Category: Britain

The Lakes District

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
– William Wordsworth

I’ve been saying it forever, but I mean it: we do not go on enough vacations. Here in the UK, in addition to national holidays, I have about 25 days off a year as part of a typical contract–ditto Jeff. We are piss poor at using them.

We blame American work habits and norms. To this day I cringe whenever I submit a time off request, as if what I’m doing is somehow shameful or looks lazy. Over the past nearly four years that we’ve lived here, we’ve been so bad at taking holidays that Jeff has been able to sell back a few every year to get a bit of extra money…but last year we hit the limit of that and so much of his time off allocations have piled up that we have to either “use it or lose it.”

We are awful at holidays…but we are getting better.

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This shop knows holiday hours!

For the April long Bank Holiday weekend, feeling absolutely stir crazy and needing to get out of the city, I booked us a few days in the Lakes District in Cumbria. Initially I had grand ambitions of trying to organize a quick mini break to Europe, but the onboarding as part of a new short term contract quickly took over most of my life and energy and before I knew it, the Bank Holiday was upon us. Jeff was deep in the bowels of tax season and working 12+ hour days meaning that while he too needed a holiday badly, I needed to plan this one. A quick burst of research and reservation making, et voila!

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The Lakes District has an abundance of natural beauty and has been a popular visiting spot since the Edwardian period. In spite of being an admittedly tourist spot, it remains charming. There is a thriving but tidy local economy that makes getting around the cluster of lakes and villages that makes up the area easy and affordable, and a blend of indoor amenities like shops, B&Bs and restarants to supplement the outdoor nature of the holiday spot. It’s a famous hiking district with peaks and hills for the adventurous/fit, with lots of woodland walking trails for the more moderate/lazy. We took advantage of both the outdoors and food–copious amounts of tea were drunk and more than one excellent meal eaten in between boat rides across Lake Windemere, multi hour hikes along shorelines, walks through the villages where some of Britain’s most famous poets lived and wrote, and general meandering.

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The fresh air, long walks, good food (we ate so much local cheese, guys), and time away from the city. It was exactly what we needed.

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So. Much. Cheese.
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And gingerbread.

In case you are interested, we stayed at Mylne Bridge House which is a charming B&B run by a married couple who serve an absolutely scrumptious breakfast! You’re about five minutes from the high street of Windemere and a half hour leisurely walk from Bowness-on-Windemere on the lake itself. Highly recommended!

Weekend Links

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
[Remarks on the 20th Anniversary of the Voice of America; Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, February 26, 1962]”
― John F. Kennedy

So. The news. By Wednesday of this week, this whole mess had gone down. Things haven’t gotten much clearer since. Then there was an attack on my beloved adopted hometown of London the same day, seemingly the actions of a lone wolf assailant.

As I put this list together, the American political system is arguing with itself (on a fundamental level) as to whether healthcare (or rather its watered down version of “access to healthcare”) is a right or not. There’s an actual and interesting ideological basis to this debate, but we long ago spun into vitriol and obstruction and I’m not sure that we’re any closer to finding our way out of either. Apparently the leadership is going to force a vote on it today, we will see what happens.

Thus far 2017 seems to be doing its darndest to up our collective rates of cardiac stress and fatigue. Here are your links this weekend, and they are designed to be a politics-lite batch for to give us all a bit of a break.

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The importance of understanding shifting language and context in our culturally ongoing discussions about sexuality and identity.

Relatedly! An interview at Man Repeller about the changing language and communication expectations of our current age.

Female writers on books that influenced them.

The great and good Margaret H. Willison (oft of Pop Culture Happy Hour fame) defends libraries!

Escaping the guardianship laws placed on Saudi women.

Speaking of Pop Culture Happy Hour, this post from NPR’s Monkey See about the podcast Missing Richard Simmons is an interesting exercise in pondering fame.

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. And then the murders began.”

This article on how ISIS is changing and evolving is worth a read.

The latest trailer for The Handmaid’s Tale is chilling and gripping. I can’t wait for it and am simultaneously a bit chilled.

Why Jane Austen is Wrong for the Alt-Right. I may never have click on an article link this fast in my life.

Album of the week: Paradise by ANOHNI

Politics and Money

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
― Albert Einstein

For obvious reasons, politics is on my mind this week.

Something I’ve probably not spent enough time thinking through is how politics affects my money choices. A lot of the “big” purchases normally associated with American politics are simply not part of our lives at the moment. We have only ever bought one car and that was from a family member, we have never bought a house, and the biggest choice we’ve made is to live and work abroad which obviously makes an impact in our taxes and expenses. I know that political policy informs my life day to day, but I’d never really really done an examination as to how or how intimately.

That started to change last year after the Brexit vote. It was a political decision that had and will have enormous consequences for the industry I work in, to the tune of millions and perhaps billions of pounds. Of course I know that every budget the US Congress has passed in my lifetime has affected me, but this was the first time that I felt the financial implications of politics hit my work and wallet directly since the Great Recession. It was sobering and it changed several of our potential futures.

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We love living in London, the idea of ever leaving cracks my heart…but we do occasionally take a look at career opportunities back in the States where we’d be likely to make larger paychecks (Jeff in particular). Meanwhile the exchange rate is now much less favorable to us than it once was, with more uncertainty in the forecast. Given these financial realities, influenced by international and local politics, it’s not inconceivable that we may move back to the States or to another country at some point. If we do our taxation will change, so will other political realities.

As the future of the Affordable Care Act is currently in a state of limbo in the States, I just had the cervical exam I’m entitled to as a person who pays UK taxes that funds the NHS–I won’t call it “free.” I’m also provided access to regular birth control at no additional cost to me and regular dentistry (joke about UK teeth care all you want, I still get mine checked out every six month and it costs a fraction of what it would in the States). On the flip side, there are legitimate critiques for a system that many find bureaucratic and overstretched, and that some people dislike.

Money and politics are a constant trade off for what we have, what we want, what we are able to provide for ourselves, and what we deem that government/society/employers should provide for us. The financial choices I/we have made are personal ones, but they are political as well. As the saying goes, “The personal is political.”

But we’ve not yet really parsed out how politics will affect our desire to invest, to save, to retire. These still feel like “far away” problems, even though I know they aren’t.

So, wiser, older, and more experienced friends, talk to me about how politics has affected your money choices. What decisions did you have to make under the past administration (if you’re American), and what decisions do you think you will need to under the new one? Brit friends, ditto your experiences under recent governments?

Devon

“Country things are the necessary root of our life – and that remains true even of a rootless and tragically urban civilization. To live permanently away from the country is a form of slow death.”
― Esther Meynell

We bid adieu to the summer with a very lovely and generous invitation for a weekend house party in Devon on the coast.  There was minimal communications, croquet, amazing food, and wonderful company–we had a amazing time.
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The weather was very British and temperatures and sunlight varied by the hour, but we got glorious chunks of time in the sun and good enough weather for a long hike on the Saturday afternoon. Mornings were spent at the massive kitchen table or out on the terrace, after a brisk swim in the sea, we played parlour games at night.  The villages we hiked through and stayed in were beyond charming, there is no other word for them. Here, have a photo smorgasbord:

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It was exactly what we needed to round off the summer. Quintessentially British, restful, and invigorating at the same time.  I’m ready for another helping!

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Monday Links

“When Adam and Eve were dispossessed Of the garden hard by Heaven, They planted another one down in the west, ‘Twas Devon, glorious Devon!”
-Sir Harold Edwin Boulton

Hi, kittens! Your links are a day late this week, and that’s because I spent the weekend in a tiny village on the Devon coast with very little wifi. It was delightful, I’m not a bit sorry to be tardy. Full post coming eventually, but in the meantime, enjoy your links and let me know what the week holds for you. Ours holds a move…wish us luck!

Clearly, the view was hideous. HIDEOUS.
Clearly, the view was hideous. HIDEOUS.

Pockets for all, votes for women!

This longform piece really hit me as I have noticed an increasing fractal pattern to my attention span and way of thinking that I feel can be at least partially attributed to the media world and age we live in. It’s everywhere and it’s nearly impossible to shut out…and I agree that the culture of always being “on” and “accessible” has consequences.

Nothing says SDS clickbait like ancient archaeology.

A surprisingly good deep dive into the end of Brangelina.

Honestly, you couldn’t make this shit up in a sitcom generator.

Achieving a new museum.

Let me sing you the song of my people. Apparently.

Beauty PSA, people! Ilia lipsticks have arrived at Sephora. If you are looking for an ethical brand, I’ve found the pigment load is worth the price tag.

I’m both intrigued and repelled by the notion of communal living.

Finally, major fistbump to not just Gigi Hadid for standing up for herself both physically and verbally, but all the journalists and People Online who called BS on a sexist headline and situation.

Services at the Tower

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love getting in when or where others can’t. It’s not a noble confession, but it’s an honest one. And if you want a fantastic private peek into what is normally a very public space, make some time in your weekend calendar to attend Sunday services at the Tower of London. The main doors don’t open until after the first of two services (one communion, the other a sung matins), though a side gate admits service attendees without a ticket, and it’s an amazing chance to see this world heritage site nearly free of people. Redcoats excepted.

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The Tower still functions as a military fortress, though the vast majority of its activities are understandably ceremonial. The Beefeaters may wear Tudor era uniforms but their assignment is a proper posting and a detachment of the Queen’s Guard stands sentry over the Crown Jewels.

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However like all military bases, there’s a cottage community thriving here. Beefeaters live at the Tower, often with families, and there is also a small but famous Royal Chapel still in operation under the pastoral care of a military chaplain. St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) is a Tudor church famous as the resting place of Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Katherine Howard, Lady/Queen Jane Grey, St Thomas Moore, Margaret Pole, and others.

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Attending a service here has been on my list of things To Do since moving to London, but I just never really got around to it. Then I went through the death throes of a faith crisis and didn’t really want to do anything more church-y than Christmas–which I still love and always will–and it fell off the radar. And then a friend friend from the MoFem (Mormon feminist) community invited me to attend on September 11th and it seemed a fitting thing to do.

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One of the ravens stood by as a small group filed in for services, beak wide open and likely expecting one of the familiar uniforms to provide him breakfast.

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Katie and I attended both the communion service and the sung matins, which I particularly enjoyed. Between the sessions, we wolfed down croissants and chatted about faith, community, expat life, and the nerdy history of the Book of Common Prayer. Totally normal touristy stuff.

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The congregation was not large, but we weren’t the only Americans there and as a military brat, it was nice to hear a few words on the day from a chaplain whose career was focused in and around active service. The fact that he managed to tie in references to Poldark and Great British Bake Off, before circling around to familiar parables was just icing on the cake. In spite of the day, and the remembrances of the day, the whole experience felt friendly.

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It may not be your usual cup of tea, but it’s worth trying, even if just to sit in stillness in a lovely place for a while.

A Weekend in the Country

“It was a sweet view-sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.”
― Jane Austen

This post needed to go up today because London has been in a rainy, gray fog for several days now–in defiance of both the appropriate season and the 30th celebration of my birth. Weather aside it’s been great as I’ve taken a short workweek and a break from almost all media to enjoy the aging process. However I could not continue to let photos of the first (and at the rate we’re going only) proper summer weekend of the year.

My friend who kindly invited us for New Year’s this year, even more kindly invited us back for a camping weekend. His family home is a working estate, complete with livestock and acres, that operates a farm shop, camping grounds, and restaurant in addition to being a family home. Both he and his partner are in the events and entertaining business (admittedly on a grand and international scale) and as you may imagine, they are exquisite hosts. They also have a seemingly endless supply of fun, funny, and interesting friends and spend a great deal of their scant free time organizing ways to spend time together. New Year’s Eve was a grown up and dog affair, this party was a mass of families with children–with dogs. This is Britain after all.

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The house is gorgeous and the family have spent a long time and a lot of investment in keeping it both up and properly in the family. Not all homes like this still survive with property intact and it’s a real testament to how much they love it that it’s still in their care.

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What’s a stately home without some sort of grand hall, I ask you?

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We might have slept in tents, but we dined in absolute style. This was seriously the most civilized meal arrangement you’ve ever witnessed: long table set up in the “summer garden” with a pretty much constant flow of food and beverages, all with interwar records playing in the background. Badminton was played, pups were frolicked with, and long hours were spent sitting in the sun discussing the Queen and other highly important topics. It’s was terribly British in the most lovely possible way.

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One of our hosts with one of the canines. His hairstyle made for required photography.

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The gentlemen enlisted the help of one of their private chefs for the cooking (don’t worry, he tucked in along with the rest of us) and the results were about as amazing as that suggests.

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Seriously, it was glorious.

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Did I mention there were dogs everywhere?

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A rousing and very chaotic game of rounders was played later in which were were injuries and several delays of play when pups absconded with the necessary equipment.

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Obligatory bonfires were also had.

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The next morning, another unbelievably civilized breakfast was taken with locally sourced bread, a special coffee machine was set up (again, in the garden) for those needing caffeine, and heaping amounts of a jam made from a rare breed of French strawberries that only last about a day once picked and so have to be eaten or made into something immediately. Of course it was. I raved about it so much the chef (who I actually have worked with on several events now and really love) gave me a pot that I lovingly cradled in my arms for the whole train ride home.

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After breakfast, farm chores.

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The family keep pigs, hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl. All the significant players are, of course named. The larger pig is Gertie, the lone guinea fowl is Cutherbert and he’s apparently a major bully in the farmyard.

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It was, as I’m sure you can tell, an absolutely smashing weekend!