Things That Make Me Smile

Things that make me smile:

No. 1. (and far above anything else on this list and in a higher category entirely) - My daughter. She was the absolute sweetest, cuddliest, warmest, engaging little baby in the world. She was a happy, smart, funny and caring toddler. She grew up to be a bright, concerned and delightful adolescent. Then came the pre-teen and teenage years (we got safely through them with a few bumps in the road by far many fewer bumps than most families I know!) She has now metamorphosed into a warm, intelligent, thoughtful, considerate and compassionate young adult. A lovely young woman who I am proud to call my daughter.

No. 2. Makeup bonuses. I simply cannot walk away from one. There is something about a free gift with purchase that lures in me in every single time. Sometimes twice for the same promotion once for the cool colors and once for the warm! I just love those multicolored makeup bags with cute little miniatures containing new products and/or old standbys (like Clinique's Dramatically Different Moisture Lotion). I have boxes and boxes of sweet little containers filled with potions and colors (and well over 200 tubes of lipstick) all due to gifts with a purchase. They are more fun than a brand new 64-count box of crayons (with sharpener) used to be. The marketing directors for the companies that do these promotions (Estee Lauder, Lancome, Clinique and Elizabeth Arden) really know their stuff - when there is a bonus at stake, I'll always find SOMETHING I need to buy. Now if only MAC would participate in these giveaways, I'd be in heaven.

No. 3. Potatoes. Baked, mashed, fried, roasted, boiled, made into chips or crisps, topping a shepherds pie or mixed with cabbage and bacon for Colcannon. Must be my Irish half, but I love them prepared in any way.

No. 4 . Books. Shelves and shelves of them to browse through. I even love the smell of them. Can never have enough reading material on hand.

No. 5. Coziness. A warm, crackling fire on a crisp evening (preferably accompanied by a good book (see No. 4 above) and a cup of strong, sweet and milky Earl Grey Tea).

No. 6. Castles. I absolutely adore castles. Towers, dungeons, battlements - there is something so inherently romantic about them. I visited my first real castle in 1989. It was Windsor Castle and it didn't disappoint. It's one of the largest castles in England and the Queen spends most weekends there. Since then, I've been to many, many more castles, including Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. It sits high up on a hill overlooking the main Edinburgh shopping street and is conveniently located a short walk from Waverly Train Station. Also in Scotland, and a bit more of a trek to get to, is Urquhart Castle sitting in ruins on the shores of Loch Ness but well worth the trip.

Wales has some breathtakingly beautiful castles, including Cardiff Castle with its ancient Norman Keep, Caerphilly Castle (a short train ride through gorgeous countryside from Cardiff), and Chepstow Castle (also very close to Cardiff which is an easy day trip from London.) In the North of Wales there are the massive Edward I border castles, including Conwy Castle (don't miss the guided tour conducted by Neville – quite an entertaining character) and Caernarvon Castle (it's magnificently situated on the coast and is the place where the investitures of the Princes of Wales takes place).

Back in England there are so many castles you could trip over them – definitely my kind of place. One of the most beautiful is Kenilworth Castle , former home of John of Gaunt and later owned by Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. The first time we visited Kenilworth we had the place all to ourselves. Kenilworth is a real favorite of our family, the ruins are just breathtaking. Nearby to Kenilworth is Warwick Castle , the magnificent medieval home of the Earls of Warwick. I personally think they've "Disneylanded" this one up too much. On our last visit, we actually had to feed our tickets into an automated turnstile to enter the grounds. But if you squint and block out the modern trappings (including the Madam Tussaud's waxworks inside), you can still see how it must have looked in the 1400's and 1500's. The view from the top of Warwick's old castle mound is fabulous.

In Kent, be sure to see Hever Castle , the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and not too far from Hever you will find the gorgeous Leeds Castle , known as the " Ladies Castle" as it was traditionally given by Kings of England to their Queens, starting with Edward I's gift to his Queen, Eleanor of Castile. Leeds is built on two islands in the middle of a lake.

In the north of England you will find Conisbrough Castle (the one from Ivanhoe) and Cliffords Tower , sitting majestically atop its mound, which is all that remains of York Castle. In Norfolk, there is Castle Rising , where Isabelle the She-wolf was imprisoned for years by her son.. In Suffolk a nice castle to visit is Framlingham Castle , where Mary Tudor gathered her troops in preparation for the overthrow of Lady Jane Grey, who had usurped her throne.

In Wiltshire there is Old Sarum . Very little of the castle is left, but there is so much history in that place, it is still worth the visit (it can be easily combined with a trip to Stonehenge and Salisbury). In Dorset be sure to visit Corfe Castle , the place where Maude De Branose was supposedly buried alive in the dungeons in the 1100's. Its ruins sit atop a hill overlooking the pretty (and very friendly) village of Corfe. A very windswept hill on the day we visited!

In Sussex you can visit gorgeous, moated Bodiam Castle (which can be combined with a trip to Battle Abbey and the Battle of Hastings battleground). Holly swears this one is very haunted! Not too far away is Arundel Castle (which is very similar in looks and style to Windsor). If you visit Arundel, be sure to book lunch at the Swan Hotel in town. Their restaurant has the absolute best Macaroni and Cheese ever!

And a just few more ….. the granddaddy of them all, The Tower of London , built by William the Conqueror in the 11 th Century, and Winchester Great Hall in Hampshire, the only surviving building of Winchester Castle . Here you can see Henry VIII’s reproduction of King Arthur’s Round Table!

No. 7. Cathedrals are my second-favorite type of building (just after castles!). I even love their hushed interiors and the smell of the old stone and general overall mustiness. Even today these ancient cathedrals are evocative of black-garbed, tonsured monks chanting. England ’s medieval cathedrals are hugely impressive today. I can’t even imagine how impressive they must have been to a hut-dwelling peasant in the 12 th or 13 th century. As Allan has commented, it’s no wonder these buildings, and all they stood for, struck the fear of God into the common people. We’ve been fortunate to visit many spectacular cathedrals in our travels. Among them:

English Cathedrals

(1) Westminster Abbey - All but two of England ’s monarchs were crowned here. The Abbey is also the burial spot of many of England’s Monarchs, including Elizabeth I, Henry V, and Edward I; (2) Southwark Cathedral - The old St. Mary Ovary Church on the south side of the Thames near London Bridge and the recently reconstructed Globe Theatre. It has a memorial to Shakespeare; (3) Canterbury Cathedral - the site of Thomas a’Becket’s murder by Henry II’s knights. This cathedral is an easy visit if you are staying in London – just over an hour by train; (4) Wells Cathedral - it quite simply towers over the small town of Wells and has the most beautiful medieval stone stairway I’ve ever seen; (5) Lincoln Cathedral - it sits high atop a hill overlooking the town of Lincoln. Katherine Swynford is entombed in the cathedral, which is also the home of the Lincoln imp!; (6) St. Albans Cathedral is situated in a Roman town just north of London and can be reached easily by train; (7)  Salisbury Cathedral - We keep coming back to this one – it’s very near Stonehenge, and it boasts the tallest spire in England; (8)  York Minster - This cathedral contains some of the most glorious medieval stained glass in all of England. The Minster survived a devastating fire in 1984 caused by lightening striking its lead roof; (9)  Winchester Cathedral - The Saxon kings are entombed here in mortuary chests– Canute, etc., plus the Cathedral has lovely medieval floor tiles that they inconceivably allow you to walk on. The similar tiles in Westminster Abbey are only uncovered for viewing for an hour a day and they most certainly do not allow the public to walk on them! Winchester also has fabulous Norman arches in one of its transepts; (10)  Peterborough Cathedral . Katherine of Aragon is buried here. Mary, Queen of Scots was also originally entombed here, but was later moved to Westminster Abbey by her son, James I, who put her in a tomb to rival her cousin Elizabeth I’s, which is in a chapel opposite; (11)  Chester Cathedral , a beautiful red-brick building in Chester’s City Centre; (12) London's St. Paul's Cathedral ; Christopher Wrens architectural masterpiece and burial spot; (13)  Bath Abbey is situated directly opposite the famous Roman Baths in the Somerset town of Bath Spa.

Scottish Cathedrals

(14)  St. Giles -the High Kirk of St. Giles on Edinburgh ’s Royal Mile.

Irish Cathedrals

(15)  St. Patricks . In the heart of Dublin , a wonderful, friendly city. I want to return soon!

French Cathedrals

(16)  Cathedral of Notre Dame , Paris. On the Isle de Cite in the center of Paris – don’t miss climbing the towers to see the gargoyles and the Bell Tower; (17)  St. Sulpice A visit is not to be missed if you’ve read The Da Vinci Code – the Rose Line and Gnomon are still there; (18)  St. Denis , where many of the ancient Kings of France are entombed and where Joan of Arc was once given sanctuary and (19)  Sacre Coeur , perched on top of a hill in Montmarte with views of Paris laid out below.

On my future “to do” list: Gloucester , Norwich and Durham Cathedrals in England .