Thursday, July 30, 2009

Staggering Misconceptions

After a fantastic weekend with my cousins, we drove back to Niagara Falls, spending another night at the Sheraton enjoying a spectacular view. We headed off to New York City on Tuesday morning, and eight hours later we were back in one of my favourite cities in the world. Breakfast in Niagara, dinner in Times Square - who ever would have thought I could say I had done that?!

We had lots of plans for sightseeing over the next couple days. We decided to go on a bus tour of New York today - the kind we have taken in Savannah and Boston on trolleys, the sort that give you an idea of the layout of the city, and where you might like to head back to. We wanted a hop on hop off tour - so that we could stop if we wanted. There is no shortage of choice, and if you walk through Times Square you will be accosted on all sides by people on commission offering any number of tours as you walk through there. In fact, when I put one of the chaps off, saying we wanted to think about it and we were just off to have a coffee, we found him waiting for us when we left Starbucks. I did not choose his tour.

In the end, it was the Grey Line tour we chose, and I was surprised to find it less expensive than the ones I had taken in before. We had a great time in the morning, touring round the downtown area, through Soho and Greenwich Village. We got off at Ground Zero, and I was thrilled to see how they are coming along with rebuilding (sensitively) a site that holds so much emotion. Watching it rise again will be a real pleasure, a testament to the fact that hope, faith and tenacity will always triumph over evil.

Eventually we found ourselves at the South Street Seaport, and decided to hop off there. And it was there that I had my very first New York hotdog. Being the sort of (obsessive compulsive) person I am - hot dogs from a road side stand hold little appeal. But I had heard that New York hotdogs were something very special - and indeed they were! For $2 each we had a delicious lunch - a hotdog that was definitely the very best I have ever tasted.

The South Street Seaport has quite a lot to offer, and there was a lot to see . I was also tempted by one of my favourite ladies’ wear shops and dragged my husband and son in to have a look. Sadly I found nothing, and as we went to leave, the crush of people by the doors told us that it was definitely raining - so hard that you really could not even think of going outside.

After some time (and lots of thunder and lightening) we rushed back to the first bus on our tour we could find. We were so grateful to be warm and dry we did not question where it was going. Somehow we had “hopped on” to a bus on the Brooklyn leg of the tour, but by the time I realised it was far too late. Brooklyn? Did I really want to go there?
I have to confess, I always wondered how Victoria and David Beckham could possibly have said their son was conceived there. I grew up being told it was not the place to go.

Well, it was a delightful surprise. I had obviously taken my impressions of Brooklyn from people who had never, ever been there. There is a Botanical garden in Brooklyn, with twelve hundred varieties of roses and sixteen varieties of magnolia trees, among other things. Their public library is more beautiful than any I have seen in England (as are most public libraries in America) and they have an avenue of trees and grass that rivals any I have seen in Paris. At the gates of Prospect Park, you will find a very close second to the Arc de Triomphe, a memorial to those lost in the Civil War, who won the war for the Union. Gates reminding me of those in Green Park in London flank the entrance. There is so much more to Brooklyn than I ever imagined.

How many other places in the world do I have misconceptions about? As we returned to the familiarity of Manhattan, I reflected on how a sudden rainstorm took me right out of my comfort zone and into a place I was incredibly mistaken about. I’m really glad it did - and I’m thrilled to say I hope I find myself back in Brooklyn again very soon!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Wonderful Weekend

I spent this weekend with my cousin and her family in Southern Ontario. (Unfortunately we forgot to take group photos until the last day - when my cousin’s husband had to go to work so he is missing from this photo which is a real shame.)

On Saturday my cousins invited lots of other family to come and visit and we had a wonderful time visiting with everyone. We were celebrating some family birthdays, including my Aunt’s 79th and my Uncle’s 84th.

We spent the rest of the weekend just relaxing, going to the beautiful beach near their home and visiting. It was wonderful. On Monday morning before we left we went for the neighborhood walk - most days lots of folks from the neighborhood get together to walk their dogs - and I got to meet a lot of the people my cousin talks about regularly. We were able to “put names to faces” as one of the ladies said - and they got to to the same with us. We also got to meet their very cute dogs.

Our visit with my cousins was one of the highlights of our holiday We all get along so well, and my cousins are so hospitable. My cousin Esther is also a wonderful cook - and she bakes beautiful cakes - so we were treated to some very delicious meals. It was so lovely to be able to spend time with people we are so fond of - and to be able to relax and just be ourselves.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nineteenth Century Housewives

Yesterday we visited the Erland Lee Museum in Stoney Creek. It’s the home of a settler who did very well for himself, with artifacts from the 1850’s onwards. He was also instrumental in the advancement of women . You see, this is the house where the Women’s Institute was born.

Now I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Women’s Institute. However I do have a tremendous interest in their history, not least of all because they were one of the things that changed the lives of women, and housewives in particular, all those years ago.

You see, back in the day, a lot of housewives really did not know much about homemaking, looking after children or hygiene. Many of those who lived in rural areas had little or no education. One of these ladies was named Adelaide Hoodless. Adelaide was devastated when her baby son died, and even more devastated when it transpired that the reason for his death was that (unable to nurse him herself) she had fed him on unpasturised milk. Adelaide decided not to wallow in self pity, but rather to make it her life’s work to try to educate other rural women against making this same mistake. One day, she was speaking at a conference attended by Erland Lee. He was a broad minded man, and Mrs Hoodless’ story caught his attention. He invited her to speak in Stoney Creek, at a meeting also attended by his wife.

On hearing Mrs Hoodless speak, Erland’s wife Janet got the idea to form a society to help educate and support women. Together with her husband, she decided to invite friends, neighbours and associates to a meeting with the idea of forming just such a society. On February 19th, 1897, the Women’s Institute was born in the Lee’s dining room. It’s primary purpose was to inform, educate and inspire women - almost all of whom in those days were housewives. From its early days, when basic skills like soap making, basic hygiene and care of children were taught, the Women’s Institute evolved to teach its members about the arts, sciences and music. Many people may not know this, but it was from these early beginnings in Ontario that the world-wide women’s institute was born. Today, when most women are already educated, most meetings of the Women’s Institute may be a far cry from the originals, but as I understand it, most feature a guest speaker, to educate and inspire.

As housewives in the 21st century, we have so many more advantages than nineteenth century housewives. Although society today may try to categorise us, look down or impose stereotypes on us, at least we do not have to content with the challenges those ladies did. However it is inspiring to look back and see how women working together could improve their own lives, their position in society and how they were seen in the world.

Housewives today can do the same thing, by giving themselves credit for what they do, allowing themselves to develop within their roles and broadening their horizons wherever they can. We too can improve how society perceives us and our role by empowering ourselves, moving forward joyfully and celebrating twenty-first century housewifery for the valuable career that it is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Niagara Falls and Remembering My Family

We had a lovely evening in Niagara last night. We ordered room service and had dinner in our suite overlooking the falls. They set up a table in front of our window, and the three of us ate by candlelight. The view was just incredible. Later on there were fireworks over the falls - it was really something seeing them from that high up. It’s a totally different perspective on the 31st floor!

It was a very rainy night last night - in fact as we went to sleep we were watching lightening over the falls. It was awesome, and a tiny bit scary... It was still rainy this morning so we decided to get out of town for a bit, and made an unscheduled journey to Stoney Creek, where my Mom grew up. It was really lovely to go back, although it had been so long since I had been there I had trouble finding everything. Eventually we located the house my Mom grew up in, the church where she got married, and even where my Grandpa used to live when I was growing up. I could not find the cemetery the family graves are in though so went into the Donald V Brown funeral home, where I remembered many family funerals had been held. The man there was so nice; he looked up the details for us and sent us off in the right direction. It was good to go back, and also to show my son where some of his ancestors and also family he remembers are laid to rest. I wish we had brought flowers, but I had not planned our journey at all and by the time we found the cemetery it was too late to get any. In the end, my son decided to evoke the ancient tradition* of placing a coin on a grave to mark our visit, and I nearly burst into tears as he placed a shiny pound coin - Queen’s head up - on one of the graves to acknowledge them all. He chose the grave of my Grandma, who died wanting visit England just one last time - so the pound coin seemed strangely appropriate. I still wish I’d had flowers, but in the end, I think she - and indeed all my family buried there - would have been pleased with all the love contained in my son’s gesture. I felt really sad afterwards, but also somehow comforted. (This custom stems back to ancient pagan traditions, but has evolved in many cultures as a way of remembering the deceased, of saying you have been there and as a mark of esteem, also of saying that they are loved and remembered. )

We finished off our afternoon by going to the Stoney Creek Dairy where my Mom used to work in the 1940’s. It is famous for its ice cream - and has been serving customers in the same location since 1929. Mom was with me the last time I went there - we each had an ice cream cone - I remember mine was Raspberry Ripple. I miss my Mom so much. It was nice to remember her by enjoying an ice cream in that same evocative place - but despite the fact I was in wonderful company, I do wish she had been there as well to share it with me!

We got back to Niagara late in the afternoon, and as we arrived, the sky cleared and the sun came out. We were very grateful, and decided to go on the Maid of the Mist, the boats that sail into the mist of the American Falls and also the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. My husband and I have taken this trip before, but our son never had. We had such fun on this very wet adventure - and what a view of the falls we had! It always inspires such awe to look at them from the bottom - all that water pouring over the edge! You do get incredibly wet - but it is part of the adventure and despite how scary it all sounds, at no point was I ever afraid (and I scare easily!).

Dinner tonight was at the Outback Steakhouse. I do enjoy their food. We eat so well on holiday I know I shall have to work very hard when I get back home! All my clothes still fit as they did when we left for our holiday, and I am walking as much as I can, but I am eating much more than I normally do. I’m enjoying every bite though!

Tomorrow we leave the Falls and head off to my home town of Kitchener. Time is so short this visit we are only there for one night, for dinner with an old friend and her family. I’m sad to miss seeing my other friends, but we are on a tight schedule this visit, despite being on holiday! Then we are heading off to Sarnia to visit with family for the weekend which we are really looking forward to as well. After that we head back into the US. Tomorrow marks the half way point of our holiday - where does the time go? It sure does fly when you are having fun.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From Boston to Niagara

I had yet another lobster roll for lunch yesterday. This time it was back at Legal’s by the harbour. They are just so delicious! It was the first time ever I’ve had lobster three meals in a row - excluding breakfast of course!!

We had another great day sightseeing in Boston, although it was a little wet yesterday. We got a second day ticket on the Old Town Trolley tour which made it easy to get around. We also went to see the USS Constitution, the oldest American warship still afloat. We felt a tad conspicuous being British at that exhibit...

Despite the rain, we had a nice time walking round and visiting the sites. Most of Boston is absolutely lovely and I’d definitely like to go back. In the early evening my husband and I wandered out to the patriots graveyard across the road from the hotel, and saw the graves of several famous folk, including Paul Revere.

We enjoyed our meal at Cheers so much on Sunday that we decided to return last night. It is a really fun place to go, and once again the food was just wonderful. I had a delicious tuna melt, my husband had the Cheers cheeseburger and my son had the Norm burger. It’s a rather large burger and they gave him a certificate for finishing it! We had a couple of beers and a really good laugh. It was a great way to finish off our last full day in Boston.

It was a very early start this morning, and after another lovely breakfast at our hotel we set off for Niagara Falls. (I was really impressed with our hotel, the Nine Zero on Tremont Street. I highly recommend it. ) It’s a long drive to Niagara Falls from Boston - almost 500 miles so a good eight hour run with stops. We enjoyed it though, my husband and I sharing the driving and making sure we stopped frequently enough to avoid it becoming tedious. It was a good day for a drive, warm but not too hot and only a little bit of rain from time to time.

We crossed the border at the Rainbow Bridge around five o’clock and were settled into our hotel by six. We are in a wonderful suite overlooking Niagara Falls - on the very top floor of the hotel. It is something I’ve always wanted to do, and in the spirit of carpe diem (seize the day) we decided to finally do it. The rooms have floor to ceiling windows and the view is unparallelled. We can see both the Canadian and the American Falls and off for miles in the distance. We’ll be sightseeing in Niagara tomorrow (it’s a brief visit on our whirlwind round trip tour) although I plan to spend as much time as possible enjoying our amazing view!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sightseeing in Boston

My son and I had never been to Boston, and my husband had not been in over twenty years, so we decided that the best first step was to take a city tour. City tours can be a bit hit and miss. Some are wonderful; others not so much. We decided to take the Old Town Trolley Tours because we had used them last year in Savannah and they were very good. It was a great way to get around, and we are really getting a good feel for how the city is laid out. It’s a “hop on hop off” tour so you can get on and off the trolley whenever you like, and pick up another one later. We stopped at the Harbour, where we had delicious lobster for lunch at Legal’s. We sat outside and it was just lovely. From there we went on to visit Copley Square and the beautiful Trinity Church. Then it was on to Newbury Street, the fashionable shopping and eating area. It’s full of little cafés, so we stopped for coffee, and were joined by this little fellow.

He was such a cutie, and at one point he even landed on the table and looked at us quizzically. Sadly we had nothing to give him; we were only drinking coffee, not eating anything.

We had a great day and really did cover a lot of ground thanks to our flexible transportation system. Of course, loving food as we do, one of the highlights of the day for us is dinner in the evening. On Sunday night we ate at “Cheers”, formerly the Bull and Finch, the pub immortalised in the television series of the same name. I was expecting a tourist trap, but actually the food was delicious and quite reasonable. Last night we decided to try Stephanie’s on Newbury Street. It had been recommended to us by a friend. We booked a table (something you really do need to do) earlier in the day and walked back later on. Thanks to the trolley tour we knew how to get there on foot and it wasn’t really that far.

The menu at Stephanie’s is really varied and it has a relaxed yet elegant vibe. Although I had lobster for lunch, I was completely tempted by their traditional lobster roll, so yesterday became the first day ever that I ate lobster twice in one day. Coming as I do from a country where lobster is pretty hard to find and costs a packet, this was a fabulous treat. Also the lobster was so fresh (coming as it did from only a few miles away) it could not help but be wonderfully delicious - much more so than any lobster I have ever eaten in Europe. My husband and son enjoyed their meals too - having fish and chips and a hamburger respectively. We also could not resist an “onion ring tower” to start. Served on a tall stand, the incredibly thick, lightly battered onion rings are stacked high. Wow, were they delicious. Stephanie’s serves absolutely wonderful comfort food, beautifully prepared. Its complete lack of pretentiousness alongside a real attention to detail makes for an excellent dining experience.

Wandering back across Boston Common as the evening drew to a close, I reflected on a really lovely day. I’m really looking forward to another one tomorrow!

(I have to thank my son for the super photos - many of the photos in my blog are ones he has taken.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Couple of Days in New York...and on to Boston

We had a lovely time in New York. We are going to spend some more time there at the end of our holiday before we go home as well, but the first couple days have been super. We stayed in the Crowne Plaza at Broadway and 49th - Times Square. The public areas of the hotel were stunning - very modern with great views - but the rooms were fairly small compared to what we are used to in the US. We had a wonderful view from our windows though - although I must admit I never did get used to being on the 37th floor! It is a good city-centre hotel, but there is nothing that special about it. Having said that the service was very good; the staff were friendly and any requests were dealt with immediately.

The weather was very hot and sunny, which was wonderful for sightseeing. We did a lot of walking, making our way to Grand Central Station and from there along Park Avenue to 5th Avenue. We spent some time in St Patrick’s Cathedral which is so beautiful and peaceful, despite the hundreds of folk who pour through its doors daily. Of course all churches are spiritual places, but St Patrick’s seems to have an extra wonderful feel to it. From there we headed to Rockefeller Centre, and then on to some retail therapy at Lord & Taylor, where we shopped the sales (I got two Ralph Lauren dresses and a little cardigan at fantastic prices, and our son got some clothes as well). After a brief stop at the hotel, it was back to 5th Avenue (in a taxi this time!)and into the ultra modern glass cube that is the Apple Store, just across from the iconic Plaza Hotel and right beside Central Park.

While I checked my email using the free wi-fi, my husband and son shopped. The weather was still lovely so after we were finished at the Apple store so we walked through Central Park, past the zoos, and the lake. It was gorgeous. It is so incredible to find such a huge and beautiful green space in the centre of such a commercial city.

If you read my blog regularly, you may recall that on our last visit to New York, we celebrated the New Year at the Bull and Bear restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Sadly we were less than happy with the meal we had there. The whole experience was a bit disappointing. Well, when I did tell a member of staff in another one of the Waldorf’s restaurants how disappointed we were, the General Manager of the Bull and Bear, Oran Kierans, contacted me immediately. He apologised, and explained that things had not gone at all as planned. He refunded a good portion of what we had spent on the evening and said that we should get in touch on our return to New York so that he could buy us dinner. I was not sure if he would remember us or his offer after six months, and almost hesitated to email when I knew we were returning. However, not only did he remember us immediately, but he was good to his word and booked us a table for last night in the restaurant. What a wonderful meal we had, all courtesy of Mr Kierans and the staff at the Bull and Bear.

We all agreed that the steaks were among the best we have ever tasted, and everything else was scrumptious as well, especially the shrimp cocktail I had to start and the beautiful desserts. I was also very impressed by how my complaint was handled, and frankly have been more than compensated for any disappointment on New Year. Seriously, if you are in New York and fancy a real treat, do go to the Bull and Bear. I recommend it highly.

Today we head off to Boston, a place I have never visited before. I have to say I am feeling very excited. I’ve always wanted to go to Boston, ever since I was a little. There is something really wonderful about fulfilling a dream; it makes me feel very grateful!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Let the Holiday Begin

I’ve been looking forward to this holiday for ages, and today we finally got underway. I still find it amazing that I can wake up near London, get on a plane, and be thousands of miles away by nightfall. Tonight I’m going to sleep in New York, with the lights of Times Square glowing outside our hotel window.

I’m a little unsure actually, as somehow we have ended up on the thirty-seventh floor. The view from our window is quite dizzying, and I find it pretty impossible to look down without all my extremities tingling. And that is before I mention the elevator - oh my goodness the elevator! We are either whizzing up so fast my ears pop, or plummeting to the lobby at great speed. We have to take the elevators on the left side of the elevator corridor as only certain elevators go to certain floors so they can speed past four or five floors at a time without stopping. Really not my cup of tea, although I have to say the view from up here is quite amazing.

It’s very hot here in New York, and as we made our way through the crowds coming back from dinner at the Olive Garden (our fourth meal of the day - I’m a firm believer that eating is the best cure for jet lag), spits of rain were beginning to come from the sky. Broadway and the area round Times Square has been transformed actually. A lot of the lanes for traffic have been turned into pedestrianized zones and there are tables and chairs set out for people to relax on. I’ve never seen Times Square like this before- it’s incredible. It’s also made it a lot easier to walk, by doubling the space for pedestrians - fantastic. I’m not sure how drivers must feel about it though!

As always, New York is buzzing. Our driver from the airport brought us past streets filled with trailers filming a movie. Apparently Matt Damon is in town filming. We didn’t see him, but we saw the crowds waiting to. Central Park looks gorgeous with all the trees and flowers (it was January when we were here last so it wasn’t very green then!). Fifth Avenue and the shops beckon, along with all the other amazing sights.

I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow morning and explore!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sometimes You Just Need A Cupcake

Every once in a while, someone asks you one of those tricky questions. It happened to me today. “Who are you?” a friend asked me. I gave my usual answer - “I’m April Harris, a housewife, writer, wife and mother.” My friend (who is reading a lot of self help books at the moment) didn’t like this answer. “That’s what you are, not who you are,” she said. Then she asked again. “Who are you?”

I tried, “I’m the 21st Century Housewife©”, but she didn’t like that either. “No,” my friend insisted. “Tell me what defines you”. What defines me? Oh my goodness, what does define me? If it can’t be what I do, then how on earth do I describe who I am?

I really could not come up with an answer, and frankly I found the idea of being in my early forties and not being able to describe who I was so disturbing I changed the subject. It was soon time for me to go, and as I left, my friend admonished me to “be kind to myself’.

I thought that was nice. We should all be kinder to ourselves really. Human beings can be so hard on themselves. But although I left my friend, her first question did not leave me. “Who are you? What defines you?” We almost always describe and define people by their roles or by their qualities. “She’s a dentist”, “He’s a lawyer”, “She’s quiet”, “He’s the life of the party”. But of course our roles and qualities don’t define us. But what actually does?

I thought about it all the way home, and even while I was in the grocery store. But then I remembered what my friend said about being kind to myself. Coincidentally, it was right around the time I walked past the in-store bakery. There they were, right on the top shelf. Cupcakes. I love cupcakes - and as much as I like making them there is something about a store-bought cupcake that makes my heart beat faster. I always, always resist the temptation though. I have never, ever bought (or made) cupcakes without a good reason - a birthday, visitors coming or a party. I’ve never, ever bought one just because I fancied it.

But today, in the spirit of being kind to myself, I bought one just for me. I chose the prettiest, girliest one on the shelf just for me. And when I got home, I ate it with a cup of tea, enjoying every bite, totally focusing on the yumminess of the moment.

I may not know exactly how to describe who I am, but I do know I like cupcakes - especially pretty, girly pink ones with roses on top!

Monday, July 13, 2009

21st Century Housewife© at The Henley Festival

Yesterday evening we attended The Henley Festival, which is held for five days every year on the banks of the Thames at Henley. If you don’t live in England you may not know that the river Thames does not just run through London, it carries on through the countryside for miles and miles. There are loads of locks and it is a very popular river for boating and other water sports. Henley-on-Thames is a gorgeous village about thirty miles from London (and only a few miles from us) that I have blogged about before. (Please click here if you’d like to read the blog entry I did about Henley in June). Every year they have a famous five day Regatta here, and immediately after the Regatta, the Henley Festival of Art and Music begins. It is a real part of “the season” with everyone wearing black tie and evening dresses.

We arrived early, and although we had dinner booked at one of the restaurants later, we had a drink and a few nibbles in the car park (a field) while we waited. A lot of people were picnicking, and some even brought little marquees and enclosures to sit under. We had not even thought to bring our folding chairs so we stood near the car. My son made himself comfortable in the back seat, and we took this photograph just as a joke.

That’s a breadstick in his mouth by the way, not a cigarette!!

The doors to the festival opened with great ceremony at 6.30pm, and we wandered in through various groups of minstrels (including a fantastic string quartet) and performance artists (there was even a centurion on stilts). All the performers were interacting and chatting with the guests.

Along the riverbank were tents with displays from local art galleries, jewelers, sculpture gardens and little restaurants, cafes and bars. Our dinner was booked in The Terrace Restaurant first thing so we made our way there. It really was on a terrace, right beside the grandstand and the floating stage. There were lots of steps and it was on lots of different levels so it must have been a challenge for the waiting staff! We had pre-ordered our dinner, so everything was ready for us.

It has to be hard to serve people in restaurants that are in fact temporary, but after the amazing meal my husband and I had at Wimbledon I had high hopes. Sadly they were misplaced. My husband and I had lobster bisque to start, which did have lots of lobster in it, but it was not very warm and although it was clearly home-made had a kind of “tinny” taste to it. My son’s parma ham and melon starter was very small and included a cold pea soup. I’m not a big fan of hot pea soup, let alone cold and neither was he. My husband enjoyed his main course of lam, but my son and I had ordered the beef. Although I like my beef cooked “medium” this was too close to the rare side of medium for us to really enjoy, and the potato gratin they served with it was not cooked properly. The dessert was beautiful in appearance

but it tasted disappointing. It was an apple and sultana crumble with clotted cream, but it was served stone cold. Had it been warmed, I think it would have been delicious. However, next year I think we’ll take a picnic for tea and have a late snack supper from one of the many little cafés scattered along the riverbank instead of paying an awful lot for something that tasted very disappointing. It was still fun though, as while we ate the performance artists wandered past, many of them on stilts.

After dinner we had plenty of time to walk amongst the art work and enjoy the evening, which had turned out really well, despite dire weather predictions. At the 8.30pm Grandstand show we were entertained by The Bootleg Beatles. Although I was only five when the real Beatles broke up, I grew up on their music, and I thought this band were amazing. Apparently this should be no surprise, as they have been performing together for over 25 years - longer than the original Beatles did. You could tell the audience was loving it, particularly the people on the Promenade lawn, who were dancing and singing their hearts out. Even the boats on the river were slowing down to listen. They were then being hurried along by the Environment Agency, who police the Thames, so as to avoid traffic jams (what does one call a traffic jam involving boats?). They were not discouraged, and simply looped round again and again. We saw the same boats repeatedly throughout the show. It was really funny. One chap was dancing on the deck of his boat holding a glass of champagne. We were certain he would fall off, but luckily it never happened!

There were several other shows following on from this, but by now it was nearly 10pm so we decided to just wander along amongst the art. As it was dark by now, soft lighting bathed the riverbank. We were treated to an amazing acrobatics display when a trapeze artist performed in a lighted plastic “diamond” over the river, using only two long cloths for her trapeze. She was such a long way above our heads it was incredible, and with the light and her aerial dance it was just beautiful. Wandering on from there, we stopped at one of the champagne bars for a glass of champagne and listened to some live jazz as our evening drew to a close.

As we returned to the car we were all talking about what a lovely time we had, and making plans to attend again next year!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Defeating the Ironing Monster, A Pamper Day, Black Ties and Posh Frocks

Regular readers of this blog will know that I loathe ironing. I’m not sure why I hate it so much. A lot of my readers say they find it therapeutic, but I’ve tried everything, from using lavender laundry linen water in my iron to watching television while I do it, and I just can’t see the therapeutic benefit. I’m also really not very good at it. Shirts are no problem, but I cannot for the life of me iron trousers properly and when it comes to sheets - well, I try to buy ones that don’t need ironing to be honest, although really good no-iron sheets are hard to find in England in my experience.

As a result, my ironing basket is usually overflowing and often takes on the appearance of a blob-like monster. Well, I’ve finally found someone to help me with that - and on Friday, after several hours work, the monster was gone. You see, I had heard of ironing services before, and even tried some, but the idea of our clothes going somewhere else and being ironed with a whole load of other people’s clothes didn’t thrill me. I even tried a service once, and despite protestations that no one in the house smoked, the shirts came back smelling of tobacco. It was so bad I had to wash them all again. But now I have found a lady who will come to my house and do the ironing for me. I am overjoyed. Like I’ve always said, just because I’m the 21st Century Housewife© doesn’t mean that I do all household tasks perfectly, nor that I believe I have to do everything single-handedly. Neither do you. You can still be a wonderful housewife without exhausting yourself or doing tasks you really hate. It’s not a competition.

I’m also always advising readers to take time out, and I can assure you that I do practice what I preach. Yesterday we all headed on up to Burton-on-Trent, near where we used to live, to visit our wonderful aesthetician, Eve. I had a facial, pedicure and eyebrow shape and felt loads better for it. We all go to Eden Beauty in Burton-on-Trent and I highly recommend them for both men’s and women’s treatments. Then it was off to our hairdresser. We’ve been going to the same hairdresser for over ten years. Her name is Jo and she is lovely. (If you live near Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire and are looking for an excellent hairdresser, contact me and I’ll give you her phone number - although you will be lucky to get in - she books up months in advance.) She does my husband’s hair and my son’s as well. Also, she is especially good with long hair, as she has it herself and really understands how when you say you just want a trim, you really do mean only just a trim! Although it is a long drive (over two hours) for us to get back up to Burton, none of us mind because it is important to us to feel confident about the places we are going, and it is nice to see old friends. Someone was advising me the other day that I should find someone more local, that we would “soon get used to” how they did our hair. But when it comes to my hair and my skin, none of us want to have to “get used to” someone else’s style so we go back up to Burton about every five weeks. I have to confess, we do enjoy the trip. It’s a good excuse to catch up with old friends in the evenings as well.

We needed to get back last night though so we headed straight back home after we had our hair done, stopping for dinner at The Swan in Pangbourne. It serves fantastic food and is in a lovely riverside location. It was hard to enjoy the scenery last night as it was pouring with rain, but we still enjoyed our dinner!

So now we are getting ready to go to The Henley Festival this evening. It’s a five night music and arts festival held every year on the banks of the Thames. We all enjoy getting dressed up, so the fact it is a black tie event makes it even more fun. You arrive in the early evening, and either have a picnic in the field that is the car park or eat in one of the festival restaurants. I’ve been too busy to be preparing gourmet picnics (and I’m not big on eating in car parks), so we are eating in one of the restaurants. Then you can wander amongst the art, flower displays and performance artists on your way to one of the shows that is on offer. We are planning to watch The Bootleg Beatles on the floating stage and then going to one of the other shows at one of the other venues. Provided the weather holds (it has been a tad moody today, changing from warm sunshine to grey clouds and showers every whipstitch), it should be a gorgeous evening.

I’m sitting here with curlers in my hair, so I’d better go off now and put on my posh frock. I’ll blog about the festival tomorrow!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

21st Century Housewife©

I started The 21st Century Housewife© website almost ten years ago now and I am really pleased with how it has evolved and grown. I’m looking forward to watching how it continues to evolve in the future. It has even given birth to a sister blog (which you can read by clicking here) and led to my being published by some very well known news agencies. But it is this site that I am the most proud of, and I am always happy to introduce myself as April Harris, the 21st Century Housewife©.

I get some lovely emails from readers. It is so nice to know that what I write makes a difference in their lives, and that they feel encouraged by it. Their letters encourage me in turn, and sometimes they even challenge me.

In a recent email, a reader quoted an old Portuguese saying “Quantos bons anos teve a tua vida ou quanta vida boa teve os teus anos?” Translated it is a very close match to the English quote, “It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” That quote has been attributed to a lot of people, from Abraham Lincoln to Adlai Stevenson. I can’t be exactly sure who said it, but it is very true. We need to live our years to the full, enjoying and appreciating the good times. We keep ourselves so busy these days. It’s too easy to allow the years to fly by. Sometimes you just have to slow down.

We learned that this week when my husband got flu. He had been working very hard, not getting enough sleep and taking care of everyone else except himself. Eventually his body got fed up with being neglected and he got sick. As frustrating as it was for him, I thank God that it was just the flu, and not a much more frightening or serious wake up call that made him realise it was time to slow down and take care of himself.

I created 21st Century Housewife© to encourage women (housewives in particular) not only to appreciate themselves and the importance of their role, but also take care of themselves. It’s something you really have to work at. It is so easy to take such good care of everyone else that you forget about yourself. Skipping meals, not taking time out for yourself, setting unattainable standards and being hard on ourselves is something that comes easily to women (and apparently also to many men like my husband!). In general, I’d say that most people in the world could really do with being a whole lot nicer to themselves.

So today, ask yourself if you are looking after yourself as well as you are looking after everyone else. Be honest! If the answer is no, then please take some time out for you before your body forces you to. The advice your mother gave you all those years ago is still good. Eat right (no skipping meals), get plenty of sleep and take care of yourself. You are important and you need to value yourself.

Dads give good advice too. At my wedding, my Dad advised my husband and I to “have some fun”. It was the very last line in his speech, and it was the best advice he ever gave me. So let me share his advice with you, and encourage you not only to take care of the very special person that you are, but also to be sure that you do have some fun. Seek it out! That way you can be sure that no matter how many years in your life, you will have had lots of life in your years!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


When my husband started coughing completely out of the blue on Saturday morning, I must admit I did raise an eyebrow and crack a joke about pigs. It didn’t for one second occur to me that he might actually be ill.

We carried on as normal throughout the day, getting ready to visit his parents in the evening. We had planned dinner at a restaurant to celebrate my father-in-law’s birthday. The cough came with us, to the point my husband was finding it incredibly annoying, and went to the chemist for some medicine. The chemist did not seem unduly worried and recommended a pretty standard cough syrup.

It was not until we were at the restaurant having dinner that I noticed my husband was looking incredibly pale. Within a couple of hours he really was not at all well. We made our way home, and my husband collapsed into bed.

I laid awake most of the night worrying about what was wrong with him as he burned up with fever beside me. In the early hours of the morning I turned on my computer and went on to the NHS direct site. To my horror, my worst suspicions were confirmed. My husband had all the symptoms of swine flu - nasty cough, high fever and some other rather unpleasant symptoms I won’t go into here. So I filled in the “what should I do” quiz. As soon as I filled in the part about him traveling, and his symptoms, the reply from the computer in BIG BLUE LETTERS was, “phone your doctor immediately - if the doctor’s surgery is not open, phone the emergency out of hours service”.

Being a Sunday morning, the surgery was not open, so I phoned the out of hours service. A couple of hours later I was at the pharmacy picking up Tamiflu. I felt a bit like Typhoid Mary standing in the queue, but felt marginally better when I realised the lady in front of me was clutching a prescription for the same thing. I only wished I had a prescription for my son and I but they are no longer giving Tamiflu to those who have been exposed - you have to fight it off for yourself unless you are from a high risk group. So I made my way home, clutching the prescription and worrying myself sick.

Thankfully my husband is a pretty tough cookie, and Tamiflu is a very effective antiviral. Within twenty-four hours he was feeling a bit better. I was incredibly relieved. Meanwhile, my son and I were taking copious doses of Vitamin C and Echinacea and bathing in tea tree oil. We were all keeping a low profile as the doctor had said my husband should stay in for at least three days and that while my son and I did not have to stay in, it would probably be a really good idea if we did.

Monday night, my husband and I were due to attend the Charity Gala Preview of the Hampton Court Flower Show. As it involved flowers and champagne, it was something I was really looking forward to. There was no way my husband was going though, and although I considered asking my son to escort me, I knew in my heart this was a very bad idea. Not because my son would have been anything but a brilliant escort (he’s wonderful at formal occasions), but because not only might we spread germs, we might pick up some more and that would do us no good at all. Even if a fairy godmother had appeared, there was no way I was going to the ball.

So Monday night I sat in my pajamas and fluffy slippers watching television with my family, feeling very sorry for myself and wishing I was wearing a pretty frock and wandering amongst the flowers sipping champagne.

But then I got to thinking about how lucky we were. My husband was responding to treatment, he had no underlying health issues, and my son and I were still a hundred percent well. Maybe I was being just a tiny bit - or possibly even hugely - ungrateful.

Two days later, I’m still counting my blessings. My husband is almost better, and is even beginning to do a bit of work from home. My son and I are still well with absolutely no symptoms, and we are past the five day danger period. Tomorrow things are getting back to normal for me, with appointments as usual, and my husband is back to work on Monday. It seems we have emerged practically unscathed, plus the doctor says my son and I should have developed a nice immunity by being exposed and having fought it off. She says if we were going to get it, we’d have it by now. Not only that, but none of the people we came into contact with last week have developed it either, much to our great relief.

Not going to the gala was a pretty small price to pay for all these blessings. I’m one very lucky Cinderella.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Ecover Tests

I was approached by a public relations company recently and asked to test some products for Ecover. It’s been a really interesting experience, so I decided to make it the subject of my very first video blog entry - or “vlog” as I’m told it is called.

Check it out and drop me a line to let me know what you think on

Friday, July 03, 2009


There is no event in tennis quite as iconic as Wimbledon and to win there is to win the jewel in the crown of the tennis world. There has been an international championship tournament at Wimbledon since 1905 (with the exception of some of the war years). So synonymous is Wimbledon with tennis that many people from abroad do not realise Wimbledon is actually a suburb of south-west London, and not just the tennis tournament itself.

Getting tickets to the championships is no easy task. You have to apply for a ballot from 1st August of the year preceding the championships. You then have to fill that ballot in, send it to the Lawn Tennis Association and firmly cross your fingers. Only one ballot is allowed per household, and any ballot drawn will allow a maximum of two tickets to be purchased. If your ballot is drawn early the following year, you are offered tickets for a particular date and court - no choice. If you can go, great. If you can’t, that’s your chance gone for that year. Your tickets are then offered to another randomly chosen ballot. Hundreds of people just never get chosen, but if you queue on the day there is a chance you might get a ticket that has been returned or one that someone has used but has handed back in as they had to leave early. It’s an iffy business. This is why I was floored when I received an offer of two tickets to Day Ten, the Ladies’ Semi-Finals on Centre Court this year, the very first time I applied. I was incredibly grateful and bought the tickets within five minutes of receiving the letter informing me my ballot had been chosen.

We arrived early in the day and went into the ground when the first gates opened at 9.30am. Although the main court areas were roped off, we were able to wander round the grounds without the crowds and it was so lovely to see all the courts, grass shining in the sunshine. We had a coffee and enjoyed the quiet. An hour later when the main gates opened, a sea of people filled the place, and we joined them to walk to the main area of the grounds. There is lots to see and do. The Wimbledon shop is very good, and we bought a Ralph Lauren official Wimbledon polo top for our son, along with a very nice Ralph Lauren bag, a polo top for me and a baseball cap for my husband.

By now it was nearly time for our pre-booked lunch at The Wingfield Restaurant. There are lots of kiosks selling food, drink, champagne and strawberries at Wimbledon, but The Wingfield is one of the nicest. They offer a three course lunch with wine for a competitive price, and you can’t beat the surroundings. Located on the first floor of the Centre Court building, the Wingfield offers tables near the feature windows as well as inside and is great for people watching. The food is incredible. Often food offered at venues like Wimbledon can be slightly less than memorable due to the hazards of mass catering, but our meal was absolutely scrumptous and beautifully presented. We shared a bottle of white Zinfandel and spent a very pleasant hour or so lingering over our lunch.

We were in the perfect position to move from the restaurant into the heart of the Centre Court building, and were in our seats by 12.45, in plenty of time for the 1pm start of the Ladies’ Semi-Finals. We were lucky to be seated under the edge of Centre Court’s roof, out of the sun, but still close enough to the court to have a brilliant view of the play. The first match was Serena Williams versus Elena Dementieva and what a match it was. Both players fought hard for three hours to win the semi finals, but Serena was the eventual victor. I’ve never seen such well played tennis before in my life. The next match was Venus Williams versus the number one seed Dinara Safina. Sadly Venus was just too much for Dinara, who lost in two straight sets, within less than an hour. I really felt sorry for her. We then watched a bit of the men’s doubles, but decided to head home after the first set as it was now nearly 7pm. What an amazing day!

I’m so thrilled to have finally got to Wimbledon. It was fantastic to see in real life what I have watched on television for years, and such a privilege to see the wonderful tennis played there. I’m incredibly grateful for an brilliant day, and can’t wait to watch Andy Murray and Andy Roddick tomorrow in the men’s semi finals!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

30th June 2009 - Re-invention

Madonna is often described as “the mistress of re-invention”. From her early “Like a Virgin Days” right up to her current “Sticky and Sweet” tour, Madonna has changed her appearance and style in an attempt to suit society’s mood of the moment. Her success proves that most of the time, she gets it right. I would not like to wager how many times she has changed her hair, makeup and clothes, but I admire her ability to morph into what is almost another persona. She makes it look easy.

Sometimes in my life I do court change, wooing it as I attempt to make things happen to further my goals or those of my family. Other times, I avoid it like the plague, trying to keep the status quo at almost all costs. One thing I really don’t like is having change thrust upon me, and having to deal with the consequences. I’ve never been a huge fan of change, except when it brings a very clear benefit to me or my family.

Housewives face change all the time. Part of running a home means that you are dealing with the changes that affect everyone else in the family, and most of these end up affecting you. If your husband is offered a new role, you may have to move at short notice and cope with all the changes that brings for you and other family members. As your children grow up, your role changes as they do so. One minute you are the mum at the school gate, the next you are waving them goodbye from the door. Then they don’t want you to wave at all! All through our lives change happens, whether we are ready for it or not.

I’ve throughly enjoyed watching our son grow up, and over the last five years particularly, I’ve watched him develop an autonomy that is incredibly rewarding to see. On one hand this gives me a new freedom to pursue my own goals; on the other it changes my life so completely I sometimes find it quite bewildering.

I’m comforted to know that this is a change that every housewife with children goes through, and I’m excited by the opportunity it gives me to re-invent myself within my role as a housewife and writer. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it worried me on some levels - before I know it our son could be off to university and a life of his own. Having spent nearly two decades raising him, this represents a huge change for me.

So where does the 21st Century Housewife go from here? Onward and upward, definitely! It’s a case of “keep calm and carry on” and “enjoy the ride”. I like to think of this as a lovely new beginning.

But it still doesn’t stop me looking at my son from time to time and wondering how on earth he grew up so fast and where the time went. I’m incredibly proud of how well he has turned out. I’m looking forward to seeing him go off to sixth form college in September - whilst being incredibly grateful it is a fairly local one and that he can still live at home! It buys me some time to work on my re-invention, which I think may take a tiny bit longer than Madonna’s do!