Women’s Weekend in (New) Jersey

American flag at Paramus Park mall, New Jersey

American flag at Paramus Park mall, New Jersey

One of the hardest things about living far away from loved ones is not being able to be there in person for various family events. We do the best we can, and mid-next week I’m heading across the Pond to see some very important women — and one very important young man — in New Jersey.

The special occasion is a bridal shower for my son’s fiancée, something I really wanted to be part of. By two brilliant coincidences, it’s close in date to my son’s birthday and relatively close in driving time to where my mom lives.

So I’ll be able to combine visits to Mom (and seeing close-up how her leg is healing), time with the beautiful young woman who will soon be my daughter-in-law, or to use the wonderful French word, ma belle-fille (love that expression: literally beautiful daughter but with hyphen translates to daughter-in-law), seeing several of my closest female family and friends, and a major treat of one-on-one time with a certain tall, blond young man who is approaching a significant birthday.

My soon-to-be belle-fille and her groom, 2014 Thanksgiving

My soon-to-be belle-fille and her groom, 2014 Thanksgiving

Clive and I usually travel together but this time he’ll stay home in Felixstowe. He has several DIY projects planned (ie, can make lots of noise and mess while I’m away), doesn’t mind staying by the sea and missing the forecasted 30+C/85-90F NJ temperatures (not to mention summer airport crowds), and would be left on his own anyway while I get together with many wonderful women. I’ll also spend extra time just sitting and being with my mom at her assisted living residence.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that we can’t be everywhere at once, can’t keep everyone happy with our schedule and can’t do everything we wish we could. Perhaps this is true for many parents and grandparents, even if families live close by. Our guiding principle is to do what we can, when we can, while we can. More about brides, birthdays and Jersey girls in next week’s letter.

August visit with my favourite Jersey girl, 2013

August visit with my favourite Jersey girl, 2013

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

Paris: A Summer Sojourn

Absurdly excited about my new Navigo pass, Paris

Absurdly excited about my new Navigo pass, Paris

Paris in July offers a relaxed, slower-paced vibe (though we kept up a pretty fast pace this week), with endless choices of things to do outside or inside. Residential quartiers are lovely and peaceful, much quieter than during the school year since Parisians have begun their annual exodus to their country homes or the seaside. But it’s still before the real ‘emptying-out’ that occurs in August, so many or most local shops and cafes are still open for business.

L’Oisive Thé, a charming lunch spot (and yarn shop) in the Butte aux Cailles quartier, Paris

L’Oisive Thé, a charming lunch spot (and yarn shop) in the Butte aux Cailles quartier, Paris

Time always flies by way too fast. Still, Clive and I did almost everything on our list, except for two museums and one closed church. (The Musée d’Orsay Bonnard exhibit closed the weekend we arrived and it just got away from us; we didn’t mind skipping Napoleon at the Carnavalet; and the church where our neighbours’ parents were married was closed the afternoon we tried to visit, despite its website saying it was open. The church dates from the 11th century so we figure we can defer it to a future trip.)

Among the highlights was the mystery surprise: a personal tour of the U.S. Embassy by a wonderful friend who works there. No photos as passports, phones and cameras are held by security, but we thoroughly enjoyed learning about the building’s history, seeing its different areas and meeting a number of impressive individuals working on behalf of the USA in Paris.

Summer day on the Seine, Paris

Summer day on the Seine, Paris

Other highlights included a visit to Père Lachaise cemetery, where I left a bouquet of flowers in remembrance of Lisa Taylor Huff, the writer I admired so much and who died in Paris on 6 July 2015. Lisa’s memorial service was held at Père Lachaise a few days later. Since a permanent site has not yet been established, I left the flowers at the grave of Colette, another Parisian writer. The card says, ‘In memory of Lisa Taylor Huff, a beautiful writer and Parisienne with a bold soul.’

with flowers for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

with flowers for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

card for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

card for Lisa at Père Lachaise cemetery

After the cemetery, we took a Vedettes du Pont-Neuf boat cruise on the Seine, passing under the Pont des Arts which Lisa campaigned so hard to restore to its former beauty. It was inspiring to hear the tour announcer describe the work now being done to this end by the City of Paris.

The Seine and the Pont des Arts, Paris

The Seine and the Pont des Arts, Paris

As always in Paris, I enjoyed virtually every minute — except when we experienced some higher temperatures than we’d prefer and/or when our feet were so tired from walking that they were screaming for mercy. I think the toughest time was in Montmartre, when we – being extremely overly-optimistic — first climbed up the hill, then walked around and visited the museum (which has many more steps), then walked back down the other side, to the Lamarck-Coulaincourt metro and we still weren’t finished because there are about a million more steps circling down and down and down to finally reach the platform.

Clive heading down the Butte Montmartre toward the metro

Clive heading down the Butte Montmartre toward the metro

We enjoyed catching up with another lovely Paris friend at the café of the Petit Palais, and our neighbours invited us to their apartment one evening for a ‘petit apératif’. We more or less upheld our end of the conversation (we think; we’re never sure as they speak no English). We’ve taken photos and Monsieur shared more of his family history with us, fascinating because it’s very much intertwined with the history of the quartier.

Along with everyone else this week, when the temperatures rose and the sun shone so brightly, we sought out shady spots and café tables to pause and just relax for a while. Ice cream was hard to resist.

Relaxing by the Eiffel Tower

Relaxing by the Eiffel Tower

Often in Paris, I’m happiest just walking down the street and soaking up this city. Always before we leave, I get antsy and try to keep in the present, not letting myself get caught up in the emotion of knowing our time here is coming to its end and I’m not exactly sure when we’ll be back. I just try to be conscious of every moment, so I can store them all away as treasures and then reach into my memory and bring them out again to think about and cherish when we’re far away.

In the meantime, after being removed from his place at Trocadéro during metro construction, Ben Franklin is back watching over his corner of the city. He’s inside a locked gate; he has a new path and his grassy hill needs work; and he looks like he could do with a bit of a clean himself — but he’s back. Welcome home, Ben! It’s so great to see you again.

Ben Franklin at Trocadéro, Paris

Ben Franklin at Trocadéro, Paris

Tomorrow we return to the UK, coinciding with the 2015 Felixstowe Carnival, a weekend of family fun and activities beside the sea.

Au revoir, Paris, until we meet again.

Stairway to the Seine, Pont Marie, Paris

Stairway to the Seine, Pont Marie, Paris

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

What’s on in Paris This July: My List

Summer Sunday on the Champs de Mars, Paris

Summer Sunday on the Champs de Mars, Paris

Current exhibits, practical matters, remembering Lisa, out and about and a mystery surprise: we’ll never fit it all in – that’s always impossible – but here’s my ideal list for our upcoming week in Paris.

Current Exhibits

** Rodin Museum, aka Hôtel Biron, a favourite small museum with a beautiful garden: ‘Rodin, the Laboratory of Creation’, thru 25 Sept. and apparently also a Robert Doisneau ‘Scupltors and Sculptures’ exhibition running simultaneously.

** Musée Carnavalet: ‘Napoleon and Paris’, thru 30 August.

** Pierre Bonnard, a new artist for me: ‘Painting Arcadia’ at Musée D’Orsay, thru 19 July. I’m always inspired at this museum and love going there any time to visit Manet’s ‘Olympia’, the brilliant Impressionist rooms and the café under the big clock.

** Musée Montmartre: ‘Spirit of Montmartre and Modern Art’, thru 25 Sept. This is one small museum we haven’t been to yet though we’ve walked by many times. Maybe this trip we’ll finally go inside.

Practical Matters

** Get Navigo passes for the metro and bus – finally! It’s just time.

** Ask my elderly upstairs neighbours if I may take a photograph of them — something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time but always seem to forget when we’re with them — as they have become treasured friends, especially in more recent years.

** Visit the church in Passy where the parents of our neighbour were married over 100 years ago. ‘Monsieur’ has, in our recent get-togethers, shared much of his fascinating family history with us, which has made me feel very honoured indeed. Earlier this year, he gave us a brochure about this particular church and we now look forward to visiting it.

Remembering Lisa

Along with Lisa Taylor Huff’s countless readers around the world, this week I’ve thought of her so often, following her tragic death from cancer on 6 July 2015.

** In remembrance, I hope to take a colourful bouquet to Père Lachaise cemetery, a beautiful, peaceful place where Lisa’s memorial service was held and where I’ve walked a number of times. Not knowing if or when there will be a permanent memorial to Lisa, my thought is to leave flowers at the gravesite of one of the famous writers there, since Lisa’s words inspired so many.

** We always find ourselves walking around the centre of the city and crossing the historic Pont des Arts, which recently has been undergoing a transformation. The City of Paris is removing hundreds of thousands of ‘lovelocks’ and restoring the bridge to its former beauty, thanks to the ‘NoLoveLocks’ campaign founded by Lisa and her dedicated friend. I’ve always adored the Pont des Arts and now I’ll also think of Lisa whenever we’re there.

** If time permits, I hope to return to L’Oisive Thé, the wonderful tea and knitting shop owned by Lisa’s friend Aimée. I first read about this delightful destination via Lisa’s blog. We’ve had several delicious lunches before or after walks in the charming Buttes aux Cailles quartier.

Out and About – Paris Musts

** A lot of walking – being a flâneur, just strolling and soaking up the city (no doubt moving a bit slower than usual in the heat with many pauses in favourite parks and gardens) – a little shopping and eating and of course the all-important café-sitting.

** Catching up in person with a few special people, always wishing we had more time for these kinds of contacts.

Additional Goings-On

** Paris Plages: Paris beaches, on the banks of the Seine! It’s going to be hot next week, so we’ll no doubt see many ‘beachgoers’ sunning themselves on the tons of sand the city brings in, from 20 July – 18 August. We’re not lie-on-the-beach types though (and we could stay home in Felixstowe for a real sea breeze), so will simply smile in passing as we walk by on the continuing-to-be-restored Berges de Seine, banks of the Seine.

The Mystery Surprise

** Finally, a special surprise that only came up in the past 24 hours, thanks to a Paris fairy godmother/godfather (can’t give too much away yet) who suggested it. More in next week’s letter if it happens as planned.

I know we will probably not be able to do everything, but Paris is a relatively small city and it’s amazing how many different things you can do in a day, especially with the lovely long summer twilights. In any case, this is my ideal list for Paris this July. And I haven’t included 90% of the running document I keep with ideas, references, and possibilities. It’s endless! That’s one of the many reasons I adore Paris. What would you like to do there? I’d love to hear.

Summer in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Summer in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

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

Tribute to a Woman I Never Met: Lisa Taylor Huff

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

The City of Light has lost a shining star. My letter from Felixstowe is early this week because I wanted to pay respects to Lisa Taylor Huff. I learned last night that Lisa died from cancer on 6 July 2015.

I never met Lisa, but for the past seven years I’ve been a devoted reader of her blog, The Bold Soul.

The blogosphere can be a wonderful community of shared passions, interests and worldviews. I daresay anyone who loves Paris and reads on the Internet would have come across Lisa’s blog at one time or another.

For me, this happened in 2008, when I was living in Sydney. I discovered one of Lisa’s posts just before she and her beloved Georges were married. Immediately hooked by Lisa’s writing voice, her intelligent, insightful and humorous style and our shared lifelong passion for Paris, I spent a few evenings reading through her archives. Later, from time to time, we exchanged comments on the blog.

If I may share some of Lisa’s story as I understand and remember reading about it, she began blogging in 2005. As a 40-something professional, she moved back home in New Jersey, where I’m also from, in order to save for her dream of living and writing in Paris. She wrote about her work, her plans and her family – how close she was to her sister and how she adored her niece and nephew. With great focus and determination, she made it to Paris in late 2006.

There, Lisa wrote about daily life, her ups and downs familiarising herself with the city, and eventually her forays into dating. A year or so after she arrived in Paris, she met Georges, a Frenchman who from the moment they met was the love of her life, and she of his. They married at her sister’s home in New Jersey. I recall beautiful photos of Lisa in a pale green dress and Georges wearing a tie in the matching colour.

Lisa became a stepmother to three children, including a six year-old boy whom she referred to as ‘le garçon’ in her posts, to protect the family’s privacy which she did with great care. Among other topics, she wrote about life with Georges, her writing and other projects in Paris, trips to and from her family in New Jersey, turning 50, moving house several times, occasional health challenges, successfully completing a tough French course at the Sorbonne, finishing the first draft of her memoir (I know I join her fans in hoping this is published one day), becoming a French citizen, voting in her first French election, founding with a friend the brilliant ‘No Love Locks’ initiative to clean up Paris’s historic bridges, and celebrating with Georges the anniversary dates of their meeting, his marriage proposal on the Mediterranean beach they nicknamed ‘Melon Beach’, and their wedding.

Then, one day last December, Lisa wrote that she had kidney cancer. She kept writing and posting, though not as often — about Paris, and Georges, and sometimes about cancer. I remember one post about a surprise gift she’d given Georges that gave her so much pleasure, and that he had given her special writing journals and pens, including one pen chosen because it was the same beautiful green colour as her wedding dress. Lisa’s final post, on 08 June 2015, was titled, ‘There’s how you think it’s going to be. And then there’s the curve-ball reality.’

I read this post with continuing admiration for Lisa and the openness, honesty and courage she demonstrated in facing great adversity. I checked her blog every few days, as I do, but there were no further updates.

Last night, Clive and I stayed overnight in a hotel in Cambridge UK. We had an early appointment there today and wanted to avoid peak hour traffic from Felixstowe. After dinner, I caught up on emails and checked Lisa’s blog: no new posts. I read a few other favourite blog updates, then switched to Facebook.

There it was – a comment from Karin, which showed me a post by Katia, an eloquent remembrance of ‘Lisa’ and ‘her passing is a shock, a life taken far too soon.’ With a wave of sorrow I clicked on Katia’s link to Aimée’s post (and later her blog post which includes a heartbreakingly beautiful photo of Lisa), a moving memorial by a close friend of Lisa’s. Both women talked of Lisa’s example of living boldly, of her kindness and caring, the support and encouragement she gave friends far and wide, what a genuinely nice, wonderful person she was and how many lives she touched.

This morning I read a wonderful post about Lisa by her good friend Linda, on Linda’s blog, Frenchless in France. Later today I exchanged emails and messages with more of Lisa’s friends and admirers, every one saddened beyond measure over the death of this beautiful bold soul.

Through the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of Paris bloggers in person. I always thought that one day Lisa’s and my paths might naturally cross.

Perhaps Lisa’s death hits especially hard because so many of us have experienced the loss of friends and loved ones to cancer. My first husband, Gary, died from cancer and several people very close to me are currently fighting for life in their own cancer battles. Lisa’s untimely death and her shining example of living life boldly remind us how precious life is.

I will miss Lisa’s writing about Paris, miss checking her blog to see what she and Georges are doing and the joy they always found in each other, miss her unique voice and the depth of character and feeling that always shone through on her blog.

And I know these things I will miss about Lisa are nothing but a microscopic speck compared to what Georges and her family and loved ones will miss.

Still, I wanted to add my voice to those paying tribute to this remarkable woman. Lisa stands as inspiration to all of us with her words, her character and her life-affirming boldness in living, loving and seeking her dreams.

Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

Thank you, Lisa, for being you and for sharing yourself with the world. I will always remember you. Rest in peace.

Letter from York: Churches, Cobblestones and Chums

York Minster

York Minster


Clive and I had talked for ages about visiting York, founded on the River Ouse in 71AD. Earlier this year, good friends relocated here and urged us to come see them. Finally we booked a few days in this city that seems to offer something for everyone.

For a first taste of York’s history, we walked through Mickelgate Bar, one of the ancient city entry gates, then climbed many steps up to the city walls, constructed c107. I can’t quite get my head around those dates – in the U.S. and Australia, 200 or 300 years ago is really old. In this city, one gets a real sense of the layers of history and the many different eras and events that can happen on the same physical bit(s) of the planet we call home.

On a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, we learned this: ‘A street’s a gate, a gate’s a bar, and a bar’s a pub.’

Bootham Bar, a ‘gate’ into York’s old city, with steps up to the ancient wall

Bootham Bar, a ‘gate’ into York’s old city, with steps up to the ancient wall


 
Entry to old city via Bootham Bar – foundations c. AD 300

Entry to old city via Bootham Bar – foundations c. AD 300


Just minutes outside the city walls are beautiful English villages, scenery and of course pubs. With our friends we explored their village and surrounding area, including a trip to their allotment.

Back in the city, we spent time in York Minster, the magnificent Gothic cathedral, did a lot of walking around cobblestone streets and markets, visited the York Castle Museum and returned again today to another part of the wall, with different views of the city and the Minster. The vast majority of the wall is still intact.

Clive on the York city wall between Bootham Bar & Monk Bar

Clive on the York city wall between Bootham Bar & Monk Bar


The York Art Gallery was also on my list but has been undergoing a major renovation and won’t reopen until August 1st. After meeting our friends again for a tour, pub lunch complete with Yorkshire pudding – of course – and a stroll for more ice cream (well, it’s been hot lately), we said our good-byes for this time.

Train travel is so easy around the UK and Europe that once again we’ve vowed, ‘we really should do this more often.’ We know we’ve just touched the surface of what York has to offer, and recommend it to anyone interested in history, art and culture, and lovely English ambiance.

The Shambles, a cobbled alleyway in central York

The Shambles, a cobbled alleyway in central York


We leave York tomorrow morning. On a different subject, one much in the news this week, our hearts have been saddened following last Friday’s shooting of 38 people in Tunisia, including 30 Britons, two from Felixstowe. We don’t know the family, but the couple was there to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. The woman was shot five times and footage of her being carried on a beach ‘sun bed’ used as a stretcher was broadcast around the world. She survived, but her husband did not. His body along with others was repatriated to the UK today.

Tomorrow, the nation will observe a minute’s silence at midday. We’ll be on the train then, and will join the rest of the country in remembrance of those killed and wishing in time a measure of peace to their families and loved ones.

West window of York Minster, a place of worship and peace

West window of York Minster, a place of worship and peace


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

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.

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