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).

Letter from Felixstowe: Election Day in the UK

Our polling station, Trinity Methodist Church, Felixstowe

Our polling station, Trinity Methodist Church, Felixstowe

Too close to call: by all accounts, the outcome of today’s UK election sits on a knife-edge with coalition-forming activities likely to result in the days ahead.

Clive and I voted this morning. I’m eligible to do so because I’m a resident of the UK, citizen of a Commonwealth country (Australia) and registered to vote.

The length of the campaign here is blessedly short: a mere six weeks, though everyone’s saying ‘It’s been going on forever! We’re so happy it’s over!’

As in Australia, once a government is formed, they’ll take office immediately, so different from the U.S. ‘lame duck’ period of 2-3 months between election and Inauguration, a gap that seems strange to me now.

Voters cast their ballots for a party and its local contestant, not for an individual Prime Minister; he or she is chosen by his or her party once the party forms a government.

Voting is not compulsory in the UK as it is in Australia (I previously wrote about Aussie elections) but for a number of reasons, including a clear contrast between major party policies and apparent popularity of the Scottish National Party and UK Independence Party, today’s turnout is expected to be relatively high.

In the 2010 national election, turnout was about 65%. A quick Google search tells me recent national turnout in Australia was over 93%, USA 57.5% (in 2012; down from 62.3% in 2008). I wish all countries made voting mandatory, as it is Down Under.

In any case, the process and content of this election has been thought-provoking, fascinating and all quite civilised. We will no doubt be up in the middle of the night watching the returns.

Waving the UK flag at Royal Albert Hall

Waving the UK flag at Royal Albert Hall

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

Letter from Felixstowe: Spring in St Elthelbert’s Churchyard

View of River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard, Suffolk

View of River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard, Suffolk

England’s small medieval churches always move me, sometimes more than great cathedrals.

Earlier this week, when Clive and I were out doing a few errands, we detoured to St Ethelbert’s church in Falkenham, a few minutes’ drive from Felixstowe.

This church grabbed my attention and my heartstrings when I saw it for the first time, seven or eight years ago. We were visiting from Australia, went for a walk in the area, and spotted the tower and pathway leading to the church.

Path to St Ethelbert’s

Path to St Ethelbert’s

At the end of the path is the unassuming churchyard, shaded by lime and sycamore trees, the arched front doors of the church and the 15th century flint and stone tower.

St Ethelbert’s front churchyard

St Ethelbert’s front churchyard

The view along the side of the church offers a glimpse of the Suffolk marshes and River Deben beyond.

South side of St Ethelbert’s with marshes & river in distance

South side of St Ethelbert’s with marshes & river in distance

Clive checking out the side doors, St Ethelbert’s

Clive checking out the side doors, St Ethelbert’s

According to the church’s ‘History and Guide’ brochure, St Ethelbert was the Saxon King of the East Angles, murdered by the pagan King Offa of Mercia in 794. The church’s earliest visible work dates from the late 1300s and early 1400s.

Apparently many rural Suffolk churches with medieval roots, including this one, were gradually modernised, especially during the Victorian era. The beautifully-maintained interior of St Ethelbert’s is cool and light-filled, with a list of recorded vicars from 1307 and a striking hammerbeam roof dating from about 1510.

Nave and single hammerbeam roof, St Ethelbert’s

Nave and single hammerbeam roof, St Ethelbert’s

St Ethelbert’s sanctuary

St Ethelbert’s sanctuary

We stepped back out through the curving west doors, into the churchyard and once more around to the sweeping view of Suffolk skies, marshes, and low hills across the river.

Stepping back outside, St Ethelbert’s

Stepping back outside, St Ethelbert’s

North side of St Ethelbert’s

North side of St Ethelbert’s

Perhaps because we’ve been moving around so much in our recent travels, we were drawn this week to return to this special place. I love its small size, its humility – no ‘airs and graces’ to be found here, just inspiring natural and man-made beauty – its stunning Suffolk setting and its sense of timeliness and tranquillity.

As I’ve written before, the God I believe in is available everywhere. But somehow in an ancient English churchyard, for me there is a special peace and connection to the Divine.

River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard

River Deben estuary from St Ethelbert’s churchyard

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

Letter from Felixstowe: Home

Spreadsheet man at his ‘desk’ at our storage unit

Spreadsheet man at his ‘desk’ at our storage unit

We’re thankful for a safe journey home to the UK and that our Aussie family members have also been safe in the midst of wild Sydney storms.

During our last couple days Down Under, heavy rain and winds battered New South Wales. Clive and I were under cover most of the time, going through contents of our storage unit, packing a few boxes to ship to Felixstowe and trekking back and forth to the post office.

Packing boxes for the UK

Packing boxes for the UK

We’re thrilled to be back in our own space after moving around a lot Down Under. Home has so many definitions: where the heart is, where you make it, where the most important people are. And sometimes: where one’s own bed is – especially when jet lag calls.

Spring has sprung in England, it’s light until 8 or 8:30pm and our tree by the sea is much greener than it was a month ago.

Tree by the sea, 22 March 2015

Tree by the sea, 22 March 2015

Tree by the sea, 23 April 2015

Tree by the sea, 23 April 2015

There’s really no place like home. Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

Letter from Cronulla NSW: Sojourn in the Shire

Afternoon treat at the Tea House, Caringbah NSW

Afternoon treat at the Tea House, Caringbah NSW


Clive’s daughter lives south of Sydney, in the Sutherland Shire, a district usually called simply ‘the Shire’. New South Wales contains many shires but for some reason, this one is widely known and recognised – at least in the areas closest to Sydney – as the Shire.

It’s been a great week thanks to Kylie managing some time away from her demanding job, a high-level position at a conference centre on the beautiful Port Hacking River, surrounded by Royal National Park. She may not have as much time off as Clive’s grandchildren on their school holidays, but we’ve enjoyed a range of activities.

Kiama blowhole, NSW

Kiama blowhole, NSW

Our travels around the Shire and south coast have included visiting Berry NSW, a classic Australian country town, seeing many beaches and headlands (including the Kiama blowhole, seen in above photo), relaxing over afternoon tea at the Tea House at the National Camellia Garden, making various stops for coffee and lunch or dinner, and viewing ‘The Triumph of Modernism in the Art of Australia’, a terrific exhibit at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre.

The wonderful Hazelhurst Gallery, Gymea NSW

The wonderful Hazelhurst Gallery, Gymea NSW

My mother always said, ‘It doesn’t matter what we do; it’s just great to be together.’ As years go by and many families, including ours, become geographically dispersed, I realise more and more the truth of that sentiment. Always the best part of family visits is just spending in-person time together.

Kylie & Clive on the Sea Cliff Bridge, Coalcliff NSW

Kylie & Clive on the Sea Cliff Bridge, Coalcliff NSW

We’ll soon be heading back to Manly and this trip’s final phase Down Under. A week from now, we’ll be home in the UK. The next time we’ll be together with the Aussie gang will be in the U.S. this coming October, for a certain big event on my side of the family.

Thanks Kylie for that last-minute change of plan tonight and the tasty Thai dinner. As this part of our trip draws to a close, we’re grateful for the time we’ve had here in the Shire.

Sunset in Royal National Park, NSW

Sunset in Royal National Park, NSW

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

Letter from NSW Central Coast: Where the Bush Meets the Beach

Family on Putty Beach, Bouddi National Park NSW

Family on Putty Beach, Bouddi National Park NSW

Clive’s son and family live north of Sydney on the New South Wales Central Coast, surrounded by the natural beauty of countless beaches, bushland, coastal walks and National Parks.

We’ve had a great week doing many activities with the family and seeing some of the special places near where they live.

Bouddi National Park contains multiple beaches and bushwalks. One afternoon the family showed us part of the Bouddi Coastal Walk between Putty Beach and Bullimah Beach.

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We parked (for ‘free’ thanks to the family having an annual National Parks pass) and Clive’s son led us out to Putty Beach, a beautiful arc of typically golden Aussie sand. A set of steps led up from the northern end of the beach to the walkway along the headland.

View back to Putty Beach from the coastal walk

View back to Putty Beach from the coastal walk

Most of this part of the walk had a boardwalk, easy for everyone to enjoy. I kept stopping to ooh and aah and take photos as we wound around the headland, admiring the ocean views and sandstone outcroppings.

Clive & his grandsons on Bouddi Coastal Walk

Clive & his grandsons on Bouddi Coastal Walk

We were all drawn to the tessellated rock formations, or pavements, lining the walk at this point. Their swirly, geometric patterns were apparently formed by weathering and erosion and the shrinking and swelling of clays over thousands and millions of years.

I’m always struck by the awesome natural beauty of Australia and how blessed children are to grow up with all of this around them. Australia is sometimes called ‘The Lucky Country’ and in light of its scenery and landscape and the appreciation its citizens have for it, it seems very lucky indeed.

Great young walkers on tessellated pavements, Bouddi National Park, Australia

Great young walkers on tessellated pavements, Bouddi National Park, Australia

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from south of Sydney, near the Royal National Park, New South Wales.

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