Monday, November 24, 2014

In High Spirits - Now Available!

In High Spirits

O'Hare House Mysteries Book IV

In the thrilling conclusion of the O'Hare House Mystery series, Wesley has been wrongly imprisoned and is facing the hangman's noose.

Teaming up with Red and Marguerite to prove his innocence, Clara discovers a sinister society bent on unlocking the secrets to eternal life, even if it means others must die.  The truth of what really happened to Peter Nero's missing money is a tale some will take to their grave.

Where to buy:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

London - 8/17/14 - Part I

Morning dawned and oh what a glorious morning in a room without the sound of students horsing around in the courtyard and dump trucks rattling down the street!  Oh peace!  Oh quiet! Oh windows that closed and air conditioning in the summer!  Rapture!

I decided it was high time to start this holiday right and indulged in something I've never done before.  Breakfast in bed.

And not just any breakfast in bed.  Oh no!  I went for the whole shabang.  The full monty.  The everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink.  The FULL English breakfast.

Mushrooms! Potatoes! Tomatoes! Ham! Beans! Sausage! Scones! Croissant! Melon!  Some cheese something!  Fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee!  Oh!  It was divine...  It made up for four weeks of grab-and-go sandwiches at Sainsbury Local and free cafeteria food.

I was on the west-ish side of town and, consulting my handy-dandy Tube map, realized the closest line went straight to Kew Gardens.

AND, since I had become a Historical Palaces member (because I'm a nerd), I had a coupon!  Now I had tried on various trips before to get out to Kew Gardens, with something always going disastrously wrong (closed stations, accidents on the tracks which sent all of London into lock down, etc.).  This time, I was DETERMINED.

Despite it being mid-August, it was flippin' freezing (which was actually preferable to flippin' hot, which marked all of the summer weather prior).  But, as Rick Steves once said, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing."

So, I bundled up and toodled off.  And by "bundled up", I mean I put on a long sleeve shirt.  Because I am an idiot, as I was soon to learn.  I hopped of the train at the very last station.  Look at this adorable little station!  Isn't it so cute you want to pinch its little cheeks?!

It was cold.  Coldy coldy cold.  But I soldiered on!  Put my head down and my shoulder in the wind!  I arrived at Kew Gardens right at opening and lordie it was a perty place!

In light of how frickin' cold it was, I headed off into that lovely glass building for some time in the tropic air with some tropical plants.

Oh so warm and toasty!

Beneath the Palm House was an aquarium, which was cool.  But what was REALLY cool, was that they let you climb up these steps and walk around the catwalk of the conservatory!  They don't let you do stuff like this in America...

 There was just this beautiful decay happening all around it...

This was the conservatory's tallest palm tree.  Think of that outdoor picture (for scale - the bottom square is the front door).

Now stick this tree inside of that tallest point.  It was TALL.

Eventually I made my way back down from the jungle canopy to brave the great outdoors once again.

Out front were these random statues.  It was only when I looked closer that I realized they were from the coats-of-arms of all the families we had been studying in Shakespeare's history plays.
Edward III




I go for cheap thrills.  It's just when you've spent four weeks studying these people and these families, it's like finding your friend's picture on display at Disneyland.

The garden itself is GINORMOUS, so I decided to take a page from history and catch the tram.

Our guide was this posh old gent who used to be a pilot and kept us all in stitches the entire way.  He asked me where I was from and said, "Oh!  I once dated a woman who went to finishing school there, but she was no lady."  *nuck nuck*

So back when the gardens belonged to aristocrazy, they designed the gardens with these vistas.  They would mow down all the trees and vegetation so that you could get an unobstructed view from various buildings on the grounds.  As someone who could have a view of the ocean from her office if it wasn't for a blasted forest filled with "nature" in the way, I support this vision.

I hopped off the tram over by the Asian gardens and wandered through the zen garden.

I then caught a glimpse of one of those vistas and headed over to the pagoda.

 (Vista featured below.  Imagine this view from your bedroom window.)

 Now, if I were made of sterner stuff, I could have hung out and climbed to the top.  My enthusiasm to do so waned, however, when I reached the base and looked up...

So instead, I wandered around the outside of it.  There were plant beds (the beds were shaped like a human body which you could look down upon from the top of the pagoda) filled with medicinal plants.

I hopped back onto the next tram and continued the tour.  Our tram was greeted by a friendly peacock.

And a family enjoying a picnic at one of the tables.  I wanted the Mad Hatter to arrive and start shouting, "Fresh cup!  Fresh cup!  Everyone up and to a new place!"

There is an aristocratic family which still lives to Kew Gardens adjacent and gets to enjoy the views.

I think this may be my favorite picture from the entire trip.  Because isn't this what is going on inside of us all? If I had a gallery show, I would label it, "How the other half lives."

Finally, the tram pulled up in front of Kew Palace and once more I disembarked to get a peek inside.  I couldn't get it all in one picture, so stitch all of these together in your mind.

Costumed docents welcomed me in and I grabbed a tour book.

This palace had a rather sad history.  So, you remember that movie The Madness of King George?  Well, George III lived here (rather, retreated to this palace when the madness struck).  His son, George IV, haaaated it and when his father died, tried to see off the lands to settle his gambling debts.  But Queen Charlotte (George III's wife) loved this palace and gardens.  She was a brilliant woman - an accomplished biologist, science enthusiast, and supporter of the arts.  She used the palace to host evening salons with presentations from some of the greatest minds of the time.

Some ladies sewed samplers.  Some sewed map puzzles to help teach geography.

This is a sterling silver microscope fit for a queen!

 George III enjoyed playing the flute.  Here is one he played made of porcelain.

They had a dinner laid (layed? lain?  Aw heck...  you know what I'm saying...) in the dining room with examples of historic meals.

The palace had recently been restored using paint and colors found beneath the layers of previous redecoration.  As you wandered through, they had an audio track playing with conversations that would have happened between members of the royal family and letters they wrote at the time.

There were some gorgeous views of the gardens from the upper windows.

I continued on to the top floor, which they had allowed to remain in its original unrestored state.

(original wallpaper which informed the restoration downstairs)

My tour of the house done, I headed out into the gardens to see them close up.

The backside of the house

So pretty from a distance, right?  All of those little pebbles in the pathway were rocks cemented on end to dig right into the sole of your foot.  Ancient accupressure?  Torture device?  Only the signer knows.

Such a sunshiny lovely day!  Note those gray clouds in the background, though.  Never turn your back on UK weather was the lesson I learned this trip.

 So I was totally standing there admiring this little guy...  There's something about him.  Sort of charming.  Sort of creepy.  I totally want to write a story about him.

Again, just minding my own business, taking pictures...

When the skies OPENED. UP.  I mean, SHEETS of rain.  No warning drizzle.  No gust of wind.  Just perfectly fine one moment AND NOAH'S FLOOD THE NEXT.

Like a heroine from a Jane Austen novel, I ran for shelter beneath these trees.

Sadly, there was no Mr. Darcy on his horse there to give me a ride back to the manor.  Just this dude.

He was entirely too amused by my predicament.  So, I waited out the rain, which soon got so heavy that even the trees didn't protect me from a good soaking.

Drenched to the bone, the rain finally stopped.  This was the moment I thought to myself, "The white linen shirt was perhaps not the wisest decision."  The only thing protecting my modesty was that guidebook I bought on a whim.  I slogged out of the garden to find shelter before the rain came again.

This place was closed, but available for weddings.  The rain started coming again, so out of desperation, I ducked into the desert conservatory to wait it out.  Of all the lousy conservatories to be stuck in.  Desert.

Great.  I'm in England and I get to have the Southern California/Arizona experience.

It's like I never even flew 7,000 miles.

FINALLY, there was another break in the rain and I made a beeline for the front gate.  Except I kept getting distracted by all of these little treasures tucked away in hidden nooks.

I was cold.  I was hungry.  And what's better when you're cold and hungry than a gift shop and a museum cafe?

I got a savory tart filled with mushrooms and stroganoff, chocolate cake, fresh greens, and a piping hot cup of coffee.  The world was suddenly shiny and new!

And actually, it was shiny and new.  By the time I finished, the storm had blown over.  I was a little tired, but there was one spot I saw from the tram that I reeeeeaaaallly wanted to check out.

It was a closed glass house conservatory.

I don't know if I was supposed to go in, but the door was open... soooo....

It was really cool in sort of a post-apocalyptic way.

I stepped out and there was a gentleman just sitting next to one of the doors, enjoying a good book.  What a great reading nook!  An abandoned Victorian glass conservatory.  He wins.

And here I will leave you since this is becoming the world's longest blog post.  Look for Part II shortly!