Being obsessed with a place is a strange thing.  I can’t tell you why I love England and London so much.  I’m either thinking about visiting, planning a visit, enjoying a visit or recovering from a visit.  I’ve just wrapped up my ninth trip to England.  Before you get the wrong idea,  I’m not wealthy and I don’t have any great tips on getting great deals.  I go so often because I work hard at saving up the airfare and I have wonderful friends and cousins that allow me to stay with them.   I’ve gone to many areas but have made sure to visit London each time.  It’s a chaotic, vibrant, ever changing city and I like that.


I’m always impressed with the folks that drive there.  It’s rarely easy.  I watched as my friends wove in and out of side streets, trying to shave a few minutes off of any journey.  I learned to drive in America where we have wide streets and freeways.  We think nothing of driving fifty or sixty miles to try a new taco place.  It’s mind boggling to hear that a person has to plan, map out and schedule a visit to a relative that lives only twenty miles away.  Instantly in my mind its a twenty minute drive, London reality is a two hour drive.  You can begin to see the obstacles here and why the brilliant people of England have some of the best public transport in the world.


This particular visit was pure relaxation,  we didn’t do the tourist stuff this time.  My husband and I visited with our friends at Fox Hill B&B.  We talked a lot, ate more,  watched movies, read, napped, enjoyed cocktail hour and all of the things that get pushed aside in the day to day business of  life.

We took the train one day up to Huntingdon, near Cambridge to visit cousins.  We checked out their jewelry store, Underwood the Jewelers, in the nearby village of Ramsey.  Check it out if you’re in the area.  We had a nice chat while enjoying a pub lunch.   It’s always fun to take the train through the countryside, so beautiful and completely different to London.

      underwood jewelry

We walked  up to the village of Norwood several times.  We enjoyed the cake at Dalhousie.  I tried a Victoria Sponge, made famous (in America) by the movie “Calendar Girls”.  The Blackbird Bakery there is also very good.  We had a scrumptious hamburger at Crystal Palace Market, with some of the best french fries we’ve ever had.  My husband loves cupcakes so much that after going to Ms.Cupcake last September, he was moved to embroider a few sweatshirts for the ladies that work there.


My husband, Neil, and the sassy ladies of Ms. Cupcake-Brixton

We also went with our friends to a little area across from Hampton Court called Molesey for breakfast at Henry’s, excellent food and service.  I enjoyed the fresh croissants and coffee especially.    molesey       I love poking around in little antique shops and finding treasures that are so different from what you would find in America.  Neil is always up to a challenge, so I pointed out a particularly nice metal garden bench and asked if he would be able to make us a similar one.   He has been wanting to improve his welding skills, so I may get a nice bench after all.   I wouldn’t necessarily spend the money to buy it and then pay the expensive shipping from the UK.  Found this funny little brass piece in Molesey. It reminds me of the faces you see on the walls at Oxford College.  It may have been a belt buckle, but I have plans to use it on a custom bird house.


Molesey Jester

The styles and indeed the customs are very different from place to place and that’s precisely why I like traveling.  It’s disappointing, at least to me, to see things like a McDonald’s in England.  I realize that companies want to expand to every corner of the globe.  When you can get the same things wherever you go, why do you need to travel.  I try very hard not to eat at chain restaurants as it is,  mediocre is the word that comes to mind. Try something local, even if in your home town.  You may be missing something unique.

I don’t have the mistaken notion of many who have only traveled to England via TV and movies.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard comments about some of my photos that give me the idea that most Americans expect London/England to be quaint and simple, like the days of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.   There is history and wonderful old architecture with all of the quirky little details all through the ages there. Victorian, Gothic, Roman and Medieval times blend with twenty first century sky scrapers.  Ever changing.  It’s modern and intelligent, and very much up to date.  I read that even Westminster Abbey is adding a tower.  A living, breathing part of modern England as well as a view to the past.                                      west minster tower

With every visit, I take away impressions, knowledge and a little more familiarity with my ancestor’s homeland.  This time I realize that I can love a place that I’m not actually from.  I can feel close to it for my love of it’s history and culture, knowing that if circumstances had been different, I would be a citizen instead of a visitor.   What continues to make it so important and dear to my heart though are the people I’ve gotten to know and the stories I uncover.   I am, as always, happy to be home.  And, as always, thinking about my next visit over which will be very different to this last one, but no less wonderful!  Happy travels.


















Heading Southwest

If you love England, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t, you are always thinking of the next visit.  It’s a difficult task because, if it were just me, I’d go back and forth across the country until I was able to see every area including Scotland and Wales.

My next visit will probably be a foursome with my husband and our good friends, driving Southwest to Devon and Cornwall and looping around to visit Bath. My bestie’s family is from Christchurch and though we have been to England together, once in 2005, we didn’t get to visit there.  I think it’s so important to go where your family originated if you can.  Go to the church and the churchyard, look for those names that you’ve heard your whole life in family stories or read so often in your research.


My first trip over in 2001, we headed south through Cornwall to Land’s End and up the West Coast to Wales, I absolutely loved it there.  I want my husband and friends to see some of it and for Suzanne to be in the places where her family came from.  I hope she has the overwhelming feeling of home that I had the first time I went to Sussex and walked in the footsteps of my father’s family.  I hope you get to Cornwall and revel in it’s Celtic history and beauty.


The history of Cornwall is fascinating and extensive.   There are lots of books and information online.  There have been people there since 4000 BC, so there is not enough space here to delve into that subject.  I think I am most impressed with the fact that the Cornish people have held onto their culture and are now considered a distinct Ethnic group by the UK government.


We’ll go to London first, our friend Bruce hasn’t had the opportunity to go there yet and there is so much to see.  Of course you can’t do London in one trip, unless you have unlimited time and money.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of several visits over for them.  I will write about what we saw and did after the fact since, as of now, in the early days of planning I’m not sure which attractions we’ll get to see.

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While in London each of us will plan a day out, as well as take a day on one of the jump on and off London bus tours.   Afterwards, we’ll head south by train to Christchurch and spend at least most of a day there, we’ll go to the church, explore the town and have lunch.  A few years ago my cousin Claire gave me a book, “Footpaths of Britain”.  There is a lovely walk in Christchurch along the harbor to Hengistbury Head, it’s about an hour with nice views of the Isle of Wight, a nature reserve and the beach at Sandspit.


Whether or not we find this town interesting enough to stay the night remains to be seen, but after our visit, we’ll hit the road and head towards the West Coast, stopping along the way at anything that looks interesting to any of us.  I love this kind of a trip and I did it in 2001 and again in 2005. You drive along and take in the countryside, looking at maps and signposts until you see something that looks so delightful you just have to stop.  In the afternoon when you start thinking about dinner and bed, you stop in a town and visit the tourist information office.  These places have books and maps for sale, leaflets to give away and loads of advice on things to see or do.  After a conversation with the helpful staff, you just let them know how much further you’d like to travel that day or if there is a particular place you want to stop.  They have catalogs of B&Bs and hotels with photos, so you have a general idea of what to expect. They ask you what you’d like to spend on lodging, and will actually call ahead for you to let them know you’re coming, give you directions and send you on your way with a plan.


Sometimes that kind of visit won’t work because of time constraints, event dates, etc., you wouldn’t want it to be so loose.  Then booking ahead online is the way to go.  With sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, and Air B&B you can easily make it all work.


I’ve had people tell me how brave I am to go on an adventure without concrete plans like this one.  I guess it’s a kind of adventure, but really, you are in a civilized country that speaks the same language.  The people I’ve met along the way are always welcoming and helpful, so it’s not the kind of adrenaline filled travel in the darkest forests of the Amazon.  It’s fairly tame and you just might discover something off the beaten path that will make it amazing!


The Hidden Gardens of Heligan

I recently added a channel app to my streaming that has lots of British TV shows.  One of them is “Britain’s Best Bakery” and I’ve decided that we have to stop and taste the fabulous offerings of some of the Cornish bakeries that were showcased.



That’s pretty much the plan for this next excursion.  It’s fairly easy planning I think, pick the date, buy the plane ticket, keep saving to pay for it all.  Then just pack and go!  We already know we would be staying at Fox Hill B&B because it’s my favorite place in London, the rest is up to fate and whimsy.





The Home of Charles Darwin

September 19, 2014

Visiting Darwin House was one of the highlights of this latest trip to England.  It’s in Kent which I have fallen in love with and jokingly tell my family and friends that if I win the lotto, I am moving to Kent.  (Of course it would help if I played).


Front entrance to Darwin House. My friend Sue and I, hiding behind a pillar!

The weather was obliging and it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day,  so the drive down from London was really lovely.  I’m not sure what I imagined it to be before I went, but I know I wasn’t expecting such a large property.  It is a beautiful setting and the grounds are immaculate.  I love the Virginia Creeper climbing the walls of so many places in England, really spectacular.

This is an English Heritage property and they do such a nice job of preserving and presenting these historical places.  I enjoyed seeing the family rooms with a lot of the Darwin’s personal furniture and belongings.  There are a lot of interactive things to do, especially for the kids which would make a nice family day trip.  I also spent quite a while following the time line and history of Darwin and his studies and research.

One thing that is a passion of mine is genealogy and there is a room there which tells about him and his family, very interesting.  I love the story of how his children helped him in his studies as he got older.  They would do experiments on the property and report back their findings.

The back of Down House. It looks out to beautiful, well kept grounds

The garden here is very impressive.  I love gardens anyway, so to be able to walk the paths that Mr.Darwin walked almost daily for the forty years he lived here was pretty exciting.  The green house is outstanding.  There are rows of vegetables with flowers mixed in.  There are orchards and even a giant chess board for children to play with.

If only I knew how to play

If only I knew how to play

We walked around the garden for quite a while and it was every bit as interesting as the interior of the house.  What a wonderland for his children to grow up in and a special legacy for all of us to be able to visit. I love this display in the garden of a simple wooden wheel barrel holding clay pots.


View of the massive grounds at Down House

View of the massive grounds at Down House

There is a restaurant here that uses the same kitchen that was used to prepare the Darwin’s meals.  It also has a great gift shop where you can get books on his theories and research.  There all a lot of really nice things here for children if you like something educational as well as entertaining.

Afterwards we headed to the village of Downe and to The George & Dragon Pub for lunch.  It was not crowded and since it was such a lovely day we ate out back at some picnic tables.  The menu was British pub food at it’s best, fish & chips, puff pastry pies, baguette sandwiches, lamb, stuffed jacket potatoes, curry and Ploughman’s.  I settled on The Dragon Burger and a lemon shandy.  It was cooked just right and so large that I couldn’t finish.

Across from the pub is St. Mary’s church and an ancient yew tree that is completely hollow in the middle, it’s a wonder it’s still living. I’m sure if Mr. Darwin were here he could explain it to me!

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub

Neil in front of The George & Dragon Pub


London-I’m Back!


Fox Hill B&B, Crystal Palace

 I’m back in London and looking forward to showing some of it to my husband Neil.  We’re staying at the only place I’ve ever stayed in London, The Fox Hill B&B in Crystal Palace.  It’s home for me after so much time spent here and Neil’s first time to visit our friends and the proprietors Sue and Tim Haigh.  This is such and interesting house and I always feel so comfortable and well taken care of.  A family home, so you can expect to encounter pets, grandchildren, newspapers and the general chaos of a family life.  I’ve read good and bad reviews of this and other B&Bs that I’ve stayed in, in many places that I’ve been.  I love B&Bs for this reason and I’m always surprised when I see a review that mentions that everything wasn’t perfect all the time or it wasn’t like such and such commercial hotel. People, get real, if you don’t like the homey feel of a B&B, don’t go to one.  Go to the Hilton where you can complain as much as you like online and it won’t make a bit of difference to them.  Don’t go to someone’s home where you’ll encounter everyday home life and expect that you’ll get anything else.  I try my hardest not to go to a chain hotel or a chain restaurant for that matter.  Unless you’re rolling in money, they’re all mediocre.  The one exception is when I’m driving from point a to point b and just want to get there.  If you’re going to a foreign country and want to learn something about the culture, go to a B&B.  Meet the people, see how they live, it’s really the only way to honestly get that experience.

Our first day in London was fun and exhausting, as it should be.  After taking the train to Victoria Station we started walking toward Buckingham Palace.  We walked past one of my favorite places for traditional tea, The Rubens Hotel, and then all around the palace.  We checked out the gate, the guards, the grounds, the Victoria Memorial, past St, James’ Park and all the way around the palace.  We then took off in the direction of the Parliament and Westminster Abbey, stopping at a small Italian store/deli for a delicious sandwich made with prosciutto and mozzarella at a sidewalk table.

 Just walking through any area of London you will see many iconic places that you’ve heard about all of your life, whether from books, movies, TV,  news or history class.   I always get a little thrill when I see the name of something that I’d heard mentioned sometime in my life.  Paddington, Wembley, Bond Street, Bloomsbury, Covent Gardens.  I love looking at the architecture, monuments, gardens, the different cars and road signs.  One thing that I noticed on my first trip there and subsequent visits is the lack of pick up trucks.  I’m from the West Coast and pretty much every man I’ve known, starting with my dad, had a pick up truck.  Of course I come from a long line of construction workers, which means most of the people I hang out with have something to do in that field.  My husband who, by the way, worked at a grocery store when I met him, also works in the construction business.  Neil asked a couple of workmen that he met on the train about how they go about doing business without a truck.  We were told that they either use the boot of their car or hire a van when they need to move bigger stuff.  You’re more apt to see Euro Vans about town instead of a pick up truck like we would use here.

After our lunch we headed down to look at the beautiful and historical Westminster Abbey and then waited in the long lines for the London Eye.  It’s a great way to see the city’s layout.  I feel it’s kind of expensive at £21 a person, but of course we paid because it’s something we wanted to do.  I’m not really complaining except as a reference for the reader.  I’m sure that it cost a fortune to build and maintain.  But it takes 800 passengers for each rotation,  32 cars with 25 people in each car.  It takes a half hour to go around and it doesn’t stop.  At last count, it takes more than 3.5 million visitors a year.  At the current cost of a ticket, and they have no discounts for seniors or children, that’s almost £74 million pounds a year. I just checked their website and the tickets have now gone up to £29.95!   I’m pretty sure they get an excellent profit from that and the corporation is very pleased.

I had only ever been at night, so I purchased the “360° Viewing Guide” for a couple of pounds and well worth it.  It shows the view of day on one side and night on the other.  In addition to showing many, many iconic buildings on the guide, it also shows the direction that you’re looking.  I found this very helpful because, as many times as I’ve visited, I have no sense of direction there, at all.  Unless it’s sunup or sundown, I haven’t a clue.

We left the eye and walked around a bit more, found a great bakery and picked up dessert, then headed back to Fox Hill B&B for dinner and a little TV with our friends.

Leaving Sussex for London

Sept 13th, 2014

We headed to the village after breakfast for one more look around.  When we got back, Lin had a video of the history of Billingshurst.  Of course she has lived here all of her life, so she could pick out a few errors in the more modern history.  It was interesting hearing about the village, built on the Roman Road of Stane Street. The oldest building is St. Mary’s Church where my ancestors worshiped, early documentary evidence begins in the 1100s!


St Mary’s Church

There are many timber framed buildings throughout the village dating from the Middle Ages to the 1700s.  There is a wonderful old pub there called “The Six Bells”, which I think I’ve visited on each of my holidays here.

The Six Bells-Billingshurst

It really is a fun and interesting village to check out.  It’s close to Horsham which is also worth the visit.  After a very nice home cooked lunch and visit with Lin’s daughter and grandson, Claire and Warren, we had to walk down to the station and say our goodbyes.


Saying goodbye at the Billingshurst Station

The Billingshurst Train station is a great building in it’s own right.  Many of my predecessors worked for the railroad in Billingshurst so I’m very interested in the history.  The last time I visited,  2 years ago, the signal box was here.   The Grade II listed structure is thought to be one of the country’s oldest working signal boxes dating back to 1876.  The signal box was moved to Amberley Museum and can be seen as you come into the second station.

Billingshurst Signal Box


It’s time to get it all together and head north to London.  It’s been a great visit and I know when I’m home thinking about all of the things that we did and saw, the laughter, the hugs, I’ll again start longing to return.  This is always when my next plan starts to form.  Right now though, I’m anxious to get to London, as I love it as well.  London is the world in one place and I just like to be there.

It takes about an hour to get to the station where our friend Tim will pick us up.  This night we’ll be having dinner and catching up with our good friends and then planning our time here in London.




Sheffield Park

September 12


Sheffield Park House

Today Lin and Richard drove us to Sheffield Park near Hayward’s Heath.  I highly recommend a visit here if you are close to Sussex!  Plan to be there for some hours because it is huge and spectacular!

The landscape garden was laid out in the 18th century by ‘Capability’ Brown so right away you know it has good bones. It was designed around a series of four lakes. Beautiful scenic paths take you through glades, through woodlands,  all around the lakes and over bridges.  You can bring the family, the kids can run around and you can be re-charged in the beauty and bounty of this garden.  It’s not like a commercial garden where every bed is perfect and not a bloom out of place.  It’s in a very natural setting with every season having a turn to dazzle.


One of four lakes

Bring a picnic and relax on one of the expansive lawns, but don’t forget to bring some extra bread or grain for the ducks.  We had such a nice walk here and so many reasons to come back.  There is an ongoing list of events and things to bring the kids to see and do.  For instance, in January there is a “lost tools” hunt for kids called “Frosty Tools”.  The gardeners leave tools around an area of the park and the kids get to go hunt for them.  There are kite making workshops, Valentine’s Day tea, walks to see the changing colors in fall.  My favorite thing they have going for adults is the Christmas Stroll, “to walk off the excesses” of the holidays.  Choose from the Turkey Trot, Plum Pudding Promenade, Mince Pie Meander or Christmas Cake Constitutional.  So creative!


Me in front of a willow

Some of the history of the park: Sheffield Park  estate is mentioned in the Domesday Book.  In 1538, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, entertained Henry VIII here.  In 1876 a cricket pitch was laid out on the grounds.  During World War II the house and garden became the headquarters for a Canadian division.  The estate was split up and sold in lots in 1953. The National Trust purchased about 40 ha in 1954, it now owns up to 80 ha.  My cousin told me she had read that the house is now sold and turned into individual flats with a price tag of around 1 million pounds each! It’s got to be because of the spectacular views!


The Palm Walk

We didn’t plan ahead and bring a picnic, so headed out around lunch time for Chaily and a pub that caught Richard’s eye on the way in.  The King’s Head Inn on East Grinstead Rd. The food was good and it wasn’t too crowded, we didn’t feel rushed and just relaxed with lunch and a glass of wine, then headed back to walk off the lovely desserts we all had.

The King’s Head Inn

The price to get into Sheffield Park, I thought was reasonable at  £9.90.  If you’re visiting from overseas, you may want to look into getting a pass to National Trust properties.  I have done this on several occasions and it’s really a good value.  You can get a seven day pass for £25 and a fourteen day pass for only £30!  It gets you into hundreds of special places around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  It’s also really easy to get online.  One year I ordered three online and when I got the envelope, it had been ripped open and one out of three passes was missing.  I called the office of the National Trust and they sent a new card to my friend’s house in London for me to pick up.  I truly expected them to say “sorry you’re out of luck, buy another one.”  I thought that was pretty awesome!


Lin and Richard

Christmas in London

Merry, Happy, Joyeux Christmas!!  This is a re-post of my blog about spending Christmas in London 2008. Tis the season and I hope you are enjoying yours this year!

I was lucky enough, along with my cousin Marcie, to be invited to London to “see how they do Christmas” in 2008.  We were generously invited by our friends Susan and Tim.  Neither of us have ever gone away and not done Christmas with our families, ever.  I personally will probably not do it again unless they all come with me!  I missed them and all of our quirky little traditions.  The kind that only your own family can have, kept over the years because it gave one or all of us a happy feeling that we wanted to experience again and again.   I’m not sure how the rest of you are, but we try new and different things along with the old ones that were brought from when my husband and I were growing up.  Some things we have to do because of tradition, then we’ll add a little something new and maybe that will be the only year we do it or it becomes part of our repertoire.

At any rate, having the opportunity to go to England and experience with our friends and their family was an offer neither of us could refuse.   I think about it often and pull out the wonderful book of photos that Marcie made for us as a remembrance.  Indeed, I show it to everyone because it captures the fun and amazement that we experienced there.  I am only going to include a few highlights here for a couple of reasons: One is, that if you are anything like me, when it’s over it’s over.  I have a friend that puts her tree(s) up at Halloween and leaves them up until Valentine’s Day.  This is not me.  To my mind it takes the “special” time of year away.  Two,  I have had a spectacularly busy and crazy year and I can not locate my journal of that particular trip.  (New Year resolution: organize my office!)

Most of us came from European descent and holiday traditions were also brought over and passed down, so it was familiar and different at the same time.  Going to this already lovely home in Crystal Palace with the bright red door is always a wonderful homey feeling for both of us.  The wreath on the door, the decorations every where, the hustle and bustle of the season added to our excitement of being there.  The decorations and lights around the city of London were truly magical.                                       

Our friends had arranged a special present for us,  a Christmas choir concert at Westminster Abbey!  Can you imagine?  We had never been in the Abbey, in all of our visits.  I was awe struck, the history, the beauty of the place.  There were readings by Boris Johnson, actors and other dignitaries.  But the music, the voices were inspiring.   I felt my mind wandering, trying to remember some of the history that I had heard about the abbey.  I had to make myself focus on what was happening or I would have missed it.   I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to have witnessed something this beautiful and profound. There were carols that I recognized and ancient songs that I never knew existed.   I will be forever grateful to them for thinking of us.  It is a family tradition of theirs to go to this wonderful concert every year.  I admit that I was a little blown away when Sue told us that her children went to preschool at the abbey.  Being a foreigner it never occurred to me that this was a working church.  I naively assumed that it was for special royal ceremonies and tourists.

Marcie and I went Christmas shopping to gather a few things for a gift basket for our hosts. We had brought many small tastes of America for them, canned albacore from Oregon, wine from a Southern California winery, chocolate infused with chili, marionberry jam from the northwest.  We needed to find a basket as well as add a few fillers.  We headed to John Lewis, a lovely British department store.  The first visit we made to England included a visit to John Lewis where I bought a warm down comforter.  I somehow stuffed it into a tote bag to carry it home on the plane.   Having got it here I discovered that it was just too warm for my middle aged body, so it’s keeping one of my daughters toasty warm every winter!  At any rate, after shopping around we found ourselves at Green Park and remembered that Sue had told us to stop at the hour and watch the clock at Fortnum & Mason’s.  Not wanting to miss anything that cool, we did just that.  We also went in to peruse the lovely holiday displays.

One of our really fun days was spent going to Hampton Court.  I’ve been to many of the castles and palaces since I started visiting England, but this is one of my favorites.  Perhaps it’s the history, all Americans seem to love Henry VIII and the story of his wives.  So brutal and romantic at the same time.  It was decorated for Christmas and there was an actual ice skating rink set up on the front grounds.  The tour was very revealing and touring the kitchens was a real eye opener.  You just don’t normally think of the day to day actions it took to run this huge residence for the king, his guests and the hundreds of people that worked there.  The grounds are really beautiful, it’s what you would imagine a royal palace to look like, you can just see them taking walks through the park, reading on a bench, embroidering in an alcove.

Here is my cousin beside one of the giant decorated trees:

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Now, I’m going to talk about the food. You knew it was coming, right?  It’s all about the food and at the holidays especially. First of all, my friend Sue is an excellent cook.  It’s not only delicious, but she likes to add little surprise ingredients that the average person wouldn’t think of, at least not this average person!  So, for Christmas morning, we had champagne and little salmon sandwiches in front of the fire.

       I was impressed with their gift giving, so much more practical than the average American way of going crazy and spending a fortune on the people on your list.  They gave personal useful gifts that weren’t over the top, expensive or trendy.  I’m not talking about socks and underwear either.   But things that the other person was interested in and would be used for years and the giver would be thought of every time.  Like a very fine journal for a writer, or an unusual utensil for a chef, things like that.  Something they will cherish but didn’t put the giver into credit card debt.  Being a banker, this is the kind of thing I see year after year here in America.

Our Christmas dinner was flavorful, satisfying and long, in a good way.  First of all, the table was set beautifully with an array of silverware and glasses.  There were crackers at every place setting and yes, we all did wear the funny little crown hats!  I’d seen it on movies but didn’t imagine that I would ever be doing this at Christmas time. It was fun!  Our first course was plates of delicious cheeses and gherkins (pickles), crackers and breads and of course wine.

For the main course,  Sue had gotten the most wonderful Suffolk ham, promising that it was “very special”.  A huge understatement!   This was joined on the plate with perfect potatoes roasted in duck fat, carrots, green beans and herbed popovers, served with more lovely wine.  For dessert a traditional plum pudding was brought forth, steaming and gorgeous.  Altogether, a feast fit for a king (or queen).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

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 For New Year Eve, Sue made us another lovely feast.   But first Marcie and I spent the day in London, visited the Old Globe theater and walked across the Millennium Bridge to Saint Paul’s.   photo (10)

Then we went back to our home away from home where we spent another wonderful evening sharing with, by now, old friends, this delectable meal:

photo (14)

Beautiful food, artistically presented, and amazingly flavorful.  This is a beautifully arranged plate of hor d’oeuvres.  Followed by pheasant with whipped potatoes, whipped sweet potatoes and other various tasties!

 I am the luckiest girl in the world to have, not only my family and friends here at home, but my extended family and friends so far away from here.   I truly wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year and hope you find a place you love and feel a kinship to as I have.  Happy traveling!

September in Sussex


This was the longest flight I’ve had so far going to England.  It may have just felt that way.  After the usual chaos and panic of getting ready and a two hour flight to L.A., we had a three and half hour layover.  We started our trip off with dinner at Sammy’s Wood Fired Pizza.  I should not eat gluten, but that didn’t stop me.  I’m on vacation dammit and I’m going to eat all of the lovely things I’ve been craving for the last couple of years.  I find out later why that was a really bad mistake, but I digress….

Neil and I were  very excited about going together on this trip, it’s been an emotional year, both good and bad and we really need this time away.  Going to a place that I’m very familiar with but he’s never been to is kind of weird for both of us.  He, because I usually wait for him to take the lead and me, because what if he doesn’t see it the way I do?

Of course travel is always an iffy venture.  I was certain I booked the tickets through British Air, which I have always had a good experience with.  Instead it was through American Airlines which I have not.  Honestly it was fine except that the seats were the smallest I’ve ever sat in for a ten hour  international flight.  The movies were great, the food was fine for airplane fare.

Billingshurst Station

We arrived at two the following afternoon, got through customs with me warning my husband not to joke around with the officer asking questions.  They are known not to have a sense of humor. However, the woman that checked us through was awesome and it all went off without a hitch.  We bought our ticket on the Gatwick Express and headed south to Sussex to meet our cousins.  They were waiting there and it’s so nice to have those hugs and catch up time with people that you know and love.  They took us straight back to their lovely, comfortable very British home and a great home cooked meal, then it was time for some much needed sleep.

Linda and Richard are my fifth cousins who I met doing genealogical research in 2001.  They are really, really amazing hosts, much better than I can ever hope to be.  They have taken such good care of me on five other occasions and this was no exception.   They cooked us nice food, drove us around, gave us gifts and even gave up their own bed for our comfort.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for that!  Here is a beautiful watercolor that Lin made for me as a gift.  I will cherish it always!

There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see in Sussex! I love just walking around the villages, stopping in at shops, maybe picking up a few things that are different than I can get in America.  It was nice to show Neil where my family originated, walk in the church yard, see the WW1 memorial that has one of my ancestors name engraved on it.  I love the hardware store there in Billingshurst and go in it on every visit just to  see what interesting things they have that Home Depot does not.

Lin was keen on showing us St Botoph’s Church in Hardham in the Horsham District of West Sussex.  Built about 1050, it has wall paintings from about 1100.  A really interesting and important church, amazing!

Inside of St Botolph’s Church

Lin and Richard then drove us around the gorgeous country here.  We stopped at the town of Petworth which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book.  We walked around the town and stopped in at a few antique shops and St Mary’s Catholic Church.  Petworth was bombed in World War ll in Septemberof 1942, when a lone German plane tried to bomb Petworth House.  It missed the house and landed on the Petworth Boys’ School in North Street. Twenty eight boys died along with the headmaster and assistant teacher. So sad.  I think most of us relate the Blitz only to London, but they also bombed much of the rest of England.

The parish church of St Mary, Petworth

We then drove past the Goodwood Estate which was having a car event of some kind and we got to see lots of vintage cars.  Just up the road is a Rolls Royce factory and there were dozens of new cars lined up outside.  Apparently they were heading for the car show at Goodwood as well.

Richard treated us all to delicious fish & chips, Neil’s first authentic English!  The place was called Andy’s Fish Bar, in Chichester.  The portions were so huge I don’t think anyone actually finished the whole meal.  I find it amusing because whenever I’ve had a conversation with anyone from the UK about food, they will mention the large portions in America.

Arundel Castle

We stopped at Arundel Castle on the way back and walked around the town a little bit.  I had always wanted to see this castle because while doing genealogy, I remember seeing the name “Arundel” in my mother’s family history.  I later found out that what I remembered was “Arundel, Maryland”.  Big let down, thought it meant that we came from royalty!   It was too late to go into the castle by this time so we went in to a little tea shop and had a dessert.

Back home for nice dinner and conversation, talking about all of the lovely things we got to see today and looking forward to more tomorrow.

British Food and Drink

There’s an old cliche that I still hear whenever I tell anyone that I’m going to England, “OMG, I’ve heard the food is horrible “.  To which I say, ” I’ve never had a bad meal there”.  That is such an old tale, really.

I tell anyone that asks that you can get any type of food in the world there.  This trip we are taking the time to eat Indian food on Brick Lane!  I have heard many times that this is the place to get the best Indian food in the world.  I can’t imagine it could be better than actually being in India, but I’m willing to give it a try!  Of course, you can count on the fish and chips to be the best anywhere.  That goes for cream tea and high tea as well, there is no contest.


Marcie and I went to an “English tea shop” for  high tea in a little town on the outskirts of San Diego.  It was really well done and you could tell that the proprietress tried her hardest to make it authentic. It was very good, but there was just something missing.  Neither of us could put our finger on it.  It may just have been the atmosphere but it wasn’t the same.

Years ago at the bank where I worked, I had this English gentleman customer that was the epitome of what I had always imagined an English gentleman to be like.  He had white hair, a goatee, wore a plaid cap and vest and walked with a cane.  Just before my first trip over I asked him if he would like me to bring him back some real British tea.  He looked at me with a wry smile and told me that “it isn’t the tea my dear, it’s the water.”

Some of the foods that I cannot imagine eating anywhere else and having it be as good are:  British bacon, scones, roasted potatoes, fish and chips, sticky toffee pudding, Victoria sponge and cranachan.  There is a never ending list, but I haven’t had the pleasure of trying everything.

I also hear it about the drinks, especially the beer.  I hear things like “What do they know, they drink their beer warm”, “You can’t get a cold drink, they don’t have ice”.  It’s all so silly.  People should judge from their own experience.

 Now, I’m not a big drinker of alcohol.  I do like red wine with a meal.  I haven’t tried the beer there, but I imagine that it’s a matter of taste.  Some people like it with more flavor and some like the lighter lagers.     I have tasted a lemon shandy though, which is surprisingly refreshing.  Half ale and half lemonade, completely British!  I’ve also had barley water, which I had never heard of before I went there.  Some drinks that make me instantly think “England” are tea, Pimms,  bitters, ale and cider.  Maybe cider because the UK has the highest per capita consumption of cider, as well as the largest cider-producing companies in the world!

 My guess is that the service men that were stationed in England during World War II came home with stories about how awful the food was there.  It’s not surprising really, think about it.  England is a small island that was pretty much cut off during most of the war.  They had what was already there and what they could grow on the island.  I don’t think they were getting deliveries of fresh food from anywhere during those years.  I’m pretty sure that since the weather there is similar to the Pacific Northwest where I live, the growing season is pretty short.

 All I’m saying is keep an open mind, try everything once and don’t make assumptions from what you hear, especially from people that have never even been there.  I guess that’s good advice for everything in life!

English Gardening

My Garden Today-Feb 8th

My Garden Today-Feb 8th

I live in the Pacific Northwest of America,  fairly close in latitude to London.   Our weather isn’t exactly alike, but it’s close enough that I can grow most of the same plants in the same way.  It’s February, so I’m starting to think of spring and getting some seedlings going.   There is a place in London that I have been wanting to visit for years,  but for some reason, it just hasn’t happened yet.

The place I want to visit is The Museum of Garden History, which has recently changed it’s name to the Garden Museum.  It’s located in Lambeth.   At any rate,  on my first visit , I knew nothing about it.  Each subsequent visit,  it was either closed or I ran out of time.  I am determined to get to it on my next trip over.

My garden has some English influences.  Some of my plants were chosen because I had seen it in England and wanted to add  to my collection.  Euphorbia is one of them.  I have a lovely David Austin rose that is wonderfully prolific and smells heavenly.  There are a few whimsical details that just seem English to me, like a teapot and cup that an artist friend of mine made for me.  It makes me smile every time I see it.

"Tea" by Cindy Dunn

“Tea” by Cindy Dunn

Wikipedia defines the quintessential English garden as:  “the cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants”.  Mine is certainly this.  Always a work in progress, I consult many books of English Cottage Gardening,  go online,  ask my British friends, but equally use  my American resources.   I am American and I do live in America, but at the same time want to embrace my British heritage and my love of all things English.

The Garden Museum is coming into it’s own now.  One of the reasons I missed it so many times is that it used to be opened for only  part of the year and I seemed to only go in the wrong months.  I went to the website today and it looks as if it’s opened year round now, but closed the first Monday of every month.

It was started in 1977 as a way to save  from demolition the church of St Mary’s which is the burial place of John Tradescant (c1570 – 1638), lauded as “the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history.”  It has evolved into an interesting looking museum with a vast array of exhibitions from garden tools,  garden art, fashion,  art with a garden theme, famous garden designers and plant experts, and the list goes on.   Please check out the website and decide for yourself.  I would think that anyone interested in gardening, design,  history, or English culture would want to visit this beautiful place.

( I lost power shortly after writing this and have been unable to post until today!  Good times)