Paradise Lost and Found

27 May


My laptop likes to remind me of Camelot. My screensaver pulls images green and mild (and dark and stormy, and fun and frivolous, and sweet and savory) to flaunt on the small screen that might as well be the illuminated dome of my brain. Any time I go quiet for more than five minutes, there it is: Camelot.

It has been eight months since we left the UK. Six months since we settled in Hawaii. The contrast is shocking. There are no more days of darkness.  No matter how I miss places, people, castles, or crumpets, I can not miss that darkness.  And for all I dream sadly of my lost English roses, every day I wake to plumeria and hibiscus.

Hawaii isn’t perfect.  It isn’t paradise.  No one likes to believe this.  No one likes to hear that the dream holiday destination has an underbelly of unbelievable poverty, corruption, waste, and unsustainability.  And yet …

… Hawaii is that boy with the dazzling daydream blue eyes and tousled hair who smiles at you and short circuits your brain.

What was I saying?  Something about Hawaii being paradise, right?

I still listen to BBC radio.  I still make a proper brew.  I will even, sometimes, still have beans on toast for my tea.  But I’m doing it in my bathing suit and I’ll be heading to the beach in a few minutes.  I’m not blogging as I was in Camelot.  There is so much less to say here, and it seems unimportant when the trade winds are blowing and I can get free parking two steps from my favorite stretch of sand.  But I do toss up occasional photos at, and I’d be happy to see you there.


3 Nov

I’m back in the US, now.  A long break from the blog, for me, though it was invisible thanks to the scheduling feature on WordPress.  I considered leaving with my last post — the three hundredth on this blog!! — and disappearing into the wildness of America.  Which I probably will do.  But the question I know I have had for every returning expat is on my mind:  What is it like to come home?


Well, for one thing, the view is nice.

The question is too big and freaks me out at the moment, to be honest.  Just like America: too big and freaks me out.  I walked into a local grocery and nearly fainted.  So many options in the aisle (20 kinds of string cheese?  What even IS string cheese??) but nothing I want (WHERE IS ALL THE COCONUT YOGURT?) yet everyone is friendly and chatting to me and if one more stranger is kind and speaks to me for no reason I WILL LOSE MY SHIT.

You’re too much, America.  Everything is fast, is open late, is full of sugar, is full of petroleum, is saturated with color, is shiny bright white teeth, is the latest brand, is single use and thrown away, is too cold, is too hot, is zooming, is choices, is big and wide and too much.  I’ve only been gone three years.  What happened?  To me?

Frankly I could use a cup of tea.

I’m turning off the calculator in my head.  Something worth the number “twenty” is actually going to cost me twenty dollars, instead of some larger calculation.  You’d think this would be handy, but it’s a bit disconcerting.  Everything in the UK seems to cost less, because the currency is stronger.  I wouldn’t blink at paying 3 pounds for some small trinket, but no way am I paying 6 dollars for the same item in the US.  Even thought that’s the same price.  Oh, dear, I really should have paid more attention to math in college …

The roads are beautiful.  Gorgeous.  I want to drive around all day just for the pleasure of smooth asphalt, enormously wide lanes, right-on-red, functioning street lamps at night, and no zebra crossings.

I miss my kitchen composter.  Municipal composting is a great idea.  I miss my high-viz friends at the county recycling centre.  I saw them so regularly, since our town picked up waste just the once every two weeks. I don’t understand throwing everything in to one big bin … and someone else takes it away and sorts it?  That is … that is … crazy.  I spent three years cleaning, sorting, stacking, and properly disposing of my recycling.  I bought products on the basis of whether or not they had too much wasteful packaging.  I recycled everything.  EVERYTHING.  I feel like we’ve produced more trash in a week in the US than we did in two months in the UK.  Living more consciously of waste is going to be an effort.  This country makes it so easy to consume and dispose.  Our 51st state is going to be a giant pile of garbage.

American children become consumers so young.  We went to an amusement park recently and I was astounded at all the designer tracksuits, shirts, hats, and footwear for children.  When I wanted to find running bottoms for my girls when we ran a mud run together in the UK, I was told no one made sports clothes for girls.  (We eventually settled on a very small cut women’s xtra small.  The rampant sexism in UK sports is a topic for another day.)  We walked into Old Navy yesterday and saw approximately seventy million styles of yoga pants, running bottoms, zumba trousers, and dance capris for girls as young as 2.  Choice is good, right?  But … kids become habituated to thinking of themselves as vehicles for marketing.  I don’t know.

Where is that tea.  Also, someone pull up BBC Radio because I miss British voices.  Why is everyone here so perky?  It’s baffling.  I’m exhausted.


I pulled open my photo archives and picked this one out totally at random. So many scenes to share. Each memory a little prickle on my heart.

I have tried to look through my many unedited photos and dozens of explorations which have never made it to the blog.  I find my eyes are a bit too tender at the moment, to look at Camelot.  And it would feel strange to write about the experience of being in a place when I’m not there.  It’s all memory, now.  So, I make no promises about what will show up next.  Occasional photo posts as I find something worth sharing?  Random thoughts about repatriation, as I slowly crawl out of my bunker?  In the UK my mind tended towards knights, but here I think I’ll quote a pirate — “Good night, Crumpets in Camelot … I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”


Oh, and PS – I saw this in that local grocery I mentioned, and a reserved and silent tear leaked quietly out the side of one eye. Hail Britannia. 

Sudeley Snapshots: Farewell

29 Oct

A last visit to much-loved Sudeley.  You know now, along with me, that my time in Camelot is ending, so perhaps you can also see these images with the mix of pending nostalgia that has colored all of my last days.

IMG_20140911_152718edI like to imagine these windows with Henry VIII looking through them … or Elizabeth walking past … or unfortunate Katherine Parr with Jane Grey … Or as an example of how we strange humans create windows where there is just air, and backdrops for our passions and dreams where there is really just sunlight.

IMG_4214edFor now, the peacocks own the view.  Well, and the art-loving Dent-Brocklehurst family, of course.

IMG_4217edI love this little cupid, and look for him in the secret garden every visit.

IMG_20140911_145111edThe displays inside the Castle have been updated and extended since our first visit.  I like this windowed corner with remembrance poppies.

IMG_20140911_145434edAnd this new bust of Richard III, commissioned after his burial site was rediscovered.  I was lucky enough to take a tour of the private apartments at Sudeley a couple years ago — now, many of the rooms formerly only accessible during that tour are part of the general public tour route.  (No photos allowed in this part of the house, however, so you really must go for yourself to see!)  If you’ve never been, or haven’t been recently, I recommend a visit.

IMG_20140911_151813edThis velvet royal ‘private’ on display is too amazing not to share.  A throne, indeed.

IMG_20140911_151820edKatherine’s privy lady — her sister — looks over the Queen’s Walk to the Chapel.  I feel I’m standing next to her, in spirit, caught in contemplation forever.

IMG_4230edAnd I take one look back over the box mazes and flowers, before we go.

The Edge of Tomorrow

24 Oct

See, the wine glasses in this temporary apartment are far too small.  The people upstairs are training for an obstacle race by jumping off the furniture.  The washer is in a haunted closet under the basement stairs.  I don’t have my car, so I can’t drive to my usual grocery store — and I can’t get delivery, because I’m not sure of my post code — and in the UK, if you don’t know your post code, you might as well be dead.  So, I’m dead, haunted, and I can only sip small amounts of wine at a time.  It’s the last part that’s the hardest.


Did you think I was kidding?

What I’m saying is, we’re moving.  After three years of sinking and swimming, we’re leaving Camelot.  In fact, although I’m writing this now as I eat the paleo snack bars I couldn’t fit into our household shipment, tapping my too-small wine glass and looking out the giant windows of this strange haunted apartment, eyes musing over trees and trash bins, this won’t be published until we have been gone almost a month.  It’s already happened, folks.  It’s over.

I’ve always kept this blog on the gray edge of personal and impersonal.  You’ve known my oddest innermost thoughts, but not the names of my children, for example.  I see no need to change that, now.  Why are we leaving?  It doesn’t matter. It matters that we are gone.  I’m too numb to handle any more goodbyes, any more plans for the future, any more memories of the past.  Tip for you, no charge: if you are planning an international move, don’t save anything for the last week because it will not happen.  Rental house needs cleaning?  Too late.  Books need returning to the library? Prepare to pay a fine.  Friends want to get together for one last coffee?  It’s over.  It’s over.  Your body is still here but your … mind … is … gone.

We’re not going home, because home doesn’t exist anymore.  We’re not moving back to the same zip code — or even the same time zone — that we left three years ago.  Frankly, I feel like we’re going Thelma and Louise, flying off a damn cliff with the police screaming behind us.  (Note to readers: the police are not actually after us.)  Some people are really good at this.  They make careers out of moving from country to country and life to life.  I think they are all crazy, and I guess that makes me crazy, too.

I might start another blog once we settle down in our next home-not-home.  Or I might just dive silently into new oceans and see if I can learn to breathe underwater for a bit.  I have been writing ahead and scheduling posts to come out here from Camelot, taking us through the end of October.  There are so many places I never got to show you, never got to share, never got to complain about or celebrate or just try to capture.  I’m sorry about that.  Maybe I’ll eventually go through my photo archives and pull out the memories of Camelot that feel too painful to find right now.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what is going to happen next.

Tap tap tap on the too-small wine glass.  Sip sip sip from the too-small bowl.  It’s all been too little, too fast.

Day out: Kenilworth Castle

19 Oct

Kenilworth Castle. Hundreds of years of history wrapped up in one beautiful ruined package. It merits so much more time than I am going to spend on it. I’m in a hurry, you see, with too much to do, and “Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”

You could rummage through the excellent-as-always English Heritage page for the Castle, and even download some of the research materials or guides for teachers — I did before our visit!  My kids didn’t even mind!  Mostly because I bribed them with cakes in the beautiful cafe!

Take a peek at the Tudor stables.  Inside is an interactive museum and the lovely tearoom.

Turn your back on the stables, which are part of the ancient walls surrounding Kenilworth, and begin to take in the several buildings which make up the castle.  To the right, the original Norman tower, built by Geoffrey de Clinton in the twelfth century.  In the background, the great hall built by John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, and the manly origin of the Lancastrian dynasty.  And here’s your trivia for the day: Chaucer’s wife’s sister was John of Gaunt’s third wife.  Small world.  Small, rich world.

IMG_4059edOff to one side is the Elizabethan gatehouse, later enclosed and turned into a freestanding home.  Downstairs, where the carriages and wagons once rolled through the gatehouse, the rooms are quite large.  That large bay window in the center of the photo is where the gate used to be.  Inside the house, more interactive and interesting pieces of the history of the castle and the families who lived there.

IMG_4072edThe gardens were considered a marvel of their time.  Dudley had them designed and built as a private garden, specifically for the enjoyment of Elizabeth I on her visits.  Really, much of the work put into the castle and grounds during the 16th century were a massive and expensive effort to convince Elizabeth to marry Dudley.  The garden was lost to inattention and decay, but has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to something close to it’s original glory.

IMG_4076edAnd interior view of the Norman keep.  The original windows were all like the small slit in the lower level.  Later owners modernized the keep with large windows (and expensive panes of glass), and even added a ‘loggia’ to the entrance, in Italianate style.

IMG_4104edI love this photo for the lovely woman who is SWEEPING the ruins.  Talk about keeping things tidy.  You also get a good sense of just how fallen about the castle is now, how thick the walls were, and a bit of the scope of the facilities.  Taking this photo, I’m standing near the edge of the castle kitchens, which were the largest in Europe.  There was even a separate kitchen next to the main kitchens (which have a cauldron so large it is built into the foundation of the walls) where the foods for the high table were prepared.

IMG_4111edHere we’re standing on top of the stairs you just saw, looking back over the kitchens, part of the great hall, the old keep, and the inner courtyard.

IMG_4120edAnd here, turning around, you can look over what used to be a massive interior lake — the Great Mere created by John I in the thirteenth century.  The gate you see slightly sunk into the hill would have been a water entrance to the castle.

IMG_4125edDecorative vandalism can be found all over the castle, carved into the soft sandstone.

IMG_4129edIt’s not hard to see how the ruins at Kenilworth inspired so many romantic authors, like Sir Walter Scott.

IMG_4133edIt’s funny because it’s true:

IMG_4142edThe view from the newly scaffolded Leicester Tower (built by Dudley for Elizabeth I) is spectacular.  Here see Gaunt’s Oriel tower and great hall once again.

IMG_4158edAnd hold on tight before you look DOWN.  This view is from Elizabeth’s personal chamber, where she could watch interior entertainments to the left, and look out the window to see entertainers on the lawn.  Dudley pulled out all the stops.

IMG_4160edOne of my favorite things to see was all the jackdaws.  They are a cackling, sociable sort of crow who love rocky ruins like this.  Their call sings “England” to me.  (Click on “audio” to give a listen:

IMG_4162edIt was easy to spend hours wandering the grounds.

IMG_4177edIf you could only see one castle in England, should this be it?  I’m not sure, but … maybe.  There’s a bit of almost everything here, architecture from the Norman conquest to today, cultural history, fascinating personalities, human drama, literary inspirations, wild examples of humans shaping and reshaping their environment, and, of course, fairly tasty cakes and tea.

Day out: Dartmouth Castle

14 Oct

Another place on my list: Dartmouth.  Somewhere in the bloggy mists I’ve mentioned that we once lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College.  So a visit to the original Dartmouth in Devon was a must-do.  Without much time to visit, we made good use of our English Heritage pass and spent the afternoon at Dartmouth Castle.

Dartmouth was an interesting maritime town — traffic back and forth through town includes a ferry ride!  The Britannia Royal Naval College is in the background.

IMG_3988edA crazy-making drive through small winding streets brings to mind the tight quarters of a ship.  Even the cemetery slides up and down hills and holds tight where it can.

IMG_3990edThe parish church by the Castle has a simple ship-shape elegance.

IMG_4006edWithin the Castle, one can tour the original battlements, set to defend the mouth of the Dart.

IMG_4030edInside and out, there’s not an overwhelming amount to explore, but it is all well preserved and there are many kid-friendly touch-and-learn stations for extra enrichment, and benches for tired parents to sit while the kids run up and down … and up and down … and up and down …  (You might want to download and print ahead the Step Inside guide.)

IMG_4014edThere’s a pretty-ish view of Dartmouth from here, as well.

IMG_4028edIt’s a beautiful place to indulge in dreams of pirates.

IMG_4021edThe water is an amazing green, due to the limestone in the area. (I believe.)

IMG_4022edaIf only there were a bit of sun, you might believe you were in the Caribbean.

IMG_4043edA beautiful cove facing the Channel, where I like to imagine mermaids and smugglers sneaking in past the guards sitting bored in their towers above.  This used to be a public swimming beach, and remains of the former swim platform are visible on the lower left of this photo.  This day, we got to spend uncrowded moments sorting through the rocks for shells and listening to the waves.

IMG_20140901_143313edCream tea and sandwiches at the nearby Castle Tea Room were surprisingly good.  But our best souvenirs were dainty small shells and a final English Heritage guidebook to add to our collection.

Sudeley Snapshots: Tithe Barn

9 Oct

Another installment in the occasional series of photos from lovely Sudeley Castle.  Built in the fifteenth century by Ralph Boteler, to the side of Sudeley Castle, is the Tithe Barn.

IMG_4207edThe building was largely destroyed by Cromwell’s forces during the English Civil war, but the romantic walls remain.

IMG_4193edThe interior has been re-imagined as a sweet and almost secret garden, with wild roses, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, wild clematis, wisteria, foxgloves, and more.  It’s like a Shakespearean sonnet, really.

IMG_4195edEvery doorway and window has its own character, its own sense of being a magic portal.

IMG_4185edEven in autumn, with most of the blooms past their prime or gone entirely, the Tithe Barn retains a sweet beauty.

IMG_4190edTake a walk through and around the barn, and check out views perfectly framed by both architecture and vegetation.

IMG_4201edTurn around and see the upright silhouette of Sudeley Castle itself through the flowers.

IMG_4196edOr stand clear and enjoy that graceful view — almost cozy, when it comes to castles — reflected in the carp pond.


Crathes Castle Spring

4 Oct

My final Scotland post.  We’ve been ridiculously lucky over our spring holidays these past three years.  First year on the Isle of Skye.  Second year in Paris.  Third year, back to Scotland, this time in Royal Deeside.  My mind will always see Scotland bursting with sunshine and raining only to show off rainbows.  Crathes Castle was no different.  Sadly, we were not permitted to take any photographs inside, but I promise you, IT WAS SUPER COOL INSIDE.  I’m talking ghosts, Jacobean rooms, Renaissance painted rooms, hidden staircases for mistresses, the works.

The outside was pretty cool, too.  Here is the (massive) sixteenth-century tower house.
IMG_3203ed A guide did tell me I could stick my camera out the window and take photos of the gardens.  So I did.IMG_3204ed On this warm sunny day in April, the grounds were full of families with picnics.
IMG_3205ed Oh, that view.IMG_3222ed Flag atop the castle shows the heraldry of the Burnett family — the hunting horn.  NO idea the significance of the rooster, except that he’s pretty groovy.
IMG_3224edAnd really, really gold.

How will our next spring holiday compare to these past three?  Well, I have some ideas, but I’m not telling you, yet!

Day out: Vindolanda

30 Sep

Another fantastical place ticked off our UK bucket list — Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda!  We took a break during our drive down from our Scottish trip for an overnight in Carlisle and several hours exploring the wall.  I don’t have very many photos — isn’t that crazy? — I was so busy reading my guidebook, running around shouting “look, latrines!”, and marveling at ancient shoes, that my camera stayed in my bag.  (Mostly.)

IMG_3232ed There are many places to stop along the wall and see evidence of the wall.  We decided to stop at Vindolanda so we could see a good sized outpost and for the amazing museum.  My oldest child, we has been taking Latin in school, was amazed to discover that the people he had thought were merely characters in his text book were in fact real, living people — and evidence of their life was found here, at Vindolanda.  IMG_3233ed Entry through a courtyard with a sparkling fountain.IMG_3247ed The site is still  being excavated — an excellent field trip might be signing up to volunteer with an excavation crew!  Here you can see the pre-Hadrianic military bath house.  (You know I love a good Roman bath house.  Almost as much as a good ancient latrine.)IMG_3257ed Both the military buildings and the civilian structures have left evocative remains.IMG_3258edBasically lost our mind when we got to walk in the footsteps of the guards, even inside their headquarters building.


From atop a recreated wall  sentry post, get a great view over Vindolanda.

IMG_3254edI often wonder how a soldier from Rome might have felt, sitting here in the frozen, nothernmost end of the empire (and seemingly the universe).  I tend to have a lot of sympathy for them.

20140419_154437ed The sit rambles on quite a bit.  And check out where you can sit and have a lovely sandwich or tea:


Life is no longer rough and tumble, here at the frontier.IMG_3267ed


I’d love to have the time to walk the wall.  We saw many families out walking, as we drove along the length of the wall toward Carlisle.  We contented ourselves with rummaging through Vindolanda and then joining the Legion at the Roman Army Museum.  Absolutely fabulous day out with kids.

Day out: Chepstow Castle

25 Sep

Along the English-Welsh border, you’ll find many dramatic ruined castles (Raglan Castle), religious complexes (Tintern Abbery), and Roman fortifications (Caerleon).  One beauty we hadn’t seen before — Chepstow Castle.  (Free if your English Heritage pass is more than 12 months old, discounted if it is less.)

IMG_3739edThe massive main gatehouse and Marten’s Tower give a strong first impression.

IMG_3743edA wander through the lower bailey presents you with various wall walks, towers, and open spaces.IMG_3744edIn a side corridor near the service passage and kitchen, the oldest wooden castle doors in Europe — 800 years old — are on display, out of the elements.  IMG_3753ed I’m always interesting in looking UP.  Here you are seeing a slice of the Great Tower from inside the barbican around the middle bailey.IMG_3754ed How do those flowers get there?  What would it be like to step through that dark doorway?IMG_3756edA view back down the middle bailey.IMG_3761edThe marginally brave can walk up to the top of one of the remaining towers for a view over the town and the walls.  I don’t remember if this is peeking through a musket loop, a window, or just general falling-down-ness.IMG_3766edThe shell of the Great Tower remains, including the very sides of two dramatic Norman arches.  This is the oldest part of the castle, and may have been used by William the Conqueror as an audience chamber.  (HOW COOL IS THAT.)  The round-arched niches in the back (there are four, one is just out of frame) contain remains of their original 11th century decoration, and are considered to the be oldest surviving secular decorations in Britain.  So, that’s pretty cool, too.IMG_3767edAlong with picturesque views toward the river through the lower windows.IMG_3771edHandrailings on the walls — that’s more than we usually see at ruined castles.IMG_3774edOn the other side of the castle, views over the muddy Wye. That little iron bridge is fun to drive over — it’s one lane, and controlled by a traffic light allowing one direction of traffic to flow at a time.  It also marks the boundary between England and Wales.  Here be dragons.IMG_3776edClimb the south-west tower of the upper barbican at the very end of the castle, and look over the upper bailey and Marshal’s Tower. IMG_3782edClimb down past the cellars, and find the remains of an aristocratic private garden and the water gate under the river cliff.IMG_3785edAnd, from along the walls near Marten’s Tower, and get a better sense of the various levels and styles all sealed within the membrane of the Chepstow Castle walls.

To my very great sadness, the Earl’s Chamber was closed for renovation during our visit.  The chamber was a gloriette and is the only surviving, accessible example of this type of indoor architecture and design in Britain.  (I say ‘surviving’, but it has been totally rebuilt, recreated, and restored.  Either way, I was eager to see it.  Oh, well.)
IMG_3789edAfter exploring the castle  (take your time — bring dress-up — bring wooden swords — bring a picnic) don’t forget to wander through the hilly medieval town of Chepstow at the foot and side of the castle, or wander off on one of the many hikes through the area.

Or enjoy tea in a local tea room.

10559832_10203701525392789_6170788621271042918_nThere’s a special magic about coming in from a drizzle to a warm cup of tea in a cozy tea room.  And if you’re very lucky, there’ll be cakes.