It is bluebell time in England. The slender, dusky blossoms appear in late April or early May, after the snowdrops and crocuses have gone back to sleep and before sun loving, more vivid flowers bloom. No red, yellow, or orange interloper interrupts the cerulean swath carpeting the forest floor.

This mild spring day Joseph and I drive to the hills where the forest is thick and the bluebells thrive. Hedges line the narrow road, so that all we can see as we ascend is the ribbon of road curving in front of us. It is as if we were alone in the universe, driving back through time.

In a sense, we are. Bluebells, archaic survivors of the ice age, first sprang to life before the seas rose and separated the British Isles from the continent. The thicker the patch of flowers, the more ancient the forest, and this patch is very concentrated.

Joseph says country people believed fairies and pixies lived among bluebells, so where they clustered, enchantments lurked. He warns me not to be lured by their ethereal beauty to pluck a blossom, or I could be trapped by pixies and doomed to wander with them for a hundred years. He says he would miss me.

And, they said, if a bluebell rings, it means a death is imminent.

Today we will take the risk. At a gap in the hedgerow, we pull into a parking area carved out of the forest, relieved to see no other cars. We are alone.

The moment I open the car door Spud, our boxer-mix mongrel, bursts out to begin exploring this foreign territory, while we slip on our boots. Joseph, a true Brit, has green Wellingtons, those ubiquitous knee-high rubber boots worn only in the British Isles. I declare my independence by wearing cobalt blue.

It is cool, but not cold, and the red-earthed path beckons us to wander. It leads under a canopy of trees into a magical world. Light filtering through the leaves creates a dance of shadows rippling like sun on the sea, bright periwinkle shifting to muted blue-gray and back again as a mild breeze riffles the tiny bells.

I pause here and there to take photographs while Joseph continues one slow step at a time, leaning lightly on the cane he has resisted using for so long. My gaze follows him, a tall, slender figure of a man still, despite his weakening heart, as upright as the ash and oak that line the path.

Blackbirds’ lighthearted songs percolate through the trees surrounding us. I hear no whispering pixies or tinkling bells. Spud trots ahead, stopping to sniff a promising trail or lifting his head to catch a passing scent. Otherwise, it is as if the world in the valley has disappeared.

The tiny flowers here are deep purple English natives, not their paler cousins that wandered over from Spain. I photograph them up close to capture their delicate, curling petals. I photograph the mass of blue leading deeper and deeper into the woods, and I photograph Joseph. In his green jacket and tan cap, his white curls nestling around his ears, he seems a part of the forest too.

I run to catch up with him as he stands, both hands on his cane, immersed in the beckoning, sky-like blue. I slip my arm through his and together we breathe in the tantalizing sweetness of the flowers, the rich fragrance of moist bark and earth underfoot. Each breath seems a farewell.

In the field beyond the woods sheep graze on fresh grass, new lambs hover close to their ewes. A breeze brings us the faint tinkling of a bell.

Finding My Way….

The air wrapped around me like cool silk. As I walked it warmed  just enough to hint that the sun would be stronger in an hour, but not hot, not today. Warm, fresh air with overtones of sage and warm cement wafted around me.  The sensation of this winter day transported me to my high school years in a town south of here,  walking to school in January wearing a new sweater and woolen skirt, rarely needed and often longed for, like those preppy girls back east wearing the fashions on magazine covers.  I wanted to be them.  To live in a place with seasons where you needed warm clothes in winter, with snow on the ground at Christmas.

I have been in such a place.  I know what it feels like to need warm clothes when you leave the house, to layer your clothes, put on a jacket, a hat, a scarf, gloves.   Day, after day, after day it is not so romantic.

Today is Sunday.  The weekly farmer’s market is thriving, the flower stall, first on the right, sends strong, cold, sweet fragrances blasting across the walk way.  The Japanese farmer next to it sells only field greens, like arugula, dandelion, mizuna, mustard, and purslane, and mushrooms such as enoki, chanterelle, shitoke, boleti, all with earth clinging to roots and stems.

Oranges, apples, berries, celery, peas, green beans, and more lie on tables, the names of the farms on signs behind them.   Stalls bearing brown, crusty artisan breads, rolls, muffins and cakes, local goat cheeses,and fresh fish stalls give way to a few stands with hand made items like jewelry and pottery and knitted caps. A man sells cacti and succulents, another all kinds of plants and vines.    Locals and people from outside Claremont push children in prams, hold toddlers’ hands, and older people,walking more slowly, stop to squeeze avocados. Most people are wearing shorts, light tops, and sandals.

Every Sunday a groups of musicians, all past 50, gather to play folk music or blues or country at the market.  Today it is Mexican folk music, mariachi-like violins scratch out familiar tunes to make your feet itch to dance.  At the end of the street, closed off for the market, you can turn left or right to the small shops, cafes, and restaurants which make up the village, sit outside and have a coffee or a light lunch or a real Sunday Lunch.

Mountains like cut outs against the blue sky form a backdrop to the town and colleges, and I almost get the car to drive up there, to sit beside the little stream on a warm boulder.   Better yet, I could get my paints and brushes and paint the whitish bark of leafless trees, the gray of granite, the  stark, stick like remains of bushes and grass.  But I don’t.  I go to the cafe on the square for a coffee and croissant and listen to today’s busker sing  Bojangles and a couple of other songs.   He gives up, puts his guitar away and counts his money.   I saunter back home, content to have nothing to do except to be here where I am, right now.


Christmas in California……..

I love the weather in California.  Yesterday  I walked to the village under a sun so warm that the light sweater I was wearing was too much.  The temperature rose to 80F (26.6 C) from 60F (15C) or below for several days the week before.  Nights are coldish to cool right now, which means I can sleep cozily under a light comforter.   And you always know that when it rains, or clouds gather, the sun will shine again in a day or two.

My mid-western parents, remembering the  weather extremes in their native Missouri, loved to brag about going to the beach on Christmas day, if you wanted to, to our landlocked relatives trapped “back east”.  I secretly wished for snow.

And this year, snow lingered on Mt. Baldy for several days last week, a reminder that it really is winter.  I took a drive up there to my favorite spot beside a little stream . Snow still huddled in the shadows.  I sat on a rock in the sun, warm and toasty.

I have met some interesting people here and am feeling like I will survive. I even had a small Christmas party.    So many concerts, plays, movies, art exhibits abound that I am almost overwhelmed.

But I hate the commercialism.  Holidays seem to be an excuse for marketing not only gifts but decorations,  tons of decorations, mostly cheap, plastic, gaudy, and tasteless.  Store windows vomit Christmas decorations as a stimulus to remember to buy gifts.   Two months ago it was pumpkins and skulls, then a nod to Thanksgiving with autumn leaves and turkeys, and now there is a whiff of chemical imitations of “Christmassy” spices wafting here and there. Every available surface is covered with poinsettias, garlands, lights, reindeer, Santa Clauses, elves, wreaths, Christmas trees.  Sometimes even the real thing. (except for elves and Santa Claus, of course.) I am told some people decorate every room in their homes.

What happened?  I feel like Rip Van Winkle, waking up after 23 years in Europe to find an overblown copy of  my homeland, the real one buried under an avalanche of  Things For Sale. Material values smack you in the face at every turn.  Where is the war on Christmas?  The war on Christmas, or the Christmas spirit, is in the encouragement of gluttonous buying.

England has Christmas decorations.  In Shere, they  peek out of store windows, poinsettias sit at shop doorways, a garland of lights wind around the huge fir tree in the square.   People gather on Christmas Eve to sing carols under that tree, bundled in scarves and caps against the cold. The vicar says a few words and leads a prayer, then everyone retreats to the pub opposite for mulled wine or to private homes for a gathering with friends.  Some people string up a few lights around the windows, and hang wreaths on doors.

So I am not against Christmas decorations.When my children were little I loved to decorate with a real tree, real branches of holly and berries, bake cookies and fill the house with the aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and orange peel.  The tree went up around mid-December and down after New Year’s day.

When I was a child,  the tree went up on my sister’s birthday, Dec. 17th or 18th, and came down the day after Christmas.  That was it.  A tree with balls and lights and maybe a few candles in the dining room. We all got a main present, and a couple of smaller ones.    Sometimes aunts and uncles came and we had turkey and all the  trimmings ,pumpkin and mincemeat pies, talked and laughed and ate.  After dinner the older folks pretended not to snooze in their chairs, and later we went for a walk before tackling the leftovers.

Call me Scrooge, call me an old woman who lives in the past, where everything was better. I don’t mind. I guess I am.  It was better.




Follow the yellow brick road —

You travelled down a  a pretty tree-lined street to reach Janet’s house – it might as well have been Oz to me, coming as I did from the other end of town where homes were a little more modest.  It had a small front yard and a very big back one, with fruit trees and flowers. It even sported a swimming pool just beyond the lanai, where we girls practiced hilarious water ballets, near drowning ourselves with laughter.

A buzz vibrated around the house because there was always something going on, usually spurred by her mother, Dorothy, who was full of energy and charisma.   Dorothy and her husband, Nylin,  hosted parties for  friends and business associates, and it seemed Dorothy  was always decorating for some themed party or other, for women’s luncheons, or for and with Janet, her sister, and their friends.  One year I remember the lanai  awash in bright fabrics, plastic pink flowers, leis, table cloths, palm trees, and coconuts for some event. That must have been after one of their Hawaaiian cruises.  No imagination was spared in pursuit of a happy atmosphere.

Dorothy always greeted us with a smile and a chuckle, her dimples flashing, and often with a high kick into the air, putting us all to shame. When she was a around, you knew it, her presence bubbled through our lives.  She was always in charge without hovering, leaving a lot to Janet to do for herself, and she never seemed to think anything was too much trouble if it was a party.   She left us space, but was always welcoming.

After we graduated from high school I moved north and lost touch, I heard now and then through Janet that her parents were off cruising somewhere or vacationing in their air stream trailers in convoy with other air-streamers much of the time, enjoying their retirement with the same verve as before.   Then, after Nylin died, Dorothy and a neighbor friend got together to play  cards and travel.  She never seemed to let the tragedies which life holds bring her down for long.  And tragedy indeed touched her life.   She never dwelt on it.

When I saw Dorothy again after several years, she was still living in the house on the tree-lined street.  The house was much smaller than I remembered it, but the same otherwise.   As I pulled into the driveway, she kicked up her leg, as in the old days.  She must have been in her late 80’s or early 90’s by then; she still put me to shame with her flexibility and strength.

Janet, her daughter,  finally persuaded Dorothy it was time to move in with her and Art.    When I visited there a few times, Dorothy stayed discreetly in her own room reading until dinner time, and then joined us for her glass of rose wine before the meal.  After dinner, we sometimes played a word game, called  Quiddler, and she usually won.   In the morning, she was up watching  tennis matches, or  golf, up-to-the minute with the players, their place in the competition,  and the games.

The last time I saw her, I brought my grand daughter Gabriella with me.  There they were, both at the kitchen table, concentrating each one on their iPads, playing Solitaire.   I venture to say Dorothy was winning more games than Gabriella.  Dorothy was a mere 103 at the time, very much compose mentis and spouting her favorite Spanish greeting,  if no longer kicking up her heels.

A few days ago, while Janet and Art were visiting her in the nursing home where they finally had to lodge her,  she had a little dinner, closed her eyes, clicked her ruby red slippers, and was transported home.  She doesn’t leave an empty space, but a space filled with happy memories.



Well, whadayaknow.

I feared that my life experience, which includes living in two countries besides my own for over 20 years, would be  a barrier to making new friends in this southern California community.  I knew that the Latino population would be influential, and indeed, many public signs are now in both English and Spanish.  But I hardly expected much influence from Europe.    Granted, it is a college town, with professors and students from all over the globe, and its inhabitants are hardly the WASP’s who formerly dominated this part of the world.   One of the oldest restaurants in Claremont is owned by an Afghan family who have been here for many years.   There are Italian, Japanese, Peruvian,  and fusion restaurants in addition to the ubiquitous Mexican ones, and the people who own and run them.   Still.  I lived in the UK, and in France, and while I would possibly meet people who have uprooted themselves to come from other countries to settle in the US, not so many from Europe.   I was wrong.

I joined a gym to counteract too many months and years of inactivity.  One of the women there came up to me to introduce herself.   She is English.  She identified me as not from this area because of my “accent”!   I still don’t speak total American anymore!!

I called a handyman from a small ad in the local paper, The Claremont Courier.  He had an accent.  I asked him where he was from.  Guess what.  He is English, and so is his wife, who works in Claremont.  They have been here for 25 years.  When he comes to help me with something, we have a good old natter about how different it is living here as opposed to England.

I looked into a couple of art courses as a way to continue painting and meet people with a common interest. Nothing  gelled. However,  there is a wonderful little shop in the village called “Buddhamouse” where you can buy statues, wall hangings, jewelry, books, tapes, candles, incense, silver singing bowls, and just about anything to do with Buddhism and alternative spirituality.   It is owned and run by a mother and daughter who are warm and welcoming.  The shop also provides space for meditation groups, belly dancing courses,  tea ceremonies, among other things,  and also writing groups.

On Friday mornings a small group meets to trigger their creative writing skills, suggesting topics, writing for 10 minutes and then reading each others work.   As a long time lover of writing, I pep-talked myself into giving it a try.  I found a small group of talented and open men and women who also enjoyed the process of writing.  The woman who runs the group has lived in many places, as her father was a diplomat.    Her mother was from Woking, which is not more than 30 minutes from Shere.

From there, I learned of a larger group in the area,  a writing critique group a stone’s throw from where I live.  The woman who organized that group was born in England.

So I am feeling not unique after all, and not cut off from my experience of living in a multi-cultural world.  I still miss Shere, and Tourrettes, and my friends and family there,  but I don’t feel unique.

In With the New

I am starting anew yet again, this time closer to my roots.  Not France, or England or even North Carolina, but California.    Now, what I see outside the west  window of my study is a lush Jacaranda tree, not the ancient stone wall in front of the chestnut, fir and beech trees  of my 17th century house.  My condo here is 8 years old, hardly enough time to settle in and get the kinks out.

The north window frames a view of the San Gabriel mountains, folded and dark against a bright sky.  In the space of only a few miles  this range  juts up from Claremont’s elevation, 350 m. (1,150 ft), to the range’s highest peak, Mount San Antonio, at 3,609 m.  (10,068 ft.) .  However, most people around here refer to  Mt San Antonio as Mt. Baldy, as very little vegetation grows up there, and you can see its sharp, chalky slopes from several vantage points in the valley.  In winter it is often capped with snow, although the average temperature here is 17.22 C (63F).,_California

The near view to the north  is spiked with eucalyptus trees, a common sight in these parts, along with several varieties of palm and oak and elm.  In fact, there are 24, 187 trees in Claremont.  I don’t know who counted them.  Not me.   Some of the oak and elm are very old.    I am pretty sure the elms are not native to this area, and the oaks are live oaks, not the UK variety with trunks 5 feet thick which are hundreds of years old.   They are scrappier and shorter, with small, round prickly leaves which have a pungent, dusty odor.

I live a short walk from the village, as I did in Shere and in Tourrettes, but although it is a lot bigger, with a population of around 35,000, as opposed to 3,359 for Shere,  I am nevertheless  getting to know the local shop keepers and restaurateurs.  I often run into familiar faces, as I did in Shere, and in Fayence before that, one of the greatest benefits of a village.

There are several colleges here under the umbrella of Claremont University Consortium, and together they cover several academic disciplines.   But the permanent population is a healthy mix of ages, with enough old people around to make me feel that I belong, too.

My home town, Santa Ana, is 31 miles from here, but after 50 or so years it is barely recognizable.  The population is now 78% hispanic.  Most signs there, and here in Claremont, too, are in both English and Spanish.   Elegant, as well as not so elegant malls and housing developments have replaced the sugar beet fields, farmland, and pastures of my youth.     .

And yet, I find my old home in the quality of the sun early in the morning, when it is just beginning to warm the air.  I find it in these October afternoons, when it is hot standing in the sun, but chilly as you pass into a shadow.   I find it in the fog curling around the trees, then burning off by 11:00 am; and in  the spicy fragrance of eucalyptus’ and pepper trees.  But the fragrance of  orange blossoms emanating from the groves which used to cover acres and acres of land is missing.  They have been replaced by homes and businesses to accommodate the people who still pour into California from both the east of the US and from the south, from Mexico and Central America.

We have had two days of stormy rain and wind, now over.  The sky arches  blue and clear over the valley and at 9:00 AM the temperature is about 13C.  A high of 17C is predicted for today, going back up to 27C by Friday.

There is more to life than weather, as I repeatedly said when I lived in Shere, but in such a transition as this, with many days of missing my old life and coping with creating a new one, it must be said that it helps.

Deus ex machina-Shere-ing Time 3

The gods arrived on Thursday morning in the forms of a Phillipina cleaner and an English gardener.   Before Carmelita arrives I always clean house so she won’t think I’m a pig, so there was that to do, then young Jack Dew(er) lives up to his name by bounding to the door fresh as a spring day,  (which this should be, but isn’t, due to unseasonably cold weather), brimming with all the energy of a 27 year old, his hair a rusty mass of coils in a halo around his head.  “You all right?”, he says.  “What do you want me to do today?” Eager to begin.  My aging brain and body flood with relief.

The cellar contains all the things I jammed into it before the renter moved in to stay for the 3 months I was away.  One clothes rack fell over the other, luggage spills sweaters, shoes, t-shirts I have rummaged through to find something to wear, and it is impossible to clear out anything else until it is all sorted. I have been down there only to find clothes, leaving as soon as possible to avoid sitting down and weeping.

Showing him the mess, I say, “How about sorting the cellar?”  “No worries,”he says.   And that is what he does, sorts the  jumble, moves things to their proper places, neatens everything so I can see what is there.

We talk about getting boxes into which I can sort what goes and what stays.   I ring Sainsbury, Waitrose, B & Q to see if I can find some free ones, but most places disassemble and recycle theirs right away.I find a store that may have some.  Jack is off in his trusty van like a shot. “No worries”, he says.

Meanwhile, Carmelita tranquilly vacuums, dusts, mops, cleans toilets, and all the things she does to make the house nice and clean, and me cared for.   Jack returns with the only boxes they had available, which look like they might have contained small chain  saws; they are very deep and narrow.  Mmm.  Won’t do, Dew.  Carmelita, who has moved her boss’ house recently, says, “I have boxes.”  Jack and I look at each other.   Her English is not great, or maybe it is her listening skills.

So we arrange a time for me to pick up the boxes, I arrange with Jack a return date to do more clearing out, and I feel really ready to get on with the rest, energized, satisfied, as I have done it all myself.  No worries.   Hope this lasts the weekend.


Shere-ing Time, 2

Okay, so here’s what happened next.  I plunged into the Slough of Despond, paralyzed by fear and sense of loss, extending back to the age of about 6, and thinking that such a small person could not possibly cope with the vastness of moving an entire house, indeed, pretty much an entire life, back into an environment which is a part of that very loss; all the mistakes and errors and stupid decisions I have ever made grabbed hold of my quivering soul.  So what do I do?

Well, I play Solitaire on my iPad, of course; upon awaking in the morning, and when I wake up in the night; in the evening before I go to sleep, and of course at nap time.  I love my bed, the only place where the accusation of undone chores don’t confront me, accuse me, wake me from my somnolent state just enough for guilt to weigh me down still  further.

Once on my feet, and even dressed,   I fix a cup of coffee and shuffle papers around in the office.  I walk out to the studio, look at the capless paint tubes, paint rags stiff with dried paint, half-finished canvases and paper leaning against walls and  chairs and the easel, shelves stacked with art books, littered with pencils and brushes and charcoal and pots of dirty paint thinner, and smelling deliciously of turpentine.

However, rather than rouse me to action, it only adds to my burden of guilt and over-whelm, so I close the door and go back in the house.  At least it’s warm in here, and I can wash up a dish or two, or put in a load of laundry, and think I am actually making progress on the tasks before me.

Meantime, the moving companies I very efficiently contacted about 3 weeks ago to come and make estimates on the removal are calling me and emailing me to know if I have made a decision.  Think of it.  Six more weeks to go and they want a decision.  I haven’t even looked at the quotes yet, and how to decide on which one to use is as far away as ever.  It looks like one is about as good as another, and they’ve all been in business for centuries, have professional packers, work with the best van lines in the states, have good relations with the customs people.  And use superlative wrapping materials.

To top it all, and surely the root cause of all my woe, it is still raining off and on, it is cold, down to freezing at night, and mostly cloudy all day.  That’s why I can’t get started.

Fortunately one of my mates knocked on my door at about 6:00 the other night after a hard day at the office.   It was only Tuesday, not a week end night or anything.  She just looked at me and said, “Drink”.  What could I do but reach out to the wretched and be there for her.  In the pub.

Shere-ing Time, 1

It is early morning in late winter, and  cold outside, as it has been for days.  Elm and chestnut trees stand denuded of leaves, their  untidy branches and bony twigs scratching at frozen air, Evergreens stand stolidly, silent giants biding their time, waiting for spring.

But I am cozy in bed,alone now, huddled under a warm duvet with my grandmother’s quilt over it.  A quilt made 70 years ago. Its colors are as fresh as the day it was made, maybe on a  winter’s day like this one, but far away from here, in Missouri where I was born. My mother and grandmother cut scraps of fabric from worn-out clothing, chatting, drinking coffee, deciding on colors. Spiky stars made from outgrown pinafores and dresses of my and my sisters’ outgrown pinafores and dresses emerge on pale green cloth.  I recognize the red, white and blue striped star; it was my  pinafore, colors bright so a small child would notice.

Familiar objects surround me. A solid oak chest of drawers stands beside the bed, another faces me from across the room, next to a little marquetry table we bought in France. Curtains with red and blue flowers and birds on a white background frame my view through lead paneled windows. A small wooden book case I painted red one summer stands between them. Although this furniture and I have been here together for only a few years, the room feels like an old friend.

For centuries these thick stone walls have witnessed the many lives lived in this room, the human dramas of which my own is such a tiny part. A leather bound bible the size of  my hand is embedded in the plaster of the wall facing me, found hidden in the recesses of the beams, placed there perhaps during the Reformation in England, when it was dangerous to be on the wrong side of God.  Now it is glazed into the fabric of the house and will be there as long as the house stands

This house  will survive long after I am gone to watch other lives pass through, and in a few short weeks I will be looking at other walls, new ones which have had no time to mature,and which still smell of plaster. It will be up to me to infuse them with at least some of this lovingly charged space. I will try to make a beginning.

It won’t be easy to uproot again, to leave this comfortably settled house and village. It seems like the events of time have  worn down all the sharp edges here, whereas in America we are still spiky and hard, tumultuous teen agers testing their limits,rushing headlong from one extreme to another, testing boundaries. 

I will miss my gentle life in Shere.

Yesterday, shopping in a nearby village, I walked in the chilly shadow cast by the shops.  Suddenly there was a gap between buildings, heated by the strengthening sun,warming my face for a moment.  Although I walked back into the cold shadows I knew the sun was there, and I would step out of the shadows and into the sun again.





Claremont, California, Ashland, Oregon, and Peralta, New Mexico

Gray Sandhill cranes, bent to pluck bugs and seeds from the fields, have been gurgling their strange, raucous call since dawn.  They look almost like sheep from a distance with their long necks reaching down, or small, gray emus closer up.  Pale winter fields, fallow at this time of year, stretch all around my sister’s hacienda here in New Mexico, where I arrived on New Year’s Eve after a 2 hour flight which took 4 and a half.    So I was tired last night, but waking to their wild calls, looking out upon a frosty world outside, was stimulating and refreshing.

I have been on the move since my arrival in the US.    San Jose at Thanksgiving, Claremont( a week later.  Looked at a few homes near my son Matthew’s townhouse.  Took a train to San Jose again – an unusual mode of transport in these parts, but comfy, with broad seats, plenty of leg room, an electrical outlet by every seat, and a dining car with white tablecloths and real silverware and real food -then met a friend there with whom I shared a ride up to Ashland, Oregon ( to spend Christmas with son David and his children Sage, 5, and Malia, 7.    The passes over the Cascade mountains, past Mount Shasta ( to which must be added the adjective “majestic”, were snowy, but roads were clear on the day we crossed, and the predicted storms did not arrive.

I prepared mussels in white whine with “frites”, a salad, and sourdough french bread for Christmas Eve supper at David’s house, then enjoyed Christmas Day with enthusiastic children.

Arrived back in Claremont, I bid on the townhouse I had looked at.  It was accepted, so it looks like I’m in the process of buying it. Yikes.

Now in Peralta (, where I will spend 3 weeks sleeping in the same bed!!  Yippee.