30 September 2008

Is this an appliance, I see before me?

I refuse to be outwitted by my new “hoover” (vacuum cleaner).  I am too smart to be defeated by British electrical appliances! Sometimes, I wonder if all of my British appliances are against me, or if the Dyson is on its own? Without a doubt, the Dyson is in it to win it. 

The “cooker”(stove/oven) is clearly in league with the Dyson; it has a mind of its own, along with a very frightening, flame-throwing death wish. The refrigerator is an insult to all appliances worldwide that bear that name.  It is the size—and shape—of a small shoe box. No, in fact I think there would be more space in a shoe box.  A toddler’s shoe box. Oddly, the largest appliance in my kitchen is the Freezer. We have more freezer capacity in our kitchen, than a caribou hunter in Alaska! And what, pray tell, could possibly have been the reasoning behind that design choice? Microscopic fridge (typically, the appliance used for maintaining necessary everyday items), with a colossal freezer (typical, in my case, only used for ice cream, French fries and occasional Edamame.) The mind boggles.

Having such a small refrigerator basically means that the D.E.B. has to perform a near daily run to Sainsbury’s on his way home from work. Sure, it’s very hip and French to do a bit of grocery shopping everyday, but, surely, eventually this has to become an annoyance. Although, I will say the “Sainsbury’s run” does have the side benefit of a very fun, routine exchange between the D.E.B. and myself. I log on to sainsburys.com, and create a virtual trolley of everything I want to buy. I then email the Trolley, pictures and all, to the D.E.B., who dutifully prints it out, and carries it forthwith to Sainsbury’s. On some occasions, we arrange to meet, and shop together. I really, really enjoy this.

On those days, I take the silly Warwickshire bus to Warwick (sounds redundant, and often feels that way) and walk to the bright, new, glistening Sainsbury’s. I run gleefully to their dazzling, new Starbucks (Yes, Starbucks!), order my Grande Soy Latte, read a book (currently, Professors Wive’s Club, by my dear friend, Joanne Rendell, a.k.a. “Superstar Writer Friend.”), and wait for my D.E.B. He arrives, smiling that smile, and we sit and have coffee. We stare into other’s eyes, and those few precious moments, in this Starbucks--that looks like every other Starbucks in the world--it feels  to both of us like we are back in NYC. Having coffee out in the Village during one of the D.E.B.’s transatlantic hops to see me, deciding how we should spend the afternoon, if we should go to the MET, the Morgan or just back to the apartment… Perhaps, our tiny fridge isn’t such a bad thing.

The washing machine. I have a secret fascination with the washing machine. I find myself purposely dirtying my clothes, just so I can use it.  (“Oh, dear. Did I just accidently spill tea on that skirt, and smear Marmite on my t-shirt? Oh, well, better wash them!”) The washing machine is adorable. The tub inside it is just about big enough to hold three pairs of socks, two towels, a t-shirt and a bra, to be washed at the same time.  It’s a Hobbit Washing Machine. I guess it’s a good thing that I am a Hobbit-sized person—though I’d prefer to be an Elf.

Although it is not technically an “appliance,” per se, my arch-nemesis—even more than the Dyson, or the masochist cooker—is the “washing line.”  The washing line is, of course, the implement I use to dry the clothes I am constantly washing. A nifty trick for a girl who has never known life without a huge, electric, tumble dryer.

The washing line tempts me. Whenever there is even the slightest a bit of sunshine on the horizon, the washing line whispers to me, like the serpent luring Eve: “Psst, psst. It’s a sunny day, better use it while you can…” I try to ignore it. I drink my tea, and keep reading. But as the sun beams hotter, I feel my resolve melting away. I dash about, madly gathering clothes, putting the Hobbit Washing Machine to work flat out. I then relish the moment—over an hour later—when the Hobbit Washing Machine has chugged its last and final spin, and I proudly drape the freshly cleaned clothes on the tempter washing line. Of course, of course, two hours later, as I am out walking Lucy up the hilly foothpath to Hareway Lane, the clouds break. Rain. On my clean, nearly-dried laundry.  And I can just hear the washing line, and the Dyson, sneering: “Gotcha!”

29 September 2008

Searching for the Mother Ship

Sunday.

In the garden, writing. D.E.B. cleaning out the garage, making room for the arrival, tomorrow, of all the stuff I shipped from New York six weeks ago.

387 cubic feet. The metric measurement of my entire life. Of everything I own and hold dear. Five years of living in Manhattan, joy, pain, bliss, sorrow, heartache and achievement, crammed tightly into card-board boxes and bubble wrap. Funnily enough, the D.E.B. and I spent the evening last night watching the Sex and the City movie. I was prepared to be weepy, expecting to be saddened by sights of the Much-Beloved City, but what I had not been prepared for was the striking resonances between Carrie Bradshaw’s fiction and my present reality: the way in which she changes her life to be with Mr. Big, mainly in the form of packing up her life, and giving up her apartment to set up house with him. I knew how she felt as she walked around her empty apartment that one last time…

Life is never without risks, even when we don’t pursue or willingly take them. Another apt adage: change is the only constant.  What I think is also constant is our innate and very human reluctance to change. “I like, what I like; and I want, what I want.”

Sundays are the in some ways the hardest days for me here in England. Especially today after seeing the familiar sights of NYC last night. What do I miss? Very specific,  “Sunday” things: Indian Buffet Brunch at Taj, with my best and dearest friend, Christopher (a.k.a., “The Boy Genius Playwright”); my daily gallop around Washington Square Park; and long, lazy Sunday afternoons at my favorite nail salon – God bless Cindy and the girls, Lord knows I never appreciated them enough until now! (Question: Why, oh why, is it completely and utterly impossible to get a decent manicure, pedicure or waxing in this country???!!) But, most of all, I miss the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, where I served as a Chalice Bearer, Acolyte, Reader and Week Day Mass Assistant.  I miss St. Luke’s more than anything else. I feel something very close to actual physical pain when I think of St. Luke’s, and how I cannot be there.

My spiritual history and religious biography are far too complex to outline here, so suffice it to say that this point in my faith journey, I am proudly Episcopalian. I had thought that being here, in England, attending and joining a Church of England (Anglican) parish would be like coming home. Entering the Mother Ship. Not so. Over the past month I have “church shopped” at two of the parishes in and near my village: St. Peter’s at Barford and St. John the Baptist at Wasperton.

Both were filled with kind, warm, friendly, welcoming, earnest people. Both parishes are ancient and stunningly beautiful. First, I tried St. Peter’s. Of course, the Sunday we attended – the D.E.B. came along too, in support – was a christening day. (Never a true gage of any church.) At any rate, I was scandalized. No smoke, no bells, no pomp, no circumstance. No Book of Common Prayer.  That’s right - BCP had been displaced by a new text called Common Worship. I was mortified. Then, two of the choristers left their places to perform a “new hymn” on guitar and bongos... Again, mortified.

In an instant, I became, to my mind, the very image of an old, Episcopalian grande dame dowager, scowling at the modern, new-fangled changes of today, loathing this youthful exuberance of expression. I must just say that I have always, always, ALWAYS loathed that "chinga, ching, ching," happy-clappy, Christian music sound! Even in my brief, Evangelical, “Wouldn’t-you-just-die-without-Amy-Grant” heyday, that jingle-jangly, “Aren’t we hip, cause Kevin brought his guitar to church” sound drove me nuts! I am well aware that liturgically, and perhaps in other ways as well, I would probably have been better suited living in the 19th century.

It is surely no surprise that today’s service at St. John the Baptist at Wasperton was at the opposite extreme. Well, that would be a dramatic twist to my tale, but one that would not be entirely true. Yes, The Book of Common Prayer was the source text for the service, but still no bells or smells. The congregation consisted of 14 faithful souls – counting and including myself, the vicar, the organist and the two mass assistants. I was the youngest person present, by a significant divide. The hymns were somber and sincere; the sermon, earnest and heartfelt. But, I should have known there would be trouble, as at the moment I arrived, I struggled fruitlessly for a good 5-7 minutes just trying to open the heavy, ancient, wooden door to get in.  Ironically, the “trouble” on this occasion was not the presence of too much modernity, (i.e., guitars and bongos), but the complete and utter lack of any modernity at all! 

The sound of my beloved BCP is always a comfort, but in this case, it seemed that we were using the Book of Common Prayer circa 1661! Don’t get me wrong, Shakespeare scholar that I am, I love my thee’s, thou’s, beseech’s and vouchsafes more than the next person, and I relish the fact that when we pray from the BCP, we are praying/speaking in common or “communion” with all the people who have heard or said these words in the present and in centuries past.  I tingle when I think that Shakespeare could have heard the very same words I heard today, as he sat on a Sunday at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon.  As an Episcopalian, I’m a part of that continuum of faith. But, here is the rub. Here is where it all came to a screech halt for me: Inclusive language.

“…who came down from Heaven for us, men, and our salvation…”

Instead of actually meditating upon to these great declarations of faith, I found myself counting how many times throughout the service we referred to the entirety of the human race as “man” or “men.” I could feel my blood slowly begin to boil. Where have we gone?  What century are we in again? I always find these sort of moments painfully ironic, because of course, when one actually stops, and takes a look around at the actual congregation – and I guarantee whenever I have done this the result is always the same --  there are always, always, always more women present than men.  ARRGH!

This was not an easy pill to swallow for a girl who is quite used to the heady and steady tide of progress at her much-beloved Manhattan parish -- where she once got into a rather heated debate over the decision some folks had made to start referring to the Holy Spirit as “she.” (My view, briefly: I don’t, at present, see or feel the need to refer to the Holy Spirit as “she.”)  

From all of this, I have surmised that my faith life is far, far, far more complex and complicated than even I had imagined. Tradition or progress? I don’t see the need to choose. I want them both. I want it all. I want the magic and the music. I want tradition, ritual, all the bells and whistles. (Bells, literally; whistles, figuratively.) But, I also want progress and forward-thinking. 

It has just occurred to me that this, my own, private spiritual dilemma and religious "crisis" in its on small way, mirrors what is happening today in the larger Worldwide Anglican Communion, and it’s current, on-going struggle to between tradition and progress. 

I have no answers for the Worldwide Anglican Communion, nor for myself. But I think the crux for me, in trying to find a new spiritual home here in Warwickshire, is deciding whether I’m looking for God, or just searching for St. Luke’s. 

27 September 2008

In the Kitchen

There is something about having a man cook for you.
I don't mean when a man does the "Come-over-next-Thursday-I'll-make-dinner" sort of cooking. I mean, the spur of the moment, extemporaneous, "I'll-do-a-little-something-for-us-shall-I?"  sort of cooking. 

Believe me, I have far better people to quote than Paris Hilton, but, as she is wont to say, "That's hot!" 

The D.E.B. took over the kitchen today, and I found myself feeling territorial and turned on, all at the same time. Unfortunately, territorial had the edge, and I had to resist the urge to correct or advise ("That flame's up awful high, don't cha think?" or "Are you really going to out those two ingredients together...in the same dish?") But, all I had to do was remind myself that this was meant to be a TREAT and that I am meant to enjoy it, and not use this occasion as a Gordon Ramsay "teachable moment." 

Watching the D.E.B. cook is incredibly sexy, and makes me want to have his child. Right now. 

26 September 2008

A Foggy Day in Barford ...

Strange start to the day. Low fog on a day that promised sunshine. Somehow matches my mood. Feeling a bit uninspired with myself. One of those "Have I bitten off more than I can chew" days. What do I even know about writing fiction?I know nothing. I am flying by the seat of my pants (trousers), as usual. The D.E.B. and I had a lovely evening last night. Long walk with Lucy, beers at The Granville, then home for "tea" (dinner). D.E.B. so supportive, so encouraging. Wanted to hear all about the new novel idea, my latest conquest, what is sure to be the next, great bestseller. (His words, not mine.)

     
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I find his love, his faith in me so remarkable. It is so complete, so unconditional, so judgement-free and open. To say that it is "blind faith" sounds a bit negative and naive, and it is so much more than that. And means so much more to me. He believes in my "gifts," more than I do! So, as I sat in the bright, sunny warmth of his faith, I rambled on all night long about my character ideas, my plot line, my narrative twists, etc., etc.  I worked myself into such a lather, I found it hard to sleep! And now, today, this morning, as I sit and stare at my very blank computer screen, thinking to myself, who am I kidding? What on earth am I doing? Or, as the English would say, "What am I playing at?"

Listening to Classic FM, today is the anniversary of the birth of the legendary, phenomenal American composer, George Gershwin. (Wouldn't you just die without Gershwin?)
"A foggy day, in London town, had me low, had me down."
Perfect lyrics from one of my all time favo(u)rite Gershwin tunes. I guess even the great Gershwin had days like this...

25 September 2008

Deadly sins and green-eyed monsters

Apple trees.
As I walked home from "Morning Prayer" at St. Peter's this morning, I realized my soul is in mortal danger. I am guilty of the deadly sin of envy. 
I covet my neighbo(u)r's apple tree. With the arrival of autumn and the shortening days, the apple tree in our next door neighbo(u)rs (a lovely Irishman and his very sweet girlfriend) garden has sprung into magnificent bloom. The tree is heavy with beautiful fruit, and some of the apples have begun to blush. 
Recently I have caught myself on a number of occasions, peering longingly at Kevin and Laura's apple tree from my office window. I want an apple tree. I DESERVE an apple tree! I have begun to obsess about apple trees. 
While we were out walking Lucy one late summer evening, D.E.B. and I began a conversation about eventually buying a house of our own -- we are only renting/letting this place for the time being.  We talked about the kind of place we dreamt of having. Thankfully, our tastes are very similar. We both prefer older homes to new. Cottages to townhouses or 'executive homes.' A garden is, of course, essential and fireplaces. But, above all else, I made it very clear that my most essential requirement is an apple tree! I have no idea whence this obsession with apple trees has come. Not so terribly long ago, I was a sassy Manhattan diva who would have openly and rampantly coveted another woman's Manolos, her handbag, her lipstick or her job. 
Speaking of shoes, my cute, little rain boots have become a real hit and the topic of many a conversation about the Village. 
They are adorable and I love them. I live in them. They are in fact, the most comfortable shoes I own. I wear them, rain or shine. I don't care, and I am quite spoiled about it. They are made by a company called "Western Chief" and the company's motto, stamped on the back of each boot, is: "Wear a Big Smile." And from the moment I saw them, all I did was smile. I bought them ages ago in NYC, and I lived in them even then, back in the City. The way I guess some folks are enamo(u)red of their UGG boots, though I fail to see the fascination there. I have friend who loathes UGG boots, and seeing people in them. To her, she says, the UGG boots, with their lamb's wool lining, always give the appearance of being 'smelly.' Well, my Wellies are not smelly, and have a cheering affect wherever I go. They have become my "conversation starters," and have facilitated many an introduction for me here. "Those are great Wellies, aren't they? Where did you get them?" I am often asked as I am out walking Lucy, or striding down the aisles in Sainsbury's. I stop, smile and say, "New York." And thus, a new acquaintance is made.  
So, perhaps we all have things that others might covet, desire or admire. 

24 September 2008

Patience and fortitude, or "This is how I roll"

My Warwickshire Stagecoach Bus Pass. I'm a "Mega Rider," apparently.


As a New Yorker, I am no stranger to public transport. Contrary to what you see on "Sex & the City," public transport is the most reliable and often the quickest way of getting round the City. Like most New Yorkers I know, I happily sold my car, and lived on the subway. 
Public transport in England is another matter altogether.

The 2:07 PM bus to Warwick whizzed through Barford early today. I knew it would.  Even though the bus schedule (timetable), pinned up near the Joseph Arch pub states clearly and distinctly "Every hour on the hour at 7 minutes past," it really anybody's guess what time the bus will actually arrive! My routine journeys to Stratford-upon-Avon or Warwick (in the opposite direction) are life lessons in patience and fortitude.

The trip to Stratford, an easy, mindless 10 minute journey by car, becomes a half hour expedition, a daily act of faith, and a test of patience. Patience with the buses that arrive late, and depart early, if they come at all. I comfort myself with the thought that I am somehow being more 'green' and helping the environment...

What I should confess is that this sorry state of affairs is completely and utterly my choice.
In an effort to make this new life easier and more accessible for me, the D.E.B. traded in his sexy Subaru for a sensible, automatic Saab. Without having a stick-shift (gear-box) to contend with, went his line of thinking, I would feel more at ease behind the wheel. Not so. I am terrified. The Saab seems as big as a tank when I look at it. That, and the thought of taking to the road (and roundabouts) with the hordes of fierce English drivers, all going far too fast on the opposite of the road is more than my mind and bravery can take!
 
Of course, this should not be, given that I actually learned to drive in England in the first place! I know, it makes no sense at all. While I was living in England as a grad student, I learned to drive. I needed to. I was a temp after all. And a temp without wheels is, well, pretty useless. And unemployable. So I learned to drive. I paid a dear amount of my non-existent money to not one, but two, different driving instructors. I screwed my courage to the sticking place, bit the bullet and took the British Driving Test. And I failed it, three times. One the first attempt I did not even make it out of the parking lot, but failed instantly, before the test even started by stalling the car, twice, before we could even get going. Needless to say, by the time I did pass the test, I was an immensely proficient and confident driver. Even now, I know in my heart I could do a three-point turn on a dime! And I can reverse park into a parking space, blindfolded. I had a British drivers license years before I ever bothered to even think of driving in America. (By contrast the American driving test is a joke! It is so ridiculously simple, a toddler could pass it.) Why then, am I paralyzed with fear thought of driving here again. Why then, am I relegating myself to the mercy and whim of Warwickshire's finest bus drivers? I don't know.
The excuse I give to the D.E.B. is that he needs the car more than I do, and that I'm used to public transport. We'll see how long that holds up once the weather takes a turn toward winter. 

The excuse I give myself is that I'd drive, if we had a smaller car. I'd feel more in control, and less overwhelmed. And less afraid. Well, there is it finally. I'm afraid. Maybe now that I've got that out, I can face that fear and do something about it.

A little month

D.E.B. woke me this morning with a cup of tea, and a question: "Do you know what today is?" I racked my sleepy brain to think what on earth I had forgotten. "September 23rd?" I hazarded a guess. "No, 24 September." He smiled that gorgeous smile down at me. A mild panic started to creep in at my toes. It could not be his birthday, that is 22 August -- the same date as mine. It could not be our anniversary, that date is much in dispute as far as I am concerned. Here is my point: Do you count as your 'start date' the date you first started seeing each other, OR, the date things become 'official', OR, the first time you...well, anyway. I knew 'anniversary' was not the answer.
Then the penny dropped. 
I arrived in England one month ago today, to begin this new life with my D.E.B. Can it really just be a month? Feels like forever. In a good way. That "other life," that crazy, dazzling New York life, seems in many ways like a fantastic, funny, zany dream. This, however, feels very real, and now. I am still happy, and I'm still here. 

21 September 2008

More of Barford...

One of the two red post boxes in the Village 



Local attractions and entertainment



The Granville - our local pub



Our street, with its two names posted



More Barford flora



Our other local pub, the Joseph Arch

Coughton Court

Coughton Court, ancestral home of the Throckmorton family


Yes, this is someone's house, 
and someone other than the Queen! 
Members of the Throckmorton family still reside at Coughton Court. 
Amazing place.
www.coughtoncourt.co.uk

Sunday Lunch

Yippeee! I survived the Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding adventure nearly unscathed. I pulled it off! And it was damned good if I may say so myself. So, score one for the Clipside! It can be done. A Yankee Dame can in fact produce a credible and edible Sunday Lunch, complete with all the trimmings. And, I actually enjoyed the meal myself. And only sustained two minor burns in the process! Which brings me to ask what is up with British ovens, or should I say "cookers"? I mean were they all designed to be potential fire hazards looking for a place to happen, or is it just mine? I peruse the recipes on BBC Good Food, and they will say "Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 6." Which is of course as high as a British oven will go. And I think to myself, "You have got to be kidding." I mean, no one in the world cooks anything with the oven up as high as it will go. As a result, today, as I was making the roast, our fire alarm served double duty as a cooking timer. Thankfully, the only burning that occurred were injuries to my right hand and left forearm. 
Still, what victory comes without sacrifice?

Lazy Sunday

Having a lazy Sunday morning, listening to Classic FM. 
D.E.B. up and out early -- no lazy lie-in together for us today. The Darling English Boy is in the studio this morning, recording a demo CD with musician pal, Ewan. D.E.B. and Ewan have formed a folk duo, part-time only, just a hobby at this point. They are quite good in fact. Went along and heard them at the Warwick Folk Club, the other week. That was fun! 

So, I find myself at home alone with "the furry girls" (Lucy & Lily).  I am in fact pleased to have a bit of "me" time. Its been quite a hectic week. Okay, not anywhere near NYC-hectic, but hectic for me nonetheless.

I received a call from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on Thursday afternoon offering me my first lecturing gig with them. A bit of short notice as they needed me to fill in for a lecture on Saturday morning.  Yikes, I thought. Thankfully, a lecture on the performance history of A Midsummer Night's Dream was all that was needed. A joy for me, really. I am completely at home with the material, my angst was centered/centred on the logistics. It was a question of prep time -- always a dilemma for me.  Prior to getting "The Call," I had planned to spend my Friday at the Throckmorton Literary Festival at Coughton Court. I was dying to go along to the Festival as it looked to be an extraordinary event, and a chance for a bit of research for the new idea for a novel that is currently rolling around my head. The question was whether I would forego the "research" visit to Coughton Court, in favor of prepping for the Dream lecture. This dilemma was/is far more existential than it seems. At the moment, in the midst of this new and exciting life, I am routinely pulling myself in two directions. 

As an academic, I have written and published a number of "scholarly" works. Basically, three (3) very good, learned, and highly over-priced books that few people have read, and even fewer have bought.  And like most academics, I have dreams, hopes and ambitions beyond that. As I told the D.E.B. when he first offered this incredible opportunity to me to have the space and time to "rediscover myself as a writer," I said to him: "Let me just assure you, I am not sitting on the next Harry Potter..." (To which he just smiled "that smile," and hugged me.) But, I do have a story inside my head that I really want to tell. And, as J. K. Rowling once said, oh, so, wisely, I think, all one must do is: "Believe in your story." Whether anyone else will believe it, or believe in it, is of course another very significant matter to contemplate, but I think Rowling is right to suggest that that initial belief and commitment to ones own idea/dream, etc. is vital. However, while I am taking these tentative steps into the "real writers" writerly world, I can hear the serious, uptight, respectful voice of academe crying out: "But is it scholarship? Is it tripe?" and, "What a waste of a first-class education!"

To be honest, it does feel like "play" -- my dreams of writing fiction. And surely, at my age, at this point in my career, I should be doing more "meaningful" work. But, its funny isn't it? How the word 'meaningful' changes over time. I have worked very hard over the years. I worked my way through graduate school temp-ing, waitressing, whatever I could find. And comforted myself with my lofty and "meaningful" goals. I was then lucky enough to score some freelance teaching gigs, built my resume, got my Ph.D. and tah-dah! Academe! But something was missing. There was a place inside me that no matter how much joy I gleaned from teaching -- and joy I did glean, daily. And God, I did and do love my students, each and every one! -- but there was what felt like a hole in my soul. A feeling that I was not and had not been utterly true to myself. But I stayed on the treadmill, kept running the race, the years trickled by and "the hole" just got bigger and bigger. Then, the classic female dilemma: family or career? Biological clock, and so forth. Then, again, the classic life dilemma: do what you love, or shoot for success -- as often these two are not the same thing. 

As my 39th year loomed in the distance, I feared my destiny had been set. I would end up alone, and disappointed, single, but successful in the City. But all of the changed, in a heartbeat. As sickeningly sweet, the English would say "twee," as it sounds, love changed everything. Yes, it is a huge gamble. As friends and family have (and continue to) lovingly remind me, I have taken a unimaginable risk in packing in my job, packing up my life, and moving to England on a promise of love. But, what is life without risk?  
 
Living on the edge, as I now do, I decided to follow my gut/heart and spend Friday at Coughton Court. And what a day it was! Difficult to explain here, but I had what I'd like to think is a "writer's instinct" that I would be inspired by the surroundings at Coughton Court for the story I want to write, and I was absolutely right!!!! And I met some fabulous people there to boot. Excellent, excellent day. Research, of a very different and interactive kind. 

Came home, completely exhausted, didn't get started on my lecture prep until around 9 PM on Friday night. Yikes, again! Panic set in almost immediately. What was I thinking! Pratting around Coughton Court all day when I should have been prepping...I burned the midnight oil, got the lecture together, and then tried unsuccessfully to sleep. D.E.B. woke me at 7:00 AM with a cup of tea on my bedside table, just as I had drifted off to sleep. Darling that he is, he rushed about taking care of the "livestock" and cooking breakfast as I fretted about what to wear. I entered the kitchen to be showered with much-needed praise, and was handed a fresh cup of tea and a hot bacon buttie (sandwich). The poor boy had no idea that at this point the very thought of food had me on the brink of hurling. He then drove me into Stratford-upon-Avon and dropped me off at Starbucks (Yes! There is one!). As I walked down Henley Street with my Grande Soy Latte in hand, I realized I was going to be okay. I also realized  -- and not at all in an arrogrant way --  that I probably have forgotten more about Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night's Dream than these kids will ever know. (Okay, most of it is probably just useless information and mindless trivia, but still.) 

So, as it turned out my first lecture for The Trust was for a delightful group of "Drama Majors" from the Midwest. Sassy Americans. Excellent. Just my sort of crowd. They were warm, attentive, engaging and receptive. Of course, it is, as they say, like riding a bicycle. And I really like this bicycle, it's all new, red and shiny!

19 September 2008

Settling in - 10 September 2008

Today - 10 Sept 2008

Splendid day!

- 5K run through Barford to Sherbourne and back.

-Pruned back the flowers in the windows boxes -- remembered why I have always hated geraniums.

-Visited Sherbourne Nursery to seek advice about window boxes. Ours are quite sad at this point. With the recent rain, the geraniums have given up the fight, and surrendered. We will have our first dinner guest here in a few days, Kerry. A friend of Mark's, originally from England, but now living in the States. Would love to get awful, dying window boxes sorted before then. It is so nice to have "garden dilemmas" now. What a refreshing change from 
my garden-less, window-box-less life in NYC ...

Lily - my erstwhile cranky, apartment cat is now frolicking merrily in her new English garden. She is at this moment playfully attacking the ends of the laundry on the
 washing line...

Lily, on the look out for birds and butterflies


Lily, Lily, no longer contrary, how does you English garden grow?
With hollyhocks, foxgloves, and lilacs the colo(u)r of precious amethyst,
With rosemary, rue, climbing ivy, creeping myrtle, wild loganberries.
And geraniums, of course.



 The Princess Puppy turned Country Dog


In the Land of Nigella...

I was never a "Domestic Diva" but always wanted, secretly or not so secretly, to be one. This was an impossible feat to pull off in my shoe-box Manhattan apartment. My kitchen in New York was so small that two people could not stand together in it comfortably, nor was it possible to open the stove door and the refrigerator door at the same time. While my new English kitchen does present its own unique challenges, I have been granted to the gift of space: room in which to actually cook, move and navigate; and surfaces, surfaces, surfaces, at last. So now, with the time and space within which to channel my "inner Martha," I could not wait, as the locals say, to get "stuck in."

British food. A comedian once made the joke that a "British cookbook" should be merely "a pamphlet, that says 'See other countries'." Funny. But true? I don't think so. I have always enjoyed British food -- beyond my favorite Fish'n'chips. British food is the ultimate comfort food. In every British kitchen, something is undoubtedly being roasted to perfection in the "cooker," and thankfully for me there is sure to be a potato involved in one way or another.

What I noticed from watching and reading a small cross-section of Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and the like, is that key factors in British cooking are: freshness and flavo(u)r. Gordon stresses simplicity, which works for me. Keep it simple. Quality, fresh food, cooked simply. What a way to seduce the senses.

Speaking of culinary seductions ... I recall one of my many, recent, transatlantic jaunts in the past year to visit my Darling English Boy, wherein I was treated to an exquisite culinary evening at Stratford-upon-Avon College. The Darling English Boy has a dear friend who is an exceptional chef who heads the culinary program at Stratford College, and every year they provide the students with the ultimate challenge of presenting a seven course meal to invited guests and local glitterati. Staff members from the Ritz Hotel in London are brought in and added to the mix. The evening was so divine that I wrote a short sketch about it three months later for an in-class Creative Writing assignment:

Dinner at Stratford College. Final Exam dinner for culinary students. Late May 2008. Wore my favorite "19th C-esque, travel suit". Champagne and canapes to start. Seven course meal, a different wine with each course. Favorite course: Lobster tail with a green pea puree, dressed in caviar. Delicate, cold, white and pinkish meat lounging in a pool of green, wearing tiny, glistening, black pearls. Green pea puree base. Soooo lovely. Fresh, spring peas pureed. They actually taste like Spring. Earthy. Fresh. New. I want to learn to make pea soup just to capture this taste forever.
I recently discovered the BBC's wonderful Foodie website: www.bbcgoodfood.com 
In addition to recipes and cooking tips, the site also has an excellent features section dedicated to "Seasonal and Local Food". Who knew that tomatoes, blackberries, lobster, plums, cauliflowers, aubergines, goose, garlic are all considered at their peak in Britain in September? The website also provides information, based on postcode, of nearby suppliers of fresh, organic food. It seems that the "Slow Food" movement has truly taken root quite firmly in England. I noticed an example of this when my friend Karen had me round for lunch last week. Karen -- who I have known for ages, from when I was living here before as a student -- is an excellent and fastidious cook. She prepared the most gorgeous lunch, which she said she had started cooking at 9 AM. We sat down for lunch at nearly 2 PM...Since moving here, I am learning the importance of slow downing, generally, not just food-wise. But food is a good place to start. 

So far I have tried my hand at such traditional English favorites as Fish Pie and Rhubarb Crumble, and think I've done pretty well. Last night, after what I thought was a failed, and over-cooked attempt at "Glazed Baked Gammon," D.E.B. gave me his mum's favo(u)rite cookbook. I wanted to cry. The book is Marguerite Patten's 
Perfect Cooking (1972), and throughout its well-worn and much-loved pages, D.E.B.'s mother, Elsie, has made copious notes, and added her own comments, critiques and thoughts to the pages. As I read and touched the pages Elsie had, I felt a connection with her. A tangible link to the beautiful woman I sincerely regret I will never know. 

Food. So much more than just the stuff that keeps our bodies going.
Facing my biggest cooking challenge this weekend: Sunday Lunch. The quintessential British meal: Roast Beef, Yorkshire puddings, roasted potatoes & veg and gravy.
Thankfully, I've got Nigella and Elsie in my corner.

The reason why ...

My Darling English Boy
(hereafter referred to as D.E.B.)

First impressions - Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tuesday, 26 Aug 2008
Barford, Warwickshire

My first full day in Barford.
Beautiful rural village in the heart of Warwickshire - my beloved "Shakespeare Country."
Serpentine country lanes slinking through lush, emerald green fields. Roadsides lined with delicate, white morning-glories, red poppies, and nearly black boysenberries.

Lucy and I walked a mile about the village this morning, and wandered up to "Middle Watchbury Farm." There, the City Princess Puppy had her first experience of barnyard animals. She delighted in all the new smells: freshly-tilled earth, hay, sheep, and pigs. She was completely fascinated by the pigs in their pen. And she gleefully chased chickens across the barn yard.

The weather -- what I call "English perfect" - warm, overcast, grey with a breeze, and sudden bursts of sunlight. Perfect running weather, perfect weather for writing, perfect weather for a moody girl like me.

I am living the life I imagined, as Thoreau once said, and I think I have come home... 

18 September 2008

Our street: Wellesbourne Road

Wellesbourne Road and Bridge Street -- one street, two names


Our mini-roundabout

My new home: Barford, Warwickshire


Barford is a tiny, idyllic village in the heart of rural Warwickshire. Warwickshire is known as "Shakespeare Country," and Stratford-upon-Avon is about 7 miles from Barford. Barford is a typical, old, quaint "two pubs, one church" English village. It is lush and green, full of beautiful cedar and holly trees, and surrounded and embraced by rolling, pastures and fields.

17 September 2008

Rule Britannia!

Fish’n’chips. Jude Law. The Queen. Marmite. Cricket. Shakespeare. Afternoon Tea. The Thames. The Globe. Coffee Mornings. Oxfam Charity Shops. London. Cadbury's Chocolate. National Trust properties. BBC TV. Oxford. “The Shipping Forecast.” Little Red Post Boxes. Little Red Telephone Boxes. Royal Ascot. Full English Breakfasts. Double decker buses. Colin Firth. Radio 4. Classic FM. Brideshead Revisited. Jane Austen. Union Jack. Sunday Lunch. Yorkshire pudding. The Bront√ęs. The Cure. Tesco's. Sainsbury’s. Boots. Marks & Spencer. Laura Ashley. Next. Hugh Grant. Stonehenge. Virginia Woolf. Rugby. Football. David Beckham. Handel. Hob Nobs. Crisps. Ribena. Christmas crackers. Boxing Day. Roundabouts. Driving on the left. Warwick Castle. Orlando Bloom. Country lanes. Cozy cottages with adorable names. Adorable children calling their mothers "Mummy". Pubs. Lager. Ale. Bitter. Cider. Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. Dr. Who. Monty Python. Postcodes. Village fetes. Car boot sales. Cotswold stone. Warwickshire red brick. Rhubarb crumble. Fields of sheep. Shepherd’s pie. Nigella Lawson. Harry Potter. Gordon Ramsay. Parsnips. English gardens. English manors. English manners. The weather. The accents. The men.

England.

I love everything about it. I always have. I blame PBS. I was seduced at an early age by Masterpiece Theatre and Miss Marple. And I have finally succumbed utterly and completely to my Anglophilia and Anglomania. I surrendered my big city life in Manhattan to join the man I love in “the Motherland.” I have lived here before, but that was long ago, as an undergraduate and then post-graduate student, this time it’s “for real.” And hopefully, this time, it’s for keeps and forever.


Rule Britannia!