Be like a train; go in the rain,

go in the sun, go in the storm,

go in the dark tunnels!

Be like a train;

concentrate on your road

and go with no hesitation!
~Mehmet Murat ildan

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.

It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

***Unfold your own myth.***

I hope you will go out and let stories,

that is life, happen to you, and that

you will work with these stories . . .

water them with your blood &

tears & your laughter till they bloom,

till you yourself burst into bloom.

~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Saturday, 28 May 2016

A Very Special Picnic

Nothing's better than a picnic.
~Zooey Deschanel

If you live in Britain, or if you'll be in England this autumn, don't miss a wonderful opportunity to meet artist and author Susan Branchat the sublime gardens of Stourhead NT in Wiltshire. It's a bring-your-own-basket picnic & book signing, with brownies from Sugar Moon Brownies. We'll be raising a Pimms cup, helping Susan & Joe celebrate Susan's trilogy, especially the just-published 'Martha's Vineyard--Isle of Dreams', now on the New York Times Bestseller list. Do come--it's going to be brilliant! September 18th, Stourhead Gardens NT, WiltshireFurther details will be on Susan's website.

I have my first real English picnic basket for our summer and
perfect for the Stourhead picnic. It came with salt & pepper
shakers, a corkscrew, cloth napkins & wine glasses, and a
beautiful lined, plaid picnic blanket. I added a few vintage blue
& white plates of my own, so now it's just right for Stuart & I

and our wonderful summer ahead. Is there any more wonderful
feeling than having the whole glorious summer in front of you?

Among the delights of Summer
were picnics to the woods. 
~Georg Brandes 

Stourhead Gardens NT, Wiltshire

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

That 70's Kitchen--Revisited With a Kitchen Tour

The kitchen really is the castle itself.  This is
where we spend our happiest moments
and where we find the joy of being a family.
~Mario Batali

In every home I've kept, the kitchen has always been the heartbeat of our home, the room I'm most connected to and happily spend the most time in. Even when Stuart and I visit stately homes, it's the kitchen that I make a beeline to and usually love the most. I'll take a worn trestle table and copper pots over an opulent drawing room any day. This is the most recent kitchen I fell in love with, Avebury Manor in the village of Avebury, Wiltshire. It had it all--copper pots, blue and white, worn pine tables and work counters. I wanted to move in straight-away.

The kitchen at Avebury Manor in Wiltshire.

Our Oxford kitchen is the absolute heart of our home--almost literally, since it provides the life's blood for running a bed and breakfast. It's where I cook breakfast for our guests nearly every day of the week; it serves as our office; it's where I write from, where I sit and FaceTime with our grandchildren, where I arrange flowers, where I stand and watch the Lewis Tree sway in the wind, watching the seasons come and go. I spend hours in it every day, so it's probably the room in the house that reflects my heart the most.

There is nothing like staying
at home for real comfort. 
~Jane Austen

This is how it looks gleaming, shiny and clean, when breakfast
is cleared away and the big clean-up is finished. It's not always
this shiny though--trust me.
The counters are actually more often a crazy quilt
of flowers, teacups, toast crumbs, serving bowls, post,
the B&B diary, books, phones, and a computer.
In other words, real life.
A Kitchen Tour.....

The tea and toast corner is Stuart's
domain during breakfast (I cook, he
makes the toast and tea and serves).
"Bread and water can so
easily be tea and toast."
The kitchen--the true heart of any home.

The Lewis Tree right outside
the kitchen window and my
constant companion.

This is outside the kitchen window
looking back in (two sets of curtains
ago), where I nursery the window
boxes for the front of our house.
Jack, when he was 'wee' Jack,
looking out the kitchen window.
I like to change kitchen curtains like some people change clothes. It's such a simple and easy way to freshen up your kitchen and change things according to the season. Right now the curtains on the windows are a light blue and white seersucker. The blue and white always looks fresh and they let in light, which is important since some of our sunlight gets blocked by the 'dreaming spires' surrounding us (that's a good problem to have).

There's also a curtain at our back door and one surrounding the kitchen island, but in a light sage green, a Sophie Allport design called 'Gardening'. I love the little wheelbarrow and polka dot watering can, the cabbages and rabbits. It blends perfectly with blue. In fact, my favourite colour combination is blue and green, like a leafy tree against a blue sky or delphiniums surrounded by green grass. The colours of an English summer day.

One touch of nature makes
the whole world kin. 
~William Shakespeare

Even the back door is dressed up with a curtain.
In the winter especially, it helps keep out the
draught so the kitchen stays snug and warm.

Our back door with it's ever-present
muddy wellies flanking it. The print
to the right of the door is one of my
favourites and it's followed me through
my many lifetimes and kitchens. It's by
New England artist,
Mary Azarian, ' Ff is for Farm '
The back door curtain is trimmed
in the blue and white window curtain
fabric. The little mirror is for a quick
check before I answer the door bell,
making sure my hair isn't too wild
and I look presentable to guests.

Kitchens should be designed around
what's truly important--fun, food, and life.
~Daniel Boulud

Our kitchen island is for
 plating up breakfast--and
for chasing Jack around.
The kitchen is also where we
fold laundry and where we have
 to watch out for a laundry thief
who operates in this area.
Our new dresser has been the best bonus to our kitchen this year. Looking back, we don't know how we survived without it. It's given us six more feet of counter space, more storage, and is the heart of the kitchen.

  There are always fresh flowers
tucked into jugs and pitchers--
some from our garden.

I'd rather have roses on my table
than diamonds on my neck.

~Emma Goldman

Primroses and forget me nots
from our April garden.
These two live in the kitchen
dresser and are Stuart and I, but in
Beatrix Potter form. Stuart with his
nose in a newspaper and me with a
cup of tea, lost in my daydreams.
This is another little corner with one of my favourite lamps from Laura Ashley and a keepsake from our last trip to Dorset. We're never without a Susan Branch calendar and she always looks so cute in our kitchen. The little Pure bluetooth radio plays in the background--I can't live without music, especially as I work.

You can probably tell too, that I have a
thing about lamps. I'm not a big fan of
harsh, overhead lights and prefer soft lamps,
lighting up the corners of the kitchen.
Stuart jokes that he has to start an hour
early before we go to bed, turning off all the
little lamps in the kitchen and breakfast room.

I've always wanted a kitchen large enough for a big, comfy chair and now that I have one, this winter I found just the chair. It's perfect for having a little sit-down and a cup of tea during the day, but the only trouble is now Jack thinks it's his. Good thing he's small enough to be a lap dog, because if I'm sitting in it you can be sure Jack is too.

A house that does not have one worn,
comfy chair in it is soulless. 
~May Sarton

The back door leads out to our laundry room and a terrace, a private sanctuary at the back of our house just for us. Last summer Jack liked to move his little bed in front of the door so he could run back inside and jump directly into his bed, like a trampoline. If you look carefully you can see a black window box placed upside down in front of the step--he was too little to jump up that high! Now he runs out the door and up both steps in a single bound.

Our back terrace is an extension of our kitchen for much of the year, the door open to let in the breeze and the birdsong--and for a puppy to bound in and out of. I grow flowers and herbs out there and often it's where I sit and catch my breath after breakfast is finished, with just the birds and Jack as my companions. A favourite part of my day is going out early in the morning to pick herbs for breakfast--smelling the morning air, hearing the songbirds and the wood pigeons calling to one another, listening to the college bells around us tolling the hour. Morning magic.

A garden bench for after-breakfast
coffee. Herbs for cooking
grow in the bicycle basket

and my Kitchen Garden planter.

The Lewis Tree and our apple tree are a backdrop
for the spring and summer flowers on one side......

.......and on the other side, the
dreaming spires of New College.

Our terrace looks out onto the
higgledy-piggledy rooftops of Oxford.

Jack wasn't too happy about the snow over
the weekend, but luckily a few
hours later the sun made a valiant return.

It isn't always easy living where I work and working where I live, but loving kitchens and being a homebody helps, and most days it's pure pleasure. When we first moved in eight years ago though, this kitchen was no one's dream--it was more like a 70's nightmare. I endured it for nearly three years until we could finally rip it all out and start over--which was it's own challenge. Doing anything in a 500 year old, Grade II listed home is a potential minefield.

There were small challenges too, like learning a new kitchen vocabulary when I talked to our builder or suppliers. My American 'faucet' had to turn into a British 'tap', I was used to an oven or a stove and here they're cookers or ranges, and a backsplash is a splashback. But we got through it in the end and the result has added so much to our life and to the B&B. Here's that story.......

The original post from 2011....
'That 70's Kitchen'......

Trying to run a bed and breakfast without a decent kitchen is a little like trying to ride a bicycle with flat tires--it leads to a lot of frustration, and maybe a wee bit of swearing. When we moved into our B&B the kitchen we inherited was circa 1970, and not a stitch had been done to it in 40 years. It was shades of mud brown and so dark there were times I felt I should be wearing a miner's lamp as I grilled bacon and fried eggs.

The kitchen lay-out made the actual space for cooking miniscule and the refrigerator was placed on the other side of the work surfaces, so it meant schlepping around the entire countertop just to get to the fridge. The refrigerator was also placed so it blocked the only windows in the kitchen, making the 1970's mud brown color palette even darker and drearier, not to mention the sheer inconvenience of it.

There were many mornings that, if I wasn't reduced to tears, I turned into something alarmingly close to Gordon Ramsay. I somehow endured these working conditions (and Stuart bravely endured me) for two and a half years, until the summer of 2011 when our kitchen was finally transformed.

I spent months and months planning and dreaming and Googling, until I came up with a plan that fit the constraints of the space and our budget, but would give me the luxurious kitchen space I longed for. Luckily we found a builder as honest as he is talented and we managed to get through a month of remodeling without too much drama. Which is not to say it wasn't difficult. Just a few days into the remodel we had one of those "what were we thinking" moments.

We had merrily made plans to remodel the kitchen AND the bathrooms all at
once. Since the B&B would be closed for a month, we naively thought it just made sense.  By early August we realized how wrong we were--as the entire house was in a dusty upheaval and as many as 15 workmen in and out of the house all day long.  Between the dust and the mess and the agonizing decision of how to get modern, boat-like bathtubs up staircases designed and built in 1530, we weren't sure we would make it out with our sanity intact.  But we did.......

.......and this is the finished product.  I wish I still had pictures of the old kitchen to show the before and after, but I think I didn't ever want to be reminded of it again, so all digital traces of it were eliminated. The nightmare of the 70's dream kitchen is just a vague memory now as I work in my airy, open, bright, and non-brown kitchen. More importantly, there's no more crying into the scrambled eggs in the morning and no more morphing into Gordon Ramsay--and for that Stuart is very grateful.

The tiles are hand-painted by a very talented woman in Wales, Maggie Jones. Each tile is individually painted and unique, and I was able to choose which herbs I wanted plus add butterflies and bees.  The topiary tiles are my favorite. You can find Maggie at:

I found the lavender tiles below after an exhaustive 2 day Google search and they are worth all the time I spent looking for them.

And finally, the new floor--which I've been putting off cleaning while I write this (sitting in the chair in the photo)--so I really must sign off and get to cleaning this wonderful new floor.  My new oven may be self-cleaning, but unfortunately, the floor is not.

If you'd like to read more about our kitchen, and how we turned it into a functional B&B kitchen, find us on Wayfair UK here.

Kitchen Update 2015:  Four years on and the kitchen has held up beautifully. There have been a few changes like new curtains and the light yellow walls keep it light and airy. It's an easy room to spend time in--good thing since we spend a lot of time in our kitchen. It's our office, financial centre, social media hub, pantry, and all-purpose work room. Like kitchens should be--it's the heart of our home.


We're having a special kitchen give-away.
Just leave a comment below (or on
Facebook), and we'll add your name
to win one of these cute, little shopping
bags in it's own little bag--so easy to
tuck into a purse. Jack will pick a winner
on the 22nd of April--good luck!

Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest. 
~Henry Van Dyke