16 January 2010

Help a sister out...

Dear Reader,

I have taken the plunge, and am now dabbling in the wacky world of eBay retail.

Please help support my "Blue & White" china habit by bidding on some of my offerings. My Seller id at ebay.co.uk is: theshakespearediva

My wares include two pairs of Brand New, never worn Vera Wang shoes; a new and never worn, gorgeous Demetrious wedding dress; and a fabulous little dress from J.Crew...soon to add more...maybe a little red number from Anthropologie...hmmm...

A gentle madness

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your house that do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

 - William Morris, British craftsman/designer, whose designs generated the Arts and Crafts Movement in England (1834-1896)

It always grieved my father much that I was never a woman of property. He hated the way in which my 'scholarly vagabond' career led me from pillar to post of one rented house, flat or apartment to the next:

 "At the end of it all, all you have to show for yourself is a rent receipt," he would often remind me, from behind his newspaper.

The fact that I'd landed in Manhattan, the most expensive city in the universe -- where no one stands a chance of owning property, unless your last name is Astor, Morgan,  or Rockefeller -- made very little difference to my father's opinion.

I wish that he could have lived to see me finally become a "woman of property." Still, I'm sure, absolutely sure that he knows, and is very, very happy about it.

The DEB and I are very near to closing the deal on our new house here on Barford. I am thrilled beyond belief, and of course, like any sensible girl in the circumstances, my thoughts have turned to decorating!

Without a doubt, first on the agenda is: china/crockery.

Finally, I will have the space, range and freedom to indulge my life-long obsession with china/porcelain /pottery, particularly of the blue and white variety.

Obsessions are funny things. Either you get them, or you don't. If you're not a fan of "Blue & White china", there is no way of explaining or convincing you of this obsession is like, or about. 

But, if you are a Blue and White china fan, you will understand completely the relentless drive of this addiction. The palm sweating, knee wobbling, heart racing delirium of it all.

Of course, every obsession is like this, and for me (thankfully), I have precious few: books, china, and fabric (primarily for quilting). 

Being a collector, of whatever variety, is a wonderful way of seeing the world.  A few years back, I had an amazing trip to Japan, and while there I filled my suitcases with blue and white pottery and a gorgeous, broad swath of hand-dyed indigo fabric.

I have dragged these things around the globe with me, boxed and stored. They will finally now have pride of place in our new home.  

When I was living in NYC, the book obsession held full sway, now, it is time for china to reign! Every Southern Belle knows the importance of having a new set of china for your new home. So, let the games begin!

England is of course the mothership for the porcelain and pottery mad. Wedgwood, Johnson Brothers, Burleigh, Royal Doulton, Churchill, etc. and the big guns of the crockery world are based here. 

However, I have found, in my most recent explorations that the Brits seem far less inclined toward the "sets," or multi-piece "services" than Americans are. We, Yanks, like to get as much "bang for our buck" as we can, and have very little patience for building a china set one plate at a time...

No surprise than, after trawling the depths of the internet, I succumbed to the superior offerings of a American antique china retailer in North Carolina. Southern know-how wins again!

The pattern I have selected is Wedgwood/Johnson Brothers' "Asiatic Pheasants." 

To accommodate this new pattern, I'm going to sell on eBay the china set I bought just before I left New York: Johnson Brothers "Old Britain Castles" in pink. 

Pink? Yes, pink. I don't know who I was trying to fool with that one! I'm a blue and white girl through and through!  

Useful Blue and white links:

13 January 2010

Marmalade, the merciless

Why do I bother?!

After an entire afternoon of boiling, peeling, scraping and chopping, I have failed at the last hurdle!

It's my own fault.  :(

I was consulting too many recipes, got distracted and added 5 oz too much sugar to my Orange Marmalade. So much for that tart, zesty taste I was going for...


Marmalade is merciless. Absolutely unforgiving. Even when you KNOW that you've messed up and made a huge mistake, there is nothing you can do except to keep going. You have to see it through to the bitter, or over-sweetened end, not matter what shape it's in. 

...I'm sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere, but frankly, I can't be bothered!

Double Ugh.

Oh well, in the words of Scarlett O'Hara, tomorrow is another day.

Sunshine in a jar

"I confess I have never made marmalade.  The nearest I've got is buying a box of oranges that then reproachfully, went moldy in my pantry. I have since never even pretended to myself that I'm the sort of person who's about to turn into a bottler and canner and storer of good things, though I live in hope."                                                                                                                                - Nigella Lawson, How to Eat

Another snowy morning in Barford...

A thick, beautiful, blanket of white covers the village, and the snow shows no sign of ceasing. 

Frantic mums scurry through the slippery streets, trying to get their precious ones to school on time, only to find that all of their early morning antics and efforts are for nought -- school is scheduled to shut at noon. 

On days like these, I am thankful to have only a cat and dog to worry about.

I'd hoped that the DEB would have a "work-from-home" day, but alas, no. There's a big meeting with chaps from Swansea, and one of the guys from head office actually made it in from Holland last night, so no excuse for the locals. 

If it had been a "no work, snow day," the DEB and I had planned to snuggle down and have an epic Cranford Fest! 

We have only just discovered the joyous pleasure that is Cranford, the epic, period drama starring Dame Judi Dench. We love it! 

We have also discovered that -- wonderful period costumes aside -- Cranford is an uncannily apt depiction of where we live! Barford, is indeed "very Cranford"- in all the best ways, of course. 

And, like Cranford, the only downside for a newcomer entering such an idyllic environment is that of learning to yield to the long-established principles of how things are done -- and not done.

There is, I imagine, in every English village a certain way of doing things. Whether it's the "Cranford way," the "Barford way", the "Alveston way", or the "Dunchurch way" -- there is a 'way,' a manner in which things are done. 

Process, protocol, habit and tradition. One would be wise to take a step back, learn, and above all, listen. 

There is an innocent American tendency, I believe, to rush in, as it were, where angels fear to tread. It comes from our innate sense of adventure, a desire to give, an urge to contribute/participate, and "make a difference."

I am learning to resist these natural urges, to take things slowly and steadily, and that "making a difference" is not always necessary.

An example. I have been asked, on several separate occasions, to join the leadership committee of the Barford W.I. Of course, I am flattered, humbled and hono(u)red by the suggestion. Someone even said that one day, I would "make a wonderful W.I. President."

In the not so distance past, I would have jumped at an opportunity like this. But, now? No, no, no, no, no. I'm still very wet behind the ears, and think I need to bide my time, observe more, watch and learn.

I find it very funny, and I'm sure I'm not the first person to acknowledge the similarity between the supporting community of women in 19th century Cranford, and the modern W.I. 

Before joining the W.I.,  I was very much of a similar mind to Nigella Lawson: "not the sort of person" to perserve, pickle or bottle, but always hopeful. 

Last year, I delighted myself by successfully turning out a very nice quantity of  "Chunky Lemon, Lime and Grapefruit Marmalade." 

But, this year? 

The big kahuna. I'm having a go at making the quintessential English perserve: Orange Marmalade.

The perfect activity for a snowy morning: the kitchen windows steamed over as jam jars boil on the hob; strains of Rachminov playing on Classic FM in the background; the sweet, tangy smell of oranges percolating slowly for two hours...

If Nigella can do it, so can I!


07 January 2010

"A Snowy Caper"

Last night, our two of our little neighbours built a Snowman. 
They gave him a carrot nose. 
He was a very short Snowman, and Lucy took a shine to his nose...

In fact, Lucy destroyed the little Snow Man completely....

The next day, I had to tell the little girls what had happened to their Snow Man... 

And they responded by building Lucy a "Snow Dog" to play with instead...

Laquisha, Charlotte and "Marshmellow" - The Snow Dog

More snowy scenes...

Barford by Snow Light

Mother Cathy, en route to Morning Prayer, in full snow gear

Beautiful Barford church

06 January 2010

Twelfth Night (6 Jan)

Woke this morning to a Barford covered in a beautiful blanket of snow.
Massive, white flakes drift steadily outside my window, turning my world into a giant snow globe...

Today is Twelfth Night, the Feast of Epiphany: the day the Magi found the Christ child. 

Epiphany: sudden revelation or insight

Beginning a new year and, in this case, a new decade is all about epiphany. Standing on the precipice of a new year, new decade, the revelation and insight gleaned from the past 12 months, or ten years, should serve as reminders, warnings, and guides for all that lies ahead.

There is something in the air, apart from snow. These are heady days, and people around me seem to have a real zest and zeal about the year ahead, as I have not seen before.

"This is my year!" and, "It's your year, girlie, it's all you!" are the phrases I am hearing again and again from high-spirited friends. And, truth be told, I share their enthusiasm for the road ahead. 

I have no doubt that this will be a year of highs and lows, like any other, and I am thankful to have the DEB by my side whatever befalls. But there does seem to be an incredibly heightened sense of expectation all around.

I am hopeful, and I think that more than anything else is my resolve, to not lose hope. To keep dreaming, in the face of rejection letters, and the agents who initially seem ever so keen, promise to phone and then don't.

Perhaps, the "star" that the Magi were following, perhaps that was hope, too. Searching and believing in something utterly remarkable, yet unseen.

There is a tradition around here (elsewhere, too, perhaps) that all the Christmas decorations must come down today, or else the fairies will bring you bad luck. Well, that's that last thing I need, so I think I'll go and unplug the Christmas tree lights...   

01 January 2010

It's 2010!

3:00 AM

Amazing New Year's Eve.
Roast duck, fois gras, olive pate...yum!

The DEB & I won top prizes for our Beatles theme costume extravaganza!
Does it it count if no one else donned Fancy Dress?
I think so!

I felt like an idiot initially, in my Spaghetti Western wig...
But, a few comforting words from my Best Friend from NYC and I was fine!

The DEB & I came home after, popped a corked and danced till we could no more.

I hope wherever you are joy and mirth abound!

I feel a champagne hangover is on the horizon. 

Happy 2010 Everyone!