Wednesday Wanderings: Oxford

Friday in London … well, it really began Thursday night. After we got back to the hotel from seeing Phantom, I opened up Facebook. I knew my agent and her friend/co-worker were in England on a Jane Austen tour and Janet and I knew we’d be overlapping in London by a few days. But it’s a big city and we didn’t compare notes about where we’d be or make any plans to meet up. But every night on her tour, Janet posted a picture of her view out of her room. Thursday night … her view was my view! So I knew she was in our hotel and in a room nearly adjacent to ours.

But, still, it’s a big hotel with lots of guests leaving and coming at all hours. We would be up early the next morning and off to catch a train from Paddington Station to Oxford.

We went to breakfast Friday morning at seven o’clock, when the buffet opened. We were shown to our seats and I went to fill a plate while Stud Muffin waited at our table. As I made my way back to him, who did I see seated two tables over?

Yes! My wonderful agent and her friend! We exclaimed over the crazy coincidence, hugged, took a picture, and compared notes on what we had seen/hoped to see/planned to see. When Wendy heard we were headed to Oxford, she said to be sure and see the Ashmolean. I filed that tidbit for future reference, but didn’t really know what it was.

After breakfast and saying goodbye, we walked the short distance to Paddington Station. It was through a different neighborhood than we had walked before, and was about half a mile. We found it with no problem, but as we approached the station, we heard sirens in the distance, then law enforcement officers of some sort passed us, walking briskly, all business. We weren’t sure (still aren’t) if they were Tube/Underground security, London policemen, or Brute Squad officers.

We printed our tickets from the kiosk, found our train, and took our seats. We had about an hour ride to Oxford, where we had a bit of time to kill before our Thames River cruise. On the train, I checked email and found a message from the US Consulate in London, advising us that there had been a “security incidence” in London and we should let our family and friends at home know that we were safe. I did that, not knowing what kind of incident had occurred or where.

Dave found the acre of bicycle parking interesting. This was right outside of the Oxford train station.

In Oxford, we wandered the town and found our way to the restaurant where our cruise began. We had some tea and coffee while we waited and I added more data to our embattled cell phone plan.

The day was cloudy and chilly, but the boat had blankets and plastic that could be pulled down to protect us from the wind. It was a lovely time. Our boat had five couples and the captain, Alex, a young local woman. We saw some of the loveliest countryside, I believe, in England. Cows grazed along the river banks. There were community gardens lining the river just outside of town. We knew from watching Escape to the Country that what we call a yard, the British call a garden. We asked Alex if what we were seeing was indeed a community garden, but she replied, “No, they’re just vegetable plots.” It took a bit of back and forth before we remembered the language disconnect about yard/garden.

A pair of swans swam up to the boat, peering intently at us. I’m sure they were looking for a tidbit of something yummy to fly their way, but I swear they looked like they were expecting someone. They’d invited a guest and were quite certain she was arriving on that boat.

We had to pass through a lock, both coming and going. I’d never seen one work from the inside before and it was fascinating how the gate closed, the water gurgled away or whooshed in, the boat lowered in the compartment or was raised, then the opposite gate opened and we chugged along again.

We stopped for a bathroom break at The Perch pub on the riverside. It was delightful, old with low ceilings, but updated inside with a warm fire. We had about half an hour there to thaw out, get something warm to drink and eat, and then we headed back to Oxford.

My must-see in Oxford was the Eagle and Child Pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and their Inklings writer’s group met. It’s old, small, wood-paneled, and we absolutely took a step back in time. The food was fabulous. I had macaroni & cheese, Stud Muffin had a mushroom (beef) pie. Both were incredible. We shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. We bought some postcards of the pub with drawings of the building and it’s famous patrons.

We still had a couple of hours before our train back to London and we passed by the Ashmolean, so we went in.

Incredible! It’s free, but we tossed a few pounds in the box and prepared to wander. We separated. Stud Muffin went to the top, I stayed on the bottom and we planned to meet in the middle.

Unfortunately, after just fifteen minutes, a guide came and told me the museum was closing. We hadn’t even looked at the time or the open hours, so sadly we only got a brief taste of all the Ashmolean offers. If I get to return to Oxford, the Ashmolean is top of my do-over list.

There wasn’t much left to see in walking distance, so we headed back to the train station. Tip: when booking a train to London from one of the outlying towns on a Friday evening, be sure and reserve your seats. We had, just by luck or Divine Providence, so we didn’t worry about having a seat, but the station and the train were both very full of people making their way to the city. While waiting on the platform, we chatted with a man and learned the extent of the “security incident” in London that morning. A homemade bomb on the Tube had injured several people, including the would-be bomber. The man didn’t know many more details.

We made our way back to London safely and walked the now familiar path back to the hotel.

Next up: Driving on the left side in England: Different from driving on the left in Ireland.



RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER by Sally Andrew is a change of pace from J.D. Robb and Harlan Coban. Reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books with a smidgen of Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz mysteries, RECIPES FOR LOVE AND MURDER is an excellent debut book.

RFLAMTold from the first person point of view of Maria van Harten, a cooking columnist in Ladismith, South Africa, the story is heavy with descriptions of meals and food, but the mystery is compelling too.

Maria is called Tannie (Auntie) Maria by her friends. She’s a fifty-something widow whose husband abused her. She’s content now to be alone with her chickens, her column in the local paper, her cooking, and her friends.

The paper’s editorial staff decides to ditch the recipe column and replace it with an advice column, so Tannie Maria finds herself having to dispense wisdom to the lovelorn. She sees a need for a recipe in each answer, but the advice is sound and the recipes yummy.

One letter, from an abused wife, strikes Tannie Maria hard. When a woman is found dead soon after, Tannie Maria is certain her husband killed her. She soon learns the case is much more complicated.

Tannie Maria and the paper’s investigative journalist, Jessie, get drawn into the mystery, attracting the killer’s attention.

I enjoyed this one very much. The story moves a bit slower than I’m used to in American mysteries, but the writing is lovely and the story is compelling. The mystery is a fair-play, with clues and red herrings; challenging but not impossible or implausible.

I’m a huge fan of Alexander McCall Smith and Precious Ramotswe, so I was somewhat used to the slower pace of the South African storytelling. The chapters are short, which made it easy to keep turning pages and thinking, “Just one more.”

Probably technically, a cozy, since the book includes recipes and humor, but there is some blood and death, making it a PG instead of a G rating.

Tannie Maria is a worthy addition to the halls of amateur sleuths/cooks, and I look forward to reading her next adventure. And to follow her developing romance with a certain police detective.



Monday Musings: Boys, Quilts, and Wildlife

It’s been a while since we talked quilting, mostly because I haven’t had anything new to share or talk about.

But I bought a kit when my favorite local shop closed. It’s a small quilt, though bigger than a crib blanket. I made it for my two-year-old grandson. I’m mostly happy with it. I think he’ll love it.

IMG_0004I didn’t stretch the backing tight enough when I sandwiched the layers together and I ended up with too many little tucks and pleats on the back.

I laid it out on the living room floor, on a quilt board that was just a mite too small.

Lesson learned. Next time I’ll find a place with enough table space to lay it out, tape it down tautly, and then do the sandwich.

Life is a learning experience, isn’t it?

Just like quilting, which I learn by trial and error.

Life can’t be practiced for. It’s more like do, error, re-do. Sometimes, of course, we nail it. But mostly it’s me bumbling along, doing the best I can, failing horribly, sighing, getting up, and trying again.

I’ll quilt again. And I’ll pay special attention to the backing. And something else, something I didn’t expect will go wrong. Or at least not be perfect.

But I’ll persist and maybe one of these days, a quilt (and a life) might just turn out okay.


Thanks for reading.

Do you have a favorite quilt or afghan or blankie? Even adults sometimes need a security blanket.

Thursdays in London With the Padgetts

On our first morning in London, it was a beautiful September day, a bit cool and clear and perfect walking weather.

We met up with Will, our guide from Strawberry Tours, at a Tube station. There were about twelve or so of us. There were two tours that morning, one in Spanish and Will’s in English.

By John Winfield, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Our first site was part of the crumbling Wall of London which stands near the tour’s beginning point. We learned about the original city, Londinium, its fall to William the Conqueror, and about the City of London, which is the historic and business square mile inside what we usually think of as London.


The City of London has been governed by the Lord Mayor of the City of London since William the Conqueror gave governance of the city back to its inhabitants in 1066. And we learned that when the Queen wishes to enter

Where the Queen must stop and request permission to enter the City.

the City, she must request permission from the Lord Mayor, bow to him, and touch his sword, then she may enter the city behind him. The Lord Mayor of the City and his sword are the only things she bows too. Fascinating stuff!

We then moved to the Tower of London. We didn’t enter the Tower, but Will shared its history and stories about some of it’s occupants. We also visited the Royal Courts of Justice, the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral (I wish we could have returned here, it looked fabulous!), Temple Church, and several others. We learned about the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Knights Templar, the financial and business district, Leadenhall Market (which could have been the inspiration for Diagon Alley), and Fleet Street.

We chatted and walked with a young man from Irvine, California named Tran. He’s been traveling the world for the last nineteen months. Well, it was nineteen months at that time, in September, so it would be closer to twenty-five months now. He does go home 2017-09-14_15-15-21_517

for holidays and his mom’s birthday. We mentioned that we were on the trip celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. Tran then asked us lots of questions about love and relationships and how to make them work. It turned out to be a fascinating conversation. We ended at the Edgar Wallace pub for bangers and mash or fish and chips. We sat with Tran and a woman from Canada. She left as soon as we were done eating, as she had a reservation on the Harry Potter walking tour at three o’clock. We talked for a long time with Tran and several of his new friends from the hostel they stayed at. A young man from Pennsylvania, one from Australia, and a woman from Chile.

We headed back to the hotel for a rest since we’d done a good bit of walking. Then we headed out again. This time we headed to Her Majesty’s Theatre for our evening show: The Phantom of the Opera. We’d never seen it live, so that was a definite highlight! The theatre was a bit more comfortable than the one the evening before. The show was spectacular. The chandelier is as awe-inspiring as I’d heard. The voices and music were incredible. Amazing show!

After we got back to our Hyde Street tube station, we stopped at a neighborhood pub for a nightcap and to toast another day.

On the docket next: An unexpected meeting at our hotel and Oxford!

Wednesday Wanderings: Off to London!

Our flight from Dublin to London was delayed a couple of hours due to high winds. So we missed our arranged ride from Heathrow to our hotel. After a phone call (just what our over-worked AT&T data plan did not need), and a half hour wait, our driver arrived. He was from Moldova and spoke excellent English. He’d obviously had something heavy on garlic for dinner the night before, but after a few minutes my nose adjusted. He muscled our bags into his car and we were off. The drive into London was fascinating, although not unlike heading into the downtown area of any of our urban cities. Dave and I both commented on the large number of car dealers lining the freeway and their dizzying displays of cars. The buildings were tall, full of windows and spiral displays with gleaming cars.

After checking in, we found the nearest fish & chips place on our map and headed on foot to Hobson’s. It wasn’t a long walk and on the way we passed a phone booth, a school getting out for the day, and assorted shops.

On the way back, around the corner from our hotel, was a plaque on a building proclaiming it the site where American writer Bret Harte died.


I had to take a picture there because I attended seventh grade at Bret Harte Junior High (now Middle) School in Hayward, California. Bret Harte wrote short stories and poetry about the American West.

My current women’s fiction series of novels take place in a small mountain community I’ve named Harts Leap. So it seemed appropriate.


After a short rest back at the hotel, we looked at options for the next day. We didn’t have anything booked and Dave left it up to me what to do. I booked us a walking tour with Strawberry Tours of Central London for the next morning.

Then, we decided to brave the tube and find our 2017-09-13_20-47-52_450way to the St. Martin’s Theatre where we had tickets to that night’s performance of The Mousetrap.

The Mousetrap is by Agatha Christie and has been playing for 53 years, since it opened in 1974. It’s the longest running play in history. The show was great, the theatre small and gorgeous, the seats extremely uncomfortable. But the show and the experience were worth the discomfort.

We lucked out on our tube rides and accidentally got on the right trains, both to the theatre and back to the hotel after. It wasn’t until the next day when we got on a “wrong” train, that we learned how to tell the difference. But we’re old hands now. We felt very safe and the tube was quick and efficient. The Lancaster Gate station was a short distance from the hotel and we walked it at all times of the day and night without a problem.

I’d given up on my hair in Ireland. But now that I was in calmer weather and had a blow dryer near by, I upped my hair game after this first day.

Next week, the great Strawberry Tour with the amazing guide, Will.

Wednesday Wanderings: Double OOPS

I blinked and last week was gone! And I missed posting. Then I realized that I said the next post would be about our last full day in Ireland. But we actually had two full days left. They just seemed to be crammed into one day.

We left our niece and her family at about 11:30 on a Monday morning. We headed south. Our destination: the Cliffs of Moher. Also known as … the Cliffs … of InSANity!!!

It was about a two and a half to three hour drive from Liscarney, County Mayo, to the Cliffs. We took a few wrong turns (Google Maps isn’t always 100% reliable, but we did make it.) Although we had a couple of close calls with a curb in a village and a rock wall in the country.

We had a gas station/convenience store lunch at their little counter. Dave had two chicken legs and a snack size can of Pringles. I had a turnover kind of thing with chicken and mushrooms. And some Pringles. The inside of the turnover was like a chicken pot pie. It was quite tasty!

It was soooo windy. The pictures don’t really capture it. The wind beat us back. For every two steps forward, we took one backwards. Our eyes were weeping. We had to hang on to glasses and hats and each other.

But we made it to the upper viewing area called Hag’s Head. The views are amazing. To see those sheer and jagged sawteeth sticking out into the ocean, is to marvel at how God and nature have worked together to create something so incredibly stark yet beautiful.

When we couldn’t stand the wind any longer, we made our way into the gift shop and museum. There was a movie to see, about the birds, fish, and other wildlife that call the cliffs home.

From the Cliffs, we headed back to Dublin, but stopped for the night in a town called Nenagh (Neena) in County Tipperary. It was another hour and a half to Nenagh from the Cliffs. By the time we pulled into our Bed & Breakfast, I was exhausted. The driving caught up with me.

We had reservations in a charming B&B called the Willowbrook. Our hostess, Tricia, showed us to our room and suggested a nearby restaurant for dinner, The Thatched Cottage. We took a few moments to clean up and headed out to eat.

The restaurant was delightful. Homey and warm and welcoming. We took a table by the fire, but quickly moved away since it was putting out more heat than we needed. Dave had roast lamb, mashed potatoes and veggies. I had an open face shrimp sandwich on brown bread and chips (fries). Yummy!

We went back to our room and turned on the news. There had been a bad accident involving two American couples. They were hit by a lorry (truck). The man in one couple and the woman of the other couple were both killed. Given the two close encounters I’d had driving that day, and the stress of navigating those oh-so-narrow roads, that really upset me. I didn’t know them. Never met them. But being in Ireland on vacation ourselves, I knew the excitement and anticipation they must have felt. And to have it end so tragically … It was a hard night.

But we woke up bright and early and I was ready to head into Dublin. At breakfast, we chatted with a couple from Santa Clarita. Tricia served us a wonderful full Irish breakfast.

After loading up the car, we chatted some more with Tricia and her husband Tom. Our plan had been to drive to our hotel, then taxi or bus to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and tasting. Then we’d return the rental car the next morning before our flight. They soon convinced us that was a very bad plan. They said driving in Dublin is hard. I was already a bit fragile after the news the night before, so we decided to drive directly to the airport and turn in the car that afternoon.

We ended up driving into Dublin, to our hotel, leaving our luggage, then to the airport, then to the gas station, then back to the airport. Turned in the rental car, then we took a MyTaxi (similar to Uber) to Guinness. I was so relieved to be done driving for a few days.

The Guinness Storehouse was a great tour, even for the non-beer drinker. There’s a ton of information and displays and graphics. Mr. Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease with the city of Dublin. That was not a typo. Nine thousand years. He started the brewery in 1759 and it’s still going strong. They say the Dublin water is what makes it special.

We had our free pint at the Gravity Bar at the top of the building. There are 360 degree views of the city. Beautiful. But we were there late in the day and it was very crowded. So we summoned another MyTaxi and headed back to our hotel and dinner.

Our driver was named Mervyn McCracken. He was a retired maths teacher who now drives for MyTaxi and writes screenplays. And directs them. When his first movie comes out, we’ll be in line for tickets. He was quite entertaining and a great driver through Dublin.

We ate dinner in the hotel. Dave had a seafood platter and I had a burger. It was more of a meatloaf concoction on a bun than a true burger. But both were good.

We woke up quite early the next morning and had our continental breakfast, supplied by the hotel at 5:30 AM. We’d chosen what we wanted the night before and they had it ready for us in the lobby. The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but the lobby staff were quite attentive, making sure we had everything we ordered. We’d both ordered just some ham and cheese. One of mentioned, “Oh, we should have gotten some toast,too,” shrugged and ate our ham and cheese. Three minutes later, toast appeared at our table.

Because we had planned to be returning the rental car, we hadn’t booked transportation to the airport with our travel agent. But MyTaxi did the job and delivered us to the airport for our flight to London.

Next week: London, the Mousetrap, and more fish and chips.


Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland, Part 4

Saturday, September 9 – Sunday, September 10

We pretty much laid low at our niece’s home for the weekend. The weather was pretty blustery and the grand-nieces had swimming lessons and gymnastics and various 2017-10-06_22-44-17_840activities, so David followed them around while I relaxed, read, and rested at the house.

It was a sweet little respite after a busy few days and still lying awake from 2-4 am every night. David spent some time walking the land and seeing how the family farm has evolved over the last century, and how our nephew is still working the land.

Their home is lovely and I enjoyed the amazing views, as well as the cozy fire, and my book. Of course, I brought2017-09-09_14-15-47_169 my Kindle so I wouldn’t be toting books all over Ireland and the UK. I did bring paperback travel guides, but I left them behind in hotel rooms in each country. I also left two pairs of pants, some toiletries, and whatever else I felt didn’t need to come home with me. I was lightening my suitcases so I could fit in the souvenirs and gifts we would buy. And it worked out. We had no problems with overweight luggage. Mostly. That’s a story for the end.

Our way home from our first outing, to the Museum of Country Life, we crossed paths with Patrick, our nephew-in-law, and followed him to a pharmacy and the grocery store. We got to meet his brother’s fiancee, who works at the pharmacy. As we were chatting another man walked up to Patrick and they greeted each other. Patrick introduced us to Matt Molloy, a flautist with The Chieftains. Mr. Molloy has a local pub in Westport. On one of the outings when I stayed home, David and Patrick stopped at the pub. That’s pictured above.

We finished the weekend with dinner at a Westport hotel, the same place Cory and I went for our after concert drink Friday night. Patrick’s brother and his fiancee joined us. I’m still incredulous that I didn’t get a picture of all of us that night, and I didn’t get a picture of Colin and Tara. They were delightful and we had such a great time that evening getting to know them. We love them and love that they love our Cory. It was a special time.

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend and it was a great way to wind down our time in Ireland.

Next week: Our last full day and the Cliffs of Moher!