Navigating the summer slump.

Hi. My name is Whitney, and I am a TV addict.

I’ve been one all my life, since the days of bingeing “Fraggle Rock” and “Scooby Doo” while sprawled on ’70s-era shag carpeting. When you had to get up and turn the dial to change a channel. Before TVs were flat or hung on walls.

It’s true. This is one of my earliest memories:

Somehow, I even ended up in a job that’s TV-adjacent. So I get paid to talk about TV and entertainment all day, like a kid in a candy store.

Since we’re now in those dog days of summer — the TV slump before fall premieres, when good TV is hard to come by — I’m often asked what I’m watching. People are looking for ideas. Luckily, I’ve found some! Continue reading

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One year ago.

London bridge

June 1, 2012. One year ago today.

It was a big day. It certainly felt like a big, busy, stressful day at the time, but looking back only highlights its importance.

To begin the day, I interviewed for the second time for the job I have now. A job I desperately wanted but had thought and would continue to think had passed me by, all the way until October.

I worked for the rest of the day and headed to the airport. I was going to London.

Then I got momentous news. Angie was in labor! While I guzzled as many pre-flight chardonnays as I could handle at the US Airways lounge, she texted me updates from her hospital bed. Happy first birthday, little, sweet Sadie!

That night, the plane took off to London, where I’d spend my birthday week. It was in many ways a trip of a lifetime — one I felt compelled to take, even by myself, and one I felt I conquered for many reasons. The queen was honored that I was able to make it.

It was just one little day, but I still feel its ripples today. My, how life can change in a day. And what a difference a year makes.

Catching up on Culinary Cousins.

I’ve been cooking and baking and eating — even growing — and posting over at Culinary Cousins, I just haven’t had a spare second to tell you about it. So let’s play a little catch up:

I can’t explain how, but I grew some romaine lettuce. 

Read all about it: Tuesday Refreshment…
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Exploring in my own backyard.

When I was in London in June, I talked with my cousin Eric about the things I wanted to do while I was there. He had all kinds of ideas for me, steering me away from places I thought I should see but suggesting others that were little known.  He had gleaned much of this knowledge about London, he explained, just by wandering and exploring. It’s something he’d done in every city in which he’d lived — Boston, Hong Kong, New York, now London — seeking out, planning and then actually visiting historical sites, neighborhoods and restaurants around town. (That’s also why he recommended the book he told me about.) Just before I visited, Eric and his wife Jenmon took a private tour of Parliament through their M.P., and a few weeks later were going to see the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. He very purposefully doesn’t take the places he lives for granted, which I think is rare, and admirable.

I focused, of course, on how I spend a whole lot of nights and weekends: just flopped down on the couch. As the years have passed by, I haven’t taken proper advantage of the historical and cultural gems right in my own backyard. I mean, I lived in NYC for nearly 8 years and never saw the Bronx Zoo, the Hamptons OR Coney Island.

Coney Island!

It’s a travesty, I realize.

So, inspired by Eric and in the spirit of my other “adventure” lists, I sat down to create a local list for myself — one I will call “Playing Tourist at Home.” It’s a work in progress, but it encapsulates all the things I want to see and do right here in the Charlotte metro, and likely wouldn’t without motivation. It seems like the right time to make the effort, now that school’s behind me and I’m recapturing my hobbies and social life. So hold me accountable — I will respond to that.

As luck would have it, an occasion to accomplish one item on this list recently completely fell in my lap.

A couple of weekends ago, I was invited to visit a local winery, Childress Vineyards, which is about an hour north of Charlotte in Lexington, N.C. For awhile now, North Carolina has been a burgeoning wine state, and vineyards and wineries are popping up all over the place. Even growing grapes in your backyard and making your own wine is becoming quite the thing.

The day we went to Childress turned out to be the hottest day of the year (and the hottest in my recent memory): a high of 105° F. But, I told myself, I’m always up for an adventure. And I was thrilled to see that the whole place is air conditioned. (Okay…I checked on that before we left.)

Though it was sweltering, it was actually a beautiful day — crystal clear and sunny, which just highlighted the vineyard’s extraordinary beauty. It’s like a Tuscan estate tucked  into the countryside of North Carolina. Childress Vineyards is owned by NASCAR racing owner Richard Childress; he lives nearby and even keeps vines in his yard that are used to produce the most exclusive of the Childress wines.

Now, I cannot stress enough how “out in the middle of nowhere” the vineyard appears — at least from the one minute drive between highway exit and winery driveway. But, that day it was a destination — probably more so because of the heat. It was packed. As we entered through enormous, ornately carved wooden doors, we stepped into a stone entryway complete with fountain. A four-piece band was playing music just ahead of us, and tons of people were milling about: tasting frozen wine concoctions at the “bar,” eating lunch, browsing the gift store. Since we were a fairly large group of 14, we put our name in for lunch (with at least an hour’s wait) and went ahead to the wine tasting.

We divided into two groups based on our wine preferences — a “Cellar Select” tasting for those who like sweeter wines, and a “Barrel Select” tasting for those who like dryer, more premium wines. I probably tend towards sweeter wines, but I’ll really drink anything and wanted to make sure I experienced the best Childress had to offer. So, while the majority chose the Cellar Select Series, I joined three more experimental wine drinkers for the Barrel Select. The tastings are all conducted at a long bar adjacent to the gift store, so we were all able to stand together anyway. The wines were all good — though nothing was extraordinary enough that I couldn’t leave the winery without purchasing. Perhaps Trader Joe’s has ruined me to buying any bottle over $7.00.

After the wine tasting, we moved our tipsy selves to the dining area for lunch. The dining room looks out over the acres of grapevines — a beautiful view. On a better day, you can even sit outside on the lawn to enjoy your meal. Since I had driven and we had to be back in town at a certain time, we didn’t linger over a bottle of wine at lunch. We just glared jealously at all the other patrons nearby who were doing so.

After killing about an hour wandering through the gift shop and ducking outside for a few minutes at a time until we couldn’t take the heat anymore, we gathered for the vineyard tour. I’m not sure if they cut the tour short because of the weather, but it only took about 20 minutes. Blissfully, we were only outside for about five of those minutes before we headed into the chilled warehouse to see the wine manufacturing process. As we walked down the stone steps and across the lawn on our way there, though, we passed a group of staff members assembling white, folding event chairs. There was to be a wedding there at 6:30 p.m. Right there in the blistering sun at 105 degrees. Bless their poor souls.

Our tour guide explained that North Carolina used to be the top producing wine state, until Prohibition in the 1920s. After it was repealed in the 1930s, California popped up as the go-to wine producer, but North Carolina is trying to catch up. We apparently have good weather for all types of grapes, though the humidity in the summer can wreak havoc. Muscadine wine, which I didn’t taste but Childress sells, is a homegrown North Carolina product, primarily grown and produced in the Eastern/coastal part of the state. I think Childress buys grapes from that area to make their wine, but grows everything else on that property.

Richard Childress is committed to only making, and even bottling, local wine — home vintners can bring their own wine there for bottling, but only if the grapes were grown in North Carolina. That’s a nice touch, the local angle.

After the tour, we loaded cars and headed home. It had been a lovely day — an easy drive, a fun excursion and a nice distraction from the heat of the day. There are a whole host of other wineries nearby — clustered near the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area, around Hendersonville and Asheville in the mountains, about two hours north near the Virginia border and even more out at the coast along the beaches. They literally dot the entire state — mountains to the sea. So, more N.C. vineyards are on my list — tourist excursions for another day.

London, Day 6: Last night in town, in the p.m.

Miss a post, or want to read from the beginning? Click here.

I was back from Highclere Castle at 4:00 p.m. The weather in London looked a bit clearer, so I considered what was left on my to-do list. I hadn’t yet even glimpsed Big Ben, which is probably some sort of sacrilege while you’re visiting London, so I headed in that direction.

(Side note: just last week I saw that they’re going to rename Big Ben the “Elizabeth Tower” in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee. Raise your hand if you think that new name will stick …

{{crickets}}

Yeah, that’s what I thought.) 

Big Ben is also near Westminster Abbey and the Cabinet War Rooms. I’ve visited Westminster Abbey every time I’ve come to London, and it’s one of my favorites. But with the day waning, I had to choose between those two sites. I hadn’t seen Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms since the first time I was in England when I was nine, and I’ve learned and come to admire a lot more about Winston Churchill and England’s role in WWII since then. So the War Rooms was actually an attraction I didn’t want to miss. I quickly grabbed a photo of Big Ben on the way out of the Tube and ran up to the War Rooms entrance around 4:30 p.m. I had until 6:00 p.m. to speed through the exhibits. A guided audio tour is included, one of those “push this number to hear more” deals. I tried to go quickly, but also to listen to as much as possible and do it justice.

  

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London, Day 6: Downton Abbey…er, Highclere Castle, in the a.m.

(One month ago I was leaving for London, so it seems appropriate that the first post of my last day publishes today!)

Miss a post, or want to read from the beginning? Click here.

When traveling, I always try to save the best for last.

I love a period drama on film and tv, especially one that features an old, English house and tells about the social heirarchy of bygone days. So I was completely captivated, like most Americans, by the “Downton Abbey” series. While in London, I knew I had to take a day trip to see the real thing, Highclere Castle. I actually booked my tickets to the castle back in March, and already few days were left in June. It’s that in demand.


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London, Day 5: Oxford and the Cotswolds, in the p.m.

Miss a post, or want to read from the beginning? Click here.

We stepped off the coach into the bustling city of Oxford for the second walk of our day tour. Richard had told us that students at the university were in the middle of exams, and sure enough, he pulled us to the side of the street to spy on a student in full robes, which they are required to wear to exams, as he mounted his bicycle nearby.

Oxford city view.

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London, Day 5: Oxford and the Cotswolds, in the a.m.

Miss a post, or want to read from the beginning? Click here.

On Wednesday morning, I got up early (again) and tubed over to Paddington Station. Remember my earlier London Walks tour of Notting Hill? Well, the company also does day trips to nearby cities and sites by train. The one that fell on Wednesday during my trip was to Oxford and the Cotswolds, which was perfect, since I’d never seen the Cotswolds and haven’t been to Oxford since I was nine. Plus I love all the “Inspector Lewis” mysteries that are set in the town of Oxford.

At the station, I spotted our guide, Richard, in his telltale red cap, paid for my ticket and waited for them to call our platform. I started chatting with Debby, another American visitor who joined the tour that morning. She was also in town for the Jubilee and told me a great story — she’d actually been watching all the preparations on CNN at home in Buffalo that Saturday, decided she couldn’t miss such a royal occasion and got on a plane within two hours. A woman after my own heart! Keep reading »

London, Day 4: Jubilation! in the p.m.

Miss a post, or want to read from the beginning? Click here.

After the hub-bub died down in front of St. Paul’s, I walked in the other direction to get a better view of the church. Pretty soon I found myself on Fleet Street, but was lost and turned around. After the late revelry of the night before, I was hoping to find a Tube station that would whisk me back to my hotel, and specifically my bed. But the innumerable barricades along the streets prevented me from navigating in the direction I thought I should be going.

As I stood there confused, I noticed a significant amount of people still lining the barricades expectantly. I walked over to lean against one and look at my map, just as someone asked a police officer, “What time will they be coming by?”

My ears perked.
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London, Day 4: Jubilation! in the a.m.

Miss a post, or want to read from the beginning? Click here.

I figured this would be the hardest post to write, and probably also to read. To write, because I may have to explain why I get so teeny-bopper excited over the British royal family, and I have no justification. To read, because most of you aren’t going to care one whit. So, I’ll give you an out — there is lots of mooning and fawning over royals to come, so I’m not offended if you need to cut out. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. (Har, har, har.)

As Day 4 dawned, I woke early and tubed over St. Paul’s Cathedral, site of the morning Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving service, which was to begin at 10:30 a.m. Most of the streets were blocked, so I had a heck of a time actually getting to the cathedral, and I passed groups of men and women in full church attire making their way to the service. How’d they get to be so special?


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