Tag: England

The Nature of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

New England, the place to be in the autumn, right! An explosion of colour from bursts of tangerine to shades of crimson, nature is at its most picturesque time of year. Can’t argue with that but what I can say is that New England got its spirited reputation honestly—inherited it from Old England, if you will.

Two weekends in a row I’ve found myself mesmerised by nature—just nature.

At a recent retreat, during an out-of-doors experience, I was first attracted to the polished, manicured lawns of an old country house turned hotel, but then noticed the naturally arranged trees in the distance and couldn’t get enough of walking amongst them. It was there that I discovered the benefits of leaving my comfort zones. More on that later but also I suddenly noticed the humanity of trees, how they lived cheek by jowl as we do, but manage to have more than enough space to grow. Somehow they didn’t crowd each other, try to get rid of each other. It was in diversity that they seemed to thrive rather than to stumble. Even suffering had not conquered them.

Upon reflection, the facilitator, let’s call her a tree whisperer of sorts, wondered if I had become a part of the landscape. As I sat to contemplate my experience, I saw what she meant and have had a new reverence for the out-of-doors since.

Surely, it was this eye opening experience, which led me to Wakehurst, Kew’s lush gardens and woodlands in Sussex. Actually, it was my husband who suggested we visit as a part of an early birthday present. All the same, it was an extraordinary gift, a wonderful experience.

Back to the issue of comfort zone, I wandered into the beautiful gardens and grounds and felt ever so comfortable with one tree in particular – a striking, sage beauty, though tinier that most around her – and wandered over to have a photograph with it only to find that the sunlight didn’t do the picture justice. It was then that I crossed the road and posed in front of a seemingly orchestrated landscape to discover in the distance behind me, nature untamed. A variety of colours and textures allured me (see above). 

There is something to say about stepping out of one’s comfort zone now and again. For me in this instance, it has opened my eyes to the goodness of nature, cultivated or uncultivated.  From its stunning beauty to its exhilarating scents, nature is an intrinsic part of life, offering healing properties and so on and invaluable lessons to live by.

When I was a girl, I entered and won a Georgia US statewide writing contest – What a Tree Means to Me. Trees are a symbol of life, I wrote all those years ago.

Fast-forward,  forty something years later, I know this simple truth is still relative and likely always will be. But as an adult, I now understand that we can learn a lot from trees, ranging from how to deal with suffering to healing. Wakehurst is a great example of that, having recovered from the storm of 1987. The woodland lost some 20,00 trees.

Of course, in such learning we have a responsibility, not only to plant seeds, even if only metaphorically, but also to nurture them, let them breathe and flourish. Hence the beautiful parks, gardens of both Old and New England as well as the untamed woodlands—a hassle-free way to step out of one’s comfort zone.


Live Life Wherever You Are

Depending on who you ask, autumn is closer than you think.  While astronomers maintain that fall begins September 22, meteorologists say its tomorrow–the first day of September. I vote for the latter for a number of reasons. From fresher days to earlier nights, there is a newness out and about. Even if one isn’t fortunate enough to see it in the colour of bright leaves falling, it is in the air–the whiff of newness that begins with new beginnings. Back to school, back to work, back to life after a long summer holiday, old ways, whether local or global, seem a bit stale. Time to look ahead.

That’s me! After taking off a month or so, I am looking ahead to next week’s official return to my desk. In the meantime, I have a thing or two the say about life as an expat. In short,  Live Life Where You Are (as written about in latest Huff Post blog)…Seems like an obvious thing to do, doesn’t it? But living life to the fullest when transitioning to a new city, a new country, for example, isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

Undeniably, so much has been left behind both physically and mentally. At least that is the way I felt when I moved to London nearly twenty years ago, but holding close to my chest some savvy advice from my brother, a Retired US Airforce Chief Master Sergeant, who had already travelled the world, I got looking ahead fairly early on instead of always looking over my shoulder.

See the thing is: looking ahead doesn’t always mean forgetting the life lived previously, but it does mean adding to it and living life in the present.  Read more in the Huff Post about making a smooth transition from one country to another.

And follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Sonjalewis.com as I continue and complete my podcast series, You Inside and Out, dare to write more perceptive commentary and transition into a the next phase of living life to the fullest, right here in jolly old England.

Expressing Freedom In the English Countryside

A city girl hands down, I do love getting away to the country now and again. Not surprisingly so, since I was born and raised in rural Southwest Georgia. There is something about the simplicity of unspoiled space, relatively speaking, that’s peaceful, except for the white-knuckle car rides on narrow, windy paths that are considered roads.

Go figure, this is England, where country lanes are so narrow that dear life depends on how you take every crook and turn and whether you have the skills to reverse as far as is necessary to somehow edge by a Range Rover that is too big for the road on its own or drive sideways on the hillside to squeeze by. Thank God for folding wing mirrors. Now what about a car that can fold without being hit and then unfold again? Sorry I digress; that’s the Jetsons, isn’t it? 

Anyhow, off to Somerset we went last weekend to Babington House to celebrate my birthday. I know, I know, that was weeks ago. Never mind, we like to celebrate as much as we can around here.

And that we did, arriving just in time for the cool of autumn, as good of a time as any, if you ask me, to get a fresh start. Though a scarcely 20-year-old hotel and members club, which is part of a worldwide hotel group, Babington House, including its grounds, is anchored deeply in English history, which segues back to the country.

History traces the land back to a medieval village, where there was a church and manor house, however, the present house was built circa 1705.  Though it has undergone many renovations, it wears its charm and character well.

The first morning during breakfast, I sat looking out over the grounds, and couldn’t help thinking how the property, the land was so very representative of the English countryside. The sun spilled over a small hill in distance, highlighting the dew stained grass. The grounds an uneven plane, just enough for children to run free and frolic, seemed to call out to them or to anyone who wanted to express freedom at its most basic.

That’s us! After pulling on our Wellies, off we went to explore the English countryside.


Two countries divided by a thing or two

George Bernard Shaw is often credited with saying that “England and America are two countries divided by a common language,” although some sources claim it was Oscar Wilde who coined the phrase and others Winston Churchill.

In any case, I’ve never felt the phrase to be more accurate than now, having recently returned from the US after a two-week visit with family and friends for Thanksgiving.

From the glitz and glamour of New York City to the warmth and hospitality of the Atlanta, rather Albany, Ga., I lived it up and managed to spend a few days in the nation’s capital somewhere in between.

However, with my experiences but a distance memory, I’ve come in for a hazy landing. No wonder I’m being teased about using such words as Jell-O for jelly, and cookie for biscuit. Honestly. And shop assistants are repeatedly asking where I’m from and struggling to understand me.

Let’s just say I’m feeling a tad bit alien. Nonetheless, I’ll stay put and reorient, since I’ve made London my home for nearly sixteen years.

Bridging the language gap, however, is only one aspect of re-entering the capital. There’s switching back to the English coins from the chunk of American change I managed to collect, and the mobile phone,  the credit cards and the chequebook, etc. Who still uses cheques? Never mind, you never know.

And then there is adjusting to the major drop in temperature. Dressed for late spring rather than early winter upon arrival at Heathrow Friday, I felt the chill coming on, not only in the air but also in the state of the airport, even it if is one of the busiest in the world.  Having been described as a zoo, certainly by me, Heathrow and those running it manage to maintain a quintessentially British equanimity, at the worst of times, making the rest of us bonkers.

Lucky for me this time, I arrived at the best of times and breezed right through. But the same time the next day, others weren’t so lucky, as Heathrow practically shut down because of a computer glitch.

Outside of the airport, the atmosphere felt bleak by comparison to the warmth of Atlanta, though the weather has turned frigid in many parts of the US, including NYC and Washington, DC. Anyhow, I soon accepted the bleakness as part of what makes London, London—formal and steely at times yet familiar and enchanting.

Speaking of formality, sometimes it comes with excessive complication. Never mind that the parking app on my phone assured me that I was paid to park today for a few hours, yet my credit card had apparently expired. Furthermore, the customer service people had no sympathy for me and robotically referred me to the automated machine repeatedly.

I know, I know, it happens everywhere. Sure it does but you have to experience it in London to conclude that shouting and pleading are futile. Futile!

As for driving, it comes second nature to me here, even more so than it does in the US. Strangely, my brain thinks driving on the left side of the road makes more sense than driving on the right side, even if it is outdated.

Now for some sleep. Hang on, hang on, at writing of this, it was not even close of business yet, even if it was pitch black outside. Worse yet, it was only around lunchtime EST. Umm, another divider, wouldn’t you know it—time, a significant part of re-entry, absolutely nothing alien about it.

In that case, I’ll catch up on my Bo Peep (rhyming Cockney) later, I mean shut-eye, or shall I say sleep, a word we can all understand. Righty ho.

England, full of tantalizing surprises

I hate to love surprises. You didn’t read wrong; it’s true.  Whenever someone has a surprise for me, particularly Paul, I do everything I can to spoil it. I snoop, I guess, I badger, but thankfully, he’s got my number and turns a blind eye to my childish behaviour most times.

Because when he unmasks the surprise, I love it.

This past birthday weekend he planned two grand surprises, as impressive as the time he got me all the way to the airport before revealing that he was taking me to Amsterdam for the weekend. Imagine! The first of the two weekend surprises, I had managed to finagle out of him, long before we set out, but the not the last one. I didn’t find out until we were yards away.

First things first,  a week away from surprise number one, I cajoled Paul until he gave in and arranged a guessing game. He would answer ten yes, no questions of my choice. 1) Are we staying in the United Kingdom? Yes! 2) Is it somewhere we have been before? Yes! 3) Is it Babington House? Yes!

Fireworks! I got packing and Paul got relaxing. He had planned the holiday well in advance to avoid disappointment. On the Friday before my birthday we drove to the English countryside in Somerset.

Long before we got there, I remembered that I hadn’t packed my toothpaste, my robe or a face cloth. I always take the latter because hotels in Europe don’t always have one. Well, well, well, I needn’t have worried. Luxury is the word at Babington House. Feasting my eyes upon the tree-lined driveway and then the grand house, I remembered.

Yes, they had all these amenities and more in our room. We didn’t have to ask for a thing, except a glass of champagne. Anyhow, the room was just as I remembered. Paul had arranged the same one. Spacious and attractive, it had a freestanding, elegant bathtub in the middle of the bathroom.

The main house had a few changes such a massive guestroom, off limits unless you were the guest, which used to be a huge relaxation room, where chairs hung from the ceiling literally. The location of the restaurant had changed, but the food, every meal, was fresh and delicious, although not a patch on surprise number two.

I am getting there. Bear with! From enchanting grounds with breath-taking views to a cosy library with the most exquisite and comfy chairs, Babington House is one of England’s best holiday spots.

Now, for the second surprise. The Monday after my birthday, Paul worked as usual, came home and suggested we go out for dinner around 8.30ish. And no matter how much I coaxed, he kept quiet until we arrived in Knightsbridge and even then I had to guess it—Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental.

OMG was all I could say. And after a wonderful dinner in the most delightful atmosphere, I can tell you that Heston deserves his most recent Michelin Star for this very restaurant. If you go there, get anything! It all looks wonderful and simply must be. But we had the prime rib for two, most uncharacteristic of us, and it was divine, as was the serving of brown bread ice cream. Heaven!

Shame that Heston didn’t actually turn up there, but he does cook, design each and every recipe and test, test, test like only he can, so I am told. What can I say, the man is busy. In his absence, I managed to stash a keepsake—the menu. Shush! Now, I have never been one to behave so ridiculously, but with two major surprises within days of each other, I was feeling elated.

Some might say it was the wine. Good point, but anyone who knows Paul knows that these two surprises, back to back, are to be cherished and remembered for a long time.

Just kidding. The man is full of surprises and so is his England. Oops! Mine, too.