Grace Notes

The private journals of Grace Hollister...

December 10th, 2003

I'm homesick!

I think it's the holidays. I've tried not to let the thought form in my mind, but...I'm not sure I belong here. I feel so far from everyone I love -- everything I know.

And the kinder people are, the more I miss my own family and friends.

I sound horribly ungrateful -- I know that. But suddenly I wonder what on earth I think I'm doing here? So far from home. I'm literally risking everything! And for what? Or, more accurately, for whom?

And it's cold here! Really cold -- the chill bites right into you. And it's wet. I love rain, but it is very wet. The roof of the cottage leaks a bit.

Christmas is coming. I suppose that's what this is really about. My first holiday away from home. That in itself probably indicates this...adventure is exactly what I need.

I've mailed all my parcels home, I've finished my Christmas cards, I even bought a little tree and set it up on the kitchen table. Peter let me pick and choose from the odds and ends of old ornaments that come into the shop this time of year. It's a sweet little tree -- I want to burst out crying every time I look at it.

What on earth is the matter with me?

October 22nd 2003

What a lovely day. The rain is soft and sweet today, pattering on the leaves and flowers in the garden -- not that there is much left in the way of flowers. Still, it's lovely. The scent of woodsmoke mingles with other scents: leather, pumpkin, wet earth and crumbling leaves - the spices of the fall.

Last night Peter showed up unexpectedly at the cottage, inviting me down to the pub for casual supper. I wasn't expecting him and so I went to the door wearing my spectacles and wrapped in a quilt like an Indian.

His mouth did that sort of private quirky thing, but he just said very casually that he was on his way to the Cock's Crow, and did I feel like coming along? Well, I did, because for one thing I'm tired of slightly stale blueberry gingerbread, and I haven't got round to making anything else yet. As much as I love to cook, I've never done much of it, and I never quite seem to be exactly in the right mood. So I said, just as casually, that yes, I'd like that.

We decided to walk down to the pub. The rain had stopped and the sky was a wonderful purple-blue. Lights were on in the houses, smoke silvery in the sky, the slate roofs dark from the recent rain. We didn't speak almost at all, but it wasn't awkward just...quiet.

The pub was packed. It's always packed in the evenings. There wasn't any real opportunity to talk then because we were ended up joining a party of Americans who were staying overnight in the village. Listening to them, I realized what headway I've made acclimatizing!

Well, all things being relative.

I had the shepherd's pie, which is really just mince (chopped or ground beef) and potatoes, but somehow it tastes different here.

The beer is very good too -- and the Guinness is like creamy silk. Delicious.

We stayed 'til the Americans began to sing, and then we slipped out.

The moon was soft and woolly as we walked back along the silent streets. At the cottage, Peter stopped me from slipping inside with a hand on my arm. He kissed me, a gentle, brief kiss -- and touched my face. The kiss -- it was a nice kiss, an expert kiss, but the thing that got my heart beating faster was the look in his eyes.

Of course, I might have got that wrong, given that the lantern over the front door doesn't throw the best light in the world.

He said he'd see me in the morning, and he went -- quiet as a shadow down the stone path.

Today everything seems back to normal. A lovely normal. And every time I caught Peter's eyes, he smiled.

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October 21st 2003

O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being—
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Those are lovely lines. My favorite three lines in Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," I think. " He wrote it -- or at least was inspired to write it -- in a wood beside the Arno River in Tuscany, near Florence. "On a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down the autumnal rains."

On the whole I find Shelley's work a little melancholy. It's hard not to feel occasionally just the tiniest bit impatient with him.

It's raining again. Peter has not asked me to dinner since the night I told him I had plans.

October 14th, 2003

Autumn is my favorite time of year. “Season of mists and yellow fruitfulness.”

Or is mellow fruitfulness? For some reason I always mix up that line.

There’s something in the air. Something beyond the hint of woodsmoke, the chill of the crisp, starry nights—something nostalgic in the scent of damp earth and crumbling leaves. I’m not sad. It’s too soon to be homesick—I’m a grown woman, after all. Many grown women don’t live near their families. But there’s something in the air that makes my heart ache and at the same time fills me with quiet delight. The world is going to sleep. Another year is ending.

Oh well. I never claimed to be a writer! Let alone a poet. How can one compete with Keats and that last wonderful stanza Ode to Autumn.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breat whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

In California you don’t experience the seasons as you do here. The trees are a-blaze with scarlet, gold, yellow, bittersweet. Leaves blanket the ground which is hard with frost in the morning. The gardens are still beautiful with roses and berries—dusty reds and muted purples. It’s a mature beauty. Not the giddy pollen-drunk exuberance of spring. Even the birds seem somber, their songs sweeter shorter. It’s rained nearly every day this week—that could be one reason.

I don’t want to think about the holidays. Those will be difficult days. Does Peter even celebrate the holidays? I try to imagine a year when we might go home for Thanksgiving. Somehow I just can’t picture him sitting at the table with my family. What would we all talk about? His last heist?

That’s unfair—to him and my family. Why am I so ready for everything to go wrong?

The truth is, I never met anyone more charming. He’s on friendly terms with everyone—well, almost everyone. The Chief Constable isn’t too keen on him. He—Peter, that is—knows everyone, and yet I don’t think anyone knows him. Not really. I wonder if one day I’ll read this journal and smile, because I’ll be the person who knows him through and through.

Yeah, right, as the young ladies of St. Anne’s would say.

There are very few tourists around now. The village seems like a ghost town. Yesterday I found a wonderful set of etched stemware in one of the little antique shops. In the summer you can’t find anything—and whatever you do find is horribly overpriced.

I’m feeling very domestic today. Blueberry gingerbread is baking in the oven, the tea kettle is whistling softly, and I’m scratching away jotting down my future memories. I don’t want to forget a moment of this time.

October 7th, 2003

I've made a list of five gardens I'd like to visit while I'm here.

While I'm here. It sounds temporary. I can't think of this place as home, although I've been in Britain for nearly two months. Well, I can hardly count the first few weeks, as I was very much in sight-seer mode (when I wasn't in run-for-my-life mode). But I've officially lived here for one month now. I have a routine of sorts. I'm making friends. I'm officially on sabbatical. I've bought groceries.

And, of course, this is where Peter is.

But I'd rather not think of Peter, since I spend far too much time thinking of him as it is.


First and foremost I'd like to see the Westminster Abbey Gardens. When Monica and I visited Westminster Abbey, we hadn't time to see the gardens. There are two of them: the Little Infirmary, which is planted with roses, lilies and acanthus, and the Cloister, which has a large collection of herbs. Both gardens have been cultivated for over 900 years.

I'd also like to see Sissinghurst, which is one of the most famous gardens in Europe. Created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson in the 1930s, the garden is supposed to be a series of interconnected 'rooms.' There is a white garden, a cottage garden, a rose garden, an herb garden.

Great Maytham Hall is supposed to have inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. She took an old walled orchard and turned it into a rose garden, before returning to the States. I think it may be some kind of retirement home now, and I believe they hold weddings there--though probably not for the retired tenants.

I would love to see Cornwall, and if I do make the trip I plan to visit Trelissick, which is described by my guidebook as 'a sheltered 25-acre valley garden with a number of exotic species of plants and trees.' I can't imagine a 25-acre garden! Bluebells carpet the dell in the spring surrounded by snowy banks of hydrangeas. I would certainly go in the spring.

Assuming I am still here in the spring.

I've seen pictures of Hidcote Manor Garden--it always reminds me of a fairytale garden. It's a series of small and large gardens separated by hedges and walls; many of the roses and plants are very old and very rare.

I didn't used to think much about gardens, but I suppose living in the middle of one has made me more aware. There were rabbits on the lawn this morning. I watched them while I had my toast and tea. It's a rather nice way to start the day, I have to admit.

September 30th, 2003

I'm making a list of all the places I want to see during my stay in the Lakes. Peter finds my list-making highly entertaining, and asked yesterday if I needed a list to keep track of all my lists? I prefer to think of myself as well-organized, but I can see that someone like Peter might view this papertrail as...lacking spontaneity.

I can't help it. I like surprises in small doses--the unexpected gift, sunshine when you're expecting rain, realizing it's Saturday when the alarm goes off. I don't like not knowing what to expect from people. I don't like feeling foolish, and I often feel foolish around Peter--like I'm playing a game and I don't know the rules. Even if I did know the rules, I don't believe that he would play by them!

We've had dinner together every night this week, except tonight. I never know if he's going to ask or not. Tonight I couldn't take the suspense of waiting for him to say something; I told him when we stopped for our tea that I had plans. He gave me the oddest look--did that thing with one eyebrow, reminding me of Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

(Speaking of which, that has to be one of the most romantic film moments, when Sir Percy walks into the room and addresses Marguerite and her friends with a deep bow: "Ladies, your servant, Madam, your slave.")

Anyway, now I have the evening to myself, and I am wondering if I made a mistake. And not just because there is nothing to eat in the house. At home I would have opened a can of Campbell's vegetable beef soup, added one of those little tins of roast beef and eaten it with warm, buttered French bread. It's a good night for home cooking--the weather has turned chilly and the skies are ominous. A good night to curl up in front of the fireplace and read.

I found a copy of Betty Alexandra Toole's Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers. I find Byron's acknowledged daughter to be a fascinating mix of contradictions. Despite Lady Bryon's efforts to protect herself and her child with mathematics and science, Ada inherited both her father's passion and his creativity. Had she not died so young, there's no telling where that combination of intellect and imagination might have taken her--and us. I'm a little familiar with her work on the "Analytical Machine," but I had no idea that she had also designed a flying machine when she was thirteen. She was quite beautiful too.

(And I believe I read somewhere that she had a gambling addiction, so perhaps Lady MacBeth--er Lady Byron's fears were not completely unfounded.)

So I'm spending tonight with Ada--and tomorrow I am going grocery shopping!

September 20th, 2003

I treated myself to a trip to Grizedale Forest this past week. It truly is a treat to be able to tour the countryside during the week and so avoid the last of the tourists. Sally has sold me--given me, would be more accurate because she's charging me pin money (and even that is on "my tab")--her late husband's vintage Aston Martin.

I feel like Diana Rigg tooling about the countryside in my baby blue sportscar.

Anyway, the forest is truly amazing. I spent most of the day on the sculpture trails. They have to be experienced to be believed; even photos can't capture the what it feels like. The silence, the smell of earth and pine--and then you look up to see this astonishing site: a giant metal-sculpted bird swooping down upon you.

Or even worse...

Here is the guardian of the woods, the Green Man at Grizedale.

I made the trip on my own. Peter is not apparently interested in sight-seeing. I may not have quite as much time for sight-seeing myself, as he has offered me a part-time job at Rogue's Gallery. I reminded him that I know nothing about antiques; he just smiled that private smile and said that as he knew little of American school teachers we would "endeavor to educate each other."

The cottage is very quiet at night.

September 15th, 2003

Most people are not enigmatic. Certainly most men are not enigmatic. They may be difficult to understand, but this is due to a difference in communication styles--or, to be precise, the fact that so many men choose not to communicate at all. Not about the important things.

Peter Fox is an enigma to me.

Not that he isn't an effective communicator--or at least, an entertaining one--but it's harder to read between his lines.

I will say it was a great relief to me that he seemed to take it for granted that we would not be living together during this...well, whatever it is. Trial period? At least I think it was a relief. I've occasionally wondered during the past week or so if he recollects why exactly I've chosen to extend my stay. Anyway, he has arranged it so that I spent the last few days moving into the Gardener's Cottage at Renfrew Hall on the outskirts of the village.

The hall used to be a vicarge. It's owned by Sally Smithwick, a lovely woman in her sixties, recently widowed, and raising her two grandchildren. There seems to be some mystery about the children's parents. The kids are adorable and remind me of Faith and Emily. (I'm already missing them.) During the tourist season Sally runs the hall as a bed and breakfast, but no one is staying with her at the moment.

The cottage is set in the back of the very large garden. It's small but charming. Pink stone with red and white trim around the windows and a carved wooden heart on the rounded front door. It somehow reminds me of an old-fashioned valentine. It has one large main room and a small kitchen annex with an excellent Aga stove. (Perhaps I'll finally have the opportunity to do some real cooking.) The bath is about what you would expect of English plumbing, and I have a feeling I'm going to be wearing a great deal of silk and wool this winter. But it is charming. A wonderful old apple tree shades the roof, and the scent of apple-blossoms is like wine in the autumn air. A pair of doves seem to live beneath the eaves.

It didn't take me long to settle in. I was fixing myself tea when Sally came by with an armload of paisley quilts and a basket of newly baked cheese and apple tartlets. They were delicious--unlike anything I'd had before. I asked for the recipe, of course! If nothing else, I'll have quite a collection of recipes (and possibly an expanded waistline) to show for my stay.


2 cups All-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (cut in small pieces)
5 tablespoons ice water

1 & 1/4 pounds of peeled, cored and chopped apples
8 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Combine flour and salt in large bowl. With a pastry blender
or 2 knives cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Gradually sprinkle with ice water, tossing with a fork until all is
moistened. Gather dough into a ball. Divide dough in half. Form
each ball into a square. Wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut each dough square in
quarters. On lightly floured surface, roll out each pastry piece to a
5-inch circle. Press pastry rounds into 4-inch tartlet pans. Trim
edge. Set pans on baking sheet. Spoon chopped apples evenly in
pastry shells. Sprinkle each with 1 ts sugar. Bake at 425 degrees F
for 20 minutes until pastry is lightly browned and apple is tender.
Remove from oven. Sprinkle each tartlet with 2 ts cheese. Bake at
425 degrees F for 5 minutes until cheese is golden brown. Serve hot
or cold.

When Sally left the cottage seemed very quiet. The breeze drifting in the windows was suddenly cool, and there was the faintest scent of woodsmoke in the air. I examined the quilts--they're really lovely. Faded print linings--but they're filled with wool, I think. I pictured myself cozily wrapped in one reading beside my new little fireplace. They smell very faintly of lavender and summer.

Comfort me with cottage quilts and apples!

September 10th 2003

I must be mad.

But I suppose there is truth to Pasternak's 'Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.' Have I spent the last thirty years preparing for my life? If so, I needed to study a different discipline!

Speaking of discipline, I found the recipe for that wonderful chocolate hazlenut roulade.

1/4 C. hazelnuts, toasted and cooled, skins rubbed off
2 T. all-purpose flour
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 eggs, separated
3/4 C. sugar
1/8 t. cream of tartar
2 to 3 T. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 C. heavy cream, cold
2 t. instant espresso or coffee powder
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 to 2 T. sugar
(Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

To make the roulade, in a clean, dry food-processor bowl, combine the nuts with the flour and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Set aside.

In the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water or in a heat-proof bowl set into a skillet of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat. Or microwave on medium (50 percent) power for about 2 minutes. Stir until smooth and completely melted. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until pale and thick. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture. Set aside.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks are formed. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, beating at high speed until stiff but not dry.

Using a rubber spatula, fold about a fourth of the egg whites and all the hazelnut mixture into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whites. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely in the pan or on a rack.

Sieve a light dusting of cocoa over the cake, reserving the remaining cocoa. Lay a sheet of foil on cake and invert; peel off the pan liner.

To make the filling, whip the cream with the espresso powder and vanilla until it begins to thicken. Sprinkle with sugar and beat until the cream holds a soft shape. Spread the cream over the cake and, starting at a short edge, roll the cake using the foil to help you. At first the cake will crack as you roll it. Don't worry -- the cracking will become less severe as the roulade gets fatter, and a little cracking on the finished roulade looks like tree bark, quite appetizing. Wrap the roulade in foil and refrigerate until serving.

To serve, unwrap the roulade and transfer to a platter. Sieve a little more cocoa over it, or use a little powdered sugar for contrast.
Serves 8 to 10.

I always eat when I'm nervous, and if a woman ever had cause for nervous anxiety, I am she.

I'm not sure how to explain my decision. Not to my parents; I can't imagine what they'll say (let alone think). Oh Lord. Chaz. I think I dread calling Miss Wintersmith most of all. She'll think I've had some sort of a breakdown.

Monica, of course, is delighted. Nothing like having a partner in crime.

Speaking of partners in crime...

The tarn behind Craddock House

I probably am crazy, but I'm so happy.