Archives

The merry, harried month of May

Day lilies.JPG

Day lilies in the front yard

May was an insane month around here – insane in a good way, but no time for blogging. John and Liz took their trek to the base camp at Mt. Everest, leaving very early May 4 and returning very late May 25. Brent and I took care of the three kiddos – and, in the big news I hinted at before – got their family moved in right next door! The timing wasn’t great, but they never dreamed they’d sell their house the first showing in the first hour of the first day it was on the market. The trip had been scheduled since December, so what do you do?

All in the family.JPG

Looking from our second-floor exercise room at Liz’s and Brent’s new (but old) forever home.

We hated like hell to lose Matthew and Alyssa and Little Rose (as Luke calls her) as neighbors, but what a great turn of events! The dogs are in heaven with three of their five children next door (though they’re still working things out with Fancy, who lives with the kids).

Tess.jpeg

Miss Don’t Come Near My Kids

Zu.JPG

Miss Walk on Me, Pull My Tail, Just Pay Attention to Me

Taking care of up to five kids at a time at 60 is very different from being a young mom, but we survived. The days I had all five kids in Liz’s van, we called it “The LollyMobile.”

An important date in May was the 12th, when Tessie turned 11. She was very pleased with her new birthday bunny, though it lost its squeak quickly from all the playing.

Birthday girl.jpeg

Not bad for 11. And she still loves opening presents.

We had an exciting two days with baby cardinals – several fledglings were hopping around our back yard, which I noticed after seeing the parents dive-bombing the kids and dogs. I put one in a safer spot (but he/she ran under our deck to join a sibling), then herded all the kids and dogs indoors, and we went upstairs and watched the parents rescue them. Pretty cool.

The next day wasn’t so successful. A very tiny cardinal had fallen on his back in our bamboo – I saw him from the laundry room window. The parents couldn’t help him, and he’s now buried in our hydrangeas out back – Liz’s children saw him die in the little temporary nest (bowl and washcloth) we’d made him. “Make him alive again, Lolly,” Silas implored, but though he called me SuperLolly for days, that was one I couldn’t fix. Oddly, about a foot from the unfortunate little cardinal was an intact robin’s egg, so we had an impromptu lesson on how eggs and baby birds work – and a nice distraction from the funeral.

Robin's egg.jpeg

We’ve still got the little egg. As Jude said, “Two baby birds didn’t make it today.”

Sylvia had her preK graduation recital Tuesday night and Annabelle’s was Thursday. In between, Ben took me to Dave Matthews. We had great seats.Dave.jpeg

On the 24th, my sister, three friends and I saw Purple Rain at Riverdale. The music is timeless; the movie, oh, my. People laughed out loud at the ’80s hairdos and clothes (and the acting) and gasped at the sexism but applauded the musical performances. It was a fun night in a blur of a month.

The next night, after rain delays, the trekkers made it home. John showered me with riches from Nepal, but I’ll just show you what he brought for the children. We’re not sure where in the house Mr. Tiger, as Silas has named him, will live, as he doesn’t match our decor, but he’s very popular.

Mr. Tiger.jpeg

Tiger, tiger, burning bright ..

Golden years

general idea.jpeg

The upstairs kitchen still has a way to go, but you can see progress.We’ve had a flurry of activity again lately – nothing like out-of-town houseguests to get you cooking with gas (though the stove is not hooked up yet).

Wow, long time between posts. We’ve had lots going on, including John’s Medicare birthday last week, and I’ve been doing lots and lots of writing elsewhere. I’ve also been spending lots of time with little Luke. He adores our quartzite kitchen floor and wanted to know, quite seriously, “How did you get these bricks so straight?”

Maybe I’m just a proud Lolly, but that seems a pretty astute question for a 3-year-old.

LR.jpeg

This is a long shot of the upstairs living room, looking west from the kitchen. That’s the new couch that’s been sitting under plastic since delivery.

We’re getting close to finishing on this level. Of course we still have the upstairs loft bedroom and bath to go, but we plan to have Thanksgiving here this year. On this floor, that is.

But I’ll have to wrest the holiday from Mother. I may be 60, but I’m a southern girl, and in the south, Mama has holidays until she gives them up. She’ll be so thrilled with the kitchen being done that she’ll happily concede this year, though.

New windows.jpeg

Here you can see more of John’s handiwork – he’s down to just that last window frame! In 100+ year-0ld houses, nothing is plumb, so framing windows is no easy task. And this is the spot where the oval mid-century Danish dining set will sit.

All the leather furniture required cleaning and conditioning, even the brand new stuff – construction dust is hell.

new couch.jpeg

And here’s a close up of the new floor-sample couch we scored at Ferguson’s in Benton, along with John’s gorgeous cocktail/coffee table. We hope before long he’s taking orders for fine furniture, but he and Lee are still working on the New Deal Studios and Gallery building, so not quite yet. (Maybe is someone was really desperate for something …)

April is a month full of family birthdays – most still with us and a couple with us in spirit. Silas turned 3, John turned 65 and his sister, Kitty, 68 on the same day. April 15 was my grandmother’s birthday. Yesterday our sweet Marie-Noelle caught up with Liz – six weeks or so separate their 36ness. The 24th was my grandfather’s birthday (and also the day my daddy died 34 years ago).

Birthday shirt.jpeg

John let me take his pic in his Star Wars T-shirt Annabelle and Luke picked out for him. Pretty cute for an old guy, huh? And sweet Tessie loves to have her photo taken. She’ll be 11 in May.

Very soon, if all goes as planned, we’ll have some major news that I’ll share. In other important events, John and Liz leave soon for Nepal to climb to the base camp at Mt. Everest, a hike John made 43 years ago. Brent and I will hold down the fort with the three kiddos – I’m getting shots in both shoulders next week to prepare me for more strenuous activity.

We may be old, but we like it. Life is good. John told me a couple of nights ago that he’s looking forward to our golden years.

Young John.jpeg

John with his darling niece, Lissette, after he returned from his first trip to Nepal and other parts east. My kind of guy then, my kind of guy now. 

Breathe deeply and carry on

four .jpeg

The begonia on the top left is the offspring of the one in the kitchen. The little fern next to her has one baby in the kitchen. The beauties on the seat are fairly new family members – both have purple on the back of their leaves,which made them must-haves, of course. (They also called my name ever-so politely and said they needed homes.) The little antique school desk is one Mother may or may not have used at her elementary school in Russellville, but that’s definitely from whence it came.

Last Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, obviously did not turn out the way we expected.

climate realityAs a new graduate of The Climate Reality Project’s leadership training, one of my early actions (I haven’t done a presentation yet) was holding a “24 Hours of Reality” live-streaming watch party. I’d been streaming since 11 a.m. and hadn’t heard any news all day.

Susan, who arrived early, had just left for home, and Cai, Julia, John and I were watching and waiting on others to arrive when a visibly shaken Al Gore interrupted the broadcast to cancel the event in light of what had happened and in solidarity with Paris (where the “24 Hours of Reality” event was based).

We quickly switched to regular television to find out what had happened – sickening news – and I got busy telling people on their way or who were planning to come the next morning not to come after all.

We had to cancel our party and Climate Reality had to cancel the event, but as disgusting, evil  and vile as the actions of the misguided murderous gang was, and as much as the rest of their gang hopes to frighten the rest of us, we can’t live in fear. We can’t let them win.

The same is true for climate change – the reality is frightening, but we must do what we can to change things, adapt as best we can to our new reality, and keep going. Doing nothing to make a difference is the scariest possibility.

But we’ll save that for another time. Today I want to focus on something soothing, at least for me: functional beauty in the form of houseplants. The function is cleaning the air indoors, and the beauty is obvious. Yes, they take a little love and grooming, and some of the ferns can be as messy as house pets, but love them and they’ll reward you. And love you back.

two.jpeg

The ficus just came back in from the back deck. Her sister, an elderly schefflera arbicola Trinnette,  has an allergy to aphids which requires her to live indoors all year. I think they’re happy to be reunited.

bathroom.jpeg

The poor scraggly fern and the philodendrons live in the bathroom all year, but the feisty younger fern, who was split off from her bedraggled mother last year, just came in from the deck.

Houseplants have been a big part of my life since I turned 18, and that was a long, long time ago. They’re good for my soul and good for our lungs. They’re also a commitment – I always leave detailed instructions for their care when we travel – and I can’t help but grieve a bit when one goes belly up, as happens at times. But I can’t imagine living without them.

Speaking of travel, if you do, please don’t stop. Please don’t live in fear. That’s not living at all.

Paris, je t’aime.IMG_1643_2

Something

Abbey Road 45 years later

Abbey Road 45 years later

Something about seeing that Pattie Boyd turned 70 yesterday made me feel – not old, not nostalgic, not sad – grateful? Happy to have lived when I have?

Pattie Boyd, my childhood idol and living Francie doll.

Pattie Boyd, my childhood idol and living Francie doll.

Can’t quite put my finger on what that something is, so I’ll blog it out. She’s the girl about whom George Harrison wrote, “Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover …,” from Abbey Road (across which we walked on our recent trip to London). She’s the same girl about whom Eric Clapton wrote the tortured “Layla” and the adoring “Wonderful Tonight.”

She’s the girl on whose every (ghost)written word I hung as a 9-11 year old when she had a beauty and advice column in 16 magazine. Her hair and makeup tips were memorized by yours truly, amusing considering I couldn’t touch cosmetics until I turned 13.

She married a Beatle, for heaven’s sake.

Jean Shrimpton was my favorite model in those days, for sheer beauty, glamour and – just look at her.

Her highness of beauty, Jean Shrimpton

Her highness of beauty, Jean Shrimpton

But Pattie was a regular girl, accessible, with an attainable look and darling clothes. (Or so she seemed, despite marrying George, then marrying Eric and having those songs written about her.) She transcended glamour.

As frivolous as it might seem, I’m glad I was affected by her.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••

A few people have asked me to write about our trip, but that’s not something I really feel like doing at the moment, other than to mention the books I read on our trip – and one inspired by our trip that I ordered the last night we were in Paris.

I told myself I could not take Michael Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay with me – it weighs too much and I’d waited all these years to read it and another week wouldn’t hurt me. Kav&Clay

I was about halfway through and could finish it when I got back, I told myself repeatedly – and I already had a beat-up used copy of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl packed – I’d been saving it for the trip since Julia told me I must read it immediately.

But the day came to leave and I couldn’t leave my comic-book-creating boys behind. I stayed up late nights on our trip to finish the tale Chabon wove so well. I won’t give anything away, but if you like World War II history, comic books or just excellent writing in any form, read it.

CalamityPhysicsBookCoverBut I didn’t let myself start Calamity Physics until our very long return-travel day – made do with magazines after the heartbreak of finishing K&C. I almost finished CP in that one day – what a great, weird book it is. After we got home and real-life ensued, it took me a few days to finish the little bit I had left.

Can’t tell you anything, really, except you’ll never read anything else quite like it. Pessl blew me away with her first novel. The first-person narration, by a college-age girl, is accompanied by self-annotation, a fascinating device and not distracting at all from the top-notch mystery that the book really is.

Just as I finished it, the book I ordered from our hotel room in Montmartre arrived. (Stayed up late the last night of our trip to find a good used copy of a 2013 book, which took some digging. I feed my addiction with used books when possible; my iPad is loaded with classics, travel books and books for work, but turning pages is part of the experience for me.)

thepaintedgirlsI’d read about The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan, a while back and thought I’d probably read it when it came out in paperback. But after seeing Little Dancer, Aged 14 at the Musée D’Orsay, then talking to a very nice lady from Port Arthur, Texas, at lunch at the D’Orsay (she and her husband, a retired firefighter, were at the table next to us and accents required chatting), I revised that to “I’ll read it now.”

She brought it up and said she was back at the D’Orsay to visit the statuette after reading the historical novel, based on ballet dancers near Montmartre, including Marie van Goethem, who modeled regularly for Edgar Degas and was captured in Little Dancer and many paintings.

Degas'

Degas’ “Little Dancer, Aged 14”

The book is good, not life-changingly great, but solidly good and very interesting historically. Buchanan craftily weaves two true stories into one –and it was cool reading about events on the streets we’d walked and hills we’d climbed. I’m very glad I read it.

Montmartre and Sacré Coeur from one of the clock windows at the Museé D-Orsay – the setting for much of

Montmartre and Sacré Coeur from one of the clock windows at the Musée D-Orsay – the setting for much of “The Painted Girls” and where we stayed our three nights in Paris. (Taken with an iPhone, I might add, which did better than our Canon aim-and-shoot.)

their_eyes_frontBut now I’m reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. Once I got used to the dialect, I find it hard to put down. I started it to fill a gap in my English-degree reading. Thank heavens I did!

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••

One last something to write about, in the photo department – and some things I noticed: My passport is expiring, so I had to go get a new picture made. Things I noticed: I often have the non-drunk drunk eyes Daddy had in many photos, and they show up well here. Ten years age you a lot. Passport photos have gone up quite a bit – 10 years ago, I think it was about $10. Yesterday it was $16+ with tax.

And check out the hair – mainly the bangs. Sixties’ influence much? Some things never change.

Pattie Boyd, Jean Shrimpton, I feel your bangs.

Pattie Boyd, Jean Shrimpton, I feel your bangs.

A song for you

Enjoying our anniversary outside Kensington Palace, after tea and scones. The day was windy but warm and beautiful.

Enjoying our anniversary outside Kensington Palace, after tea and scones. The day was windy but warm and beautiful.

John and I recently celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary – in London, after which we chunnelled to Paris. The trip was quick but pretty perfect. (More on that to come – photos are scattered across two iPhones and a camera.)

Ten years have gone in a blink but it’s hard to remember a time when we weren’t together. That’s the dichotomy of love, I suppose.

In addition to the trip, my anniversary present is my fabulous red Anya Sushko London handbag – and John’s is, I guess, the privilege of putting up with me. So, John dear, a bit belatedly, this is my song for you.

My handsome, handsome husband on the stoop of the building on Kilbourne Road in London that he lived in for a few months in 1971.

My handsome, handsome husband on the stoop of the building on Kilbourne Road in London in which he lived for a few months as a college student in 1971.

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving my family as much as you love me. (And isn’t it nice that I love your family, too?) Thank you for your patience and gentle spirit.

And thank you for wanting me to have the nicest handbag an old girl could ever have.

So this is me with my bag; Anya Sushko, who hand made it just for me (!); and my step-step-daughter Laura Fischer – Marie-Noelle's little sister with different dad. The Store at ESSE Purse Museum, where I spend much of my time, is the only place in the U.S. that sells Anya's bags. Since we were headed over and planned to meet, I picked mine up at her studio instead of having it shipped over.

So this is my bag; designer/artist Anya Sushko, who handmade it just for me (!); and my step-step-daughter Laura Fischer – Marie-Noelle’s little sister with a different dad.

The Store at ESSE Purse Museum, where I spend much of my time, is the only place in the U.S. that sells Anya Sushko’s bags. I’d been flirting with the fabulous pink purse in our store, but for long-term commitment, I always go red and placed a special order with Anya. Since we were headed to London and had planned to meet her anyway, I picked up my bag at Anya’s studio instead of having it shipped over to the store.

Anya’s a wonder and a delight. My bag is a future family heirloom.

Marie-Noelle’s little sister Laura (same mom, different dad)  attends Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London (where Anya did her foundation year), so we got to spend time with little Laura, which was another delight of the trip. People thought we were her parents – funny how we all look alike.

In the week we were gone, Silas went from toddling to flat-out walking and talking a little bit. Time marches on.

And John and I keep marching together. Here’s to our next 10. I love you.

Smiling at the hubby in Montmartre.

Smiling at the hubby in Montmartre.

Wild night 2 (or Traveling Band, Fin)

The last day in Paris brought liberation for my little traveling band – liberation from the Texans, who went to Disneyland Paris, of all things to do (!), and from the very nice other groups, one of which had to leave early; the other chose to go to the beaches of Normandy. So much to do, so little time!

That’s one of the things that lead to Kim and I having a very wild night of our own. En masse, we’d taken a guided bus tour of the city and gone to Versailles; we spent the summer solstice at Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower, and ended that evening with a lovely boat ride down the Seine, followed by the runaway incident.

So having a day all to ourselves, with darling Kathy, our tour guide, was heaven. We took a leisurely morning stroll in the heart of the city, had leisurely cafes while people-watching and visited Notre Dame, all before lunch.

Place de la Hôtel de Ville, in the 4th arrondissement, is the city hall of Paris. We took lots of photos of the mammoth beauty.

Place de la Hôtel de Ville, in the 4th arrondissement, is the city hall of Paris. We took lots of photos of the mammoth beauty.

Kitty and I had a salads and white wine for sisters-in-law near Notre Dame while Kim and Kathy took the kiddos to shop and eat fast food.

Kathy and Kitty chat outside Le Quasimodo, where Kitty and I had an adult lunch, while Kathy and Kim took the kids elsewhere in the vicinity.

Kathy and Kitty chat outside Le Quasimodo, where Kitty and I had an adult lunch, while Kathy and Kim took the kids elsewhere in the vicinity.

Then it was off to the Louvre, where we must have set a record for speed – I could have spent days. That might have been the night we had some of the best pizza ever – Kathy made sure the vegetarian options were flying, so it was the best meal of the trip for me.

I’d be lying if I said I remember every detail (this was 2009), but this I know: Kitty and the kids were tired and Kim and I didn’t want Paris to end. We might have gotten all the way back to our hotel on the outskirts of town, the Mercure Fontenay Sous Bois, but we may have broken off from the group before getting all the way back to the boonies.

Kim? Do you remember?

What I do remember is the worried look that flitted across Kathy’s face when we assured her that of course we could find our way back from Notre Dame, where we’d decided to return to buy some art prints we didn’t get earlier (a semi-flimsy excuse for roaming Paris at dusk). After all, we were big girls (who spoke no French to speak of and understood very little), and we had our slips of paper with the hotel name and address on them in case of emergency.

Anyway, we returned to this gloriously beautiful metro station

Tuileries station – outstanding but much harder to find in the dark.

Our illusive station (whose name escapes me) – outstanding but much harder to find in the dark.

and hoofed it, hurrying, yet stopping to take photos and take in the early evening beauty along the way.

Place de la Hôtel de Ville by night is breathtaking – and served as a marker that we were on the correct route.

Place de la Hôtel de Ville by night is breathtaking – and served as a marker that we were on the correct route.

Summer days are deceptively long in Paris, so we really didn’t realize how late it was getting. But when we got near Notre Dame, all the little shops were closed. Oh, well. We were having fun.

Then, with the flip of an astronomical switch, it was dark.

Night arrives with a thud of brightly lit darkness in the center of Paris.

Night arrives with a thud of brightly lit darkness in the center of Paris.

Dark. But beautiful, if a bit confusing.

One of the lovely things we saw as we circled and circled our metro station. Couldn't say what it's called.

One of the lovely things we saw as we circled and circled our metro station. Couldn’t say what it’s called.

OK, a lot confusing. Before long, we realized we were going in circles, so we started stopping to ask for directions. Which was a bit of a joke, since Kim and I both tend to glaze over at directions in English, much less French, and both have trouble remembering right from left, especially under pressure.

We managed to keep laughing, though part of my laughing was caused by sweet, sweet Kim’s cursing every time we realized we were passing something we’d already seen. We’re both grandmothers, so I’ll spare you the word (but it was the grandaddy of swear words, used like a champ over and over and over).

Then, of course, there it was, our station. We flew down the escalators and to a ticket window where we showed our slips of paper and  a woman traded us tickets for euros. But we couldn’t understand a word she said about which train to take, so once again we had to ask for directions.

The station was still very crowded and people seemed to be hurrying more than usual, but I spotted a man I just knew spoke English.

“That guy,” I told Kim, “is Swiss. Maybe German, but he speaks English. I can tell.”

He was talking to another man when we approached them, and the Swiss man (yes, he was), who turned out to be Dominick, looked less than pleased and didn’t say anything at first when I asked him if he spoke English.

Then he took a deep breath and asked how he could help us. We showed him our handy slips of paper. “That’s my train,” he told us.”I’d be pleased to accompany you.”

We had the nicest visit on our ride – turns out Dominick worked for Otis Elevator’s international division – Otis Elevator, which has a division in Little Rock – and he told us our husbands were lucky men.

He got off a few stops before we did but made sure we knew which stop to listen for, and when we reached it, we got off. It was after midnight by  then, and, though we didn’t recognize anything, we were sure we were just at a different end of the station, so we left it and turned in the direction we thought was toward our hotel.

Nothing looked familiar and we soon realized that was because we were in a residential neighborhood. Kim’s cursing took on a new vengeance. We turned back toward the station, passing a late-night construction crew who, after looking at us incredulously, managed to convey that they didn’t consider us safe and suggested we hurry.

We made it back to the station where we finally found someone who worked there – no commuters or tourists were in sight – who could understand us. He talked to someone else and they finally decided the best thing for us to do was to go outside, sit on a bench and wait on a bus, which might come by sometime in the next couple of hours. Taking the train back would be too complicated for us, he said, plus the trains stop running around 1 a.m.

WHAT?! Now we were scared. We went and sat on the forsaken little bench for what seemed like an eternity, holding our breath every time a car slowly passed us by. Finally we decided to take our chances on a train before it was too late to catch one at all and were running to the turnstile when we heard someone politely yelling, “Ladies. Ladies!”

But we didn’t stop until the voice thundered, “LAURA!”

What the … we quickly turned around to see lovely, bald Dominick running toward us. He told us he realized our addresses were wrong – seems the hotel had printed south instead of north or east instead of west – whatever – so he knew we hadn’t gotten to our hotel and was worried about us.

When he got home, he grabbed his car, a white Volvo station wagon, and came to retrieve us, if he could manage to find us.

If we would be so kind as to allow him, he told us, he would like to drive us back to our hotel to make sure we got there safely.

We accepted, dubbing him St. Dominick.

The only photo we have of our hero is this one Kim took from the back seat.

The only photo we have of our hero is this one Kim took from the back seat.

When we pulled up in front of the hotel lobby it was nearly 2 a.m.; all the kids from the greater tour group were hanging out for the last night, and Kathy sat in a chair looking weary.

They looked shocked to see us and doubly shocked when we both hugged our saint and Kim kissed him on the cheek. We didn’t even get his last name.

When we came through the doors, Kim’s daughter, Allison, looked shocked.

“Mom! Why did you kiss that cab driver?!”

We gave an abbreviated explanation and apologized to Kathy, who’d been very worried and was waiting up on us.

The next morning, we left for home. We’ve never tracked down Dominick to thank him properly, though I did try, even calling Otis Worldwide. But somewhere out there is a Swiss angel in a white Volvo.

Thank you, thank you, St. Dominick.

Kim and I were tired but happy to be back with the group for breakfast on our last day.

Kim and I were tired but happy to be back with the group for breakfast on our last day.

Wild night 1

Kim's cool photo near the scene of the crime.

Kim’s cool photo near the scene of the crime.

After leaving the story hanging for many months, I’m finally ready – compelled – to tell the story of the wild nights my little traveling band of students, sister-in-law, Kitty, and friend Kim (mostly friend Kim and moi) had in Gay Paree on our EF Tour in 2009.

I hinted at what was to come in the post called “People Are Strange,” so if some things seem repetitive, forgive me, please. I mentioned that we accidentally lost a 12-year-old with a heart condition after her mother went in search of some goth lovebirds from their group of Texans who decided to disappear in the deliciously seedy area around Le Moulin Rouge.

That’s near Montmartre, where John and I are soon headed for our 10th anniversary, which is one reason it’s on my mind.

Kim caught me taking a photo of the Metropolitan sign. Can't wait to be back in that very spot.

Kim caught me taking a photo of the Metropolitain sign. Can’t wait to be back in that very spot.

Kids are pretty much all the same in how quickly they’ll fold if their friends are in danger – after the honeybuns missed roll call and their sponsors were mildly panicked (tour guide Kathy must have been, too, though she always seemed unflappable), it was no time before the rest of the Texas teens snitched them out.

At the gathering spot, just before head count and all hell breaking loose.

At the gathering spot, just before head count and all hell breaking loose.

They’d planned to run away in Paris. Oops. Their sponsors had other plans and said they’d comb the area until they found them. We should take our tired selves back to the suburbs, to our very nice but oddly out of the way hotel. All the mother of the young girl asked was that we take care of her daughter.

Of course, of course, I assured her and did all but hold her hand.

Let me interrupt to add that, a while back, while looking through photos from the trip, I noticed the future disappearance artists in the corner of a photo of our Little Rock group that Kim had taken. I’ve wavered on posting it, but what the hell.

EF Tour guide, British but fluent in French Kathy Pickus in bright green, gives instructions/directions of some sort to Andrew, Nick, me, Kitty and Ali – while the escape-plotters photobomb us before that was even a fad.

Our EF Tour guide, British but fluent in French Kathy Pickis (in bright green) gives instructions/directions of some sort to Andrew, Nick, me, Kitty and Ali – while the escape-plotters photobomb us at right before that was even a fad.

Anyway, we left en masse as it was getting dark and arrived at the packed-to-the-stretching-point Metro station. Kathy explained that getting on board would be tricky, with the lateness and the crowds, and that no matter what, we MUST STAY TOGETHER. When the car doors open, leap, she stressed. If you hesitate, all is lost.

We were ready. I had the little girl right beside me and had been coaching her, as she seemed mildly freaked out, about sticking with me and moving quickly. The train screeched to a stop, and the group leaped into the car as I said, “Now,” and jumped, too. I turned around to see the doors close, with the child still on the platform, eyes wide and beginning to fill with tears.

“KATHY!” we all screamed. “We lost her!”

As we all began forming retrieval plans/thinking what we’d say to her mother, Kathy told us to GO TO THE HOTEL – she’d hop off the car, run to a bridge across the track, go back the other direction, and, if the fates were with us, find the little girl still frozen to the spot.

She was. Kathy brought her back safely. Even though the Texans had been the bane of our trip, that night we joined hands and sang “We Are the World.” Well, no, but some of us were never so relieved to see a kid we didn’t know.

At a happier moment, beautiful mother and daughter duo, Kim and Ali, stand right in front of the darling girl we lost, albeit briefly. I'm so sorry, little darling.

At a happier moment, beautiful mother and daughter duo Kim and Ali stand right in front of the girl we lost, albeit briefly. I’m so sorry, little darling.

At some point in the night the sponsors returned, runaways in tow. Don’t remember details, don’t know if the police were involved.

But I do know the wild night Kim and I shared will have to wait a bit longer. Computer’s being clunky and I’m cooking dinner.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Mother and I didn’t truly go somewhere over the rainbow, but I did get to take her to the Emerald City and beyond.

Our trip to Seattle, Victoria and the Yakima Valley was perfect in every way. Mother enjoyed everything and blossomed before my eyes, turning from a grieving, lost lady into an older version of the feisty woman we’ve known and loved.

Mother and I along the waterfront in Seattle. She got to see just enough drizzle that morning to get the weather stereotype, but most of our trip was glorious sunshine and warmth.

Mother and I at the waterfront in Seattle. She got to see just enough drizzle that morning to get the weather stereotype, but most of our trip was glorious sunshine and warmth.

I’m going to let the pictures and captions tell most of the story, so you’ll see lots of them. But let me add that though Mother didn’t receive any ruby slippers, we both were given beautiful ruby earrings – Mother’s birthstone! – by my friend Julia’s cousin Alyce and her husband, Clay, two of the finest people we’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Alyce has the fabulous Design Theory Jewelry, an online store that once was a store-store in Ballard, the very neighborhood in which our friends Dave and Nora Nehls live   – a store that our friend Nora and I have visited, which is now the website from which I ordered earrings before I knew Alyce was Julia’s cousin.

Small-world coincidence? Fabulous luck? Semi-charmed life? Good things come to open hearts? I hope the latter, but I will say we are lucky in friends and family.

Mother with Dave and Nora Nehls, our darling friends who put us up for two nights and devoted their time to making my mommy's every dream come true. This is a fabulous alley off Pike's Place Market.

Mother with Dave and Nora Nehls, our darling friends who put us up for two nights and devoted their time to making my mommy’s every dream come true. This is a fabulous alley off Pike’s Place Market.

In that alley, which is also the site of ghost tours, you'll find the gum wall, an impromptu art installation that grew out of what some would see as a nuisance, used chewing gum.

In that alley, which is also the site of ghost tours, you’ll find the gum wall, an impromptu art installation that grew out of what some would see as a nuisance, used chewing gum.

Which proves almost anything, no matter how gross, can become amazing, if not beautiful.

Which proves almost anything, no matter how gross, can become amazing, if not beautiful.

Dave Matthews Love

Dave Matthews Love, chewing gum style

We headed to Canada via the Victoria Clipper, leaving the drizzle behind. We disembarked and walked to our waterfront hotel, the Coast Victoria Harbourside, as the skies were clearing and awoke to this view the next morning.

Couldn't ask for any better.

Couldn’t ask for anything better. Looks like a Maxfield Parrish, huh?

We just happened to be there for the Victoria Classic Boat Festival, so this was also part of our view.

The boats just kept sailing in.

The boats just kept sailing in.

After an early afternoon at Butchart Gardens,

A beauty in the wildly beautiful.

A beauty in the wildly beautiful

Mother and daughter in the arch

Mother and daughter in the arch – a kind woman insisted upon taking our picture.

Grammy discovers gelato in the Garden.

Grammy discovers gelato in the Garden.

we hopped off the tour bus at The Empress for high tea. We couldn’t begin to finish the spread, but we took dessert back for a late night snack in our lovely room.

High tea for two – ever so civilized for two rowdyish southern girls.

High tea for two – ever so civilized for two rowdyish southern girls.

The next morning the Clipper left about 10 minutes late, for which the captain apologized and offered $2 off champagne, which meant we had to have some – and put us next to a pod of frolicking orcas! People pay big money to see what we happened upon by happy coincidence.

Back in Seattle, Dave and Nora met us at the pier and off to Seattle Central by monorail we went. Mother enjoyed seeing the Space Needle, but the coolest things were the singing solar flowers.

Dave among the singing flowers. They glow at night and make you feel as if you're in Oz – or a Dr. Seuss book.

Dave among the singing flowers. They glow at night and make you feel as if you’re in Oz – or a Dr. Seuss book.

The next day it was off to Selah, in the Yakima Valley, where John, Kitty, Dave and Nora grew up and where Kitty lives on a glorious piece of land on a hill. We visited a few wineries. Mother got to meet Lisette, Jeff and Emma (Kitty’s daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter #1) and Kitty and Norm’s friends Nancy and Ron and Pam and Wayne.

Mother outside Windy Point Winery in the Yakima Valley.

Mother outside Windy Point Winery in the Yakima Valley.

Most importantly, our mothers finally got to meet and visit twice. Doris may not remember it for long – she may not remember by now – but it was lovely and they truly enjoyed it in the moment.

Doris and Willette, mothers of Pop and Lolly, at long last.

Doris and Willette, mothers of Pop and Lolly, at long last.

Mother and Kitty on our last day there

Mother and Kitty on our last day there

And I got to meet our new nephew, Farmboy Westley, the precious labradoodle baby.

Young Westley is the apple of Kitty's and Norm's eyes. And that's in the heart of Washington apple country, no small love.

Young Westley is the apple of Kitty’s and Norm’s eyes. And that’s in the heart of Washington apple country, no small love.

So-long selfie to mark a magical time.

So-long selfie to mark a magical time.

Now we’re back. Mother’s doctor’s appointment upon return showed her blood work to be considerably worse in some areas, not so good in others. But she’s still perky, upbeat and seems to have turned a corner. We’ve discussed Italy for her 80th in two years, if her health allows.

But no matter what, our trip showed her to be out of the woods emotionally. She had it in her all along. All she had to do was visit the Emerald City and kick up her heels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rock and roll

We’ll rock and roll on with one more post about our little troupe’s adventures in England, then get on across the Channel – though the Paris installments may have to wait for some pressing current events.

We’ll see where our travels take us in the next few days.

Though our original tour called for us to leave London via the Chunnel and arrive quickly in Paris, the fates had other plans. Actually, I couldn’t have been happier about the side trip to Canterbury, and our little subgroup was pretty go with the flow easy, so we were all good.

We spent a few hours in Canterbury, taking in the fabulous cathedral and some of the town – instead of sharing photos, I’ll let you look for yourself if you’re so inclined. We were pretty enamored of Edward the Black Prince’s tomb – he was crazy-tall for a 14th-century knight – and Thomas Becket’s murder site was strangely thrilling.

The Elizabethan architecture, especially the Sun Hotel, with the plaque denoting that Charles Dickens had spent time there (yes, I took pictures), was especially fab.

Nick, Alli, Elizabeth and Andrew on the hike up to Dover Castle.

Nick, Alli, Elizabeth and Andrew on the hike up to Dover Castle.

Quickly, though, we moved down the road to Dover, which was thrilling in a different way.  We got to imagine what it was like in the underground tunnels during World War II AND see a long cannon stamped with Elizabeth the First’s seal.

All very exciting and interesting.

But when we got to the little seaside (OK, channel-side) town  where we’d be spending the night – let me just say we were surprised. We didn’t see much of Folkestone and I’m sure it’s a nice place – I’ve looked up pictures and seen lovely buildings.

What we did see was mainly our hotel, the hyperbolically named The Grand Burstin.

The Grand Burstin.

The Grand Burstin.

It may have been grand at one time, but in 2009, it resembled an aging cruise ship from the outside, which the kids thought was kind of cool, and an old folks’ home only with rattier rooms on the inside.

Even our tour guide confessed that she hated it when EF Tours booked groups at The Burstin.

We kept stiff upper lips, though, pip, pip, and it turned out to be a jolly good show. Sort of.

Our communal dining was buffet-style, heavy on jello and unidentifiable gravied stuff. Alli, always cheerful, couldn’t be daunted, though.

“I love this place,” she said. “It’s like being in a nursing home!”

Outside our 30-odd tour participants, most of the clientele was definitely elderly. Seems The Burstin was a happening place for older folks on holiday. They dance the night away, and somehow – my memory’s sketchy on this – we got caught in the audience of a rather sad cabaret act as we tried to exit the dining hall.

My small group was too polite to leave until a break, but I can’t remember what was performed or who performed it. I just know we were glad to get out of there.

Kitty, Kim and I decided we’d walk to a nearby pub to hear some real British rock ‘n’ roll while Alli, Elizabeth, Nick and Andrew played on the pebbly beach and hung out at the hotel.

After all, we were in England, home of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page. Everyone who loves music has heard how 18-year-old Robert Plant was discovered singing in a small-town pub. Who knew what we’d find?

Young Robert Plant, just because. (Nowhere near who we found, of course.)

Young Robert Plant, just because. (Nowhere near the singer we found, of course.)

Plus the people-watching would be great, if our hotel was any indication.

Even Kathy, our tour guide, decided to join us (keep an eye on us?) at the pub we popped into. I cant swear that it was The Royal George, but I’m pretty certain that was it. We didn’t take photos, but I found it online. Looks right, location’s right.

The Royal George, a waterside pub in Folkestone.

The Royal George, a waterside pub in Folkestone.

Music was wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead of a young rock god belting out British blues, the entertainment was a group of middle-aged blokes belting out ’70s and ’80s American radio rock.

We found it all pretty funny. Bob Seger covers were about as good as it got for me, since I can’t stand big-hair bands or Thin Lizzy and have never loved Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

I think they might have thrown in a “Mustang Sally,” but I can’t swear to it.

We had a ball, though, soaking in the culture.

Very early the next morning we beat a hasty retreat back to Dover to catch the ferry. Seeing the white cliffs as we chugged away was something I’ll never forget.

Or the night in Folkestone, even if the details are blurry.

The white cliffs, extremely zoomed-in on my little Olympus, as we took off on the ferry.

The white cliffs, extremely zoomed-in on my little Olympus, as we took off on the ferry.

Travelin’ band, part 2

Alli, Kim and Andrew – along with some of the larger group, got caught by the light at Buckingham Palace.

Alli, Kim and Andrew – along with some of the larger group, got caught by the light at Buckingham Palace.

Our little  traveling band within the larger group had a great overall experience; don’t get me wrong. But in case you don’t know, let me explain a bit how group travel works, at least with EF Tours. The company makes money by moving people in bulk, housing them in hotels that are off the popular path and feeding the masses in restaurants that offer good package deals.

The system makes money for them and gives students and teachers (and other accompanying adults) planning-free, fairly inexpensive travel experiences. When it works well, it works really well. When it works not so well, you suck it up as part of the package deal.

For example, we flew into Gatwick Airport, not Heathrow, much to future-pilot Andrew’s chagrin. But that was all right – just strange when we drove straight from Gatwick to Heathrow, where our very nice airport hotel was located. Our hotel was deluxe and quite close to Hatton Cross Tube Station, and since we so enjoyed the –”Mind the gap” – train rides, all was well.

But getting from airport to airport was bizarre; traffic was backed up for miles – our coach driver had to exit the freeway and use an access road, where traffic still stood still, for part of the almost-24 mile journey, so our “41-minute ride” took at least two hours. The group was already impatient from waiting on us by the time we got there. We just had time to put our luggage down before we left for the activities of the day.

Let me add one last thing about the group we were tossed into. My husband, my biggest fan and sometimes most astute critic, said I should not have taken out something I did from the last post, which put things a bit more into perspective. I mentioned that Kitty had just come through a bout with cancer – after surgery, she also had chemo, which took all her hair, followed by strenuous radiation treatments.

Our trip was a victory lap of sorts and her first public appearances without her wig. We all thought her cute spikey hair was cute spikey hair. The women in the ball-cap congregation seemed to find it an affront on a woman of a certain age and commented, pointed and generally did not behave charitably at all.

When ever-protective Kim got wind of that, she was livid and made it her job to set things straight. Can’t remember if it was on a public train ride or the charter tour-guided bus, but Kim parked herself close to the gossipers and loudly talked across the seats to Kitty and me.

“I just can’t believe you’ve just recovered from CANCER!” she said loudly. “You just don’t look like someone who’s BEEN SO SICK and had CHEMO and RADIATION. And your NEW HAIR IS SO PRECIOUS.”

At that the women looked mildly abashed, but they did not warm up to us.

(I can never say or hear “mildly abashed” without thinking of one of my favorite poems, “The Study in Aesthetics” by Ezra Pound. If you’ve never read it, please click here. It could change your life – or at least your perception. Which reminds me of Aldous Huxley, but I’ll move on. Sorry, English major, former teacher. We can’t help ourselves.)

You’ll have to trust me on this, but I am friendly and can usually talk to anyone. I did try – I even pulled up my pant-leg that night in Folkestone to show them my blackened leg and explain why I was wearing the weird shoes, but that just seemed to annoy one of the women more. So be it.

Back to the trip.

The kids loved the red phone booths.

The kids loved the red phone booths.

The first day we took a fabulous guided tour on a chartered bus – through which many of the other people slept or talked. I made my group sit up front (I’m a nerd and proud of it) and pay attention.

Our tour guide, a 6-foot-2ish American married to a Brit who’d acquired her own British accent turned out to be the our guide on our spooky night-time Jack the Ripper tour.

Our talented and brilliant tour guide. Can't remember her name but we loved her.

Our talented and brilliant tour guide. Can’t remember her name but we loved her. Oh, that’s Buckingham Palace in the background.

At some point we may have gone en masse to Windsor Palace. I know my group went there. And my bunch went to the Tower of London (maybe we all did), where, in open defiance of the “Absolutely no photography” sign, my girl Elizabeth took a great crotch shot of Henry the Eighth’s codpiece on his suit of armor, part of the special exhibit.

The Royal Guard made quite a commotion at Windsor Palace. Turns out they were yelling at me when they kept chantining, "Get out of the way!" At least I got the shot. Scary, though.

The Royal Guard made quite a commotion at Windsor Palace. Turns out they were yelling at me when they kept chanting, “Get out of the way!,” which I realized when they turned in my direction. Oops. At least I got the shot. Scary, though.

He was quite proud of himself. We died laughing.

We were on our own for most lunches, but dinner was a group affair. In London we had great Indian? Middle Eastern? food for one meal, hit a fish-and-chips joint for another and dined in the upstairs room at Ye Olde Cock Tavern for yet another. The atmosphere in that historic old place was fab.

What can I say? One of our favorite places.

What can I say? One of our favorite places.

But the food was bangers and mash, roughly weiners stuck in mashed potatoes. That, with the name of the place, well, you can imagine the jokes. My vegetarian ratatouille? Alfredo casserole? was actually delish and I was the envy of some of the adults.

Most of the kids thought the bangers were bang-up. Yuck.

Originally, our trip included traveling from London to Paris via the chunnel, which turned out to be broken or down for maintenance, so we got a side trip to Canterbury (English major heaven), Dover and the strangest hotel you can imagine in Folkestone, followed by a nice ferry ride across the English Channel and a chartered bus from Calais to Paris.

But my hubby awaits with an “Arrested Development” queued up on Netflix, so that leg of the journey will have to wait.