Summer is finally here in”Merry Ole’ England”! School is officially out for good and it will be a long time till September 1st comes knocking at the door!
Summer holds so much more promise; staying in bed later to read a good book, going on long walks in the evening to see if we can catch the montjacs going to take a drink from the pond, breathing in the calmer atmosphere that generally seems to be around and a house not covered in papers to be graded and reports to be filed. With a glass of wine in hand I raise it to SUMMER and all that it holds!
If you like the picture posted above, please visit: Victoria Leslie, who sells vintage children’s book images from her website. The illustration is by the English Artist Molly Brett
While taking a morning stroll this week through the woods, camera in one hand, cup of coffee in the other we ended up playing more of an “I spy” game than having a relaxing stroll. Taking pictures of what I could, I attempted to record our findings.
Just like the day we watched the little toads bubbling out through the woods(see post: Taking Time to Breath, 6/30/2009), there are so many things happening around you, if you just stop and look. We met a little brown mouse, walking along an old fallen tree. He kept going underneath and coming out to sit on top of a limb, but he wouldn’t sit still long enough for us to get a photograph.
Moving along we went to see if the baby coots were up yet and while sitting on a bench, watching the former evening’s raindrops glisten on the lily pads in the bright sun, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Ever so slowly, I moved my head to see a muntjac walking along the water grass in a side pool of the pond and getting something to drink.
He didn’t seem to mind our presence. He looked our way once and seemed to simply nod at us and then carried on drinking. After quenching his thirst he turned and slowly sauntered up the little hill and through the woods. To see that was a morning gift from God.
Cutting through a different path, my husband noticed something in the woods. What fabulous hawk eyes he has! We found an old “Pilot” clothes wringer, just lying there. The handle was very rusty and the rubber wringers were filled with little rotting creases, but the writing was very clear. Where had it come from? Why was it there? For how long had it been there? So many questions, but alas it is not able to speak and tell us.
Coming back to the main path we were greeted by a not to happy giant neon green emperor dragonfly that literally chased us down the path. We decided it was time to go to the other side of the woods and walk through the ferns. It is like something from Jurassic park with all the ferns around you, some taller than us. A lot of little birds seem to live amongst the ferns, flitting in and out, along with the butterflies.
We weren’t there for very long when we heard the pitter-patter of rain overhead. Protected by the canopy of trees we made our way to a main path and then out to the open common. By that time the rain had passed and I was able to photograph the “Pilgrim’s House” that sits on the edge of the common. The chimneys are such outstanding pieces of craftsmanship. I love there embossed tile work. I snapped quickly, since the clouds were beginning to pool overhead again. Scurrying home we made it in the door just before the heavens opened.
Writing about “Christmas in July” this week made me think of all the summers I spent at Sunset Beach, NC with my grandparents. For a few summers in my childhood they would rent a house and take my mom, sister and myself along with my aunt and her two boys around our age to the beach. We stayed in “The Laughing Gull”.
It is a wonderfully weather worn rickety house, which seemed to sway with the tide. The house smelt of salt and sea breeze. Built on stilts with parking spaces underneath there was a hammock strung between the house supports by the back steps. We used to play in it after lunch, all piling in and rocking away, waiting for the adults to come out and say we were allowed to go back in the water. The house was a short walk from the beach and had its very own canal “swimming pool” in the back, where we used to wade in and go fishing.
The ride to get there felt like forever and a day. You knew you were getting closer as the Pine trees changed and the smell of the pluff mud wafted into your nostrils. We would usually have to wait in a long line of other vacationer filled cars, for boats to go through the swing bridge and then we were on our way, almost “home”. A group of Preservationists were fighting to keep that swing bridge, but sadly they lost out and a new span bridge is being built. A little memory of mine is being taken away.
We would unpack when we arrived my grandparents had usually beaten us there. My grandmother would make dinner. Sitting on the screened in porch we would eat, at a table just for us. We could see the adults through the windows eating at the big table in the kitchen and they would open up the windows to the porch and pass stuff through to us, we thought that was just the greatest thing! After dinner we would play cards or read before going to bed. There would usually be either one rainy day or one evening after dinner where we would pile into the car and drive into Calabash. We would go to Callahan’s Gift Store and use some of our “vacation pocket money” to buy something. I would always pick something from the giant Holiday store in the back of the building, “St. Nick Nacks”.
It would take me forever to decide which ornament I wanted; on occasion I had to come back because I just couldn’t decide that day. Stopping by the fudge counter on the way out for a treat was a must and after choosing our flavor, we hit the postcard stand to pick up a souvenir, usually one that had pictures of shark teeth on it, so we could identify what the teeth were we had found while scavenger hunting on the beach.
Other nights we would walk up to the beach shop and get ice-cream. One year my sister finally convinced my mom to let her buy hermit crabs. So, on a long trip home, Benny and June sat happily between us in their little traveling case. They lived for many summers, much to the surprise of my parents and the beach shop owner. They even survived an ice storm when the power went out and with all the commotion we forgot to take them with us to the hotel, but they made it!
On Sundays we would get up early and walk down to the beach where a local church would hold a morning service. Once we signed up for a turtle walk, hoping to encounter Caretta Caretta, the Loggerhead sea turtle in our path. We eagerly waited for it to begin with a real “turtle patrol” guide. However, our guide was a replacement and took us to nearby Bird Island to discuss her passion for birds. Not as exciting as the turtles we were all hopping to see. My grandfather thought this was hysterical. Only us!
There exists there today a “Kindred Spirit” mailbox, filled with notepads and pens. Visitors can anonymously write down their thoughts, prayers feelings and leave it for others to discover, I like that idea.
Our days were spent playing at the beach or in the canal behind the house with my Grandpa conducting fishing contests between the four of us. He would sit outside with his t-shirt and suspenders on, his little fishing cap with tickets stapled to it from paying to fish on the pier. He taught me to fish during those summers and he taught me so much more during the rest of the year.
My grandparents would usually have a night out by themselves, and we get to go and play putt-putt at a place in Myrtle Beach. Jungle, Pirates or Dinosaur themes were always favorites. At night after a full day in the sun and salty air we would all lie awake in our rooms listening to our grandparents behind their door. My Nana would laugh and laugh at something Grandpa had said and we would drift off to sleep in a gray swaying house filled with love and happiness.
I LOVE Christmas! I always said that when I had my own house I would have a Christmas room. A little place that would always be eternally Christmassy. When you opened the door there could be a crackling fire, a cozy Christmas tree decorated with glowing twinkle lights, Christmas music playing and a warm chair to curl up in with a book and a cup of hot chocolate. A girl can dream, can’t she?
I have yet to find the true Dicken’s Christmas experience in England, but I suppose a lot of it has to do with where we live and since working schedules somehow get crazier around the Holidays you never seem to have enough time to do everything you want. I have yet to go ice-skating at Somserset House, but I plan to!
Every year we always arrange for one day that we go into Centeral London to just window-shop and look at all the Christmas lights. We watch the entertainers in Covent Garden and take a stroll down Carnaby Street where there are always interesting street displays. This past year there were giant puffy air-filled snowmen floating above your head, while the year before shiny metallic “paper” chains, draped the street. Fortnum & Masons does the most extraordinary windows and most recently in conjunction with the Royal Ballet. This past year, “The Snow Queen” came to life in all her icy glory.
I love our house at Christmas, its cozy tininess works all the more in its favour during the season. Our cottage is so small that the Christmas tree can only fit in our bedroom, so we have a romantic sparkle of lights as we slip off to the land of nod. The downstairs mantle and banister are swathed in pine garlands with fairy lights threaded through and Danish ornaments hung in amongst the boughs. When we can’t sleep we usually come downstairs at some ungodly hour to make a cup of tea, turn on the Christmas lights and a little music and just chat till we are tired again.
Being in England this time of year I always miss the stores at home that do fabulous “Christmas in July” sales, if I had my own store here, I would! Even the Family channel would do Christmas in July TV specials, showing “Frosty” and “Rudolph”. It just makes for a little fun in the summertime haze.
The weekend is almost here and I am more than ready for it. The Southern Summer is at times unrelenting but when it is in full swing the English Summer can be almost as unpleasant at times. With no indoor air-conditioning and the little to no breeze outside, it makes for a long day and at times an even longer night. Even with a fan whirring away in our bedroom, sleep is difficult. The blades only seem to push around the non-existent air. You lie there; sleep eluding you, as you still feel bathed in heat. Which means we usually end up lying in the dark like little kids at a slumber party talking the night away because it is just to sweltering to close our eyes.
I change the menu this time of year, the less I have to use the stove and oven the better. It makes the house almost unbearable when running. If we could live off of ice-cream that would be alright with me. Our boiler also doesn’t like the heat, as it decided to stop working this week yet again, so in true pioneer fashion we have been boiling kettles of water to clean and sterilize the dishes. As exasperating as it can be you just have to make a game out of it and at least I still have water, I do not have to cart it back from the well to the cabin.
Having to do things in all this heat made me think of one of my favourite Anne Taintor designs, “I dreamed my whole house was clean”. I definitely get a workout cleaning with temperatures in the high 80’s inside the house, never mind outside. I have a card of this picture framed in my cottage and it always makes me smile. I pray for the little kitchen fairies and house elves to come at night, but they must be so busy at other people’s houses they miss mine. That’s ok, I find housework just as therapeutic as gardening or yoga, and it is a way to work out a lot of frustrations, even in all of this sweltering weather.
If you have not heard of Anne Taintor you should check out her designs. She combines the best of retro glam with witty adages.