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A Visit to Wales

The following is taken mostly as I recorded it in my journal. I hope it makes sense!

 

Wales! Wales is so different from England. It is hilly and rocky with trees and sheep. It looks wild and wonderful. Lots of wonderful walking and hiking opportunities.

Where do I start? We stopped in Llangollen (  http://www.new.llangollen.org.uk/) for lunch and a brief look around the town and shops. At the very last minute before boarding the tour bus, I found a quilt shop! So I purchased some fabric with the Welsh flag and another piece with images of London. I hope I can find something from Scotland when we get there so I can make some kind of memory quilt.

We passed through Snowdonia National Park and the scenery was spectacular! Rough terrain, high hills (or mountains), and rocks. Everywhere rocks. I guess a glacier passed through this area eons ago and deposited the rocks. (You can learn more about this stunning place at this link: http://www.eryri-npa.gov.uk/home )

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Tonight we go to a home-hosted dinner with a Welsh family in Caernarfon. We are taking a set of corked back wooden coasters from home as a hostess gift.

The Welsh in-home dinner experience…..

The tour company we are traveling with (Grand Circle) has a tradition that somewhere on each trip the traveler will be invited into a local home for a lite meal or a traditional dinner. It’s a wonderful way to meet some local people and find out about their life and culture.

On this trip, our home visit was in the town of Caernarfon, Wales.  http://www.caernarfononline.co.uk/

A friendly Welsh driver took us six of us in a passenger van and delivered us to Bryn Carrog, the home of our hosts for the evening.

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I’ve been on these home hosted visits before and you never know what to expect. Sometimes the hosting family does not speak English, sometimes, the food is of poor or questionable quality, or sometimes it just doesn’t work…for any number of reasons.

So when we were delivered to Bryn Carrog, I held my breath.

We were warmly greeted by our hosts. They were smiling and seemed genuinely happy to greet us to their home. They live in a house that was originally built in the 1860s. The house has been well maintained and updated, with some modern rooms added on. The house and décor matched the owner’s personality perfectly…a very inviting, warm and cozy atmosphere. The house was decorated with cheerful colors, artwork, and other treasures collected from all over Europe. I noticed a lot of hearts, which I think also reflects the personality of the owners.

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What down to earth people! They immediately made us all feel comfortable and at home. They wanted to know about us and how we live as much as we wanted to know about them and their culture. I just loved to hear them talk. They spoke very good English, of course, but it was so charming to hear their Welsh accent and especially the way they roll their ‘rrr’s’.

Let me introduce the family as best I can. The husband and wife have been married for 24 years. He works for the county making sure that the over 150 county buildings are well maintained and secure.

The wife is a fantastic cook, who also has a great ability to make the home warm and welcoming. She works part-time for the local school and tutors a child.

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(Note: The green stuff in the picture above is mashed peas. They were very tasty!)

They have two sons. The 19 year old is studying geography in his first year at the local university. The studies are all done in the Welsh language. He works part time in the local 5-star hotel. The other son is 16 years old and he is a singer. He takes voice lessons and sings in two choirs.

Most years, the family takes a four-week vacation to continental Europe. They have a motor home and enjoy traveling around the various European countries. They are not sure how much longer they will do this, since their sons are old enough to make other plans during vacation season.

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The visit with them is a trip highlight for me! Good food, good conversation, and laughter. And the grand finale was the younger son singing a Welsh folk-song to us. We were captivated by his voice and his willingness to entertain six strangers from the United States.

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What a charming family. What a wonderful evening!

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Of England and Tea

I’ve been remiss in writing about my recent trip to Great Britain. Gone for three weeks, we visited England, Scotland, and Wales. This was our fourth European trip in two years and for me, it was by far the most enjoyable. I will write more posts about what we saw and my thoughts, but this post is about tea!

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I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I just never acquired the taste for coffee, although the smell is certainly warm and welcoming. But for taste…ugh. I grew up in Southern California where the need for a hot drink to warm you up just wasn’t necessary. But when I moved to the eastern US and the cold winters, I soon learned that I wanted something to warm me up besides hot chocolate.

So I learned to drink tea. Weak tea. That is where you drop the tea bag in hot water and immediately pull it out again. Barely any color in the water. In fact, sometimes, I would just drink hot water.

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Chai Tea Lattes at Starbucks. From the first taste, I was hooked. This was no barely colored, weak tea. This was tea with many flavors including peppercorn, cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and star anise. These spices balance with the milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey or brown sugar, and then strengthened with a strong black tea. It is absolutely delicious and very addictive. Not to mention high in calories.

And so it has been for me for quite awhile. Either the weak tea with a barely dunked tea bag, or the very flavorful chai tea (often made at home with a pre-made syrup).

But that’s all changed. Now I know better.

While in England, we had high tea at a place in York called Betty’s Tea Room. This is how tea is meant to be! A stainless steel teapot for the tea and a second teapot for hot water only, sugar lumps with silver tongs, milk in a cute little pitcher, small cups and saucers, and a tiered plate stand with various scones and clotted cream. I learned how to make tea properly. Just for effect, I stuck my little finger out when I held the small teacup. Ah, yes, this is TEA!

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I collected teabags and loose tea from various stops during our travels in Great Britain. I bought tea bag tongs and a strainer. I bought cute little dishes to put the used tea bags in. I brought home all my goodies and spread them all out in satisfaction. Then I realized that I did not own a TEAPOT! I had gotten rid of it when we moved back to California because it was never used.

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Well, things are different now! I purchased not one, but TWO teapots over the past couple of weeks. One is larger to make several cups, and one is small, just enough for two cups of tea. I have learned to make my tea strong and I brew it in my teapot, using the strainer for the loose tea. I take my tea now with a bit of honey or sugar and I pour my milk from a small pitcher (certainly NOT from the huge milk carton anymore. I’m much too refined for that nowadays!)

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Once I had tea pots, I realized I needed a tea cozy to put over them to help keep the tea nice and hot. I love to sew and so I made one out of some quilted fabric. Actually, I made it out of a quilt that I never quite finished. But don’t tell anyone…if they knew I cut up that quilt to make a tea cozy, they might think I need my head examined.

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It is truly amazing the amount of STUFF you need to make proper tea. But I’ve got it all now. Including some of Oprah’s Chai Tea from Teavana, which is a loose tea. (And by the way, that tea is WAY better than Starbucks!)

Now I go through the morning ritual of boiling a pot of water and then brewing the tea in one of my teapots. I pour it into my cup and flavor it appropriately. I take a sip and say “Ahhh, this is how a cuppa tea is MEANT to be.” And I smile.

Maybe I should invite some people over for a tea party. Mad Hatter, anyone?

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Mind the Gap

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If you have ever been to London, you might recognize that phrase. It’s the painted sign warning you to not step in the empty space between the subway train door and the platform. In the hotel where I am staying, a female voice admonishes me to “please mind the door”. I enjoy that one and wonder what the elevator door is trying to instruct me to do. And what will happen if I disobey?

We visited Hampton Court Palace today outside of London. It seems that Henry VIII expected folks to obey him, too. Here’s a sign that was posted in his quarters…

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Here’s another sign that was posted there by more contemporary authorities. This one is even more scary. I sure won’t be disobeying it!

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And finally, here is a welcome sign I was happy to see. In the States we would call this an exit sign, but I rather like the English for giving me a way out.

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All in all, I am really loving my visit to Great Britain. And I think the English sayings and signs are well said. After all, they did invent the language.

“I love this place so much”

We are not all fortunate enough to live in places that we love. I am not talking about the actual apartment or house or dwelling, but the place itself. I am referring to the surroundings and the general area.

I started thinking about this topic this morning when I read a comment about my England post. One of my readers (http://creativityinthebox.com/) wrote that she loves living in England. That made me think about where I live and that I love it here too. And what a blessing it is to live in a place that you really love. It makes life exciting and joyful when you can look at your overall surroundings and that it brings a sense of contentment to your heart.

I realize that we are the fortunate few. I suppose that the majority of the world’s population cannot say they live in a place that they love. Those living in war torn areas, or ghettos, or other ugly or violent places may not love where they live.  Some may have been forced to relocate to places that feel foreign to them and they long to leave.

I guess there are as many reasons to hate the place where you live as there are to love it.

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But my focus right now is on places to love. And I wonder why it is that we come to love them and why they give us a sense of happiness and peace.

I can’t speak for others. I have moved around quite a bit in my lifetime. And I can say that I have generally loved all the different places I have lived and all for different reasons.

Washington State was my first venture away from where I grew up. It was exciting to experience the beauty there. I could sum it up in water and green. Puget Sound and Mount Rainer provided the backdrop for a stunning landscape. And the rain provided the source to keep the trees and flowers and ferns a luscious green. I loved it there because of the natural beauty, which calms the spirit.

Connecticut is a place I will always hold dear to my heart. Living in the woods, surrounded by trees inhabited by a myriad of birds was a blessing I will never forget. I felt I was living close to the land and in tune with the seasons. The towns were quaint and charming. I felt a sense of history and pride that this was where I called home.

New Jersey had an abundance of natural beauty too. I enjoyed living there for several years. I had my birds and gardens to tend to and it was peaceful.

I lived in Pennsylvania two different times. And I consider it my second home. I loved it there for so many reasons: experiencing the seasons change year after year unfailingly, the wildlife we had in our backyard, the charm of the Amish county just a short drive away, the history related to the struggle for American independence, and the friendships that I hope will now withstand the distance. Yes, it is my second home there.

Saddleback Mountain

Saddleback Mountain

But my first home and the place I love best is Southern California. This is where I was born and raised. This is where my family lives. This is where I live now and will stay for the rest of my life. I love seeing Saddleback Mountain tall and unchanging and keeping sentinel over the area.  From where I live, I can look down the street and see it and it always brings a smile because it is part of my remembrances from a child growing up here. I love being near the beach for there is a sense of peace and calmness in watching the sea. There are so many other reasons by I love living here, but the main reason can be summed up in family. Family has drawn me back and that is why I love it the most and will stay.

 

And so I wonder, why do you love where you live?

A Journal about a Journey to England

a fine romance

This time next week I will be on my way from California to London. I’ll be on a three week vacation, traveling with a tour group around England, Scotland, and Wales. To say I am excited about this trip is an understatement!!

Ever since I was a young girl, I have dreamed about visiting the English countryside. I have always been an avid reader, and it seems that a good percentage of the novels I’ve read over my lifetime have taken place somewhere in the UK. Some of the descriptions were so vivid, I really felt I was there. Of course, I have seen pictures and plenty of momentos from there too. After all, isn’t Great Britain the mother country?  😉

In preparation for the upcoming trip, one of the books I have been reading is by Susan Branch called “A Fine Romance…Falling in Love with the English Countryside.” And wow….this is a book that makes me feel as though I am on her own journey to England right beside her.

Susan is a popular watercolorist, author, and designer. She has a way with words that makes you feel as if you are her best friend and she is writing directly to you. “A Fine Romance” is Susan’s love letter to England. She and her long-time partner Joe, traveled the English countryside, staying in B&B’s, and visiting the most beautiful and romantic places you can imagine.

The book is her journal and is filled with quotes, photographs, and illustrations. It is also hand-written in her own script…no it is not type-faced. She includes some background material on the places she visited and describes what she sees in a very endearing way.

Even if you never had a desire to visit England, I think you would after reading this book. Page after page is filled with delights, including her own love story about Joe.

If you will be traveling to England, I highly recommend this book. Even if you are not planning a trip there, you will enjoy this book if you are partial to cottages, gardens, quaint settings and cooking.

So go get a cup of tea, put your feet up, grab the book and start reading.

The perfect house guest

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Last month we had some out-of-state relatives come for a 10 day visit. We live in a high tourist area, so it is understandable that people would want to come here for vacation.

We enjoy having company. And we enjoy showing off our beautiful area. But being retired now, we live in a smaller home and are on a fixed income. The smaller home doesn’t have a guest bedroom, so our company had to sleep on an air mattress.  They didn’t complain and I was thankful for that.

We tried to think of interesting places to take them. But because they didn’t have much money to spend and we couldn’t afford to pay for their expenses at the normal tourist places…it somewhat limited our ability to show them around. They didn’t have a rental car so we had to take them everywhere. They didn’t have a list of things they wanted to do, so we had to come up with economical ideas.

It was all rather awkward and I longed for a bit of privacy at times. But there they were…always ready for us to come up with the day’s activities.

While they were here, I was thinking about what would be the perfect house guest. I guess it would be someone who has an easy-going, upbeat personality. It would be nice if they had an itinerary of places they would like to go and even make arrangements to go to some of those places on their own. If they had a rental car, they could go out and explore on their own. Wouldn’t it be nice to have them come back in the evening and share their adventures? We could sit and talk about what they saw.

I’m not complaining. Our house guests were far from perfect. But it was still nice to have the visit.

But next time I’m a house guest, I’m going to try to remember what a perfect house guest would look like.

In the meantime, I probably should be considering what a perfect host/hostess looks like too!