30 October 2012

An Autumn Canvas

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

Celebrating my third autumn in England,
this year has been the most beautiful by far

Maples (acers) and virginia creepers are clothed in crimson

Beech trees dot the landscape in copper
while birch's paintbrush is dipped in amber

I am told Canadian soldiers from WWII planted many of the maples
in southeast England to remind them of home

I feel the trees giving a last yawn of color
before they cozy-down for bed, 
preparing for their awakening in Spring

{ sending the love to my friends and readers impacted by Sandy }

- all photos by me -

28 October 2012

London: Ceremony Of The Keys

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

Tower Of London

Last weekend
we attended the Ceremony Of The Keys,
one of the oldest ceremonies in England
and definitely the shortest

Lasting only seven minutes,
we witnessed the official 9:30p lock up of this national fortress
which holds the Crown Jewels
as well as many stories of beheadings and WWII spies

Built by William The Conqueror
and used as a palace until James I,
the Tower Of London became a well known prison thereafter

Apply here for free tickets to observe this 760 year old tradition
of passing the Queen's keys

- photo by me -

26 October 2012

Lunch in London, Dinner In Sydney

Posted By HappyHomemakerUK

One day it could come true

Four hours from London to Sydney
in the newest Concorde-inspired jet

Pendant available via Etsy

Boeing, Gulfstream and NASA have teamed together
to reduce the sonic boom
and to make a lighter aircraft

I can't imagine life in 2020,
but I love seeing glimpses of the possibilities
Don't you?

22 October 2012

Trick Or Treating In England

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

In Ireland and Britain
during the Middle Ages on Hallowmas { November 1 }
 people went door-to-door in costume
receiving food in return for prayers for the dead

Fast-forward to 1895
for the first record of 'guising' in Scotland,
where children in disguise visited neighbors

performing a poem, song, or joke
to receive cake, fruit or money for their efforts
{ practiced later in Ireland too }

They carried lanterns made of scooped-out turnips
{ which was on the menu the following day }

First record of guising in North America was in

Some point before 1940, guising evolved to 'trick-or-treating'
on Halloween night in the western US and Canada

Although this annual US event of
asking for candy without a performance was stalled
by sugar rationing from 1942-1947 due to World War II,

trick-or-treating picked up steam
with the mass production of costumes
and attention given to it in children's magazines and radio shows

firmly establishing it in American pop culture by 1952

Halloween has a really fun vibe to it 
and is generally loved by everyone
in the US

It's a time
for parties in classrooms and among adults,
for catching up with neighbors,
for giggly teenagers to scare themselves at staged haunted houses
{ I haven't seen those here }

Carving pumpkins is an American tradition, as pumpkins are native to America
{ and bigger than turnips }

'Trick-or-treating' in England is viewed as an American export
and not necessarily a welcome one

In 2007 the BBC News wrote
the 'authentically ancient festival' of Halloween
'has been hijacked by trick or treating' 
and cited
the 1986 House of Lords debate about
 trick-or-treating being not a tradition, 
but American for begging
{ Yikes! }

Seasonal decorations displayed on house exteriors is considered 'in bad taste'
so we have festive window stickers at the back of the house
{ plus some spooky fake [and real] cobwebs hanging inside }

a giant blow up ghost popping out of a pumpkin
would never be seen in front of someone's home here as
1) electricity is too expensive
2) you would be calling attention to yourself

Halloween is more of a dark occasion here,
which makes the older generations nervous about bad behavior
in a society that closely guards its privacy

My first year I saw 'No Trick Or Treaters Here' fliers distributed for posting on doors

To indicate trick-or-treaters are welcome at a home,
a pumpkin or lit candle will be outside the front door

However each year there seems to be
increased lightening and acceptance of this event

evidenced by more Halloween displays in store windows
and more aisle space dedicated to bagged candy, costumes, and knickknacks

Although most English parents never trick-or-treated as children,
it is catching on and their children are enthusiastic about it

Children's costumes are scary or gory
- skeletons, witches, ghouls -

never 'cute' like a puppy dog
or Disney characters
{ that would be seen as bizarre }

Many houses have spooky 'fog machines'
{ well, ventilation for boilers, actually }

I noticed trick-or-treat bags are quite small,
humbly not wanting to seem greedy
{ some Americans bring pillowcases to fill in the US }

English neighbors typically give one piece of candy or one coin

Our street is filled with elderly neighbors,
so I expect none of them will be participating

We will seek a street with more family homes

American readers are probably thinking
how nice it must be to avoid the heavy commercialization of Halloween,

but with no Thanksgiving in England
you can bet Christmas paraphernalia has been for sale since the beginning of October!

Happy Halloween, y'all :)

- all photos by me -

Source: Wikipedia 123BBCRampants Scotland

20 October 2012

Road Trip: Normandy

Much anticipated,
we spent a long weekend in

Bonjour, Miss Dreamy :)

We took the Eurostar train to Calais
and drove south to Normandy


France and England have a long history in this region

All English schoolchildren know that in 1066AD
William The Conqueror (Duke of Normandy)
 invaded England,
creating a huge turning point in English history

Isn't it a wonder why he left?
So gorgeous :)


Centuries later
French Normandy was occupied by England forces
during the Hundred Years' War (1345 - 1360)
and then again 1415 - 1450


Another major turning point in history -
Normandy is famous for the D-Day landings
on June 6, 1944

We took a guided tour of the area
{ fascinating and moving }

D-Day landing site
Normandy American Cemetery
Craters from bombings

'gîtes' are popular accommodations in France
They are self-catering cottages
Some include breakfast

The few times we've traveled to France,
I liked it but I didn't really 'get' it

But since our recent trip to Normandy,
I've pulled out the guidebook
to hatch a plan...

...for adding more photos to my French collection :)


- all photos by moi -
Source: Wikipedia

18 October 2012

Driving In France

Posted By Happy Homemaker

Imagine my surprise
when I learned we needed a driving kit
to legally drive in France

Europeans know,
but American readers may be asking themselves

 'driving kit'

Sold by Amazon

Safety vest (inside car, not in trunk)
Warning triangle
Extra lightbulbs for lamps
First aid kit
Fire extinguisher
GB sticker for plates not already indicating British registration

Headlamp Converters
(something about driving on the other side of the road
requires that you change out the lights
as it may 'dazzle' oncoming traffic?)

And required as of July 2012, two breathalyzer test kits

If you wear corrective lenses,
it's the law to carry a spare pair of glasses
 even if you wear contact lenses

Penalty for not having these items if stopped by police?
On the spot fine (cash only) or suffer your car being impounded

Thank goodness I now have the common European signs under my belt
but I quickly learned there were a few French road signs omitted
in the extra credit section of my UK driver's test

This mysterious 'x marks the spot' 
indicates you are either nearing buried treasure or 
you are coming to a junction and the right has the right of way

The diamond indicates the main road has priority
The crossed out priority means the traffic on the right has priority
(or a seatbelt is hugging the sign)

Shouldn't this get some kind of violence rating?

You can imagine when I saw all these goodies
it just sang
blog post 

16 October 2012

Stomping Around Pooh Country

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

Having awaited a year to visit 'Pooh Country'
to capture the area as I've pictured it in my head
(aka leaves falling)

I now have images of 
Ashdown Forest to share with you,
the real backdrop to AA Milne's
Winnie-The-Pooh series


We had tea and picked up a map here

Located in Sussex,
Pooh's Bridge is a short distance from the forest parking lot

Pooh Bridge, 
where children race floating sticks down the stream

Christopher Robin was the real son of the author
Together they tromped through this open space as a family in the 1920s

Christopher named his teddy bear 'Winnie' 
after a bear he'd seen in the London Zoo
The real bear was from Winnipeg, Canada

'Pooh' was the name of a swan they saw on holiday

The first Winnie-The-Pooh collection of stories was published by AA Milne in 1926

Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore, and Piglet were other stuffed animals
belonging to young Christopher

They now sit in the New York City Public Library

Interestingly, as an adult
Christopher founded
Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth
(now closed)

Surrounded by gorse and heather,
we had a feeling we were nearing a Huffalump Trap

As we were pelted by rain
endured blustery winds 
and experienced disorienting fog,
I could just hear a sweet tubby bear exclaiming
Oh, bother

“What day is it?" asked Pooh.
''It's today," squeaked Piglet.
''My favorite day," said Pooh.
― A.A. Milne

Wishing you a wonderful one :)

- all  photos by me -
Source: Wikipedia 1, 2, quote

14 October 2012

Absentee Ballot: Voting Abroad

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

I just voted today
for the next US President

All Americans recognize this sticker
given to voters at polling places

Months ago
I went to the US Embassy website,
clicked on my home state
and applied for an absentee ballot

Each state has their own process
My state offers an online ballot option
with all of its amendments and referendums too

My ballot was emailed to me,
and the 'open sesame' of security
were my numbers
(date of birth plus social security or drivers license number)

I researched the issues
and started checking boxes (bubbles, actually)
to cast my vote

Then in typical American customer service oriented fashion,
I was surveyed as to how satisfied I was with the process


I printed my bubble-answered ballot in English and Spanish
and it will be dropped in the US Post by a traveling friend
(I could do from here, but would take longer)

Easy peasy

I admit it has been nice to be removed from all the political hubbub
this time around

Now, if only we could figure out how to renew a drivers licence
without a US address...

10 October 2012

Literary Juice: Meeting Cressida Cowell And More

Post By Happy Homemaker UK

My first job ever was at my college/uni library
(I tried to get work in high school, but I was plagued by looking illegally young)
- I'm not plagued by that anymore, btw :) -

And almost ever since, I have worked, paid and unpaid, in libraries

I love them so - 
for the adventures between the pages and magnificent artwork on the covers
The creativity and hard work imprinted on bound paper

Vintage french classic books for sale by Rosie's Armoire

As an English major,
I took a children's literature class
and have been hooked ever since
And then I had children, which has allowed me to easily follow my interest

So when I saw that Cressida Cowell of 'How To Train Your Dragon' fame
was speaking at our local library,
I jumped at the chance to see her
(a huge advantage of living in a small country is the famous are never that far away)

My kids moaned that I was dragging them to yet another thing,
saying they'd outgrown her books
'Too bad' was my only response

Trying to refrain from a 'I told you so' moment,
they thought she was utterly fantastic and inspiring
as they were riveted to her words
(as was I)

Rarely do I meet someone who is so clearly fulfilling their destiny

Someone who has been sprinkled with some kind of magic powder dust
who has laser focus, a lot of talent, and is one of the most successful in her field

Cressida has an amazing, dramatic storytelling voice
And she looks like such a normal mom
who I easily could have stood next to in the grocery line

But her creative Viking/dragon stories are not ordinary at all
In fact, she is telling and illustrating what in her mind are true stories

Although she grew up in London, her family took an annual summer holiday 
to an uninhabited island in Scotland (just their cottage on it)

A fisherman would drop them off on the island and pick them up 6 weeks later

There, she and her siblings would have endless days of roaming freely on the island
and eating fish they caught

She wove tales in her head about the Vikings who really did live in the area
and of dragons the Vikings believed in

Cressida starting putting those childhood stories to paper when she was 32 years old
and the rest is history

''My whole life my teachers said 'Stop daydreaming!'. 
And now my publisher says 'More daydreaming; faster daydreaming!'''

Newly released in series

Cressida went on to say ''Writing is like telling a really good lie''
with lots of detail and embellishments 
so the reader can picture what the author is trying to convey

''Books put an idea in your head and your imagination does the rest of the work''

Writing advice also included 
drawing a map and seeing how the story develops from it
which is exemplified in Treasure Island and Peter Pan

Cressida loved the film 'How To Train Your Dragon '
and was a part of the process along the way
More films based on her books are due for release in 2014 and 2016


And as I flipped to the end of one of her books,
there sat an invitation for readers
to join a 'review crew' for the publisher!
My kids could get unpublished manuscripts to read and review?
How fast can you say 'Hello, my kids are so on board?!'

So moving on...
now seems like the perfect time to show you my favorite section
in a recent children's exhibition at SouthBank (London) over the summer
- 'aMAZEme' labyrinth of books -

Not a great photo, but the concept is that as you walk through the maze
you encounter blinding thick rain, secret passageways, 
invisible avalanches, dangerous pirates, magical waterfalls 
which all are held within the pages that surround you in the maze

So creative!

All ages were reading books from that delicious assortment
It was irresistible

Covering over 500 sq meters, the 250,000 remaindered, used, and new books
were loaned by charity shop, Oxfam, and donated by publishing houses in the UK
Afterward, all books were given to Oxfam

The labyrinth was in the design of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges's fingerprint

Love it!

Anyhoo, as I was talking to Cressida's publisher
(I was talking to Cressida's publisher!)
she mentioned a few literary festivals around the country including
ones in Bath, Oxford, and Cheltenham
(links provided)

It looks like they pull in some really big names from around the world

Have you ever attended one?
How far in advance do I need to buy tickets?
Any advice?

Make room -
I'm about to bust out another happy dance!

- all photos by me unless otherwise indicated -

Cressida Cowell's UK Book Tour dates here

Other children's lit posts:
English History For Kids (books)
Beatrix Potter
Roald Dahl Museum

09 October 2012

Yep, That's Me!

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

Feeling too shy
I've never really done a bio before
but trying to 'up my game' a little as a blogger 
I added this 'About' page today

Perhaps this will reveal a little more about me to you? 

Hi! I'm Laura, an American mom living in southeast England since 2010. I live on a quiet pebbled lane with horses (not ours) across the street and woods at the end of the road. My husband, two kids, and a deaf cat are an integral part of my life story.

Lucky for me, we relocated to an island of beautiful gardens, delightful architecture, and delicious history & literature. Imagine, all my favs in one country! Wonderful soul food surrounds me :)

I write about all things English: day trips, local attractions, gardens, history, current events, and differences between American and English cultures.  I can't resist a good story and photographing pretty places!

In my former American life, I designed bespoke children's clothing for four years which were sold online, in boutiques and at home shows. How I loved putting together wacky fabric combinations, finished with ribbon or ric-rac to pull it all together. Cutting fabric was my zen. It was a seven-days-a-week job with three others helping with sewing at times. I don't miss it, but I do reflect fondly on those years.

So, welcome to a peek into my world - pull up a chair, grab a cozy blanket, and enjoy a cup of tea. It's wonderful to have you here!

So now, I wonder if you have any questions for me?
About blogging? Being an expat? Anything
This may guide me for a future post
Thanks for taking a moment to comment or email, if you please :)


Questions answered here:

06 October 2012

A Day At Hidcote Manor Garden

Posted By Happy Homemaker UK

Deprived of taking photos at Prince Charles's Highgrove,
I was itching to photograph a garden
Almost any garden would do!

But I decided to trek to Hidcote Manor Gardens
which has sat at the top of my must-see list for years

It is one of the best-known and most influential
British gardens from the Arts and Crafts movement

Previous owner, Lawrence Johnston, was a friend 
to other innovative gardeners of his time
including Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West

You can see the commonality in their hardy flower borders,
white garden, and garden of rooms

All such a visual delight!

Come on in :)

You know I'm a sucker for thatched houses
(now houses the gardeners - luckies!)

Like a fairytale,
just missing the damsel...

17th Century Hidcote Manor
in classic Cotswold stone

One of the many 'rooms' in this 15 acre garden

Beehives among the wildflowers

With lots of busy-bee gardeners working,
there were loads of wheelbarrows just begging to be photographed

My postcard attempt with fun filters
Loving the girlie Japanese anemones

Spied this down the street...

Can't you just picture this handmade sign
being a Mother's Day gift a few years ago?

Floral eye candy everywhere I looked :)

- all photos by me -
More info: Hidcote