Category: Friends

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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Baby’s first second piercing

“Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!”
― James Oppenheim

When I was in New York over the summer, X and I got second piercings together–an extra hole in one lobe each. We decided to do it almost from the moment we started planning the trip and even picked out the piercer we wanted to use.

So much, so high school, you may be thinking. Why is this, the tiniest of body modifications worth a write up? Well, a third hole punch in my frame may be a rather dinky example of self actualization, but it’s important to me.

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Body modification was not an option growing up. LDS teachings place a high amount of reverence on the human body and care of it, which is also why there are the famous dietary restrictions Mormons are often noted for: no coffee, tea, or alcohol, and (supposedly) meat in moderation. Raised LDS, I grew up with a lot of presentation expectations around hemlines, sleeve lengths, hairstyles, tattoos (hard no), and piercings. The formal advice, though it can be enforced in some circumstances, being none for boys and one hole in each ear permissible for girls. There were a lot of rules for girls.

You can find this referenced and cited multiple times in official church literature. I went looking for a link reference for this blog post and ended up with the following, which is instructive in its own right.

I started typing in the words “women should” in the website search bar, and the auto fill in immediately supplied “stay home” on my behalf. Thoughtful of it. But there, right beneath the advice of “women should be women and not babies” (a baffling admonition), and “women should follow their husbands and he follows the counsel from god” (to which, no), is the statement, “women should only wear one pair of earrings.” It’s a bit hard to read, but it’s there, right above “women should avoid paid employment.”

 

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This direction about earrings is something I heard specifically and multiple times growing up, and I experienced dress codes enforcing the one earring rule (among other requirements) which are in place at most church activities, and at its institutions like universities. I adhered to these expectations and didn’t think too much about it. I wasn’t particularly bothered about strictures on earrings and didn’t even get around to having my ears pierced until I was 13; I believe my sister still hasn’t at 19 simply because she doesn’t care to.

But as time went on and my opinions developed, I came to see this rule as a very minor cog in a much larger and troubling context of women’s and gender issues in the church and its culture. These eventually led (through a long and complex route I won’t bore you with again) to me deciding to leave the church and renegotiate my relationship to its organisation and teachings. I’ve since felt the need to review a lot of my notions about my body and what I choose to do with it. It’s not in my nature to be impulsive about my corporeal form, a lot of the reverence I was raised with still lingers, but getting a second piercing was something I’d wanted to do for a long time–since my early 20s and then largely due to a misguided belief that it would look “rebellious.” Oh, youth.

And so, I made a decision to get another hole punched, and plotted and planned with my best friend–who has written publicly and far more eloquently than I have ever managed to about her own faith transition–to do it together. We made a girls day of it, shopped, got bespoke lipsticks, sat next to each other in the piercing studio, had a long and winding talk about faith journeys afterwards at brunch.

It’s tiny but it was a gesture that made me feel as if my body was really mine in a way it didn’t before. Not a loan from on high, not a meat house for the soul, but genuinely something that belonged to me in my own right.

Having the unexpected experience of seeing how many other gender admonitions are connected to such a trivial thing during a website search on jewelry was just reconfirmation that the issues I found so upsetting are still there. Possibly getting worse as strict concepts of bodies and purity and gender roles continue to be emphasized in the way that the organization does, and in some cases such as LGBT issues, is doubling down on.

Out of interest and fairness, I decided to check the auto fill on the site again more recently in drafting this post. The mention of earrings was not longer suggested. However there are now two references to women “hearkening” unto their husbands, one to dressing modestly with two about specific dressing standards, three references to either “staying” home or not working outside of it, and the most troubling suggestion which seems to be a variation on a statement on rape from a book by a prominent former church leader published in 1969–that it’s better to die fending off rape than live through it. I myself heard variations on this theme throughout youth and young adulthood and though I don’t believe it’s claimed as a public position anywhere in the church today, the fact that mangled versions of this idea are common enough to still being generated by algorithmic search suggestions is pretty disheartening.

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I also checked again today, out of morbid curiosity at this point. An auto fill suggestion about earrings is back–the problematic suggestion about rape survival remains.

My piercing has healed now and I don’t regret it in the slightest. In a twist of fate, the same piercing studio has now set up shop on the ground floor at Liberty and has begun singing a siren song to me to get another. I’m probably going to give in eventually.

 

Emails With Friends: Big Brother is Watching You

“I’m listening to this hilariously epic album of Icelandic folk music. My YouTube history is so fucking aleatoire.”
“My YouTube history is bonkers but it’s proof that internet algorithms work. As I type this my recommended vids include: a documentary on quantum mechanics, an outrageous makeup tutorial, PBS NewsHour, Beyonce concert videos from fans, and a record from 1958 called “Hip Harp” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a wonder my computer hasn’t exploded.”
– Katarina and C.

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Emails With Friends: Interior Design

“We like an obscenely expensive sofa and there are a million and a half online mattress companies. Also EVERYTHING is mid-century at the moment which is getting tiring. Actually, we found an great antique store with amazingly reasonable prices. Hidden gem for sure. I don’t need a taxidermy giraffe head or French tailor’s drawers…but I want them.”
“I definitely 100% need a taxidermy giraffe’s head, but then again, the amount of taxidermy mounts I have bookmarked = many.”
“I am currently flirting with the most charming taxidermy fox I found at a random street market last Friday. To go in my perforce mid-century apartment, apparently.”
“I’m really lucky that I have several great family pieces at my disposal (bed, vanity, piano), but I’m still so impatient because I have a very strong idea of what I want and it’s like, OKAY LET’S IMMEDIATELY BUY gazelle heads and masonic thrones and 19th-c maps and ENORMOUS POTTED PALMS and also, CHINA…
[later]
“…by which I meant, like, china dishes. Not the country; clarification is probably necessary.”
“Yeah, I totally read “china” as the country, but just assumed that had to do with the colonial elements of your design ambition. Heck, I live in Britain. The country that just rolled up to everywhere else in the world and said, ‘This wall. I like it. We’ll take it.'”
-C. and Katarina

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Five Things I Loved in August

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.”
― Lloyd Alexander

It was a whirlwind month, so I figured a little introspection wouldn’t go amiss as we head into the month of “back to school” and “seasonal wardrobe” changes. The nights are getting cool, even though the days are still deceptively hot, and all of London is working hard to soak up as much Vitamin D as possible. Winter is coming, and all that, kittens! Here’s a quick run down of the things, profound and silly alike, that made my month.

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Image via Netflix

Stranger Things. Count us among the many who inhaled the series in one go. Proud of the fact I am not (it was a late night). Would I do the same again? Instantly. Noir meets science fiction meets childhood depicted right meets 80s nostalgia. I can’t tell if I’m happy or not it got a second series as it strikes me as one of those wonderful things in real danger of being ruined by its own popularity…but I’m deciding to be optimistic. Anyone else have thoughts to share on the cult-inspired cult hit of the summer?

Shimmering Skin Perfector® Pressed

Image via Becca Cosmetics

Becca Highlighters. These gems come in liquid, cream, and powder form and each have different finishes and effects on the skin. I was always a blush girl but had a hard time getting over the idea of anything designed to make one shine, probably an overreaction to Twilight hype (or more likely just intimidation when considering how I was supposed to use such an item). Consider me converted.

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Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (audiobook). It’s taken me a while to give audiobooks a try, which is odd given that I listen to more podcasts and spoken word media than I do music, but I am coming around. I really enjoyed this book, narrated by the author herself. Lesley Hazelton has a deep contralto voice that I found a joy to listen to at the gym, on public transport, or just doing chores around the house. I like it when authors narrate their own books; they have the most intimate knowledge of their writing, of course, and so I think can probably imbue text with their intended emotional meaning better than even talented and experience voice readers. I wonder how much gets lost in emotional translation in many audiobook cases? I’ve listened to one or two audio books in my time that sounded absolutely silly or unenjoyable in audio form but when I picked them up in text later I had a completely different reaction to them. In almost every instance, I felt that the audio reader “got it wrong” somehow. In any event, I found this book not just delightful to hear, but the topic to be handled personally, intelligently, and even humorously. To write personally about agnosticism, which is usually debated nastily or dismissively in my experience, with wit and mischief was really interesting, and I came away wholeheartedly agreeing with her that whatever one’s personal beliefs, the real danger comes from “one dimensional thinking.” In the end, what Hazelton really seems to reject, in my opinion, is not forms of belief so much as fundamentalism.

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Glossier concealer. Amateur beauty junkie that I am, I tend to keep an eye on companies and launches that tickle my fancy and test them whenever I can. London is a veritable beauty mecca but there are new and interesting US based brands popping up all the time that don’t have European suppliers or don’t ship here yet. Such a heartbreaker is Glossier who I have been lusting after ever since they came out with their Phase 1. I timed an order to correspond with our visit to Utah and have been testing all the goodies I stocked up on ever since and can dub the Stretch Concealer (in shade Medium for me) an absolute winner. The UK has been roasting for the whole of this month and most complexion goods simply slide off the typical mortal woman’s face in the tube but this baby has held firm. Alas I couldn’t order the Haloscope highlighter…next stateside jaunt.

Email chains with friends. With a chunk of time in July taken up with family travel and a new job offer, my mind was a bit preoccupied. Last month the girls and I (we keep up regular and spirited correspondence, deeply grateful we live in the age of email and text because that six-weeks-delayed-gossip-and-dependent-on-mail-coaches nonsense would simply have not done at all), wrote about creative projects, Tudor history, and shopping for decor in decommissioned masonic temples. Seriously. I’m planning an upcoming trip to Spain with one, getting to hear about a potential new gentleman friend from another, catching up on freelance work with yet another. Food for the soul.

What have been your summer standouts, darlings? And more importantly, what other pop culture do I need to catch up on as a matter of priority?

So, we went to NYC

‘The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere elsewhere have to be, in some sense, kidding.”
– John Updike

Since we had previous travel plans (understandably) disrupted, we decided to go to New York instead–theoretically in honor of my 30th birthday, but in fact mostly because I just really, really wanted to visit my best friend and surrogate older sister. It was a three day jaunt that was over too soon, but was very much needed.

X lives in the Upper East Side with two hilarious cats that provided the majority of our at-home entertainment (I now want a cat in spite of a mild allergy) and generously provided our base of operations. The goal was to see the “real” New York as both Jeff and I had only ever seen the moderately touristy bits and what fun is that?

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In fact, the only moderately touristy thing we did was the Met, due largely to our shared love of museums. Everything else was wandering the city with a native guide, a girls’ day whilst Jeff met up with an old university flatmate, dinner with a good friend and her husband, an unholy binge of a Sephora excursion, second hand shopping, and more food.

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My favorite girl in front of one of my favorite paintings.

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It’s hard to be away from friends and family. On our recent trip to Utah a friend asked what I missed most about the States and without any hesitation my response was, “My people. Friends.” Growing up as we did, I think my family and I are used to the notion of kin being distant and, while not being easy, it’s certainly manageable. I don’t feel particularly distant from them or their affection, which sounds odd but by which I mean I feel very secure in those relationships. I have a harder time with the fact that my best friends live in massively different time zones and small things like phone calls require pretty significant coordination. My friendships really feed me and keep me balanced–shout out to Katarina who gave me one of the most useful external party insights to my character I’ve ever received recently–and while I have close, close friends here in London, I miss the girls with whom I literally came of age. Over and over again.

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I also forgot what unrelenting sunlight felt like, as a side note. New York was blazing!

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Reader, I ate it. What, you ask? Everything.

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The benefit of having a local guide is that you get a first hand introduction to the best eats. Apparently Midtown Bagels East is something of an institution which I can enthusiastically endorse as a reputation earned. According to X, the queue at the weekend is ridiculous. We, savvy tourists that we were, went on a weekday.

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She also has the best recommendations for the weird and wacky shops for planning your next gallery wall.

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One of my favorite excursions was to the justly famous Bite Lip Lab where we were able to make custom lipsticks. A pair of self-proclaimed lippy fanatics, this was closer to a pilgrimage, really. Pricey. Worth it. Expect a full post on this in its own right.

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To be honest, before this trip, I didn’t really “get” New York. I have never romanticized it the way a lot of people do (hell, I didn’t even romanticize London so much as I just knew in my bones it was where I wanted to live), and I’ve always rather thought it was overhyped. Well, I still might not love it as much as London, but I finally get some of the appeal. It’s fast, it’s awake, and it’s almost a minor world in its own right in terms of what you can see and do. I have no idea if we’ll get to “try it out” someday as a home or a regular haunt, but I’m far more open to the idea now.

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X lives close to Central Park (her life is a trial, truly) and we took full advantage–prior to it being overrun by Pokemon Go enthusiasts. The view was…not bad.

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We ended our visit in Brooklyn at the pizza joint reputed to be Beyonce’s favorite. It’s like she’s known me for 17 years, or something.

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Pretty sure we’ll be back.

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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!