Lily-of-the-Valley: a token of happiness and good luck

Wherever I travel, my itinerary includes a visit to the local botanical gardens whenever possible.  Through the years, I have wandered down so many garden paths, snapping photos of eye-catching blooms and breathing in the heavenly perfume of the flowers.  Some lovely gardens that are well-worth a visit include Monet’s water garden in Giverny, France, the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA, and the Halifax Public Gardens in Nova Scotia.

 In June 2019, my family and I spent a sunny afternoon roaming a botanical garden that is a bit closer to home: the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.  At the time, a fragrant patch of lily-of-the-valley was in bloom.  The delicate scent of these tiny bell-shaped flowers, calls to mind memories of my mother getting ready for an evening out with my father.  Beautifully dressed and made-up, she always completed her ensemble with a spritz of Muguet perfume from the elegant glass bottle on her dresser.

My childhood memories and the pictures I took in Maine have inspired the following photo essay.

lily of the valley

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (photo by L. Walkins 2018)

Anneliese Twigg sits at her French grandmother’s round kitchen table swinging her legs and tapping her heels against the wooden chair as she finishes her lunch.  Across from her, Mémé is knitting. She knows how to make hats and mittens and even stuffed animals with her needles and colorful yarn.  Anneliese hopes her grandmother will teach her how to knit someday.

In the center of the table, an old jelly jar filled with water holds a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley.  Anneliese reaches out a pudgy hand to pull the sparkling glass closer.  She studies the quilted pattern adorning the sides of the vase, and traces her finger over each square.  The tiny white flowers sway like silent bells.

Breathing in the lovely fragrance of the lilies, Anneliese remarks, “They smell like Mama’s perfume.”

Mémé looks up.  “In France they are called muguet.”  She sets down her knitting and catches the ball of yarn in her gnarled hand as it rolls off the edge of the table.  “I am going to tell you a story about why these flowers are so special.”

Sitting a little straighter and flipping her long blonde braid over her shoulder, Anneliese smiles.  “Okay.”

“Hundreds of years ago in France, there was a girl named Elisabeth.  She grew up in a royal chateau outside Paris with her brothers and sisters.”

Anneliese’s grey eyes widen in delight.

“And do you know what else?” Mémé asks.


“Elisabeth was your eleventh great grandmother, so this story is part of our family history.”

“Really, truly?”

Mémé nods and gives a little laugh.  “Elisabeth had three brothers.  The oldest boy, Francis, became King of France when their father died.  He and his wife, Mary, who was Queen of Scotland, ruled for just one year, and then Elisabeth’s younger brother, Charles Maximilien became King when he was just ten years old.”

Anneliese, who had turned ten just two weeks ago, gives her grandmother a skeptical look. “How can a little boy be a king?”

“That is how things were done then,” Mémé says with a shrug.

“But what about the flowers?”

“I am coming to that.  Just listen, ma petite.”  She folds her hands on the edge of the table and goes on with the story.  “At a royal May Day celebration, someone gave Charles a sprig of muguet to wish him good luck.  He was so charmed by the kind gesture, he decided to create a new holiday.  He called it the Fête du Muguet and from that day on, he gave bouquets of lily-of-the-valley to his sisters and all of the ladies of the court on May 1.”

“For good luck?” Anneliese guesses.


Lily-of-the-Valley (photo by L. Walkins 2018)

“But of course,” Mémé says gently.  “This tradition has lived on even until today.  When I was a girl in France, my sisters and I would go into the little forest behind our farm to gather the muguet that grew wild underneath the trees every year on May 1, which also happened to be my birthday.”

Leaning forward to once again smell the flowers in the pretty little jar, Anneliese says, “I wish I was born on May Day like you, Mémé.”




What now?

For as long as I can remember, I have been enamored of houses with expansive front porches.  I have dreamed of sitting in a white wicker rocker on the shady porch of my future home.  I imagined myself reading in the sunshine, occasionally glancing up past a row of hanging baskets overflowing with fuchsia and lobelia blossoms.  Two summers ago while visiting Prince Edward Island, I took photos of two lovely front porches.  These photos have inspired the following photo essay.


PEI front porches. (photos by L. Walkins)

On Monday morning, Margaret brought her steaming mug of cinnamon tea and her library book out onto her front porch and settled into her wicker rocker.  The street was quiet.  Presumably, all of her neighbors were at work or school.

She sipped her fragrant tea and glanced at the silver watch on her narrow right wrist.  Ten forty.  And here she was dressed in yoga pants and a Yale polo shirt on her porch with the whole empty day stretched out in front of her.  The life of a retiree.

A month ago, she would have been poring over manuscripts at her desk in her cozy office on Church Street in New Haven.  For more than thirty years, she had built a career as a picture book editor.  She had so enjoyed the creative process of guiding the artists and writers as they collaborated.  All of Margaret’s  hard work had culminated in a celebratory retirement party at Modern Apizza.  At the end of the evening, her young colleagues had wished her well with looks of envy.

Of what exactly were they envious, she wondered now.  Margaret did not enjoy feeling at loose ends, purposeless.  She set down her mug and opened her book.  After reading a couple of paragraphs, she set aside the novel, Barbara Kingsolver’s latest.  She stood and stretched, her arms reaching up in a classic mountain pose.

Down on the street an unfamiliar dark SUV rumbled toward the corner.  The car slowed to a crawl at the stop sign.  The back door slid open and a brown and white tabby cat tumbled out.

“Hey, wait!” Margaret called out as the SUV turned the corner and disappeared.  She hurried down her porch steps and strode up the sidewalk to where the poor cat stood looking around in confusion.

Margaret crouched down a few feet from the lost little creature.  “Hello, kitty,” she said in a soothing voice.  “Come here.”

The cat meowed and sidled up to her.  The cat looked well fed and wore a royal blue collar.  Had the people in the SUV just abandoned their pet?  How could they do that?

Carefully reaching out, Margaret picked up the fluffy cat and carried it to her porch.  She smiled as the cat began to purr.


Emily. (photo by L. Walkins)

Setting down the kitty, Margaret perched on the edge of the wicker rocker.  She leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and asked, “What are we going to do with you, huh?”

The cat jumped onto the wicker love seat across from Margaret and kneaded its floral cushion before curling up into a contented ball.

“Make yourself at home, sweetie,” Margaret said.  She watched the lovely cat with fond eyes and thought about all of the abandoned pets at the local shelter.

The family next door had adopted a friendly Scottish terrier from the shelter a few months ago, and recently the local news station had aired a feature about the shelter.  The organization was housed in a bright, clean facility and staffed by enthusiastic and dedicated animal lovers.

“Perhaps they need volunteers, ” Margaret mused aloud.  She would call them this very afternoon.









Friendship: a lifelong gift

Ten years ago, my husband and I traveled to San Diego for a family wedding.  We also spent a few days sightseeing.  One afternoon, we rented a tandem bicycle to ride along the waterfront.  Our memorable experience has inspired the photo essay below, which features characters from my novel Sandra Cahill’s Best Friend.

Tandem Bike


“Come on, Emma!  It will be a blast,” Sam insisted.

Emma looked at the silver blue bicycle and then at her three friends.  Rachel and Sarah each gripped the handle bars of a cruiser bicycle.  Sarah’s bike was sea green, while Rachel had opted for flamingo pink.  Both cruisers were equipped with a wicker basket on the front.

Emma tucked her shoulder-length dark hair behind her ears and glanced again at the bike Sam had chosen, a tandem bike.  Finally, she nodded and said, “Okay.  But I call the front seat.”

“This will be awesome,” Sam said as they wheeled the rented bicycles out to the Mission Bay bike path.

“There’s supposed to be a great seafood place a few miles down the beach,” Rachel said.  “We could ride out there and have a nice lunch.”

“Allegedly, their fish tacos are award-winning,” Sarah added.

“Allegedly?” Sam said, winking at Sarah.  “What evidence do you have to support this claim, counselor?”

Sarah, who had just opened her own law practice in La Jolla, pulled out her iPhone and tapped on the screen.  “Rachel’s cousin gave it five stars on TripAdvisor.”

“My cousin, the personal chef,” Rachel said.

“Sounds good to me,” Emma said, putting on her bicycle helmet.

“Me too,” Sam agreed.  “Lead the way.”

Emma pushed off, steering the tandem bike as Sam pedaled behind her.  The front tire wobbled but a moment later, the friends fell in sync and they coasted smoothly along the path, following Rachel and Sarah on their brightly colored bikes.

san diego1Feeling like a kid again, Emma grinned as she breathed in the salt-scented air.  She pedaled harder, enjoying the stretch of her muscles and the afternoon sun on her shoulders.  She and her friends had spent many childhood summers riding bikes together along the Connecticut shoreline.

“Hey, Sam.  I can’t believe these views,” she called.  To the left of the palm-lined roadway, the tranquil bay sparkled.  The white sails of a trio of catamarans stood out against the bright blue horizon.

“I know.  I love it here,” Sam agreed.  “I miss California.”  After college, Sam had lived in Los Angeles but then moved to Boston.

They rode happily around the scenic bay until at last they reached the small fish restaurant.  On the covered deck overlooking the beach, they settled around an acacia wood table and ordered a pitcher of sangria.

“This place is cute,” Rachel remarked, unfolding her napkin and looking around.

san diego2Hanging baskets overflowing with geraniums and impatiens swayed in the ocean breeze.  A mural depicting Andean musicians surrounded by swirls of musical notes decorated the back wall.

The waitress delivered their drinks.  Sam picked up the pitcher and poured four glasses of the fruity red wine.  Sarah lifted her glass and said, “Thank you so much for coming out to visit me this week.  I’m so happy to have all four of us together!  Just like the good old days.  Here’s to lifelong friends.”

They all clinked glasses and Emma said, “Do you remember that song we used to sing in Girl Scouts?  The round, “Make New Friends?”

Rachel started to sing softly, “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.”

One by one, Sam, Sarah and then Emma joined in the round.  As they sang, Emma looked around the table at her oldest and dearest friends.  The memories they shared and would continue to make in the future were as valuable as gold.















Back Bay Bliss

Living in Boston is a blessing.  A small, walkable city, Boston is brimming with history, art, fabulous restaurants and unique neighborhoods.  For several years, I lived in the Back Bay on Marlborough Street.  The Public Gardens, Newbury Street and the Commonwealth mall, where I snapped this winter cityscape were all steps away from my apartment.  My character, Darcy Seton, also lived in the Back Bay in my novel, Forget-me-not.


Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA (photo by Linda LeVasseur Walkins)

“Slow down, guys,” Darcy said, as the determined Scottie and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel raced down the icy pavement, tugging on their leashes.

She began to skid on a patch of black ice, but mercifully, the dogs stopped to sniff around a tree trunk and Darcy regained her balance.  She drew in a steadying breath and slowly shook her head as she gazed around at the wintry cityscape.  An unexpected spring storm had coated Boston in a blanket of white.

Darcy took her cell phone from her pocket to check the time.  Ian would be back from the university soon.  She wondered how his day had gone.  His book on the Scottish clans was due out in a few weeks.  Today he was supposed to have lunch with his agent.

The dogs, Smiley and Thistle had ventured off the walkway to romp in the powdery snow, chasing each other and barking gleefully.  Darcy opened her camera app and snapped a photo.  Both dogs smiled up at her, tails wagging.

“Okay, doggies.  Let’s go.  Time to head home.” Darcy tightened her grip on the two leashes and set off toward Marlborough Street.

They turned the corner at the intersection of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Avenue.  Up ahead, Darcy spotted a familiar figure clad in a thick sheepskin jacket and boots from L.L. Bean.

“Ian!” she called and he turned around.  He stopped in front of the Marlboro Market to wait for them.

When she reached his side, Ian kissed Darcy’s cheek and then bent down to pat Thistle and Smiley in turn.  “This is an unexpected treat,” he said.  “I thought you would be holed up in the living room correcting exams.”  Darcy taught Music Theory at a nearby private school.

She shook her head and linked arms with him as he took Smiley’s leash from her. “Because of the snow day yesterday, I decided to push the test to the end of the week.”

Ian grinned.  “Lucky kids.”

“Believe me they were not disappointed,” Darcy said, as they strolled down their block.  Climbing the stairs of their brownstone, she fished in her pocket for her keys.  Once inside, she followed the dogs up the stairs to their second floor apartment, as Ian checked the mail.

In the spacious living room, Darcy shed her coat and boots.  She unlatched the leashes from Smiley and Thistle and the dogs ran to their water bowl in the kitchen.

“What shall we do tonight, Darce?” Ian asked.  He unwound a tartan wool scarf from around his neck and shrugged off his jacket.  “I was thinking we could grab a cab down to the Lenox and have a drink in the piano bar.  We could indulge in some Prosecco and listen to the music.”

“On a school night?” Darcy asked, as she wondered if it was too cold to wear her new paisley print skirt from J. Jill.

“Sure.” Ian pulled her to him and began to waltz across the parquet floor.  “We have something to celebrate.”

“Oh yeah?” Darcy laughed. “What’s that?”

“Well, exactly one year and eight months ago, we met in that tearoom in Edinburgh.”

“We’re celebrating a one year and eight month anniversary?”  She leaned her head against his shoulder as her mind filled with memories of her summer in Scotland.

“Yes, that and also . . .” Ian spun her around so she landed softly on the sage colored couch.  He grabbed his briefcase from the coffee table and pulled something from its depths. “Mark gave me a finished copy of my book at lunch today.”

“Oh Ian, hooray!”  Darcy clapped her hands and smiled at him in delight. “Congratulations.”

He sat beside her and handed her the book.  “The launch party is set for two weeks from today.”  His voice grew husky with emotion.  “I can’t believe it’s really happening.”

Darcy smoothed her hand over the shiny, smooth cover and carefully opened the book.  Ian had inscribed the title page for her.  His loving words warmed her heart.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” he said, at the same time that Darcy exclaimed, “I’m so proud of you.”

They leaned together, sharing a gentle kiss, as Smiley and Thistle trotted into the room and hopped up onto the couch.

Darcy shifted over to make room for the dogs.  She stretched her arm across the back of the couch and linked hands with Ian.  “We have so much to celebrate.”






Cruising Along the Seine

For several years, I have been researching my family history.  My father is of French-Canadian descent.  Our family tree extends all the way back to sixteenth century France.  My tenth great-grandmother was born in Paris some time in the mid-1500s.  Because of my French heritage, it is always a treat to travel there.  I took these photos of the Seine in 2008 and included the setting in one of my Martini Family Chronicles.


After a quick lunch of crêpes bought from a sidewalk stand, we stood in line waiting to board the tourist boat on the Seine.  All around us, guys and girls held hands or had their arms wrapped around each other. One couple leaned against a lamp post totally making out.  I felt like we were about to climb aboard the Love Boat. Where were Julie McCoy and Captain Stubing?

I met Maude’s eyes, wondering if she felt like a third wheel.  She shrugged and then pushed up her sleeve to consult her watch.  “Hey, guys. You know what?

I looked at her expectantly.  “What?

“I want to do some shopping before dinner.  My sister gave me some money for perfume and I wanted to find a scarf.

“We can go to Les Halles after this, can’t we?”

“I don’t want to drag you guys around while I do my errands.”

“We don’t mind, do we Sebastian?”  I pulled at his sleeve and he glanced up from the map in our guide book.

“If Maude wants to go shopping, she should go,” he said.  “We can meet up again later.”

The line moved forward, but Maude stepped to the side, saying, “Fab!     I’ll meet you both back at the hotel and we can have dinner. Around eight?

“Are you sure?” I asked, poking Sebastian in the ribs, hoping he would convince her to stay.

He just said, “You know our Maude.  Once she makes a decision, there’s no moving her.  She’s like a rock.”

“It’s settled then.”  Maude gave a cheery wave and took off.

Watching her disappear into the crowd, I said, “Do you think Maude minds being on her own?”

“To be honest, I think she planned to leave us some time to ourselves.”


“Certainly, and I’m rather grateful.” He kissed me lightly on the lips and then grinned.  “Alone at last!”

All the while, we had been inching up to the head of the line and now boarded the bâteaux-mouche.  We found seats on the starboard side.  Across the aisle, two French girls whispered and pointed at Sebastian, throwing openly admiring glances at him.  

I shifted closer to my boyfriend, so my thigh pressed against his. I swallowed as a wave of insecurity engulfed me.  Sebastian was cute and so charming. He would probably have girls throwing themselves at him the moment I stepped onto the plane for California.

As if sensing my mood, Sebastian draped his arm across my shoulders.  “Look, there’s Notre Dame” He pointed to the Ile de la Cité as the boat glided past the looming cathedral.  The gargoyles peered down at us from above.

The whispering girls turned away and I tried to relax.  A soft breeze ruffled my hair and cooled my cheeks as the boat glided smoothly downriver.  On the shore, a man in a beret played “La Vie en Rose” on his accordion. Here we were caught in a perfectly romantic Parisian moment.  I shouldn’t ruin it by worrying.

​Sebastian softly sang along to the accordion, exaggerating his French accent.  I had to laugh. He was crazy. I beamed at him and snuggled closer. Judging from the gleam in his eyes and his infatuated grin, he was crazy about me too.

Home again, home again . . .

Reading is one of the great joys in life.  Visiting new and intriguing literary destinations in the pages of a novel has always been a favorite pastime for me.  Even as a young girl  I would never go anywhere without taking along a book.  I gloried in getting to know some of the world’s best-loved literary heroines from Jo March and Laura Ingalls to Mary Lennox and Elizabeth Bennett.  I was particularly drawn to the talkative orphan with long red braids, Anne Shirley, reading and re-reading L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series many times.  Although I admired Anne and was entertained by her mishaps and antics, I was equally enchanted by the village of Avonlea on the north shore of Prince Edward Island. 

 In June, I finally visited Anne’s beloved home.  My husband and I set off on a Canadian road trip as soon as the school year ended.  We visited St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, NB, Cavendish (Avonlea), PEI and Halifax, NS.  All three destinations were delightful, but Prince Edward Island was by far my favorite.  As we settled into our rustic motel in Cavendish, I felt immediately at home.  That sense of welcome along with the photos I took during our visit inspired me to write the following photo essay.


The lupines were in bloom, lining the roadsides all across PEI. (photo by L. Walkins, 2018)

From the top deck of the ferry, Luna spotted her sister on the shore.  Stella’s bright blonde hair stood out like a beacon against the deep blue sky.  Slowly, as the ferry chugged across the Wood Islands harbor, the features of Stella’s smiling heart-shaped face came into focus.  Luna took off her straw sun hat and waved it over her head in greeting.

Picking up her overstuffed backpack and hooking it over her slim left shoulder, Luna hurried down to the main deck and joined the line of passengers waiting to disembark.

When the crew had the boat safely tied up in port, Luna followed the crowd out into the June sunshine.  As she stepped off the metal gangway onto her island at long last, a sense of peace flooded through her.

“Luna, over here,” Stella called.  She stood beside two bicycles leaning against the weathered wall of the marina office.

Luna joined her sister, dropped her backpack at her feet and the two girls shared a warm hug. Barely a year apart, they were often mistaken as twins.

“I can’t believe I’m back on PEI,” Luna said as Stella simultaneously cried, “Welcome home!”

They laughed and Stella continued, “I’m so glad you’re here.  How was Halifax?  What about art school?  It must have been so awesome.  You haven’t turned into a city girl, have you?”

Luna held up her hands to ward off her sister’s torrent of questions.  “Whoa,” she said. “I’ll tell you everything when we get home, and of course I haven’t turned into a city girl.  No way.”

Nodding at the bikes, she went on, “Is this how we’re getting to White Sands?”

Stella shook her head as Luna grinned at her.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  The car’s over there.”  She waved vaguely toward the parking lot.  “We definitely should go for a bike ride later though.”

“Sounds good,” Luna agreed.

Stella grabbed the backpack and led the way to the yellow VW bug the sisters shared.  A few minutes later they were cruising down Shore Road.

Luna rolled down her window and drank in the view of the countryside rolling by.  Blossoming lupines lined both sides of the road, creating a pink and purple picket fence in front of the white clapboard houses and farm yards they drove past.

“Do you remember that old picture book, Miss Rumphius?” Luna asked her sister.

“Is that the one about the librarian who went around the country scattering lupine seeds?  I love that story.”

“Exactly,” Luna said.  “The illustrations are really amazing.  I can still picture some of them so vividly even though I haven’t looked at the book since we were little.”


Prince Edward Island 2018  (photo by L. Walkins)

“Your paintings are just as good,” Stella said loyally.  “And maybe some day, you’ll publish a picture book that everyone will remember.”

“I hope so.”

The sisters fell silent and Luna continued to gaze out the window.  When they slowed down at the traffic light by the red and white lighthouse, she sighed in contentment.  In a few minutes, she would walk into her mother’s cozy kitchen where Mom would have tea and her favorite scones waiting, and later she would take a long bike ride with Stella.  It was good to be home.










Do you remember?

My lifelong friend, Avery, lives in Malibu, an ideal vacation destination.  I have been out to visit her several times over the years.  We always have a grand time together.  In April, I flew out to LA once again, looking forward to the different excursions we had planned.  One afternoon, she took me to Point Dume, where we walked along the cliffs overlooking the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  While we were admiring the ocean panorama, we spotted a playful whale in the water below.  We watched with delight as it cavorted in the surf.  In the piece below, my character, Grace Martini and her sister, Charlotte, have a similar experience which brings some nostalgic memories to the surface.



Grace followed her sister up the steep path.  Both sides of the track were lined with yellow coreopsis.  The rampant wildflowers danced in the ocean breeze beneath a bright blue sky.

Some lines from Grace’s favorite poem popped into her mind.

… all at once I saw a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils; / Beside the lake, beneath the trees, /  Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

William Wordsworth would certainly appreciate this view at the top of Point Dume.

Charlotte paused a few steps in front of Grace.  She shaded her eyes with one hand and gestured at the panoramic scene with the other.  “There’s Zuma Beach,” she said, taking a swig from her stainless steel water bottle.

“It looks the same.  Just as stunning as ever,” Grace observed.  She pulled her camera from the pocket of her linen capris to take a picture.  “I wish Elizabeth Ann were here.  She always loved this hike when she and Edmund were little.”

“Remember how they used to race each other up the path from the boardwalk?” Charlotte said, setting her bottle on the sand beside her.

“With Harold right behind.”  Grace smiled at the memory of her dignified husband galloping up the bluff like a kid.  Harold was spending this morning on the golf course with Charlotte’s husband, George.

Charlotte stretched her arms up in front of her.  Reaching for the sky, she pressed her palms together in a graceful mountain pose.  “This would be a perfect spot for a yoga class.”

“Why don’t you take some of your students on a field trip?” Grace joked as her sister lowered her arms and grinned.

“Maybe I will.  Let’s keep going to the overlook platform,” Charlotte said, picking up her bottle and leading the way along the edge of the cliff.

Grace snapped one more picture for her daughter and hurried to catch up with Charlotte.  When she joined her on the overlook platform, Charlotte beckoned eagerly.  “There are dolphins playing in the water.”

Scanning the deep blue expanse of ocean, Grace clapped her hands when she spotted three dolphins diving in and out of the surf a few hundred yards off shore.  One suddenly leapt into the crystal clear air,  momentarily silhouetted against the horizon before slipping neatly underwater again.  “Did you see that?”  Grace turned to Charlotte, who’s eyes were gleaming with pleasure.

“Amazing,” Charlotte murmured.

The sisters watched the frolicking dolphins for several more minutes.  They laughed and exclaimed over their antics and Grace managed to take a couple of photos.  As the dolphins moved further out to sea, she sighed.

“When the twins were about eight years old, Edmund was obsessed with dolphins and whales,” Grace reminisced.  “He convinced Elizabeth Anne that they should both become marine biologists.”

“And today, Edmund is a history professor and Elizabeth Ann is a restaurant critic,” Charlotte said.

“I know.  Apparently, childhood dreams don’t always come true.”

“I suppose not.”  Charlotte brushed her wind-blown hair back and once again led the way along the coastal hiking trail. “But I believe life usually turns out the way it is meant to.”

As they carefully descended the bluff taking the path that would bring them down to the beach, Grace decided her sister was right.  She wouldn’t trade  her own life with Harold and their two children for anything.


Wishes and Waterlilies

While traveling in the U.K. several years ago, my husband and I, along with my cousin, took a lovely day trip from London to Paris.  Looking forward to exploring the French capital, we boarded an early morning Eurostar train at St. Pancras station.  As the train sped through the tunnel beneath the English Channel, we planned what we would see in the City of Lights.  Claude Monet is one of my favorite artists.  Although, I had been to Paris before, I had never seen his famous waterlily murals at the Musée de l’Orangerie.  When we disembarked at the Gare du Nord, we set off to the Jardin des Tuileries where the Impressionist art gallery is located.  Memories of standing in admiration before the enormous panels painted more than 100 years ago, inspired me to include a scene set there in this excerpt from a short story featuring my character Elizabeth Ann Martini.

Les Nymphéas at the Musée de l’Orangerie 2010 (Photos by L. Walkins)

Sebastian kept a firm grip on my hand as we strolled through the Tuileries Gardens. We followed a path past flower beds of tulips and daffodils. I paused for a moment to watch a group of children sailing wooden boats in the basin of a pond-like fountain.

​ “After the museum, what do you say to a cruise down the Seine?” Sebastian said, pulling me along. “We should totally play the part of weekend tourists.” He squeezed my hand and I gently extracted my fingers from his.

​​ “Look,” I said, glancing over my shoulder at Maude, who trailed behind us. “The Eiffel Tower.” The shadowy silhouette of the iconic landmark shimmered in the distance like a dream. “I can’t believe I’m actually here in Paris.”

​​ Maude caught up. “Just wait until you see the waterlilies at the Orangerie. Les nymphéas sont très . . . magnifiques.”

​I had to suppress a grin. Her labored attempt to speak French was admirable but slightly comical. Maude herself admitted she was dreadful at foreign languages. Since my high school Spanish obviously wouldn’t be much help, we were lucky to have Sebastian along. My brilliant boyfriend was practically fluent in French, so he had done most of the talking at our hotel the night before and in the café where we had ordered coffee and the most delicious croissants for breakfast.

​”Come on,” Maude said. “No dawdling. We have a lot to accomplish this weekend. We want Elizabeth Ann to see as much of Paris as she can before she has to go back to San Diego.”

Her words hung in the air and suddenly I had a lump in my throat. In less than a week, I would be home and Sebastian would be thousands of miles away. I reached for his hand, matching my steps with his as we followed Maude’s determined figure through the garden.

​Claude Monet’s waterlily paintings spanned the walls of two galleries in the Musée de l’Orangerie. I stood in the middle of the spacious, airy room and pivoted slowly marveling as the swirls of sage, mauve and periwinkle shifted to bolder shades of navy, gold and forest green. I felt like I was inside a kaleidoscope. ​Sebastian and Maude stood on opposite sides of the gallery, each studying one of the humongous murals.

​ “Elizabeth Ann, come look at this,” Sebastian said.

​ I crossed the room to stand beside him. He draped his arm across my shoulders. Swirls of cottony white blended with luminous shades of blue to depict clouds reflected on the surface of the water.

​ “Tell me if you can spot a woman’s face in the lily pond?”

​ As I let my gaze wander over the massive canvas, a shadowy silhouette of a beautiful woman seemed to float up from the depths of the pond.” “Ooh!” I pointed at her. “Is she right there?”

​ “Exactly,” Sebastian said with a grin, pulling me closer. “Smart and observant as well as beautiful.” He leaned in and let his lips brush lightly against mine.

​ I stepped away and gave him a wistful smile. “These paintings are awesome,” I said clearing my throat. “I can’t wait to see Monet’s water gardens in person tomorrow when we go to Giverny.”

​ “Just wait until you see his house. You’ll love it. He lived there for forty-three years. He designed two additions to the original house and chose all the colors for the different rooms.” Sebastian led the way into the next gallery. Standing in front of one of the murals, he grabbed my hand and went on, “Someday, maybe I’ll build us a house just like it in the Cotswolds.”

​ Was he serious? My heart fluttered and my cheeks grew warm as he talked, describing in intricate detail a country home with a large kitchen and wild garden out back. Although he did his best to project a worldly and cosmopolitan image, Sebastian was not a city boy. He had grown up in a tiny English village not too far from Stratford-upon-Avon.

​”Maybe we could even have a conservatory. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Elizabeth Ann?”

​I stared at him and tried to imagine living anywhere but southern California. My heart warmed as I pictured us having tea in our conservatory surrounded by African violets and ferns.

Would Sebastian and I really become an old married couple settled in an English country village someday?

So Many Books

In May 2014, my friend, Avery, and I took a Literary Road Trip across Massachusetts.  We visited the homes of Edith Wharton, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  My favorite literary home was The Mount in Lenox, where Edith Wharton lived for ten years.  Author of the well-received The Decoration of Houses (1897), she designed and decorated the house herself.  Set in the Berkshires, the estate’s grounds and gardens are just as lovely as the elegant home.  I took many photos during our pleasant afternoon, including these pictures of Edith’s library and garden. 

Clarissa stands in front of her floor to ceiling bookshelves.  Behind her, a cheerful fire crackles in the grate.  A persistent rain taps at the windows, but the softly lit room is warm and cozy.

Drawing her cardigan sweater more closely around her narrow shoulders, she lets her gaze sweep across her library.  Catching a glimpse of her weary countenance reflected in the glass doors that open out onto her veranda, she sighs and combs her elegantly manicured fingers through her disheveled silver bob. After three weeks traveling around New England to promote her newest cookbook, she is back home at last.

As the library door swings open with a gentle squeak, Clarissa turns to smile at her secretary, who sets a tea tray on a low table in front of the fire.  The tantalizing scent of cinnamon drifts across the room.

“Hello, Lydia. Something smells delicious,” Clarissa says.

“Cook tried out your new recipe for cinnamon buns.” Lydia takes a seat by the fire and smooths her wool skirt over her knees.

“Cinnamon buns remind me of Christmas morning,” Clarissa remarks.

Lydia laughs, pouring two cups of tea. “The tour went well?”

“Yes, yes. The audience in Brattleboro was particularly enthusiastic.”  Clarissa joins the younger woman and accepts a cup of tea once she is settled in her favorite William Morris wingback chair. “Everyone seems to be a baker there.”

As she sips her tea and chats with Lydia, Clarissa gazes around the snug room once again. Content to be back among her books, she looks forward to spending the rainy afternoon with a good novel.


Family Resemblances

While visiting Montreal in August 2015, my husband and I spent a rainy afternoon in the Musée des Beaux Arts.  We enjoyed strolling through the galleries of Canadian, American and European paintings and inspecting the unique items in the decorative arts collection.  In particular, I admired several intriguing portraits including Abraham van den Tempel’s  seventeenth century painting of Odilia van Wassenaar and her dog.  


Musée des Beaux Arts, Montreal (photo by L. Walkins 2015)


Annelise van Strum  hurried  along the rue Sherbrooke clutching her umbrella.  The red and yellow tulips decorating the rim of its clear plastic bubble danced in front of her eyes as she splashed through puddles on her way to the Musée des Beaux Arts.  She didn’t mind the weather.  A rainy day was ideal for exploring the museum galleries.

She was on a special quest this afternoon.  For the past few months she had been  researching their  family tree for her mother.  She had traced the family line all the way back to seventeenth century Holland.  Just that morning she had discovered that the portrait of one of her ancestors was hanging in the fine arts museum around the corner from her apartment.

Pulling her umbrella closed as she stepped into the museum lobby, Annelise handed it over to the girl behind the coat check counter.

Passez une bonne visite,” the girl said with a smile.

Merci.”  Annelise accepted the thick plastic disk numbered 143.


Portrait of  Odilia van Wassenaar, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (photo by L. Walkins 2015)

Making her way to the Hornstein Pavilion for Peace where works from the Dutch Golden Age were on display, Annelise wondered what her ancestor Odilia’s life was like.  She located the correct gallery and began perusing the portraits hung around the softly lit room.  The expressive faces painted hundred of years earlier by the Dutch masters peered out from their frames.

At last, Annelise paused and looked into the eyes of a young woman seated in a sturdy chair with a small dog on her lap.  The girl looked to be in her twenties.  Her light chestnut hair and dark eyes were of the same coloring as Annelise’s own.

The plaque beneath the painting identified it as Portrait of  Odilia van Wassenaar.  Stepping back and hugging herself, Annelise murmured, “There she is, my tenth great-grandmother.”

Annelise carefully examined the painting, searching for clues about who Odilia was exactly.  The gold trinkets adorning her ornate fur-trimmed gown and the pearls encircling her throat and wrist spoke to a wealthy upbringing. Odilia wore an intelligent, almost mischievous expression on her pale face.  The way she cradled her dog gently on her lap convinced Annelise that her ancestor must have had a kind heart.

Raising her cell phone, Annelise snapped three photos of the painting.  Odilia’s portrait reminded her of an old black and white photo of Aunt Phillipa, her mom’s older sister.  In a family album, there was a picture of Phillipa, aged 15, with their Jack Russell terrier sitting on the front stoop of their childhood home.  Phillipa and Odilia might almost be twins.

Annelise laughed softly to herself as she retrieved her umbrella and made her way home. The rain had stopped but the pavement still gleamed with puddles that reflected the clearing sky.

She felt like she had connected with a long-lost relative and couldn’t wait to show the photos to her mother.  Together, they could go online to find out more about Odilia and her family . . . their family.