Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


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British Family Vacation

Back during the summer I went on a rant about how I was having one problem after another and had a moment of…less than Ruth-likeness. I was burned out.

I took a much needed break. While TheBrit’s family was here I didn’t think about work, I didn’t think about bills, and I didn’t think about home and equipment repairs. In fact, the push mower and the power washer are still sitting in the shed – unrepaired(is that a word?).  They aren’t going anywhere and it’s turned fallwinter…ish here.

Not a one of them even noticed the window with the peeling paint.  Or if they did, they didn’t mention it.

Nope.

We just had a fabulous time.  TheBrit and I were both concerned about having that many people in our house for that amount of time.  We worried for nothing.

The pool wasn’t quite ready when they got here.  They found something else to entertain themselves for a few days.  When it was ready it was lovely and our niece wore us all out swimming.

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I think they had a really nice time.  Casa de Ruth e Brit was a huge success.  It got rave reviews from his sister:

Best family holiday EVER!!

 

When we first suggested that TheBrit’s family come here we thought it would only be his mother, his sister, and his niece. His step-dad(who he really looks at as his dad) and his brother-in-law were going to stay behind. Originally it was thought that TopBrit’s health would prevent him from taking such a long journey and B-I-L-Brit has an aversion to flying.

Just before we booked the flights(months in advance), however, TopBrit and B-I-L-Brit  decided they would make the trip as well.  TopBrit worked really hard on getting his diabetic legs in tip-top shape and B-I-L-Brit bit the bullet, so to speak, and faced his fear.

Truly it seemed foolish for them not to as this was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.  They didn’t think they’d ever make the trip again.  They’ve decided otherwise now.  BritSis’ bunch is planning another trip in 2017.

Before they left his step-dad said that he’d had the time of his life.  He’d always dreamed of visiting the U.S. but didn’t, at his age and health, think it possible.

He’s not a terribly emotional man.  He doesn’t do mush.  But when we left them at the airport he had tears rolling down his cheeks.  I was fine until I saw that.  Then I teared up and had a little cry, myself.  It was hard to let them go.

I am so very glad that his health allowed him to make the trip and that he had such a lovely time.  Shortly after they arrived home TheBrit’s mum and TopBrit told us they were planning to come again next summer(2015).

Unfortunately TopBrit won’t be making that trip.  On Christmas Eve he had a massive heart attack and passed away.  His wry smile and his quick whit will be missed.

dad

Rest in peace, TopBrit.  Rest in peace.

*This has been sitting in my draft folder for several months.  This seemed like a good time to finish it. TheBrit and I will be travelling to England within the next few weeks.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

floatondowntheriverI love the water.  Always have.  There’s something healing, something soothing, something so peaceful about it.  It makes me feel at one with nature and the universe.  That’s about as spiritual as it gets for me.

For Valentine’s Day, instead of swapping cheesy cards and overpriced flowers, TheBrit and I decided to have an experience.  We finally got to go on a kayaking trip a couple of weekends ago.

It was the perfect day for it, too.  It was breezy and sunny.  Not too hot.

As we paddled along the seven-mile course sounds of the kayaks and the oars gliding through the water ran through me and I felt so relaxed, so mellow, so at ease. It is truly medicinal.

Turtles were on nearly every log and every rock we passed by, stretching their necks and their legs as far as possible to soak up the warm sun.

fishingsunningturtlesGoing on down the river a bit we saw a hawk soaring overhead.  I turned my kayak to try to get a shot of this magnificent creature as he lit and perched on a branch nearby.

hawkhawk2Later, as I dangled my feet over the sides to do as the turtles had done, stretching myself to soak up the warmth of the sun, this damsel fly hitched a ride on my foot.

damselHe rode for quite a ways.  Then a green-eyed dragon fly decided to join the cruise.

dragonfly

A damsel in distress!

The dragon fly decided it was lunch time and made a meal of the damsel. I watched with intrigue as the dragon fly started with the head and ate the whole thing.  Then he eyed me!

dragonfly2dragonfly3I wasn’t entirely sure the damsel wasn’t just an appetizer and he was sizing me up for the main course.  I guess he decided he couldn’t take me and eventually buzzed away.

We completed the journey by docking at a crystal clear natural spring filled with children splashing and laughing.

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427I love the water.  Always have.  Happy Valentine’s Day, MyBrit.


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Porky Pies

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian you might want to skip this post as it’s full of meat. Pork, that is.  I did jokingly tell TheBrit the other day that if the cost of meat keeps going up we might have to consider going vegetarian.  He was not amused.

This is obviously not a food blog.  In fact I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about food before.  Cooking is something I do to relax.  I love to cook!  Mostly I make homey, comfort foods.  I can do what TheBrit calls poncy food (that’s frufru for all you Americans out there), but that ain’t really my thing.  Yes, I said ain’t.  Sue me.

Anyway TheBrit has been here in the U.S. since July of 2012 and there are some things from Merry Old England he kind of misses.  Pasties, the bread (he says our mass produced stuff is crap), British Ales, and pork pie.  Apparently pork pies are a British staple.  It’s not something we do here.  We can’t just go in the local grocery store and buy pork pies.

I’ve tried my hand at a few things, like Giraffe Bread.  It turned out pretty good but rice flour is a little hard to get here.  There’s only one grocery store I’ve found that carries it and they bloody think it’s gold.  I do buy the fresh baked breads in the bakery at the local shop but still those are no comparison to English granary breads.

I attempted, shortly after his arrival in the States, to make a proper pork pie.  His mother sent me a recipe.  In British – I mean, Imperial weights and measures.  It’s probably better to weigh things like flour in grams and have liquids measured in mls.  But…well…I’m American!!!!  We do cups and ounces.  And, yes, it probably would have been advisable to do the conversions prior to starting but that would have been just too easy.  So I did it as I went along.  Needless to say it was a disaster.

First of all I attempted, without even knowing what a pork pie should even look like or taste like, to make hand raised pork pies.  By the time I got done playing with the dough I’d made it was way overworked and was never going to work for hand raised pies.  The pie I made, after dutifully watching a youtube video showing me how to do it in a springform pan, was well short of the mark. 😦

TheBrit ate it.  Afterall he was somewhat obligated after all the trouble I went to.

I did order TheBrit a care package last Christmas from The English Pork Pie Company which included some Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Traditional Pork Pies, a few pasties, and some Scotch Eggs.   I don’t think I tasted any of it.  He used them for work lunches and it didn’t take long for them to disappear.  While he said he enjoyed them(evidenced by said disappearance), he also said they lost a little something having been frozen.  That coupled with the fact that it cost me nearly as much to have them shipped as it did to buy them made them cost prohibitive.

After all this time, and after a day of vigorous activity, TheBrit sighed and said, “I need a pork pie.”  So I Googled up Traditional Pork Pie recipes.  I found quite a few and the result was a combination of about three recipes. I decided to surprise him with another attempt.   It’s the thought that counts, right?

I went to the grocery store armed with my shopping list.  The pork shoulder which the recipe called for was very expensive and I ended up with a less expensive pork loin.  The fresh back bacon was nowhere to be found.  All we have in our local market is smoked bacon.  Pancetta may have worked but I couldn’t find that either so bacon was eliminated from the recipe.  There were no fresh pig trotters(feet) either – only smoked.  I found some pork neck bones that hadn’t been smoked so I bought those.

I half expected this to turn out disastrous again since I was sort of flying by the seat of my pants and changing the ingredients.  Undeterred, however, I put together what I am now going to call Traditional South Georgia Pork Pies.

Here’s how they looked after all my hard work:

 

 

In walks TheBrit from a hard day at work and exclaims, “Proper pork pies!”  He devoured three of them for his “tea” and left a couple for a snack the next day.  They turned out not too bad if I do say so myself.  I’ve never tasted pork pie so I thought they were pretty good.  TheBrit says they were the best ones he’s ever eaten.  He said, “I could never get that in England.”

Ah, success!


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She Sips Stella by the Sea

 

DSCF1391Last week I took a couple of days off to spend with The Tour Guide.  On his suggestion we got up Tuesday morning and struck out for Jacksonville Beach.  Also on his suggestion we took the girls.

They slept most of the two-hour drive there and when we arrived at around 11 a.m. just about all the shops and restaurants were closed.  It’s the off season, I guess, though it’s still fairly warm here.

Though I had read online that Jacksonville Beach is dog-friendly there were signs posted everywhere saying no dogs between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.  What to do?

We strolled down the sidewalk near the shops and restaurants and found one that was open.  Well, it wasn’t open yet, but the man who was sweeping the alfresco dining area invited us in – dogs, too.  I was pleasantly surprised at how accommodating they were.

With a thick accent I didn’t recognize he said we could sit anywhere we wanted in their outdoor dining area and then he disappeared. There was no one else there.  We were their only patrons.

A few minutes later he resurfaced carrying a metal bowl filled with ice water for the girls.  Moments later a server appeared and took our order.  We ordered what we wanted and then I asked for a hamburger to split between Dottie and Miss Sara.  “Sure, no problem,”  she said.  Our meal came out complete with two doggie boxes for them to eat out of.  Dottie and Miss Sara scarfed down their burger, which had been prepared sans bun, while we sipped on our pitcher of Stella and ate our Gyros.

When we asked our server about a place on the beach we could carry our dogs she said we should just ignore the signs.  “Nobody pays attention to that.  There are always dogs on the beach,” we were assured. With that advice we paid our bill, gave her a nice tip, left caution to the wind, and headed over the boardwalk to the sugar white sand.

It was the girls’ first trip to the beach and they didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. They were confused as to why they were chasing the water one minute and the next the water was chasing them.  Miss Sara recoiled from the chasing waves.  Dottie pawed at them for a bit. Then I took their leads and we ran out as the waves retreated into the ocean and ran back to the shore when the waves chased us back.

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I think they had a pretty good time.  I know The Tour Guide and I did!

DSCF1374We could see the rain coming in from the ocean so we headed back to the car.  The deluge came just as we fastened our seatbelts.  Great timing!  And the cute cuddly dogs slept all the way home.


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A Midsomer Dream

The High Street, Midsomer Norton

During my first visit to England in September I went around to four villages spending the day taking in the sights.  The villages there are all so charming.  They are exactly like you see in the movies or on television.  Cascading flowers, climbing vines, and breathtaking architecture.

A lovey residential district in Midsomer Norton

Row houses line the streets.  If all the cars were removed from the streets it was as if I’d stepped back in time.  I felt as if I’d been transported to the pages of a Charles Dickens novel.

A beautiful bistro in Wells

I fell in love with this little place.  There were some places I just couldn’t get out of my imagination even after I left.

A thriving butcher shop in Bath

True dress shops, pastry shops and butcher shops fill the high street with thriving businesses. I had a fabulous time watching the people going about their day busily passing me by on the sidewalk, making their way in to buy fresh meat and bread for the day.

A busy day in on the High Street in Wells

I’m a people watcher.  I love to stand back and watch people go by and imagine what their lives must be like, where they’re from, and what they do. In America the big box stores have nearly shut down all the mom ‘n pop stores, not so in England.  Shops are bustling with activity.  Every storefront on the high streets are filled with locally owned establishments.

Municipal Building in Radstock

They make use of and maintain the buildings they have instead of tearing down and making way for the new.

Mallard’s Pub, Midsomer Norton
There’s a pub on nearly every corner.  This one is situated adjacent to a church.  I found that strange because any establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold where I’m from must be at least 500 yards from any religious establishment.  The Tour Guide just laughed about that. He found it funny and said, “The people will walk straight out of that Church on Sunday and into that pub and order a drink.”  I’ve wished for such after a few church services myself. :~)
City Park, Bath, England
City Park, Bath England
   Well manicured lawns, eye catching focal points, and well placed statues grace their parks.
Did I say that sometimes I think it might be good to just pack up and move away?  Ahhhh……a girl can dream, can’t she?


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Churches of England Part Deux

The beautiful village of Wells, England captured me.  The high street was filled with people carrying on their daily business, oblivious to me.  This streetscape and skyline are breathtaking.
There was a blind man in this square preaching his heart out.  He was holding his Bible over his head, shouting out everyone’s need for a Savior and giving his personal testimony.   I stood there and listened for a few minutes.  He wasn’t obnoxious or overbearing.  He was pleading.
Just beyond the square, nestled into the corner is this quaint little setting.
 Through the stone opening just left of center is a masterpiece…
Wells Cathedral, built and expanded on between 1175 and 1490 A.D. –  mostly completed by 1239 A.D.
The facade of this mammoth cathedral is covered in stone carved saints.  The detail is exquisite.
Perched above the high altar is this work of art.
The architecture and detail are stunning.

My pictures don’t do the stained glass justice!

One can only imagine this great hall filled with the sounds of this massive pipe organ.

Down this corridor and out that door is a beautiful courtyard.

A view of the cathedral from the courtyard.
I am in awe at the dedication and perseverance it must have taken to complete this painstaking labor of love.   Words cannot adequately describe the beauty that is this work of art.


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Churches of England

When I went to England in September I was simply blown away by all the architecture. On just about every corner in the villages and sprinkled what seemed every few miles in the countryside was a Church.  The pubs were just as frequent.  We’d be driving along in the middle of nowhere and boom…a pub…and a Church.  We’re not talking a little old wooden church in the woods.  Every one is made of stone with large wooden doors hundreds of years old.

I only spent five days there though I could have stayed five weeks.  It was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget.  Having stayed through a Sunday I did go to Mass at an Anglican Church that belongs to the Church of England.  This is the one that I went to.

St. John the Baptiste Church, Midsomer Norton

It was the first liturgical service I’d ever attended.  The vicar was very sing-songy while reciting his part of the liturgy.  Having never participated in a service of this kind, I was lost until a woman in front of me showed me the prayer and liturgy book.  Even then I was still a bit confused because depending on what the vicar recited there were two or three options that the congregants were to respond with.  Just call me blonder than I pay to be.*grin* We sang some hymns and though the words were familiar, the tunes were completely different and no music was played.  The acapella hymns echoed off the hard surfaces of the stone carved interior.  At the time I thought I didn’t really care for the service.  It seemed so formal and rigid.  Reflecting later, though, I realize just how much I really did enjoy it.  Though I felt like a fish out of water I saw beauty in the tradition and  reverence, awe and purpose for each implement.  When the time came for the Eucharist people slowly filed out of each pew and down to the front to kneel at the prayer bench.  Even if there was no intent to partake of the Eucharist one could simply cross their arms and receive a blessing from the vicar.  I stayed quietly in my seat.

The next day was a full day of sightseeing.  I had my own personal tour guide.  We drove to a car park and caught a bus into Bath.

Bath Abbey originally founded in 675 AD as a monastery.  The detail on the stone carvings is unbelievable.
Bath Abbey, Bath England
Bath Abbey, Bath, England
Nave, Bath Abbey

Bath is only a short distance from Midsomer Norton.  It’s absolutely breathtaking!

The stained glass is something to behold.  Vibrant colors all telling a story of saints and angels and Christ.

Stained Glass, Bath Abbey

We walked, and we walked, and we walked some more.  Up 217 steps of narrow, steep spiral staircase to get to the top of the spire at Bath Abbey.  In every direction as far as I could see there are church spires reaching up toward the sky.

My trip was certainly an eyeopening experience. The people there were lovely and didn’t seem hung up on a lot of the things we are here.  They didn’t appear to be sizing me up by what religion, political party or race I belong to.  They embraced me for who I am, I didn’t have to put on any airs.  Just me, and that was good enough.

Oh, I thought I’d be going back in September of 2011, but I just can’t wait that long.  So I’m leaving Friday on a jet plane…..