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I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. ~William Hodding Carter

8f4e475e09b0cabef9884f079ebd24e2Sam went to Germany for the weekend. A school trip had him en route for about as long as he was en Cologne, but it seems he enjoyed the trip and, equally as important to me, is now safely back in his home in England.

It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines as my children get on with life in other parts of the world. Not at all.

My eldest, Jenn, being an adult, and a very sensible one at that, has been taking care of her own family for 20+ years, but that’s not to say I’m worry-free when it comes to her. I keep an eye on the weather in North Carolina and fret constantly over her health, her safety and her happiness as is proper, still being her mother and all. Too much sharing of my anxious thoughts, however, would be annoying for her, so I mostly keep them to myself.

Sam and Cj, being young and now far, are another story. Although completely trusting in the environment they now inhabit and the wonderful woman who cares for them in every way as I would, I still lose sleep.

They’re in a different, wider, more dangerous world now, so my worries have expanded as they ride their bikes to the park and go to big schools with kids I don’t know and take busy motorways and visit London for days out. All of those things are wonderful and broadening and educational and experiences they couldn’t have here with me on this rock. Live theater in the West End, music festivals, camping, playing in the snow … all great and all adding to their lives in ways that will serve them well.

But …

My son passing through France and Belgium while making his way, with a busload of other school kids, to Germany at this point in time scared the shit outta me.

The world our children are inheriting seems a terrifyingly dangerous place rife with automatic weapon-toting fuckwads drunk on the smell of blood, people strapping on ‘suicide belts’ with no intention of going alone, bomb makers tinkering away in neighborhoods with visions of mass mayhem filling their zealot pea brains as democracy fails through wanton avarice and the planet attempts to cope with massive interference with nature in ways that will not be kind to any of us.

So, the questions plaguing me are …

1) How can my children be prepared to be safe and secure as possible as they construct their lives in a world that seems to be going to hell in a hand basket?

And, 2) What messages can they be given that may help them find happiness and satisfaction in their lives?

If my own chaotic childhood taught me anything, it was the value of adaptability, and this does seem key over the next decades. No one could have accurately envisioned today’s world even 30 years ago with its tech advances (and reliance upon), the perpetual war-without-front and its tendency to catch people out in mundane circumstances, ever more drastic weather and global financial meltdowns.

Predicting 30 years ahead is even more of a crap shoot, a future I can’t begin to imagine. Most certainly there will be catastrophic events as human population grows, then must shrink from lack of space and resources, as sea levels rise and wipe out swathes of what is now considered habitable land and the struggle to survive is armed to the teeth and merciless.

With luck, 30 years from now Sam will be 43 and Cj 40 … in their prime.

So … what to do? How to plan?

First, they must have access to all the information they will need to make informed choices. This does not mean filling their evenings with every horror of the day via the BBC, or any other media, but answering their questions honestly and providing sources for research.

Second, assuring they are educated to the fullness of their potential and allowed to specialize in whatever ignites their passions. Knowledge is power and a solid foundation built from study provides a platform from which one can put perspective to the past and have some clues to what’s ahead.

Third, and most importantly, encourage them to grab every bit of joy they can whenever they see it and wherever they find it. Although it may not always seem so, life is a gift, and every single day, no matter how difficult or sad or tiring or tedious is full to the brim with fleeting moments, and it is the ‘fleeting’ bit that we all must be aware of. What is life if not a series of moments? (In a conversation with my brothers this morning, we chained together quite a few shared moments of our combined childhood, and it dawned on me how vital it is that my kids grab and keep as many as they can for future examination, amusement and contemplation.)

I want my children to know joy as well as they know grief, to feel bold even when fear haunts the corners, to recognize gratitude as easily as they do indebtedness, to feel love as deeply as loss. I want them to be as ready to jump for joy as they may have to be to jump out of the way, to accept challenges with as much certainty as they throw their hands up in disgust and walk away. I want them to live as fully, as involved, as engaged, as enthused as possible for as long as they can.

Just Skyped with Jenn, and then with Sam. Jenn is feeling better, able to laugh and catch me up on what’s what in her world. That makes me happy.  Sam is tired and snuffy, but very happy for the experience of three countries in 36 hours and waffles and wurst. He’s safe and sound and a bit more worldly, so I’m happy, too.

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

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There’s no doubt I’m behind in this account of tootling, but will backtrack at sometime and tell all about London, Surrey, Gloucestershire, the fab peeps who hosted me and adventures encountered along the way. For now, however, it’s Dorset.

Dorset

Dorset


I lived in Bournemouth some years back, and this has been my first visit back to the area. Thankfully, one friend from that time is still in the area so a very enjoyable reunion has been happening this week. Martin is pretty much the only person I still speak to who knew me well throughout my time here, so being able to share thoughts has been a gift.
PrettyPlace
Martin and his husband, Ciaran, live in the village of Pimperne just outside of Blandford Forum, and with the luck of (mostly) glorious weather, walks in pretty places with their Westie, Boris, have been a hoot.
The Boys at Studland

The Boys at Studland


A day at the beach at Studland had Boris introducing us to dalmatians, poodles, spaniels of all persuasions, various herding dogs and the occasional manic pointer. There was even one Dogue de Bordeaux that was every bit as sweet and drool-producing as a Hooch should be.

A day out in Bournemouth provided proof that things change a lot in two decades, although the building whose top floor was my flat looks pretty much as it did. The price has gone up by about £100,000.00 since I sold it, so, yep, things are different.

Had a good time down the pub last night with a couple of Martin & Ciaran’s local friends and had a laugh with some of the young lads drinking around the snooker table. I was, however, surprised to see them walk out carrying two-pints-to-go containers. They weren’t driving, but it still seemed an almost New Orleans thing to happen.

Elves like us ...

Elves like us …

Since ’tis the season, we shopped for, then decorated, the boys’ Christmas tree, which was a hilarious venture with a good outcome. They’re all set for the holidays now with plans in place and the house tarted up in festive fashion so the clear sky and bright sunshine feel as Cris-cringley as a blanketing of snow.

No lasers handy ...

No lasers handy …

Ta-Daaaaaa!

Ta-Daaaaaa!

Heading off tomorrow and, as I have with everyplace I’ve visited this trip, I’ll miss the place and the people that make the world special.

Going no place, no how ...

Going no place, no how …

I doubt I’ll see another bin as secure as the one attached to the log at the bottom of the page again …

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CowThe drive from Cornwall was very pretty with hedgerows, sheep-covered hills, sea cliffs and such, and a bit of adventure when we were stopped by a farmer herding his cows down the lane and one … a very handsome, curly beast stopped to poke her head by the car window and say, ‘howdy’.

I’ve admittedly been a bit of a slug the past few days, so haven’t actually seen much of Paignton yet, but have until the end of the week to check out more than the view of the bay. It’s so comfy and warm here in Pat’s mum’s house, as it would be for a 92-year old who runs her own home in style.

Not often finding myself in the company of someone so intimately familiar with a Britain that’s now hard to find, it’s been fun hangin’ with Pauline. Her sense of humor is still well in place, and the fact that she does snarky so well … veddy, veddy British snark, of course … has had me cracking up. Pat’s dad had been a pilot with the RAF and Pauline an encoder in the WAF, so she has terrific tales to tell that I’m lapping up.

She, being interested in new things, allows me to feel as though I’m doing my bit entertaining her with bits and pieces about Seychelles and animals, which went well with my trip to the Paignton Zoo, which was a great day out.

Isn't he gorgeous!

Isn’t he gorgeous!

Not only was the weather mild and dry, the bachelor group of five gorillas had me grinning like a … well … a baboon? Not large, the hilly setting makes for a lot of variety in enclosures and a number of water features for flamingos, pelicans, a variety of ducks … including whistling tree ducks, which are a big fav for me … and setting off islands for the orangs, adding atmosphere.

PaigntonPaignton, being an English seaside town, is the usual mix of Victoriana and kitchy, touristy stuff. The bay is full of boats, the town rife with arcades, bars and chip shops and is a busy place even on an off-season Tuesday afternoon. There’s a steam train and a paddlewheel boat, so I envision major fun here in summer.

The "English Riviera"

The “English Riviera”

We’re cooking in, so I’ve nothing to say about restaurants, but can recommend the Paignton Sainsbury’s … but I have been known to be overly impressed with supermarkets lately.bcdca111-2c1a-4782-9f39-3a613b908427.1

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LyntonWakeUpIt may surprise some to learn that a small English village could have a world of options when it comes to dining, but that’s very close to the case in Lynton, my home for the last week.

Nothing like a good, old pub ...

Nothing like a good, old pub …

Not only is there an ancient pub with higher-than-standard pub fare (The Crown) and a typical English Tea Room (Lacey’s Tea Room), coffee shops abound and pasta, pasties and pizza are easily had.
Lacey's Tea Room

Lacey’s Tea Room

Yum!

Yum!

A bit more deliciously surprising is the option of great Thai food at Nartnapa , a family-run establishment named after the Thai half of a couple whose other have is Lynton born and bred.

Another import, this one Russian, and her Exmoor-born hubby run the Vanilla Pod, an establishment that offers great food any time and really scores big on their occasional “Russian Nights”.VanillaPodRussianNight

Tapas and Spanish wines on the menu here.

Tapas and Spanish wines on the menu here.

The Oak Room does Spanish cuisine with tapas, full meals and wonderful Spanish wines, and although closed for dinner this time of the year does do lunches.

If it seems I’m encouraging visits to Lynton … well … I am. I LOVE the place, the people and the food!
CoffeeShop

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As yesterday’s post mentioned, I’m presently enjoying the sights and sounds of the mean streets of Lynton, a small village by the Bristol Channel in North Devon. This is Lorna Doone country with all the romantic vistas, tiny lanes on winding roads and blustery winds that made the English countryside the setting of so many novels requiring all that way back when.ValleyofRocks

Staying, as I do, with one of the world’s best friends, Jacqueline, at her fab place, Victoria Lodge , I’m perfectly situated to get out and about and see what there is to see.VicLodge

And there is so much to see … in small and grand ways with art popping out of an inspired population and natural beauty in abundance, not to mention the history of the place.Lynton1

LytonTownHall

LyntonCinema

The wildlife, although perhaps considered tame by some standards, has its own thrill potential … and maybe someday I’ll write about the time I almost died in a goat stampede in the Valley of the Rocks.Goats

And, of course, there’s the thrill-a-minute ride (and it doesn’t take much more than a minute, so within my adrenalin-rush threshold) of the Cliff Railway for those who really want to tempt fate.CliffRailway

It’s a gorgeous part of the world, one I have returned to for reasons of calm and sanity, and I highly recommend a visit for any who might like a little Lorna with their Doone, some Rocks in their Valley or gentle holiday in a beautiful place.

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What a good sleep

What a good sleep!

England in November is such a drastic change from Seychelles at any time that the point is well made that I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto. I’ve been here for more than a month now, quite comfy since the first day on the cold, cold ground when I traded in my flip-flops for a pair of boots and pulled on the jeans, jumpers and overcoats that had been hanging in my closet for the last 13 years … the last time I faced a winter.

I will be retracing my steps along the way in blog fashion in future, but for now I’m motivated to share a bit for those who may be looking for a great place to spend Christmas while there’s still time to sort something wonderful out.

I’m in North Devon at the moment, in the lovely village of Lynton. <http://lynton-lynmouth-tourism.co.uk/>. Having last visited during a different time of year and a far different time of life, I’m happy to be back to wander the Valley of the Rocks and gaze across the Bristol Channel and wave at Wales.

No time to write much about the experience, but I do want to let people know about a fabulous opportunity for a Christmas getaway/get-together in time to actually do something about it should this be the answer you’re looking for. snooker

Sit down or a bit of telly?

Sit down for a bit of telly?

Victoria Lodge <http://www.victorialodge.co.uk/>, previously a 5-star B&B, is now a fully-kitted and beautiful semi-detached that sleeps 12 in posh comfort in the heart of Lynton and is, unbelievably, not yet booked for the holidays. I can personally attest to the luxury of the accommodation, the two gorgeous sitting rooms, the lush beds, the fab kitchen and the convenient location having stayed here before, and being back in now.

xmas table portrait

My dear friend, Jacqueline, spent a few years in Seychelles as CEO of Cable and Wireless, and since I still miss her presence there I visit her here when I can. It’s not often, but as it goes with true friends we pick up right where we left off, so it’s not just the fact that her place is fab.

Main lounge

There’s much to do and see in the area. In addition to the Exmoor ponies and goats in the Valley of the Rocks there are sites of historical interest that range from Dunster Castle <http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunster-castle/> to the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway <http://www.lynton-rail.co.uk/&gt; with its funky steam train. You can check out the lot here <http://www.victorialodge.co.uk/index.php?page=explore-exmoor>.

If you’re looking for a place to bring the whole family for Christmas … or one to fill with friends avoiding family … this is the perfect place to fill with whatever your version of holiday cheer might be, and at a very reasonable price. Kids and dog welcome.

You can book online, or give Jac a call on +44 1598 753203. Trust me … you’ll LOVE it!

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