Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Fair-London Style

One of my favorite ways to bring on the Christmas spirit has traditionally been to attend the enormous, nationally known Nutcracker Market in Houston. Gathering up a group of friends, going for breakfast first to gather up our energy and then shopping from morning till night has always been the best way to kick off the Christmas season. This year found me in London on the Nutcracker market day, so I went in search of a substitute and found a great one. A group of girlfriends went arm in arm to the annual Country Living magazine's Christmas Fair. 

Almost 400 vendors participated from all over Britain, setting up their shops with unique goods to offer.

There were plenty of textiles,

and English chintz.

One of my favorite vendors was the Jan Constantine booth.

I adore all her pillows and pottery with the British flair. You can see more at her website.

As much as I love all her British pillows, my treat for myself that day was one with a French accent. Je t'aime=I love you.

Trinkets and ornaments of glass added sparkle.

There were fabric treats to choose from,

as well as the "real" goodies, both sweet

and savory.

We attended the fair on a very special day in Britain--Remembrance Day, when at 11:00 AM that morning around the country, everyone comes to a halt and stops in their tracks to observe a moment of silence in appreciation for the veterans who have died in duty since World War I. It commemorates the "11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" in 1918 when the Germans signed the armistice at the end of the first World War. It was a moving moment for me seeing such a busy venue come to silence as everyone remembered the lives lost.

And to end on a happy note, here was one of the more unique items I saw. Wellie warmers which take your boots right into the cold season. And since it's snowing today in London, I'm thinking these would be really practical!  How fun, but I guess I need to buy my wellies first.
The other piece of bright news is that Country Living magazine hosts this fair twice a year, so if you are in the London area this upcoming spring, mark  your calendars for March 23-27, 2011. I'll see you there!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Mayflower

A couple of weeks ago, I went on an organized guided "walk" with a dozen or so gals in London. We toured an area that was unfamiliar to me--the area of Rotherhithe, located on the south bank of the Thames.

Much of our walk was east of the Tower Bridge on a cold fall morning. I spend most of my time in the West end of London, so it was some new territory for me.

The views looking back towards the west were spectacular that morning. On the far left side, you can see the construction of the "Shard" underway. Due to be completed in 2012, it will be the tallest building in the European Union, with 72 floors and a spire of 15 more floors, totaling 1,017 feet. Designed to be triangular in shape and covered in glass, it will soon be an iconic figure of the London skyline. An artist's depiction of the final construction can be found here.

Views down the Thames towards the east end revealed early morning activity. We toured the residential area of Rotherhithe on the south bank of the Thames, which has been a port since the 12th century and a shipyard since the Elizabethan era.

Indeed, this monument commemorates Christopher Jones, the captain of the Mayflower who is buried in the churchyard nearby. The Mayflower actually sailed the first leg of its voyage from Rotherhithe on its infamous journey to the New World via Southampton and Plymouth.

Today the Mayflower Pub, dating from the 1720's, stands on the site of the former Shippe pub of the 1500's that was close to the area where the Mayflower was fitted out for its long journey.

Of course, as Americans, we had to eat an early Thanksgiving lunch there to celebrate the discovery of our own country. In the spirit of the Mayflower and the founding Pilgrims, may those of  us who are Americans spend Thanksgiving Day being thankful for the blessings and freedoms we all enjoy in this land we call "home."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pheasant shoot

So on a crisp fall day in England, what do you do for entertainment?

If you ask my husband, you head to the countryside for a "shoot." Pheasant season runs from October 1 to February 1 in England.

These Texas boys and colleagues got "kitted" in appropriate attire and headed out for some excitement. My photographer and research assistant for this blog is my very own husband, who is educating me on the finer art of pheasant shoots. One would never show up without being appropriately dressed, so required dress includes a shirt, tie, shooting breeks in plus 2 or plus 4 (inches of overhang from knee), wellies, and a tweed shooting jacket or in their case, a hunting coat.

They headed to Oakhampton Park, a private country home dating from 1734, where they enjoyed dinner and an overnight stay before the big shoot.

They were led through beautiful countryside, through sheep filled pastures,

wooded lanes,

by country houses,

and then often into creekside beds to prepare for the action. Let me pause and give you some background information. The hunters were using 12 gauge over-under shotguns. Mike borrowed one from the guides, but those choosing to have their own gun in England have two options. You can keep your gun at your home in a certified locked safe which is subject to random surprise inspections by local police, or you can store it in a gun shop where they hold it until you check it out for a limited time.
In a pheasant shoot, pheasant chicks are raised for the sport, then released into the fields to graze. At the time of the shoot, "beaters"  flush out the birds, driving them towards the hunters. The hunters are stationed at their "pegs" throughout the valley awaiting their approach.

Mike's "loader" is responsible for keeping his gun loaded after every shot. Their group of 7 guns shot 368 birds in 4 hours time.

It is the job of the "retriever" and his dogs to find the downed birds and collect them. The pheasants that are collected are then cleaned and sold to the market for eating. The average pheasant weighs about 5 pounds. Mike says it tastes like chicken--isn't that what they always say?

The birds are actually beautiful as you can tell. The day ends with a leisurely lunch back at the house, with a huge meal and a well-deserved rest.
Last year, Mike brought home several pheasants from the shoot, ready to cook and was so excited for me to cook them up. 

What can I say? They are still in the freezer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Queen on Facebook

It is true--the Queen is now on Facebook! Although she will not "friend" you, you can become one of almost 253,000 people who "like" her page, should you choose to follow along. Her Majesty will not be able to update her status and visitors can not "poke" her to attract her attention, but you will be able to see photos and videos of the royals making their official visits.
We will be also be able to see the listings of official daily engagements of the monarchy and comment as well. You can find the page under The British Monarchy.

Photo courtesy of  Daily Mail

And today there is BIG news. The Palace has just announced that Prince William and Kate Middleton are officially engaged. It seems that he proposed on a private holiday to Kenya last month, when he gave Kate his mother's engagement ring. I love that idea! Originally her ring was valued at £28,000 pounds, or roughly $45,000 dollars. They are to be wed next spring or summer, so book your tickets as soon as you receive your "Save the Date" card in your mailbox. The couple will live in Wales after their marriage.

Let me know if you decide to come, but in the meantime, it will be fun to follow along via Facebook.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blenheim Palace

A short bus trip from London lies Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated about 8 miles from Oxford, it is currently the home of the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. As I've discovered time and time again, since it remains a personal home, no photos were allowed of the beautiful interiors, but later I'll share a unique way you can have a peek inside.

 Our day started out optimistically sunny before turning grey and drizzly later in the day, but that did not keep us from enjoying the immense home and gardens. We entered through the gates, not fully knowing what we might expect to find on the other side.

We were amazed by the majesty and the size of this English Baroque structure. Gifted by Queen Anne to the first duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, for his succession of military triumphs, the  home was built between 1705-1724. It continued to be the family home of the Churchill family for 300 years.

It was also the ancestral home and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, who was born 5 weeks early while his mother was visiting the estate. The interiors are lavish, with collections of amazing tapestries and paintings, displayed in state rooms with gilded ceilings. Many were jaw dropping.
The family has struggled through the years financially, coming close to near bankruptcy when the 9th duke of Marlborough inherited the dukedom. His decision to marry the American railroad heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt, poured enough money into the family to keep them going. I'm looking forward to reading her biography, The Glitter and the Gold.

The home is situated in 2100 acres of parkland, with formal gardens, a lake, and expansive grounds. A prettier day would have seen us walking the grounds extensively, but this particular day saw us taking a short stroll, enjoying a long lunch and touring the several gift shops to stay out of the weather.

All in all, it was a great day with friends. 
Now if you want to see some of the interiors, it will soon be possible when the movie "Gulliver's Travels", starring Jack Black and Emily Blunt, is released around Christmas. Blenheim Palace served as the setting of the Palace of Lilliput, and you can take a sneak peek here. Click twice to view full screen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Spanx for Men?

Guess what I spied in our local department store last week? Spanx for men. Seriously?? Now I've been known to "endure" Spanx on occasion to get that firmer, slimmer look, but are the guys going to buy into this? The marketing claims this form of "cotton compression" "firms the chest, flattens the stomach, and improves posture." What man wouldn't want to have that look?
So tell me would the men in your life like to find this in their Christmas stocking this year?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Emma Bridgewater-You're so fun!


A second stop on our field trip to Stoke on Trent was to the Emma Bridgewater factory. Emma Bridgewater is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, looking back to the year when Emma first started decorating mugs when she couldn't find a mug that had the look she was hoping to find. She is married to the illustrator, Matthew Rice, and although their business centers about pottery, they also work together to design glass, cutlery, textiles and stationery too.

The factory shop boasts specials and samples, and encourages you to fill your trolley

with loot. Her iconic look is the polka-dot.

And in her kitchen cafe, she even has a top of the line polka dot Aga range cooker, and you too, can have one for £10,000. Maybe you could ask Santa to bring you one??

Another popular style is the Black Toast pattern,

which is offered on many different items.

Also popular is the Union Jack, as well as the floral and bird patterns.

Personalized items can be ordered

or painted by you in their workshops.

One of the highlights of the day was lunch in the Emma Bridgewater cafe. I loved all the fun cutlery, but one look at the price made me realize it wouldn't be going home with me that day.

Good friends and family made the day even more fun

and there was a lot of shopping success that day. 
Lest hubby read this and assume these bags are all mine, I must hasten to say that only one bag out of four was mine, dear. And a word to the wise--the stores are all happy to ship!