Letter from the USA: Giving Thanks

My son & my mother, New Jersey,  November 2013

My son & my mother in New Jersey

Thanksgiving Day is still a week away but I’m moved to give extra thanks this week, for the gift of time with our family and friends on the U.S. side of the Atlantic.

Thanksgiving is my favourite U.S. holiday because it’s relatively un-commercial and its focus is simply upon being together with loved ones and sharing a bountiful meal.

We’ll be moving around a lot in the next couple weeks, seeing as many people as we can but as always wishing we had more time and could see more family and friends – our eternal travel challenge.

I’m thankful for so many things, including our family members all over the world. 2014 has been a momentous year with our family events. I’ve written about most of them on this blog. They included Clive’s mother’s death in Australia late last December and his father’s death in England this past August; my mother’s 90th birthday in May; visits from Clive’s daughter in January and September and his son and family in September/October; our visits to my son and mother here in the U.S. and my son’s engagement earlier this month. My U.S. stepson is recovering well from his long-awaited kidney transplant.

Clive & my stepson's boys, Connecticut, February 2014

Clive & my stepson’s boys in Connecticut

So this week it feels appropriate to give special thanks for families near and far, for those with us and for those who are no longer physically here but whom we will always remember.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from U.S. Thanksgiving Day.

Letter from Felixstowe: An Australia Engagement

My son and his fiancée, newly-engaged in Sydney

My son and his fiancée, newly-engaged in Sydney

Last week, on a headland overlooking one of Sydney’s spectacular Northern beaches, my son and his beautiful girlfriend became engaged.

The story of this couple — their meeting, their romance and their plans for the future — is theirs to tell, not mine. But as the mother of the groom-to-be, I’m thrilled for these two young people I love so much and hope you won’t mind if I share a few of my own special memories leading up to this occasion.

* A moment in 2012, over breakfast with me and Clive in our New Jersey hotel, when my son said, ‘I met a girl at a NATO conference … ‘

* The first time we met her, in the lobby of a London hotel where they’d travelled to spend a few wonderful days with us.

* Times my son told me of their shared activities and travels – different events in Washington D.C., a weekend in Montreal for his birthday, a surprise trip to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion, for hers. Times they met each other’s closest friends and time spent with each other’s families.

* When Clive and I looked at apartments with my son last year and how he wanted both of them to love it. The way they sought and respected each other’s opinions and we knew they were planning a future together.

* When we met her parents and brother and the times we’ve spent together since, and how I’m deeply thankful for how quickly we bonded and for our many shared interests and values.

* When my son told me he wanted to propose in Australia and my heart swelled with a mix of joy and sadness as it does whenever something momentous happens in his life, because his father is no longer here to share it.

in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens

in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens

* When they planned their trip to Australia months in advance and looked forward to it with great anticipation.

* When, by serendipitous coincidence, the day I arrived in Washington D.C. last August was the same day my son made a day trip to New York City, to meet with a ring designer in the diamond district. When he arrived back in Washington and over dinner that night — his fiancee-to-be was on a business trip in Germany – and shared with me a description of the ring he had commissioned.

* When I received the text message from Sydney, in the middle of the night in the UK. When, minutes later on the phone, they told me I was the first person to know and I was overcome with gratitude and felt like the most blessed mother in the world. When once again my heart filled with that mix I’ve learned will always live inside me, of joy and happiness for my son and everlasting sorrow that his father wasn’t there to share it, even as we know he is always with us in spirit.

* When I’ve shared every one of the above moments with Clive, who’s given great love and support to both me and my son for many years (including in the middle of the night last week) and for whom I’m thankful every day. I’m excited we’re heading to the U.S. via London early next week and will see and hug the engaged couple in person very soon.

* When I think of Australia and what an amazing country it is, how I adore Sydney and how many memories I have there. When I realise it will never fail to move me that my son and his fiancée became engaged there, in the magical Harbour city that holds so much happiness for him and our family and now for the two of them together.

Sydney Harbour, Opera House & Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour, Opera House & Harbour Bridge

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from the U.S.

Letter from Felixstowe: Creative Endeavours & U.S. Elections

After Monday's rain – November sunset, Felixstowe

After Monday’s rain – November sunset, Felixstowe


Our dear little doggy friend M is still with us. Thanks to her owners’ faithful care, she’s making some progress with lifesaving medication that’s helping her to keep comfortable and enjoy her days.

Clive’s working on his latest DIY project: building a new kitchen cabinet – yay! I’m working on my Paris memoir – also yay! How wonderful is it, when you can get back into a creative activity you love?

In the midst of our projects, we watched various news reports and election coverage from the U.S. Suffice it to say that at least from a distance, the process – the length, the money spent, the vitriol of the ads, the apparent powerlessness of the President within the ‘balance of power’ construct — does not always portray my country of origin in the best light.

The process is nowhere near perfect in Australia or the UK either, of course, though it seems to me to run much more effectively. Mostly I felt thankful the U.S. elections would be over before we arrive there for Thanksgiving. We leave in about ten days for a couple days in London followed by time in New Jersey and Connecticut.

In the week ahead, we’ll celebrate Clive’s birthday, first with friends the day before and then hoping for a nice day on the actual date, so we can head out somewhere new in Suffolk for a walk and exploration.

We’re past the point of giving each other a lot of things for our birthdays, but now that I think of it. I better wrap the few little pressies I have for him soon!

The week ahead- birthday boy last month with one of his grandsons in Paris

The week ahead- birthday boy with one of his grandsons in Paris

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Felixstowe: A Weird Week & a Dear Dog

A walk on the Prom, Felixstowe

A walk on the Prom, Felixstowe

I wanted to write a coherent post but it’s been a weird week.

Clive and I are still getting our heads above water after recent months of travel and family visits. This past week had been a strange mix of pleasant activity – most notably, a lovely day spent walking in Felixstowe’s seaside sunshine – combined with routine appointments and several urgent medical concerns.

Us and our shadows -- walking in Felixstowe

Us and our shadows — walking in Felixstowe

I know I’m not alone in having close friends and loved ones facing life-and-death health issues. These are all on my mind each day, whether here in Felixstowe or across an ocean.

We’ve also been conscious this week of the fragile situation of a very dear dog ‘M’ and her loving owners, close friends whom we love very much. Clive and I are not dog people, but since moving to the UK in early 2011, we’ve developed a deep fondness and affection for ‘M’, who has brought her owners and others great joy. Her health is extremely fragile at the moment and her family is doing everything possible to give her the best care and quality of life for as long as possible.

We wish we could do more for our friends than just look on with empathy and great concern. They are doing a magnificent job juggling their own lives and having special times with beautiful ‘M’.

Photo from late last year – love these three & praying for all of them this week

Photo from late last year – love these three & praying for all of them this week

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Felixstowe: Home by the Sea

Farewell to the courtyard & a special place in Paris

Farewell to the courtyard & a special place in Paris

My mother, for various reasons, was never a frequent traveller. Yet one of her expressions which she passed on to me is, ‘It’s great to go away and it’s great to get home.’

Clive and I aren’t quite back to normal after our recent months of travel and family visits, but we’re glad to be home by the sea.

Our last evening in Paris was marked by the soirée with our neighbours, which to my deep delight went very well. Monsieur shared a moving story of his mother’s wartime professional work, which included time with the U.S. Foreign Service. Clive was able to find and print for them an Internet photograph of one of her bosses, whom the family has admired for generations. I felt we deepened our connection with this wonderful couple and I treasure their friendship.

Back in Felixstowe, we’re trying to catch up on everything, reconnect with friends and savour just being here for the next few weeks. At the same time I’m already missing our home away from home in Paris and looking ahead to seeing loved ones in the U.S. over Thanksgiving.

The calendar tells me Thanksgiving is five weeks from today and Christmas is nine weeks from today. Hope I’m not the only one who finds this incredible? Eek!

October sunrise, Felixstowe

October sunrise, Felixstowe

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Paris: In the Slow Lane

Inside entry to Hokusai exhibit at Grand Palais, Paris

Inside entry to Hokusai exhibit at Grand Palais, Paris

We’ve been moving rather slowly after our whirlwind week with Clive’s son and family.

This is partly because we wanted to make every minute count when they were here, and partly because — life being what it is, even in Paris – we both came down with bronchitis (which neither of us has ever had before). Thanks to an unexpected but worthwhile first-time visit to the American Hospital at Neuilly, where we were diagnosed and given several prescriptions, we’re finally getting back to normal. So this week we’ve opted for the slow lane, trying to balance seeing a few current exhibits with walking and bench-sitting and just soaking up this incomparable city.

Coffee and (free!) view at Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine, Paris

Coffee and (free!) view at Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine, Paris

If you’re headed to Paris in the next few months, we recommend the exhibits at the Musée Luxembourg (‘Paul Durand-Ruel, the Impressionist Gamble’), Musée Marmottan Monet (‘Impression, Sunrise – the Biography of a Painting’ – I went twice), Grand Palais (Hokusai, a blockbuster show with amazing depth of detail and many stunning works), and Musée Carnavalet (‘Paris Freed’ photography exhibit & views at the time of 1944 Paris liberation).

Musée Luxembourg, Paris

Musée Luxembourg, Paris

Our only major remaining event is hosting our wonderful upstairs neighbours, visiting ‘chez nous’ for the first time ever. They and their family have lived in the building for three generations, speak no English and yet could not be nicer to us. They hosted us in their apartment earlier this year and I’m pleased (and a bit nervous and excited) that we’ll finally reciprocate. Contrary to the maddening stereotype of rude Parisians, they — and others we know — could not be more kind or helpful.

The next day it will be time to say ‘Au revoir’ to Paris, board the Eurostar and return to our home by the sea in England.

Catching some lovely Vitamin D in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Catching some lovely Vitamin D in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Paris: en Famille

About to go up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

About to go up the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Our time in Paris en famille is passing quickly. Clive’s son and family are making the most of their time here. They’ve seen many major sights, experienced much of what Paris has to offer, and visited Disney (Day One) and Versailles.

At the gates of Versailles, near Paris

At the gates of Versailles, near Paris

As for Clive and me, we’re savouring these last precious days before the Aussies return Down Under on Sunday.

Our last full day together will be Saturday, culminating in a Parisian birthday party (5 days early) for a special little girl who’s turning four. On the same evening in the U.S., my cousin’s daughter will be married – one of those times I think many expats can relate to, when I wish we could be multiple places at once.

Saturday night we’ll be sending love and all good wishes to the beautiful bride and groom in Massachusetts. Here in Paris, we’ll celebrate the blessing of the youngest member of the family and the time we’ve had together.

Smiling at Grandad as they share a spinning teacup at Paris Disney

Smiling at Grandad as they share a spinning teacup at Paris Disney

Her grandad will be quite emotional when she and her family depart on Sunday, and I’ll be by his side to wave them good-bye. All being well, we’ll next see them in Australia next March.

Walking from Passy metro, Paris

Walking from Passy metro, Paris

Not that Clive and I are tired or anything, after keeping up with the Aussies, but I’m thankful we’ll have another (almost) week in Paris to move at a slightly slower pace, see a few current exhibits I’m very excited about and soak up a little more of this city before we return to our home by the sea in Felixstowe.

Taking older grandson (& his mum) to a favourite Paris museum

Taking older grandson (& his mum) to a favourite Paris museum

I can’t end this post without including the blessed news that this week also marked the successful live kidney transplant for my U.S. stepson. We are eternally grateful for his angel donor and her family and that she and my stepson are both recovering well.

Candles burning at Notre Dame de Paris, two in particular for my stepson and his donor

Candles burning at Notre Dame de Paris, two in particular for my stepson and his donor

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

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