Sunday, May 29, 2016

An American Military Cemetery Abroad

Brookwood American Cemetery, Surrey England
Oh, the luscious indulgence of a three-day weekend! The late sleep and languid sprawl over coffee, with no reason to shower until noon. Then comes the promise of grilled dinners and big salads, cold beer and cake. Such is the custom of any Memorial Day Weekend.
Since we were unable to spend this year’s with friends and loved ones (and I sorely miss good barbeque!), we chose to do almost the exact opposite and visited a cemetery instead. 
About an hour’s train ride from our flat, the Brookwood American Cemetery is one of the few outside the US where our fallen WWI soldiers lie.
One of several dozen graves for unknown soldiers.
"Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God"
Nearly every state is represented among the 468 graves, of which 41 are unknown soldiers. Inside the columned chapel, carved into its marble walls, are the names of 563 missing service members, mostly navy and coast guard, whose remains were never recovered.
But our veterans, these young men and women far from home, are more than numbers and deserve to be remembered as something other than parts of a sum.

I wondered, as I walked among their graves, what these young men had thought of. What they had longed for.  Did Private Charles Powers from Virginia close his eyes and let the smoke from wood trench fires carry him back to his beloved Blue Ridge mountains?
Did Private Irvin McKenzie lay dying that September of 1918 knowing his family in Michigan was out picking apples as they had done every year for as far back as he remembered?  

Laying of Poppy Wreaths
Maybe California native, Private Noble Marchbanks, missed home and the cracking  of golden walnuts under his heel. Maybe he remembered the rich musky smell and let it fill his nostrils before he - and so many of his comrades - died that early October day.
Did he wonder if his young life was ever worth anything to anyone?         
         They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
         Age shall not weary them nor do the years condemn.
         At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
         We will remember them.
                                                                 -- Lawrence Binyon
Side by side, they fought and died.
Nearly 100 years later, these brave men and women are still remembered. In the beautiful calm setting of Brookwood, veterans, local dignitaries, and international guests gathered to pay tribute to our courageous service members. There was music and solemnity, poppy wreaths and gratitude. And tears. Still there were tears.
                               “When you go home tell them of us and say,
                                For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
In recent years Memorial Day has become the unofficial opening bell to summer and all its food, family and fun. But maybe this year it could be something more.  Please be respectful of all who died serving our country. And give thought to those who could not kiss their loved ones one last time, those resting so far from home.


For more pictures of our visit to Brookwood American Cemetery, click here.

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Brookwood American Cemetery is one of more than 50 locations beautifully maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission at home and abroad, please click here.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Castles, Kipling, and Churchill


There's no panic like the last-minute panic and with fewer than 50 days left in the UK the  panicky games have begun. We've long since resigned ourselves to the fact we'll never - EVER - see everything this good country has to offer. But that didn't mean we wouldn't go down swinging. As the early-May bank holiday beckoned, we headed south east to the English county known for it's history, castles, and beauty: Kent.
 
For thousands of years the English fought off invasions from Europe, beginning with the Romans, then the French, the Spanish, and Dutch. With that in mind, it's no wonder so many strong holds and castles sprang up in this hilly area closest to Europe. Of the 30+ castles still in this one county we visited four:
 
Hever Castle - The family home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and one of two wives to be beheaded. The castle dates back to 1270, the Boleyns occupied it in the early 1500s. It comes complete with drawbridge, portcullis, and some original pieces belonging to the family. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the rooms. But the exterior setting is beautiful and is surrounded by unbelievably stunning gardens and walks. (Side note: after Anne's beheading, Henry VIII took possession of the castle and gave it to his 4th wife, Anne of Cleves, whom he divorced for several reasons, not the least of which was that she had "a face like a horse.")
 
Leeds Castle - Billing itself as the loveliest castle in the world may not be too far of a stretch, but this medieval defense also has the benefit of being updated in the 1800s and has become an entirely livable castle within. Henry VIII visited often and even made improvements. In addition to the castle itself, there's a fantastic hedge maze on the grounds as well as a great 3-D  depiction of King Henry V's exquisite victory at the Battle of Agincourt.  As Shakespeare put it in the greatest underdog speeches of all:  

  "We few, we happy, we band of brothers;
  For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
  Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
  This day shall gentle his condition:
  And gentlemen in England now a-bed
  Shall think themselves accursed they were not here."
 


Scotney Castle - This handsome old fellow is now in ruins and intentionally so. It served as a home to several families but eventually fell into such disrepair that its new owners decided to build a second home on the property in 1837. The old castle here was allowed to crumble (roof removed, etc) and thus became a very fashionable "folly ruins" to be enjoyed on walks, picnics, and the like. It also has secret hiding places built in that were used to hide at least one Jesuit priest in the 1600s.
 
 
Bodiam Castle - If Hollywood's central casting needed a classic castle for a movie set, they'd call up Bodiam. I mean seriously. This one just looks the part. It's one of the many medieval fortresses designed to deter French advances during the 100 Year War. It never actually saw combat. But it's so impressive, no one really cares. (And for those of you scoring at home, this castle is actually in East Sussex, not Kent.)
 
 
 
 
Easy to imagine Sir Winston painting near this koi pond

We also found time to visit Chartwell, the family home of Sir Winston Churchill, set high overlooking the breathtaking Kent Weald. It's a lovely home with beautiful gardens and picturesque settings where the Prime Minister would often set up his easel and oils when he needed a "joy ride in a paint box," as he put it. The home is decorated in 1930s style and has several rooms devoted to housing all the gifts Sir Winston over the years, including a golden Winkle. You'll have to look that one up yourselves because I blush just thinking I saw Churchill's winkle.
 

Rudyard Kipling and fan
And finally, we visited Bateman's, the 17th century family home of Rudyard Kipling, author of The Man Who Would be King, Jungle Book, and Just So Stories. For years I kept a copy of his poem "If" next to my desk at work and took inspiration from such reminders as:
 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

 









For more pictures of our trip to these sites, click here.
 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hiking for a Cure in the Far West of Cornwall


On the South Coast Trail heading to Penzance
Going for a walk always makes me feel better. And going for a walk to potentially make others feel better was even more better! That was my goal when we set out for a 50-mile hike along Cornwall’s far, far west rugged coast.

We would do the walk to raise money for the Sarcoma Foundation in the hopes their research would eventually find a cure for thousands of people battling sarcoma cancer, including – and especially – our 27-year old son, Carey. In the end, we only managed 47 miles but have raised over $1,500 for this most worthy cause.
 

St. Ives our first evening in Cornwall
Day 1 – We arrived in St. Ives by late afternoon, checked into Treliska, our B&B for the night, and got an early jump on our goal by walking a brisk mile and a half around the shore. It was gray and windy, but that didn’t deter us. Neither did tucking into a hot meal overlooking the cold slate seaside.

Tourist season hadn’t started yet (that would happen Thursday) so there were only a handful of us wandering through this quaint old fishing town.

 
A view from the path heading south to Pendeen
Day 2, St. Ives to Pendeen – Heading south from St. Ives, we caught up with the National Coast Path and started our hike along West Cornwall’s rocky shore and windswept terrain. The day started out cloudy with a slight mizzle (mist and drizzle) but soon turned sunny and cool. The scenery was sparse but breathtaking, and we must have crossed 15 small streams or freshets burbling their way to the sea. We would later learn this 14-mile stretch is one of the most difficult on the entire 630 miles of west coast and I’m here to testify. We climbed the equivalent of 191 floors and it wasn’t the ascent that killed. It was the descent. By the time I hobbled straight-legged into Pendeen, my knees were stiff and I had the beginnings of a very impressive blister on my big toe. But a good night’s sleep at the North Inn would help mend.


Abandoned tin mines along the way
Day 3, Pendeen to Porthcurno – Here’s where the wheels started to come off. First, my knee ligaments hadn’t miraculously healed overnight like I hoped. Second, the morning clouds gave way to rain and wind which were biggie-sized by noon. And third, we took several wrong paths along the coast, one time leaving us at a dead-end with nothing but slippery jagged rock and crashing waves beneath. Gads!
We hiked past several lonely abandoned tin mines before heading inland, getting a taxi to Land’s End solely for a very windy photo op, then another ride to the tiny village of Porthcurno. Instead of the planned 15 miles, we only squeaked out six. By the time we got settled into our cozy room at the Rockridge Inn, we were too cold and exhausted to go out for a meal. Dinner was trail mix.

(I need to say something quickly about the historical significance of Porthcurno: this is where the first transatlantic cable came ashore from the United States in 1887. The area has an amazing telecommunications history and we were able to visit the Telegraph Museum which houses an eye-popping assortment of memorabilia from the early cable days, the ships that laid cable across the ocean, and even some notes on the first telecom mergers.)

Wild daffodils outside of Porthcurno
Day 4, Porthcurno to Penzance – When we woke up the storm that had battered yesterday’s Cornish coast was already forgotten and the day proved to be everything yesterday wasn’t: warm, sunny and calm. Our hike took us across gorgeous scenery, emerald waters, vast expanses of farm land and coastal cliffs. Sometimes – and this is true of the entire journey – the path was wide and smooth, other times it was narrow, or rocky, or nothing more than boulders. Sometimes it was just plain mud. But whatever it served up we loved it. The scenery was so stunning it was hard to focus on any aches and pains. And as I often tell my family, “The joy of hiking is the agony of hiking.” We completed all 12 miles for the day, including our gradual descent from the trail into the seaside town of Mousehole (pronounced Mowzle) then finally into the day’s destination of Penzance and a good night’s sleep at the Penmorvah B&B.



Fishing boats in Newlyn on a wet and windy morning
Day 5, Penzance to St. Ives – Originally we had planned to hike inland back to St Ives but once again the weather had turned nasty. We still logged miles though by  walking the coast from Penzance to the fishing town of Newlyn, then back again.
By the time we returned to Penzance we were soaking wet and ducked into the Admiral Benbow Pub to dry by the fire and knock back half a pint. The pub is nearly 400 years old, but it wasn't until 2008 that a smugglers' tunnel was discovered leading from the pub down to the beach. Oh, you pirates!
We hopped a train back to to St. Ives, walked more of the coast in the rain then settled down to a delicious dinner at the Porthminster Beach Café.

Back in St. Ives at the end of our 47-mile hike
Day 6, St. Ives to home – After an amazing pancake breakfast at Treliska, we strapped on our boots once more and got onto the South Coast trail, this time heading north. We got just to the edge of Carbis Bay when it was time to head back to our room, pack up and catch the train for home only slightly worse for wear with 47 miles under our belt.

Despite our scratches, blisters and bruises we continued our hike each day because we knew the aches and pains would end in 26 hours, or 17 hours, or 3 hours. We had the assurance our bodies would heal. Unfortunately this is not true for those battling cancer. Their bodies give no such assurance, nor often much hope. If you are so inclined, I hope you will consider donating to the Sarcoma Foundation of America. You’ll not only help fund research for a cure, you’ll be giving other people  the blessed gift of hope. And I like hope much more than I hate cancer.

 
Click here to donate to Hike for a Cure to help the Sarcoma Foundation of America.
And to see a whole bunch of photos from our hike, just click yourself right on here.
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It's the little things

Last year my sister Pamela made me this sweet little bracelet with one charm: hope. I wore it every step of those 47 miles in Cornwall. It was a tender reminder of why I was there.
 
 



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands

Shivering at Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands
I don't know what we were expecting really.
 
Maybe rolling hills and a few tall peaks. The odd crag, perhaps. All we knew for certain was we wanted to get up into the Scottish Highlands.

What we ended up seeing was nothing short of spectacular.

With more than 280 mountains in Scotland and  most dusted in snow, it was our good fortune to see the richness and textures so beautifully limned this winter. Last year the public had 5 months - months! - of skiing. This year? Only 3 weekends' worth. But for us, it was perfect. These rugged mountainous beauties stood so close to the roads we could lay our hands on them despite their peaks disappearing into the clouds. 
 
 
 
Into the Highlands
 
These mountains were thrust up from the earth by the same tectonic plate shift that created the Appalachian Mountains. (Small wonder so many Scotsmen felt at home in that part of North America, specifically Virginia.)
 
Our 12-hour tour took us from Edinburgh north up into the Highlands and through the breathtaking Glencoe Valley.
 
 
 
From Glencoe we continued north to Loch Ness where no unusual sightings were logged from the huge, churning deep. There are over 31,000 lochs in all of Scotland and Loch Ness is the largest in terms of volume.
 
Throughout the day we saw some of the locals . . .
 
The highland cattle have a most welcome thick double-coat of hair to keep them comfy in the harsh weather.
 
. . . had lunch in a pub (surprise!) . . .
 
Plenty of whiskies to choose from for lunch.
 
and reflected on the scenery.
 
Loch Lubnaig, one of the 31,000 lochs (lakes) in Scotland
 
Back in Edinburgh the following day,  our sightseeing was somewhat dampened by the weather but we still managed a walk along the Royal Mile, a visit to the Scottish National Gallery, some haggis, whiskey and sleep.
 
Snowing on the Royal Mile
 
For more pictures of our trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands, take a wee second and click here.

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Despite the cold rain and snow, the pipers were out along the Royal Mile:
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Beach in Winter

It's cold here in England. Not Michigan cold, or even Northern Virginia cold. But still cold. No gardens are blooming. No warm hills or sunny meadows beckon me forth. The wind whips up from all sides of this island and leaves me with few choices. And since I had not ventured east yet, the decision was clear. It's time for the beach.
 
Oh, the desolate beauty of a beach in winter! The forlorn expanse and bitter cold are a far cry from her soft summer ensemble. But she's breathtaking in the dead of January, nonetheless.
 
I had hoped to see a lot of water fowl at this end of the estuary, but was captivated by the seashells instead. This is at Cudmore Grove Country Park in Essex, a strand looking out across the English Channel.
 

 
Others dug deeper for treasure, like this lone beach comber.


 He was happy to find this Egyptian coin washed ashore from who knows when.


There were ruins of bygone lookout points:

 
. . . and long soft sandy marshes giving way to tide pools.
 


Standing above the beach looking east . . . 



 . . . despite the wires and warning not to:


A little bit inland was the Colne Nature Reserve and this bird blind where I could get out of the bitter cold for a bit and watch the swans and coots.
 
 
 
Hiking further north led to the Copt Hall Marshes and the sparse beauty there as well.
 
 


Because of all the water fowl there (of which I got zero good pictures), it's a good place to train your hunting dog, like this guy is doing:



Or just enjoy that bracing wind.


 


Monday, January 11, 2016

Kiss Me Quick!

A blend of British design and American textures resulted in this
delicious mini-orange cake with dark chocolate ganache filling
When our cable TV was first hooked up in the UK, I immediately searched for cooking shows, specifically baking. I was eager to see how things were done here, whether I could bake like a native, and if it was possible to blend American and British design into a culinary love child of both.

There are some very good shows spotlighting baking in the UK, not the least of which is the Great British Bake off hosted by noted white thumbs, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. (I did not make up those names.)
 
Mini-sandwich tin with straight sides and, you
should pardon the expression, removable bottoms
One thing I noticed was the oft-used mini sandwich tin. It resembles a muffin pan but has straight sides and removable bottoms. Its most popular use seems to be the mini-Victorian Sponge cake, a little yellow cake split in half then layered with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I made a batch almost immediately and liked the clever idea of tucking the frosting inside the mini-cake. Certainly this could translate to my American recipes.

I have a great fondness for orange and chocolate together and have had some success with Cook’s Country’s “Kiss Me Cake” recipe. It’s an unbelievably moist orange sheet cake that uses all parts of the fruit: zest, juice, pith, pulp and rind. Everything but the oink. A dark chocolate blend in the middle would be - as they say here - scrummy (short for scrumptious). 
The entire orange goes into the batter - including the rind
Years ago I made a delicious ganache from Cook’s Illustrated’s “Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes” recipe. Since that recipe only made a dozen cupcakes, I doubled the ganache recipe here just in case. No one wants to run out of ganache. Ever.  


Making the ganache with cream so thick it's almost chewy.


The mini cakes baked up perfectly and once cooked, gladly welcomed their chocolate filling. They tasted as good as I hoped with the two flavors working together without getting into a brawl.  And since they’re just a bite of cake you can eat on the go without the fuss of a fork, I’m calling them Kiss Me Quicks.  
The little orange cakes baked up lovely. I drizzled an orange syrup on them while still hot
then sprinkled a ground walnut and cinnamon topping for added flavor and texture
My attempt at marrying two baking cultures was not discouraging.  Room for improvement? Always. Ideas for next time? I have some things knocking around. Can’t talk now. Eating.


My Kiss Me Quick

 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Stratford-Upon-Avon

September 5-6, 2015

With an empty weekend in front of us, and still processing the news of Carey’s recent MRI, we decided to head out somewhere. Anywhere. Any place would be better than staring at our four walls. So we threw an overnight bag together, turned the coffee off, and locked the door.

As luck would have it, we were just in time for a train headed to Stratford-upon-Avon, or as the ticket clerk  called it, "Stratford-Upon." This quaint city is the birthplace and final resting spot of, hands down, the greatest writer the world has known, William Shakespeare. We’ve been in England for over a year and still hadn't visited?  Girl, it was high time.
After checking in and tossing our bag onto the hotel bed, we headed to the Information Center. Visiting Shakespeare's birthplace was a foregone conclusion, but our pass also included entrance to his daughter’s home as well as the home of family friends, the Harvards. (Yep, Harvard University can be traced back to these 15th century folk). 


Shakespeare's birthplace and early home
Shakespeare’s birthplace is beautifully maintained and includes a museum that houses one of Shakespeare’s first folios.

In addition to the many portraits, quotes, and timelines, there is a screening area that continually runs various renditions of his work - everything from stage productions to ballet to Homer Simpson.  

Actors performed live outside in the beautiful garden as part of "Shakespeare Aloud."  I couldn't help but linger amongst the lavender and roses  and probably stayed longer than I should have. (Can’t have too much of a good thing, right?)  We just barely  had enough time left to visit the Harvard House before closing.

On days like this I wish I had paid more attention in English Lit class to be better versed in Shakespeare. As it was, the little  I had learned seemed to vanish into thin air almost as soon as I arrived. I couldn't remember much other than titles (stupid aging).  I only recognized a few names and references around town, though I’m sure pub owners and shop keepers were playing fast and loose with the Shakespeare puns.


Inside Hall's Croft House, the home of Shakespeare's daughter
Susanna,  and her husband, Dr. John Hall
The next day after breakfast we started our usual early Sunday morning walk which took us to Hall's Croft House, the home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna and her husband, the well-established Dr. John Hall. From there it was on to Holy Trinity Church where the Bard is buried. So from cradle to grave, we had come full circle.


For someone as globally renowned as Shakespeare, the city could have made a big campy deal of him. But instead they chose to maintain  old world charm while still running a delightfully modern city. Thankfully, they saw no need to   surrender reverence for their beloved native son.
On the street where he lived. In addition to much Shakespeare, there are also shops
with overtones of Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens, and J.K Rowling

I suppose one can't overstate the importance of William Shakespeare, he permeates so much of our language to this day. In fact, I've incorporated no fewer than seven expressions of his into the text above. Go ahead, pick them out.
Others he coined or popularized include:
  • The long and short of it
  • Set one's teeth on edge
  • Without rhyme or reason
  • One fell swoop
  • Tongue-tied
  • Cold comfort
  • Budge an inch
We still use words like fashionable, puking, addition and obscene because of Shakespeare. Want even more? You can visit here.   (And don't get me started on his insults - laughing stock, stone-hearted, bloody-minded, devil incarnate, to name a few).
For more pictures from our trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, click here.
 
"O noble fool! A worthy fool" - As You Like It
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The Shakespeare phrases I used are: as luck would have it; high time; a foregone conclusion; too much of a good thing; fast and loose; vanish into thin  air; and come full circle.