Well HELLO darling girlfriends. It’s Queen Mary 2 time! Can you believe it? I really do not know where to start!!! Time has been racing and now I’ve been staring at this blank page for about an hour! So many good things to tell you! So I will take the terrifying advice of William Morris
who said, “To begin, begin.” And start in the regular place with MUSICA! Okay, here we go!
I must say, to begin, that every dream and hope I had about this adventure we’ve embarked upon has come true to the nth degree. It’s been amazing, nothing short of a little miracle. We did it! “Doing it” isn’t always as easy as it sounds. I know because it took me years of thinking and wanting, but finding reasons and excuses to stay close to the familiar, before I took the, actually kind of scary, leap to DO IT. To GET myself on board that SHIP Joe and I spoke of at our very first meeting… the one we’d been dreaming of, and actually GO out into the unknown! To step forward in time in order to go back in time. Then, what you find out, it that everything over here, is just as calm and quiet as it is at home, but so very different too, and beautiful and educational and historical, and then you just know you will have to do it again. And this time it will be much easier. The first time, and actually each time after, is a door opener. A heart opener. A curiosity maker. A memory maker. A sensory extravaganza. There is earned pride in taking such a leap. The rewards are profound.💖
I know I’m right because I’m writing to you from our rented cottage in the English Countryside, on a small desk inside that downstairs window on the left of the front door, where climbing roses are just about to bloom, from a place we know and love so well called Stourhead, in Wiltshire, England🇬🇧. The brilliant blue sky outside that window is filled with huge white cumulus clouds (the same sky you are under right now), and wood pigeons are cooing the British national anthem of birds, “My toe huts bet-tee.” The breeze that blows the curtains is filled with the scent of yellow azaleas because the park beside the lake is filled with them; bells ring the hour at the 12th century church across the green, and I’m drinking my favorite Earl Grey Tea with Lavender “A Fine Romance” Tea because? You’re right, I brought it with me! And two cups too! Our little taste of home. We’re all settled in in a foreign country where nothing is the same as home, it’s all an adventure, in the land of our ancestors. But that’s JUST the beginning.😱
In case you are new to my blog and don’t know what I’m talking about, a year ago I wrote here that “Joe and I would be sailing on the Queen Mary 2 to England on May 1st 2022,” and asked, “Would anyone like to come along?” I gave a phone number where people could sign up. You can read more about it in the last 5 or 6 posts … Anyway, we had NO idea if anyone would join us, but we had a year to think about it, wait, save, plot, and plan, get passports (some of us, for the very first time👏), and along the way, anticipation grew, escape from Covid was warily anticipated (have you seen this commercial?🤣), but we forged on in complete determination🔨, we packed, found people to take care of our petty pets, took Covid tests required by Cunard, shivered with happiness when they were negative,
and on the appointed day, we fought New York traffic during a huge bicycle race, and got our piles of luggage to the dock! This was our “Can you BELIEVE this” moment! Standing in front of the huge, magnificent Queen Mary 2, unloading the car. (If you look close, you’ll see I’m wearing my “girlfriend” skirt, it’s the second trip for my jacket, and first trip for the Laura Ashley hat!) Many of you who are NOT new to this blog but could not join us, are stuffed inside our suitcases, ready to be smuggled aboard, others are coming along as armchair travelers, but, as promised, you’re all with us now, so here we GO, one and all!!!
Long lines of excited travelers greeted us at check-in . . . everything slowed down because of Covid; masks required in all public places. My darling Joe had all necessary pen-types just in cases. I needed a hat rack so I could run to the bathroom.
By the time we got up the gangplank, into the mirrored elevator, and down the long, long corridor to our stateroom, our bags had already been delivered to the room! We ran out to our deck to see the view, and this was IT!!!! Isn’t that WONDERFUL?? We hadn’t run into ANY of our girlfriends yet. Plus, Rachel and Paul, dearest old British friends (I wrote about them in A Fine Romance, and many times on this blog), flew over to join us for the crossing, but were ALSO stuck in the bicycle traffic trying to get to the ship. They even closed freeway exits for those bikes! But we made it anyway!
Outside we went to the back of the ship, where we’d decided to meet for bon voyage, the kick-off for our eastbound crossing on this gorgeous ship, and what did we find? All these happy, brave, adventurous people! We introduced ourselves, putting faces to names, some of whom we’ve known through my blog and other social media for years. It was just the beginning! The ship was still docked and Ray and Paul hadn’t shown up yet, among others! In the end, there were 90 of us kindred spirits on board!!! And don’t think there weren’t guys, because there were, adorable guys who shied away from the first photos, but slowly integrated becoming full-fledged girlfriends by the end! My cup runneth over.♥️
Gifts, cards, notes, letters, were exchanged … I made ship journals for everyone. And see the round pin above? In honor of the Queen’s 70th, I made a Crowned Corgi ID pin. Everyone got one, so we would recognize our fellow travelers when we ran into each other in the elevators! Pin = kindred spirit!💞
I left places inside the diaries so later everyone could add their photos…📸
They went very well with our Platinum Jubilee remembrance bookmarks!👑 Did you get yours? Click HERE, use card stock if you can, regular paper is good too, glue the two sides together, cut around and voila! A little dog to put his nose out over your book!
When Paul and Ray arrived, I saw them coming across the deck … we ran into each other’s arms and hugged for so long and didn’t even THINK about taking pictures… it had been 4 years since we’d been together. NEVER let that happen again! (Being apart that long OR forgetting to take pictures of our wonderful reunion!💖)
It was like that for all of us … been trapped by Covid for a long time. Here we were, freshly tested, outside, ON THE QUEEN MARY, in full hug-mode! It was so freeing!!! Twitter girlfriends were there in force… Adorable Nicole, the connector of the group, Sharon, and darling Belinda, known as Belle.
Nicole made a felted Jack pin for me . . .(I was also wearing my Girl Scout pin along with my Corgi ID)
I took him off his lace backing so you can see all the DETAIL Nicole put into this tiny Jack, complete with whiskers, green eyes, and a mustache! Plus a very soft belly just like the real thing!💋
Jack was feted in other ways too, this darling bon voyage card came from Nancy. Look at Jack’s hat ala Petey! And excellent job of painting Jack’s face!!!💞
Look what Kim made! Two darling pillow cases she hand-embroidered herself! I mean, really! Here they are on the bed in our new cottage! She even embroidered the date! Very much like the art I did for A Fine Romance! We’ll be using these for a very long time! ❌⭕️
My ship from A Fine Romance!
The gifts flew back and forth . . . This is Cheryl 💖 ~ with the Magner’s “Peah Ci-da” we sent to everyone’s stateroom with a box of heart-shaped candy to welcome them aboard. Look at Cheryl’s camera …isn’t it cute and old-fashioned looking? That is actually just your basic iPhone cover! It’s from Emily in Paris! Isn’t that smart? Here, she told me where you can get one!
I told everyone about where and when we’d be meeting next… This was Sunday, Rachel and I would give a talk on the Magic of a Handwritten Letter on Tuesday in Illuminations Theater ~ Our group had reservations for the Planetarium on Thursday, and a meeting for us was set up in the Atlantic Room on Friday. We stood outside yakking until it started getting chilly, the ship still hadn’t sailed (probably stuck behind the bikes!) . . . and lots of us had dinner reservations at 6pm, so off we went feeling so blessed …
Ray and Paul came to our room for a proper reunion, to get some champagne and stay warm until the ship started to sail! Celebrating our 30th year of friendship that all started with a letter! If you think about EVERYTHING that’s going on here, it’s all completely impossible, although, here we are!
It wasn’t long before the boat whistle (the one from the famous Queen Mary, christened in 1936) roared its low notes over the harbor and echoed a farewell to New York, a most magical sound that makes everyone dream of far away places. Slowly we began to pull away from the dock gliding past this thrilling view of the symbol of America. As touching to our British friends as it is to us. 🇬🇧🇫🇷🇺🇸 And PS, thank you France!
We were ALL cameras the whole way out to sea, taking pics and videos of sailing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, so close we could see the people in the cars! When they built the QM2 they had to keep her “short” enough to get under that bridge! She’s a mere 23 stories high!
This was Rachel and Paul’s first trip across the pond at sea level! An exchange our two countries have been doing for a very long time! I’m reading the book Ben Franklin in London … He was still an Englishman at the time of his first visit to London, and it took him 7 weeks to get there! We only have 7 days!
Dinner our first night . . .
Flaming desserts did not lick the fire extinguishers in the ceiling the way they did on another trip, almost drowning the people at the table. Sopping wet men with buckets trying to stop it, some laughter, lots of picture taking, and finally, at the end, they stopped it. Very exciting. But that didn’t happen this time! All quiet for our delicious crepe suzettes with ice cream… mmmmmmmm.
We walked the Promenade deck almost everyday to drink in the sea air. Three times around equaled one mile. We knew when we saw them put the cushions on the lounge chairs in the morning that it would be a nice day.
And those cushions were out almost every day. We had amazing weather! The sea was flat, the wind was more like a breeze, I was so proud of the ship for putting her best foot forward for my Girlfriends! Zero seasickness! I’d been nervous, you know when you get 90 friends to join you, you PRAY you will not be making them sick!!!🙏
There were afternoons in the Chart Room listening to lovely violins while drinking our favorite Magner’s Peah Cid-ah. That stuff is SO delicious. May be blasphemous to say, but it’s as bubbly as champagne, maybe more, and it tastes BETTER! I wish we could get it in America. The stuff they sell us isn’t the same. I need to look into this. Call up Ireland and find out what’s up with the Magner’s in America!
Early mornings, I made tea and wrote in my diary… at 7 am each day, they brought breakfast on a tray… fruit and eggs and oatmeal, anything we asked for, Joe’s Bangers and Beans of course.🤪 Internet connection was squidgy at best. They gave us some Twitter on our phones, but every time I touched my computer it was all over. Nothing. Then I looked outside, and thought, okay. I get it.🌊
We ran into girlfriends everywhere we went ~ this is Luci and Jerry in our dining room. Barbara, Cheryl (with the cute camera), and Dianne too, stopped to visit with us most every night ~ Our girlfriends were everywhere, we met them in the hall, in the elevator, in the Commodore Room, out on deck, in the exercise room, once I was outside on the balcony in our stateroom, I heard a familiar voice, it sounded like Nicole. I leaned over the rail, peered between the life boats to the deck below, and sure enough, there she was on a lounge chair. I called out to her, she looked up and waved👋, and when the man she was talking to looked up, it was Paul!!! Extra small world on a ship!
Here we are, planning our trip and catching up. Ray has a “thing” about Petey’s smiling face, thinks *perhaps* he has bad intentions, which he absolutely does NOT, he’s a very good boy … but note how he is appearing in this photo? She says she didn’t do it.🤪 Sure Ray. Look at her face! 🤣 SHE’S the scary one!
Tea on the deck for sunrise was amazing… the weather was so nice, it was the first place I went every morning.
And everyday the TV in our room gave us our bearings … you see that little swerve? The Captain decided to go around some weather!
Stairways between each floor, exercise bikes, the Promenade deck, were like lifelines, we so we could eat. We moved so we could eat.
All dressed up with somewhere to go! Joe behind us taking pictures…
And this cutie pie, I could not resist.💞
On Tuesday … I brought my computer with a slide show I’d made for our presentation. I combined Rachel’s photos with my own and between us we pretty much touched on the entire 30-year span!
They hooked us into our microphones.
And despite the fact that my computer screensaver with Joe and Jack was projected on the screen . . . something was wrong…
I couldn’t make it go. Nothing was working and we had no idea what to do! Mainly because A. I left the battery charger for my computer at home in America. I know, brilliant. Now we were on an English ship trying to use the foreign charger I had borrowed. Everyone tried to help. Everyone DID help, but finally the person Rachel called “The Young One” (because she was!) ran out of the audience, jumped onto the stage, flipped a switch, and voila! There it was. She got a round of applause, and my undying gratitude because it was, as they say, getting ridiculous.
But finally, we were off and running, telling our story, celebrating our years of friendship, impossible though it was, since we came from different countries, and didn’t meet in person until 6 years after we met through the mail. Our “talk” was much longer than what I’m going to show you … but in a nutshell …
Ray and I were lucky to be born in the last hurrah of “real” letter writing (especially her, since she is 20 years younger than me, and missed a lot of it because of that! Poor thing.😂), so we still have some of our old letters to share.💌 But that era was taking its very last gasp when she wrote me the first time to tell me how much she loved my book Vineyard Seasons …. my only book to be published in England, and as fate would have it, she happened upon it, loved it, and wrote me to tell me so! Of course I wrote her back. The rest is herstory.
In our short period of correspondence the communicating world has changed wildly! It’s gone from snail mail, to fax, to email, to text, and now zoom ~ for many years a long distance call to another country was financially unthinkable, but that changed and we finally heard each other’s voices for the first time when Princess Diana was killed in Paris and we were both a sobbing mess.💔 That’s when the bond was set indelibly and forever, when Rachel took a peach rose and put it with the sea of flowers for Princess Diana at Kensington Palace in my name, it was so thoughtful of her, our friendship was set in stone.🇺🇸🇬🇧💞
Finally a year later, Rachel came to my house for her first visit… and her first Thanksgiving. We had everything in common, books, movies, cooking, England, America! She knew words to the same songs I did.
Then it was our turn to go to England, take my nieces on the Queen
Elizabeth 2 for a picnic with Rachel’s lovely parents in the garden of the house where Rachel grew up. Back and forth we went for each other’s birthdays, getting to know each other’s families. She fell in love with Paul, and we fell in love with him too. And it’s never ended and never will … and for proof if anyone needed it, here we were, ALL aboard the glamorous Queen Mary 2, speaking to friends we’d both made through books, letters, and social media over the last 10 to 30 years or so! What a small SMALL world we have made for ourselves. Everyone is just around the corner!
I love it in here, don’t you? Everyone is so nice! Kind. Giving.💝
At the end of our talk, Paul got up and spoke and made everyone laugh, while Joe ran out the back door for fear he might be called on to speak next! Not really, he heard all the sweet words Paul spoke about their friendship which put the frosting on the cake. What girlfriend doesn’t love it when their husbands like each other! Lucky!💘
YUP, they’re keepers.
Sharon had made a beautiful banner out of my name tags to honor Barbara Urbank, a very special girlfriend many of us knew on Twitter that has recently gone to heaven and is sorely missed. Sharon spoke a few words, telling us about her friendship and why she made the banner, she made us all cry, and I started taking photos from the stage . . .
Then Rachel and I came down, where I kept taking pics . . .
I took a video of the banner … let’s see if it will go up here IMG_9034
Yes! If you click on it, a new page should open, click on the tiny spot in the middle and wait till it loads and I do believe you’ll be able to see it! (Maybe it only works on a computer?)
Finally Joe took over the camera . . . and took about 700,000 of these.
LOOK HOW LONG THIS IS! AND I HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN TO THE PICNIC YET!!! But I don’t want to leave anything out … it’s harder to go back! As it always seems to be, I may have to divide this is two parts. Same thing happened with Fairy Tale Girl, and now, Distilled Genius. There’s always too much!!!
Soooooo, After the talk, I signed books, Joe, Rachel and Paul did too! The books were now like yearbooks, everyone was signing! We hung out, visited, had just a lovely time… and then it was time for pear ciders!
On the in-between days, there was more of the above, more walking, sleeping, eating, curled up reading, laughing, exploring the wonderful ship’s library . . . etc. My diary says: “Had breakfast in our room, then Joe and I walked 3 miles around the deck next to the big wide Atlantic. Beautiful day! Met Ray and Paul out there, her just back from massage, him in shorts, fresh from gym. Will meet in Commodore Room before lunch.” So it was like that…
While we were sitting in the Commodore Room, we met these lovely people sitting right next to us and guess where they are from? Yup. Martha’s Vineyard. Practically neighbors. They heard us talking. What are the chances? They must be much better than I think because this keeps happening. Hope to see them when we get back!
On Thursday, it was time to go to the Planetarium, which was actually a little bit of a disappointment, to me anyway, since we had seen a show before and it was SO inspiring, it almost made me cry, but this was a different show, more swirly pink and blue sky stuff about global warming (which almost made me cry too, but for a different reason), not stars and planets zooming in and out of the great black infinity, which is such a good thing for crossing the ocean! Here, you can read what it was supposed to be as I wrote it in A Fine Romance!⬇️ (Read it in your spare time, which now you don’t have any because I already took it all!)
But it was still fun because I got to see everyone again . . . and probably no one knew it wasn’t the right show but me.👍 I hope!
I brought Petey and Peter to the show because I knew Diane was bringing her Hitty Lynn doll … of course they had to meet!
Did I tell you Paul brought Petey a Peter? He did! They bonded immediately. So now I have TWO dolls to haul around England! 🤣
The next day we were off to the Atlantic Room for our last meeting before the ship landed in Southampton and we would all go off on our respective tours, at “the pointy end of the ship” as Paul calls it! (I call it the “front,” Joe says “bow!” (Paul calls Martha’s Vineyard “Martha’s” … he calls Cape Cod, “Cod.” Never listen to him!)
It was a long narrow room, with chairs lined up across from each other, a room usually filled with game tables. Perfect for our meeting. My favorite part is when each person stood up and told their name and where the were from. Exclamations, “Oh! You’re from Minnesota?” Or, “I live in Santa Barbara too!” We had husbands and wives, sisters, best friends, mothers and daughters, and mothers and sons too!
Me and Christie HAPPY!
Jeremy & Lisa, sweetest “sherpa” in the world Richard, & his darling wife Mary, and is that Beth? I have to say, contrary to my Grandmother’s admonition, there was NOT a single creep in the crowd! You’ll be glad to know!💞💞💞
They were all adorable! Paul was in the center, and loving it! As suggested by the very creative Kim, I cut up tiny bits of paper and put them in my hat, and if someone wanted a pen pal, they wrote their name on the paper and dropped it back into the hat, and then drew another one out. Till everyone who wanted a pen pal, had one! A penpal with an automatic something in common!💞
Hugs with Nellie and Rachel!
And Joe, being his crazy sweet self, finding it unbearable to throw away our Country Life Magazines, brought these from HOME for a giveaway, and it worked, they were all taken!
Our last evening was just as wonderful as every moment before it… smooth sailing, clear skies, warm winds, gentle rocking to sleep (which is saying something when you’re coming into the English channel!).
To try to tell the true beginning of this amazing trip would be almost impossible because it’s been one thing leading to another for a very long time. Just before we left for the ship I found a note Joe sent me after our very first meeting in 1986 where we discovered we had a mutual dream of sailing to England like they did in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He ended his note with “Let’s meet soon and discuss our travel plans…” We didn’t HAVE any travel plans! But something in him seemed to know we would. He was right, that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. My other dream is that someday my girlfriends could meet. I knew the world would be better if they could. And now. OMG. Look at that. Another one come true. I can’t thank you all enough for coming. I loved every second of it!
Off we went, like living in a dream, the blue skies, the wide fields of yellow rapeseed, the hedgerows, the charming stone houses … it was all still here. In the meantime our girlfriends went off to the four corners … to the Lake District and Hill Top for some, to Jane Austen’s House for others, to Hidcote Garden, or Stonehenge for others. History in the making. I wanted to be alongside every one of them to hear the oohing and ahhing that HAD to be coming from them around every bend in the road.💖
P.S. Many of you know the webstore was down all last week. Broken again! But it’s back up now.👏 Also, just before we left, the color proofs for the cover of Distilled Genius arrived for approval! I wanted to show you!They did a great job on the color, don’t you think? I can’t wait for this book!! Everything is right on schedule… Also, taking a little poll, if we were to do another printing of one of the old cups, which one would it be? Might be able to get it in time for Christmas… but it doesn’t have to be a Christmas cup, it could be anything. I could re-do the Queen Elizabeth cup! If you wanted . . . After all, this is her year in history, no one has ever been on the throne for 70 years before. This is a first! Let me know! Love you! ❌⭕️❌⭕️