Twenty two hours door to door.
Surreal eleven hours on a plane.
Happiness! Joy! Cannot wait to see everyone!
Sad to say goodbye, see you in the New Year.
No room for sentimentality if I want to stay sane.
Okay Gina, Marie, Maci, Molly and Kate... who has the longest hair this year?
One of the twelve angels (Patti, Andy, Jack, Sam, Joe, Marie, Gina, Maci, George, Kate, Molly and Warren.) that I can hardly wait to see!
(Photo of my niece Maci when she was five years old or so... It was August, we were playing dress-up, she was a snow angel... it was 110 degrees outside.)
I have a thing for...
Chocolate covered cherries,
Old Christmas ornaments,
and the obvious my family, friends, the brocante and maple syrup.
I also have a thing for my blog and for all of you with your encouraging thoughtful comments and friendship. Thank you truly, madly, deeply!
Sitting by Annie's side there is little to say. Especially when we see each other a few times a day. It doesn't matter if we talk or not. Often we hold hands. Annie's is soft and warm. It feels like I am holding a beating heart.
Annie leans over to me, "You know I am ready to go."
I know what she means. She continues, "I am ready to go be with my family on the other side. I am waiting. I don't understand why God still has me here."
Annie doesn't expect me to reply.
While we sit there I recall my Father years ago in the hospital. He was suffering. His time was coming to an end, though it would be weeks before he left. One evening he asked me, "Corey, what did I do to deserve this suffering? It doesn't seem fair."
Lately, I have been in the deep waters of reflection. The real life questions that make everything look different and more sacred.
Answers do not come. Which isn't surprising. Who knows the answer to the great mystery that surrounds us?
One thing is certain: I am ready for this year to end. It has been heavy. Too eventful. Causing me to reflect far too long in the bathtub.
A friend recently commented, "I am not superstitious. But you know the "13" in 2013 just seems too symbolic doesn't it?"
I wish it were that simple. If only 13 was the problem. But then again... why not?
Annie leans back into her chair, closes her eyes briefly, opens them, looks at me, glances at her watch, "Is today Monday? You leave... Thursday?"
My eyes water, as I nod yes. I catch myself thinking, "Yeah this is why some people are afraid of loving. Damn." As I wipe my nose with the back of my hand, I give her a shy smile.
"I will long for you while you are gone." Annie doesn't say it to make me feel guilty, nor do I think she meant to say it outloud. Instead it is like a love note left later to be found.
Where is your heart today?
Provence in December can be a dream come true.
Blue skies with no need for a coat.
We headed to Cassis for lunch.
We walked along the port we know so well.
Thinking about how we would like to live here, it is something we do often:
"In the center of the old town."
"I don't need a view do you?"
"Who needs a view when five steps away you have the port and the sea."
"But I like our house too, especially in the summer."
"Cassis during the summer... too many tourists."
"We should move."
Then we walked with our dream. Some dreams are meant to be dreams. Dreaming about them is sometimes all one needs."
After all we live twenty minutes from Cassis.
We had lunch on the port.
Our fav' hang out was closed.
So we went to Romano with the young celebrated chef Antoine Marret.
In the middle of the first bite, I thought, "Oh God, this could become my new fav hang out."
The waiter asked how I enjoyed my meal?
"I could kiss the cook."
I wanted to ask if I could wash dishes so I could sneek peek at his recipes.
Cassis in December on a beautiful Sunday.
What is something you like to dream about?
Every Saturday I focus on a different artist that I admire. From potters to painters, chefs to collectors, seamstress to songwriters, lifestyle to lovers... anyone who set the paintbrush, pastry brush, hands and heart on fire to create.
Those who inspire art to flow where it may.
The Christmas lights in our village float across the main street, along the facade of the church, and around the baker's window. The season of expectation is upon us. Or at least that is how I like to think of it. I remember the feeling I had as a child: Aching anticipation, an undeniable feeling in the air, longing, hoping that the biggest present under tree was for me.
Christmas the songs, the stockings, the lights flickering at night, the smell of the pine tree, and my mom making popcorn balls.
Years ago at a brocante I found a Christmas music box. It was round, had some pine trees, deers, and a little boy in a green jacket. It enchanted me. Though it was more than I wanted to spend. I walked around and around, and yet constantly found myself in front of the stand that had the music box. I ended up buying it, I've never regretted it.
What is one of your treasured Christmas decorations?
And the Christmas songs. Nothing will ever sound as wonderful as hearing Christmas carols in English. And then my babies, Chelsea and Sacha started singing Christmas songs in French... Oh my.
Petit Papa Noel! We went home (Willows is home, though I haven't lived there since I was 19 years old.) that year and I made them sing Petit Papa Noel a million times.
Have you heard this take on the Drummer Boy? If you haven't you must.
One year while I was putting up our Christmas tree, Sacha who was seven or eight at the time, made a comment that our red and green decorated Christmas tree didn't really go with our house. He was right. Our home was more neutral light colors. I had always thought that Christmas had to be red and green, my childhood memory held it to be true. Though the next year and the years to follow Sacha's comment allowed me to decorate Christmas differently: Christmas wasn't restricted to red and green.
What color is your Christmas?
Christmas is in the air.
I feel it.
And soon I will be home.
French Husband and Sacha will stay in France and celebrate Christmas with Yann's family. Chelsea and I will go to Willows. Half and half, egg nog, it is what it is, a Franco/American family.
My Mom and Holly are having an open house in my honor at their shop. If you can, I hope you will come! I would love to meet you!
6 to 8 pm
211 W Sycamore Street
Willows, CA, 95988
(Photo of Shelley taken nearly ten years ago.)
For those of you who have been reading my blog for years, you know who Shelley is.
For those of you new to my blog: Shelley is a childhood friend who has had ALS for the last fifteen years. Shelley's grandfather, dad, and brother had ALS. Shelley is completely paralyzed. She has a breathing machine, a catheter, can barely talk and within the last few months has a feeding tube.
Shelley is a force of nature, a miracle, a warrior, a friend, a mother, a wife... She lives with this terrible illness with such grace that I am often reminded, "Compared to Shelley this is a cake walk. Now stop being (inject what ever adjective that is not a happy one: Tired, frustrated, bored, angry, feed-up, moppy, lazy...) and rise above it.
Shelley is my measuring stick, my compass, my guide to being a better person.
Shelley inspires me.
Shelley's husband Eric, is her rock and steadfast love. Most men, and I am not exaggerating, not even one little bit, do not even measure against the incredible giving love that he has. He utterly AMAZES me. There is nothing he cannot or won't do for his wife Shelley.
I feel I am playing "Catch Up" on my blog. Yesterday, I spoke of Annie. Today Shelley. Tomorrow Thierry.
I will see Shelley when I go home. I know it will be very hard to understand her as her voice is very weak. But I know I will feel her ever present love, her friendship, her courage and I will cry.
What is happiness? What is love? What is living? What is life? It is what I see between Shelley and Eric. A gift.
A few year's ago Eric sent me photos of their home at Christmas. Shelley's favorite time of the year.
My friend Shelley loves Christmas. Every year her home is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. Shelley decorates the tabletops, the counters, shelves, every nook and cranny (even her bathroom!) with her large collection of vintage Christmas symbols of happiness. As you can see Shelley's hutch (that usually contains flow blue dishes,) becomes a new home for her large collection of vintage Santas.
Shelley's family are her hands, they put Christmas "up" listening closely to her keen eye details they follow her instructions like Santa's helpers. They set up the magical wonder that Shelley has imagined and made true for her family.
Receiving Shelley's Christmas photos by email makes me feel like I am by her side. Christmas at Shelley's house is a feast for the senses. I can almost hear the Christmas carols, the jiggle bells and smell the aroma of freshly baked Christmas cookies. Not one detail is left out. Shelley is a Christmas legend... often I think Santa and Shelley have something going on? I should ask her husband what he thinks about that? Wait maybe her husband Eric is Santa? Why didn't I think of that before!
When Shelley's ALS illness first started her hands began to fail her. A friend came over to help her wrap her children's Christmas gifts. Before Shelley's friend started to wrap the gifts, Shelley told her, "I traditionally wrap my son's gifts in red paper, my oldest daughter's gifts in green paper, and the youngest child's gifts with white paper with checkered ribbon." The friend was taken back, shaking her head she said, "At this point Shelley, you can no longer do the things the way you use to do them. You need to let go. Do you think it matters how the gifts are wrapped?"
Now here is the thing that I admire about Shelley: The little things DO matter to her. She told her friend, "As long as I am alive I will keep my traditions, if I cannot do them I will find someone who will do them for me. If you do not want to wrap the gifts the way that I want that is fine, just leave them unwrapped."
Ah to have the courage to follow your desire! To live your life the best way you can even in the midst of being so very ill. To be able to be honest with others, to the point of saying no to a friend, even when they are there to help you. To be true to what you need, and live gracefully, honestly and encourage others to do the same. I have learned from Shelley that the little things do matter, and that setting up traditions keep memories alive.
Tree toppers galore fill a basket. Are you the star that lights the way?
I could go on and on with Shelley stories. I could tell you how she decorates, and how her family is the rock of her foundation. How her home is inviting, and full of love. But I bet you can feel that from her photos?
You know come to think of it...Maybe her husband Eric is Santa (!?) and her children Britton, Brent, and Garret elves? I always thought of them as saints of goodness....
By contacting her on FACEBOOK:
Many of you have a special place in your heart for my dear friend Annie. Many of you have asked me how is she doing because I haven't written about her in awhile.
It is not because I have not wanted to, but because it is/has been hard for me to see my friend age. And aged she has.
A friend of Annie's was visiting her the other day, before she left she pulled me aside: "Annie's age is finally catching up with her, isn't it." She said it more as a statement, as a matter of fact, rather than a question. I didn't have to answer with words, I simply nodded. A lump formed in my throat as Annie's friend continued talking about how it is a fact of life, how Annie had lived a good life. How there was little we could do... I could barely stand it. At one point I interjected, "Each of us only has the moment at hand. No matter how old or tired we are." Annie's friend didn't really agree with me. But that is another story I'd rather not get into.
Ninety four is something to cheer about. Though I must say I don't feel like cheering. Rather I have been sitting by her side, holding her hand and often watching her sleep. It has been a sweet tender joy. Bittersweet to the point that I started reflecting about our friendship instead of writing about it.
Also as I watch Annie, age I imagine my mother... who lives so far away, or I should say I live so far away. It is unbearable to think about.
A few months ago Annie's very good friend (also in her nineties,) died.
We had gone to see her a week or so before. Annie's friend was very weak. It was awfully sad as she could barely open her eyes. Though when she did, she looked at Annie with a faint smile and whispered, "My beautiful Annie." Their friendship was as ripe as any juicy plum. I felt honored to see their affection for one another: Their understanding swirled between them, heart to heart, beyond the hospital, through the olive orchards, and along the river which bleeds into the ocean.
I have thought about what it must be to grow old and see most of your friends and family (Parents, Aunts, Uncles, siblings, cousins,) go before you. Annie often says it takes courage to grow old. As I see it, courage must be stirred with desire.
Yesterday, I grabbed the sack of lace I bought at the brocante, and headed towards Annie's home. Annie was a modiste (A hat maker.) in her day.
You see lately Annie hasn't had the desire to do much of anything. She spends most her day sleeping or sitting with idle hands. When I ask her if she wants to paint, or play cards, or read, or go for a walk... she wrinkles her nose as a way to say, "No."
I plunked the sack of lace on the floor beside her. I took a handful of lace and put it on her lap. Then I grabbed some for myself and started to untangle and fold it. Annie sat up, "Where did you find this? Oh look this is a napperon (Doily.). Oh this piece is made for the edge of a bed sheet, can I have it? Oh this piece is a collerette (lace collar). You could wear this because you are young." Annie rolled and folded lace alongside of me while saying, "Oh" and "Look at this" and "Can I have this piece too?"
She was in her element. I was pleased to see a spark sizzling around her.
I took the pile of napperons placed one under her phone, another under her clock, a third under the fish bowl where Matthieu and Jeremy live, another under the candle holder by the Blessed Mother statue on her dresser.
When we folded every last piece I gave Annie a kiss good bye. Then she stood up and walked me to the door. She hadn't done that in months.
Before I left I said, "Tomorrow I am going to come over and make stuffed grape leaves." Her eyes widen as she offered, "I have almost everything you need."
Courage and desire.