25 March 2014

The Year Of The Daffodil

This year
the daffodils have never looked more spectacular

They must love wet feet
for this has been the wettest winter on record
and they've never looked better

While England's national flower is the rose,
the daffodil belongs to Wales

Let's take a look
at the effective ways daffodils are used in England...

Many are seen in lawns like 'bouquets'
in a lovely mix of colors and sizes

If you cut their leaves prematurely, daffodils may not bloom the following year
so lawn mowers mow around the area until it is safe to remove the leaves
(which is six weeks after bloom, according to the Royal Horticultural Society)

Notice this display is mostly white daffodils with a few yellow ones

Planting different varieties keep the look casual even in a formal row

Here they line a driveway
- what a wonderful greeting after a day at work -

I see them growing around features
such as under trees...

 ...and around signs

I love this cheerful mix of colors and heights

And here's a wonderfully unique combination with perennial evergreen, bergenia

This hanging basket holds salmon & pink colored primroses
with a dwarf variety of daffodil

Interestingly, tulips are not as widely seen in England

Even in Amsterdam, 
there was hardly a tulip to be seen last year

I'm not sure why this is - perhaps tulips just are not fashionable at the moment

In the US, I think tulips are just a touch more popular to grow than daffodils

What do you think...

Do you prefer daffodils over tulips?
Visually, what is your favorite way to grow daffodils?

- all photos my own -

19 March 2014

Creating Another Home

This week you can find me over at The Moksi Homes
answering questions about living in a rental home abroad

Here's a little taster - I hope to see you there :)


Maureen: Did you move everything with you from the USA to England? 

Laura: We brought everything with us because we were not sure how long we would be abroad or where we would relocate to next. Our furnishings, artwork, and knickknacks make each house feel familiar and cozy even though location, views, house layout, and neighbors change with each move. Many of our things have a story or memory attached, so I have no regrets about bringing everything with us although it is a bit of a hassle. 

As the kids get older, they have fewer toys. With each relocation, we purge a little more. And in this digital age, we have laptops, e-books, downloaded films, music, and photos. So we are fortunate that we are living in an era when so much of our ‘stuff’ is downsizing anyway. Moving gets easier each time.

Maureen: How did you cope with the domestic side of moving?  Read more of the interview here...

12 March 2014

A Smoky Sun

It's not until you stop seeing the sun for a prolonged amount of time
that you start to realize the indicators of a longed-for sunny day

Sun visor on your car

After such a bleak winter, the sun is out 
and everyone is busy in the yard
burning their garden refuse
(unheard of in America with wildfire danger)

The yummy smell of burning leaves will always remind me of England

Due to all the smoke, we have had the most astonishingly beautiful sunrises and sunsets
with a haze providing an amazing filter

Ahhh, such wonderful bookends to a day

- photos by me -

03 March 2014

The War Of The Worlds & HG Wells

I've noticed that it is not always true when a book states
'Any resemblance to actual events or
locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental'

To name a few, authors Jane Austin and Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)
cleverly wove locations, current events, and local characters into their stories
which would have been identified by their contemporary readers

H.G. Wells was no exception

via Amazon

Imagine my delight when I discovered that in 1897
Martians roamed past 'my' local craft store in Woking, Surrey
in 'The War Of The Worlds' by H.G. Wells

The storyline of the book is
Martians arrive in spacecrafts outside London and
use heat rays and poisonous gas to destroy anything and anyone in their path
as they make their way toward the capital city

The reader can follow the narrator's journey
through Woking to Leatherhead, Weybridge, and Walton
The routes haven't changed much in a hundred years!
(H.G. Wells was a keen cyclist and knew the roads well)

The house Wells rented during his short stay in Woking

Although Wells only resided in Woking for 15 months,
it is where he wrote 'The War Of The Worlds' and wrote most prolifically 
(7000 words a day versus his typical 1000 words)

At the time, Woking was a 'cemetery town'
meaning it was where Londoners were laid to rest
due to a lack of burial space in London
(and still is)

The street H.G. Wells lived on

Victorian England was concerned about a military invasion
by Germany and/or France

'She seemed, poor woman, to imagine that 
the French and the Martians might prove very similar. 
She had been growing increasingly hysterical, fearful, and depressed.'

The British people felt the military force at home was weak and vulnerable
while the British Empire was expanding its tendrils abroad

I believe Wells questioned the actions of the Empire
a few times in his sci-fi novel

'Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity - 
pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion'

tensions were mounting between European imperial powers
as World War I loomed in the near future
(Wells foreshadowed the use of poisonous gas and flying machines in war)

Society also was concerned about refugees
flooding the country from Ireland and Eastern Europe

An 'alien' was anyone born out of
'faith and allegiance of the king of England'

The initial Martian landing was in Horsell Common
'...not far from the sand pits. An enormous hole had been made
by the impact of the projectile, and the sand and gravel had been flung violently
in every direction over the heath'

Popular culture was fascinated with Mars
as modern telescopes were seeing new lines on the planet 
that could have been water canals built by Martians,
they theorized

So the Victorian fears of foreign invasion, 
'aliens' coming to England,
and the fascination of Mars
all culminated into the storyline 
of 'The War Of The Worlds'

H.G. Wells received clarity of his plot
as he walked Horsell Common
which he could see from his house

Alien statue in Woking to commemorate
'The War Of The Worlds'
via Wikipedia

With the help of Wells and lesser known authors,
Surrey became the 'cradle of science fiction'

and Wells became the pioneer of 'alien invasion literature'

My, how classic literature comes alive when you know the backstory
and can walk the real settings of a novel

Just had to share!

- photos by me unless otherwise noted -

Lecture by Prof Peter Beck, walking tour by Iain Wakeford, Wikipedia

19 February 2014

An American Perspective: What It Feels Like To Live In England

If you've been reading my blog for a while,
you know I LOVE living in this country

It is so beautiful and so interesting
- filled with history and culture galore -

But what does it feel like to live here?

via Wikipedia

It has taken a while to get a visceral sense
of the size and population of England

England is roughly the size of Louisiana,
and one would need five Englands to fill the state of Texas

This shows the whole UK, not just England
via Sarmonster

It takes appropriately 45 hours to drive the US from coast to coast

In Europe, you cannot drive 45 hours in a straight line and still be on the same continent

Starting from the closest European point to England (Calais, France)
you could be in Beirut, Lebanon in 45 driving hours

Moscow is only a 26 hour drive from Calais
(only 19 more hours to go for the equivalent of the US drive)

via GoogleMaps

In contrast, I can be almost anywhere in England within 5 or 6 hours
(if traffic cooperates)

Anyway, you get my point
But not so fast...

Fill up Louisiana with all the people in California (the most populated state),
and then fill it with half those people again
You've almost reached the 1,054 person per square mile in England

This leads to an intricate web of roads to maneuver daily
and a large infrastructure in place to serve the population

Not only is the population more dense in England,
but the things to do and see is fantastically dense too

So this feels different than America

Population per square kilometer (2006 data)
via Wikipedia 

Generally speaking, the English can visit their families by car or train
It is easier to see childhood friends when they are just a drive away

In contrast, many Americans fly to visit friends and family
which makes reunions less frequent

And because we live on an island,
every time we fly, we are traveling to a foreign country

Flying to a foreign country entails border control lines upon arrival
followed by passport, visa, and paperwork checks when we return to the UK

It can feel like we live on a cultural island from the rest of Europe as well,
as English is the official language only in the UK and Ireland

Mainstream film, television and music
generally come from within the country and the US,
not from Europe

Although the UK is part of the European Union,
they retain their own currency

So it feels like we live on an island in a number of ways

Languages in Europe
via Wikipedia

Stick with me for a few more observations :) ...

American news has an equal dose of local and national headlines
while English media tends to cover more nationwide stories than local tidbits
As a result, I don't feel I really know what's going on in my local community

And while American epicenters for politics, finance, fashion and entertainment
are spread between Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles,

London is the heartbeat of the country in all of these industries
(making it such an AMAZING city!)

And when I say 'country',
I may be referring to England or the United Kingdom
(for England is a country within a country)

Another oddity is
there are two governing bodies at work here:
the United Kingdom and the European Union

Living in a country with a constitutional monarchy has been interesting
It actually seems quite efficient to share
the dance of international relations between the Queen and Prime Minister

The Queen is the face of good public relations for the UK;
meanwhile, the Prime Minister tackles the hard political issues at home and abroad

I can't avoid mentioning that taxes and the cost of living are very high,
making it harder to save money here than in the US

With higher taxes comes a larger government presence
which provides health care for all and generous welfare for many

The government design still feels very foreign to me,
and I admit I still find it confusing as to how it works legislatively

Interactive map shows US with 35% marginal tax rate and UK with 50%
See more via TurboTax

Of course I knew about England's famous wet weather before we moved here
And to be honest, it hasn't been that bad
(although this year has been breaking records)

There are so many different types of rain to experience
that it doesn't get monotonous
- fine and misty, scattered showers with 'sunny spells', occasional hard downpour -

Thunder and lightening rarely occur

England averages only 33 inches of annual rainfall
while Scotland & Wales receive much more (mostly in blue)
 via MetOffice

The English have an expression
'Just get on with it'
which goes hand in hand with a rainy life

Most events carry on, regardless of rain or shine
In fact, you plan for rain
with a backup plan if it is sunny and warm

But it was the winter darkness I had not prepared for mentally
Sharing the same latitude with Kiev (Ukraine) and Krakow (Poland),
the sun rises late (8:06 am)
and sets so early (3:51 pm) in the winter

But the reward is very sweet with
LLLOOOONNNGGG days of daylight in the summer
(over 16.5 hours)

And thanks to the Gulf Stream,
England is warmer than other countries sitting on the same latitude

With warm-ish summers and mild winters,
temperatures do not fluctuate a lot between seasons
It is almost always sweater weather

The mild wet weather creates the perfect recipe
for the most glorious gardens and greenery you'll find anywhere

A map of public gardens approximately 2 hours from London
via Britain's Finest

While the trees lose their leaves in wintertime,
the grass and hedges stay green all year
which brightens up the dreary days

The mild winters bring early springtime,
and daffodils are starting to bloom now

And that feels very happy :)

11 February 2014

The Orient Express & Agatha Christie

A murder mystery lunch on the Orient Express train was
the perfect activity to kick-off our book club’s latest choice,
‘Murder On The Orient Express’ by Agatha Christie

Each train carriage had its own personality and history
I believe our car was built in 1927
I imagine the Titanic had a similar air of opulence and elegance

Departing from London Victoria Station

The train traveled in a loop for five hours
through the Kent countryside and
past towns such as Ashford and Whitstable
The food kept coming with first class attention to service and detail 

Whizzing past Kent oast houses

Meanwhile, we had a murder mystery to solve

They informed us that an English aristocrat had been poisoned during a recent dinner party
The dinner guests/suspects of the crime walked through the train
giving clues about themselves and others

We were encouraged to ask questions to help unravel the truth

Two suspects

Our table figured out the who, but not the why
I was tickled by the unexpected twist of the motive

The murder mystery lunch uses the same script for three years
It just so happened our script was retiring after our trip

I was surprised to learn Agatha Christie is
the third most widely published author of all time in any language

Outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare,
the Queen of Crime has sold over a billion copies of books in English
and another billion in 100 foreign languages

Celebrating its 60th anniversary in London’s West End this year,
Agatha Christie’s ‘Mousetrap’ is the longest running play in history

Agatha Christie
via wikipedia

Born in 1890,
Agatha had a ‘happy childhood’ in Torquay, Devon
with her American father, English mother, and siblings

Coming from an upper middle class family,
she was well-traveled

On a trip to South Africa,
Agatha became the first British woman to surf standing up

During World War I, the author and playwright served locally
in the Voluntary Aid Detachments
 where she learned a lot about pharmaceuticals (and poisons)
while caring for the wounded

By 1916, she started writing mysteries partly due to a bet with her sister Madge
She attributed her inspiration to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories

via Agatha Christie website

The numerous Belgian refugees present in the English countryside during WWI 
led to the creation of Christie’s famous Belgian detective character, Hercule Poirot

On August 6, 1975, Poirot became the only fictional character to have an obituary
in The New York Times due to the character’s death in ‘Curtain: Poirot's Last Case’
The book actually was written in the 1940s but locked away by the author until 1974

Newlands Corner

It is worth mentioning that in 1926,
Agatha Christie became a bit of a mystery herself
when she disappeared after ditching her car at nature reserve, Newlands Corner in Surrey

After a nationwide manhunt,
she was found 10 days later in Harrogate, Yorkshire without an explanation

Then in 1928, Agatha fulfilled one of her lifelong dreams of traveling on the Orient Express
She traveled to Baghdad to an archaeological site at Ur
where she met her second husband on a subsequent visit

Drawn to archaeology, Agatha visited Petra
via Agatha Christie website

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was written
in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey in 1934
The ornate hotel was built to host Orient Express passengers

The last public appearance for Agatha Christie was
opening night of the film ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ in 1974

She said it was ‘a good adaptation’ but ‘Poirot’s moustaches weren't luxurious enough’

The film was nominated for six Academy Awards with
Ingrid Bergman winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress

Agatha Christie peacefully passed away in her Oxfordshire home in 1976

- all photos my own unless otherwise noted -

(an unsponsored post)

Murder Mystery Lunch: Orient Express (if have a group, ask for discounted rate)
Sources: Official Agatha Christie website, Wikipedia

28 January 2014

Meet Me at The Moksi Homes

This week I am writing as a guest blogger
for my friend, Maureen

Her fantastic new blog, The Moksi Homes,
 focuses on experiences and homes of expat women

Maureen and I have been virtual friends since my blogging beginning

She's a Dutch mom living in Dubai,
and the third person I know who was born in Suriname :)
She is such a delight and full of positive energy

When Maureen asked me to write about 
what it was like to make an international move, I jumped on it

I don't think I've written about it on my blog

It's a positive post (you know me), 
but I'll tell you, that move was one of my most overwhelming moments

I hope to see you over at The Moksi Homes

20 January 2014

Down Came The Rain...

We have had rain by the bucket-loads
for the past month

For the second time this season,
the river jumped the banks and flooded the street

This has never happened in my four years of living here

You know it's a big deal
when the locals are taking photos too

Although it is a mild inconvenience,
I find it sort of interesting to have a weather related 'incident'

For the most part, houses and buildings have been fine
It's mostly fields that have taken the brunt

My friend wondered if the flooding coincided with the full moon
And sure enough, the flooding occurred just two days after the full moon
with all its tidal gravity

Funny to see swans and sea birds swimming in pastures

Today... blue skies and not a drop of rain :)

Have a great week