Friday, June 29, 2012


It's not really a secret that I have been celebrity crushing on Tom Hiddleston of late. Seriously, what's not to like: he plays a great good guy and an even better bad guy. (I was recently asked who my favorite Avenger was; I answered "Loki".) Plus, he clearly is smart (Cambridge educated), has the greatest smile in show biz, and I am totally a sucker for curls. (I should fess up though that the first time I saw him in something, I mistook him for JJ Feild, and then the second time I saw him in something, I referred to him as "Not JJ Feild". By the third time I saw him in something, I'd gotten it straight.)

However something funny happened with regards to my whole crushing experience the other day. I saw this photo of Mr. Hiddleston on the BBCAmerica blog where they are having a contest to select the Anglo fan favorite guy for 2012. (Those things are totally cruel to us Anglophiles. How can you make some of those choices!?! Remember how PBS did something similar last year when readers had to vote for either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Rochester? Killed me!! I know it is going to end up being Tom Hiddleston vs. Benedict Cumberbatch in the end, and that showdown going to be a much nastier race than the one those two had in War Horse.)

Now this is a very nice photo of Mr. Hiddleston, and he looks really fancy with his hair slicked back and his tuxedo, but he reminded me of someone completely unexpected... 

Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein!!!  You see it, right? I am not making this up. (It's kind of the hair, but there is something else there too.) I hope that no one thinks this is meant to be insulting: Mr. Wilder was a good looking man, and he is probably one of the funniest people on the planet. (He also is a really great watercolor painter, but that was a story from another time.)

Just something a bit random I felt the need to share with people on the internet, because that is what you do with random fandom things in 2012.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Seven Things Making Me Smile

I think that it is about time for another Seven Things Making Me Smile installment

Governor's Palace gardens1. It is summer here in New England (not that weird excuse for spring that was masquerading as summer.) My all-time favorite, quintessential summer smell: boxwood hedges that have been warmed by the sun. Even better, freshly trimmed warm boxwoods. Delicious. That is a smell that has stopped me in my tracks and reminds me of childhood summer vacations spent at Colonial Williamsburg.

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2. On Monday mornings, it is so fun to see all the other red envelopes in the work mailbox going back to Netflix and wondering what those people watched. (Most recently, I watched War Horse. I had a hard time getting past the part with Cumberbatch and Hiddleston; the dvd kept replaying that bit over and over and over again! I wonder why that happened... ;-) But seriously, really great film. Almost wish I had seen it in the theater, but I think that the breaks I took in watching the film prevented me from becoming a blubbering mess by the end.)

3. Since my move, the majority of my stuff is in storage. (As Sister K said, "Take only what you need to survive." Little did she know...) I seriously miss my stuff, but as I am crashing with family "FOR FREE" until I find a permanent home, I am trying not to bring up missing my stuff too often. But I was seriously missing my latte bowls from Anthropologie. I have about 10 of them in different colors (lots of shades of pink and blue) that I used all the time. Soup, cereal, ice cream, popcorn, pasta: you name it, it was likely that I was eating it in one of these bowls, which are both microwave AND dishwasher friendly. (Seriously, what's not to love? And at $5 per bowl, pretty reasonable.) I found out the other day that the West Farms Mall now has an Anthropologie. I walked right in there and bought two, so now I have an even dozen. Their cheerful colors are a great way to start the day with your coffee and Cheerios.

4. Living with my parents (temporarily!! ever so temporarily!!) means that I have access to my mom's extensive library of mystery novels. A newer series that she recommended are the Three Pines mysteries by Louise Penny, and she was right: I totally love these books! The stories are set in Quebec, in a small community on the Canadian/American border. The community, Three Pines, also straddles the line between the Anglo and Franco cultural lifestyles that people live in Quebec, and I find that "hook" fascinating. Some characters are distinctly French, while others are very English, and there is even a token American in the group!  The writing style of the mysteries is not your standard fare. There are lots of little things that are alluded to (and not expanded upon) that you learn more about as you read the series, and the big exposé of the murderer breaks from your traditional mystery novel reveal. (It frustrates my friend MEM, but she still likes the stories enough to continue listening to them on audiobook!)  I am currently 100 pages into the third book and I have five more left to go before I am all caught up. (Well, that will take me to the end of July; then I will have to find another set of mysteries to read!)

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5.  It is finally cherry season! I love eating ripe cherries this time of year, but I seriously hate dealing with the pits inside the cherries. I end up with juice all over myself (fingers, face, and clothes. Boo!) Recently, I found out that Oxo makes a cherry pitter (it also pits olives, but I don't care for olives), and I bought one on Amazon for around $10. When it first arrived, no one could figure out what it was, but when I told them, I got teased BIG TIME about buying a cherry pitter. ("A fool and his money are soon parted" and all that...) I ignored it and looked forward to making the naysayers eat their words. Flash forward to last night, when I made dinner with a fruit salad for dessert with fresh cherries in it. It was a big hit! The tart cherries really add something, and I think that we will be seeing more fresh cherry recipes on my night to cook in the future. (I saved a recipe for cherry pie from the paper. Don't know if I am ready for that level of baking just yet, but I may surprise them!)

6.  I have found the best summer sweater ever, and it is the LL Bean fine-gauge, button-front cardigan! The summer can be tricky on the professional wardrobe front: you want to wear something that you can still keep cool outdoors, but you don't want to freeze in an air conditioned office. (Mine was downright frigid this week, while outside temps reached 101°F. Nightmare!) I picked up a couple of these soft cotton sweaters at the start of the summer, and they have been terrific! They can both dress up or dress down an outfit; it's totally appropriate to throw one over a tee shirt or a sundress and look great. The cotton is super soft, but holds its shape well. The only downside is that you can wash them in the washing machine, but you have to block dry them. (I accidentally put my black one in the dryer and the sleeves shrank slightly, which is actually okay with me because I like bracelet-length sleeves.)  But my two dark sweaters have both been washed several times, and they seem to be keeping their color rather well (knock on wood.) They are on sale right now, so you should get yours while the summer colors are still available.

7. I can't think of a better way to beat the heat than one of Edy's/Dreyer's Fruit Bars. They come in all kinds of tasty flavors, from your traditional strawberry, orange, and lime to more exotic ones like coconut, mango, and acai blueberry. My personal favorite at the moment is the pomegranate, which is a nice balance of tart and sweet. These popsicles are made with real fruit, and the small ones only have 50 calories. A totally guilt-free treat on a 100°F day!

So these are some of the things that are brightening my days of late. I am sure there will be more to add as the year progresses!

Please note: these are all my own opinions; I have not been compensated in any way for recommending any products, etc. etc.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


For what I believe must have been my ::coughcough:: 30th ::coughcough:: birthday, my good friend MEM gifted me with a fabulous present: a vintage Queen Elizabeth II coronation colouring book!! It is probably one of my favourite birthday presents EVER. (It looks just like this one being sold on eBay.)

So that I wouldn't damage the book itself, I took it to work and photocopied my favourite pictures so that I could still take advantage of the colouring part of the fun. I had those colored in pictures at my work space until I left. Of course, they were taped up, hidden, in a cabinet so I was the only one who knew they were there, but that as part of the fun.

On my desk at my new job (yes, I have a new job!), I have a Cavallini and Co. calendar of vintage London images, which was given to me by my friend Alecia. This month, the image is the "Keep Calm and Carry On" logo that we have all come to know and love superimposed over a Union Flag. It's doing its thing: keeping me calm. Well done!

I had a lot going on the weekend of the Jubilee events so I ended up DVRing the coverage on ABC and BBC America and have been slowly catching up with all the events and documentaries. I have to agree with so many of the other comments and reviews that I have read of the festivities: the Brits really know how to throw a party!  Well done and congratulations to the Queen!  60 years on the throne and still keeping things classy!

My Absentee Note

So I wasn't around much on line during the month of May. Was on Twitter a bit, but no posts whatsoever on the blog, which isn't really like me, but I had a good reason. Well, actually, several good reasons.
  1. I started a new job on 30 April. It is going well so far, and I like the people I am working with. I am coordinating special projects, which is something I really wanted to transition into after 12 years in event management. (Perhaps I'll even lose some weight now that there isn't a ready supply of cookies or hors d'œuvre two or three times a week.) It has been a long time since I have had a new job, and I had forgotten how frustrating it can be not being up to speed in the beginning.  But I have been in the position for a month now, and I have definitely become more comfortable with the office and what I am doing. I do still feel like a "newbie", but not like a fish out of water!
  2. I have started house hunting in the greater Hartford area, which is a bit more challenging than I thought it would be, despite the whole "buyers' market" buzz you hear on the news.  (Buyers' market does not automatically mean "lots of awesome things to choose from" and/or "Going Cheap!") Looking through all the listings, weeding out what you want to take a closer look at, and then visiting the houses is like a second, full-time job!  Fortunately, I am working with a FABULOUS Realtor, who is making the process loads easier than it would have been if I'd tried doing this on my own. Can't even begin to fathom house hunting on my own. But as much as I miss all my friends in Boston, I am really happy to be in CT and closer to my family because...
  3. The best thing that happened last month: Sister B had a baby!! I am an auntie!! It is all very exciting. I'd post a photo, but I have a feeling that she and her hubby would not be very keen on that so I will just say that the baby is a boy, and he is super cute and very squirmy. I just love him to bits. I predict a lot of babysitting in the future.
So with all of that, my time has been rather occupied; I didn't even get a chance to watch all the Queen's Jubilee coverage at the beginning of the month! (Scandalous!)  But I have had a couple of cool blog ideas in the meantime, which I hope to execute sooner rather than later. So keep this space book marked or follow it with Google Friend connect or however you read blogs.  There will be some good stuff coming soon!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Reading "Refill" for My "Downton Abbey" Rx

First off, hello to everyone who stopped by for the first time the other day!! Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog.

Because most of the people I know who like "Downton Abbey" are also big fans of reading (shout out to that lady on the plane), I thought that it might be helpful to recommend some cool books that recapture that "Downton" Abbey espirit.

To Marry an English Lord: or How Anglomania Really Got Started by Gail McCall and Carol McD Wallace is the first book I'd recommend. (This book was out of print until Julian Fellowes mentioned it was one of his inspirations for "Downton Abbey". It is newly reprinted in paperback.) If you are at all interested in how an American gal like Cora could become the Countess of Grantham, then this book is for you! This non-fiction work details the conquests and exploits of Lady Grantham's real life counterparts from among the "new money" families in America. Snubbed by the members of the New York elite "400", these intrepid young women went to Europe and took the social scene by storm. Following their marriages into the aristocracy, their fortunes propped up some of the oldest and most respected families.  But not all of the matches were happy, and this book recounts all of the juicy gossip and scandal of the day. Infidelity, accidental pregnancies, STDs: this all took place 100 years ago? Lots of photographs and factual inserts help the reader keep all the people straight and the text from becoming dry. I bet I can guess what you are thinking: was there a real life counterpart to the late Mr. Pamuk? Read this book to find out!

[Also recommended in this line are four novels by Edith Wharton:  The Buccaneers, The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. I really loved the first three, but I disliked the main character in the last one so much (which is intentional on the part of the author) that I had to put the book down only halfway through. There was a cool article in the New York Times about this subject earlier this year.]

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia Gelardi is also a great read. Five of Queen Victoria's granddaughters married into other royal families and became queens themselves. Before reading this book I had known about Tsarina Alexandria of Russia, but I didn't know anything about her cousins: the queens of Spain, Norway, Romania, and Greece. Each of these (essentially English) princesses has a different story on their way to the throne, and they are fascinating people. The period of time in which their stories took place is fascinating too. Mix the girls in with a big dash of their boy cousins/brothers, Wilhelm of Germany and George of England, and World War I becomes one big bad dysfunctional family nightmare. (Of course, I am oversimplifying, but it did made for some nasty family politics.) If this was a book about just one of these ladies, I would say that would be pleasantly interesting, but the fact that Gelardi draws comparisons in the experiences of five women of this generation in the broader context of the Great War makes the book really appealing. But it isn't just the war that is interesting; the dramatic divergence in family life is compelling. (One of the biggest issues of interest to me was the disparity in the way that two of the royal families dealt with the hemophilia issue when it hit.) This is relatively fast read for a biography, and it isn't too dry or detail heavy and there are lots of photographs.

I love a good murder mystery novel, provided it isn't too bloody and I can't figure out who the killer is in the first five chapters. I have just started reading the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear, and even though I am only one book into the series, I am totally in love! After the death of her mother, young Maisie starts out in service as a housemaid in the London home of Lord & Lady Compton. Her kindly employers recognize her intelligence and encourage her to continue her education. She is admitted to university at Cambridge, but leaves at the start of WWI and joins the front lines as a nurse. Following the war, she apprentices under the brilliant investigator Maurice Blanche, returning to London upon his retirement and setting up as a private investigator in her own right. Maisie's first solo case seems at first to be a straightforward case of infidelity, but it leads her to a suspicious home for injured veterans of the war, making her address her own wartime emotional scars. Part gumshoe/part therapist, Maisie's unique approach to solving a mystery is less Sherlock Holmes and more Miss Marple with Nancy Drew's energy and a hint of the mystic. (The way that Maisie Dobbs is described actually makes me think of Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley. If ever there was a Maisie Dobbs movie, she'd be perfect!)

Not only am I a fan of detective novels, but I am also a fan of historical fiction. The next set of books I am recommending combines both of these loves. They are the Robin Paige Victorian-Edwardian mysteries, written by husband and wife team Bill and Susan Albert. These twelve mystery novels, set at the turn of the 20th century, feature amateur sleuths Kate Ardleigh Sheridan, an Irish-American "lady novelist", and her husband, Sir Charles Sheridan, an amateur pioneer in forensic science. The stories are set all over England, so you get a feel for the landscape of the country, and feature a great number of historical figures as characters. I feel that they do a great job tying together people, locations, and mystery to make the stories believable. You can tell that the Alberts have done their research (they always include a little of the real history at the end of the book along with a bibilography). Some of the people the Sheridens "meet" as they move among society include: Beatrix Potter, Jennie and Winston Churchill, Lilly Langtry, Guglielmo Marconi, and Bertie, the Prince of Wales. These books are really fun and fast reads, perfect to bring with you on your next vacation.

So these are my summer fun reading recommendations for folks who want to take their Anglophilia with them on the road. If you have read/end up reading these books, I'd love to hear what you think of them and would appreciate any suggestions of books that you might have!

Monday, June 4, 2012

An Rx for "Downton Abbey" Withdrawal

My friend and former work colleague D has recently become a fan of "Downton Abbey", having caught up on the first two series on Netflix. (Whatever were you waiting for, girlfriend?!? I knew you were going to love it!!!)

But now that she is done watching "Downton", she was looking for some recommendations of tv series with similar feel to get her through until the third series of "Downton" comes out. I gave her a few suggestions, which I thought I would share here for other people who are going through similar withdrawal pangs. (There is some definite overlap with this list and my Top Ten Costume Dramas list.) The common thread of all of these series is a fantastic ensemble cast.

[ETA: I watched each of these programs initially on dvd from Netflix. (I now own most of them.) Many of them are available on Netflix Streaming. However, if you don't have Netflix or are on a budget, most of these, if not all, can be borrowed from your local library.]

1. "Cranford" & "Return to Cranford":
Downton tie-in: Mr. Carson/Jim Carter &
Lady Mary Crawley/Michelle Dockery
These mini-series set in a small town that is slowly trying to adapt to changing times as the Industrial Revolution reaches out to their agrarian community. But the story is really all about the wonderfully strong and kind ladies of Cranford and their relationships and "adventures". Jim Carter plays Captain Brown in both series, the man in the village on whom the ladies rely for help and good judgement, while Michelle Dockery plays the strong willed heiress Erminia Whyte in the second series (which, honestly, isn't as good as the first, but it does have Tom Hiddleston in it, and I think his smile is just, GAH, amazing! Love it!! And the curls! Yes, crushing, right there.)
2. "Larkrise to Candleford":
Downton tie-in: Mr. Bates/Brendan Coyle
Americans of a "certain age", if you grew up watching "Little House on the Prairie" and loving it, I pretty much can guarantee you will enjoy "Larkrise to Candleford". The story follows young Laura Timmins as she leaves her hamlet home in Larkrise to work in the Royal Post Office in the more urbane Candleford. She matures/falls in love/makes mistakes/fixes mistakes, all the things you do growing up. Fellow members of Team Bates!® should enjoy this series, where Mr. Coyle plays Laura's loving, proud, and somewhat stubborn (remind you of anyone? Batesy!) father. A great cast of characters rounds out the populations of both Larkrise and Candleford.
3. North and South:
Downton tie-in: Mr. Bates/Brendan Coyle
This mini-series set in the Victorian industrial north of England definitely has some serious moments as it takes on the struggle of the laboring classes and the cultural disparities between life in the north and south of England. But it's the struggling love story between John Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe) that I love the best. Mr. Coyle brings that same warmth and strong moral fiber to his role as union leader Nicholas Higgins that he has in both "Larkrise" and "Downton", although he is a little more rough around the edges in this one. All three of these series are set in the later half of the 19th century.

4. Island at War
Downton tie-in: Anna Smith/Joanne Froggatt
Moving into the 20th century, we are at war. World War II, to be precise. A great story focusing on three families living on a fictional English Channel island following the Nazi invasion.  In one of the storylines, Joanne Froggatt plays a conflicted young woman, torn between her loyalty to her country and the memory of her father, who was killed in the invasion, and her romantic interest in a thoughtful (and handsome) Luftwaffe pilot played by Laurence Fox (Gosford Park).  Philip Glenister ("Cranford") plays the fascinating German commanding officer.

5. Sense and Sensibility
Downton tie-in: Matthew Crawley/Dan Stevens
A very good interpretation of the Jane Austen novel, (although I am partial to the Ang Lee version with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.)  Dan Stevens plays the lovely Mr. Edward Ferrars, with whom our heroine, Elinor Dashwood, has fallen, sensibly, in love. And because in this day and age, you can't have an Austen dramatic interpretation without a wet white shirt scene for the hero, one of those has been written into this adaptation!

6. Wives and Daughters
Downton tie-in: Isobel Crawley/Penelope Wilton &
Sir Richard Carlisle/Iain Glen
IMDB has a fantastic description of this miniseries: "The daughter of a country doctor copes with an unwanted stepmother, an impetuous stepsister, burdensome secrets, the town gossips, and the tug on her own heartstrings for a man who thinks of her only as a friend." This is SO good. Bring tissues. You will melt!! Penelope Wilton plays Mrs. Hamley, the kindly neighbor who is as good as a mother to the heroine while Michael Gambon (Cranford, Gosford Park) plays her husband Squire Hamley.  Iain Glen's cunning Mr. Preston is rather reminiscent of his Downton Abbey character!

7. Daniel Deronda
Downton tie-in: Lord Grantham/Hugh Bonneville
Again from IMDB: "It is across the roulette table that Gwendolen Harleth first locks eyes with the enigmatic Daniel Deronda. Gwendolen is beautiful, vivacious, and a gambler, but desperate for financial security; something that possessive Henleigh Grandcourt would be able to provide for her. Daniel is the adopted son of an aristocratic, but doubtful of his own identity. He pours his energy into selflessly helping his friends, including poor Jewish singer Mirah Lapidoth. As Gwendolen's situation becomes dire, and Daniel seeks to uncover the mystery surrounding his own birth, their lives become intertwined." The role of Henleigh Grandcourt is about as far away from Lord Grantham as you can get for Hugh Bonneville. He is EVIL!! (But kind of hot in his evilness.) You be the judge.

8. Lost in Austen
Downton tie-in: Lord Grantham/Hugh Bonneville
This miniseries is really sort of wonderful, provided you aren't overserious about your Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice fangirl #1 Amanda Price trades places with her favorite fictional heroine of all time while Lizzy Bennet tries her hand in 21st century London. But despite knowing the whole of Pride & Prejudice by heart, Amanda isn't QUITE ready for the 19th century, the haughty Mr. Darcy, the scheming Mr. Wickham, or the delightful Bennet family. Hugh Bonneville plays the patriarch Mr. Claude Bennet with the same kindness and charm that he has in Downton. Yes, it is cheesy, but it is fun. And Guy Henry is the SKEEVIEST Mr. Collins ever.

9. The Forsyte Saga
Downton tie-in: same pre- and post-WWI time period in England
There haven't been any major cast overlaps in "The Forsyte Saga" and "Downton Abbey" as yet, but I really think that anyone who is a fan of the complex characters of "Downton" will appreciate the story of the Forsytes: money, class, and morals at the end of the Victorian era/start of the Edwardian era. (The costumes are even more elegant and intricate than Downton. Stunning!) These guys definitely know how to bring on the drama.  You are going to want to have a hanky handy in certain parts, and there are some characters that you are going to love to hate, just like Thomas and O'Brien. (Well, not in quite the same way as Thomas and O'Brien, but trust me, there are some nasty pieces of work in this miniseries, WONDERFULLY nasty!)

10. Gosford Park
Downton tie-in: Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham/Dame Maggie Smith & Julian Fellowes, writer
 Julian Fellowes' first attempt to capture equally the lives of those both above and below stairs won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. This is a murder mystery/social commentary, set in a country manor house in the 1920s, complete with an all star cast of the best of Britain and directed by Robert Altman. What's not to love!?! The fact that it has to end!! Maggie Smith gives a performance that is clearly a rough draft of her character in "Downton Abbey". There will be a lot of recognizable faces in this cast for any fan of BBC dramas (a good number of them will be in the dramas mentioned above.)

So this has been long in coming, but here are my suggestions for how to get through the remaining months until we get to see the third series of "Downton Abbey".  Brew yourself a pot of tea, bake yourself up some scones, and tune into these programs to try to reclaim the enjoyment you felt earlier this year!

ETA (8/27/2013): This post has now had over 12,000 views since I first posted this back in June 2012. It is great to know that so many people are into Downton Abbey and are looking for more shows like it!! (Hopefully, American TV people will get the hint!)

Comments are still open on this post so please feel free to share your own recommendations for additional ways of getting through the withdrawal. Please also check out my blog entries where I list my top 10 mystery series recommendations and my top 10 costume drama recommendations!


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