Letter from Felixstowe: Peace of the Sea

Tree by the sea, 25 June 2015

Tree by the sea, 25 June 2015

After the excitement of last week’s surprise, it’s been a peaceful week by the sea.

Our tree by the sea has fully bloomed into its summer finery and is now surrounded by flowers and greenery planted last February.

Tree by the sea, Feb. 2015

Tree by the sea, Feb. 2015

It’s a sobering time with so many tragic and distressing events in world news these days, and like everyone else, Clive and I have our share of personal and family challenges. This week it’s been a blessing to catch our breath, spend time with old and new friends, and be thankful to live near a lovely coastline, where we can look out at the sea. Something about its movement and depth, the coming in and going out of the tides and its ever-changing moods and beauty always seem to inspire and soothe the soul.

2015 Fx Boof Festival booklet

This coming weekend is the third annual Felixstowe Book Festival, a wonderful two-day array of author talks, writer workshops and all sorts of reading-related programs children, families, and anyone who loves to read. Monday we head north for a few days, to explore some UK history and catch up with one of Clive’s oldest friends.

Wishing everyone a peaceful week(s) ahead, wherever you may be.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from York, England.

Letter from Felixstowe: Clive’s Big Surprise

1 AA hug

Last Saturday morning, Clive thought we were having coffee with friends D&J and F&S – though he told them we had to be back home by noon, because he had a Skype call scheduled with his son Jason in Australia.

Hee hee. Because when F&S walked into the café, they brought with them – kindly picked up a few minutes earlier at the train station – son Jason from Australia.

Clive could not have been more surprised (and I couldn’t have been more relieved). The secret plan had been hatched several months ago, when we were in Australia. Jason took me aside one evening to say he had a possible business trip to London coming up and would we be in Felixstowe over those dates? Yes, yes, yes I replied, and what a fabulous gift it would be for his father.

Despite a few near slip-ups along the way, we somehow managed to keep all the schedules and arrangements secret – all thanks to Jason and his wife and family Down Under and our dear friends here in the UK, who offered assistance each step of the way, including the train pick-up, café meeting idea and special get-together the following day. I couldn’t have done it without them.

A few minutes after the surprise

A few minutes after the surprise

The week has flown by, as we were able to spend a few days in London while Jason had his meetings, seeing him in the evening for dinner or the theatre.

Oxford St, London

Oxford St, London

Back in Felixstowe today, fuelled up by a full English breakfast, we walked along a riverside path and the King’s Fleet, a tranquil waterway taking its name from a fleet of ships assembled by Edward III ready to sail to France in the 14th century.

At Felixstowe Ferry & Deben River

At Felixstowe Ferry & Deben River

It’s hard to put into words what a special and wonderful time it has been as I’ve shared Clive’s pleasure at having this time with his son. As Clive said, he was completely blown away and this is the best surprise he has ever had.

My only regret is that on today’s walk, I didn’t zip up my backpack all the way, my jacket fell out somewhere, and I didn’t realise it was gone until we stopped for a few minutes – and Jason offered to go back and see if he could spot it. He found it after backtracking about a mile up and down a few fields and footpaths – a true kindness and one which I deeply appreciate.

Deep in conversation

Deep in conversation

Good-byes are always hard and I know tomorrow afternoon will be difficult for Clive as Jason begins the journey back to Australia. The good news is we’ll see him and his wife and children in the not too distant future at my son’s wedding in the U.S.

Until then, our hearts are grateful for this unexpected and brilliant surprise. Isn’t it great when these things all work out? Phew! That definitely deserves a toast.

Champagne toast to father & son

Champagne toast to father & son

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

Letter from Felixstowe: Robin Red Breast Wins the Vote


Today the BBC and other news sources reported that the robin won an unofficial vote of more than 200,000 people to nominate the UK’s first national bird.

If anyone had asked me about this before, I would have said I thought this lovely little creature was already the country’s national bird – or at least its favourite.

The ornithologist who led the campaign said the robin is ‘entwined in our national psyche.’ Since moving to England, I’ve certainly noticed how often it’s seen on cards, stationery, art prints, children’s books and general merchandise. I think every Christmas card we’ve sent since our move to the UK has had a robin on it, perched on a Royal Mail postbox or a snow-covered fencepost or Christmas tree.

Apparently the robin received 34% of the votes, followed by the barn owl at 12% and the blackbird at 11%. The wren, red kite and kingfisher came 4th, 5th and 6th respectively.

I’m not sure the robin is quite as ‘entwined in the national psyche’ in the U.S., though I’d venture to say it’s also well-loved there, and most of us grew up somehow absorbing the tune and lyrics to ‘When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)’, by American songwriter Harry M. Woods. As far and Clive and know, there are no red-breasted robins in Australia.

We hadn’t realised the UK didn’t have an official national bird. As noted in the news reports (and Wikipedia), the U.S. has the American bald eagle; Australia the emu (unofficial but on the country’s coat of arms); New Zealand the kiwi; India the peacock; and France the Gallic rooster.

Cheering you on, little robin red breast. Whether it’s official or not, you have a special place in the country’s heart.

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

Letter from Felixstowe: The Continuing Joys of Jet Lag


Flying from the U.S. east coast to Europe causes the most severe jet lag for me, worse than, say, flying from the U.S. or UK to Australia.

The journey across the Pond takes a mere 6-7 hours, with most flights leaving at night. London is five hours ahead of New York, so a flight leaving NYC at 7pm,  when it’s midnight in London, arrives around 6 or 7am UK time, when the body thinks it’s 2am — notwithstanding the cabin crew serving orange juice, coffee and breakfast in an attempt to trick you into thinking it’s morning.

As described in my Jet Lag Jambalaya post, the direction flown often is a key factor in the severity of jet lag. Flying west and ‘gaining time’ generally produces less jet lag than flying east; I’ve read that senior airline staff prefer western-bound flights. We definitely find flying west easier, with the kind of jet lag that results in waking before dawn and feeling sleepy soon after dinner. It always seems easier to readjust that way.

Flying east, on the other hand, means ‘losing’ time – resulting in the body wanting to sleep until lunchtime and then being wide awake until 3 or 4am, when it’s starting to get light this time of year in England.

This week, despite forcing ourselves to get up by 8am, being out and about getting natural light during the day and trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour – we’ve yet to overcome the lingering effects of jet lag.

Over the years we’ve learned jet lag is a powerful force and sometimes the body clock takes its sweet time to get back into the local time zone. I know it’s not the end of the world to be in this situation, but we’re looking forward to a good night’s sleep sooner rather than later.

We’ve more or less caught up on the practical tasks of returning home, but back in New Jersey, my mother’s leg wound is slow to begin healing. This is also keeping me awake at night, worrying as I do about how she’s doing (fine, she tells me) and if the medical team are doing everything they can to prevent infection and care for her (I believe they are). I’m thankful to know I’ll see her again in a couple months, unless she needs me before then. In which case … flying west.

Wishing everyone a good night’s sleep and sweet dreams wherever you may be.


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

A Passion for Travel, Part 11 [Updated]: Coming-Home Checklist

Home sweet home - Felixstowe sunset

Home sweet home – Felixstowe sunset

Having lain awake half the night for the past two nights contemplating all the items on my to-do list, it seems appropriate to update the last post in my Passion for Travel series, ‘Coming Home’.

Since writing the original post, I’ve become more accepting that we won’t get caught up on everything within a day or two of arriving back in Felixstowe.

My current coming-home checklist looks like this:

* Physical
–  try to factor in some recovery time – for additional sleep or rest, a not-too-crowded appointment diary (if possible, at least for the first couple days) and time for the activities listed below
– accept that return jet lag happens and try not to stress about it

* Review calendar and upcoming fixed appointments – make sure we don’t miss or forget anything because we’ve been away and that we do have time planned in the not-too-distant future to reconnect with local friends and family

* Unpack & re-organise for next trip:
– wheelie
– shoulder bag
I store many travel items in one bag or the other; e.g. family travel papers, lingerie bag, laptop security cable, etc. And as per a great comment from KimB on the original post, part of unpacking/repacking includes restocking travel-size toiletries and storing them in the wheelie.

* Get up-to-date with ‘at the desk’ tasks and daily life:
– finances & print-outs as needed of items handled while away
– hardcopy mail (thanking friends D&J for collecting it for us)
– filing of any important papers accumulated during the trip
– items on a running to-do list I keep while we travel, of tasks for ‘when we get home’
– and of course: laundry and grocery shopping

* Edit/purge trip photos — we usually download from camera(s) to laptops/tablets each night but I always take way too many photos and they take up valuable space on our hard drives.

These are so many practical tasks, showing me why it’s virtually impossible to feel ‘all caught up’ the day after we arrive home. On a deeper level, I recommend a wonderful e-book, ‘The Graceful Return: Relish Your Journey after You’ve Come Home’ by author and creativity guru Cynthia Morris. I love this book, available on amazon UK and US and covering many topics, including physical care, expectations, emotions, and suggestions for using art forms such as writing, scrapbooking, and mindmapping to help process the journey.

Much of our travel involves seeing our families, but our next planned trip is a short UK getaway at the end of June. We’re looking forward to visiting the English city of York, exploring its history and reconnecting with one of Clive’s lifelong friends and his wife. Until then, it’s great to be home sweet home.

How about those of you reading this – do you have any tips and tricks from your experience coming home from a trip?

Tree by the sea – blossoming out in the past couple weeks

Tree by the sea – blossoming out in the past couple weeks

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

Letter from New Jersey: The Best-Laid Plans

with my mother, before she boarded the assisted living bus

with my mother, before she boarded the assisted living bus

This evening, I’m thankful my mother is back in her own room, after Clive and I spent an unexpected afternoon with her at the hospital.

Earlier this morning, I sent my son an email sharing plans for our next few days in New Jersey: take my mother and her boyfriend out to lunch tomorrow and Saturday, buy party decorations for her 91st birthday and spend time with her at various music and exercise programs at assisted living.

After this morning’s visit with Mom, we waved her and her boyfriend off on the facility’s shuttle bus as they happily went on a group lunch outing. We ran a few errands, ending up at the laundromat. With nine minutes to go on the washer, my cell phone rang. The assisted living nurse told me that after lunch, when getting back on the bus, my mother had hurt her leg, scraping the front of her right shin on one of the bus steps.

Thankfully Mom had one staff person in front of her and another one behind, so they were able to support her. But her skin is tissue-paper thin because of certain medications she’s on, so there was profuse bleeding. The staff immediately called an ambulance.

The nurse on the phone told me Mom seemed to be doing okay and the ambulance team had said it was a surface wound, though a significant one. I debated racing to the hospital, leaving Clive in the laundromat for what I knew would be at least a few hours – then made the decision to wait an excruciating nine minutes until we could unload the washer, shove the wet clothes into a plastic bag and go to the hospital together. If Mom had had a heart attack or similar, I’m afraid Clive and/or our clothes would have been left in the laundromat.

Without going into horrible detail, suffice it to say:

– the Emergency Room was a typical ER madhouse

– Mom’s leg wound was indeed very bloody, quite large and difficult to look at

– the ER doctors and nurses were wonderful

– the paperwork was endless

– my mother is incredibly brave, two days short of her 91st birthday

– and Clive deserves a son-in-law medal for holding Mom’s hand the entire time, keeping her amused and calm (mostly) while the medical team worked on her leg and at one point, getting a big smile when he said, ‘Close your eyes and think of England.’ Mom loves England.

My mother’s memory is virtually gone, so she asked us over and over and over again what had happened, where we were, what was happening next and where her boyfriend was.

As for me, my mind was swirling with thoughts of how glad I was that we were here in New Jersey when this happened, how much worse it could have been, how fragile and vulnerable my mother is both physically and mentally, how I don’t live nearby most of the time and will always feel guilty about that, how thankful I am that despite everything, she is happy with her life as it is now, and – when we eventually arrived back at assisted living – how lucky we are that she receives good care.

I grumble constantly about the increasing costs of this care, but on a day like today, when many different staffers helped her – aides assisting with wheelchair, activities staff welcoming her back, nurses going over the medical situation with her and me, another staffer getting her boyfriend so they could reconnect with each other – I feel less much grumbly about paying what seem to me the whopping costs of U.S. health care.

As for the best-laid plans, important phone calls still need to be made, birthday party shopping needs to be done and there will be no lunch outings as Mom needs to take it easy and not stress her leg too much for a while. I pray it heals well and quickly. We can still spend time together, thankfully, and we’re looking forward to celebrating her 91st birthday this weekend.

It’s been quite a day. Clive says, ‘That’s life with the wife … and the mother-in-law.’

Cheers and thanks for reading. Unless plans change again, next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Washington DC: Planes and Trains and Daily Hugs

AA travel CJR graphic

In London yesterday morning, we awoke to news headlines which included ‘a U.S. train derailment’.

By the time we arrived in the airline lounge at Heathrow, reports informed us the accident had happened on Amtrak’s northeast corridor, specifically on the route from Washington DC to New York City – a journey millions take each year, and one we have tickets for in a few days’ time.

Once again I can’t help thinking about the randomness of tragedy. My heart hurts for the people who were going about their lives and lost their lives, for those who were injured and all the families and friends thrown into shock and trauma and mourning.

So this week I’m reminding myself once more to appreciate the simple yet monumental blessing of each day, to live life with thankfulness and hug my loved ones often.

It’s nice to do extra hugging when visiting my son and his fiancée and seeing some of my dearest friends, I must admit.

With my son last evening

With my son last evening

Wishing everyone the blessings of daily life.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from New Jersey (though whether we get there by train, plane or car is still to be determined).


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