Ten Things We Love about Wimbledon

10. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Croquet? Really? It’s just so Alice in Wonderland-y.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

9. Breakfast is fresh strawberries and cream. If you’re lucky, it’s the clotted variety with scones, not whipped.

8. Wheelchair tennis! Because champions come in all kinds of bodies.

wheelchair tennis champs

7. Serena Williams just BRINGS IT, every time. Has us chanting USA! USA! USA! before the Olympic torch gets to Rio.

Serena Williams is this generation's Michael Jordan, no?

Serena Williams is this generation’s Michael Jordan, no? Photo Credit Jon Buckle/AELTC

6. Unpredictable weather—It’s sunny, it’s cloudy, it’s raining, it’s cold, it’s hot. And we’re watching at home, safe and comfortable in our PJs and slippers.

5.  The Royal Box. How civilized of the Brits to set aside and label the place for Windsor-Watchers to point their binoculars.  Can we expect to see George and Charlotte this year please?

Photo Credit Jon Buckle/AELTC

Photo Credit Jon Buckle/AELTC

4. The Courts aren’t the only greenspace. Wimbledon’s grounds are bedecked with flowers everywhere, giving the impession of an English country garden.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

3. If you can’t stay all day, turn in your tickets to the Resale Kiosk, and the Wimbledon Foundation will put them back into circulation, with proceeds going to charity.

2. The BBGs—that’s Ball Boys and Girls—are so polished, so disciplined, and so enthusiastic, we can’t help but feel optimistic about a future with this generation in charge.

1. The Drama—Wimbledon is mano a mano (or, raqueto a raqueto), with all the intensity of a gladiator’s match and none of the bloodshed. If only Ancient Rome had filled the Coliseum with grass and nets instead of lions and slaves.

Fancy a few more? Share your centre-court commendations with EllenHoffmanDesigns.com.

April in … Antwerp!

If Paris is the City of Light, then surely Antwerp can be called the City of Brilliance. In a salute to our brave amis in Belgium, we honor April’s birthstone—the diamond —with a spotlight on the city that is full of them.

Central Station

Antwerp’s Central Station. Photo Credit: deredactdie.be

Antwerp’s Central Train Station is a gem worthy of its own dedicated month. The original station building was constructed between 1895 and 1905, designed by architects Louis Delacenserie, Clement van Bogaert, and Jan Van Asperen. This was not the station in Martin Scorcese’s beautiful film Hugo, but it is equally as charming and fertile ground for stories and fantasies. The clock-wall (pictured) is mesmerizing; now imagine long concourses stretching forever, lined with flower shops, diamond merchants and chocolatiers, and people hustling from here to there, seemingly oblivious to the stupefying beauty encasing them like bone fragments in a reliquary.

Photo credit: factsanddetails.com

Photo credit: factsanddetails.com

Step out of the Central Station and you’re in the Diamond District. Antwerp has enjoyed a thriving diamond trade for centuries, due in part to its inland location, nestled snugly betwixt Northern and Southern Europe yet still navigable by ships of more than 100,000 gross tons. The city’s reputation as Sparkly Carbon Central was cemented in the 15th century when Lodewyk van Berken invented a new tool called the Scaif, which made it possible to polish diamonds from all facets at symmetrical angles. Crowned heads of Europe and their tiaraed consorts began purchasing diamonds from Antwerp dealers in earnest, and their public has followed suit ever since.

Photo Credit: Theguardian.com

Photo Credit: Theguardian.com

You’ll find no shortage of dealers in the Diamond District, and with quantity come variations in the quality of salesmanship. So do your homework. Know the Four Cs, distinguish a natural diamond from an enhanced diamond, and ask to see a grading report from the Gemological Institute of America .


Statue of Rubens in the Groenplaats, flickr.com

Plazas—so much nicer on the ear than the Flemish “plaats”—are seemingly everywhere in Antwerp, overseen by a life-size sculpture of a famous Fleming on a pedestal. Peter Paul Rubens stands at the center of the Groenplaats (Green Square), a convenient meeting place not unlike Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas. The square is bordered by trees, a fancy Hilton hotel, some cafes, shops, and the Cathedral of Our Lady, which is basically a Rubens museum. There are four blockbuster oil paintings of his there, which doesn’t seem like much, until you’re exhausted after studying just one—so much melodrama!

Assumption of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens

Assumption of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens

For a quieter experience of the Flemish Master, spend an afternoon at the Rubenshuis, the artist’s historic home in Antwerp. A few oil paintings, and a lot of period furniture and some picturesque gardens belonging to an artist who was definitely not starving.

jacob Jordaens

Also worth a walk-by is the Jacob Jordaens Plaats, where a nice statue of the artist holds court at a small city intersection. Franklin D. Roosevelt Plaats, however, is not the Homage To a Favorite President this American was hoping for: just a plaque in a parking lot with lots of bike racks near the Central Station. Fervent Rooseveltophiles had best to go to Washington, D.C. or Hyde Park, NY.

frites waffles

To Eat: Waffles. Frites. Beer. Chocolate. Repeat.

And to sleep? Stay at the Hotel Elzenveld, which was a monastery and a hospital before transforming into a hotel and conference center surrounded by gardens. Any ghosts are guaranteed to treat your ailments, or at least say a prayer for you.

Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

Things to Do in Houston Besides Watch Basketball

As the song goes, the Eyes of Texas are upon you. And this weekend, the eyes of those who follow men’s college basketball are looking right back at Texas, as Houston hosts the Final Four and championship games of the NCAA tournament. If you find yourself in the Energy Capital on this or another weekend this spring, we’ve got a few recommendations for finding fun and frivolity outside the stadium (or sports bar or couch in the den).

Space Center Houston

Space Center Houston

Credit: theflashlist.com

The center features more than 400 space artifacts as well as permanent and travelling exhibits relating to America’s human space flight program. So many fascinating attractions (OK, Gene Kranz’s vest may not rise to the level of fascinating), including Lunch with an Astronaut, tram tour of the Johnson Space Center, and the world’s largest collection of moon rocks and lunar samples, which may inspire an out-of-this-world pendant.

Rothko Chapel

Obelisk and reflecting pool

Credit: J. Griffis Smith

The Rothko Chapel is a peaceful oasis in the middle of Houston, the silent antidote to all that is bigger, brasher, and faster in Texas. Their mission is “to inspire people, through art and contemplation, to nurture reverence for the highest aspirations of humanity, and to provide a forum for global concerns.” The building itself was designed by Philip Johnson, Howard Barnstone, Eugene Aubry, and American artist Mark Rothko, who also created the 14 murals housed within. Add your name to a guest book that includes Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Neil deGrasse Tyson and let the transformation begin.

Hermann Park


Credit: Houstongreeters.com

Houston’s version of Central Park is Hermann Park, 445 acres of land that includes the Houston Zoo, Museum of Natural Science, McGovern Lake, a golf course, and miles and miles of gardens and trails. Really, Hermann Park is a weekend getaway in and of itself. Just remember that Houston, like Chicago Cubs’ baseball, is best enjoyed in the spring.

Rice University

Within walking distance of Hermann Park is the egghead capital of Texas, Rice University. Though you’ll be tempted to take a look at the giant football stadium, whose full capacity of 70,000 is larger than the sum total of the school’s living and deceased alumni, resist and focus attention on the Shepherd School of Music . Faculty, staff, and students regularly give world-class performances in opera, orchestra, and single-instrument recitals, and most of these are free.

Beck’s Prime Patio

Credit: HoustonPress.com

Credit: HoustonPress.com

It’s a chain, and not a particularly remarkable one. But your burger and Caesar salad become An Afternoon To Remember when enjoyed on the patio beneath the benevolent branches of a 400-year-old oak tree. Charming, historic, shady, and sublimely Texan, therefore not to be missed.

Credit: Forbes.com

Credit: Forbes.com

Have we missed something on your must-see list for Houston? Share your recommendations with us—or your Final Four predictions—at ellenhoffmandesigns.com/bespoken.

Wearin’ of the Blue: Aquamarine

Happy Birthday, March Hares! You may be tempted to drape yourself in green emeralds this month. But emeralds belong to the month of May. March’s birthstone is another form of the mineral beryl.

Pure Beryl


Pure beryl is colorless. Add some iron ions under the right geological circumstances, and you get beautiful six-sided crystals with color ranging from the light blue of the sky to the deep blue of the sea. We’re talking about March’s birthstone, Aquamarine.


Blue Aquamarine; photo credit: crystallinks.com

March is, to be sure, a month for the wearin’ of the green . But we can think of more than a few situations that merit a flash of blue. When should you wear your Aquamarine?

  • At Weddings and Wakes: This gem’s color range covers both sea and sky, and so is symbolic of eternal life. And when hitching your wagon to a life partner, an Aquamarine is thought to inspire peaceful relations between husband and wife. The Romans even believed a frog carved into Aquamarine had the power to reconcile enemies into friends.

Can’t we all get along? Tanzanian Aquamarine-Carved Frog

  • Embarking on a crossing: Sacred to Neptune, the god of the sea, Aquamarines were believed to have originated from the jewel caskets of sirens. So when packing your trunks for the steamship across the Atlantic, a few sea-colored gems may be just the travel insurance you need to assure a safe trip.

Ship on the sea

  • At the marketplace: Aquamarines, also called “mirror stones,” were used in ancient times by soothsayers and fortune-tellers. Hold one up to a smiling vendor and ask him if that kumquat really is fresh!
marketplace in zanzibar

Marketplace in Zanzibar

  • On your wrist, setting off a seaworthy string of blue coral. On land or sea, Aquamarine is supreme!
blue coral bracelet

Sea-worthy bracelet by Ellen Hoffman Designs


March’s Must-Have Accessory: The Handkerchief

If you’re like me, the daffodils and tulips and driving-with-the-sunroof-open celebration that is March come at a price. For the hayfever-afflicted, every inhalation of March sunshine is not so much exhaled as “ah-CHOOed,” and singing along with the car radio soon gives way to sniffling.


Credit: Dawnshealinghands.com


Credit: Homesteadinghippy.com

As the season wears on, the tissue that your grandma always tucked into her sleeve begins to seem like a pretty good idea. But it’s your great- or great-great-grandma who had the better idea. This month, weather the sneezes and wheezes with a handkerchief.

Credit: Hallak.com

Credit: Hallak.com

Handkerchiefs occupy the stylish sweet spot between fancy and functional, like a beaded clutch that holds your phone, wallet, and car keys. Even the smallest little handbag can accommodate a handkerchief, and even be enhanced by a bit of fine linen peeking out of the seam.

clutch and hankie

Credit: custommonogrammedgifts.com

Embroidered—with a clutch of flowers or an initial—a handkerchief becomes a calling card that will surely inspire a return visit. Who can resist the romance of offering a crisply laundered square of lace-trimmed cotton to a friend or stranger in need? Or the reciprocal?

Credit: thegirlbythesea.com

Credit: thegirlbythesea.com

Where to get a hankie these days? Well, Ireland and Belgium come to mind, and you’ll definitely be charmed by the shopping experience. But closer to home, try resale shops and estate sales. An afternoon soak in cold water and vinegar or a remedy called Restoration will bring vintage linens back to life.

mongrammed hankie

For the DIY sneezer, pick up a 10-pack of plain hankies from Target, thread your embroidery needle and stitch a monogram or simple leaf pattern in the corner of each. Fold, tuck into your purse (or sweater sleeve—Grandma would definitely approve) and head for the nearest field of wildflowers!


Credit: skymetweather.com

Credit: skymetweather.com

Keyword: Handkerchief

Focus Image: Nick Harris1 for Macy’s


Romantic Getaways for Lovers of Democracy

Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend this year. That means the Romantic Getaway is added to the roster of expectations of a Dutiful Lover, alongside flowers, candy and jewelry. With the electoral effluvia of Presidential Primaries assaulting all print and electronic media, even the most ardent lover of Democracy might be forgiven for planning a long weekend in a Banana Republic just to achieve some peace.

Ellen Hoffman Designs

Tanzanite Necklace by EHD

But if, like Tom Petty’s good girl, you love your boyfriend and America too, how about honoring both of them with a Romantic Weekend at one of our nation’s fantastic Presidential Libraries.

Presidential Libraries are the late-20th century public-policy wonk’s corner of the National Park System. They began as a voluntary tradition of preserving and exhibiting Important Historical Documents and Fun Facts of individual presidents’ tenures and personal lives.

FDR's Springwood estate, Hyde Park, New York. Credit: NPS.gov

FDR’s Springwood estate, Hyde Park, New York. Credit: NPS.gov

Things got serious in 1939, when Franklin Roosevelt bequeathed his archives to the federal government, and when Harry Truman followed suit. This was enough to get the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) attention, and Congress sprung into action with a series of laws  providing for the establishment of libraries and museums to preserve and exhibit this uniquely American cache of Americana.

James A. Buchanan. Credit: Whitehouse.gov

James A. Buchanan. Credit: Whitehouse.gov

Not every Commander-in-Chief has a full-blown Library and Presidential Museum devoted specially to him—James A. Buchannan-o-philes will have to settle for a spiffed-up homestead in his hometown. But the ones who do are worth a weekend. A few suggestions….

If You Heart Architecture: JFK Presidential Library in Boston, designed by IM Pei. Enough said.

JFK library

Credit: Wikipedia.com

A Close Second: The International Center for Jefferson Studies, home to Thomas Jefferson’s presidential archive in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s just 5 minutes from Monticello, designed by himself.


Credit: Monticello.org

For the President’s Day Purist: GW’s Mount Vernon in Virginia (whose state slogan is, conveniently, Virginia is for Lovers), and Honest Abe’s in Springfield, Illinois. However, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Illinois, even the southern quadrant, before spring has fully sprung.

Washington Library

Reading Room at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Credit: NPS.gov

California Conspiracies: Nixon’s Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda is fertile ground for fans of mystery and intrigue. Might there be a smoking gun or missing audio tape squirreled away in a bureau or desk drawer? If not, the courtyard gardens are perfect for a romantic stroll.


Nixon Library and Gardens, credit: NPS.gov

Close to Home: LBJ, 41, and W: Everything’s bigger in Texas, and the number of Presidential Libraries in our home state is no exception. You might need all three days of the Holiday Weekend to do justice to Austin, College Station and Dallas. But when you’re through, you should have a greater appreciation of the last half-century of American history. And of Texas Barbecue!

Hidden Treasures: A Crush on Caillebotte

I’ve got a crush on Gustave Caillebotte. It began, as so many crushes do, in Paris. Strolling with languorously through the Musée d’Orsay among blockbuster after blockbuster Impressionist and early modern painting, I stopped short in front of his 1875 masterpiece The Floor Scrapers and whispered, not “sacre bleu” but “hubba hubba!”


Les Raboteurs Photo Credit: Sharon Mullerus, Creative Common License

Les Raboteurs
Photo Credit: Sharon Mullerus, Creative Common License

The artist’s name—pronounced oh-so-Frenchly Zhoostaahhv Kya-BUTttt—was unfamiliar then, but thanks to a spectacular show  making stops in D.C. and Fort Worth, his name and oeuvre should become the cultural mainstays they deserve to be. And not just for the eye candy.

Gustave Caillebotte, Self Portrait

Self Portrait, Private collection

Why do we love Caillebotte? On canvas, he was handsome. Off the canvas, he was positively dreamy. Caillebotte was rich: he inherited the considerable fortune of his father’s textile business in his 20s, lived in a stylish flat in Paris and in a country house on the banks of the Seine near Argenteuil. He was educated, having studied both law and engineering. He was romantic: Caillebotte gave up his law practice to pursue art full time. But he was practical: pursuing art full-time included creating his own work, but also collecting, buying, selling, and staging exhibitions of the work of his friends Monet, Renoir, Pisarro, and Degas.

And finally, he was a mensch. Caillebotte paid the rent for his friend Monet’s studio in Paris. He learned to paint portraits with his friends as models. He bequeathed his considerable collection of Impressionist and Early Modern art to the French Government, in an effort to give the most people access to it.

On the canvas, you’ll find just as much to love about the man. Voila….

Caillebotte, Young Man at the Piano

Young Man at the Piano, licensed under public domain

The Lush Interiors: Gorgeous textiles and fashionable accessories of French Bourgeois Living fill every surface in Caillebotte’s interiors. Patterned wallpaper and upholstery, vests and tophats, button-tufted and overstuffed sofas invite you in and, if you linger too long, threaten to overtake you.

Ladies Sewing

Ladies Sewing, licensed under Public Domain

The Bezique

The Bezique, licensed under public domain

The Introvert’s Perspective: Although they may give a whiff of the loneliness that Edward Hopper articulated so well a generation later in America, the men and women in Caillebotte’s Paris exist in an introvert’s paradise. They are (almost) always smartly dressed and going about the business of card-playing, sewing, and strolling the renewed streets of the nascent Modern Paris. There’s no lack of company, but everyone has a Quaker’s respect for thoughtful silence.

Pont de Europe

Pont de l’Europe, Musee de Petit Palais, Geneve

The Optimistic, Proto-Modernist Cityscapes: Paris was in a feverish state of urban renewal during Caillebotte’s adulthood, and his visual record of it is a breath of fresh, photo-realist air amid the gauzy landscapes of his Impressionist frères.

And—can we be a little saucy here?—those Floor Scrapers! Mon Dieu! Go to the show if you can get to Fort Worth before mid-month; failing that, a visit to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris will have to suffice. Ahh, what we do for love!

Hidden Treasures: Winter Parks and Botanical Gardens

The local Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are slam-dunk destinations on Easter and Mother’s Day. But savvy family social directors rely on these outdoor adventures during the winter holidays too. When cabin fever and too many fruitcakes (both the edible and familial varieties) make spirits less than bright, take it outside for a spell. From snow-capped fir trees to tropical blooms in a hothouse, a dose of nature is just the thing to refill your coffers of peace and goodwill.

For the winter-weary: the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Orchid Mania offers an escape to warmer climes and tropical dreams at this annual indoor and outdoor show and sale.

Cleveland Botanical Gardens

And the Busy Bees: Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City, like many botanical gardens in the temperate southwest, presents enough outdoor offerings in the cooler weather to keep even the shortest attention spans occupied. Yoga, ice-skating, artists’ market, poinsettia extravaganza, storytelling, craft tables, Santa Claus, walking tours … are we forgetting anything? Oh yes, GARDENS!

Myriad Botanical Gardens

Need a Little (more) Christmas? Suburban Chicago’s Morton Arboretum sheds new light on its world-class collection with Illumination, a dazzling show of LED lights and trees that respond to your touch and voice throughout the gardens. It’s a walk in the woods you won’t soon forget.

Morton Arboretum'


Speaking of Walking … many botanical gardens in northern climes welcome visitors with snowshoes and cross-country skis on their feet. The trails are well groomed, the crowds are in Aspen and the gift shop/café is never more than 5k away.

Minnesota monthly


Drink in the Desert with a visit to Joshua Tree, Big Bend, or the Grand Canyon National Parks when the sun is at her weakest and briefest. You will need water and sunscreen, but the temperatures will be almost as cool as the views.

Joshua Tree National Park Credit: dailykos.com

Joshua Tree National Park
Credit: dailykos.com


Why Winter Golf is Wonderful

Our favorite summer sport goes on hiatus during the cooler months, and that’s a shame because a round of golf in the winter is a distinctive pleasure, whether you’re north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Here are six reasons to take a bag of clubs (or a caddy) along next time you’re thinking about walking in a winter wonderland:

  • A few rounds during the off-season will keep your muscles loose and your form intact so you’re ready to compete come April.
  • Slower pace. Few (if any) lines, and course congestion just … isn’t.
Slow pace winter golf


  • Water hazards are often frozen, allowing a chip-shot for birdie.


  • Lowered temperatures bring lowered expectations. Cold temperatures make it physically impossible for the ball to travel as far as it does when the weather is warm. Cold air is denser than warm air and creates additional drag on the ball, resulting in up to two yards of carry for every 10 degrees of temperature change. So relax on that par 5 hole, add a few strokes to your handicap, maybe even enjoy a mulligan or two.
  • Fashions on the green – always a little out there, no matter what the weather – now include fetching outerwear ensembles previously enjoyed only by runners, skiers and snowshoers.
12.2 Winter Golf Fashion


Top-tier resorts are ready to deal. From Myrtle Beach to Bandon Dunes (Oregon)  to Dallas (home of the Byron Nelson), a winter weekend of golf is all that and a bag of sticks!

Focus image


Higher Learning for a Weekend Getaway

Autumn is not traditionally a season that fires up the itch to travel. School and athletics are in full swing, the weather is reliably pleasant, and pleasures of hearth and hometown – slow-cooked Sunday dinners, leafy strolls through the neighborhood, Friday Night Lights at the high school football field – make a powerful case for playing it close to the nest.

Post 11.6 stay home

In spite of the seductive pull of our local pleasures, last month we ventured out of town for what turned out to be a perfect autumn getaway: parent’s (and alumni Uncle’s) weekend on the campus of our favorite college freshman.

Post 5.6 campus ciew

Setting aside the pride and joy of seeing a darling baby girl transformed before us into an independent, educated adult, this weekend sojourn was 48 hours of pure vacation satisfaction. It turns out that, like the very best destination resorts, the college campus visit for non-students has something – and often, more than one thing – to appeal to everyone.

Voila a sampling from our buffet plates:

Post 11.6 chimes

  • Climbing the 8-story bell tower for a very loud concert of morning chimes
  • Performances by two of the 20+ a capella singing troupes on campus
  • Viewing of the 13th amendment and Gettysburg Address in the Library Archives

Post 11.6 dairyPost 11.6 ice cream

  • Freshly churned ice cream from the Ag School Dairy
  • Strolls (sans heavy backpacks) through the leafy quad and among ivy-covered archways
  • Decking ourselves out with college swag at the Campus Bookstore
  • Resuscitating Hope for the Next Generation at a Mock Trial Association tournament.
  • Gratitude-inspiring tour of Freshman Dormitory (how do they live in such small spaces?)

Post 11.6 rugby

  • Cheap beer at a Collegetown bar after (watching) a rugby match
  • Expensive – but less than a credit-hour’s tuition – dinner and nightcap at the 5-star, School of Hotel and Restaurant Management-run hotel after a day in the life of a young scholar

It was a long journey from Ellen Hoffman Designs HQ in Dallas to the New England home of Herkimer Diamonds. It’s a much shorter journey, however, to one of no fewer than five universities within 90-minutes’ drive of our home address. Each campus offers its own unique menu of weekend-getaway-worthy experiences, from theater to chess tournaments to international piano competition to division 1 sports events to seminars and lecture series. We’ll put a “staycation” getaway to at least one of them on our class schedule every year. Student ID not required!