get good marks in your GCSE exams in order to be able to do so), young people of our son’s age are considered virtually adults in British society.

I always take a photo on the first day of school, and I fail to see why the first day of college should be any different so I took a photo as our son left the house with my husband this morning. (I’d post it here, but I can hear the “oh mum...” already!) I have old photos of my son with me, my husband, and in a couple cases, my Dad, when my parents visited us from Canada in Septembers long ago - one for each first day of school. As I stood there this morning, taking the photograph, the memories of those days long gone tugged me backwards into the past - back to all those first days. Were they really so long ago? But then the real events of the morning pulled me sharply forwards into the now, as we laughed and joked as they left the house.

Later, I called my husband just to make sure all was well. He was talking to his dad and his sister at the time (about how his mum is getting on - she had an operation yesterday) and he patched my call into theirs, so the four of us were chatting. Then our son rang my husband, and he patched him into our call as well. So it was me at home, my husband on the train heading for Paddington, our son at Twyford, and my in-laws in Kent, all of us on iPhones, talking to each other almost as if we were in the same room. It was like something out of The Jetson’s, a cartoon about life in the future I used to watch when I was a kid. I used to imagine what the future would be like back then, and now I’m living it. I carry a phone in my handbag that play music and video, holds my contacts and calendar, takes pictures and allows me to have conference calls, amongst a myriad of other things. Video calls are an everyday reality, both on mobile phones and computers. Not so long ago, the phone alone was really big and heavy, conference calls required the help of an operator, and our son was a baby.

Today all that has changed. It’s a very different world from the one our son was born into, and of course he is different too. So am I, and so is everything. We live in a different place, we have a different life - my parents are gone, and so are the cats who brushed round our son’s ankles as I took the first “first day of school” picture so long ago. Everything moves on, everything changes. Some of it, like watching our son grow up and moving forward with our lives, has been wonderful. We’ve had some great adventures. Some of it has been heartbreaking. But none of that matters now. All that matters now is this moment - and the future to come.

In the words of the song written by Neil Diamond, Tom Hensley and Alan Lindgren when I was about the age my son is today - “C’mon, c’mon...we’re going to build a new dream....We’re heading for the future, and the future is now.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Opening Night


Wednesday night was the opening night of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at The Theatre Royal, Haymarket starring Anna Friel and Joseph Cross. It was the evening’s hot ticket, and we were invited.

It was a really interesting production - very different from the film and sadly, without a very happy ending. However the acting was extremely good, the sets wonderful and Holly Golightly’s costumes were just beautiful. This version of the story was a bit more jaded - there is no doubt as to Holly’s profession, whereas Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal in the film left it a bit more ambiguous. Then again, the film was made in the early sixties, when that kind of profession still was not openly discussed. The stage production is very much a different story for a different era.

I couldn’t say that I loved it. My son was not keen at all to be honest, despite a very open mind and a great love of the theatre. I thought that on many levels it was very good - perhaps not for diehard fans of the film - but it was entertaining and thought provoking. As to whether Truman Capote would approve, we’ll never know. Having said that, I understand he felt the film had been “toned down” too much to appeal to mass audiences, so perhaps he would have liked this version.

On the whole, I thought it was good, and certainly the acting was superb - so while it wasn’t what I expected, I am very glad to have had the opportunity to attend.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Back to School

It’s that time of year again - back to school. I was one of those kids who used to love going back to school. I got really excited about it. There was something about the fresh notebooks, the smell of paper and having brand new pencil crayons that really did it for me. It’s been a long time since I was in school, but I still find the beginning of September exciting. It always feels like a new start. I love the way the seasons change, with the leaves turning colour and the air getting crisper, but also how summer pops back for a visit every once in a while in those unexpected hot and sunny days of Indian summer. Coming from North America, I still think of Autumn as Fall, although I rarely call it that as people in England can get quite touchy about the use of that word. I don’t know why it evokes such passion, especially as one theory is that the British originally used a word similar to Fall in old English. It was “faellen” because of the fall of the leaves and they used it to mean “Autumn”. However, apparently later on we were influenced by the French and their word “Automne” and began to use an anglicised version of it - “Autumn” - instead. Whatever it is called though, it is one of my favourite seasons.

This is a very different back to school year for me as my son is now headed for Sixth Form College, where he will be doing AS and A Level studies before heading to university. For the first time in over ten years, there is no “first day of school” - it is the first day of college, and there will never be a first day of “school” again. Where did that time go? I remember my son’s first day of school as if it were yesterday. Unlike a lot of the other mums, I was not sad; I was excited because it was a new chapter in my son’s life and also in mine. I feel excited like that now too, but I’m a bit nervous as well. Now my son is at college, it’s time to reinvent myself and my role as a 21st Century Housewife, and reinvention is always a challenge, albeit an exciting one. Watch this space!

This time of year really does bring back memories. I remember my own first day of school as if it were yesterday too, walking to school with my Mom the first day of Kindergarten. I remember how it felt to walk down the street holding her hand. We’d swing our arms, and laugh and sing. I miss my Mom a lot, especially at times like these.

I’ve forgotten my teacher’s name, but I remember I liked her. She was pretty and kind, and made school seem like a fun place to be. I also remember that she was a fast runner. One of my fellow Kindergarten attendees did not like the idea of school at all, and ran away, rushing off down the street to go home. She shot off down the street after him, and brought him back (sadly kicking and screaming, but he was persuaded to settle down eventually). Aside from all the excitement, that day was the beginning of a love affair with learning for me. I still enjoy learning new things, and the excitement of discovering something new is even more wonderful than it was all those years ago.

This time of year is still a time I really enjoy, even if I have no plans to go back to school myself. The natural world may be slowing down, but in so many ways this time of year is a new beginning. So try not to mourn the ending of summer - instead go on and enjoy this new season of fresh starts - we all need one of those from time to time. And if one of your little ones is starting school for the first time this year, cherish the day they do in your heart - even if it is tinged with sadness. With a bit of luck in years to come they will remember their first day of school as well and as fondly as I do!

Back to School

It’s that time of year again - back to school. I was one of those kids who used to love going back to school. I got really excited about it. There was something about the fresh notebooks, the smell of paper and having brand new pencil crayons that really did it for me. It’s been a long time since I was in school, but I still find the beginning of September exciting. It always feels like a new start. I love the way the seasons change, with the leaves turning colour and the air getting crisper, but also how summer pops back for a visit every once in a while in those unexpected hot and sunny days of Indian summer. Coming from North America, I still think of Autumn as Fall, although I rarely call it that as people in England can get quite touchy about the use of that word. I don’t know why it evokes such passion, especially as one theory is that the British originally used a word similar to Fall in old English. It was “faellen” because of the fall of the leaves and they used it to mean “Autumn”. However, apparently later on we were influenced by the French and their word “Automne” and began to use an anglicised version of it - “Autumn” - instead. Whatever it is called though, it is one of my favourite seasons.

This is a very different back to school year for me as my son is now headed for Sixth Form College, where he will be doing AS and A Level studies before heading to university. For the first time in over ten years, there is no “first day of school” - it is the first day of college, and there will never be a first day of “school” again. Where did that time go? I remember my son’s first day of school as if it were yesterday. Unlike a lot of the other mums, I was not sad; I was excited because it was a new chapter in my son’s life and also in mine. I feel excited like that now too, but I’m a bit nervous as well. Now my son is at college, it’s time to reinvent myself and my role as a 21st Century Housewife, and reinvention is always a challenge, albeit an exciting one. Watch this space!

This time of year really does bring back memories. I remember my own first day of school as if it were yesterday too, walking to school with my Mom the first day of Kindergarten. I remember how it felt to walk down the street holding her hand. We’d swing our arms, and laugh and sing. I miss my Mom a lot, especially at times like these.

I’ve forgotten my teacher’s name, but I remember I liked her. She was pretty and kind, and made school seem like a fun place to be. I also remember that she was a fast runner. One of my fellow Kindergarten attendees did not like the idea of school at all, and ran away, rushing off down the street to go home. She shot off down the street after him, and brought him back (sadly kicking and screaming, but he was persuaded to settle down eventually). Aside from all the excitement, that day was the beginning of a love affair with learning for me. I still enjoy learning new things, and the excitement of discovering something new is even more wonderful than it was all those years ago.

This time of year is still a time I really enjoy, even if I have no plans to go back to school myself. The natural world may be slowing down, but in so many ways this time of year is a new beginning. So try not to mourn the ending of summer - instead go on and enjoy this new season of fresh starts - we all need one of those from time to time. And if one of your little ones is starting school for the first time this year, cherish the day they do in your heart - even if it is tinged with sadness. With a bit of luck in years to come they will remember their first day of school as well and as fondly as I do!

Friday, September 04, 2009

An Afternoon in Henley-on-Thames




On Tuesday, it was enrolment day at my son’s college, so I dropped him off, and then spent a few hours wandering through the very pleasant little town of Henley-on-Thames. I wrote a blog entry about Henley in June (to read it, please click here) and said how much I was looking forward to going back to explore some more. It’s taken me all this time to get there, and it is only about a half hour’s drive away. Having said that, it has been a really busy summer!

Located on the banks of the Thames and just on the edge of the Chiltern Hills in Oxfordshire, Henley is full of beautiful scenery and architecture. The gardens are absolutely gorgeous (in fact Henley just won a Britain in Bloom award for the third year running) and I have yet to find a bit of Henley that is not just a little bit pretty - even the car parks have flowers in them!

It’s been a while since I wandered round anywhere on my own. I tend to seek out company most times, and recently any time I am on my own I seem to be rushing somewhere or other. So it was a refreshing thing to stroll down the High Street and along many little side streets, going into some of the very intriguing shops. There is not much you can’t find in Henley - from cookware to designer dresses, artisanal jewellery to art, there really is something for everyone. It is not often I go shopping without an express purpose in mind, so it was a real pleasure just to wander, trying on the odd thing here and there, but just really window shopping and browsing more than anything. If you get worn out, there are lots of places to stop for a coffee and a bit of refreshment - of course there is the ubiquitous Starbucks but there are also some very quaint little tea rooms.

At the end of the High Street you come to a very large bridge across the Thames and the view is quite stunning. I was lucky the weather was fine, and really enjoyed just standing and taking in the scenery.

Henley is more than just a pretty face. I’ve never known a small town to have so many festivals and things to do. There is the Henley Youth Festival in March, the Henley Food Festival in May and the Henley Regatta in July, followed by the Henley Festival of Music and the Arts. Later in July the Henley Show showcases agriculture and horticulture. There was an 80’s rewind music festival in August this year; performers included Kim Wilde, Belinda Carlisle, Rick Astley, Bananarama, Billy Ocean, Paul Young, ABC and Sister Sledge to name but a few. Every year in October much of the publishing world and keen readers alike attend the Henley Literary Festival. The Thames is a huge part of the life and culture of Henley, and rowing figures very prominently in the life of the town. There is even a River and Rowing Museum. If you are a fan of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, there is a permanent display about it at the museum.

It’s no wonder house prices in Henley are higher than in the surrounding areas; it really is a gorgeous little jewel on the edge of the Chilterns. Having said that, I love where I live, but Henley sure is a wonderful place to visit.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Catching Up, Slowing Down and The First and Last Picnic of Summer


It may seem a bit of an oxymoron to mention “catching up” and “slowing down” in the same title, but that is what we spent this weekend doing - catching up with friends and relaxing. Okay, I did not really slow down that much myself in view of the fact I was doing quite a lot of cooking and catering, but for me it was slower than normal, and a heck of a lot more relaxed.

It was a Bank Holiday weekend in England, meaning that most everyone gets the Monday off work. This generally means that the weather is awful and everyone moans about how it’s never nice on a Bank Holiday weekend. This time, we had a bit of everything, nice weather and not-so-nice weather, but on Saturday it was gorgeous. Warm and sunny, it was perfect picnic weather.

We have had a pretty busy summer, and have not managed much visiting up until the last couple weeks, nor have we managed to have a picnic - not even once. This might not sound like a big deal, but summer and picnics are synonymous in England, even though our weather is often less than picnic-friendly. It’s practically un-patriotic not to have one. So when the weather was fine on Saturday, and my suggestion of a walk was met with enthusiasm, I decided this was the perfect time for the first and last picnic of the summer.

I say last picnic of summer as well because although summer does not officially end until the Autumnal equinox on the 22nd or 23rd of September, for me summer ends on 31st August. I think it is because Labour Day is celebrated in North America on the first Monday in September and when I was a kid, school used to start the Tuesday after Labour Day. This always marked the end of summer for me. Now, living in a country where there is no “Labour Day”, my personal calendar seems to have moved the end of summer to the last British Holiday Monday of the summer - which fell on Monday.

We walked all the way to Pangbourne Meadow along the Thames Path, a distance of about three miles. The time went fast because we chatted as we walked, and we did not have much to carry except the food, having sent the picnic supplies along earlier by car. When we arrived in the meadow, we found it really quiet. The Reading Festival was being held so it seems almost everyone was there. It is one of the largest annual music festivals held in England next to Glastonbury so it seems everyone was there. This meant the meadow was lovely and quiet, and it was very easy to find a place to picnic.

The weather was glorious and we sat enjoying it, the food, and each other’s company until Autumn began to remind us it was approaching with cool breezes that began to blow in off the Thames. It was a wonderful afternoon, and reminded me once again of the joys of catching up and slowing down!