Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My First Official Post-Lenten Bitch

I’ve been saving this blog post since our jaunt to the Carpenter Center in Richmond to hear the symphony do a Mozart concert back in March.  I couldn’t write it before because it was during Lent and I’d given up bitching and moaning for the duration. 

And this time, the bitching and moaning is not about the music.  The program was wonderful and I didn’t nod off once (I am a known philistine).  No, the B & M’ing is about the horror that is the Carpenter Center itself.  And not in a fun, kitchy horror like The Theatre Formally Known As The  Mosque.  The Carpenter Center is a truly terrible mishmash monument to bad taste. 

Do not allow that beautiful outside shot above to fool you.  The outer halls are a conglomeration of Roman, Greek, Moorish, Spanish with peculiar chairs and railing and columns. 

The auditorium itself looks like something that was got up for some lugubrious Italian opera (all fat sopranos and sweaty tenors).   And as if some committee said, “Well, we’ve already spent the money, let’s just leave it”:
The ceiling is supposed to look like the sky, I think.  But to me it looks so much like the undulating sea floor that I actually got a little mal de mer. 

And what the hell are these:
Clouds?  A poor imitation of Calder? 

I don’t know who made all of the decisions about the redecoration of this space but it is typical of our fair city, I’m afraid.  Richmond officials seem to spend most of their time with their heads up their posteriors.  I just found out the one of their current plans is to eliminate over 700 on street parking spaces on our major thoroughfare to make way for a bus lane.  They do these things and then wonder why no one in the suburbs ever comes downtown.  

Friday, February 20, 2015


I put up this little flag a week or so ago:

And look what I got:

The three of us are like little kids with snow.  We love blizzards and snow days and one of our most treasured family traditions centers around this song:  

At the first flake, we sing it.  If we aren’t together, we call or text this:

The response is:

That goes back and forth a few times and then because we only know the words to the “snow” part, we all join in with “da da da da da da da da da…..SNOW”.  We are completely weird. 

You know it just occurred to me.  I also have a UVA flag out on the side of the house and they haven’t lost a game since I put it out.  I wonder if they make a “Lottery” flag?  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Girly Girl?

In many ways I am a Girly Girl.  I love flowers and ribbons.  I am irreversibly drawn to the color pink and would paint every room in my house a soft, pinky hue if Mr. Kim would stand for it.  Shabby Chic was invented with me in mind.  My favorite magazine in the world is ‘Victoria’ and I have YEARS of back issues just in case we ever win the lottery.  If that happens, I will hand them to an interior decorator and say, “this is what I want”. 

My heart thrills to the idea of a perfect tea party and vintage Valentines.  And I am like a monkey when I see jewelry.  I go for the sparkliest!  My hands just naturally gravitate to gems like aquamarine, peridot, amethyst – anything faceted and pastel.  And should we win the aforementioned lottery, my first purchase will be the twee-est cottage in all of England.  I already have it picked out:

I’ve always had basically the same taste.  My wedding china (chosen almost 33 years ago) is Haviland Limoges in the girliest pattern I could find:
Scalloped gold edges, pink flower sprigs and the rims are the palest green imaginable. 

Bless Mr. Kim – what he puts up with!  Other men might impose certain restrictions.  They might object to a pink bedroom and family room.  He did, a bit, but capitulated when he saw just how pale it really was.  They might insist on an overstuffed cushy leather couch (BTW – is this a rule now when you are setting up house?  Do you HAVE to purchase a leather sofa?  You can hardly find a fabric sofa in the stores anymore).  Other than shoes there is not a piece of leather in our entire house.

So why, with all of this unbridled girly-ness, does it come to a screeching stop when it comes to clothes?  Why does my ‘wardrobe’ consist of khakis, black pants, plain long sleeved shirts and t-shirts?  Why do I wear sensible walking shoes instead of dainty heels and flats?  Why do I feel like a fool in a hat and like Clodhopper McDoofus in a dress?  I don’t dress ‘butch’, just very plain.  I’ve always said that my design theme is ‘collage’ and that I never met a lily I couldn’t gild, but that ends in decorating and influences my dress not at all. 

It just goes to show that people are odd and I am one of the oddest.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Best Christmas Decoration Find This Season!!!

My favorite holiday decorations are a combination of whimsical, vintage and on the edge of creepy.  A little kitsch doesn’t hurt either.

Examples include these guys from Halloween (CLICK ANY PICTURE TO ENLARGE):

And this adorable little girl:

Some favorite Christmas ones:

I love vintage (or reproduction vintage) postcards and ephemera.  These festoon either side of our fireplace:

But this year, I think I’ve found the best.  A few days ago we wandered into a new Asian grocery store in our neighborhood.  Mostly what you’d expect and we were happy to have one so near.  But…one section was odds and ends – dishes, cookwear, utensils, etc.  On a top shelf were a few things left over from Christmas including this fellow:

So how could I resist?  All the plastic, the fold-down reindeer, the directions on the box that implore you to “Please take the body of the elderly.  Do not take the first, to prevent injury!”  So, for $3.99 we brought him home.  And only when we got him home did we realize the true magic of this Santa.  Under the sleigh, there was a battery slot!  He does something!  I didn’t know what – I hoped that the accordion moved and maybe some music.  But he went beyond my expectations.  This is what he does (click to play video):

Listen to the children sing!  And observe the locomotion!  And the ghastly light up face!  BLUE!  He’s more than I could have hoped for. 

You now have proof that I’m completely nuts.  And I won’t blame anyone for steering clear of me in the future (at least around the holidays).  But I can’t deny that he delights me in some weird and wonderful way.

Happy New Year to you all and I hope that you have your decorations put away before us!

Friday, January 9, 2015


We love traveling.  If that means a long planned and saved for trip to Europe, a once a year anniversary jaunt to the Outer Banks or just an impromptu visit to a part of Richmond we’ve never spent any time in, it’s all appealing to us.  While you never get away from phones anymore, we love that feeling of freedom and unconnectedness that comes from being GONE.  No laundry, no raking, nothing to look at that says, “You need to deal with this”. 

I love spending time with Mr. Kim.  I know I talk his ears off.  And I’m sure sometimes after an hour or so alone with me he WISHES they were off.  I am the original Jabberjaws.  I can prattle on about anything.  But we DO enjoy our escapes.  We had a lovely surprise one on Tuesday.  Mr. Kim has been off work for a few days and had really not done anything fun.  We just lazed around the house getting a few things done (NOT taking down any Christmas decorations – they are all still up).  He had oral surgery today and goes back to work on Tuesday next week, so I wanted him to have some time out of the house.  We discussed a few different things and he finally decided on some antiquing (yes, I married a man who enjoys wandering around antique shops – mass envy from all my girlfriends, I know) in Lakeside.  We had a lovely time poking around the shops, not buying, but searching for some cordial glasses (our good friends, the Burrs, introduced us to Stone’s Original Ginger wine.  It makes a lovely aperitif.  We had to borrow appropriate glasses and were looking for some of our own.  Every pattern we liked had 3, 4 or 5, but not 6.  We want six.  So we had a good time looking.

After the stores closed, at 5pm, we were ready to eat.  We’ve been wanting to try a place near there that I’ve heard good things about – hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, bologna burgers, nightly dinner specials like spaghetti, meatloaf and BBQ.  Just our kind of place.  Unfortunately they were closed for their Christmas holiday.  So we just hit Route 301 North, going nowhere in particular. 

It was still light, so the drive was lovely.  I am always for taking the state route over the interstate and the country road over the state route.  More jibber-jabber from me (poor Mr. Kim) and a little desultory conversation about where we might eat.  Ashland was mentioned, as was Pope’s Creek for crabs.  But we felt like going farther than Ashland and it was just too damn cold for crabs.  So we settled on Fredericksburg.  Specifically The Bavarian Chef in Fredericksburg. 

A little backstory: When Mr. Kim was in grad school at UVA, we discovered The Bavarian Chef on Route 29 in Madison.  It was a little steep for grad students, but was the perfect place for parents to take us to when visiting (insert sly smile).  We all fell madly in love with this place.  Very friendly family running it, incredibly good German food (can’t say whether it is authentic or not, but delicious) and HUGE portions.  A really cool thing that they did was to put only the protein portion of your meal on a plate and then bring a bunch of bowls full of side dishes – very family style.  It’s the kind of place that induces food comas, but in a good way.

When we ended up back in Richmond, we went back a few times and loved it still.  Mr. Kim’s parents have gone back over the years – even staying in a hotel so they wouldn’t have to drive back in a coma (about a one hour drive!).  We were very excited to hear that they had opened a location in Fredericksburg – just an hour north of us and a delightful place to visit.  With one thing and another, we hadn’t made it there, but Momma and I did meet some family from Northern Virginia there for a mini-reunion lunch this fall.  It is a lovely setting.  They’ve put it in the old railroad station:

 And the inside is very nice – comfortable and appropriate to the setting:

Momma and I were happy to find that the food was just as good as we remembered.

So that’s where we decided to head on Tuesday.  It was early, so we got a table by the fireplace with no trouble and this location has just as nice folks as the original.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so welcome at a restaurant.  Our waiter, Lance, was perfect. Friendly and knowledgeable, but not overly chatty.  This is the kind of place that still brings a real bread basket to the table before you even order:
From 12 o’clock: rye bread, lovely herb butter, tender yeast roll, tiny pumpernickel roll and caraway bread sticks.  Every single piece was perfect. 

We started with what is probably my favorite dish on the planet:
Snails in beer batter Provencal.  These are basically snail fritters – crisp and tender all at once, drenched in garlic butter.  I am a snail freak and will order them if they are on a menu.  I’ve probably missed a hundred wonderful dishes because I can’t pass them up, but I’ve never had anything this good.  They were the only thing on the table that got finished, I think. 

Mr. Kim’s main dish was Jager Schnitzel:
Prime veal medallions covered with a blend of mushrooms, bacon and fresh cream.  It doesn’t look terribly appetizing, but it was delicious.  I loved my bite, after I shooed all those pesky fungal things away.

I had sauerbraten with a sweet and sour raisin sauce:
I know that it looks like a plate of baked beans, but those are plumped up raisins and FOUR enormous slices of meat.  Wonderful and still delicious heated up the next day (very important for me).  Here are the sides that I mentioned (a table of two gets FOUR choices):
Creamed corn, potato dumplings, green beans with tomatoes and red cabbage.  I have no idea how they manage to have such incredible corn in January.  The beans are either fresh or house canned and the red cabbage is the only one I’ve ever tasted that was better than mine.  When we got back, I put the leftovers in two of those meal-sized plastic divided dishes:
See what I mean?  It’s Friday and I still haven’t finished them!

After dinner, we drove around the neighborhood that surrounds the train station.  It’s a beautiful old town area, with gorgeous old houses and cool shops and antique stores.  Many of the homes and businesses were still decorated for Christmas, so it was especially lovely.  In fact, it was so lovely that we decided on the spot to forgo our usual Outer Banks anniversary trip and go to Fredericksburg instead with our celebratory dinner at The Bavarian Chef and a good wander around for a couple of days.  Plenty of history for Mr. Kim and lots of architectural eye-candy for both of us! 

It truly was a stolen day and we had a wonderful time.  And we are always up for a return visit, so anyone who wants to go there sometime, just ask and you’ll have enthusiastic dinner partners! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Spirits of Summers Past - Mr. Kim blogs

I drove through my old neighborhood a few months back – the one with Mr. Locke’s barbershop.  While it is on the eastern suburb of the city and my home is in the far northwest end of the county, one circuitous path to avoid a bad interstate highway mess leads me right past it.  I decided to make the quick diversion and see how things looked on Montclair Road. 

Aside from the fact that the old red paint had at some point been replaced by a pale yellow, the house itself was as unremarkable as ever, one of hundreds of variants on a cookie cutter theme: living room, small eat in, three tiny bedrooms, one bath.  I didn’t pause for long there this time; though on a previous occasion maybe 15 years ago I did stop.  The house was at that time for sale and obviously empty, and I figured it would be explainable to the neighbors or police if I was caught walking around the yard for a look see.  It would have been a far different story, I’m sure, had they witnessed me try knob on the kitchen door and, finding it unlocked, proceed to enter and walk through my childhood home one last time.  No, I am quite certain I would likely have ended up with a court date had I been observed that day.  As with many things recalled from childhood, it turned out that the bedroom I had shared with my brother was tiny.  A floor once big enough for towers of colored wooden blocks, and staged battles of green army man wars, and fiercely loud Rockem Sockem robot battles with my brother had resolved itself to the size of a walk in closet.  I took a moment to stare through the bedroom windows.  There were ghosts in the back yard – the kids who had played there when I was confined to bed for one stomach flu or another, me all the while crying that it wasn’t fair to have to stay in now that I felt better, and mom insisting that anyone too sick to go to school was too sick to play freeze tag.  There were kids on the phantom swings and jungle gym my parents bought from Zayre’s Department Store.  Others were playing in the used-to-be sheet metal sandbox that was as likely to give your legs blisters from the gathered summer heat as it was to serve as a hatching ground for the various seeds that dropped or blew in.  Through the other window I could now plainly see the street, a feat that was a bit of a stretch from my childhood bunk bed, though I spent many twilight evenings not sleeping but instead staring for a glimpse of a car coming down the road.

After glancing into my parents’ old room, I turned into the hallway and glanced upward at the unremarkable plywood ceiling entrance to the attic.  Up there, in 1967, Santa Claus dropped my football in the dark and couldn’t find it.  He had to leave a note for my dad to go look for it in daylight the next day.  But that particular bit of thunderdancing in the attic was nearly Santa’s undoing, for it woke my younger sister.  Fortunately my mom heard it too, and she rushed into my sister’s room and closed the door and whispered to her that Santa must be on the roof and they had to lie very still and squeeze their eyes shut so they wouldn’t scare him away.

Sister’s bedroom was as narrow as mine, but a little longer.  It opened on the other side into the kitchen, so in someone’s mind this perhaps was meant to be a dining room.  But that wouldn’t account for the double closet on the interior wall.  Maybe someone just wasn’t sure what to do with the space.

Between the bedrooms was the only bathroom in the house.  If these weren’t the same fixtures, someone had replaced the originals with equally old stuff.  The ultra small window above the tub seemed just as useless as before.  But the tub did bring back a lost memory of one Easter.  The Easter Bunny not only hid colored hard boiled eggs around our house.  He also hid the Easter baskets for a few years.  The three of us would set off together looking for the baskets, which shouldn’t have been hard to locate considering how few places there were to stash three baskets in a house that size.  This particular year, we found them in the tub.  And perched in front of my basket (obviously mine since mine had the purple stripe woven in among the yellow and pink willow bands in the handle) was a book that started my first pitch into reading a series.  The book was “The Mystery of the Green Ghost” and was book four in a series called “Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators.”  A serial knock off of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, these books found Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews as teenagers who went about solving mysteries that confounded the police, usually confounding international jewel thieves or derailing bank robbery conspiracies in the process.  This book captured my young imagination, and I was hooked into reading every book in the original series that our local library could provide.  (After the original series author passed away in 1969, other authors expanded the series from a dozen books to over 40, but by then I had begun to move past these old friends to other tales.)  Alfred Hitchcock appeared as a character in each of the books, presenting an introduction and conversing with the three boys in the final chapter to go over plot points deemed too subtle for a preteen’s mind to have caught.  And at age 8 or 9, I reasoned that since I knew Alfred Hitchcock to be a real person, these three boys must be real as well.  I don’t really know how many books it took me to figure the truth of that out.  Later editions were more obvious in listing an author on the front cover, but this is what my original version looked like:

The kitchen was impossible.  I have vague memories of eating in shifts sometimes, kids first, mom and dad after.  But my mind may be making that up.  I do know that dad was gone 50% of the time, as he worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off as a fireman, sometimes filling the other day with part time work at Hamner’s TV store.  So there were many nights the little formica table we had was big enough for the three of us and mom to all fit.  But that kitchen has no counter space and less cabinet room.  This was the room that I learned from constant exposure to hate fish sticks and bologna, and the absolute fact that only kids who ate their bread crust would ever learn to whistle.  This is where the forbidden sugar bowl was kept out of reach until I was big enough to scale the baby gate on my bedroom doorway and, if I was stealthy enough, climb up on the counter while mom and dad were still sleeping to stick a damp finger into the bowl.  I could still see the outline of built up paint around what used to be the edges of the old black wall phone.  We started out with a “party line.”  I can’t imagine anyone putting up with that lack of privacy, but somehow it was accepted.

The living room had also shrunk with time.  I recalled that Mrs. Jenkins up the street had used one end of her copycat house’s living room as a dining area and I stood there trying to figure out how the geometry of that had ever worked.  I do not recall if mom and dad ever had a table in that spot, but I do know for sure that the record player was located there, at least for a time.  Before the huge Packard Bell stereo console entered our lives, there was mom’s record player.  It played 33’s, 45’s, and 78’s (a few of which mom still had, including one that had been made when she was a teenager that featured her singing a cappella and a friend of hers getting in on the action by shouting “sing it Hilda!” during breath pauses.)  My earliest musical memories were of that turntable – the Camelot soundtrack with Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet and Richard Burton and Roddy Mcdowell; theme from A Summer Place, West Side Story, and all of mom’s precious 45’s from the early days of rock and roll.  She’d sometimes put on a few for us – Earth Angel, Lollipop, and others lost to time.  By the time the Packard Bell arrived other musical memories were blended in:  Mantovani’s Manhattan album, The Nutcracker Suite, Disney and Captain Kangaroo albums, the Mary Poppins and Sound of Music soundtracks.  This monster of a music center was also an AM radio, and our home was full of music both in this house and the next.

This house has many other whispers in it.  Mostly happy, some painful, some barely recalled.  Here is where I learned to play the piano that my mom worked until 1 or 2 in the morning as a phone operator to pay for.  It’s where I sat and watched The Secret Storm and Days of Our Lives and Batman and Captain Nice and It’s About Time and  Mr. Terrific and Fireball XL5 and Dark Shadows and The Second Hundred Years and The Wild Wild West and Family Affair and The Flintstones and Jonny Quest and The Double Life of Henry Phyfe and The Three Stooges and Sailor Bob and Dandy Doodle.  Here is where my dad presented me with a beautiful big boy bicycle that he and his coworkers had rescued from the trash and fixed up and painted red, complete with my name hand lettered on the neck.  Here is where dad came home with a go cart that he wanted to play with, and with old Fords and Mercuries that were still good enough to drive for a while.  Here is where icicles draped real Christmas trees with large colored lights, and where five o’clock bloomers graced the driveway border.  And yes, here is where I learned that parents are human and children vulnerable.  The mélange is all part of my make up.

But that walk through was several years ago.  So in a memory of that memory fog I sat in front of the old house recently, recalling the earlier visit and the childhood it evoked.  By this visit, the tree in the back yard had disappeared.  I used to climb high enough to see over the single story roof.  From that perch, I could see the steeple of the Baptist church at the end of Harvie Road.  At 5 PM the church bells played hymns from the steeple, and if the air was calm you could hear them from our house.  But that tree is gone, and given my lack of common sense it’s probably a good thing.  At my current weight those branches wouldn’t support me for long.

The chain link is still there, which means the dent is undoubtedly still to be found on that back stretch.  It was created when Randy and I tried to see who could walk the steel rod at the top of the fence the furthest before falling.  How the impact from my head managed to dent steel as I fell and how that crunch didn’t scramble my brains is still a puzzle.

The yard is now as it was then, full of clover that barefoot kids would avoid lest the bees reward young feet for carelessness.  When the inevitable happened, mom would slather on a paste of baking soda and water and insist for the hundredth time that shoes needed to be worn. 

Beyond the house is the neighborhood.  At one time there were over fifty children we could name within a two block radius.  Now the streets are more or less devoid of outside activity, except for the residents standing in driveways or on porches staring suspiciously at this slow driving old man in a suit so obviously not belonging there.  Out in front of our house and just to the right, Thalen Street intersects with Montclair Road.  On a few precious occasions, mom and Mrs. Baum had a group of us out there cheering as the two of them ran full speed up and down Thalen, getting kites airborne for one kid after another.   Montclair stops at the end of our block at Howard Street, the cross street offering a choice of left through the neighborhood and up near the four lane about five blocks away or right one block to Ratcliffe Elementary School with its playground and the ball diamond that we used to ride our bikes to in order to watch the local men’s church league teams and spend our pennies on pixie sticks at the snack bar.  Though we didn’t attend that school (we went to the school that was tied to our church) it was in that 1950’s era structure that we took part in summer art classes and where we received the magical sugar cube laced with polio vaccine way back when.  Just across Reynolds Road from the school is the corner house where I saw my very first color television.  I do not recall why my parents and I were there, but I can still remember the oversaturated image of the blue sky with the woman performing a jackknife off of the high dive.  We got one of those TVs shortly thereafter, but the wonder of that first sight has stayed with me.

Sitting at the end of Montclair, I could see beyond Georgeanne’s house on Howard Street to what had been in my youth a large farm.  Or a small one, since everything else seems to have changed sizes.  I recall warnings that the farmer (whose name eludes me) had set his dogs on boys caught crossing through his corn field, or perhaps had shot at them with rock salt, or more improbably had reputedly marched some friend of a friend back to his shed at gunpoint and waited for the police to arrive to arrest the trespasser.  We never ever saw the farmer, though we always heard his dogs as we skirted around his cornfield on the way to The Woods. 

Dad always told us to stay out of that man’s field, and stop playing in the woods.  Fortunately, he wasn’t usually around when mom told us to go find someone to play with.  And running off to play in the woods was always a special treat.  Randy and his brother Stuart, the two youngest Snyder boys, and I would make a bee line through the field and trace through the half visible paths in our own Hundred Acre Wood.  There were streams to dam up as we dumped handful after handful of mud into the center of the flow, the trickle of water getting smaller and smaller as the mud got higher and higher, until the pent up water overcame the structure and magnificently tore it away and gushed downstream.  There were tree forts to plan but never build, since cut 2x4’s and planks of plywood were surprisingly difficult for 7 year olds to find lying about in the middle of the woods.  And there were blackberries to pick, always mindful of the snakes that just had to be there at our feet but that we thankfully never encountered.  Sometimes I’d tell mom I was going for the berries and she’d give me a pan to transport them home in.  Despite my efforts, there was never enough for a pie, though sometimes I managed to get enough home for a few tarts.  But most of the time we just spent exploring.  There were open areas that were apparently dried up wetlands, with cracking but still moist mud just starting to curl up away from the underlayer.  There were needle sharp thickets to be negotiated on the way from one nowhere to another.  And dozens of small streams to jump across and recross…. Or maybe just one that we confronted over and over again.  We’d scare each other with tales of hobos and Indians that were seen at the other end of the woods by someone’s brother’s cousin who barely escaped being kidnapped or scalped or whatever else.  We’d outcuss each other and see who could surprise who with a pine cone or gumball hurled at head or back or calf.  On one occasion we even went hunting for bear with Danny’s BB gun, but we had to settle for shooting in the general direction of bird sounds when the bear proved too afraid to show his face. 

The farm is gone now, and so are the woods.  A sprawl of too-quickly built homes and cul de sacs, planted in waves from the 70’s through the 00’s, now sit atop the ghosts of tree forts and dammed streams and blackberry bushes.  They were fun while they lasted.  I can’t help but feel a little sorry for today’s boys, though.  Outdoor activities are much more restricted and organized.  Woodland imaginariums are replaced with postage stamp green spaces, if they are replaced at all.  Kids can’t roam anymore.  It’s just not safe.  Not that it ever really was.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 10 England/Paris Trip – Monday, 5/23/2011

 The New Forest and Winchester; places never found and a surprise ruin.

(Mr. Kim’s contributions are italicized.)

And so continues the seemingly never ending saga of our spring 2011 trip to England and Paris – picked up again in summer 2014!

The plan for the day was to go to see the Old Harry Rocks near Swanage, drive through the New Forest and arrive at Winchester where we were to spend one night.  And, mostly, that’s what we did.  With a few detours and surprises.  We are neither of us huge fans of recreated history – me even less than Mr. Kim.  Reenactments and ladies in hoop skirts and, for goodness sakes renaissance festivals make my teeth itch (if you haven’t noticed by now, I am a tad intolerant).  Only of the things you don’t like.  What we do love is lovingly preserved history (like all the churches we haunted on this trip) and ruins.  We adore ruins.  But we hadn’t seen any.  So when Mr. Kim happened to notice Corfe Castle ruins on a map at our Dorchester hotel, we decided to let Jeeves lead us there.  It was on our route.  And I’m so glad that we did.  Not only were there cool ruins for us to clamber about, but the ruins are set into the second most charming village (Painswick in the Cotswolds being the first) we visited.  As a matter of fact, I found my house:

 I am sure that I lived there at some point in a past life.  As soon as I spied it, I thought, “Oh, THERE it is.”  Much like the first time I laid eyes on Mr. Kim – “THERE you are, I’ve been waiting for you.”  I have even Googled it and found that it sold for almost a half a million pounds in November of 2011 – just 6 months after we were there.  Am I creepy to be stalking a HOUSE?  Anyway, lucky folks – I hope they are happy and cherishing their beautiful cottage.

The village was utterly lovely and full of beautiful houses and shops and a couple of incredibly old pubs.  Apparently the owners of the two pubs had some sort of professional disagreement, as one of the two had a large sign on the door declaring that it was the OLDEST pub in Corfe.  We could have wandered for the entire day.  But we had a ruin to get to:

The ruins of Corfe Castle loom above the village of the same name.  Looking either protective or threatening, I’d guess depending on the political or actual weather.  Corfe Castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.  During the English Civil war (1642-1651) it belonged to a royalist, whose wife, Lady Mary Bankes defended the castle from the Roundheads.  The first defense was successful, but the second was not.  According to the Oracle of Oracles (Wikipedia):   “His wife, Lady Mary Bankes, led the defense of the castle when it was twice besieged by Parliamentarian forces. The first siege, in 1643, was unsuccessful, but by 1645 Corfe was one of the last remaining royalist strongholds in southern England and fell to a siege ending in an assault. In March that year Corfe Castle was demolished on Parliament's orders. Owned by the National Trust, the castle is open to the public and in 2010 received around 190,000 visitors. It is protected as a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.”

Fell to a siege indeed….  According to the docents, the second siege defense was also formidable.  But the Lady Bankes’ castellan, apparently not interested in smelling his neighbors for another year, betrayed his Mistress.  He offered to go parlay with the London Army on her behalf.  Taking 50 of her best defenders with him and leaving them outside as he met with the opposing commander, he made a pact with the enemy to lead 50 soldiers in his own soon-to-be-quietly-slaughtered compatriots’ garments back into the castle in exchange for amnesty, lands, and titles.  This bastard betrayed his Lady and the Crown for personal gain.

It was an exceeding blustery day, though bright with sunshine.  We had to wait below to get the OK to go up to the castle – they were testing the wind speed.  And even with the go-ahead, there were times when I, at least, felt a little unsteady.  Climbing crumbling stone stairs in a gale is a bit intimidating.  But it was magnificent.  The view from up there was breathtaking and we climbed and poked about for more than an hour marveling at the remaining construction and the beauty of the setting.  Some favorite pictures:

 I know I tend to romanticize, but there was a definite mood or spirit or stillness in this place.  The pictures do not do it justice.  So many structures of the same period are still standing elsewhere.  This castle was murdered by Cromwell’s troops, left to be forgotten.  But I think it still has something to say.

After a delightful (and hair-raising) ramble, it was time for a snack:

A natter with the locals:

And a drive down to Swanage to see the Old Harry Rocks:

Except we didn’t.  We found Swanage.  And according to our map, we just had to follow the coast north/northeast and there it would be.  White cliffs, three chalk formations – bigger than houses.  But, alas, not for us.  Either the map was wrong, or we were dense, or the whole place just Brigadooned on us.  But for whatever reason, it was not to be found.  I was sorry to miss it because I knew that Mr. Kim would be entranced, but I was determined that for this vacation there would be no regrets, no pining.  So we tossed it off and set out for the New Forest and whatever delights (including lunch) that would hold for us. 

If you look at a map of the area, you will see a little bit of water that needs to be gotten across where the English Channel meets Poole Harbor.  This is where you take a ferry boat.  When we got to the terminal, the boat was already docked and loading cars.  We got on near the end.  With all the cars ahead of us, all we could see was either side of the boat.  With some clanks and groans, the ferry got under way.  We took a few pictures:

And discussed getting out to stretch our legs, see the sights and maybe find a bar to have a pint.  Please keep in mind that we had never been here before, that we couldn’t see in front of us and that distances on maps are notoriously difficult to discern.  As we were debating our next activity, we arrived at our destination and docked.  The crossing was FOUR MINUTES long.  I Googled it.  I am so glad that we didn’t amble out of our car and wander around like we were on a cruise.  Goobers.

Bournemouth is not a particularly huge city.  Certainly bigger than we’d been in so far and other than London a much larger, busier and more congested than any place in England that Mr. Kim had had to drive in.  We didn’t get lost, exactly.  But we did see the same square block of Bournemouth a goodly number of times.  It wasn’t that we couldn’t see where we were supposed to go.   It was that we couldn’t maneuver to GET where we were supposed to go.  So Mr. Kim kept making tight left turns after left turn, hoping to catch a break to get across a six lane.  Jeeves got a bit sharp with us.  His tone when he kept having to repeat, “recalculating” was rather abrupt.  As Mr. Kim put it, “traffic, fecking traffic”.  We managed to escape the clutches of Bournemouth and were off to the New Forest.  The Forest is both a national park and an area dotted with lovely villages and towns.  It was set aside as a royal hunting ground in 1079 by William I.  There are all sorts of beasties roaming around – deer, ponies, cattle, pigs, donkeys.  Some are wild and others owned, but apparently free to graze anywhere they like.  The Forest in its wildest parts is hauntingly beautiful:

And when those wild ponies decide to amble across a road, you just sit and marvel:

We had lunch at the Old Farmhouse in Burley:
(Punch Buggy!)

Burley was a bit new agey/witchy for my tastes (there goes that intolerant thing again) – it even has a dragon’s lair.  Itchy teeth territory again.  But it was utterly charming.  And lunch was delicious.  The building that the restaurant is in was built in the 16th century with classic thick walls and low beamed ceilings.  I had the most delicious ham – Tatchberry Farm (local) and another rendition of perfect eggs.  Not once in England did I get an egg that was cooked less than perfect.  Amazing:

Mr. Kim had English lasagna:
I finally understand Ted’s spaghetti.  He never really cared much for Momma’s spaghetti or lasagna.  He’d say it was different than he was used to.  Once, I remember, he made what he called English spaghetti.  To me, at 13, it seemed a very dull dish.  Not very tomato-y, no garlic, no oregano.  Very bland.  But the grown up me liked this version very much.  Meaty and with a much finer mince of beef, it was very savory and satisfying. 

I had seen lasagna on the menu of every pub and casual place we’d eaten.  At first I thought it was quaint, sort of an alternative grudgingly added to pub grub.  You know, like the obligatory beef or chicken dish at your average American seafood restaurant.  By this point in the trip, I had been worn down by curiosity and know I just HAD to try it once before we left.  I liked it a lot.  It was really more like a pastichio in texture than a lasagna, and was a refreshing addition to the other culinary experiences on the trip.

Then it was on to Lyndhurst – the capital of the New Forest.  We wander around the interesting New Forest Museum and Gallery and down the High street.  I found one of the things on my England wish list – Lily of the Valley talc.  Talc is really hard to find in the US, but still available at any drug store in the UK.  It may be old fashioned, but I use it every day and don’t wish to smell like Johnson’s baby powder.  In the same store we found these:

Where in the US would you still find Coty’s L’Aimant and big, butch tissues?  There was also a Maserati dealership.  Such an odd thing to come across in a small town in the middle of a national forest. 

As we stood there trying to decide which Maserati was the one we wanted to have shipped back home for us, we glanced back up the street we had just descended.  To our surprise, the view was familiar.  We quickly realized that we HAD seen that view before.  A year earlier, when we started planning the trip, I changed the background on our computer at the house.  I searched out pics for “new forest” and it yielded a nice photo that I co-opted.  We were now, apparently standing in the exact same location as the photographer that had snapped that pic:

The Forest was yet another place that we could have spent days in if we’d had more time.  I honestly don’t see how English people ever manage to get to Spain and Greece, not to mention Australia and the US with this kind of place on their doorstep.  As I said to someone, had we been to England in our 20’s – before we had so many obligations (family, financial), we would have moved heaven and earth to relocate.  I would still be an expat in a minute if I could afford it.  Um, small Corfe house, half a million pounds.  Ain’t gonna happen, unfortunately.  I don’t see why we still have a single wealthy person in the US (sorta kidding, there).

Off to Winchester.  Our accommodations thus far had been very, very nice.  From Craig’s lovely flat, to our dream house Cotswold cottage to the two very old coach house/inns we stayed at in Salisbury and Dorchester we had no cause for complaint.  All we knew from our travel agent was the name and address for the place in Winchester.  It was called Lainston House.  I had looked it up only and knew that it was a beautiful manor house.  We had already had a full day when we arrived.  Climbing around Corfe Castle ruins in a gale, that long ferry ride (smile), the drive and wander through the New Forest.  So when we drove up this half mile long drive:

Through these gates:

And saw THIS:

 Well, we felt abashed and country mousey, indeed.  We contemplated turning around and finding a posh store for new clothes to wear to check in.  

This is Lainston House.  We decided that our travel agent must have something on the owners because this absolutely gorgeous place didn’t cost us any more than any other place we stayed. It was truly luxurious – with a helipad, a spa, endless grounds, gardens, a chapel ruin and a resident falconer!!! As I sank my tired self into the 6 foot tub that night, I told Mr. Kim that I wasn’t leaving EVER.   The staff couldn’t have been friendlier or less stuffy.  We felt very welcome. 

Lainston House was built in 1683 by Christopher Wren.  It was commissioned by Charles II and was lived in by him and his mistress Louise de Keroualle until he died in 1685. 
Kim, wasn’t this room the servants’ quarters?
Our room, Hydrangea, was gorgeous.  It was way up in the attics, with slanted ceilings – possibly former servants quarters.  Though no servant ever had such a richly appointed room:

Like the room in Salisbury, this room had a cutaway to show some of the original daubing and beams from earlier days.  The Plexiglas covering it was spotless, and I couldn’t help but contemplate the number of subtle changes over the years and the folks who had seen them.  And now this room, for this moment, was OURS!

One of our views:

Even the bathroom was posh.  A walk in shower big enough to please any House Hunters participant,   marble sink, commode and bidet.  And that tub I was talking about:

It was so long that I couldn’t brace myself against the end and was in danger of drowning when it was full.  Sybaritic heaven.  But I couldn’t make good my promise to permanently reside in that tub because we were starving.  

Someone at eGullet had recommended the Chesil Rectory in Winchester for dinner, so off we went.  Because we wanted to have the freedom to be spontaneous, we made very few restaurant reservations in England – really just two in London.  We figured that if we couldn’t eat at our first choice, there was always going to be a pub and we were fine with that.  Here we found yet another example of the kindness of people.  We wander into this elegant restaurant, which specializes in fine modern English cuisine.  We are dressed decently, but not elegantly.  Our butts are dragging a bit.  And we have no reservations.  We have a policy of politeness.  We ask if something is possible – no expectations of special treatment.  We don’t have a reservation, but do they maybe have room for 2 for dinner.  They are expecting a large party very soon and really don’t.  But they fit us in at a tiny 2-top upstairs.  As we sit, the tables around begin to fill up with people who all know each other.  And the staff continues to give us excellent service.  Bringing us beautiful, scrumptious food – one of the best meals we have had in our lives.  No hurry, no rush.  We feel free to stay as long as we like.  We don’t, though I could have sat all night sipping wine and gazing at the restaurant.  The building was built in the Middle Ages, between 1425 and 1450 and is the oldest commercial property in Winchester.  The building has been owned by, among others, Henry VIII and Mary Tudor.  The front, which except for the windows, is original:

Our drive back to Lainston House included sightings of rabbits, owls and some unidentifiable birds with red faces. 

Our travels that day – even counting the getting lost not finding the Old Harry Rocks and NOT getting lost in Bournemouth totaled just about 100 miles.  It felt like much more.  We had a full day planned for the next day – more Lainston House exploration, Winchester Cathedral and back to London (sigh).  So we snuggled up and snoozed away the night in our unfamiliar, but very comfortable and luxurious surroundings. 

You’re going to stop here???  But I was going to talk about the smells when we awoke, and the gardens and….  Okay, if you’ll promise we are going to finish this tale some day, I’ll keep my powder dry ’til Day 11.