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Back in the 1980s, I was a young mother trying to stitch together a few dollars for Christmas shopping. I had a connection that made it possible for me to sell my Christmas tree skirts, fabric baskets and stuffed Christmas trees at a little pop-up holiday shop in Parmatown Mall. So I sewed – and sewed – and sold!

This fall, when I was going through my old patterns looking for the beloved stuffed pumpkin pattern, I came across this gem!

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Imagine my glee, digging in to the pattern envelope only to discover the only pieces missing were the ones for the stuffed Christmas tree. I had made so many red and green trees, it probably wore out from overuse. So I began to research, and quickly learned (through the beauty of Google images) that the same pattern has been re-released. Gone are the 80s muted tones on the pattern envelope. Everything old is new again!

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This year, I have been stitching trees in fabrics that I never would have imagined back then – black and white, polka dots, chevron stripes and BURLAP?

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The basement looks like a little lumpy forest, the sewing room is covered in burlap dust and am once again selling trees.

Call it vintage. Call it nostalgia. Ask around. If you don’t still have one of these trees among your holiday decorations, I’m sure you know someone who does. I got rid of my old tree, but my cousin says she still has hers. All I know is when I see one of these huggable trees, as soft as Santa’s lap, I remember Christmas past.

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UK 2013 – Days 12-14 – London

November 17th, 2013 | Posted by Lackey in My Traveling Life - (0 Comments)

We ended our two week UK excursion with three nights at the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street, which turned out to the perfect hotel in the perfect location for London sightseeing. After dropping the car off at Heathrow (and almost getting into a last minute accident as the car return sign was beckoning us across the busy round about) we lucked out with a friendly, very helpful cab driver – shout out to Mohammad – who gave us a map for the sightseeing bus we could hop on a few short blocks from our hotel, and we were off. I must say, it was a bit of culture shock, though. We had left simple, unhurried Chipping Campden, where we chatted with the ladies selling homemade breads and soaps at the community farm market that morning, and found ourselves on crowded sidewalks full of people speaking many languages and hurrying to get somewhere. We were glad to take in the city from the upper deck of the Big Bus, which we rode through its complete two and a half hour London loop to get our bearings and pick out sight seeing destinations for the next two days. We had our first glimpses of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Bridge, the Tower of London and the London Eye from this vantage point.

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It was getting dark by the time we ventured out to find dinner on a Friday night, but we discovered several charming old pubs within walking distance of our hotel. Unfortunately, we also discovered that pubs don’t begin serving food on a Friday night until after the drinking crowd – most of which spilled out onto the sidewalks in front of pubs – was done with happy hour.

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We did happen upon a fantastic gastro-pub, The Coach Makers, where a very attentive server kept an eye out for an emptying table for us and we eventually enjoyed one of the best meals of the trip. David had a burger with chips and I had a roasted beet salad followed by an appetizer portion of pumpkin ravioli.

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Following dinner, we walked around the scrabble board of pubs restaurants on the side streets of the Marlyebone neighborhood, and finally settled for a drink at The Barley Mow, a historic pub, where we had the first of many toasts to our wedding anniversary. When we arrived back at our hotel, I inquired about the poster advising visitors that the clock would be set back an hour the next night. When I mentioned to the concierge that the next day was our wedding anniversary and we were, coincidentally, married on the day we set the clocks back, he thanked us for celebrating our anniversary at the hotel and wrote our room number on the back of his hand to remind him to sent us an anniversary treat.

The next morning we were up early to take a cab to Old Spitalfields Marketwhere we would meet our Eating London tour group. This tour was so memorable it rates its own post! What a great way to see the East End of London and get a taste of its culinary heritage.

From there we walked (the travel mode of the day) to the Tower of London where we paid the only London attraction admission to see this historic site! We took the interesting and humorous Beefeater tour and even stood in line – for the first time in two weeks – to see the awesomely impressive Crown Jewels.

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Following the tour, we consulted our map and decided we could easily walk to the South Bank and maybe catch a tour of the Globe Theater, but once there ( the walk along the Thames was lovely ) we decided not to wait – and pay – for the last tour of the day and opted instead for the free Tate Modern art museum after a few ceremonial pictures of the Globe.

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Then we had to savor a walk across The Millenium Bridge – the first pedestrian river crossing over the Thames in central London for more than a century.

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By then, we had walked so much, what was a few more miles to get the the posh Oxford Street shopping district? We arrived just as the skies were darkening, but the crowds were not lessening one bit – it was Saturday night and I had not yet been to H & M London.

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We had watched a season of Mr. Selfridge on PBS, but I wasn’t anticipating the spectacle of Christmas windows already in place! A shoppers glory on a balmy London night.

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A few gifts purchased, a few more miles walked – wasn’t it time for dinner? We ended our marathon day at the loveliest Italian restaurant – Caldesi Restaurant Marlyebone – where the servers were so Italian that , although David thought he ordered a glass of wine, we got the whole bottle for a price the exceeded our entrees combined. Back at the hotel, we were greeted by a complimentary bottle of wine, which added to our giggles. Daily walking total – 11 miles and just one more day to see ALL the rest.

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In retrospect, our last day could have been much better orchestrated. We set out early and arrived at the Marlybone Farmers Market before the set up was even complete. On the the British Library which didn’t open for another hour. We killed time – gloriously – inside of the St. Pancras Train Station, where I visited my first Cath Kidston store! The train station was awesome in the old fashioned sense of the word – old meets new!

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Once open, we did a quick tour of the Treasures of the Library and we the we were off walking again

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This time, a quick and windy stroll through Regents Park would put us on our course to Abbey Road.

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Abbey Road Zebra Crossing is indicated on all the maps and draws visitors with the simple promise of walking in the footsteps of the Fab Four. After walking half of the day to get there, we could have spent the rest of the day watching musical pilgrims recreate the stroll. David did his best.

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Having achieved this life goal, we walked back to Marlyebone High Street shopping district, wandered into acclaimed Daunt Books, gorgeous for its architecture, before ending up at the very last pub of the trip. We had met Theo, who manages The Gunmakers Marlyebone, at closing time at a different pub the night before. Apparently, British pubs take their Sunday roast dinners pretty seriously, and he invited us to spend our last night dining in his establishment. However, since we reached our hunger peak mid-day (it was another 11 mile walking day) we opted for Black Pudding Scotch Eggs and a gorgeous cheese board for our “last meal” – and of course a pint of cask ale for David and cloudy cider for me.

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We retired to our room ridiculously early to pack up and watch the weather report about the looming storm. Added bonus – new season of Downton Abbey already airing in Britain and a bedside stand full of Sherlock Holmes literature!

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Leaving Hay-on-Wye, we drove a bit north to see Leominster, but we were really on a mission to get David to the National Motorocycle Museum just outside of Birmingham, England. Coincidentally, the Barber Motorsports Museum, which we visited a few years back, is just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. The English museum has five huge exhibit halls containing 650 fully restored BSA, Triumph, Norton, Brough Superior, and Vincent machines, among others. David is looking forward to returning so he can spend more time there.

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Of course we knew when planning this trip that we would have to include a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Stratford sits at the upper edge of the beautifully hilly region of southern England known as The Cotswolds. After much research on my part, we chose the perfect town – Chipping Campden – as our three day base in The Cotswolds. Chipping Campden may our favorite town of the trip. Two grocery stores, a wine and cheese shop, a post office, lovely shops to browse in, many excellent pubs and friendly people.

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Placed all around town are signposts for The Cotswolds Way, a 102 mile National Hiking Trail that runs from Chipping Campden in the north down to Bath. We inquired at the visitors center in town and got a good hiking map and set off early in the morning – the sun was finally coming out – to do a circular walk up to Downers Hill.

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We had the extreme good fortune of spending our three nights at Twine Cottage, a 17th century two-story thatched roof cottage that sleeps two! It is steps away from the Cotswolds Way, on a quiet side street just a short walk from town center, and it was perfect for us. I almost hate to share photos – but if you can manage to go there to stay, Rosie, the owner, is a delight to deal with.

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Chipping Campden is surrounded by equally picturesque little towns, and we spent one day driving around to several of them – Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford, and Chipping Norton. In Chipping Norton we visited by favorite UK independent bookstore, Jaffe and Neale (see related link) and David’s favorite brewery, Hook Norton, just up the road in Hook Norton. Founded in 1849, the brewing plant is an imposing structure, a traditional Victorian ‘tower’ brewery in which all the stages of the brewing process flow logically from floor to floor.

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Each day, a driver hitches a pair of draft horses to a wagon and delivers the casks of ale to The Pear Tree Inn at the foot of the hill below the brewery. He brings along a pint for himself and one for the horses. Lunch and an ale tasting at The Pear Tree is not to be missed.

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The best part of one of our Cotswold days was spent driving up to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit all of the William Shakespeare sites. We made the wise decision to park the car as soon as we got to town and purchase a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off bus that would allow us to visit several of the Shakespeare attractions and enjoy the narration and history of the area provided along the way.

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We hopped off the bus at Shakespeare’s birthplace and museum where interesting guides in period costumes told about Shakespeare’s family and youth. Then we stopped at Hall’s Croft, the impressive house is where Shakespeare’s eldest daughter Susanna lived with her medical genius of a husband. It is near to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried, so we were able to chalk another dead author’s burial place off our list. And, of course, a stop at Anne Hathaway’s famous cottage, which looked serene against the slanting sun of late day.

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Our day with the Bard was finished with a very nice meal at Eight Bells in Chipping Campden, where Hook Norton ale was on tap and the free wi-fi allowed us to begin to plan the end of this amazing trip. Three nights in London!

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From Chester, England we drove the most remote and winding pathway through the middle of beautiful rolling countryside to Hay-on-Wye, Wales – often described as the “town of books”. For its under two thousand residents, the town offers more than two dozen bookstores, and hosts the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts each spring. When a friend suggested we plan to visit Hay on our trip, I was reminded that I read a book called Sixpence House a number of years ago about a guy from San Francisco who moved his family to this town to work in a bookstore. We booked a room for two nights at The Seven Stars bed and breakfast which is in the middle of town, steps away from Booth’s Books.

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Booth’s is the largest bookstore in town and offers a mixture of used and new books, along with a nice cafe and great places to sit and read throughout the store. Many of the other small bookshops specialize in used, rare and out of print books. It was very rainy, so we had a lazy day of browsing.

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Murder and Mayhem, with a chalked body outline on the pavement in front of the store, specializes in crime and detective fiction.

In the middle of town, amongst the bookstores, antique shops and high end specialty clothing stores are remains of the Hay Castle. A few shops outside the castle walls beckon tourists up the steps, but nestled behind the walls are the Honesty Bookshelves – a bunch of open shelves and the invitation to pay inside for your purchases!

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After a morning of book browsing, we decided to take a hike. One of the other appeals of this town for travelers is that it is just off of Offa’s Dyke, a historic pathway which roughly follows the Welsh/English boundary. The path, more than 170 miles long, brings hikers from all over the world into Hay, and is the reason the town also hosts a walking festival in October. We put on our walking shoes and hiked along the Wye River in the rain before taking a path through a pasture back into town and to a pub to dry off.

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Our favorite pub was Three Tuns, and we ended up eating dinner there both nights we were in town. The first night we both had fish and chips and they may have been the best of the entire trip.

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The second night David had a pizza and I had a bowl of spicy parsnip and apple soup. This pub dates back to the 1600s and was so cozy with its fireplace on a damp night, that we stayed a few hours – using their free wi-fi and chatting with a Swedish archeologist who was monitoring a construction site just down the road. Lucky for us, Three Tuns was steps away from our B and B, since we enjoyed a few pints of Wye Valley Ale and some Meer-low.

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Our initial itinerary allowed an empty day to fill, and we took the suggestion of my brilliant British friend, Anne, and made a reservation for one night at The Queen Hotel in historic Chester. The Queen was built in 1860 to serve first-class railway travelers. Just about a half mile from city center, it was a luxurious place to spend the night.

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We arrived, hungry, just before dark, so we eagerly took the restaurant recommendation of the helpful hotel staff and walked just a few blocks to The Old Harkers Arms Pub, one level down from the street, along the canal.

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On a Saturday night, we found it to be just as its website describes “a very social place with a lovely clubby atmosphere, and you’re pretty much bound to meet someone interesting.” It was standing room only around the long bar, but one of the things we were learning to love about dining at British pubs is that any table with a few empty seats is an invitation to have a seat, order from the dinner menu written on the blackboard, and, mostly likely, make new friends. We joined a couple on a weekend holiday who had already been served their food, and they gave us some suggestions for our sightseeing the next day. After they left, two more couples joined us as we enjoyed our dinners – Steak and Suet Pie for David and a fish stew for me.

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A walk into the walled city in the full moonlight gave us a glimpse of what we had to explore the next day.

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The next morning, we gave in to the appeal of the hotel breakfast buffet (especially since we had been awakened in by a 12:30 fire alarm that brought everyone spilling into the hallways – including a bride still in her wedding dress). A full English with plenty of mushrooms, to-mah-toes and fried rice? Really?

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Although it threatened rain, we bundled up and began our day in Chester by walking the 2 mile or so wall that encircles this ancient Roman town. Several well marked flights of stairs lead you up a level to a historians tour of the city.

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From this vantage point visitors see remains of old Roman Gardens, the racetrack which was once used for chariot races and what is left of an old amphitheater.

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We came down off the wall to go inside Chester Cathedral and soak up a little of its two thousand year old history. Since it was Sunday morning, there was a worship service in progress in a small central worship area and, luckily for us, the magnificent pipe organ was in use.

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One of the fascinating combinations of historic architecture and modern convenience in Chester is the retail stores inside the Chester Rows, which consist of covered walkways at the first floor behind which are entrances to shops. The Rows, found in each of the four main streets of the city of Chester, Cheshire, England, are unique; nothing precisely similar exists anywhere else in the world.

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We wandered into a few shops, but really we were searching for a place where you can view remains of the Roman baths we learned about from the couple we sat with at the pub the night before. We didn’t ask them to spell the word, and didn’t know what to expect, but we were surprised to find Spudulike is, in fact, a made to order baked potato fast food establishment where you can get your spud just the way you like it! And standing outside this particular chain restaurant is a cheesy statue of a Roman soldier luring you in to spend a few coins to investigate the recently discovered ruins.

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Our day in Chester was very enjoyable, but we had some driving to do before we would reach our next destination – Hay-on-Wye, Wales – so we were off to discover what lay beyond the rainbow(s).

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