"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve to Boxing Day

Above is a collage of our ornaments of birds and fowl. Most are travel souvenirs, from Prague, Bratislava, Warsaw, Paris, London, Bristol, Nottingham, Mexico, and in US the Rocky Mountain West, California, the South, and New England.

The air was frigid when we left the Lodge for the annual Carol Sing and Christmas Eve Eucharist at church.

I've not had a Christmas cactus since the severe ice storm and dangerous freezing weather a few years ago. When we lost power (for 5 days, pre-generator) the Lodge was so cold inside that the water we'd stored in the Jacuzzi tub froze...and quite a few of my houseplants were killed. Including the heirloom Christmas cactus. Some very dear and thoughtful friends recently sent me this vivid pink one, a welcome addition for the holidays.

Christmas morning brought us a beautiful snowfall--flakes drifting down. The Chap called it "Charlie Brown Christmas snow" and I called it "snow globe snow." There was some snow cover on the ground, so in every respect we could call it a White Christmas.

I made Eggnog French toast for our breakfast, and the Chap and I shared a grapefruit and a navel orange from the various boxes sent us from Florida groves.

Then...stockings! One for each human, one for each dog.

They were stuffed with favourite edible treats (for humans and canines) and lots of London-related items and travel accessories. (2012 promises to be a very active travel year!)

When we finished with stockings, Ruth watched Jewel watch the squirrels raiding the bird feeder.

Before opening pressies, we pose in front of the tree for photo op. It can take a few trial shots to get the girls into position.

And then when they're in position, they do funny things. Ruth is half-asleep. Jewel is making a scary face like a dog-goyle. The official photo emailed to family members was similar to this, but this outtake happens to be my favourite of the lot.

The Chap knows how much I like sheep. Soon as I received my new flannels, I put them on. A matching top as well!

There were other items tagged "For Ewe"--matching socks and slippers.

Many other excellent gifts were received. We did the telephone call circuit, ringing far-flung family and friends, or they ringing us. After presents, I make the custard from a treasured family recipe passed down in my family for over 200 years. Or longer.

Our festive feast consisted of roasted Cornish game hens, green bean and mushroom Marsala, wild rice, and a divine vinho verde we'd saved for the occasion. Later, for pudding, we had the boiled custard with freshly baked gingerbread squares and a glass of port.

Our Christmas cactus friends gave me several fun items, including this floating ducky tea infuser. On Boxing Day I've been brewing my favourite Berry Bros. blend.

The girls having "quiet time" in my office this afternoon.

We hope your holiday spirits are bright and your celebrations merry! Cheers!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Girls are Ready!

On Christmas Eve Eve, snow has fallen and continues to drift from the sky. Holiday kerchiefs are tied around furry necks.

At the Lodge, the anticipation is palpable.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On my Tree: Swine

In my world travels, I've managed to add to my collection of piggish tree ornaments. Here are most of them (I believe I missed a couple....) They came from Mexico, London, Bath, Bristol, and various regions of the US.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Closer & Closer

Today is the last Sunday in Advent, though it's "only" 18th December. That's what happens when Christmas Day falls on Sunday!

Most of my recent days have been spent at the Lodge, messing about on a book, researching, enjoying the Christmas decorations, and a little bit of festive cookery. I'm addicted to Ovation channel's "Battle of the Nutcrackers"--I record them on the DVR to avoid the adverts.

When not at the Lodge--an occasional meeting and light shopping.

More ornaments from our tree:

Bruges lace and London's Big Ben.

Comedy/Tragedy masks, a relic of my former life upon the stage.

Characters from a novel of mine.

Today was our annual Nativity Pageant at church. The Chap admirably performed his usual role of Wise Man/King. As usual I was the official event photographer. I also loaned my lamb pupper to one of the shepherds. It was very popular with the other players and the audience. I'm so glad I remember to take it along!

A dinner party and gift exchange at a friend's house...the least sedate of all the parties we've attended so far. And this morning after church, our parish party--the last, I think, of the festive gatherings till after Christmas.

Our stockings are filled--dog stockings, too. Parcels are posted. Each day adds more gifts under our tree. Our Christmas Day menu is set.

The one thing we lack is snow!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

We had a hard freeze overnight and the holly bushes at the front door of our church were artfully frosted.

Yesterday we did the party circuit in the afternoon and evening. It's the annual "all dressed up and posing with the tree" photo op. Given our social schedule, there will doubtless be other versions.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Seasonal Activities

We visited the mountaintop tree farm and chose a tree on Saturday, a gorgeous specimen.

Yesterday I decorated our Christmas Tree-in-the-round.

I finished as dark was falling (the days certainly are getting short!) Then I went to Concord for the annual performance of Handel's Messiah. This year, with different soloists and a different trumpet player. As usual, the enormous church was packed, the musicians were breathtaking, the choristers magnificent (a wall of sound), and the soprano, alto, tenor and based performed magnificently.

The soprano and the alto.

Curtain call.

I've got video, too, which may come later. I'm busy wrapping presents at the moment. My shopping is complete and I'll be glad to get the shipping done soon, too.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

Jewel & Ruth wish their US family & friends & fans a Happy Thanksgiving Day. As do the other residents of the Lodge!

The girls will have some turkey, just as they do when the Chap & I are in the UK at Thanksgiving and they are staying at their kennel. Plus a teeny bit of pumpkin pie with whipped cream!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sudeley Castle Gardens

As a gardener, garden-lover, garden historian, I chose to visit Sudeley primarily for its grounds and landscape. Well, that and the textiles collection. The Tudor-era connections were a bonus. It was the end of Sudeley's open season, about 48-hours before they closed to the public and resume life as a family property. Meaning we had the place to ourselves, and the guide in the upper rooms seemed thankful for interested and knowledgeable visitors. Seeing what a keen photographer I am, he encouraged me to take the photograph above. In fact, he opened the casement and helped me onto the ledge and kept me from falling out the window while I got my "money shot."

"You're the only who has this picture," he assured me.

The foreground portion shows a part of the public garden. But beyond lies the private garden enclosed by the family apartments.

The Tithe Barn.

Barn ruins and the Carp Pond.

The castle front.

View of the Costwold hills from the terrace.

Ruins of the Banqueting House and part of a knot garden.

Climbing Rose.

Entrance to the Queen's Garden.

An alley of shaved hedges. The lawn was like velvet.

Looking towards the castle from the Queen's Garden.

I love lavender!

This Cedar of Lebanon is very old...and tall!

An army of gardeners planted hundreds of tulip bulbs along the borders of the Secret Garden. One of them told us it's a new scheme/design for springtime.

A peacock at the entrance to the Pheasantry, where rare (very beautiful) pheasants from many countries are tended.

Autumn foliage and a willow beside a long pond.

Fun with yew hedges.

I've got many more Sudeley photos, mostly of the 17th and 18th century textile collection. They might become the subject of a future post....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tudor History at Sudeley Castle

During my time in Gloucestershire, I visited Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe--Cotswold country. My parents have always spoken highly of the place. I'm familiar with the area but never took the time to visit the castle. As it was the perfect spot to break up the drive from Gloucester to Marlow in Buckinghamshire, we spent part of a day there.

Sudeley was Crown Property for hundreds of years, and thus came into Henry VIII's possession. After his death it was the home of Katherine Parr, his last Queen--the one who outlived him, and her fourth husband (and longtime love) Sir Thomas Seymour (Henry's brother-in-law through the marriage to Jane Seymour.)

In a future blog post I'll share my photos of the gardens and grounds, my favourite part of the visit. But as a onetime Tudor scholar, I did enjoy the public display of costumes from David Starkey's series on Henry VIII and his wives. The garments are the result of impressive historical research and made from materials and dyes that were authentic to the period, as much as possible.

Henry VIII.

Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess who was bride and widow of Henry's elder brother Arthur and mother of Queen Mary I. She was the first of the wives to be divorced.

Anne Bolyen, the cause of Henry's divorce, who visited Sudeley with Henry on a Royal Progess and supposedly helped him plant a rosa mundi rose bush. (A variety I grow, possibly my favourite gallica). Also the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, and beheaded for treason and infidelity and worse...

...because Henry had decided that Jane Seymour would bear the legitimate son and heir he required. Indeed she did, but she died as a result.

So, widower Henry cast about for a good-looking foreign bride. German princess Anne of Cleves turned out to be prettier in Holbein's portrait of her than she was in the flesh, so Henry promptly divorced her. She remained in England as his "dear sister."

Still seeking an attractive girl--and some spare male heirs--Henry became besotted with the very young, very giddy, and secretly sexually experienced Catherine Howard. Marriage to an old and ailing King couldn't keep Catherine from reverting to her wild ways, and she got found out. The second wife to be beheaded. (In my acting days I played Catherine in a ghost play which was very sympathetic towards her.)

Hearbroken and aging and suffering from an abcessed leg, Henry decided a nurse and widow was what he needed. He found one at court, twice-widowed Katherine Parr--who happened to be in love with Thomas Seymour, Henry's brother-in-law through the marriage to Jane Seymour. Katherine was clever enough to know better than to turn down a king for true love. As his queen, she reconciled him with his elder daughter Mary, and his younger Elizabeth, shown here in red gown.

Katherine was a proponent of the New Religion and was very learned. Here is her prayer book.

She skillfully avoided getting divorced or beheaded and therefore outlived her King.
Thomas Seymour married her in scandalous haste, becoming her fourth (!) husband. He renovated Sudeley to serve as their marital home. Her stepdaughter Princess Elizabeth lived with them, as did Lady Jane Grey.

The year after the marriage Katherine bore a daughter, but neither of them survived. The Queen was buried in Sudeley's chapel. Her grave was discovered and excavated in the 1790's.

Thomas came to a bad end...his brother persuaded their nephew King Edward to execute him for treason (the charges included trying to mess about with Princess Elizabeth, climbing in to her bed in the morning and tickling her, and perhaps scheming to extend his power by marrying her.)

There is a wonderful textile collection displayed at Sudeley. Among the items is this 16th century christening robe, purported to be the one worn by Elizabeth I as an infant.

Sudeley's chapel is decorated with stained glass depicted Tudor-era notables. Below is a window showing Thomas Seymour, Katherine, and Henry.

And here is Katherine's grave and monument.