Letter from Heathrow: Departure Down Under

Morning at Manly Beach, Sydney

Morning at Manly Beach, Sydney

Tonight we’re in transit, specifically in the airline lounge at Heathrow until our flight departs for Sydney.

Champagne has been consumed, following that moment of relief when one is through airline security. It was relatively painless this evening but it’s still such a gauntlet (even the ‘Fast Track’ can be slow at times): waiting on line, removing laptops and tablets and sometimes belts and shoes; getting behind someone who for some random reason is v-e-r-y s-l-o-w; getting stopped for a random body check and/or who knows what else, waiting on the other side and ‘re-dressing’ one’s self with belts, shoes (if removed), and making sure we haven’t left some important technology in one of the plastic bins. Plus, I always feel conscious of the people following me on line and *not* wanting to be one of the s-l-o-w ones, which inevitably adds to the stress of trying to go fast.

Arrgh.

On the plus side: Heathrow has implemented a new security ‘conveyor belt’ set-up in which there are little plastic dividers/sections for each person disgorging their stuff. I *LOVE* this! It means you have your own little ‘space’ in which your plastic bins sits, between the plastic dividers, and you put your stuff into a typical bin (if you fill one, you push that onto the conveyor belt and start filling another) and the people on either side of you are doing the same thing, without each other’s stuff or each other’s bodies pushing and shoving along. I don’t know if this is becoming standard practice in other airports but this was the first we’ve seen it tonight.

I asked Clive what he most hopes for in our trip Down Under and he said – not surprisingly, as I feel the same when we head to see my family in the U.S. – that he just wants everything to go well and for the family to have a happy time together. I couldn’t wish for more myself.

Clive with his son & family on the Central Coast, New South Wales Australia

Clive with his son & family on the Central Coast, New South Wales Australia

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s post will be from Sydney.

Letter from Felixstowe: Sydney Sensations

Morning sun on the Opera House, Sydney

Morning sun on the Opera House, Sydney

The streets of Paris suddenly seem far away, at least in the near term, as we turn our attention to our upcoming visit to Australia.

A week from today we’ll be en route to Sydney — not quite on the plane, but heading toward a night flight to Singapore and from there down to the magical Harbour city.

Clive’s son and family live about an hour north of Sydney; his daughter about an hour south. The purpose of our trip is to spend time with them, but we’ll start and end with a few days at Manly Beach, a short walk from our former home. Sydney and its Northern Beaches area is where Clive and I both lived and worked for many years, and as long as we’re travelling such a long way, we’re looking forward to seeing our closest Aussie friends and I hope to have coffee with a couple of my dear ‘girlfriends’.

As much as we try to pace ourselves on these kinds of trips, it’s always difficult to find the right balance of seeing everyone you want to see and doing everything you want to do but not running around to the point of wearing everyone (OK, ourselves) out. We’ll be moving around a lot – 4 locations and 24 nights, 11 of them near Clive’s three grandchildren — and more than anything we’re simply looking forward to being with loved ones and having in-person time together.

Autumn in Australia began on March 1st; the country will be on Daylight Savings Time until April 5th so we’ll ‘fall back’ there as hours of daylight decrease. Sydney’s climate isn’t perfect but I’ve always felt it comes close, with mild temperatures and gorgeous sunshine year-round. I’m convinced the beatific climate is a major contributor to the Aussies’ sunny outlook and relaxed, friendly culture.

I have so many memories in Sydney and am looking forward to creating a few new ones with special people in the next few weeks.

Clive with his grandchildren in Felixstowe last September

Clive with his grandchildren in Felixstowe last September

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from London Heathrow before departure to the land Down Under.

Letter from Paris: Weekend in the City of Light

Paris, je t'aime

Paris, je t’aime

Two days ago, in the midst of renovation and DIY projects, Clive and I agreed it would be possible, and good, to book train tickets for a long weekend in Paris.

Today blessed us with beautiful weather and a smooth journey, thanks to trains, Underground/metro and Eurostar. We arrived to bright sunshine and much warmer temperatures than on our last visit.

Arrival - March

Arrival – March

Arrival - December

Arrival – December

In the next few days, we hope to relax, walk a lot, and have a ‘couple’s interlude’ before the upcoming 2-1/2 months of intense family visits to Australia and the US.

I’m always overjoyed to be here, no matter what the season, no matter what the weather, no matter what we do. This evening we walked around during l’heure bleue, the blue hour, and watched the Eiffel Tower light up against the deepening sky.

Paris, je t’aime.

Eiffel Tower at dusk, Trocadéro, Paris

Eiffel Tower at dusk, Trocadéro, Paris

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

Letter from Felixstowe: The Worry Path

A walk by the River Rothay, Lake District, England

A walk by the River Rothay, Lake District, England

After a non-stop wonderful few days with my son, my thoughts are with a dear friend in another place who wishes to keep medical concerns private, but about whom I can’t help worrying.

I know: worrying is not helpful or productive – unless, perhaps, it inspires positive action. According to the Bible, the lilies of the field can teach me a lot: they do not toil or spin, but abide with beauty and faith. The ‘serenity prayer’ counsels acceptance of things we cannot change. One popular song advises, ‘Don’t worry. Be happy’; another – one my mother still loves – ‘Always look on the bright side of life’.

I get it. Worrying can eat away at a person without making anything better. But I think it’s human, and legitimate, to worry sometimes.

I’ve called it ‘the worry path’ because, maybe, thinking of it that way means it’s a conscious choice I can make: to go down that path – or not.

The person I hold close in my heart is getting excellent medical attention and is blessed with loving support. For this I’m not worried, but thankful.

If anyone reading this is a worrier, have you any insights on how to worry less?

Bridge and footpath near Ambleside, Lake District, England

Bridge and footpath near Ambleside, Lake District, England

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

Letter from Felixstowe: Anticipation

AA CSB and G

With my son near Washington, D.C.

 Thanks to everyone who commented or sent helpful emails in response to last week’s post. It’s heartbreaking that Alzheimer’s disease affects so many individuals and families around the world.

This week has mostly centred on anticipation of my son’s arrival for a long weekend with us in the UK. It seems only yesterday I was juggling personal life with work and teleconferences and business trips. Suddenly (or so it seems) roles are reversed. Now he’s the one with the busy personal and professional life while I eagerly await his arrival.

I feel close to my mother at times like this; from what she said over the years, I know she felt similar emotions when she knew I was on my way to see her in New Jersey.

The days will pass quickly with my son and I’ll treasure every minute. As my mom often said, ‘It doesn’t matter what we do. It’ll just great to be together.’

And as Tom Jones sometimes says on The Voice UK: ‘Yeah!’

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

Letter from Felixstowe: Tooth Extraction, Alzheimer’s & Guilt

AA Compass w heart

One of the themes of this blog is family globalisation, including the challenges of staying close emotionally while being far away geographically from people we love.

This week, at her assisted living home in New Jersey, my mother had a tooth extracted. The procedure went well, her mouth healed quickly and she has more or less forgotten it occurred (except when I ask her in our daily chats how it’s doing – she sticks her tongue in the empty spot and says ‘it’s fine!’).

I debated with myself long and hard about getting on an airplane. Many times over the years I’ve jumped on a flight when she was hospitalised or needed me at her home. This time around, my thought process took into account that the tooth would be extracted at her assisted living facility and she would be cared for without having to leave her home; the dentist and staff assured me in multiple discussions that all would be well; and I knew I could still go immediately should anything go wrong. On this side of the Pond, we’re in the midst of a renovation project, planning for my son’s visit next weekend (hooray!); gearing up for a trip to Australia next month; and looking forward to the next U.S. trip, booked weeks ago, for my mother’s birthday in May.

And more than any time in the past, an additional factor weighing in my mind was my mother’s Alzheimer’s. I email her every day, so she has something in writing, and call her every night. We have much the same chat each evening. She seems to enjoy our talks but tragically in recent years has lost most of her sense of time. With no short-term memory, she has no recollection of having had visitors, or when a visit occurred – in her mind, I may have seen her yesterday, or a week ago, or a few months ago. She still looks forward to our visits, so if I say ‘we can’t wait to see you for your birthday,’ she says that’s wonderful, then asks me how long it is until then. Sometimes she can still calculate the months, but often not. We talk about her parents and childhood, the family members she remembers (she still always asks what her grandson is doing) and I can usually make her laugh or we can share a happy memory of something important to her.

But what I can’t do quickly and easily is be there, hold her hand or give her a hug. I’ve thought often about bringing her closer to me, but for now she is happy, loves her 93 year-old boyfriend with whom she shares almost every minute of every day (they are dependent on each other in a way the medical and assisted living staff tell me is healthy and wonderful), and feels safe and secure in her environment.

I know that just because my mother is happy and won’t remember exactly when I was last with her doesn’t mean I shouldn’t visit as often as I can. This is my ongoing challenge and the constant balance I strive to attain, not always successfully. I will always live with a certain irreducible measure of guilt and regret I can’t be in multiple places at the same time or go back and forth more often. I hold onto the knowledge Mom’s looking forward to our next visit and I’ll do everything I can to make it a wonderful one.

A breezy February day at the Ridgewood Duck Pond, New Jersey

A breezy February day at the Ridgewood Duck Pond, New Jersey


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

Letter from Felixstowe: Blythburgh and Happy Suffolk Pigs for Valentine’s Day

Clive and his daughter at Dunwich Heath, near Blythburgh, Suffolk

Clive and his daughter at Dunwich Heath, near Blythburgh, Suffolk

Normally Clive and I don’t make a huge deal of Valentine’s Day, but this year, at the last minute, we decided to treat ourselves to an overnight away. We picked a destination from our ‘We Should’ list (as we did when we visited Suffolk’s Shingle Street) and selected Blythburgh, about an hour’s drive from Felixstowe, a riverside area we’ve often driven through but never stopped to explore or walk.

Thanks to the Internet we managed to find a room in a local pub; everything else was sold out, probably weeks ago. We’ll find out in a couple days if our room’s availability means we missed something in our research – we hope not!

We’re looking forward to the scenery – the River Blyth winding to the North Sea between Southwold and Walberswick; miles of marshes, reedbeds, swaying grasses and heathland; exploring nearby villages and a magnificent 12th-century church known as the ‘Cathedral of the Marshes’ on whose site a church has existed since 630 (just writing that year feels unreal to me). And – with apologies to vegetarian friends – we’re hoping to sample some of the meat products from Blythburgh’s free range pigs, or, as they’re sometimes called locally, happy pigs, because they run free outside from birth until the end of their lives.

On many drives to Southwold, we’ve passed fields with rows of open-air, metal-roofed pig huts (for lack of a better term), some singles and some doubles, apparently. We’ve seen pigs frolicking and foraging in the fields. Perhaps it’s my non-country upbringing but whenever I see them I can’t help cheering, ‘Happy pigs! Happy pigs!’

Living in Suffolk, we’ve come to appreciate the local food scene and that includes the happy pigs’ bacon and sausages, served in various pubs and restaurants – they’re truly delicious.

I don’t know how many happy pigs we’ll see running around the fields this time of year, but we look forward to dinner at the pub and a full English breakfast on Sunday, so should get a taste of some good Suffolk pork.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate for walking, I foresee a lot of pub-sitting and coffee-sipping before a cozy fire.  More to come.

Southwold, near Blythburgh, Suffolk

Southwold, near Blythburgh, Suffolk

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

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