26 December 2012

December Reflections

December traditions continue as
the Queen gave her annual Christmas broadcast yesterday
( for the first time, in 3D)

Today is Boxing Day,
much like Black Friday in the US

Fragrant and winter flowering
Viburnum x bodnantense

Winter has its trademark stamp of
soft grey, mauve, peach skies
bare trees revealing their true structure

And yet
green, green grass
velvety moss
and winter blooming viburnums
prove this island is very much alive

Weekday family time is mostly cloaked in darkness,
as the sun sets as early as 3:55p

Evening train commuters look like fireflies
with their torches/flashlights leading the way home
as our village has few streetlights

The rain does have a cozy comfort to it
The surrender
to a cozy blanket, warm fire, hot tea, and a good read

I love that I'm not cold to the bone as I found myself in the snowy US

Absent for months,
this week I just start to hear
the welcome sounds of a squeaky bicycle pump -
the classic bird call of the tit/chickadee
announcing that Spring is coming :)

The English sights, sounds, and traditions
are starting to settle into my soul
- feeling familiar and less of a curiosity -

Thank you for joining my journey
this year

I look forward to seeing you
in 2013

- all photos by me -

20 December 2012

Christmas In England

The Christmas season comes earlier to England than to the US

In England, it creeps in as early as November 5th
after Guy Fawkes Night

In the US, the season officially kicks off after Thanksgiving
(end of November)

Although England is ethnically diverse
(especially in and around London)
there is no politically correct 
'Happy Holidays' or 'Seasons Greetings' to be heard

See the English robin in lights?

'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Christmas',
are not meant to be religiously assuming
Just a general 'wishing you a wonderful holiday season'

As Christianity is the official religion here,
there is no pretending it isn't
(although they are welcoming of other religions)

We were surprised by how many Jewish neighbors lived in our area
when we saw 'menorahs' in many home windows
We soon learned these 'welcome lights' are actually a new, fast-growing tradition
originating from Nordic countries

English Christmas traditions include

browsing craft fairs and Christmas markets,
visiting Santa in one of his many grottos
& attending a local 'panto' production

Family-friendly pantos take a classic story
and add gender swapping, songs, humor for adults & kids,
and loads of audience participation
photo: ATG tickets

Another activity includes stopping by a local National Trust property
to view it in period holiday decor

Edwardian Christmas at Polesden Lacey (National Trust)

Although sending Christmas cards is an old tradition here,
family photo cards are just starting to catch on

The cutie-pie English robin is closely associated with Christmas
possibly because postmen in Victorian times
wore red uniforms and delivered cards
Postmen were nicknamed 'Robin'

Post boxes have been red since 1884

Also, the robin is one feathered friend still seen on the island this time of year :)

Santa will find small mince pies, not cookies, 
left for him by the fireplace

Mince pies

Christmas meals will be enjoyed at local pubs and in homes

The menu is often goose, ham, or turkey with stuffing
In fact, turkey first appeared in England on wealthy tables in the 16th century
Reportedly Henry VIII was the first monarch 
to eat the exotic American bird for Christmas

Today, brussels sprouts and parsnips also may be served
followed by Christmas Pudding
('pudding' is a general term for baked desserts)

Mini Christmas Puddings
photo credit: Tesco

Don't come to England looking for 'Figgy Pudding' 
as it has been replaced by Christmas Pudding

Figgy Pudding's key ingredient was figs and was offered to carolers 
as a thank you for singing to the wealthy community

'Oh Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding' 
is a line from the carol 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', 
originally sung in the 16th century in England's West Country

And although they don't have yummy eggnog here,
mulled wine is a delicious alternative
- warm, spiced red wine -

Another lovely tradition after the Christmas meal
is Christmas Crackers

Two people pull each end to open the cracker to see what is inside
- a paper crown, small toy, confetti, or a joke -

Wishing you a wonderful holiday with your loved ones
May you stay warm and cozy in heart and home :)

- all photos are my own, unless otherwise noted -

Sources: Wikipedia 1, 2; Arundel Wetlands Centre

16 December 2012

Snapshot Of London In December

London, all dressed-up for the holidays!

'Twelve Days Of Christmas' this year on Regent Street

Thanks to my sister
I discovered a new area, St Christopher's Place

Carnaby Street is always a fun place to wander

And lovely Liberty is adorned with simple greenery

This month has been busy, as December always is

Recently I was fortunate to meet one of my first blogger friends in person,
Suzanne of Privet and Holly

She wrote up a bit about her visit here

Hope you are enjoying the holiday season so far!

12 December 2012

Frosty England

I've never been a big fan of winter
but my kids are

I'm one step closer to loving this season 
for all that England has shown me...

Making the most of every day
regardless of weather

Each day is a weather adventure
- snow, rain, sun, clouds, fog, or frost -

Look for more

Frozen spiderwebs look like icicles due to 'hoar frost'

As we drove to school today
my daughter looked at a fence and asked if those were real spiderwebs

'No, those are too thick to be real'

But sure enough, spiderwebs were visible with all the frost,
revealing an invisible world 
everywhere I turned

Unbelievable, no?

This is exactly what it looked like - no photo tinkering

Countless hues of grey*
- soft & muted -

The lighting in England is so different from anywhere else I've lived before

Frozen grasses look like white clouds resting in the heath

Everything is better with a cozy blanket

A gorgeous countryside drive
is never far away

'All is calm, all is bright'

Beauty is everywhere

And wear gloves with fingers on next photo shoot :)

- all photos by me -

* 'Grey' is the British spelling; 'gray' the American - important as there is so much of it here :)

08 December 2012

Film Locations: The Holiday & Bridget Jones

A few months ago
I asked you what questions you have for me

For a while 
I've been chewing on this question 
from Debi at A Tale of Two Cities...

Do you have suggestions for cute towns that would be
great day trips for us London gals wanting to get out of the city sometimes?
We've been to all the tourist sites of course, but we love cute towns
and villages that we can get to by train...

The picturesque village of Shere comes to mind,
in the heart of the rolling Surrey Hills 
just 30 miles south west of London

(photo by me)

To get there, take a train from London Waterloo to Guildford
and hop in a taxi for a 20 minute drive to Shere

Because it is a village, it is quite small by definition

Set in Tillingbourne Valley, medieval Shere
is complete with a ford, stream, ducks to feed, ancient church, teashop,
stores, and pubs

Need something to do?
How about a nose around for local film locations :)

Shere Lane on filming day
via Hooked On Houses

You can see they pumped snow all over the village for a Christmassy look
but as it rarely snows here, I can't promise you'll see the white stuff on your visit
- I got lucky this week ;) -

(photo by me)

The gorgeous Church of St James is Grade I listed and was built in 1190

It provided the backdrop for the final wedding scene in 
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004)

Cameron Diaz was dropped off in front of the church graveyard
in the romantic comedy, The Holiday (2006)

Take a walk over and enjoy a pint in the former smugglers pub, 
The White Horse, built in 1425

Filming at The White Horse with Jude Law
(Photos used by permission, © Chris Capstick Photography)

In The Holiday, Jude Law and Cameron Diaz enjoy drinks in this fire-lit pub
with ceiling timbers from Nelson's ship, HMS Victory, which was in the Battle Of Trafalgar
The cast and crew enjoyed their wrap up party here too

Have a rumbly in your tumbly?
Amble over to 18th century pub, The William Bray, for a scrumptious meal
(great outside seating on a sunny day)

To walk off your meal in the breathtaking countryside
 go past St James Church 
and find the public pathway to the right of the church

Up the hill you will see the field where Iris's cottage was created for The Holiday
Just a film set, the house is no longer standing

In the photo, you can see the church spire in the background
(and no snow on the hills)

Front of house via Chalk and Talk Blog
Back view via Paul Orford on Panoramio

In the photo on the right,
it looks like the public pathway is on the left side
(you can just barely see people standing on it)
The field is on private land but can be seen from the church path

And that adorable cozy English interior?
 Filmed in sunny Sony Picture Studios, Culver City, California
- the horror! -

via Hooked On Houses

Although you won't see the storefronts from Diaz's famous driving scene here
(filmed 8 miles away in Godalming),
the Shere Shop is a cute village shop worth a visit when in Shere

Another worthy walk is along the stream heading out of town
where you'll pass the community (allotment) garden, 
16th & 17th century timber-framed houses, a ford, and a pasture for horses

Shere holds a special place in my heart,
as my husband took me there
to woo me over with the idea of moving to England

As you can see,
it worked :)

{ Read my post about the building of Iris's cottage here }