A Toast to Kate and Wills: Cheers, Felicitations, and Best Wishes!

I’ve been singing Carly Simon’s Anticipation for days! I cannot wait for the Royal Wedding! The anticipation of the dress, the new and old traditions, the fairy tale… I am a hopeless romantic and like many American girls, I grew up on princess fairy tales: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White… I am tickled pink to see my daughter enjoy them now. The girly girls in the house will be up early Friday morning to put the kettle on and enjoy the wedding of a lifetime.
I remember waking up early to watch Princess Diana get married with my mom. It’s as close to the fairy tale as we can get. It has been almost thirty years since the marriage of William’s parents who were married on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Kate is the modern day Cinderella and everything you expect a princess to be.

I love that she is modest with a bit of mystery to her. I read she plans to apply her own makeup for the big day and take a car instead of a carriage. This sends a message that she’s proud to be a ‘commoner.’

I love Kate’s personal style; she is sophisticated yet daring and her ‘commoner’ confidence makes her seem relatable to every woman. She’s an athlete and an approachable role-model for women of all ages. I look forward to seeing her fashion influence on the world. Kate has a degree in art history, aspirations to be a photographer, and a passion for style. She was an accessories buyer for the popular British store Jigsaw.

Diana would have been fifty this year. I’m sure William’s mother will be watching and smiling down on her son because it is obvious Kate and William truly love each other. Like Diana, I don’t think Kate will be afraid to have a good time and laugh whole heartedly with the ones she loves. She seems less timid than Diana but equally as charismatic.
When I was in the fifth grade my parents took a vacation to England. When they came home, my mom had brought home tea. I remember her starting to make tea in the mornings and it was the best treat. Ever sense then, I’ve been a tea drinker. Tea is so iconically British. Most American’s like iced tea and the further south you go, the sweeter the tea. My roommate at the University of Alabama made a pitcher a day (it contained three cups of sugar). I prefer my tea hot and in a pot with a splash of cream.
I want to get my hands on Twining's Royal Wedding tea. I read it’s similar to Earl Gray, but lighter and more feminine. It’s a white tea with rose petals and bergamot. How nice does that sound? There’s always time for a good cuppa tea. Enjoying watching the Royal Wedding at four in the morning with my daughter couldn’t be a better time.
There are many popular English royal wedding traditions that we will be privy too on April 29th. Did you know a bride of royal birth often wore silver? Princess Charlotte wore a silver lame dress over white silk and trimmed with silver lace. Can you imagine how heavy that would have been? Queen Victoria broke that tradition. I have a feeling Kate will wear white, but I am sure it will reflect her style and personality. I will be looking for Kate’s horseshoe (a tradition for good luck). Will she have an arm band, will it be sewn on to her dress or will it be jewelry?
The social media has been tastefully British- opening up the window just enough to let us have a peak but also keeping much mystery behind the royal doors. I have been following the Twitter page for Clarence House and find it to be exciting. There are constant updates, pictures, and videos about the Royal Wedding.

London will be the center of the world this Friday. All over the city and the UK there will be street parties galore. Most everyone wants to share in the happy celebrations of Kate and Wills. The earliest known street parties were around the end of the WWI with Peace Teas to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Street parties for the British are what Fourth of July barbeques are to Americans.

Photos: Princess Charlotte's silver wedding dress, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones, Prince Charles and Lady Di.

I think it would be really fun to be at Disney World with my daughter. They are having a Royal Wedding watch pajama party with an English breakfast, Cinderella’s coach, tiaras, and more. We plan to do the same thing here at home but just imagine the excitement of all the little princess wannabes at Disney! I bought my daughter the dress up Rapunzel dress just for the occasion and we plan to wear our hats and drink tea.
It could be a very long time before we see another royal wedding. We should all take the time to celebrate it. Whether it’s Pimms or a nice cuppa tea…Cheers!

Catherine de Medici: Italian Duchess, French Queen, Renaissance Legend

Caterina de Medici was a survivor! She was born in Florence, Italy in 1562 and was raised without parents, orphaned as an infant then taken hostage during the Italian Wars. The young Duchessina (little Duchess) was wanted dead at thirteen and locked up in a convent. She cut her hair all off and wore a nun’s habit hoping it would keep people from hurting her. Thanks to her Uncle Clement, the Pope who came to her rescue, at fourteen she was betrothed to King Henry II of France. This united two of the most powerful families in Europe.  
Catherine de Medici was short and had the distinct Medici look (long nose and dark round fiery eyes). She was not beautiful but she was (and still is) unforgettable. Catherine brought many things to the French table. She was a true Renaissance Queen acquainting France to: the first high heeled shoe, the fork, underwear, the side-saddle, fortune tellers, folding fan, ice cream, artichokes and more.
My favorite thing that she introduced (and the reason I grew up knowing her name) is ballet! She was a huge patron of the arts and brought ballet over from Italy. Yes, ballet was originally Italian!! The Ballet Comique de la Reine was the first ballet performance and Catherine was the instigator bringing over Italian masters to choreograph the dance. The court was so impressed with the ballet that they tried to copy similar dances then eventually replaced Italian ballet masters with French, and that’s why the language of ballet became French.
Catherine had a love of architecture as well, and this can be viewed today as we appreciate the building of the Louvre and also the construction of the Tuieleries gardens.
Photos: Catherine de Medici to the left, Comique de la Reine ballet above right, and a Court ball at the Louvre below.
In addition to all of the above she had a love for astrology and was friends with Nostradamus who advised Catherine until his death. She also had a fellow Florentine, Cosimo who was her herbalist. She had a collection of potions, perfumes, and readings that she believed strongly in and sought comfort in when something seemed amiss. Catherine herself was known for having “visions” and was open to knowing the future.
King Francis I was happy to gain fourteen-year-old Catherine from Florence with her large dowry and his grand scheme of taking a chunk of Italy. The two of them got along famously because they shared a love of dance, art, and beauty. Francis actually bought the Mona Lisa from Leonardo da Vinci himself. Catherine’s father-in-law was a big influence on her artistically and politically.
Unfortunately for Catherine there was great difficulty in getting her husband Henry to come to bed with her. He had a relationship with his former older nanny, Diane de Poitiers, who held his love and heart for the rest of his life. I read that both the father-in-law and Henry’s mistress, Diane, would watch them in bed to assist in the making of an heir. Poor Catherine, can you imagine?
Ten years after Catherine and Henry were married they finally got busy and produced ten children and several heirs to the throne. Francis II (married Mary, Queen of Scots), Elizabeth (married Philip II, King of Spain), Claude (married Charles III, Duke of Lorraine), Charles IX (married Elizabeth of Austria), Henry III (married Louise of Lorraine), Margot (married and divorced Henry of Navarre, later Henry IV, King of France) and Hercules (Duke of Alencon) . 
 Catherine’s three last children did not survive infancy. Catherine’s three sons who reigned were in constant religious war between the Catholics and the Huguenots (French Protestants). Catherine (a Roman Catholic) constantly tried to reconcile the religious groups and was trusted by neither group. She favored the Catholics but was open to making peace. That’s why she felt it important to marry Margot to Huguenot Henry, who converted twice during this war.
Once things seem to be going well for Catherine, tragedy struck again and she lost her husband in a horrible jousting accident at the wedding celebrations for their daughter Elizabeth. He lost an eye and died ten days later.
The only surviving member of the Royal Valois dynasty was Margot (Catherine’s youngest daughter) who I find to be the most fascinating of all Catherine’s children. Famous for her sense of style and beauty she was the muse of the court. She deeply loved Henry of Guise, but her mother wouldn’t allow her to marry him because the Guise family threatened to control the throne. She was forced to marry Henry II of Navarre because Catherine thought it would bring religious peace between the Catholics and Huguenots. Margot saved the lives of several Protestants, keeping them in her rooms and refusing to admit the assassins. She was famous for her scandalous behavior, taking many lovers and was imprisoned by her brother Henry III for eighteen years. She wrote her memoirs while imprisoned and later inspired Shakespeare’s comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost and Dumas’ 1845 novel and 1994 movie La Reine Margot.
Photos: Margot de Valois above right, Jeanne de Navarre to the left, and Catherine de Medici below.
As a mother, Catherine de Medici protected her children to the end, but France always came first. She was a Queen who fought for peace and was wrongly accused for some of the worst crimes: the murder of Jeanne of Navarre (Margot’s mother-in-law), the murder of Gaspard de Coligny (the Huguenot leader), poisoning her brother-in-law, and two sons, and planning the Massacre of St. Bartholomew (which killed thousands of Huguenots).
I think of Marie Antoinette, who like Catherine de Medici was not French. Even thought they were centuries apart, the Austrian princess and Italian duchess had a lot in common (not just their sense of style). Each came to France at the age of fourteen, threatened the French culture and they were scorned for not producing an heir right away. They were also both to blame for crimes they did not commit; Marie’s “Affair of the Necklace” and Catherine’s “Massacre of St. Bartholomew.”  The famous Queens’ put France first, but France failed to appreciate them; they were regarded as the enemy and wrongly misjudged.
Catherine de Medici did the best she could as a Queen and mother during her reign; she desperately wanted peace for France and some appreciation for all she had fought for. Catherine once said to the Queen of Navarre, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” This says a lot to me about the kind of person she was; a survivor who was doing the best she could in her difficult circumstance. She lived to be sixty-nine and I imagine her heart was tired, sad, and burdened by what she felt had been a “thankless” life.

San Antonio: The Venice of South Texas

Ahh! San Antonio…the smell of Tex-Mex, the sound of mariachi bands, and the sight of the River Walk. It’s like stepping into a quaint foreign village; the little Venice of Texas!

Savoring Texas history, food, and entertainment on a weekend trip can be fulfilling for not just our children but the child inside all of us. When Texans think of a vacation spot within our own state, it’s often San Antonio; land of historical significance, popular landmarks punctuated with natural and architectural beauty, and an abundance of restaurants to satisfy your every gastronomic interest.

One thing is for certain when you visit San Antonio – you won’t ever run out of things to do! It boasts of richness in culture, beauty, history and pure fun! You can enjoy year-round activities like river tubing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, golf, cycling, shopping, museums, and (my favorite) delicious food and drink.

San Antonio’s history is unique because it’s a melting pot of multiple cultural influences: Native Americans, the first Spanish explorers, Mexican residents, and German immigrants. They've all added to the culture that is San Antonio and through it we can taste the Tex-Mex food, see the influence of both German and Spanish architecture, and listen to the romantic cascade of the varying dialects.

Ashley’s San Antonio Tips to Remember:

·          The Japanese Tea Gardens is an outdoor must-see: beautiful floral displays, waterfall and a Koi pond to help you find your Zen.

·          The Tower of the Americas gives a panoramic view of the city.

·          The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum is muy Texas with exotic collections like a two-headed calf and a lamb with eight legs.  

·          The Alamo, was originally established as a mission in the early 1700s. It now sits as a monument for Texas pride and a reminder of the bravery of 189 defenders who feel there on March 6, 1836 to overpowering numbers of Santa Anna’s Mexican army. The museum contains relics and mementos from the Republic of Texas and has easy to gather information about the fall of the Alamo and what it meant in Texas history.

·          The River Walk is the country’s oldest and most extensive Spanish-colonial water system. This three-mile winding walkway offers  a variety in dining, art, shopping and entertainment. It is a favorite of most visitors to the City.

·          The San Antonio Zoo is the third largest zoo in the United States features 3,500 animals.

·          Browse the vendors at Market Square, see beautiful Victorian mansions in the King William District,  and be sure to take in the collection at the San Antonio Museum of Art

·          SeaWorld San Antonio is a popular destination for families visiting San Antonio and its SeaWorld, the largest of its theme parks in the country.   
Photo: One of Sea World's many shows, this one shows a walrus doing crunches!

      You don’t have to walk far anywhere in San Antonio to find something that will satisfy your palate. San Antonio cuisine ranges from Texas-style barbeque ribs to Mexican (my husband’s favorite) huevos rancheros. More than 50 restaurants alone sit along the San Antonio River Walk, European-style alfresco cafes allow diners to soak up the rays or the nighttime air and listen to the mariachi bands.

Do you enjoy a good cup of tea? MadHatter’s Tea House and Café has been featured in National Graphic Traveler, New York Times and Texas Monthly as well as on Rachael Ray’s Vacation.  They have a wide variety of tea and delicious tea time bites. 
Photo: La Fogata's Chile En Nogado
The best Mexican food I’ve ever had was at La Fogata! When driving to the restaurant my husband thought for sure we were lost because it’s away from all the hustle and bustle of San Antonio attractions (more in the burbs). We arrived to a lush courtyard filled with fountains and a fabulous atmosphere for sipping margaritas (again…the best I ever had). La Fogata is authentic Mexican food that’s well priced and well known for the best margaritas in town. When we left I called my friend Michael to thank him for the wonderful recommendation. Often word of mouth recommendations are the very best.  
Photo: Walking the trail around the Ramblin' River at Hill Country Hyatt.
On our recent visit to San Antonio we stayed at the Hill Country Hyatt and I can’t recommend it enough. The ranch house style hotel has wooden beams and porches with rocking chairs that lure you into relaxation mode. There are endless activities for children and adults, everything you could want: a gorgeous 27-hole championship golf course, the Ramblin' River that you can safely tube around with your children, and a beach to build sand castles, water and beach volleyball, pony rides, marshmallow roasting on the fire pit, and a fabulous spa. This is the kind of place to make everybody happy. 

If you’re still toying with a Memorial Day vacation and not sure where to go, San Antonio may be just the place.

"Remember the Alamo"? Absolutely! You just can’t forget San Antonio and can’t wait to go back to the fiesta!

Photo: Strolling around San Antonio's River Walk and watching the dolphins at Sea World.

Elizabeth Taylor: National Princess

I always loved the fact that my middle name is Elizabeth; not just for my great aunt who I was named after but because it sounds so glamorous-like Elizabeth Taylor.

When Elizabeth was born the doctor told her mother she had a mutation, her mother didn’t seem too worried when she found out it was an extra row of eyelashes. From the very beginning Elizabeth had all the extras for that movie star quality and presence. She came to be universally acclaimed as one of the most beautiful women of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth wanted what she wanted when she wanted it with movies, men, babies, drinks, diamonds... She once said I’ve been lucky all my life. Everything was handed to me: looks, fame, wealth, honors, love... But I’ve paid for that luck with disasters, terrible illnesses, destructive addictions, broken marriages. Elizabeth Taylor was a fearless fighter who had an enormous passion for life. There was no one like Elizabeth Taylor. Known as “the grand dame”, she once said, I never planned to acquire a lot of jewels or a lot of husbands.

She won two Academy Awards, had many loves (including eight husbands, endless animals, four children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren), battles with substance abuse and humanitarian causes. She was also a loyal friend. Shirley MacLaine said after her death last week I don’t know what was more impressive- her magnitude as a star or her magnitude as a friend. Her talent for friendship was unmatched.

I remember being a little girl watching National Velvet and recognizing then that Elizabeth was glamorous even at age twelve with her violet eyes. She was mesmerizing. She had said early on, I sometimes think I prefer animals to people.
In college I read Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof then saw the movies...JessicaLange 84' and Elizabeth 58'. Elizabeth Taylor will always be the real Magpie. It was also at that time that my signature scent was one of her many famous perfumes, Passion. I remember feeling glamorous when I wore it, even in jeans!
She was known for always being late. She kept her entourage waiting for hours and even joked that she would be 15 minutes late to her own funeral, and she was!
Elizabeth was an American fashion icon; she defined glamour. One of her gifts was her ability to make uncomplicated clothes seem très chic, naturally. She would wear jeans with diamonds; lots of diamonds (really big diamonds)! There’s no need for a special occasion! Wear those diamonds now while you can because they make you feel fabulous! She said, Enough is never enough when describing her personal style.

In Butterfield 8, Elizabeth wore a simple white slip that was an everyday undergarment for women in the 1960s. But in the movie she made the staple seem like the sexiest thing in the world to wear. Her Grecian white dress in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof hit the same high note; iconic yet simplistic. Another movie I adore is Father of the Bride. In all of her eight marriages, this was her most memorable wedding dress! The movie Cleopatra earned Taylor a Guinness World Record title of the most costume changes in a film.

Elizabeth Taylor made more than sixty movies in all. Like many movie stars of her time, she battled drug and alcohol abuse. She also became a leader in the fight against AIDS and HIV. She helped found amFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

One of my favorite Sex and the City episodes is when Charlotte has a miscarriage and watches E! True Hollywood Story about Elizabeth Taylor. Charlotte gets inspired to rise up like Elizabeth and puts on her best Elizabeth Taylor dress, jewelry, and hairstyle and goes to a party. I believe that if life presents a problem that I need to rise above, I will have a much better day if I dress for it. If you want to feel fabulous you must look fabulous! I know Elizabeth must have felt the same way.
Elizabeth Taylor was our American princess. She charmed us and left us with many memories. She will be missed.