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A question on the anniversary of my father's death

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My dad, on the right.
I woke up this morning thinking about my father. He died 26 years ago today, and since it’s British Isles Friday I thought I’d share a few pix of my very British old man. I also have a question about the old family photo above. I believe it was taken sometime in the 1950’s when we lived in Tripoli, Libya. There is another photograph somewhere of the larger group at what appears to be some sort of professional gathering or meeting, a handful of men and one woman sitting on chairs at either side. My father, ex-British Intelligence, fluent in Arabic, was working for the American government at the AFEX, the Army & Air Force exchange store at Wheelus Air Force base in Tripoli at the time. I don’t know the exact nature of his work but while he was investigating some unusually large financial losses he learned that an American he became close friends with turned out to be embezzling funds. That must have been one helluva an awkward friend breakup! 

What I’m really cur…

Queen Me

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Updated 1/5/2018
With the popularity of The Crown, seasons 1 & 2 streaming on Netflix, I wanted to share my thoughts on Princess Elizabeth.

I haven’t lived in England for years and years. And years. Basically a very long time. The kind of time you cough into your hand over, trying to hide the exact humungous number of years. Long enough ago that any reasonable person could be forgiven for calling me an American. But beware, should you say anything negative about the UK or Queen Elizabeth, my British roots will start showing and my British blood will start boiling. I’ll start flapping my British passport in the air, and put on my best True Brit voice. While I’m very much an American, I’m British by birth, born in 1953, in —as I’m fond of saying and saying—a scene right out of Call the Midwife. I’ve got a thing for the Queen from being born so close to her coronation day that my parents gave me Elizabeth for my middle name. Just a few days shy of being named Elizabeth Simone instead o…

Looking for my great-grandfather's grave at a British Cemetery ... in France.

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British Cemetery, Courcelette, France
My husband and I spent last May hitting a few of the European hotspots Americans have been visiting for eons. London, Paris, Rome. The Cote d’Azur. One of the places we stopped at isn’t on everyone’s list: a trip to a cemetery about an hour north of Paris.  

Learning in 2015 that my grandfather and great-grandfather both fought in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in the Somme in France in the autumn of 1916 sparked my interest. Finding out that my great grandfather, George Hayden actually died there and was buried there, is what ultimately spurred our trip to Europe. I was born in England but hadn’t been home to England or the continent in almost 30 years. Why not make the most of it, visit the grave to pay our respects and squeeze in as much of Europe as we could over the course of a month, pushing our budget to the limit? Why not?

As it turned out, there were so many amazing sights to see that we left our visit to the cemetery until the end of our t…

Dreaming of France: 29 Avenue Rapp

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Scrolling through my Instagram& finding this image, I’m surprised I haven’t shared this particular French door for Dreaming of France before. 29 Avenue Rapp boasts what might be the most famous door in Paris. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful.



Designed by Jules Lavirotte in 1901 it’s a striking example of Art Nouveau architecture and features the very risque sculpted Adam and Eve above the door. I first saw the building in the movie Gigi as the building where Gigi's Aunt Alicia lives and where Gigi goes for her lessons in how to catch the right man. Preferably someone rich like Gaston.

Naturally when Mark and I visited Paris, we had to pay the building a visit. What struck us about 29 Avenue Rapp was how many people just walk on by, as if were nothing special, just another old stone edifice, the door, just another entry. I think even if I lived on the block, even if I saw the building and its door every single day, I would still have to pause and take it in. Not a whole …

A + for The A-Word

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Have you discovered The A Word yet? The show is a BBC adaptation of an Israeli drama series called The Yellow Peppers. The A Word, in case you didn't know, is autism. The series stars Morven Christie—who we love in Grantchester—and Lee Ingleby, 2nd banana to George Gently, as the parents of an autistic boy named Joe. Joe, played byMax Vento, is ten and spends most of his time listening to music on his earphones. 



As with most autistic children, a regular schedule is vital to Joe’s comfort level. After school he is used to going to the playground before they walk home. When Joe’s parents decide to send him to a school where his needs can be met more appropriately met, they have to travel a long way from their home in the lakes district all the way to Manchester, so that schedule takes a radical shift. His parents determination to understand their son and do their best by him is incredibly moving, and understandable to every parent out there.



There are other characters in the show, Jo…

Dreaming of France: Picturing Paris

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Bonjour! Can you guess where, precisely, this picture was taken? I love the diamond motif on the staircase, and the diamond pattern the lattice-work trellis creates on the wall. I shot the photo in France when we were there last spring, but where exactly? It took me a moment to remember where until I spotted the man tucked beneath the stairs. 

So who was he and what was he doing? He isn’t Harry Potter, I can tell you that. An American tourist? A French student? I’m not sure. What was he doing? Drinking a cup of coffee. Perhaps a Cafe Américain or maybe a cafe au lait. Chances are it was espresso. 

Where? Any guesses? I’m betting some of you more experienced French travelers will be able to pin it down. 


The answer: Starbucks on the Boulevard Saint Michel just down the road from Boulevard Saint Germain. Located quite near our hotel, Cafe de Flore and Deux Magots were both just up the street but on that occasion I just wanted to grab a coffee and take it back to our room. No muss, no fuss.…

Time to slay your own dragons, ladies.

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My first kiss was an unwanted one. I was seven years old when a boy named David pushed me up against the wall outside our apartment building. Forcing his mouth on mine, his breath, hot and fusty, something sickly sweet like apple juice and milk gone sour in his gut that made me squirm. I don’t remember seeing him as I ran with my brother and the other neighborhood kids through the empty lot next door, scrabbling over the toppled trees, slick with moss, tripping over the bramble of twigs and woodsy decay, but he must have been there, his knees as scratched and muddied as ours, before he caught up with me in the driveway that ran alongside and behind the apartment building. 
As usual I’d tagged along in my older brother’s shadow. Tag, hide and seek, cowboys and indians, the games kids used to play. Outdoors, up and down the streets, no watchful mommies on red alert. Ignoring our mothers’ warnings—don’t go into the woods, don’t go into the woods—we went into the woods, woods that in fact …

As Seen in Britain

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Iconic British Phone Booths in Marylebone May, 2017
With cellphones prevailing many of these lovely totems of once up a time in Britain, always a popular photo opp, have been revamped as cell phone hot spots and wifi zones. Speaking of which, I shot this pair with my iPhone.
There is even talk of transforming the red phone boxes into mini-offices! Long may they reign!
Posted for British Isles Friday hosted by Joy Weese Moll.

Dreaming of France: Guarding the Louvre

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When we entered the grounds of the Louvre, this gentleman, standing as still as the statues within its walls, gave us our first glimpse of not only the dizzying financial value of the treasures housed within its walls, but the importance of the Louvre as France's most beloved cultural institution. 


Home to some of the most famous and valuable works of art in the entire world—the Mona Lisa alone was last valued in 1962 at $100 million, and is presumably worth many times that now—and the museum, as the most visited tourist site in Paris, is worth much more than that. 


Over 8 million people visit the Louvre every year and when we were there this past spring, I have to admit it felt as though most of them had come to see the Mona Lisa that same morning. For anyone who wanted to linger and really look at DaVinci's masterpiece—like moi—it was a frustrating experience. 

Liberty Leading the People / Eugene Delacroix
Still, there is so much to see at the Louvre, there is no time to linger…
It's been just over a month since 58 people were killed by a gunman in Las Vegas. There is still nothing being done. We need to keep fighting the NRA.

'Can't you hear the children scream?' — this man's spoken word poem about America's gun violence will move you to tears (via @inqlife) pic.twitter.com/4JaviUM9RY — NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 6, 2017

Dreaming of France: I'll meet you in the garden

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Today's post was inspired by Paulita Kincer, my fellow blogger currently in the midst of picking up her entire American life and moving to France with her husband. Today she shared a photo of herself relaxing, as Parisians do, at Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. 

It's a place where people take their dogs, and those who still smoke, may smoke. A place where one can sit and read the newspaper.
Have an afternoon nap
Or scratch each others backs.
A place where one day this past spring I put my feet up on the rim of the pond and watched the children sailing their boats before the guard very politely came over to say Madame, please, the chairs must remain in the back. 

A place where one day in the future I hope to return and possibly have a rendezvous with Paulita. She and I can sit and people-watch while our husbands fetch us coffee and sandwiches. What do you say Paulita? Meet you in the garden?

Posted for Paulita’s weekly Dreaming of France meme.

A tree is a tree is a tree: finding a passion

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I know I haven’t shared anything new here in ages, the truth is I’m working on a novel and with a book-in-progress on my mind, my creative spirit is otherwise engaged. 


There is one aspect of the writing process I’d like to share here, to see what you think, and that’s the interest that the main male character, Jacob, has in botany, trees in particular. Part of the pleasure of writing the novel has been following his passion, learning more about trees myself. Like my female protagonist, Alex, I also find myself noticing different kinds of trees everywhere I go. The stunning pink flowering tree pictured above with its hibiscus-like blooms is an example of the Silk Floss tree a South American relative of the Kapok tree. This one caught my eye as I was walking by the Pan Pacific park here in Los Angeles in early October. The tropical species does really well in Southern California’s generally warm and dry climate. While they’re clearly gorgeous, the Silk Floss tree is more than just a pre…

British Isles Friday: Little pink houses for you and for me.

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"Ain't that America, home of the free"? No John Mellencamp, it's not. This little pink house is in London, on Elgin Crescent in Nottinghill. A street known for it's pretty pastel-painted row houses.
When I think of the colorful—colourful?—houses of Nottinghill, I think of rows of shining happy facades, neat as a pin. My mind skims right over the places where they need a touch up, the chipped white painted iron work of the front gate, the dirt that comes with the drizzle of the rain tainting the cornice over the front porch.
My photos from the trip that took us to London last spring clear the misty haze from my romanticized image, revealing the truth. As pretty as this pink house is, it isn't perfect. Still, I love it. I'm a fan of pink houses, turquoise walls, green doors, houses painted in the colors that you see on homes in the tropics.
They're not everyone's cup of tea, many preferring houses that come in shades of white and grey. How about you? Wo…

A funny thing happened on the way to the laundry room

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I'm heading back to my apartment, carrying my plastic laundry basket, heavy with 2 loads of freshly washed whites. The basket itself is pale green only because I couldn't find turquoise. I am absolutely crazy about turquoise. So there I am, walking down the path, when I'm startled by a glimpse of turquoise at the top of a neighbor's stairs. 

My eyes dial in and I see it's a girl, a girl with bright aqua-colored hair, the very same Katy Perry blue I yearn to dye my own hair. The girl, talking to her boyfriend (my assumption from how close to each other they stand) catches my eye, we smile.

"I love your hair," I call out as I pass. "Oh, to be young again, I'd love to have hair that color."

At which point she peels away from her boyfriend and heads down the stairs. "You should!" she says. "And I'm not that young, I'm thirty." 

"Ha! You're a baby!" 

But I'm glad I haven't called her a girl out loud. D…

Dreaming of France: Kicking back in the Sun at the Tuileries

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Le Jardins de Tuileries (from my instagram) I took this photograph last Spring on our trip to France.  I love how most everyone is simply relaxing in the sun, sleeping even, in the middle of the work week.

Every week for the last few years, I've tried to create a French themed blogpost like this one, here or at Chapter1-take1 to connect with my friend Paulita's Dreaming of France meme. I call her my friend but we've never met. You know how that weird internet thing can be, connecting you with strangers from around the globe in oddly intimate ways.

Now Paulita, who has been dreaming and fantasizing about living in France for years, sharing her photos, her memories from her trips, is actually doing it. After taking oodles of journeys to France, waiting for their kids to reach adulthood, scouting out locations, she and her husband put their house on the market. The house is in escrow and in the next couple of months, escrow will close and they'll be gone. Like F. Scott and Ze…

Dreaming of France: Washing our cares away

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What’s the most time you can spend on vacation before you have to do any laundry? A week? Ten days? A little longer if you can do your ‘fine washables’ in the hotel room sink? Or perhaps you’re well-heeled enough that you can leave your clothing with the cleaning staff to take care of ala Tom Ripley pretending to be Dickie in The Talented Mr. Ripley?

When the hubs Mark, and I went to Europe for a month this past spring we found we needed to do a load about every 10 days. We did laundry three times, in Paris where we were lucky to find a laverie just a block from our hotel on the Rue de Seine where in early May, the temperature still a fairly brisk 55º and we wore multiple layers and our raincoats everywhere to keep off the chill. We did a load in the beach resort town of Rimini in Italy where someone had left a box of detergent in the lavanderia. The temperature had risen to a balmy mid 70's by then and we left our raincoats in the back of the rental car. By the time we did our las…