Archive | September, 2013

Day out: Croome Court

26 Sep

Croome Court has everything but the kitchen sink.  From Georgian mega-wealth to World War II canteens to Hare Krishnas to boys’ schools to bats … it’s like a giant example of ‘make do and mend’ — nothing in this estate has gone to waste.


Eeek.  You can view the bats’ roosts from a electronic viewpoint in the old RAF Defford buildings.  Very cool.IMG_0409e

The forties-era canteen serves hot and cold food and plenty of tea.IMG_0419e

The medieval church was pulled down, moved, and redesigned to suit the modern (for the mid-eighteenth century) tastes of the mega-wealthy Earl of Coventry and his friend Capability Brown (interior by Robert Adam).IMG_0423e

The  ice house shows off an older form of food preservation.IMG_0437e

Pan looks over the ‘natural’ landscape.  (This natural landscape was created entirely by design.  Not sure how to call that natural, but leave it be, leave it be…)


Look back and see that perfectly situated church of St Mary Magdalene.IMG_0439e

The Trust has set out some civilized lawn chairs, next to the ha-ha and a herd of pretty cows.  What could be more picturesque?IMG_0440e

The Temple Greenhouse.  Just a little thing.  The gardens here once had a collection of rare and exotic plants second only to Kew Palace Gardens.IMG_0455e

And those pretty cows.  They were not too impressed with me, I think.IMG_0457e

Yes, still here in the greenhouse, with a view towards Croome Court, over that natural landscape once again. IMG_0459e

The late eighteenth century druid gives a think.IMG_0462e

The carriage court road from Worcester.IMG_0468e

The Punch Bowl Gates on the entrance from that road to Worcester.IMG_0469e

They have not been opened in … quite some time …IMG_0471e

The tufa and limestone grotto, with a statue of the nymph Sabrina (representing the river Severn).  The surfaces were once covered with semi precious gems.  As one does.IMG_0474e

The lake, which was dug out by hand, for a truly natural look.  Across the lake you can see an urn raised in honor of the 1788 visit of George III.  (Seen more clearly in watery reflection than in the air.)IMG_0476e

The Island Pavilion, brought back from vandalism and disrepair to the beauty it is today.IMG_0484e

Inside the house, very little furniture, but a loving and detailed effort to restore the house to its days of glory.  This is the Long Hall.  The Tapestry Tea Room was closed during our visit, but it smelled delicious.  The upstairs is inaccessible due to beetles; the basement has interesting bits of servants’ history along with slightly sad rows of old school cubbies.IMG_0493e

What house doesn’t do well to have topless sphinx women on the stairs?IMG_0501e

The Rotunda sits half a mile from the house.  The Earl used to entertain guests here with banquets.  Pity the poor servants who had to haul up burgers with all the fixin’s (or the eighteenth century equivalents) all that way.IMG_0504eWe hit every spot on the visitors’ map … every spot but the Park Seat, with its commanding view over the grounds, that is.  See it, waaaaay over there?  No?  Right under the arrow.  Yeah, after walking five or six miles around the estate, I decided a zoom lens view was going to be close enough.

IMG_0497edAnother picture-perfect day in Camelot.

Here are things about Croome which I found amazing and don’t plan to tell you about — just because I’m mean that way:

Did you know one of the beautiful Gunning sisters married the Earl of Coventry and lived HERE at Croome?  (Regency Romance fans UNITE!)

Did you know the SECRET WEAPON that WON THE WAR was developed here at RAF Defford?

Did you know Neo-Palladian is one of my FAVORITE WORDS?

Did you know Croome Court has the largest collection of Coade Stone in the country?

Did you know there is an annual Hare Krishna festival at Croome?

Did you??

Well, I’m swamped with trying to get through photos from other days out, so I’ll leave you to seek and find information about those tidbits on your own, if you like.


Crumpets Cross the Channel (again): Disneyland Paris

17 Sep

Bear with me.  It’s not an England post; it’s not whinging about school life; it’s not a new recipe (although that oat flour pancake recipe is turning out to be pretty popular); it’s not even a useful review of visiting Disneyland Paris — BUT — we did visit Disney Paris, our first family trip to any of the Disney parks, on the final long weekend of the summer before the start of school.  And we had a great time.  If you don’t want to be cornered into checking out a few photos from my wallet (so to speak), bail out now.  Maybe check out that Cotswold Drive post again, and wait for the next post coming up (in the works: National Trust’s Croome Court).  Still here?  Okay, here we go:

We’ve been on the Chunnel train so many times, it is almost boring.  HA!  Not boring!  I LOVE IT.


This trip, instead of the bocage or beautiful Paris, we entered the heady alternate universe of Disneyland Paris.IMG_0091e

I don’t remember Paris looking quite like that, but … ooooookaaaaay.

As I mentioned, this was our first visit to any of the Disney parks (insert astounded Brit commentary — “Never?  And you’re American?”).  The park does not disappoint, with non-stop photo-ops.


Walt Disney Studios, adjacent to Disneyland Paris, has a truly disconcerting American-esque look.  If I had not had a lovely frenchwoman pass me croissants and baguettes with Nutella for my petit-dej that morning, I might have wondered in what country I had landed.

We stayed at one of the Disney hotels — the Davy Crockett Ranch.  Recommended for families greater than four, especially ones who have decided that all of the American West looks like a scene from Bonanza or Seven Brides for Seven BrothersIMG_0150e

There was a bar-b-que on the night we arrived.  Pony rides past those big green doors in the background.  Pluto and Robin Hood stopped by. There’s a massive pool with a multi-story slide.  It was awesome.IMG_0022e

The cabins are — again weirdly — very similar to cabins you might find in a National Park.  With room for six, two bathrooms, a decent kitchen and dining area plus an outdoor patio, it suited us just fine.20130901_125930

We navigated the meal plan options and found one that worked — but splurged one day for the ridiculous brunch buffet at “Inventions” in the Disneyland Hotel proper.  And met a dozen more Disney characters.  I may have cried when I met Minnie Mouse.  (Okay, fine, I did cry.)IMG_0366e

One of the many food options inside the park.  This one … just … was absurd.  We did not eat here.  But I’m sure it was “So very British!”20130901_203839

As the park drifted into twilight and then evening, the lights turned the whole scene into something even more magical.IMG_0190e

The Mad Hatter may have been our favorite ride — at night I loved it even more.IMG_0179e

The Dumbo ride felt surreal — especially after waiting in line for over an hour.IMG_0249e

One advantage of staying in a Disney hotel is getting in to the park two hours before regular opening.  Even that early, the park doesn’t feel empty.IMG_0301e

You can see the floats as they dance out of their hiding places for the morning parade.IMG_0266e

Or wait FIVE MINUTES to get on Space Mountain.  The whole of that five minutes was the time I spent walking from this signpost to the ride.  No line.  No line at all.IMG_0304e

Tigger.  My old nemesis.  I have a photo of myself as a very young child, in my only other visit to Disney, being terrified of the mid 1970s incarnation of this larger-than-life stuffed tiger.  He haunted my dreams.  You no longer have the power to destroy me, Tigger.  But, ummmmm, let’s keep walking.  Before he gets too close.IMG_0369e

Oh, are you looking at me, Jack?  Over here, just a little to the right.IMG_0374eI have a place we could go.  Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. 

On the right foot

9 Sep


I found myself talking with someone new the other day.  She was new to Britain; new to town; new to the school.  Lots of newness.  A bright shining cup full of newness, and I found myself wanting to distill all my past two years into three or four intensely important dollops of wisdom to pour into that cup.  Everything I wished I had known, particularly about school life, in four minutes or less.

Is it bad that the first things I mentioned were lice, pinworms, fifth’s disease, and strep throat?  Because as I spent our first winter reeling to discover — Britain is full of cooties.  For any American mother experiencing the rather laissez-faire British attitude toward childhood nuisance illnesses, it is very nearly shocking to see these ailments go round and round and round the school.

Next up: the days of darkness.  I’m not sure how to warn people about the descent of darkness without sounding like a vampy extra from a bad Dracula movie.  But people, it is real.  Winter darkness, even at this relatively lower latitude, is enough to depress, to dishearten, to distress, to despair.   When the kids go to school in the dark, and come home in the dark, and there’s only a dim crack of sunshine around noon … I shudder.   I’ll be taking my daily dose of blue light starting next month, and gritting my teeth for solstice.

Realizing I was on a demoralizing roll, I still felt I had to mention that joining the school community was not as straightforward as the typical suburban American mom might expect.  Here on the blog I’ve alluded to what some people call ‘politics at the school gate’, and how difficult that was for me.  My first year at school was spent as the invisible woman.  It gets better through some complicated British alchemy of people ignoring you when you are outgoing and friendly, and then reaching out once you stop caring.  How to distill all this down for someone filled with fresh-faced excitement?  “It’s not like back home — but I’m sure you’ll be fine!”  Perkiness in the face of adversity.  How American of me.

And a final tip — I have a feeling no non-native adult person can understand the school uniform.  We come to it too late in life.  Just as our children grow up understanding ipods and tumblr as a first language, they pick up the requirements of the uniform, with its multiple socks and wellies and plimsolls and hats and blouses and swim caps and bags and trainers,  through some peer-fostered osmosis.  Just throw money at the uniform shop, and let the kids sort it out.

And then I realized that over quiet sips of a very nice coffee, I had just told this lovely new person that her children would be subject to disease, she would descend into seasonal affective disorder, British mothers would treat her like a leper, and she was about to lose all her money to an unsolvable uniform puzzle.  Oh, and did I mention the GIANT SPIDERS?   Welcome to Britain!

Sigh.  We’ve been in Camelot two years, as of this month.  England is beautiful, and this country is wonderful, but for these few things I wish I had been warned.  I wish I had been prepared.  So from me to you, if you are planning to move to England or to live here temporarily: it’s not all crumpets and jam.  Just try to embrace it.  Even when it’s freezing and dark.  I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Next generation

3 Sep

My little pink elph has been with me all through our life in the UK thus far.  She fits in a backpack, a purse, a pocket, or hangs easily off the wrist.  I’ve dropped her in puddles, down stairs, off tables, and on my own head (surely the hardest thing out there).  She’s taken some lovely photos, from great heights to tiny closeups.  I’ve even taken her trail running.  And you can tell:


Nicks, chips, dents, the frame is actually popped out on the sides, the shutter button fell off some time ago and the photo quality, sadly, is starting to go.  She could always do more than I understood, but she had a great run.  Now, it is time for a new companion on my travels.

20130828_133230My cat is super excited, you can tell.

I’m not sure how this fancy thing works.  Point. Click.  Hope for the best.  Meet the next generation.  I know it looks black, but I like to think her heart is pink.