Monday, October 5, 2015

This Lovely Fall Evening

So thankful I chose to eat dinner on the back patio.  The backyard was alive with squirrels, a few stunning birds I don't know the name of, a blue jay, a chipmunk and my bunny (well, it's not "my" bunny rabbit, I just think of it as mine as this is the third time I've watched it hop around the backyard here at Across the Pond) all come out for my enjoyment this lovely fall evening.

At the community arboretum

     At the community arboretum at VWCC.  Jen recommended it.  It is a lovely spot on a gorgeous day.  I've decided on a child-sized bench next to running water.  Over the weekend it was rain and cold -- wonderful.  Today the sun has come out.  "Hello, Beautiful Day.  Didn't know how much I needed you until I had you."
     I dressed pretty for a date with this Beautiful Day, but I don't feel very pretty -- not the kind of pretty I want to be.  Superficial, I know, but I'm a girl that way.
     And lonesome.  Lonesome for him I've yet to meet since being back in Roanoke.  I "felt the need" or the "intuition" (still unsure how to describe that thing I have) to pray if our meeting will be soon, but I don't know how to listen and look for that answer.  The answer to "who?" -- much easier to spot.
    I know having someone won't be the answer to everything, but for this moment, it would be the answer to something.  May I serve him well and love him dearly.  If he picks me.  I very much hope, right now, not knowing the kind of person he is now, he picks me.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

London trip 2015: Day Four 24 June Part II

The next event on our itinerary was taking afternoon tea at Claridges.  Claridges is a fancy hotel with a dining room that serves afternoon tea.  One does not "go" to tea, one "takes" tea.  In England, London specifically, afternoon tea is served usually between the hours of 2pm - 5:45pm at several places; it's quite difficult to choose.  Several big department stores (Harrods, Fortnum & Mason) and hotels (Claridges, The Ritz, Browns) as well as other places serve teas for various prices.  Some are themed teas, some are champagne teas...the choices really were a bit overwhelming for me.  For most places, I believe, reservations are required; it's best to check on the website of your venue choice or get in contact with the venue.

Heather and I decided on Claridges.  Though one doesn't have to dress to the nines for tea at Claridges, nice dress is required -- no jeans please.  We went back to our hotel, Durrants, to change from our walking clothes to our "tea outfits."  It looked like Claridges was within a ten minute walk from Durrants, so we decided to hoof it.  The directions I had copied down were a little hard to follow as it turned out; it was good that we gave ourselves a time cushion.

Tea at Claridges: how does one describe heaven?  I've never had a massage -- I'm weird about strange people touching me -- but perhaps the way I felt taking tea at Claridges is how others feel having a full body massage.

The dining room was so gorgeous; I was reminded of the movie Last Holiday when the main character looks at the ceiling of the hotel/resort she's staying at and says it's so beautiful, it almost makes you want to cry.  There are a couple of dining rooms actually, and we were given a few choices of where to sit.  In the room we chose there was a pianist and violinist playing musak, which was amusing.

Heather and I were presented with menus describing what would be served with the afternoon tea and a list of teas; all we had to decide on was what type of tea we would like.  I chose, I think the Claridges blend?  Honestly I don't remember.

On the table was milk for the tea and a box containing various sweeteners -- sugar cubes and the little packets of sugar substitutes.  A side note to this: I always enjoy when sugar cubes are presented.  They remind me of my childhood days at Sue's house; there, as a rare treat, if we were exceptionally good or very brave, we would receive a sugar cube as a reward.

Heather and I were each served tea from our own pot, and Claridges insist on their servers pouring themselves.  During tea we were also provided a lesson on the art of properly brewing and serving tea; if you ever make it to Claridges for afternoon tea, just ask.

The first course was a tray of various finger sandwiches.  One eats as much as one desires.  After devouring the first tray of sandwiches, a second was brought out.  Next came scones ('skonz') with clotted cream and jam.  The tea jelly served with the scones was so gorgeous, I could have eaten it with a spoon right out of the jar.  (Click on the words "tea jelly" to go to a website for the jam.)

I've probably mentioned this before, but a cream tea is one of my favourite things in the entire world:  a pot of tea with scones and clotted cream, with or without jelly -- it brings much joy to my soul.

After the scones came the desserts, though both Heather and I found it difficult to stuff down the yummy desserts on top of the filling sandwiches and scones.

This day had been so long already, and it felt to me that Heather and I had been constantly on the go, that I had to force myself to sit back and take some breaths, breath the moment like precious breaths of fresh air after being pulled from a smoke filled room.

For me, I think the best thing about this whole tea at Claridges experience was the service.  I felt like we were the most important people in the world.  Not once did I get the feeling that everyone -- the servers and hostesses -- was "just doing their job," but that they truly enjoyed what they did and cared about my experience.

Following that heavenly tea, Heather and I took the tube back to Leicester to find St. Martins Theater where The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie has been playing for the past 60 years.  Deciding on which show to take was also an overwhelming decision as there are so, so many playing in London.  I had somehow narrowed down our choices and gave the list to Heather: some I chose because of the big name actors, some because I thought we'd enjoy the story.  Ultimately, we settled on The Mousetrap because we'd visited Agatha Christie's summer home already on this trip.  It is a fun play, and the theater was cute.  The use of cameras is not allowed in the theater, but Heather was able to get a shot of the close-curtained stage before she was caught.  Before seeing, I recommend reading up just a little on the architect Christopher Wren; it's not necessary to understand the events of the play or to figure out the mystery of "who done it", but a few of the jokes might be missed.

We took the tube (most lines are open until midnight, I believe) back to Baker Street and walked back to our hotel talking about tea and the play our morning tour and our excitement for the tour we'd take the next day and finally crawled into our beds for some much needed rest.

Afternoon Tea at Claridges

London trip 2015: Day Four 24 June Part I

This was a long day, but a wonderful day.

Heather and I decided first to go the Sherlock Holmes Museum (there is a link included there).  It's about thirty US dollars for admission; I don't know that it's worth the price, but it was fun.  I believe they were in the process of office renovations in the building next door, but admission tickets are purchased in the gift shop.  There's a bobbie (policeman) standing outside the door of 221B Baker Street ready for a photo op and to take admission tickets.  Because of the size of the "museum," only so many people are allowed in at one time.

The museum is actually something like a townhouse dressed up as an Edwardian flat (English-speak for apartment) as described in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories with mannequins dispersed throughout depicting different characters from the stories.

Kind of bizarre.

There were a few references to the popular BBC show that portrays a modern-day Sherlock starring, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch (now off the market unfortunately) and Martin Freeman.  It was a fantastic show until Steven Moffat also took over Doctor Who and got too full of himself or something.  Now it's too bogged down in its own cleverness.  (But that's just an opinion.)

The townhouse was narrow and womb-like, and at the top of one of the staircases was this sight:

This mannequin represented one of the street urchins Sherlock Holmes employs to gain information.  (I forget what he calls this network in the stories.)  Thankfully this was at the beginning of a long day, so this creepy horror didn't haunt my dreams.

After our tour through the museum, Heather and I had some time to kill before we met up with the tour group in Leicester ("lest-er") Square, so we decided on a jaunt through Regents Park.  In Regents Park, which is very large, is the Queen Mary's Gardens.  I don't know if they have different flowers throughout the year, but we discovered rose bed upon rose bed and as it was the end of June, they wer in full, glorious bloom.  (I got the impression people tired of the photos I have from the gardens, especially when one person suggested we didn't do anything, so you may view my Facebook page for all the pictures to view as you please, but it was like I'd walked into a room of Heaven.)  Regents Park won my heart; I now count it as one of my favourite places in the entire world.

We took the tube to Leicester and were bumming around the Square near the TKTS booth (me trying to find even a hint of shade, Heather seeking out the blazing sunshine, though she wouldn't have called it "blazing" -- she and I have very different views on the weather) looking out for the tour group.  We weren't sure if there would be a sign or what when suddenly this deep, rich Scottish voice that caused every hormone in my body to stand to attention said, "Harry Potter walking tour."  And there is this gorgeous, beautiful man in a tight-fitted navy blue t-shirt, with short, dark brown wavy hair, who'd walked right out of the pages of a sweeping romance novel.  Oh my word, he was "my lady-in-waiting better hold on tight to the key of my chastity belt" handsome.  Heather was even lucky enough to be rescued by him at one point -- he literally noticed her in distress, broke through a crowd and came to her rescue, his t-shirt straining to hold its form over his chiseled physique.

Ahem.  Where was I?  Right.  Harry what's his face.

So, the walking tour is put on by a company called Best Tours and for about two and a half hours, you get an on foot tour of London while learning about some of the London locations associated with Harry Potter, both the books and the movie.  It begins at a bookshop where one may purchase a first edition signed by the author, J K Rowling -- for only 2,000 GBP (which would be about 3600 US dollars), goes past several places that were used for on location shots (like a place just outside Old Scotland Yard used for several shots outside the Ministry of Magic), a few places used for inspiration (e.g. Clink Street, on which Rowling based Knockturn Alley), the school that Daniel Radcliffe attended for a year or two, and ends at Kings Cross Station a place significant for where Platform 9 3/4 is housed, and...where a significant scene takes place in The Deathly Hollows.  The tour was like a pep rally of sorts for Heather and I, a great run up to our tour for the next day at the Harry Potter sets tour!  The Harry Potter walking tour through London received great reviews on, and it earns every one of those stars.  They other London walking tours to choose from; I understand the Jack the Ripper walking tour is also very popular.  And if you're fortunate you get Scottish John as your guide.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

London trip 2015: Day Three 23 June

Heather and I said goodbye to the lovely seaside and to quiet small town England life and hello to busy, always on the go London.

It is quite the contrast.  In Paignton, a quaint place to "pop up for the week-end," there were couples young and old and everywhere in between strolling along, holding hands; loads of families on a mini-break; restaurants that closed their kitchens at 7:00 pm and shops that closed at 6:00.  Everything was casual and leisurely.  Most people were English.

London, however, is always on the go and full of smartly-dressed people rushing from here to there.  Few families are seen out on the streets -- I imagine most of them live further out and get everywhere by car.  Walking the streets, it was rare to hear an English accent; I found it to be rather like Disney World.  Shops and restaurants held later hours.  And everywhere I went I was being shouted at by advertisements.

Heather and I had a room at Durrants Hotel.  "Our" tube station, our hub if you like, was Baker Street.  Durrants Hotel is about half a mile down the road from Baker Street tube station and lies on George Street between Baker Street and Marylebone (pronounced "Mar-lee-bone").

It's a bit posh.  The porter carried our luggage to our room for us -- I awkwardly tipped him, probably over-tipped him as England is not a tipping-society like the US.    The room key had a big paperweight on it, and Heather and I joked that if someone tried to harm us on the street, we could always use our room key as a weapon, though we discovered later, the idea was to leave your key with the porter so you wouldn't have to lug it around.  There were two twin beds separately made, but oddly they were pushed together; a little Ricky and Lucy.  The room was fairly small, but comfortable enough.  There was only one outlet in the room, so Heather and I had to take turns charging our electronics, and we had to do without the radio.  We had our own plug adapters, but the hotel had extra, if needed, at the front desk.  The hotel seemed a very gracious place.  The staff would often seem to be there one minute and the next vanish, and it was rare we saw staff in the halls.  I decided they must have "servant stairs" that they used.

Heather and I decided to explore the area a bit, grab some take-away and maybe enjoy it in the park.  We got our take-away (carry out or "to go" for we Americans) and walked up Baker Street.  We passed Baker Street station heading for Regents Park and along the way located the Sherlock Holmes Museum, which we would be visiting the next morning.

On my last trip to London, now ten and a half years ago, I'd visited Kensington Park and Hyde Park, both of which are lovely, but I hadn't made it farther north.

Upon my first trip to Regents Park, I fell in love, and now it is one of my favourite places on earth along with Camp Accovac in Clifton Forge, VA and Scotland (the whole country -- if Scotland were a man, I'd marry him).

Regents Park is large: there are ponds with marsh birds, swans and geese, there are the Queen Mary gardens that were full of roses, fountains, there's a university, a restaurant or two, a cricket field -- cricket the game, not the frightening bug -- and the London Zoo.

Heather and I were so enthralled with just the little space where we ate our dinner, we decided Regents Park would be a good place to kill some time the next day between our visit to the museum and our ride to Leicester (pronounced "Lester") Square for our London walking tour.

Oh to have a grand, peaceful park such as this one near where I live.

Enjoying our take-away and watching dog-walkers, joggers and some geese:

(You'll notice both Heather and I are in tank tops.  Heather was kind enough to let me borrow hers.  The whole week was unexpectedly warmish-hot, except for 30 minutes on Sunday.)

London trip 2015: Day Two 22 June

From the seaside town of Paignton, my travelling friend, Heather, and I rode a steam train, the Greenway Halt, to Greenway House, the summer home of that famous mystery writer Agatha Christie.

 The steam train -- looks a bit like the Hogwarts Express, eh?

The steam train itself is not called the "Greenway Halt" but rather the train car.  

On the ride to Greenway House, watching the country pass by, I found myself very grateful that Heather was able to make this trip with me.  I had originally planned to do this whole trip on my own; I've done that before, but I'm quiet and would not have had much conversation with anyone; I would have been stuck inside my head almost the entire time.  It's nice to have someone to talk to once in a while (I'm not particularly chatty with anyone usually) and to go on a trip with someone who enjoys the same things as you.

Here's Heather showing off her Hufflepuff scarf

Unless, of course, you have your own means of transportation, there are a few different ways to arrive at Greenway House: steam train and walk, ferry and ride in a vintage bus or steam train and shuttle bus.  The only caution is to make double sure of all time tables; for example,  Heather and I were going to go by ferry/vintage bus, but, when planning the trip, I discovered this service is not available on Mondays.  For the steam train, I believe you have to book your train ticket online in advance.  Tickets for entry into the house and grounds may be purchased onsite.  On most days, you may also choose to ride the steam train to Churston station and from there take a shuttle bus to the house or ride the steam train to Greenway Halt and walk through the woods to the house.  Heather and I chose the latter.  

The website for the steam train warns that the walk from Greenway Halt to the house is 30-minutes; Heather and I decided they overestimate.  It only took us about 20 minutes, if that, the first time.  

If you like nature, as Heather and I both do, the wooded walk to the house is absolutely lovely, a feast for the eyes.  I would say it's an easy walk, but there is a lot of uphill/downhill.  There are two gates one must pass through; admittedly we city-gals had a bit of a problem opening one, but there was a kind family, also on their way to Greenway House, that helped us out.

Greenway House was Agatha Christie's summer house and had been used by her family until 2004 - there are family pictures throughout the house.  And it was a summer house, so Christie never actually worked (wrote her novels) in the house, nor was it very much considered home: like any other summer house, it was a place for family and friends to gather, relax and enjoy each other's company.

 View of the quay (pronounced "key" remember) and the River Dart
 lovely, lovely tea things and dishes
 The drawing room where they played games.  Visitors are to stay on the rugged/carpeted areas as much as possible, and no one is allowed to touch any of the items laying around, not even those who work at the house because the natural oil in human hands would cause everything to deteriorate very quickly.  Occasionally one sees a worker carefully dusting the items; they must all wear gloves.  There are workers scattered around the house to answer any questions one may have regarding Agatha Christie and the house.
 If you're poor, you're a pack rat, but if you're rich, you're a collector.
 Dishes!  Aren't they lovely?
 the kitchen
 Agatha Christie had a Sue; she called hers Nursie.  This is her portrait.
 Agatha Christie's bedroom:  a recording of Christie speaking about writing was playing on loop.
family pictures

There are a few gardens to tramp through at Greenway.  The first, the Camelia Garden, isn't what I would call a garden so much as a Camelia Walk.  Heather and I traversed the footpath and concluded "this is the garden."

There are also two walled gardens, one of which contains a greenhouse and a tent with telescope for stargazing.  I found the walled gardens heavenly (no pun intended).

Also at Greenway there is a gift shop, a shop that sells pieces from local artists and plants and a small cafe.  (If you're a picky-eater like myself, the cafe doesn't have much to offer, so I can't recommend it one way or the other, though even if you're not a picky-eater, the menu was very limited.)

Heather and I had decided to take the train from Greenway Halt back to Paignton instead of catching the shuttle bus to Churston station.  So we made our way back across the wooded-lane to Greenway Halt stop.

For those who have been paying attention -- this was interesting.

We wait and wait at Greenway Halt.  A couple had arrived at the stop shortly after us and said they had requested the train to stop.  There are some train schedules where the train only stops on request -- there's a button one pushes.  That was all fine.  I studied the train time table and noticed, the train doesn't run from Greenway Halt to Paignton.  I pointed this out to the couple who informed us we'd have to ride the train to Kingswear (the other direction), hang out there for 30 minutes and then catch the train to Paignton.  Oh.

Like most Americans, I arrive everywhere by car or by foot.  The only public transportation I've had dealings with here are the school bus and the trolley in San Diego; with the former, you have your stop and time and that's it; with the latter you mostly go one way or the other and it stops every so many minutes.  I find public transportation schedules hard to understand because they're not something I've had to "figure out."  

Heather and I debated the decision: take the train to Kingswear or race back to the house for the 1:10 (or 13:10) shuttle bus.  Neither of us really wanted to explore Kingswear for half an hour, so we trekked the wooded-lane for the third time that day.  (Honestly, this whole England trip, I got enough exercise -- for me -- for two years.  Haha.)  We made it back to the house to learn we had to make a dash for it to the estate entrance in order to catch the shuttle.  Those lovely people working for the National Trust (the organization that owns and runs the house) were hot on it: Heather and I made it a few paces from the visitor center when a man in a car asked if we were the ones trying to make it to the bus; he drove us down the drive -- we'd never had made it and would have had to hang out for another hour or so -- and had us there just as they were boarding.  It turned out they were going to hold the bus for us.  Well done National Trust.  I'm impressed, and it is NOT an easy thing to impress me.  So we rode the bus to Churston Station, all passengers working together to figure out which platform we should be on and how to get there, and then back to Paignton and the lovely seaside.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A story to tell never told Part III of III

[The continuing saga that I began but couldn't seem to finish many moons ago; it is also peppered with my commentary -- because it just wouldn't be bearable without it, now would it?]

     All we wanted as five year olds was to be sixteen.  At that age, being sixteen meant that you were an adult and got all the guys and a really cool job, like being a banker.  Sixteen-year-olds could go out any time they wanted and had a blast.  If you were sixteen, you were invincible.  Of course, that is most certainly not the case, but to a five-year-old girl, sixteen could be anything she wanted it to be.  For we five girls, it was our own special world.
     As we grew older, sixteen became even more extraordinary to our imaginations.  We dated New Kids on the Block ["Oh-oh Oh-oh-oh, the right stuff"] and played unspeakable games, too embarrassing to say [although why our very mild, watered-down version of "strip poker" is so unspeakable, younger Steph, I don't know.  We were five, people!]  If I were to mention what crazy things we came up with to play, my former childhood friends would murder me.  [I honestly don't remember what else there was, but I kind of want to make something up just to make life interesting.]   There was also Star Search, Elton John's album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road [Still love this one.  We would pretend we were ghosts in a cemetery while dancing to "Funeral for a Friend"], and fairy tales.  With the fairy tales we acted out, I usually got the part of the princess, which made the other girls mad.  Never bothered me of course.  [Sue probably picked me most of the time because I was such a lemming.  Although, my name does mean "crowned ruler," and I'm still holding out for the possibility of marrying Prince Harry, so perhaps it was just density, I mean, destiny.]
     I remember some of the things we did for Star Search.  There were the usual dance contests, which nobody really won because how can you single out one child in the area of creativity [apparently that rule doesn't apply to picking out the proper princess -- see above regarding fairy tales]; there was the "taking care of a baby" section.  Sue would ask us questions like, What do you do to a baby with colic? [The answer: get a muzzle for the little squawker.  Just kidding!  Another true story: until a couple years ago, you know, when I was a grown woman of thirty -- as opposed to a grown woman of sixteen -- still had no clue what colic was.  According to Wikipedia, it's crying.  A lot.  For no good reason.  Seriously?  Maybe I wasn't kidding about that muzzle.  And in case you missed it, grown woman of thirty, still no clue what colic is.  Totally thought it was a gassy baby.  Whatev.  And the crap if I know what you do with a baby that won't simmer down.  That's what the internet is for, people.]
     Every day at lunch we would watch a movie.   Our favorite was Troop Beverly Hills with Shelley Long.  ["Beverly Hills, what a thrill!"]  I've watched it recently and think it is the silliest thing I've ever seen [aw, younger Steph, it's not that bad], but back when I was a kid, you couldn't beat it.  I remember the first time we watched the movie Witches with Angelica Houston.  [Actually have another blog post regarding this movie:].  Everyone else was fine with the movie, but I'm still haunted by the awful images of Angelica Houston as a witch and other scenes from the movie.  I've watched that movie more recently as well, and though I'm not as frightened by it [note the "as frightened"], the images, as I said, are still looming around me.
     Before lunch we would take long walks around the neighborhood.  [I don't remember much, but I remember the walks!]  Sometimes there would be scavenger hunts, and sometimes one of us would be allowed to push the baby stroller of whoever was small enough at the time.  [This sounds confusing, so I feel I should mention, Sue did watch other children in her career besides the five of us girls.]  We'd take with us a jug of tea.  [I don't remember the jug of tea, but I'm glad younger Stephanie did.]
    Oh Sue's tea  -- the taste was magical to us.  We had tea with almost everything.  I don't recall Sue ever keeping soda around the house or many types of juices.  The choice was always tea or water.  We drank tea with our snacks, which is the part of life that a child lives for.  [Well, that may not be true anymore, younger Stephanie.]  If we did something bad, we received no snack.  If we didn't finish breakfast or "feel like eating" until later, we received no snack.  Receiving no snack was a hard thing, but luckily, the incident didn't occur often.  [Shocked that younger Stephanie did not mention receiving a sugar cube as a treat for being good.]
     The one thing we weren't too fond of -- but would kill for now -- was naptime.  [That one is very true still, younger Steph.]  Sue had [still has!] three children.  The oldest daughter had married and moved out.  There were three bedrooms upstairs and there was a bed or a couch -- I don't remember which now, but for our intents and purposes I'll say it was a couch -- downstairs in the basement.  In Jeanie's and Chris' rooms hung posters of Duran Duran and other 80s bands.  We loved going into their rooms for naptime because, of course, they were older and very cool.  Each of us was allowed to take a book into bed with us.  [Oh my word, that sounds so naughty.  My fellow bibliophiles -- it all starts in the crib apparently.]  I don't remember, but I think by the time we were in school we didn't have to take naps anymore.  I mention this fact because I don't recall Jennifer and Donna having a naptime or being around at naptime.
     I vaguely remember a time when I fell asleep on the living room couch watching a movie.  [Oh man, this happens all the time now.  Welcome to the other side of thirty.]  I don't recollect if naptime was still in effect for the five of us or not.  I had awakened when someone picked me up and carried me down the stairs to the basement couch.  I pretended I was still asleep.  I liked being carried; that kind of security is a good feeling when you're a kid.  [Oh, younger Stephanie, not just when you're a kid.  Ain't too proud to admit it.]
  We used to make up dances.  [Just flitting from one subject to the next, aren't we.]  Jennifer usually led us in this task.  Everyone would contribute at least one step, and when it became a finished product, we'd perform it for Sue who would congratulate us on a job well done.  They were silly things, of course.  I still can't dance well.
     When Fer and Ashley stopped going to Sue's, Donna, LeeAnn and I  indulged in less and less creativity.  Maybe it was because we were growing older, and sadly our imaginations were growing lazy.
*    *    *    *
[And that's all I wrote.  The piece stops there.  Mercifully, if you ask me.]

A story to tell never told Part II of III

[The continuing saga that I began but couldn't seem to finish many moons ago.  Probably a good thing that it didn't enter the world at large.  This one is also, um, peppered with my commentary.]

     The next oldest is Jennifer's younger sister, Ashley.  Jennifer had strawberry blond hair, but nothing could compete with Ashley's vibrant red hair.  [Thirty-two-year-old me is still envious.]  She had a cute face with freckles and, though she'd scowl at me for saying this, she looked like a Cabbage Patch Kid.  She wasn't as off-the-wall as Donna but they got along best when we were younger, before school started. [Add it to the list of things I remember crap about.]  Ashley, LeeAnn and I are closest in age [not quite true as I'm only two-ish months younger than Donna and four-ish months older than Ashley] and in the same grade.  When Jennifer and Donna were off at school, it was just the three of us [Ashley, LeeAnn and I], and those two were terrible to me! [I remember jack squat.]  Even now they admit to being awful to me when we were young.  The got me in trouble for their deeds; Ashley told me dreadful things about my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. [Guess that one didn't scar me for life.  What the crap did she tell me about my pbj sandwich???]  As we grew older, they grew out of it -- thank goodness.  When I think of Ashley, I think of men with long hair and muscles.  That was her "type" at five-years-old. [I don't know about the hair, but I'm pretty sure the muscles fact still holds true today.]  She adored men who played rock and heavy metal and who wore their hair long -- and were, of course, much older.  All five of us had it bad for Whitesnake [true confession time - if I heard Whitesnake on the radio or saw a pic of him, I'd have no clue it was Whitesnake], but Ashley always insisted she was the hot chick in the video that got to kiss him.  Sue's son, Chris, is a drummer, and played in several bands. [Um, I don't know if it was several or actually one or two at the time.]  The first one I can remember was Overdrive.  Doug was the first whom Ashley went crazy for, and then it was Stacy.  Ashley loved her men, and they knew it.  [Near tears right now.  My face hurts.]
     The youngest of the five girls is LeeAnn.  LeeAnn was never a leader to anyone except me.  [Noticing a pattern here: I was a sheep!  Or a lemming.  Take your pick.  I probably looked more like a lemming in the face.]  She'd always choose the same snack as everyone else, follow along behind Jennifer or Donna, and forever try to please everyone.  Donna was the next to stop coming to Sue's after Jennifer and Ashley; LeeAnn became the leader then.  She never had me do horrible things like Donna did, but she knew I was too shy and un-charismatic to take off and do things by myself; if she stuck her ground long enough, I would come trailing behind her.
     Soon, LeeAnn stopped going to Sue's, and I was the only one left during the school year.  Because I lived in the city and didn't have a ride to my county school, I went to Sue's to ride the bus until I entered tenth grade.  I believe of all five of us, I was the quietest.  I was a shadow.  [Little lemming.]  I didn't try to copy everyone else like LeeAnn, but I followed her -- and there is a difference.  [Is there, younger Stephanie?]  Though I did try to please Jennifer when I was really young, after the Gone with the Wind  incident [I love that it's an incident.  It actually was a milestone in my life, silly as that seems.  So once again, you have my gratitude, younger Jennifer] I didn't do everything she did anymore.  
     Just because I was quiet doesn't mean I was an angel; I was just as naughty [say that word with an English accent.  Such fun!] as the rest of them and got in trouble for it.  I got in trouble along with everyone else because I did every bad thing they did.  [Read: I was a lemming!]  I learned "guilty by association" real young because even if I didn't do something bad, we couldn't get very far from each other, so I was always stuck with the guilty party.
     I didn't grow up an only child, but because my brother Tony is seven years older than me, we weren't very close and didn't play together often.  I never made friends easily because I am so shy, so the only friends I really had were the girls from Sue's.  Growing up at Sue's house was the bulk of my childhood.
     [And those last few paragraphs are reason enough why this piece has never made it to the world at large.  Ehk.  Puke.  We've come so far in our writing skills, younger Steph.]
*   *   *   *   

[Please continue on to the next post: A story to tell never told Part III for the remainder of this...whatever.]

A story to tell never told Part I of III

[My very pitiful attempt, 10 or 15 years ago now, around the age of 18, to record memories of growing up at Sue's house.  It's rotten, but someone had asked about it, so here is the miserably failed attempt.  There are only a few technical corrections for clarity's sake and b/c I couldn't help my anal self, otherwise I have left it as it was.  Actually, I couldn't resist some commentary peppered in.]

     The soft, white kitty named Blinkon is attacking my toes.  I pull my feet up to safety and think He would have had a field day with Sue's toes.  She used to sit with her legs crossed, with either a book in her hand or her arms crossed as well watching T.V. and unconsciously curl her first tow toes in and out brushing them back and forth against each other.
     I sit in the blue armchair in the corner wishing I had a movie that we used to enjoy seeing -- over and over again -- at Sue's house.  The only movies I could think of were Troop Beverly Hills, The Neverending Story [okay, I have to interrupt -- I don't think we watched this one over and over, if we watched it at all], and Somersby.  Well,  Somersby we didn't watch repeatedly, but the first time [and only time] I saw it was at Sue's -- with LeeAnn.  That was a weird day.  [While watching the movie, the house settled at a key moment, and LeeAnn and I looked at each other and giggled nervously.]
     I wish I were at Sue's right now with the four other girls that I went with:  Jennifer, Donna, Ashley and LeeAnn.  Of course it would be different if we were to sit in that house together now.  It would be quiet.  It's easy when you're four-years-old to pick up a conversation:

You wanna play a game?
All right, you be green and I'll be yellow.
No, I'll be yellow and you be blue.
But I want to be green.
Okay you be green, I'll be blue.


Hey!  I was playing with that!
You put it down!
No I didn't!  I was playing with it!  I'm telling Sue on you!  Sue....!


Let's watch this movie.
We watched that yesterday.  It's my turn to pick, and I choose this.
Oh, you always choose that stupid movie.
Sue!  She said the movie I chose was stupid, and you said I could pick today, and the movie I picked 
     she said was stupid!
I did not!

     When we were younger, we girls could walk to the park -- which has since been torn down and now has a house on it [sad, true story] -- or read the Babysitters Club Series out loud, each of us taking a different part, or we could make some kind of craft together.  There were endless possibilities of conversation, but now we would be spaced out on the couches, silent.  And not just any silent, but a nervous, uneasy silent; the kind of silent that manifests itself in you, like a bunch of odd switches were turned on that are only turned on when you're around people you don't know. [Um, interesting imagery, younger Stephanie.]  Of course the other four girls and I know each other:  I know their names and they know mine, but all we have left besides that is who we were as children.  [And man, is that long past.  At the time of this blog post, it's something like twenty years.]
*     *     *     *
     Jennifer was the oldest.  All of us adored her, even her sister, Ashley, did in some small way.  I used to copy her all the time.  If she played ball, I played ball; if she played hopscotch, I played hopscotch [I still love hopscotch]; if she drew a purple heart,  I drew a blue.  Okay, so I didn't exactly follow in her footsteps, but I longed to please her because she was [and still is as I assume we both woke up on the right side of the dirt today] two  years older than me.  I remember one time the five of us had a choice to stay in and watch Gone with the Wind or stay outside and play.  I was forced by Jennifer to choose first -- I stayed outside [and now that I've seen that movie, I feel obliged to thank Jennifer for that].  Being the oldest, Jennifer -- who we sometimes referred to as "Fer," never Jenn or Jenny [the only Jennifer I've ever encountered referred to as "Fer"].  [In here was a sentence about puberty, but let's not get into that.  Let's sing the Baby Sitters Club theme song: Say hello to your friends (BSC)/Say hello to the people who care/Nothing's better than friends (BSC)/Cause you know that your friends are always there!]  In every way she [Jennifer, in case you're now completely lost] was our role model, and between the five of us, she was who we wanted to be.  [I was very self-centered 10 or 15 years ago -- obviously everything that I wanted was everything the other girls wanted.  Haha.]
     Donna was the rambunctious, "wild" child.  She was the one who would grow up to be a real lady [dude, have you seen her -- I've only seen Facebook pictures, so I don't really know -- but this is so true], the kind you always see in the movies, with her even dose of tomboy and priss.  Donna was really no worse than the rest of us [apparently I was just trying to soften the blow with this line], though she was mean and would make Sue go bonkers with her adventures and wild ideas.  These antics never really came along until Jennifer and Ashley stopped going to Sue's, around the time Fer [weird to call her that now that I don't really know her] was entering fifth or sixth grade.  When they left, Donna became the leader.  LeeAnn and I were scared of her.  Usually the three of us would "team up" against each other -- maybe once was Donna the odd gal out.  Sue hated when we girls "teamed up," so, for the most part, we tried to hide it from her.  Donna never wanted to get in trouble for "teaming up" and LeeAnn and I didn't want to have to fight back or elbow our way back into the fun, so whenever there was an odd girl out, and Sue came to check on us, we would hurriedly act as if we were all good friends again.  [There's a line I wrote in here where I feel bad for telling the truth, but this was all ages and ages ago, and doesn't matter anymore, so I'm leaving the line out.]  Aside from her mean streak, she was a nice kid.  At Christmastime she would organize LeeAnn and I [honestly, how is she not running her own empire right now?], and the three of us would sing Christmas carols around the neighborhood, and at Valentine's, she would instruct us in making cards for our mothers.  Of course, if we didn't make the cards her way or if we made ours a little better than she did, she would get upset.  [I must have still been bitter when I wrote this 10 years ago b/c this is an example of things I don't remember at all.  Actually, that would be most of my childhood, which is why this story was "never told" by me.]  She is the oldest of three children -- competition runs in her blood.  [This line makes no sense, younger Stephanie.]  Honestly, we were all cruel at one time or another -- Donna only looked meaner because she claimed leadership.  [A wise thought, younger Stephanie.]
     I was the middle child of us girls, but we'll get back to me later.  [Snort, that oughta be good.]

[This "story" is continued in Part II]

Old poem about Sue's House

(I wrote this poem in high school, I believe, for a creative writing class.)

The House

If these walls could talk
Their story would be:
For years
The yard has been trampled on
By the feet of young ones and tricycles

Songs have floated through our interior.
They sweetly sing to us lullabies.
Laughter has been the melody
Friendship has been the harmony
Imagination has been the words.

We have watched petty fights over crayoned pictures or who gets the ball.
We have smiled to each other at the giggles of forgiveness.

Reminiscence has called to us many a time.
Times of board games and plays
Times of house, school and bank.
Dreams we see, will one day come true.
Lives we see change will one day just be another memory to us.

We watch over each child that 
Steps through our doors
And romps through our halls.

And when they've gone from us until the next day we think of them and their sweet dreams.
And when they've gone from us forever we remember them in our prayers.

These walls tell a story.
Did you ever think to listen?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Princess and the Bear

     "Why didn't you want Michael Kidd joining us?" Matt said when the shed was out of site.
Annabelle walked with her hands shoved into the pockets of her coat looking at the ground in front of her.  "I don't know.  He just seemed --."
     "Annabelle, look out."  Tobin pulled her out of the path of a stampede of men and horses.
     "What on earth?" Matt said as he and Tobin stared after the men.  Annabelle, however, was looking in the direction the men had come from and froze, her hands still in her pockets.
     Run, she tried to say, but it only came out as a weird croak.  The two men death-grip hugged her on either side.
     The dump truck-sized bear approached.  The three friends stood still as statues, Annabelle sandwiched between Matt and Tobin.  She madly thought if they were still enough, the ferocious beast wouldn't see them.  It trudged closer.  "Oh cheesecake," Annabelle breathed and jammed her eyes shut pretending she was invisible.
     But the creature wasn't fooled.  Annabelle felt the bear's cool snout touch her forehead, could feel the heat of its breath.  "Please don't eat me.  Please don't eat us," she whispered.  Her heart pounded in her chest, which felt hollow.  She held her breath, thinking, This is it.  Then….
     Cautiously, Annabelle made slits of her eyes and saw the giant bear sitting placidly, looking casually around, his arms resting by his sides.
     She opened her eyes fully.  Somehow she knew the beast meant her no harm.  He licked his lips then sat gazing at her, teeth protruding at all angles from his mouth.  She sensed this fearsome creature, with a serious dental problem, would actually do anything in the world to make her happy and pleased.
     Annabelle wriggled from the sandwich her friends had made of her, her arms innocently held down at her sides.  She had to tilt her head back to look up at the face of this humongous animal.  She could feel the heat radiating from his furry, honey-brown belly.
     "Annie-bellie, what are you doing?" she heard Matt rasp, and Tobin sputtered, "Annabelle, I…I don't…."
     She left them to their amusing shock and slowly padded her way around the beastly bear.  When Annabelle reached his rump, he leaned forward on his forepaws.  Annabelle's heart tap danced.  She reached out and clasped the brown fur.  Clinching and un-clinching her hand, she wondered at how soft the fur was when she imagined it would have been harsh and coarse.  She placed one foot on the creature's back followed by the other and climbed up to his neck.  The bear returned to all fours, standing with Annabelle straddling him like a jockey.  Annabelle leaned forward resting her cheek on the back of her folded hands using the animal's head as a pillow.  Quite content, she closed her eyes and smiled dreamily.  I am a princess.
     From far below, Matt and Tobin shouted her name, fanning their arms about.
     "Annie-bellie, this is not one of your stories.  Get down!"
     "Annabelle, what are you doing?  Don't hurt her, you beast!"
     From her perch, Annabelle grinned at the two boys.  Matt paused and put down his pedantic finger.  Tobin was trying to look big and mean baring his teeth and jabbing the air with a stick he'd found.  Annabelle sat up.  "It's all right.  He's not going to hurt me."
     "He?!" Matt whelped.  "And just how do you know it's a he?"
     Annabelle raised her eyebrows.  Matt cleared his throat.  "Right."
     Tobin called up to her, "You're sure it – he's not going to harm you?"
     "I'm sure.  You can put your stick down, Tobin."
     Tobin sheepishly tossed aside his large stick.
     "Annie-bellie-wellie, what makes you so sure this thing is not going to harm you?"
     Annabelle thought about this, absentmindedly stroking the bear's head, and then shrugged.  "Just know."
     Matt held up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun that had appeared in full force.  "Yes, but, Annie-bellie….Look, can you come down now?  Shouting up at you is getting a bit tiresome."
     Annabelle grinned again and shimmied down the right flank of the bear like she was dismounting a very large horse.  She stood by the tree trunk-sized foreleg.  Matt was scowling.  Tobin's eyes shifted between Annabelle and the beast's face.
     "It's all right, Tobin.  You're my friend.  He won't hurt you."
     Matt set his fists on his hips.  "And just what makes you say that, Annabelle Smith?"
     The great bear snorted and slopped his tongue over his lips and many teeth.  Matt cringed.  "This beast has been terrorizing the entire village: chasing people, growling, snarling."  A rumble came from the bear's chest.  "Well, you have; don't bother denying it."
     Annabelle giggled.  "He hasn't been chasing the entire village, Matt; he's been chasing the men.  He likes girls – just like my story."
     "Oh, just like in your story."  Matt scoffed. 
     Annabelle looked up at the face of the furry beast who shifted a little.
     "And then what happened," Matt said in attempt to calm himself.
     Suddenly another thought took control of her mind, and her grin retreated; her face went sour.  "It's the louhiormulf that puts ice in my chest, not Radley."
     "Oh, she's named it," Matt said, wiping a hand over his face in despair.
     Annabelle looked pointedly at her writing partner.  "Radley won't suck people's brains out of their eye sockets and slurp them down like spaghetti."
     "Suck people's brains out of their eye sockets?" Matt repeated.  "Ughk.  What is the matter with you, Smith?"
     At the thought of the louhiormulf, Annabelle nestled herself against Radley's warm leg.  It was near again, she sensed, its yellow eyes watching her, the creature panting for her.  She doubted it wanted to suck her brains out, but the silly exaggeration soothed her nerves a little.
     "And this ruddy beast is hardly innocent enough to deserve the name Radley.  I wonder about you, sometimes, I really do."
     "Oh, stuff it, Jones," Annabelle retorted.  "Come on, Radley.  Come on, Tobin.  Let's move quickly before we lose the daylight." 

     The bear obeyed as did Tobin, who stifled a grin at Annabelle's victory over "his lord and master" Matt Jones.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Witch's Trick

     Annabelle had just situated herself somewhat comfortably behind Matt on the horse when Ol’ Jack reared.  Annabelle clung to Matt, but the horse reared again, and she slid off the back landing on the dirt road.
     "Are you all right?" shouted Tobin above the frightened cries of Ol’ Jack.
Annabelle looked up from the ground to see Matt jump from the horse.  He backed up and tripped over Annabelle. 
     "Ouch.  Matt, what?" 
     His eyes were wide with fear and his mouth contorted.  He continued trying to crab crawl backwards.  The horse continued whinnying in fear.  Annabelle followed Matt's horrified gaze and yelled.
     The thing had a long, slender, black body with a yellow stripe racing down its back.  Fine hairs graced all eight of its spindly legs.  It snapped its pincers only once knowing it need not threaten so obviously.
     "What is that?" said Tobin.
     "Big frickin' spider," Annabelle said finding her feet.  "Matt, get up.  Get up!"
     Her friend lay there helplessly trembling.
     The spider the size of a small dog skittered closer to Matt.
     "Matt, get up.  It's coming closer," Annabelle said slapping and yanking at the shoulders of Matt's jacket.
     A fine hairy leg reached out to caress Matt's calf.  His face froze with an unreleased scream.
     The air throbbed with a familiar voice.  "Tell me the story, Matt Smith.  What's the matter?" said the witchy woman, her voice rich and thick like caramel.  "Don't like my pet?"
     The spider crept closer.  Too many eyes shined at Matt.
     Annabelle ran into the dining room of Georg's Song and grabbed a chair.  She had to break through a company of spectators to get back outside.  Many villagers stood looking in wonder at the sky as the vixen's voice continued pulsing in the air.
     Annabelle swung the chair at the spider, which squealed at contact.  A leg crumpled in pain.  A second blow with the chair had the large spider rolling into the street.  Annabelle closed her eyes and thrashed at the creature with the chair until she could no longer hear its squeaking cry or the crunching of its fine body.  She looked down.  The sight of the mangled body, one leg twitching, made her skin crawl.  She dropped the chair. 
     The witch gave a throaty chuckle.
     "This is not the end,” she said.
     Annabelle reached under Matt’s arms. 
     Once to his feet, Matt blew out the scream that had frozen in his throat.  He flung his limbs – arms and legs – in an erratic dance, swiping his arms to rid himself of the creeps.  "Well – I – never.  Ugh!" He stopped by the now calmed horse.
     "Are you okay?" Tobin said.
     "Better now, thanks."  Matt mounted the horse.  When he reached down to help Annabelle up behind him, he rolled his eyes. 
     She was giggling.
     "What?" he half shouted.
     "You just had your butt saved by a girl."  She laughed harder.  "You weanie."
     Haughtily Matt said, "I don't like spiders.  Now get up here, Smith."
     Tobin gave Annabelle a leg up before hopping on his own horse.
     "Nancy boy," Annabelle continued her ribbing. 
     "That was a big spider."

     Tobin snorted at the two and led the way leaving the still twitching arachnid behind.

Monday, June 22, 2015

London trip 2015: Day One 21 June

     My friend Heather and I (finally) arrived at London Heathrow via Air Canada.
     With all the Canadian celebrities there are, I've never thought much on how how I feel about Canadians -- all seemed a decent lot to me; however, after flying Air Canada, I've a new perspective, and I now lean more toward the opinion that they're cold and unfriendly.
     From Heathrow, we rode the Express to Paddington station   
and then went on a relaxing train ride through the English countryside to Paignton, Torbay in the southwest.  Everyone deserves to take some time from their day to enjoy the English countryside.
     We trekked, the wrong way, and then the right way to our lodgings -- the Wulfruna Hotel, a tiny, yet comfortable place run by a lady named Wendy.

     The weather was gorgeous -- sunny and warm with a lovely breeze from the harbor, which rests directly across the street from our hotel, though the 'hotel' is really more a bed and breakfast than an actual hotel.  Heather described the weather differently from me -- cloudy and cool/cold -- and did not find it so wonderful, though the differences may be found in where we each grew up: me in a valley of Virginia surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, Heather in a quaint beach town of southern California.
     Paignton is a darling place; across the harbor lies another of the beach towns this way of England called Torquay (pronounced 'tor-kee').  Many people are about, a healthy mix of locals and visitors.  Heather and I ate dinner at a tapas-style place called Olive.  For the uneducated, such as I was, tapas is Spanish for 'small meal'; the idea is to order three or four items, which are small samplings, to create a meal.  The samplings can be shared amongst everyone at the table.  The food at Olive (including the Rockslide Brownie) was delicious, but the service -- I think they forgot we were there most of the time.  At one point, waiting an eternity for our check, I almost threw some cash on the table and walked out.
      * (This next bit is a bit long and boring, so feel free to skip down to the next asterisk below.)  Let me explain the confusion and frustration.  In England, when one eats at a pub/bar, you order and pay at the bar, and then someone brings your food to the table; you may either pay as you go or ask the bartender to give you a tab.  As an American and someone not used to this, I find it all a little confusing and intimidating.  Restaurants operate as restaurants everywhere do -- you're seated, you order, you eat, you receive a check/tab and pay.  
     Olive (the place we ate at) had two options: eat on the terrace for which you would pay as you go, or eat inside for which we had to wait to be seated.  Heather and I were given a table.  Everything was going as is normal in a restaurant.  The table behind us was given a check, so we assumed, our check would also be brought to us.  I ended up going to the servery, as they called it, and paying.*
     So our, 'adventure' since arriving in England has been the toilet in our ensuite at Wulfruna!  Apparently British plumbing is designed for the sole purpose of making spoiled Americans feel like total eejits.  We were pushing the handle on the toilet as we would in America, but the toilet, alas, was not flushing.  After reading a few articles/blogs on the internet - thank you once again Google -- I finally figured out (for the most part) how to flush our bloody toilet so that we didn't, with much shame and embarrassment, have to ask our proprietor.  So today, Monday the 22nd, as I write this, I am thankful for being able to flush a British toilet and for American plumbing.
     For those still laughing at the thought of what kind of an idiot can't flush a toilet, Google either "how to flush a toilet in the uk" or "I can't flush the toilet in the uk" -- it is a real issue!

Me and my new pal Paddington Bear

Fairy Cove in Paignton