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.

Letter from Sydney: Remembering Gary at Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach, Sydney

Shelly Beach, Sydney

Gary, my late husband, loved this small patch of Australia where ocean, headland and beach meet on the eastern edge of Sydney.

Within months of arriving Down Under, Gary completed his first scuba diving course.  That December, when we composed our family Christmas letter, he included, ‘scuba diving at Shelly Beach, eleven minutes’ drive from our house’. We bought our own home here a few years later and, much to his delight, halved that time and distance.

Gary scuba dived at multiple Australian locations, including two Great Barrier Reef islands, but his favourite dives of all were Saturday morning shore dives at Shelly Beach.

He felt most comfortable walking into the water – he once told me he felt anxious when he had to ‘fall in’ backwards from the side of a boat – and the Shelly Beach reef offered great variety of marine life in a beautiful and relatively sheltered setting.

Gary enjoyed telling people Shelly Beach is the only west-facing beach on the east coast of Australia. The way the headland curves around gives a view from Shelly back to Manly and the stunning string of crescent-shaped Northern Beaches. An easy walking track leads from the beach up through the bush and around the headland for more beautiful views of the Northern Beaches and out to sea.

View from Shelly Beach headland to Sydney’s Northern Beaches

View from Shelly Beach headland to Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Gary didn’t have a lot of Saturdays free for diving – he was, among other things, a baseball coach and umpire, a gifted gardener and a home-improvement/DIY expert – but whenever a Saturday morning was available, he eagerly joined the shore dive at Shelly.

After the dives, he enjoyed chatting with the day’s group. He’d tell me about them, always an international mix: ‘three guys from Germany’ or ‘a group of women from Japan’ or ‘a couple from South Africa’. It tickled him no end that we lived so close to a dive location sought after by global travellers.

He loved, too, Shelly Beach’s proximity to Manly Beach, where he would get a post-dive coffee and stroll through the weekend outdoor markets, relaxing and soaking up more sunshine before driving home. Over the years, he gave me several gifts from the markets, one a hand-made, square pottery dish with a red heart in the centre.

Shelly Beach, looking toward Manly Beach, Sydney

Shelly Beach, looking toward Manly Beach, Sydney

Gary always came home from Shelly Beach smiling, happy, energised, talking of the dive’s conditions and what he’d seen. One Saturday afternoon we went out in the car and as he drove again towards Manly, he said, ‘I just want to say one thing.’ ‘What?’ I asked. ‘I love where we live,’ he said.

On the evenings after a dive, Gary would sit quietly on the sofa — usually with one of our cats curled on his lap – and page through his ‘Australian Sea Creatures’ book, noting the date beside ones he’d seen and updating his dive log. He’d sometimes lean over to show me a picture and point to an exotic creature he was excited about. I admired and appreciated his enthusiasm though never felt the urge to join him underwater. Now I treasure the book and dive log that meant so much to him.

Gary named Shelly Beach in the last days of his life. We had always talked openly with each other about many things, including life and death. One afternoon when I was sitting beside him in his hospital room, he said in a quiet voice, ‘Scatter my ashes into the sea somewhere. Maybe by Shelly Beach.’

At sunrise five days after he died, that is what we did.

Shelly Beach headland

Shelly Beach headland

Thank you for reading. Today we changed location. Next week’s letter will be from the Central Coast of New South Wales.

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 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.

January 2014: Reflections on Family, Pace, and Balance

Paris in winter

Paris in winter

I write this post on a Tuesday, so it feels appropriate to reflect on the first month of the new year — or more accurately, on the past six weeks — beginning with a Tuesday in December.

These recent weeks included 3 countries, 2 bathroom DIY projects (in 2 countries), and an emotional mix of life, death, and family visits.

Following are a few reflections, looking back and looking ahead, as we prepare to leave our home away from home in Paris and return to our home in the UK.

Week 1: Tuesday 17 December (2013)- Felixstowe, UK

Bathroom-in-progress Dec. 2013

Bathroom-in-progress Dec. 2013

We felt stressed and frantic during the run-up to Christmas.

Due to the renovation of our main bathroom and related materials spread throughout the apartment, we were way past our preferred date to put up our Christmas tree.

We juggled the usual before-Christmas craziness and additional projects we wanted to complete, in anticipation of Clive’s daughter arriving on 7 January for a long-planned visit. The Christmas tree and ornament boxes sat amidst renovation clutter in our dining area, untouched.

Then we remembered: hey, we get to decide whether or not to put up the tree! No-one (other than ourselves) is forcing us to do it. We agreed we would *not* put up a tree. This was hugely liberating.

Two days later, after the plasterer completed his work in the bathroom, we checked into a local hotel because our shower was dismantled. The next morning, we were awakened by an early call from Clive’s sister in Australia, telling him their mother was approaching the end of her life.

We hustled home, found last-minute flights, and booked a hotel in Australia, as mentioned in my previous post. Adding to the mix, Clive’s father was hospitalised in England (Clive’s parents divorced when he was young), so we went back and forth to the hospital until the day we left.

On Monday 23 December, we departed London Heathrow (thanking friends who kindly dropped us at the door of Terminal 5) headed for Sydney.

Week 2: Tuesday 24 December – somewhere over Asia, in flight

Clive with his mother, 2012

Clive with his mother, 2012

We ‘missed’ Christmas Eve — or so it seems, when you leave the northern hemisphere one day and arrive in Australia ‘two days later’, according to the calendar.

The BA pilot from London to Singapore announced that Santa’s reindeer health checks were all successful and Santa’s flight plan was underway. The crew from Singapore to Sydney announced that Santa had the same flight plan as we did, so passengers might spot him out the window.

We arrived in Sydney Christmas morning and had no time to deal with jet lag, as we immediately drove to the New South Wales Central Coast. Christmas lunch was at the only place open for business: McDonald’s. That evening, a visit from Clive’s son and family lifted our spirits immensely.

Most importantly, we arrived Down Under in time for Clive to spend hours and days at his mother’s bedside. She was largely unresponsive, but the first time she heard his voice she opened her eyes and looked right at him.

During these days, when not with Clive’s mother, we spent much-appreciated time with Clive’s son and family — who had numerous pre-planned commitments during this period — and also with his sister and her husband, children, and grandchildren — who were doing an amazing job juggling visits to their dying mother with pre-wedding events for their son’s marriage on 4 January. I also met one of Clive’s half-sisters for the first time.

Clive’s mother died in the early hours of Monday, 30 December. In the middle of the night, and thanks to his son’s kind driving offer, Clive kissed his mum good-bye for the last time.

Daylight ushered in a series of family meetings, funeral preparations, a review with the funeral director, and Clive’s agreement to write and deliver the eulogy for his mother. He also took on the project of preparing a ‘Life in Pictures’ presentation for her memorial service, scheduled for 2 January.

Week 3: Tuesday 31 December – New South Wales, Australia

Clive with his son & amily in the pool, January 2014

Clive with his son & family in the pool, January 2014

New Year’s Eve: a day of shopping for funeral clothes (sad), but also a day of sharing Clive’s grandson’s 7th birthday (happy). We joined the family at a local play area and then for the extended gathering at their home. Later that night, Clive juggled e-mails and photo exchanges with his sisters while I watched Sydney fireworks on TV.

New Year’s Day: Clive spent the first day of 2014 virtually entirely at his laptop in our rather dreary hotel room, preparing his mother’s eulogy and the ‘Life in Pictures’ presentation.

The funeral, on Thursday 2 January, was an intimate, dignified service in a small chapel filled with family and friends. My dear hubby did a fantastic job with both the eulogy and the photos, and many members of the extended family told me they thought both were brilliant. I was also touched by the grandchildren’s recollections given during the service. Only two were unable to attend: Clive’s daughter who was already in the UK, and another granddaughter currently living in Germany.

With summer vacation in full swing Down Under, we couldn’t get return air tickets until the following Monday. This turned out to be a real blessing, as we were able to spend the final weekend with Clive’s son and family. Clive enjoyed kicking the football, playing Frisbee, and swimming in the hotel pool, and our dinners out with his three active grandchildren.

On Monday, 6 January, we drove from the NSW Central Coast back down to Sydney. I worried that Clive hadn’t had a spare moment to process all the family events, though I know this takes months and years to do. I was happy for Clive, knowing that he was pleased to have accomplished our purpose for travelling to Australia, that he had arrived in time to be with his mother during the final days of her life and was able to stay on for the funeral.

As for me, my emotions swelled to overflowing as we drove through Sydney on our way to the airport, passing through the suburbs where I once lived with my late husband Gary and then with Clive. I wished I’d made time, as I usually do, to visit the site where my son and I scattered Gary’s ashes in 2003. It felt sad, and wrong, to have been in Australia and not gone to Manly or Shelly Beach. But then I thought, my highest priority — really, my only priority — for this particular trip was to be at Clive’s side for the support he needed. I carry Gary in my heart, no matter where I am. My heart is happy the trip went well for Clive, and my heart knows it will return in person to Shelly Beach next time.

We said farewell to Sydney and boarded our flight to the UK on Monday evening.

Week 4: Tuesday 7 January 2014 – London & Felixstowe, UK

Clive and his daughter Kylie at Felixstowe Ferry

Clive and his daughter Kylie at Felixstowe Ferry

Our ‘lost’ Christmas Eve day was ‘returned’ as we spent 20+ hours on long-haul flights but arrived in London only the morning after we left Australia.

Our saintly friend met us at 5am and delivered us back to our apartment, where his wife had stocked the fridge and his daughter had made a slow-cooking beef stew which awaited us on the counter.

Again there was no time for jet lag. We had exactly three hours until Clive’s daughter would arrive — picked up at the train station by the same saintly friends — and in those few hours, Clive put a coat of sealer on the bathroom walls, which were at that stage bare plaster and would have suffered once we started showering.

Kylie had offered to spend a few extra days in London if we needed the time, but we’ve learned that once the ‘children’ are grown, we want to maximise every opportunity to spend time with them. Kylie arrived on the date originally planned, and thus began a full week of walking, sightseeing, and just being together in Suffolk.

Week 5: Tuesday 14 January – Paris

Clive & Kylie in the Tuileries, en route to Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Clive & Kylie in the Tuileries, en route to Musée d’Orsay, Paris

What better way to follow a Suffolk countryside sojourn than with a city birthday trip to Paris? On Tuesday 14 January, we three travelled on the Eurostar to the City of Light, another long-planned trip.

I’m always filled with joy to be in Paris and Kylie’s an experienced global traveller who’s been here multiple times before. For this trip, we wanted to show her some of our favourite places in the city. We had another non-stop week, kind weather with mild days, and celebrated Kylie’s birthday with a Seine river lunch cruise, a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie, hot chocolate at Angelina’s (one of her regular stops), and a raspberry tarte at home to finish the day.

Kylie returned to London, en route back to Australia, on Monday 20 January. Clive and I saw her off at Gare du Nord and returned to the apartment.

Then, we crashed.

Week 5: Tuesday 21 January – Paris

The Seine and tip of Ile St-Louis, Paris

The Seine and tip of Ile St-Louis, Paris

Last Tuesday was the first day in more than five weeks that Clive and I had with just the two of us — not going anywhere, not coming back from anywhere, not doing much of anything at all. Needless to say but I’ll say it anyway: bliss. Slow pace, quiet days, Paris — except, of course, the 100 year-old bathroom window in urgent need of repair and repainting, which Clive has now magnificently completed.

I adore Paris in winter, when it’s relatively uncrowded; when everything’s open and the lines are short or non-existent; when there’s time for reflection as you walk along the streets and see the city in all its glory visible through leafless tree branches or with lights twinkling in the early evening dusk. Whatever the reason, I’ve loved this past week in Paris as much as I love any time in Paris.

Week 6: Tuesday 28 January – Paris

Twinkling through the trees on a winter evening, Paris

Twinkling through the trees on a winter evening, Paris

Preparing to leave Paris always saddens me, but I also love our home by the sea in Felixstowe, and as with my special places in Sydney, I remind myself to say, ‘Until we meet again’.

Until then, life goes on as it always does, and as the wonderful comedienne Gilda Radner once said, ‘It’s always something.’ We’re not the only couple or family who’s had a crazy start to the new year.

I look back on recent events and reflect on three aspects of our choices, the decisions we made, and how we spent our time:

1.  Family — continues to be a priority for me and Clive. I’ve written much on this blog about family globalisation. Being scattered around the globe, far away from loved ones, and unable physically to be in more than one place at one time is challenging but not insurmountable. Family will remain a priority; we return to England, where Clive’s father has again been in hospital, and soon we’ll travel to the US to see my family there.

2.  Pace — we realise more and more that we both need time and space to regroup and recharge, that we just cannot keep up the pace we’ve recently been on, no matter how much we wish we could.  

3.  Balance — perhaps this is my ‘word for 2014’ or at least my focus going forward this year. (I didn’t have a word for 2013; in 2012 it was ‘choices’ and in 2011, ‘settle’).

The areas I want to focus on, and balance, are ‘C&C time’ — time for me and Clive together; time with our US and Australia families; time for individual projects and passions (my Paris-based writing project, Clive’s DIY projects), and time to appreciate our daily life with friends and activities in Felixstowe. I know we’ll never have a perfect, zen-like state of balance, but we can be conscious about slowing down when we can, appreciating each moment, and making time to just be.

For now I’ll give thanks for everything that went well in recent weeks, for our priceless family and friends who helped make it so, and for this precious time in Paris.

Me and reflections at Trocadéro this evening

Me and reflections at Trocadéro this evening

Cheers for now, until next time.

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