Simple pleasures

How Is It Nearly July?

Jana, 6.5 monthsWe’ve been home for a few months now and it’s been a nearly seamless transition to life in the US.  It may have been a different story if we didn’t have our house to come home to, full of furniture and belongings we left behind.  The 3.25 years we spent abroad seems as if it were a bubble in our time line and we’ve slotted right back into place.  Only now as a tiny family.

I find I have days where I don’t even open up my laptop.  I’m not disconnected in any way, I have my trusty iPhone on me always.  My online time allocated to nap times when I’m not joining in on the napping.  Jana is not a sleeper, so I take advantage of those moments when I can steal a few winks for myself.  This also has meant the majority of photos I’ve been taking and posting are camera phone shots.  It’s easy, I have the phone on me always and I can instantly upload the photo or video on the spot.  I do now wish for a point and shoot camera that I can instantly upload from, just so the photos are of a better quality than the generally grainy phone shots.

We’re still not fully settled in since our belongings were delivered at the end of April.  We have a bottleneck for storage in our house.  It’s on the long list of projects Mark is working on during this “sabbatical” from working.  Once the workshop is finished, he has a kitchen to build, crib to fabricate, a dresser to finish, an attic to transform into a walk in closet (access from our room) and eventually a Lake House to build.  What is to be Jana’s room is still full of boxes and an extra two beds.  Our office is an impromtu clothes closet.  It will be nice to have a place for everything and everything in its place when all is said and done.

Here’s where this turn’s into a “Mommy Blog” where I go on and on about this tiny being that has consumed my time and who I clad in all manner of insect related baby clothes (pictured above, a 6.5 month old Jana who has two teeth and has been sitting up on her own for a month now).  As you might have inferred from above, Jana is sleeping in our room in a co-sleeper/bassinet next to my side of the bed.  Her clothes are taking up half of my dresser and the top of which is her changing table.  Mark has a design in mind for the crib, which she will be needing soon, being in the 90th percentile for length, she is outgrowing her current bed.  My dad started the work on the dresser that will be Jana’s.  It was my dresser when I was little and it belonged to my great grandmother.  Under the layers of paint, my dad discovered a gorgeous mahogany piece of furniture.  It will get a treatment to highlight it’s lovely qualities.

Jana at Deer LakesJana continues to delight.  I’ve been cooking up a storm for her as she’s started in on solids.  As people who love to cook and eat, Jana will not have a bland palate from the start.  Everything is new and exciting.  Her first solid was an avocado.  She loves her pears with ginger, her apples with cinnamon, cherries with yogurt, mangoes, blueberries; her peas with zucchini and leeks.  She likes leeks in her other veggies to which I add to make them a little more savory and flavorful.  I made a carrot, sweet potato, chicken curry for her (steamed carrots, sweet potato, chicken, onion and garlic, added cinnamon, ginger, coriander and cumin) which she devours (served with barley cereal and prunes on the side it’s more like a tagine and super tasty!) Today was batch of butternut squash, turkey, garlic and sage that she ate with gusto and ate a lot!  I also cooked up a carrot, beef, onion, garlic and tarragon dinner which is frozen in six portions in tiny cups to try in the coming days.  My freezer is full of these mini portions of fruits, veg and dinners.

I can’t say enough good things about gDiapers, both the disposable inserts and the cloth. We’ve been cloth diapering at home which complements our EC’ing efforts nicely. We go weeks without having to deal with a dirty diaper, as Jana is very good about communicating her need to use the toilet (we started this at six weeks).  The EC’ing has been so easy to do, no complaints here.

Now we just need to get this baby to sleep more consistently.   I’m going on well over seven months of broken sleep (I did not sleep well in the last few months of pregnancy).  This has me in a “zombie mom” sleep deprived state at times. I would love to have more than 2.5 hours of sleep at a time. I feel like Robert Duval in “Apocalypse Now” where adds, “Some day, this war’s gonna end,” in the middle of some unimaginable scene. As I hallucinate in a half awake dream state that Mark can share some hilarious dialogue from if I don’t get around to posting about it, I add, “Some day, this baby’s gonna sleep.”

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My Very Hungry Caterpillar!

Sometimes, I really like the photos I capture on my phone’s camera. I just wish it took better photos :)

She is my very hungry caterpillar! 7w6d
Jana at 7 weeks 6 days!

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International Visitors

Jana has had her first international visitors, her grandparents Z, my parents, are visiting from the U.S. just to see her! We have had a lovely visit and Jana has enjoyed many snuggles (10 days old):

Jana and Grandparents Z

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France: Opio en Provence

I’m back from a short trip to France. We were there for a conference for Mark’s work and a number of people from the US were there, including some friends of ours. It was held at a resort where much relaxing was to be had in the form of absorbing some much needed sunshine and warmth, lounging by the “Zen pool” i.e. no kids and quiet, reading, rambling and even dominating and winning an archery competition. This wasn’t a sight seeing sort of holiday, I honestly may have only taken a handful of photos, and those largely involve the Geobear having adventures. That’s okay, after the weeks I’ve had lately, I needed a very low key relaxing holiday.

Our holiday will continue through the weekend where our friends will be joining us in the UK. it’s been seven months since we’ve had anyone visit us over here, so this will be fun to have some familiar faces around.

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1/10th of a stone gone

DSC_9793It’s been a while since I last had my hair cut. But as what frequently happens I waiver between loving long hair to just wanting it all gone. I have a *lot* of hair and it had been getting a bit out of control, so I decided it was time. The remarkable thing though, is I made sure to step on the scale before and after this cut. I lost 1.4 lbs of hair. My head feels like it’s going to float away!

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Weather Score Card

Today’s stats–

Bourne End, England: 52°F (10°C)
Pittsburgh, US: -8°F (-22°C) – sounds like the city shut down yesterday with the -25°F (-31.6°C) wind chill factors!

For this balmy winter England weather, I am grateful.

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Sunday Morning Breaky

Raspberries and heart shaped pancakes for breakfastHere I am being sweet and cute making heart shaped pancakes for breakfast, sprinkled with wonderfully tart raspberries. It’s just something small, but it’s one of those small things that demonstrates and says “I love you” to my favorite person on the planet. We’ve been together for eleven years and our days are liberally sprinkled with those small things. I just thought they looked so photogenic on the plate. But it’s just an iPhone shot, I was too hungry to bother with the big camera this morning.

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Snow! Briefly…

A dusting of snow!My wishes for snow were granted. Although, it was only a dusting and it was short lived. And actually, just around the next corner onto the main road, the snow was already melted. It would have been nice to have this over the weekend, where we were holed up inside for the majority of, to watch out the window while snuggled up in front of the fire. Instead, this was my walk to the train station. Mark joked that it looked like I took this photo at three in the morning… it’s around 7am, right around the corner from our place.

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Happy Boxing Day!

This has been a strange holiday for us this year, no doubt. It is weird not being home and surrounded by family. However, we ended up really enjoying ourselves with just each other for company. It helps that we are each others favorite people to be around. But, I’m sure the novelty of being abroad has a lot to do with it too.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve lounging in new jammies, exchanging our gifts and watching UK television show holiday specials (“Gavin and Stacey” and “Have I Got News For You”). Yesterday we went into London for an “Orphan’s Christmas” hosted by fellow Ex-pat friends for those of us not making the trip back across the pond. We enjoyed a fantastic ham dinner, the company and conversation; and even a bit of family time as our friends have a baby. The streets of London were strangely quiet as we drove in and out. Late in the evening we watched the new Doctor Who and Wallace and Gromit, also out for the holidays. Our US shows we watch go on hiatus in December, it’s nice to have something new to watch snuggled up on the couch.

I hope everyone had a holiday as enjoyable and stress free as ours! It’s back to snuggling under a blanket for me, happy Boxing Day!

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Today’s Menu

This was the meal waiting for me when I arrived home from work tonight:

Pan fried breast of pheasant served on poached pear.
With two sauces: a shallot, vanilla, and white wine, cream sauce,
and red wine and honey reduction.
Served with roast chestnut mashed potatoes, and garnished with fried baby leeks.

I am one lucky woman to have a husband so inspired to cook!

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Making Snow, Making Snow, Making Snow!

Snowflakes by Deb

I’m missing seeing some snow for the holidays, so I’m making some of my own using the Snow Days site.  I admit it is a little addicting.  It’s also making me want to make paper snow flakes for in our windows as we have no holiday decorations up. Maybe some snow flakes and white fairy lights… five days to Xmas, it’s not too late to decorate right?

shortest day of the yearAlso, happy Solstice! Today is the shortest day of the year, tomorrow begins progress to more sunlight each day, tomorrow will be a whole four seconds longer! When it’s dark out, I feel compelled to hunker down in my pajamas and relax for the night. It’s a little paralyzing on weekends where I like to sleep in until noon, leaving just a few precious hours of daylight. I can’t imagine living any farther north. I think I would end up hibernating!

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Me and My Smart Car

Debs' Smart 6

This doesn’t really need any comment or caption. I love having my own car now and we are both really enjoying zipping and buzzing around in this tiny capsule of a vehicle.

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A Walk in Marlow Woods

Lately, our walks have become shorter and shorter.  Mostly because something like this happens.  We walk in about a quarter of a mile or so and find a large oak tree, we decide to climb said tree, take lots of silly photos, then find the tree swing and take more silly photos.  An hour passes and we realize we’re cold and hungry and walk the quarter mile or so back to the car. Maybe I need to make a “tree” tag for when this sort of thing happens.

Tree swing in Marlow Woods

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England: Smart Car!

Two years without a car and now this will be mine on Thursday! I always said that I couldn’t imagine driving in any other car over here, with these roads that are so narrow.  I love love love Smart Cars, now I get to put this one in my pocket and take it home to drive:

Deb's new car

Mark wants to find a “My other car is a Lotus” bumper sticker. Expect to see a photo series involving our dueling tiny blue cars.

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Netherlands: Amsterdam

We visited the famous floating Flower Market. You would not believe the variety and color of flowers and alien looking bulbs available to purchase. This was a case of photographer’s paradise, inspiration was overflowing. Once we catch up on some of that backlog of photographs I keep mentioning, I’ll link to some here.

We spent some quality people watching time at a cafe across from the flower market. Here we had the Dutch interpretation of a pancake. Much thicker than a crepe and more savory. Mine had thinly sliced apples on it, Mark opted for the the bacon pancakes (no surprise there). The syrup was a delicious caramel sauce. If it’s not raining tomorrow, we need to either hop on a canal boat or rent bicycles and do as the Dutch do in terms of transport.

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England: Hinds Head

Tonight involved a jaunt into Bray, just a few miles away, to a fabulous dinner at the Hinds Head. I had tried to get reservations, the place is popular. I was advised to just show up and have a seat in the bar, they serve the same menu in the bar as they do in the restaurant.

If we ever have a night of wanting to go out to eat and need inspiration, we are so going here again. This is the pub that is owned by Heston Blumenthal and is across the street from his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. Bray is also home to another pair of Michelin starred restaurant and separate pub by a different owner.

We each started out with a bar snack of “Devils on Horseback.” There was no description on the menu, so we just had to ask. These are prunes, marinated in brandy, stuffed with a mango chutney and wrapped in pancetta, cooked until crispy. Unusual, but oh so good! I love the combination of fruit and meat, a balance of sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy.

I paired my meal with the house white wine. I imagine having the house white wine in Heston’s pub would be a pretty good house wine.

I opted to have one of the appetizers as an entree, the Goats Cheese, Onion and Red Pepper Tart (if you read my blog regularly, this should not surprise you as you know I have a hard time saying no to anything involving Goats cheese). This was also a dish involving those lovely balance of flavors and textures topped with a peppery rocket.

The real star of the show though, was the pudding. The Quaking Pudding! All of the puddings sounded wonderful, but a quick search on the interwebs from Mark’s phone revealed a recipe basically describing the ingredients for creme brulee with added brioche crumbs. A fancy bread pudding? I thought.

Heston’s concept for many of the traditional dishes in his pub is to take medieval recipes, for which generally there are few actual details and instruction for, and create modern versions of them. Jellies and Puddings used to be made inside various sac like organs to hold their shape while they were boiled, to help them maintain structural integrity but also allow to keep their wobbly nature. This pudding was not made in some ruminants stomach. No. Sweet puddings were made wrapped in linen cloth.

This was a heavenly pudding! It did come out on a wooden platter wibbling and wobbling about, finely sliced apples folded into a small heap besides. Imagine an extremely light custard, a smooth bread pudding, a creme brulee spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg in a creamy warm Jello-like texture. We were rewarded as we dipped our spoons into this delight to a pudding that enveloped us in creamy warmth, it is a comfort food for a chilly autumn night. Mark and I split one, I could have easily consumed another. It was just so good and so light.

Again I say, if we are ever at a loss for ideas for going out to dinner, we will return here and I will order the Quaking Pudding.

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Turkey: Back to Reality

We are home from Turkey after a glorious vacation involving lounging on the beach on the coast of the Aegean Sea. We were near Assos and the Greek island of Lesbos dominated the skyline of our view across the sea. We stayed with our friends parents summer home and who were the most marvelous hosts. The sun shone bright and hot every day and we were treated to a full moon, it’s light shimmering like a bridge across the water. Every meal was lovingly prepared by our friend’s mother, every meal a Turkish feast. My daily itinerary was something like this:

Sleep in waking briefly for the sunrise.
Enjoy huge breakfast.
Lounge by the shore.
Go for a swim, snorkle with the fishes and octopi.
Read lounging by the sea.
Nap hypnotized by the sound of the water.
Light lunch.
Afternoon, more of the same.
Shower for dinner.
Fabulous feasts for dinner, complete with desserts.
Maybe a moonlit stroll, or gazing at the night sky, sometimes with a telescope.

We felt so welcome and genuinely like part of the family, complete with Turkish mom piling more and more food on our plates :) It wasn’t all lounging, we did visit some ruins. The are more details to write about later, the private traditional music performance by a neighbor who was a guest for our last dinner, the pile of kittens, special Ramadan dessert, the little things too are to come.

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An Homage and New Camera Gear

Cow in field near our home

Above is an homage to “What Do I Know’s” Friday Cow Blogging (a brilliant idea, btw, and who recently featured cows in Bourne End where we live). But it is also one of the first shots using our new camera gear, which we are certainly kicking it up a notch with a Nikon D300 and the new lens, a Sigma 150-500 mm telephoto. Mark was about 50 yards away from that cow when he took that photo.

We went out for a walk with this set up hanging around our necks and we did get some looks. The lens alone weighs 4.2 lbs. There is nothing subtle about this lens. I’m going to need a special harness to use this set up. We are the paparazzi to the brambles, flowers, insects and birds. We purchased the lens for a trip we will be taking in the coming months (TBA), and the camera body, well, we’ve been meaning to upgrade for a while now.

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Why I Love My Husband Reason #1277

Hammock + Orange Juice Ice Lolly in our back yardOn Friday I get a cryptic text message from Mark, “I have a present for you! Here’s a hint, it’s 12″ x 18″ x 84″ and about 100 lbs.” I had absolutely no idea what it could be. It was a gorgeous day, he asked that I stop at the local grocer for some supplies so we could grill out. Baguette, brie, courgettes, mushrooms and some Jacques cider in hand I headed off down the wooded footpath toward home. Little did I know it was a ruse to try to buy some time. I decided to just head for the backyard rather than going for the front door. I was shocked to find Mark assembling a hammock!

I had mentioned in passing how nice it would be to have a hammock in our yard, a place to lay down and relax in the sun comfortably. He’s so thoughtful all of the time, but this was an extra special bit of thoughtfulness. It’s big enough for both of us to fit with room to spare. Friday night, we brought out a couple of blankets and cuddled up under the stars and even fell asleep out there. How very sweet. It has been used quite a lot this weekend, it’s been gorgeous, one might even say it’s been summer like (finally!). Here I am enjoying the hammock and another recent find. An orange ice lolly. The ingredients? Orange juice and sugar. That’s it. Cold, juicy and refreshing.

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On British Television

I really enjoyed watching the Dr. Who season finale, it wasn’t disappointing. Following it up with always watching “Dr. Who Confidential” I love seeing just how proud every one who is involved in the show are of the work they do. It is interesting to see how many connections are made and threads kept with the original series. Watching it in tandem with the main series illustrates the richness and depth of the storytelling, revealing details I would be hard pressed to remember.

I have fond memories of the original series. I watched so many of the old Dr.’s with my brother Joe, who was obsessed with the show which aired on PBS and Nickelodeon, when we were young. I remember they were often aired on Saturday’s, a day when my mom would use this crazy floor scrubber to mop the dining room floor. The dining room table would be moved into the living room and my brother and I would watch the show. It is possible one or two of my other brothers would be there, but I so strongly associate these memories with Joe. I also strongly associate a lemony floor cleaner scent with it too.

I have no desire to go back and re-watch any of the older series, I fear it would render these rose-colored fond memories into something else. Yes, the kitschiness is a part of the Doctor Who lore and ingrained in British culture. “Kitsch” isn’t quite the right word to express it, but I just don’t think I could bring myself to sit through those original episodes.

The point I’m trying to make is, I love that there are British television shows that I (we) will always associate with living in England. They will be memory triggers for us. Including the Doctor. Especially the Doctor.

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Happy Fourth of July!

Well, for the second year in a row, Mark and I will not be at my family picnic. This year will mark 35 years of this tradition, held at my aunt (my dad’s sister) and uncle’s home. We’re probably missing out on the matching t-shirts that have been printed up every five years! It is the biggest holiday in my family, practically a mini family reunion where, for some family members, this is the only time during the year that we see each other.

It is an all day affair, it always involves obscene amounts of grilled and prepared foods and desserts. There are always fierce volleyball games, rain or shine, some years everyone is covered in mud from head to toe. There is always a large bonfire in the evening, everyone crowds around chatting, roasting marshmallows and being pyromaniacs. There is always a new crop of children fascinated with collecting lightening bugs and setting off fireworks. Collages of photos are every where from previous years, those who have passed still grace our presence with their smiles all over the walls. There is always hours of catching up and reminiscing, sharing of photos and joys and sorrows, meeting new friends and greeting the newest additions to the extended family. Most years there are well over 50 people there.

I can say this is my favorite family holiday. I love the tradition of it. Today, Mark and I are taking a holiday for ourselves, we will be there in spirit and will be thinking of everyone today. We will cook out, I plan to make my Asian Pasta Salad with the innovation of adding soy beans, and we have plenty of beer and cider to occupy ourselves with. We need to go find some fireworks somewhere. If we had been more organized or knew the weather would be so nice, we would have planned to invite some folks over. But this way, we can stay in our pajamas all day, and that’s a fantastic way to spend the day :)

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* Le Sigh *

My first week as a curator is finished. I. Love. My. Job. I feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day to get all that I want to get done, done (but want to leave at a reasonable time so I actually get home at a reasonable time with the long commute). This commute is going to be very hard, it is incredibly draining to spend that much of my day on trains and the underground. I’m completely knackered by the time I get home and have usually fallen asleep on the train. One of these days I’m going to wake up in Oxford or beyond :)

All I want to do right now is go out and celebrate, have a drink and share this good feeling with friends. Mark is in Germany (until 2am Sunday) and I’m far away from everyone I know (both UK and US friends). Because of this, for the first time in a long time, I’m a little homesick and really missing people.

I’m not going to drink alone, but I might cook up some Eggs Benedict for dinner as my own little celebration.

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England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

When planning for this trip into the Fells, I was having a hard time narrowing down what hike to do.  I knew we had limited time so it couldn’t be an expedition of epic proportions.  But I wanted to make sure we got to have a good hiking experience. There are almost too many choices, all good choices, all with excellent views, I was paralyzed with all the choices.  Until the answer came to me through watching a program on England’s mountains where the program host followed one of Wainwright’s walks.

I own a copy of “The Best of Wainwright’s Walks” and still had a difficult time deciding what to do.  His hand written notes, maps and illustrations are all inspiring.  And upon this visit I can understand why he spent so much time exploring and documenting this region of the country.  This program, however, made the decision easy.  How could I resist a hike described by Wainwright as, “the perfect walk for after dinner.”

Given our time constraints, we hiked up Catbells.  The inviting knob rises up along side Derwentwater Lake just a few miles from Keswick.  It looks small enough to tackle, but big enough to make it worthwhile rising 1,481 feet in one and half miles.  It was a short hike and had enough moderately challenging bits scrabbling up rocky faces  for us to really feel like we were getting the full Lake District Fells experience.   We were rewarded with lovely views, despite the wind and clouds, the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance.

Although it was a relatively short hike, we decided we didn’t have enough time to do the other hike I had planned; which was a 4.5 mile level hike around Lake Buttermere, we’ll just have to do that one next time.  I could honestly return here and stay for week or more.  This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen in England so far, it is a shame we only really spent a day.  There would be so many walks worthwhile here, or sailing on the lakes or canoing or camping.  We will be back!  But for now, we hit the road for Scotland!

Once we were well past and had skirted around Glasgow, the drive became the destination. The mountains just seemed to come out of nowhere.  No sooner were we on what was a plateau of pretty even terrain, BAM!  there are the mountains towering above us.  I was surprised to see so many peaks still blanketed in snow and the tops were shrouded by clouds.  We wound around on twisty narrow roads that took us along lochs, rocky streams, dense forests and of course the mountains.  This was a drive made for the convertible.  It was such dramatically different scenery than anything we’ve seen so far.  Even in contrast to the Fells of the Lake District this morning.

We needed to make a bee line to the B&B we were staying at so we wouldn’t arrive after nine p.m.  After we settled ourselves in, we hit a local pub/restaurant, where there was a lively and divided crowd watching the UEFA  cup finals, red shirts in the bar, blue shirts in the restaurant.  The European football league that had two British teams in the final, and a game that was held in Moscow.  It was still light out when we left around 11 p.m. with the long lingering twilight.

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England: Lake District – Keswick

Today is the start of the Epic Road Trip. Our plan? To drive to the Lake District and beyond into the Scottish highlands and back by Friday night.

Mark stayed behind to take care of a few loose ends and would catch up to us later. It started off swimmingly, we were making excellent time.  Brian the sheep cookie, or rather the cookie sheep, joined us along the way.  We were thinking we would get there shortly after one or two in the afternoon. But then. Birmingham happened across our path. There was just nightmare traffic around t on the M5 and M6, and the ensuing horrible traffic spilling over through the city and on secondary roads getting away from the area. Apparently there was a large accident closing the motorway down to one lane and barely moving. At least we were good company in the car, making the best of the situation.

Things quickly changed as we passed into the Lake District National Park.  Watch as the countryside was transformed to rising fells through its boarders.   These hills were lined with a distinct variety of dry stone walls built from field stones and the vernacular building materials stand out as different from those in the Chilterns or the Cotswolds.  Darker tones of limestone and sandstone, and even slate.

We reached Keswick and found out that Mark, who had also be caught up in traffic, was still several hours off.  We made a brief stop in the town center.  It is an outdoors gadgetry buyers haven.  Every single store was sporting the latest in hiking and camping and water sports gear in the windows.  This is the sort of shopping on a High Street I could get into!

We continued to make the best of our time and went for a short walk around Derwentwater Lake.  We were on the shore opposite of Catsbells, the climb we would be taking on tomorrow.  I could live on one of the small islands in the lake.  Smoke climbing up out of the trees from a stone cottage  chimney looked so inviting.    We had the time on the way back to the B&B to climb up the much smaller fell, Castlehead.  Only reaching a height of 250 feet it sat dwarfed across the water from Catsbells.  As we hiked back down the hillside, we passed a much older couple walking up, leaning heavily on their walking sticks.  Clearly they were up to no good, it would be getting dark, I’m sure they were heading up there for a snog or otherwise get into trouble.

Mark finally caught up to us.  I was sitting out on the patio with a book waiting for his arrival.  I knew he was coming  long before he pulled up, the car has such a distinctive rumble :)

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First Non-Family Guests Arrive!

Today we have our first non-family guests staying with us for holiday.  It’s actually been a couple of years since we’ve seen Suzanne and her husband.  So we’ve been looking forward to their visit for some time now and will be taking the week off ourselves for a holiday too.  We have an epic road trip planned with stops in the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands on the itinerary.  It’s going to be an action packed week!

This first day, it was nice and low key, mostly to give them time to recover from jet lag and get their bearings.  I took them on a favorite four mile walk to show off our village and the area where we live in.    We walked into Bourne End, down along part of the Thames Foot Path and into Cookham and back home.  We did a little bit of supply gathering in our local green grocer and had a nice fried goat cheese medallion salad with mango and strawberries for lunch.  After plenty of excellent conversation and catching up, which would fill most of the trip, it was an early night for all (except Mark).   An excellent start for a holiday!

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