Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kismet in Taipei

Memories from Taipei

I met her in the bathroom of the Grand Hyatt Taipei in Taiwan. I was washing my hands, moving quickly, to get to my 9:00am meeting point by the fountain in the hotel lobby. As I reached for the towel, I noticed her, I was intrigued.

think it was the broad brimmed camouflage hat that she was wearing that first caught my attention...then the two bushy ponytails with flecks of grey, that filled her petite neckline... from there it was the little silver retro granny glasses perched on her nose, the 60's style bright floral shirt, the multiple fanny packs around her waist, the straight legged well worn blue jeans and practical walking shoes. I guessed around 60ish in age..and thought  "Woodstock meets Taipei". She glanced my way, smiled warmly and said "Are you Jeanne?"  I can tell you, I was not expecting that.

On that note, I replied "Jennifer?" I can only assume she assessed me as studiously as I assessed her. I quickly glanced at my reflection in the bathroom mirror.. a lime green and aqua paisley caftan top, white linen pants and my black ecco walking shoes because comfort takes precedence when on tour and an over the shoulder bag stuffed with my camera and travel necessities. We were on the same and function..our own style. was fate...Jennifer was the tour guide I was meant to meet at the fountain in the hotel lobby.  I had a feeling from that moment on that this was going to be a fascinating and memorable two days in Taipei.

We left the ladies room and hopped into a black Mercedes waiting for us outside the entrance to the hotel. I was loving everything about Jennifer at this point.  She quickly filled the space with stories of her life, of Taipei and the history of Taiwan. An art teacher by profession, she also works independently as a private tour guide. In between all of that, she teaches Chinese flower painting to French expats.

The stories weaved their way in and out of each other as we motored along, I listened while taking in the sights out the window until she mentioned the "sparkle" that someone felt for her. Love? She had my full attention. Gossip about love in Taipei..who wouldn't tune in for that?

Jennifer is a friendly, engaging and thoughtful woman and it seems that she has had the attention of a few admirers over the years. She was not shy about telling me so. I am still not certain how this topic came up, it may have been over art supplies that I wanted to find. She mentioned an admirer once felt a certain "sparkle" for her but unfortunately she did not feel the same "sparkle" for him. I loved that she referred to attraction as "sparkle".

And this is how it went with Jennifer, she was a tour guide like no other, always a surprise here and there. She was her own quirky way. The plan was for us to have a half day together before collecting Mr. H who would join us for the afternoon and the following day. As we drove along, I smiled as I wondered how Mr. H would react to the "sparkle" story and the many more stories to come.

Jennifer asked about me, what I enjoyed doing with my time and what I would like to take away from my visit to Taipei. I mentioned that I was interested in pottery, art, tea and the history of Taiwan, in that order.  I knew very little, I wanted to hear it all and I was interested in a first hand perspective rather than from the "tour book".

When she asked if I would be interested in seeing her little art studio in her home, where she teaches her students, it took me less than three seconds to reply. This trip just kept getting better and better.

We arrived at the New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum and then onto a ceramics factory tour where I had a wonderful choice of beautiful porcelain. I had wanted to find a style of teapot that I had spotted in Hong Kong and regretted not buying. I found what I was looking for and now regret not buying more.

Learning about ceramics at the New Taipei CityYingge Ceramics Museum
Ceramics factory tour in Taipei

With the morning portion of our tour concluded, we met Mr. H and drove to the old market area on DiHua Street in the Datong District of Taipei. We were eager to check out the tea selection and were not disappointed. We stocked up on lavender, roses, jasmine, chamomile and chrysanthemum. I love steeping the flowers in hot water for is has a way of knocking my stress factor down about 4-5 notches. You breathe deep and sip lightly...heaven in a cup.

Out and about the old market section of Taipei

From DiHua Street we wandered over to Jennifer's home in the same section of the city. Down one lane and over to another, Taipei's history passed us by with each turn.

 A tree grows in the Datong District of Taipei.

Jennifer kindly let me take photos of her work and those of her students. They are beautiful Chinese watercolours of flowers. I admired her paint brush collection and asked about her technique. We both agreed that I needed to come back to Taipei to take lessons from her. She gave me one of her paint brushes as a memento, to bring back with me for a future painting class. Clever woman..she sold me on the spot with that offer.

Jennifer's paintings

We ended our tour on day one here. 
We waved goodbye to Jennifer, 
looking forward to the next day.
I will come back another time with day two.
I can tell you that Jennifer was not the only 
fascinating woman that we discovered,
there is one more. 

Jennifer hits the trail home.

I feel a tea break coming on with my 
one cup Taipei teapot.
In my mind,
the cutest little teapot 
this side of Southeast Asia.
This is the one I hope to buy more of..
it is so sweet!

My Taipei one cup teapot.

I leave you with a bouquet from Taipei
and warm wishes for a wonderful week! 

Jeanne xx

If  you have any questions about
my trip to Taipei, or anything else,
you can write to me at

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Expat Book Club in Saigon

I belong to an expat book club in Vietnam.  We meet the second Monday of each month in a local cafe to talk about books and expat life.  Like other book clubs, we decide in advance, the books we would like to read for the upcoming months. We have a leader who has the daunting task of locating the books. You can find books in English in a few book stores around Saigon and on street corners but the selection is limited.

I tried the street corner bookseller when I first arrived and picked up Graham Greene's The Quiet American outside the Hotel Majestic on Dong Khoi Street for a song. I got what I paid for. The translation was limited, pages were missing and some pages were crooked..but I persevered. I was in Vietnam and experience is everything. I had the experience of reading a classic from a Vietnamese street bookseller...and my Kindle library has since tripled.

You can spot an expat book club reader in Vietnam on planes, trains and cyclos by the cover of their book. The paper cover is light blue, the text is black and they have that "hot off the press" look about them. Such is the life of the expat book reader. If you do not own an electronic reader or are a purist at heart, you have to take what you can get. It's all in the experience, I own a few of those tell tale books and I doubt I will ever part with them.

Our book group is connected with the ILV, International Ladies in Vietnam, an international group that binds the expat community together.  The ILV is the "go to" for expats and is a great source for those who are looking for like minded people. If you are an expat living in Saigon, you have something in common. I say expats but you also find local English speaking Vietnamese in the group as well. You are bound to find a kindred spirit amongst them, it's worth it's weight in gold when that happens.

Our book club meetings vary in size and members come and go according to the duration of their stay in Vietnam. Everyone seems to be coming and going from somewhere. Today, we had a small group, one each from Germany, South Africa, England, America, Australia and India. I tell you, it makes for very interesting conversation and is a great source for book recommendations. I loved the story today of the German woman who is taking French lessons in Saigon. She has been studying for over a year and is impressed with the abilities of her Vietnamese instructors. Our Australian member is leaving Vietnam in July after a one year assignment, I know she leaves with a heavy heart for she has loved her time in Saigon. We rally and support, it is what expats do well.

Some of us meet on other occasions and many of us only meet at the book club. Conversation tends to run off topic frequently and I often wonder if we will ever talk about the book. I have come to accept the course of conversation and just go with it. If we talk about the book great, if not, that's ok too. It's the journey and the experience that matter..the books are a bonus.

If you enjoy travelling, as we do, you will enjoy travelling with these books...

To Spain with

First Paragraph..
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that will surely outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

To Australia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
27th April 1926...On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. '...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,' she whispered. 

To Cambodia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his. I heard the door open and shut with a soft click, I slid off my bed, careful not to wake Radana in her crib, and snuck out of my room. I pressed my ear to the door and listened.

To South Africa with
First Novel

Book cover ...
There are Ants in my Sugar is the warm hearted, engaging and humorous account of Annica Foxcroft's exile to a pondokkie in the country, when unexpected financial hardship overtook her family during the 1960's. Annica is a sassy young woman to whom the city chic of Johannesburg, and the dire warnings of her decorator friend Harry, still cling like perfume, as she is dumped unceremoniously on a plot in the dark, landing on a pile of blackjacks. She has to adapt and make a home for her baby daughter and aging husband amidst boreholes, long drops and Aga stoves... 

Next month
To Vietnam with

First paragraph...
The first shots came as they were flying northeast toward Danang. Over the terrific noise of the engine and rotors, she could hear a "pinging" sound, something like coins being lobbed against the metal where she was sitting. It wasn't particularly loud, and didn't sound remarkable or worrying. For many minutes she sat stiffly in the nylon seat of the helicopter, the wind rifling across her trouser legs, sending her field jacket back so that she could feel a button pushing against her hence, being aware of many things, but not the pinging sound, the bullets directed at her, at all of them, as they spun above a canopy of jungle. 

I will miss the next the five months of book club meetings but will keep tabs from New Hampshire. I will be back in regular attendance again in October 2014..and when I return, just maybe, I will sign up for French lessons too. I am thinking about it...such is the way of an expat book club in Saigon, you just never know where the conversation will take you.

As always, the books above and many more are listed in The Brown Paper Book Club here

Happy Reading my friends!

Jeanne xx

speaking of New Hampshire,
if you missed  
Stone Rising at Tahilla Farm
you can read all about it 

Tahilla Farm
and via Dan Snow's post
Mending Pasture Fences 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stone Rising at Tahilla Farm


It was a sunny day in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire when I first viewed Tahilla Farm, an antique farmhouse built in 1790. I remember it like it was yesterday, except it was October 2012 (story here). With just two visits worth of photos on my camera card, I headed back to Vietnam for the big "talk" with Mr. H to determine if we would purchase it or not.  As we looked through the photos he asked..."Is that a mountain through the trees?" My answer "A mountain? where?" For me it was clearly a case of not seeing the forest for the trees...or rather not seeing the mountain through the trees. How I missed it is a clearly shows that first impressions are everything and my mind was elsewhere. With a mountain peeking through the trees, Mr. H then asked "what if?" 

That's when I knew I had him….

We purchased Tahilla Farm in December 2012 (story here) and life at Tahilla Farm began in the consecutive order of


The summer of 2013 was all about trees. We previously had 34 acres of trees and now have 28 acres of trees with a view to a mountain. We focused on the dense areas of pine trees where very little was able to flourish underneath. Our visionary landscape architect, Gordon Hayward, and poet/forester Swift Corwin set the big and noisy wheels in motion for a pretty miraculous change.  ( Gordon story here and Swift story here)

I admit there were a few times when I needed to be reassured.
If you have experience a forest clearing you will understand why.
I will say no more except…

The end result was better than we imagined. 
The land opened up, the mountain stretched before us 
and the old stone walls, many hidden in the forest, 
called out to a farm that existed long ago.

As the last logging truck rolled away, 
we walked the property, taking in the changes around us.
Many of the stone walls were helter skelter from years of cover.
It was clear that the stone walls needed a tender hand and
Gordon knew exactly who that person needed to be and arranged
 a meeting with master stone craftsman, Dan Snow.


We met with Dan before we left in August 2013 and arranged
for work to be done in April 2014. During the winter I delved into Dan's book
Listening to Stone. Within the first chapter, entitled Stone Calling
I started underlining again and again. I completely got it…we had a
stone whisperer amongst us.

A few of my underlines...

The voice of stone is an echo from the depths of time.

A dry stone wall's source of life is found in the spaces between the stones.

The stones provoke the thoughts and the thoughts give birth to the form.

As Lao-tzu wore, "Being great, it passes on; passing on; it becomes remote;
having become remote, it returns."

 Since then I have been patiently waiting for winter to pass.
One week into April and our stone walls are returning under Dan's hand.

The anticipation of seeing the finished work in a few weeks
is very exciting. I have a feeling the flight 
from Ho Chi Minh City to Boston 
is going to whizz by on sheer anticipation.

I have a few photos to share, with thanks 
to Elin Waagen and Gordon Hayward, 
for sending them to me, I am overjoyed.
It is the next best thing to being there and allows
me to share in the journey and write another chapter 
for Tahilla Farm.

"Work is the key to creative growth of the mind."
~Eliel Saarinen~

"If my wrestling some stone toward a fresh aspect 
gets this old Earth to crack a smile 
then we both have had our moment."
~Dan Snow~

In the midst of his work, Dan wrote to say..

Dear Jeanne 
Tahilla Farm is a lovely place to be working.
Ravens and hawks are migrating overhead
and deer are stirring from the forest.
~Dan Snow~

"A dry stone wall's source of life is found in the spaces between the stones."
~Dan Stone~ 

"When someone expends the least amount of motion 
on a given action, that's grace"
~Anton Chekhoc, The Seagull~

 Within a wall are the moments that created it. 
                                                  They remain there like hidden messages
slipped between the stones as they were placed.  

  The finished wall's character is defined by the spaces 
                                  between the stones as much as it is by the stones themselves. 
                                                                       ~Dan Snow~

More from Dan on mending our stone walls
"Mending Pasture Fences" 
I can't help but wonder about the hidden messages 
in the stone walls around Tahilla Farm.
I am hoping to discover a few this summer.

If you would like to learn more about Dan Snow and his work, 
I encourage you to view this short
introduction to his DVD "Stone Rising". 
I have watched the full version twice and love it!

Stone Rising video 

You can find Dan here
where you will also find information
on his work, books, workshops and blog.
Dan Snow Stoneworks

The trees are down, the mountain has risen,
the stones have taken shape.  Next on my list...

with Sheldon and Renee 
coming soon!

Sheldon and Renee at Tahilla Farm

Sending one and all best wishes for a wonderful weekend!
For those of you who asked for postcards, many are on their
way. There has been a writing frenzy this week between
photos and stories of our stone has been lovely.

Jeanne xx

If you would like to get in on the postcard action from Vietnam, simply
write to me with your address

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Books, Postcards, a Proposal and Tahilla Farm

I was going to write to you today about my recent trip to Taipei where I met the most interesting woman, travelled through time and fell in love with an age old practice...but that will have to wait.

I have this eensy weensy habit of getting so excited about something...that I have to act right away.  When someone says to wait, give it a few days, mull it's agony, my brain starts to spasm and my body follows suit. Apply that to blogging and you have a potential train wreck.

I learned long ago that when the blog spirit moves you, it is best to go with it. Trying to stay on topic when your mind is going down another path is like someone telling you not to dance when your body is aching to move to the rhythm of the beat. Ok, enough analogies...I am getting too excited.

Because now is now..and this thought may be gone tomorrow.



I am loving... Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I learned the unexpected joy of a green thumb and an open heart by Carol Wall. It is Carol's first book and I am so enthralled, I had to write, because I know many of you will enjoy it too.

Carol "had me" in the Prologue..

"It was kismet. Love at first sight. Not, it wasn't the kind of love that causes you to question your marriage. It was the kind of love that causes you to question yourself. The kind that makes you want to be a better person. The kind that changes your life completely.

His name was Giles Owita, and from the start, something flowered between us and around us. First be became my gardener, and then he became my friend. And while I knew from that moment I met him that he was someone special-truly, I didn't know the half of it."

I am going to leave the rest to you before I gush can read all about this thoughtful and poetic story here

What I love about this book is that it came at the suggestion of a reader who I have never met but feel like I know well. So, I am writing this post as a thank you to Jennifer from Bendigo, Australia for making this wonderful suggestion to me and for another book she has recommended Little Daughter: A memoir of Survival in Burma and the West by Zoya Phan.


In the wings...from blogging buddy, Lisa in Vermont,  That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay. I love anything Lisa recommends, especially as she is the one who found Tahilla Farm for us. She has impecable taste! (story here)


A synopsis...

When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson's colourful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love-life and Eve's tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, form behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris-- a meeting that Eve fears can never happen.

I am looking forward to getting stuck into this book, if you would like to do the here


Summer at Tahilla Farm

My feet are literally doing a tap dance under my desk as I think about the count down to returning to Tahilla Farm in the mountains of New Hampshire. I have from early May through mid-September to get cracking on construction plans and enjoy country life. I was especially excited to receive the photo below from tree man extraordinaire, Swift Corwin ( story here). He went along to check out the one mile trail he created for us on our I have yet to walk. The sleepy brook that I meandered across last summer is in full throttle as the winter snows melt and carries on to places unknown. I can't wait to put my wellies on and slush around in the mud. Really and truly!

Winter at Tahilla Farm...with thanks to Swift Corwin


I picked up the postcard below in Taipei last weekend..and am writing away, to send one off to those of you who requested a postcard. I hope you don't mind that some will come from Taipei by way of Vietnam. I am catching up on the requests and will be sure to drop you a line once I pop your postcard in the mail. I would love to hear from you once you receive it...I just love that part! 

If you would still like to get in on the postcard fun, write to me at or leave a comment. We will connect one way or another!


We received exciting news this week. My goddaughter, Miss Meghan, is engaged to be married. A friend secretly snapped this photo as the big event occurred. Can you guess which moment this is? So sweet!

I love that this all took place in Rockport, Massachusetts, a place that has woven itself through the hearts of my family for generations ( story here). There is no questions that the luck of the Irish is with Meghan and Dan. We are all so excited for them!

I will leave you here..with thanks once again for your comments 
and emails surrounding the search for Tom (story here). 
You touched my heart..and I believe his as well. 

Before you go, do tell..
What are you reading now?
Do you have any books to recommend?
We would love to know!

Jeanne xx

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seek and You Shall Melbourne, Australia

Dear Friends...

Two weeks ago, I wrote to you about my quest... Searching for Tom and hoping it's a small world. Your response was magic. You sent me in directions I had not considered...I knew I could count on my very clever blogging friends.

Last week,  I wrote with an update of my quest...

I have a feeling that one day, out of the blue, my message will come. 
When it does, I will be sure to report back to you.

I am happy to report, it worked!  Because of your efforts, my message came in the form of a "beep" on my phone in the busy streets of Saigon.  I glanced at my Facebook message to read..."That is me".  I don't have to tell you how excited I was at that moment. I blitzed across the maze of traffic before me and headed straight to a cafe. I needed time and space to write.

With a coffee by my side, I started typing away..telling Tom about the connection to his mother in more detail. I sent my blog link and then waited for a response...I was fit to be tied.

Tom responded quickly after to say he read my blog post and although he has very little memory of Cathy (he was a toddler when she passed away), he would be happy to receive her letter. My mission has come full circle and I have so many of you to thank for it. Cathy's letter will leave my bedside table, where it has been for the past 21 years, and will be posted to Tom in Melbourne, Australia, where it belongs.

Six degrees of separation has been mentioned throughout this journey, the theory that we are all linked by chains of acquaintances, just six introductions away from any other person on the planet. I have no doubt of this phenomenon, especially in the blogging world.

With that thought mind, I would love to resurrect a passion of mine...writing postcards. Over the past five years, I have written to many of you as I travelled. It has been my pleasure and I would like to do so again.

Writing postcards from a Kasbah in Morocco...

If you would like to receive a postcard and I have written to you in the past, I should have your address in my file. You can leave a comment to say you would like another postcard or write to me at 

If you are new to my postcard passion, you can write to me at the email address above with your address and I will pop a postcard from Saigon in the mail to you.

Once again, my clever blogging friends,
you are the best! 
Thank you!!

I look forward to dropping you a line!

Jeanne xx


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