November in the USA, Australia and the UK


November sunset, Felixstowe

November sunset, Felixstowe


Barring emergency, Clive and I will for the first time spend all of November in the UK.

This time of year here feels – and is — very different from the USA and Australia, the two countries where I lived for many years. Halloween in the UK and Australia is much lower-key than in the US, though it’s catching up fast – a trend not appreciated by all. It’s really as we move past Halloween this coming weekend and begin November that life in the UK takes on a different feel.

November in the USA

November in Connecticut

November in Connecticut


November in Connecticut: days getting shorter, chilly temperatures, leaves falling, endless lawn-raking and great anticipation of Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Thanksgiving remains one of my all-time favourite holidays anywhere, focusing as it does on families and friends gathering to share a ‘thanksgiving feast’ – largely and mercifully missing the insidious and always-increasing commercial aspects of Halloween and Christmas.

When my son was in nursery school (pre-school), an American parents’ magazine article said mothers begin an internal chant at the end of each summer: ‘School, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I better start planning now.’

This rang true in my experience. The last three or four months of the year were indeed a one-thing-after-another series of events, albeit mostly joyful ones, full of child-oriented activities, family reunions and parental responsibilities to pull everything and everyone together.

[And if those nationwide events and holidays aren’t enough, my Connecticut daughter-in-law, whose three sons’ birthdays all fall between mid-November and mid-December, manages the annual sequence of: School, Halloween, child’s birthday, Thanksgiving, child’s birthday, child’s birthday (these two share the same date, four years apart, but their wonderful parents make the effort such that each child has individual attention and celebration) and then Christmas. It really doesn’t bear thinking about, except to say every year the parents do a brilliant job with everything.]

Upside-down Down Under – November in Australia

November in Sydney

November in Sydney


November in Sydney: days getting longer, warm temperatures, jacarandas blooming (one of my all-time favourite trees and for me a symbol of November Down Under), sailboats on the Harbour, spring sports underway, plus – with the school year approaching its end in mid-December – end-of-year school concerts, assemblies and performances; planning for summer vacation; and oh, by the way, Christmas.

From our first year in Australia, I marvelled – and still marvel – at the way mothers and fathers manage somehow to handle all the end-of-school-year activities and Christmas activities at the same time.

Instead of planning for Thanksgiving, our Down-Under daughter-in-law multitasks with an Aussie flavour: one email will be about her daughter’s pre-school end of year event, the next about Christmas, the next about her son’s final awards assembly. Not to forget planning for middle child’s birthday on New Year’s Eve …

Having raised children in both the US and Australia, at least in my experience and despite the seasons and school year being more or less reversed, November feels much the same in both countries: intense, child and family-focused and full of pressure and responsibilities for parents to keep everyone and everything together and on track.

November in the UK

Felixstowe’s ‘the Dip’ in November

Felixstowe’s ‘the Dip’ in November


It’s not that November is quiet on this side of the Pond – far from it. Towns and cities gear up for Christmas with fairs, fêtes, concerts, markets and of course amusing/perplexing pantomimes. (We have late-November tickets to an avowed classic, ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat’ — more about this cherished form of theatre in a future post.)

But the absence of US Thanksgiving and Aussie end of the school year means most if not all of everyone’s attention is focused on Christmas, with much more time to plan and truly savour the season.

We’re no longer parents of school-age children, but every year until now have journeyed to the US in November, to spend Thanksgiving with my mother and family. Since we’ve just returned from my son’s wedding and many family get-togethers, and because my mother no longer has real awareness of particular days or dates, we decided to spend November at home this year.

Our heads are finally (well, almost) above water with regard to all our coming-home tasks; our desks are more or less clear; and the bathroom renovation guy is coming next week to start his work. While Clive supervises him, what do I hope for this November?

Without putting pressure on myself our both of us – that’s the last thing I want to do – it’s still in my nature to look ahead and consider what I’d like to accomplish during this first-time gift of November in Felixstowe.

November hopes and plans – my top 5 and looking ahead

Conclusion of our wedding day, November 2010, Sydney

Conclusion of our wedding day, November 2010, Sydney

1. Clive’s birthday

2. Our wedding anniversary

3. Attend local Christmas fairs, markets and the pantomime

4. Put up our Christmas tree the last weekend of November. This became a family tradition in the US, one year when a group from our church went to a tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cut our own trees. We thought it was too early but discovered we *loved* having it up and decorated to enjoy throughout the month of December (and a major Christmas ‘to do’ was done). Since then, we’ve tried, not always successfully, to do this every year.

5. Writing: finishing the current chapter in my Paris-based memoir to a level where I can send it to a trusted instructor for professional critique. This chapter has been on again, off again for over a year – in the midst of travel and a family wedding – and I well and truly want to complete it sooner rather than later. After this chapter, I have six more to go. I’m determined to publish this book one day, though Lord only knows when as it will continue to be a balancing act since we’re also determined to travel, especially to see our families, for as long as we are able.

Looking ahead
* Planning for Paris

6 Paris Christmas market Champs

Christmas markets on the Champs Elysées, Paris


Not only is Paris intertwined with the book I’m writing, the City of Light is intertwined with my life and is a constant source of joy for me, a sanctuary and a place of both excitement and comfort.

We’ll spend part of December in Paris (another reason we want to get our tree up by the end of November). I want to make time in November to anticipate and review my ongoing list of possibilities – current exhibits, Christmas markets and lights, winter walks – so we go with at least some ideas about what we’d like to do and see in the time we have there. More about Paris in December in a future post.

* and after Paris, a much-anticipated pre-Christmas visit from my son, before he returns to the US to spend Christmas with his beautiful bride and her family.

Also looming over our heads are my mother’s annual Christmas letter, which we usually do over Thanksgiving in the US, and our own Christmas letter. I suppose both of these are, ideally, projects for November, even though they don’t make my ‘Top 5’ list. We both feel we’ll regret it if we don’t complete both before we go to Paris.

For now, one thing at a time. We’re thankful to be home and looking forward to spending November, and Christmas, by the sea in England.

our tree by the sea glinting gold in late October sunshine

our tree by the sea glinting gold in late October sunshine

Wishing everyone a happy and not-too-crazy November, wherever you may be:

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.

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.

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