Category Archives: Restaurants

An afternoon of birdwatching


My boy heading off with his birdwatching gear

Loved the pale lavender color of these flowers — see the bee?

A long shot of my boy



O saved his pennies up for binoculars, which arrived in the mail Monday night, so on Tuesday we headed over to Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge for a bit of birdwatching.

As you can see, we didn’t spot many birds–it was about 90 degrees F so they were staying cool in their nests–but the day was beautiful and we got some good photos before biking to downtown Concord and Main Street Market for some lunch. We were starving so when our sandwiches arrived I forgot to take pictures! I had a tomato, mozzarella, and pesto panini and O enjoyed his cheeseburger, which we ate at the bar (I was kind of wanting a cold beer at this point!)

The heat and exercise tuckered us out, so when we arrived back home, I took a siesta in my air-conditioned bedroom then did a bit of knitting on my Checkerboard Scarf, a free pattern from Purl Soho. I’m using a skein of Swans Island Natural Colors in fingering weight in the color Lupine, which is a deep purplish blue, the color of the ocean up in Maine. I bought the yarn at Yarnia in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. It was a pricey splurge, but totally worth it. The yarn is a delight to knit with, and I know when I wear the scarf I’ll always think of my week off this summer.

This is the last week before school starts, so we’re busy getting clothes and classroom supplies purchased, as well as enjoying our last bit of free time together. Tomorrow we have a sleepover at our house — three boys! and they’ve told me all they want me to do is to provide food, lots of it. I have to admit I’m looking for the structure that going back to school will bring. Autumn is definitely in the air … for the last few weeks I’ve been a knitting fiend, which is a sure sign that I’m feeling cool weather in my bones. One thing I’ve been doing is finishing up a lot of WIPS. Feels good to have those projects done and ready to photograph. 🙂

Commence 2014 RTW Fast!


Over the last couple weeks I’ve done more clothes shopping than I’ve done in the last two years. When I say “shopping,” though, I don’t necessarily buy anything. Instead, I’ve been trying clothes on and reminding myself that come January 1, 2014, my year of not buying any clothing* at retail commences. Bring on the Ready-to-Wear (RTW) Fast! If I want a new pair of slacks or summer t-shirts, I have to make these items by my own hand.

What have I gotten myself into?

This year is going to be a crazy-busy one for me. After a two-year hiatus, I rejoined my co-author Linda to build up our Renegade Writer brand–I’m either writing books or co-authoring them, as well as working with writers who are publishing under our Renegade Writer Press imprint. On top of this, I’m teaching my popular idea-generation-for-freelancers class and developing another class I plan to start in March. And perhaps I haven’t mentioned this here, but I write fiction under a pseudonym and I’ve got a couple books there I need to finish up. I get palpitations thinking about it all! And on top of this, there’s the knitting addiction I’ve got to feed, although after the last six weeks, my gift knitting has burned me out.

Despite my trepidation, however, I’m looking forward to January. January is one of my favorite months of the year: the days are getting longer, the holidays are over, there’s a feeling of having a fresh start and a whole new year ahead of me, and there’s those delicious Maine shrimp to look forward to at the end of the month. (Seasonal eating at its best!)

Though I love January, I’m not big on resolutions or annual goals, although I do believe in the power of goal setting–I just don’t believe in doing it at a specific time of year. Here’s what I’d like to do, though, with my RTW fasting:

* Make clothes that fit my lifestyle and not a dream vision of my lifestyle. You see, I love cocktail dresses and pencil skirts, but the truth is, I live in jeans, cardigan sweaters, skirts, and t-shirts. That said, I’d like to up the style factor on these items, get out of my comfort zone. My t-shirts, for example, don’t have to be so boring!

* Sew more pants and skirts. I have a real need here.

* Sew a beautifully tailored blouse for myself. Yes, I know … I still have to sew my husband’s (ahem) anniversary present from last May. And I will do that. But I would really like a wardrobe of blouses for myself, including one of chambray and maybe even a Liberty of London print blouse? Sigh. Maybe I’ll focus on this year being the year I master the tailored blouse, starting with the Grainline Archer shirt.

* Finish some of the other projects I’ve started/planned for including my Woodland Stroll Cape, the Angela Kane blouse where I had to recut the collar/collar stand, and the fabric I bought for my husband’s holiday office party skirt. Unfortunately, his company decided not to have a party this year, so I’ve got three yards of taffeta and I’m not sure I want to use it for a maxi skirt. You can see where my mind is going: a cocktail dress, LOL!!!

* Knit with a purpose. I did okay with this in 2013, but I still could be better about knitting stuff I’ll actually wear i.e. shawls are fun to knit, but do I actually use them? Better to spend my time knitting cardigans, pullovers, and socks.

Those labels in the picture above are a gift I bought myself. I have some woven labels with my full name sewn on them, but they don’t really work when I give away handknits and such. I ordered these new labels just before Christmas and they arrived a few days afterwards. Nice!

OK, I’ll end this with a funny story of what it’s like hanging out with my family over the holidays. They’re a tough crowd with acidic senses of humor, and if you show any weakness (meaning you take anything they say seriously), they’ll tease you mercilessly. I’m usually the one who cracks first, thus why I’m picked on the most.

We decide to go out to dinner at a local Japanese restaurant, so I “dress up” in my hand-knit Aran cardigan and best pearls. I think I’m looking quite nice, thank you, but my brother Matt takes one look at me as we meet him in front of the restaurant and says, “Did you age 20 years? Is that sweater from the Judi Dench Collection?” I have to admit, even I thought that was pretty funny. But hey, at least when I walk into a T-Mobile store, employees don’t mistake me for a bum. Just saying, Matt.

Happy New Year! Any big plans for the holiday and following twelve months?

* I get a pass undergarments (bras/undies), shoes, belts, purses, and athletic wear.

Holiday knitting

steam and brass kerchief

When I was in Mystic, Connecticut, a couple weeks ago, I saw a sample of The Age of Brass and Steam Kerchief knitted up in sock-weight yarn (the pattern specifies a DK-weight yarn). The ruby-red sock yarn I purchased that day was so soft and pretty that I decided it would make an equally lovely kerchief. My mother really loved the color of the yarn (by Other Kingdom, a dyer I cannot find on the Web!) so this is a Christmas present for her. She looks terrific in this shade of red.

My mother doesn’t read my blog, so no worries about her finding out. 🙂

It’s a very enjoyable knit with lots of stockinette broken up with rows of eyelet, an easy pattern to remember, and something I can work on in front of the television or while waiting for an appointment. I figure I’ll have this “wrapped up” by the weekend so I can move on to my next gift knit.

So far in my gift knitting, I’ve finished two cowls, two earflap hats (stranded colorwork), one and a half socks, and a hot water bottle cozy. Just a couple more things and then I can move on to some selfish knitting. 😉

This week has been a trying one, professionally and personally. Professionally it has been a week of rejection after rejection, then having people (mostly PR) play bait-and-switch with me. Frustrating!

And maybe because of the cold and darkness, my temper is running a lot hotter than normal, esp. with my family. Last week I “bragged” about my son. Well this week he came home with some pretty bad lab/test grades in science, math, and social studies. I was really angry about the social studies grade because he had brought home a two-sided study sheet but insisted and argued with me that the test would only be on the first side. I kept telling him, “Let’s just learn the facts on the second side,” but he wouldn’t have any of it. You can guess what happened … the test included all the facts he didn’t study on the second side. When I asked him what kind of grade he’s expecting, he tried to put a positive spin on it by saying, “I’m sure I didn’t get an F.” I told him I wasn’t going to be very happy with a D or a C, either.

Then yesterday O had a half day. The town was giving out free flu shots after school, so I told O I would walk up to school to pick him up and we’d walk over to the town hall. The walk to school isn’t bad at all; it’s just a mile down the bike trail and a cut through the woods. However it was bitterly cold and windy, and the trail was covered in ice, which made it hard for me to walk. I get up to the school and O comes bounding up to me with his backpack … and no coat.

“I left it at home,” he said.

I was pretty ripped because there was no way he would be able to walk home in that cold in just a t-shirt and flimsy sweatshirt. Sure enough, on the short walk over to the town hall, O complained about the wind, that his ears were hurting, that his throat …

Oy! Enough already!

We ended up popping over to a new pizza place in town to kill some time. Since my husband and I had an appointment at school later on that evening, the plan was we’d hang out in town until DH could pick us up. However, I was sitting there in the warm restaurant, I started wondering if I’d turned the iron off in my sewing room. I’d sewed a holiday table runner that morning (seen above in photo) and I couldn’t remember switching the iron off. So I told O he’d have to wait at the library until his father could pick him up. There was no way I could sit around for two hours wondering if my house was in flames. Cue more whining.

The walk home was even colder (and longer because I was walking home from town). All that worry for naught: the iron was off. Then I started getting texts from O complaining about being bored so I told him to read a book and leave me alone, and my husband was being difficult … argh. I know the common belief is that women are difficult to live with, but in this house, it’s the male species! I ended up blockading myself in the bedroom with my hot water bottle and a novel to avoid the two of them.

OK, moving on. We ended the evening with an appointment with O’s math teacher, who was generally positive about O but agreed he could use an extra push at home. The good news is that his teacher said he’ll recommend O to move into the highest level math class next year because of his grades and MCAS scores. The bad news is that we’ve got to play some hardball with O because it’s clear he hasn’t been working as hard as he should be. We are very generous with him because he’s a good kid, but we have an understanding his #1 job is schoolwork and when he doesn’t perform to his abilities, he gets things taken away from him … like his iPad.

I was hoping the week would end on a good note, but I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.


A 20-year-old letter from England, part 3

From Flickr/Michael Stringer

From Flickr/Michael Stringer

Thursday, August 10, 1989

Disley, Cheshire, England

I’m beginning to shake off the last of my jetlag (finally!). I could have slept for another two hours this morning, but Frances woke me bright and early for tea. She wants to feed me more, but in the summer my appetite isn’t good, plus we Americans seldom eat a hearty breakfast like our English cousins do!

It was a bright morning, and we generally had a sunny day with huge, billowy clouds drifting across the sky, their shadows trailing on the hillsides. Frances and I took a morning walk around the neighborhood; we were able to view an “aspect” of Lyme Park. [Lyme Park was used in the BBC’s adaption of Pride and Prejudice as Darcy’s family seat. I can just see Colin Firth stripping off his jacket now …] I noticed an ancient fortress on a distant hillside. Frances thought it was a place where ancient warriors locked up prisoners.

We returned to the house. At 11:30, William and Margaret arrived to take us to a pub lunch. We drove through some of the Peak District in Derbyshire. Margaret pointed out the heather for me … huge amounts covered whole hillsides — pretty! The countryside is covered with dry stone walls … some of the roads we drove on were lined with them. We stopped at the Lantern Pike Inn, a pub in Hayfield that William and Margaret had picked out the day before. It was a typical English pub, dark with a few sour-faced Englishmen sitting in a corner downing pints. I had fish & chips with a half pint of Guinness.

Before we went into the pub, William had some fun parking his car. The man who lives behind the pub was shouting out to him, “Are you parking a bus?” Margaret, Frances, and I thought it was funny, but I think William was offended. On our way back to Disley, William got lost, which furthered his bad mood. I wanted to pick some heather, but didn’t press it. Back at Frances’s place, I wrote up some postcards, then we watched tv (or the “telly” as they call it here). Frances brought out some old family pictures. She had a lot of Margaret and William’s children: Ruth*, Catherine, and Jared. Frances told me of her holidays abroad, trips to beaches in Spain.

*Ruth tracked me down a couple years ago, and knock wood, this fall I hope to meet up with her when I’m in England!

A 20-year-old letter from England, part 2

From Flickr/DaveKav

From Flickr/DaveKav

Wednesday, August 9, 1989

Disley, Cheshire, England

Today Frances, her friend Brenda and I spent the day at Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron’s ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. First we enjoyed a leisurely drive through the countryside, long, winding roads lined with mauve weed and grasses and goldenrod. Miles of dry stone walls pitching recklessly along hillsides and winding through valleys. We drove through towns with wonderful, odd names: Chapel-en-le-Frith, the famous plague town Eyam, etc. Then we passed through grimy towns famed for their collieries: Mansfield, Chesterfield with its crooked steeple (I thought of D.H. Lawrence the whole time).

Newstead Abbey itself was stately, and there were sloping miles of grass, trees, and tended gardens. We began the tour with the house itself. I read aloud from the guidebook we borrowed from the admissions desk. The rooms were rather dark and somber; medieval. I enjoyed viewing Byron’s dining area. I could imagine the poet penning a few lines of verse over his morning tea. We met a tour guide in Byron’s sleeping chambers. Frances, Brenda and I were fascinated by the presence of ghosts in the Abbey, and we asked if he had seen any. He replied that he hadn’t, but he led us to an adjoining dressing room and informed us that the poet had seen a spectre several times: a monk in a black habit. He told us, too, that one of the female tour guides had some strange experiences in the room: feelings of child, dizziness, etc. And another guard saw a ghostly figure emerge from a boudoir in another part of the Abbey. When we later arrived at the boudoir, Brenda and I noticed a distinct chill  … but nothing else.

I took many pictures; hopefully they’ll come out. When we returned to Disley, we all went to dinner at the Red Lion, a nice pub a few blocks away.

Tea in London

(Today I have a guest post from Denise LeCroy who runs Tea in London, which specializes in tours to London for tea lovers. Denise tells me that registration for her upcoming September tour has been extended to the end of this month.)


Do you have a passion for something, or perhaps a passion for several somethings? Hello! My name is Denise LeCroy and I have several passions – tea, travel and London.

Several years ago, I married a man from London and left the United States to live with him in that most glorious of cities. I had visited London before with friends, but living there was a dream of a lifetime. I think I dragged my poor husband to every tearoom, tea shop and tea event in London during those years!

When we returned to the states, I settled into married life on this side of the pond and the days and weeks proceeded smoothly until a routine mammogram showed an abnormality that turned out to be breast cancer. Early detection saves lives. Surgery and radiation followed immediately, all went well, and today I celebrate being four years cancer free.

Throughout those soul-searching months of recovery my illness forced upon me a new perspective on many things…life, relationships, what matters and what doesn’t matter. I was given a second chance and was reminded that it was time to dust off my dreams and goals and aspirations that had been neglected for far too long.

I thought about my passions and how I wanted to further pursue them. I already had been a local tea educator for quite some time and although I was also a seasoned traveler, I studied to become a London Destination Specialist. I realized that London’s rich tea history was being virtually neglected by the travel industry, and so I started Tea in London tours – the perfect combination of my love for tea, travel and London.

English Afternoon Tea at traditional and non-traditional venues is a daily event on our tours, together with a combination of other unique activities that include guided walks through areas in London where the tea trade once ruled England’s commerce; visits to museums and galleries to discover old and new tea treasures; journeys to gardens and ancestral homes of early English tea drinkers; and much more. (I can assure you that if one digs deep enough and I haveone can find a tea-connection to almost anything in London!)

We use a charming hotel in Bloomsbury as our base. It’s a great, quiet location. All of our transport is on a private, comfortable air-conditioned coach and my favorite London Blue Badge Guide, Sarah, accompanies us every day. She loves tea, and you will love her.

But Tea in London is not strictly for tea lovers as we encounter many of London’s famous places and landmarks. Opportunities for shopping are built-in, as well as a free day to privately experience London.

The next Tea in London tour is scheduled for September 13-18, 2010 and I am happy to announce that it will include an optional full-day Tea Masterclass with tea expert Jane Pettigrew. I invite you to visit our website http://www.TeaInLondon for more information about the Masterclass and about the tour.

I hope 2010 will be the year that you have Tea in London!

A 20-year-old letter from England, part 1

The reason why I’ve been so quiet is that we’re moving from Boston to Houston, Texas, in the next few months and my days have been spent cleaning the house, packing boxes, and going through files. (ETA 4/23/10: The move is now off, but I’m still cleaning the house.) I found a diary I’d kept during a visit to England in 1989; I’d spent a week visiting my family outside Manchester before I headed off to Sligo, Ireland, to attend Yeats International Summer School. I thought I’d post some of the entries for your reading pleasure — and also as a way of ensuring I don’t lose these words during our move.


From Flickr/Patrn

From Flickr/Patrn

Tuesday, August 8, 1989

Disley, Cheshire, England

Landed at Heathrow at 8:15 a.m. Uneventful flight. Sat next to a man who had terrible body odor. The man next to him read the New York  Times Review of Books and John Updike. Rolled his eyes a few times when the foul-smelling man between us shifted positions. Customs in London was packed. Barely made my 10:45 a.m. flight to Manchester. Lovely weather up here; warm with a cool breeze. Cousin Frances picked me up at the airport, then we came back to her bungalow in Disley for some tea in her garden. After this we walked to a local pub for a lunch, but I didn’t have much of an appetite.

When we returned home, I napped for three hours, then more tea and a visit from cousin William and his wife Margaret, who is from Sligo.  I immediately took a liking to her: lively eyes and mannerisms, very youthful. When the left, I bathed and now I’m settling down for the night. I’m terribly exhausted. Tomorrow Frances and I are spending the day in Nottinghamshire at Lord Byron’s manor, Newstead Abbey. Frances said the ride there is “lovely.” I’m looking forward to this since I was hoping to do more literary tours of England — sorry so short, more tomorrow.

My noontime guilty pleasure … gone

Don’t laugh, but one of the highlights of my workday is settling down on the couch at noon (I work at home) with my bowl of vegetarian soup, flax crackers, and mug of herb tea to watch You Are What You Eat on BBC America. But when I tuned in this Monday, they’d replaced my hour of poo analysis and junk food banquet tables (if you watch the show, you know what I mean) with some show that’s a cross between How Clean is Your House and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, wherein a hospitality expert exposes the filth she finds in hotel rooms. Boo!

Tell me I’m not the only YAWYE addict out here. I know Gillian Mackeith gets a lot of flack about her medical qualifications and how she treats her subjects (quite rudely!), but watching the show makes me never want to eat things like hot dogs, pork rinds, and gummy bears ever again.

At least it’ll still be on weekends at noon.

London, Day 1

I arrived around 7:30 a.m. at Heathrow with very little sleep, thanks to the woman behind me who coughed the entire flight and when she wasn’t coughing, kicked my seat. But I grit my teeth and bore it, for I knew when the plane landed, I’d be in Anglophile Heaven a/k/a London.

We had a funny, loquacious driver who whisked us to our hotel, the InterContinental Park Lane, in no time flat, even though many of the streets in central London were closed off to traffic. That’s because today was the Queen’s Speech at the opening of Parliament; she traditionally travels by carriage, attended by her horse guards, which we got a quick glimpse of before they headed off to Buckingham Palace (and, by the way, I can see from my hotel room window!) on their way to the houses of Parliament.

So after a casual breakfast where we met our other travel companions, we took a short siesta, then headed off for a light lunch and spa treatment. I got a massage, which I sorely needed — my right shoulder is in knots. I figured after this, I’d fall on face with exhaustion, but it actually revived me, and I headed off for a long walk down Piccadilly, where I did some shopping at Fortnum & Mason and Waterstones, before doing some holiday window gazing in the Burlington Arcade, and more shopping on Regent Street. Now I’m back in my hotel room, getting ready for dinner (Theo Randall! Very excited!!) and then an early bedtime.

Ok, some general comments:

* I’m pretty sure I saw Judy Dench walking outside our hotel this afternoon. (ETA: confirmed by hotel manager that she, along with Nigella Lawson, were here today for some charity event.) And one of our travel companions told us Ralph Fiennes had drinks at the bar downstairs last time she was here. I’m a married woman and all, but boy did that bit of gossip/news set my pulse on fire. 😉

* Twice today I was mistaken for a Brit, once by a British Red Cross volunteer, who looked really surprised when I said, “I’d love to sign your petition but I’m an American” and added, “But I’m flattered you took me for a native.” She laughed and said, “You *do* look like a native.” (I left my fanny pack and baseball cap at home. Shucks.) The other was a Brit asking me how to find some shop around Saville Row. He apologized for bothering me when I told him I was a tourist.

*Oh yes, the apologies. It’s so hard getting used to saying “sorry” for “excuse me.”

*People speak so quietly here — and it’s a blessed relief. The stores are quiet, even when they’re packed. I don’t even mind people who walk while talking on their mobiles because you can’t hear them. The only thing is, I’m constantly saying, “Sorry?” to hotel staff and people; I tend to stand farther away as I expect to have my ears blasted off.

Dinner at Theo Randall was lovely. I can’t go into too much detail — need to save it for work — but afterwards he came out to say hello afterwards. I had smoked eel for a starter, then a pasta with shaved white truffles for my main. My favorite dishes were in dessert (of course) — a pannacotta rich with vanilla, and my most favorite, a refreshing clementine sorbet. I could have eaten a couple bowls of it alone.

menu from Theo Randall at the Intercontinental

Tomorrow I’ll take some pics. We’re supposed to get a bit of snow on Thursday, which should be interesting.

Where James Bond would eat

In yesterday’s Times Online, there was a fun article listing five British restaurants where James Bond, were he to exist, might dine with a lady friend. I was pleased to see The Fat Duck included. Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant is on my life list of restaurants; one of these days I hope to get outside London and check it out, maybe next summer, as I doubt I’ll have the time this December. Another restaurant I’m familiar with is Gidleigh Park in Devon, which I know through his Gidleigh Park Cookery Book — I actuallly own two copies. Although Hill is now running another iconic British restaurant, The Walnut Tree in Wales (another restaurant on my life list!), I’d love to stay and dine at Gidleigh Park, but must confess — I don’t see how Bond fits in with its Tudor-style decor. The rooms must be wildly suave and romantic. 😉