28 July 2013

It's a Prince!

In case you missed this week's leading news headline from Great Britain it read: 
IT'S A BOY- The Telegraph
A Prince is born! - The Times
A birth,a boy,a prince,a king The Guardian

After keeping the world's media on red alert for weeks, Prince George arrived last Monday of his own free will, becoming third in line to the throne. Seeing as royal births happen about every thirty years, the Prince's anticipated arrival has prompted a global celebration and shopping frenzy. 

Retailers hitched a ride on the stork's wings hoping for a boost in quarterly sales courtesy of Kate and William's firstborn. From posh prams and plush pajamas to baby biscuits and bespoke hotel suites, there is a perfect keepsake for your little Prince or Princess.

Here ye, here ye!
I present my TOP TEN Royal Baby Gifts: 

26 July 2013

Just beachy: West Wittering Beach

We have welcomed the British summer heatwave with sunscreen and lemonade, but with no air conditioning, we craved a cool saltwater swim and some sand between our toes. 

Normally, the British seek holiday in the Mediterranean as it is almost a given that summer will be a wash.

But the summer of 2013 has shown that Britain can be a beach destination. Just an hour south of our Hampshire cottage we benefit from white sand beaches.

On the outskirts of the cathedral city Chichester is West Wittering Beach. We are fond of this rustic seaside spot in West Sussex. On its beach we have enjoyed picnics wearing fleece jackets to shield cold winds, and cooled off with ice cream in the scorching sunshine. As the beach is open throughout the year, you do not need to wait for the temperamental sun to shine, although I recommend it in warmer winds.

25 July 2013

Elf School

Ouisie has three more summers before school starts, but she can hardly wait. This became all the more apparent when the big announcement came after dinner,
Mommy. Daddy. I'm going to elf school.
After some negotiation, Chef and I convinced our 2-year old that all parents escort their child on the first day of elf school.

With a canvas bagged draped around her neck, pink ballet slippers over her piggies, and shopping trolley with baskets in hand (must have accessory), she bid farewell to the cottage.

17 July 2013

Holiday in Dorset- or was it Provence?

A summer heatwave has swept across the United Kingdom. To my delight, it coincided with a visit to a dear friend's family home in Dorset. 

I felt giddy over the weeks leading up to the long weekend. With the promise of sun, Ouisie and I headed south a day early. After a 1.5 hour drive we arrived at Wyke Hall, a Grade II listed property, in the elite village of Gillingham. 

Parts of the building can be traced back 500 years. Its varied architecture offers clues about when expansions and refurbishments took place over the last centuries. Today the Estate is comprised of ten private residences. 

As Ouisie and I drove down the long gravel entrance I recalled my last visit (almost three years ago) for my goddaughter's Christening. I was then five months pregnant with Ouisie. The manicured grounds were as I remembered. I suddenly felt sentimental as I told my toddler the events of that special day. Ouisie, and I, were keen to park the car and play hide n' seek around the grounds.

We beat the heat with daily swims in the Estate's pool and alfresco dining in the shade of trees.  The pool is bordered by pine, spruce, and oak trees, and a manicured hedge. Aside from Ouisie's squeals of delight, the only sounds heard were grazing sheep bleating in the neighbouring meadow and singing birds. With crystal blue skies and hot breezes, it felt as though we were in Provence, not an hour south of our cottage. 

Farmer Palmer has a farm, too

Farmer Palmer has a farm, e-i-e-i-o. 
And on his farm he has: 
familiar animals to hold and groom,
pedal tractors to drive
haystacks to climb
bouncy castles to jump
and much more... 

On a recent holiday in Dorset, Ouisie and I took a field trip to Farmer Palmer's Farm Park. As a parent, what I enjoyed most was that it caters to children eight years and under. As well, most activities offered reserved play area for toddlers.

The staff lead activities and demonstrations offered a good variety of fun and learning for the little visitors. Though it was apparent (at least to the parents) that the heat got to the instructor's head during the cow milking demonstration as she forgot the answers to her own quiz questions. Hope she got a cold glass of milk thereafter!

Timeless Paradise: Stourhead Gardens

Rather as a resident or an out of town visitor to England, a day trip to a National Trust property should be on your agenda.

Over 100 years ago the National Trust was founded as a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to preserve and protect the nation's heritage and open spaces. They protect historic homes, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, farmland, moorland, islands, castles, nature reserves, villages and even pubs.

Most recently I enjoyed an afternoon at National Trust's Stourhead Gardens with Ouisie and a girlfriend. Wishing to enjoy the glorious English summer weather we brought a picnic, but should you prefer, a pub style restaurant is available at The Spread Eagle Inn located on the Stourhead estate.

As we walked towards the main garden entrance we passed a row of cottages that I learned are available for holiday rental. As the garden is open year round, guests can hire a cottage in any season and enjoy the ever changing landscape. I banked that idea for a future retreat to enjoy with Chef and Ouisie.

We decided to enjoy a walk around the lake and admire the iconic temples and monuments before lunch. Ouisie loved playing in a makeshift fort in the woods, tossing coins into the grotto's fountain, playing warden at the Gothic Cottage , and racing up the hillside to the Obelisk.

We crossed bridges with sleeping trolls underneath, spotted butterflies, and looked for elves hiding in the trees. The walk took about 1.5 hours but felt like 30 minutes.

The path is suitable for strollers and I recommend bringing it along for little ones. There was only one set of cobbled stairs on leaving the Grotto. Otherwise, very stroller friendly.

05 July 2013

Pride and Unprejudice

There were no firework displays last night in the English countryside. Yesterday was the 4th of July and I feel nostalgic about my American roots. Though we did not have a 4th celebration at the Cottage, Ouisie and I did race around the garden waving our American flags to my improvised version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. 

This patriotic holiday conjures up childhood memories of neighbourhood pool parties with Lee Greenwood and Willie Nelson music on repeat. Fried chicken, burgers, and Bluebell ice cream were the kids' must-haves, while our parents stayed cool in the sweltering Texas summer courtesy of a hired margarita machine.

04 July 2013

Commoner Callie debuts at Royal Ascot

After six years of living in England, I finally made it to Royal Ascot. It has long lingered on my list of 'must dos whilst living in England'.  This year's race dates coincided with a visit from my brother and his wife which pushed the stakes to an all time high. I had tickets booked three months in advanced.

Royal Ascot is synonymous with prestige, fashion and pageantry. The horse track is located in the affluent county of Berkshire and is just five miles from Windsor Castle.  The history and heritage of Ascot spans over 300 years when Queen Anne first thought the surrounding woodland near Windsor Castle offered an ideal setting for a racecourse.

Wishing to have a true English experience, we started the day with a picnic in the car park. The British call it a picnic, I would call it refined tailgating.  The gates open from 10:30 allowing ample time to eat, drink and be merry with other racegoers before the event kicks off at 2:00pm with the Royal Procession.

We were most impressed by the British extensive preparations and picnic equipment to include tents, pop up tables with benches, fine linens and stemware. Most could have camped on site for the week rather than an afternoon with all their provisions. Gale force winds howled through the car park with intermittent rain showers. As the storms blew through we sought shelter in our car while the British calmly held down their forts with one hand, hats with the other, and carried on.

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