Ever look at someone, waiting for them to say something intriguing or informative, and all you can think is, “I know what her favourite hobby is – sucking lemons!”  Or maybe you’ve endured lunch with the friend of a friend who will not stop talking about something that is so wrong, so untruthful you just want to stick your fork in their tongue, pay the bill, and leave for Costa Rica (assuming you’re not already IN Costa Rica, in which case you leave for Singapore).  Perhaps you decided to get together with friends you haven’t seen in five years or more, haven’t had much contact with them at all, and over drinks you start to wonder if you hadn’t been drinking enough before when you all hung out or are you not drinking enough now to get through the evening.

I’m asking these questions because of The New York Times and their second most stupid act ever.  They started a column called “Say Something Nice” in which people are supposed to say something nice about 45.  I sometimes call him “Buttercup”; former Mexican President Vincente Fox calls him ‘the President of the Electoral College of the United States’; now that he’s begun to refer to himself as – and this just slays me ‘ ‘T’, that may be another choice for me.  In any case I will not ever use his name or his supposed title (although I might go with President Fox’s choice, if forced).

And I cannot find anything nice to say about him.  I can’t.  One should respect the office, and one does.  One cannot, and does not, and cannot see a time when one would,  respect the man.

The previous occupant had many, many faults and while I think he did some amazing things, he also made some real blunders in doing the job.  Don’t we all??  However, he never once made me feel that his blunders or mistakes were about greed and avarice, about denigration and disrespect, about lying to save his ass.  And never once did he make me feel the whole world was going to hell in a hand basket.  He made it easy to respect the office and the man.

So when I heard about The New York Times wanting us to say something nice about 45, I laughed derisively.  Then I thought about that lemon-sucking woman, and the lying lunch companion, and the friends who seem to be drunk when I am not, and I realized I’m not saying nice things about them either.  And maybe that’s what I should be focusing on. Finding something nice to be saying about those people who seem honestly to be giving a crap.

The fact that it’s about a crappy man, or some of his crappy programs, shouldn’t be the point, or at least not the entire point.  They’re doing things, working on thing, promoting things that I believe they believe.  And what they believe (aside from the terrible lies they’ve heard and re-told about both 44 and 45’s opponent, and on which I call them out every time) is not… well, it’s not what I believe at all, but it’s also maybe not so completely wrong either.

There is a true disconnect in the western world right now.  It’s happening in the U.S., in Canada, in Australia, and through pretty much all of Europe.  If you’ve read any history at all, you know it’s nothing we haven’t endured before, although this time it’s with 24 hour media, fake or not, and with some really ugly weapons of destruction.  Is it possible that if we really worked at it honestly, this time is nothing we can’t move beyond?

Not fix.  We can’t “fix” this.  Some of us believe in a living minimum income, universal health care, universal family leave & child care, a shattered glass ceiling, that black lives matter, that industrial agriculture is slowly killing the earth & that processed cheese slices are not actually food, and that both table manners and cursive writing are essential to reasonable public discourse and subsequent follow-up.  Some of us believe 180 degrees differently.

What we seem to be unable to do is work beyond those disagreements, to find ways to support human beings and not throw them on the trash heap.  And, personally, as I’m not prepared to throw too much more on the trash heap, I’m going to try to say something nice about my 180 degrees people.

Don’t ask me what right now.  I’m trying to be nice, not saintly.  But maybe, just maybe, if more of us can take a deep breath and be nice, for just a moment, the moments will come easier to us, and maybe those moments will start coming to those who are at 180 degrees from us.  Fewer sucked lemons, and fewer ugly lies, and fewer nice people being pulled into ideas not thought through would be very nice indeed.

And if all that happens, maybe I can quit my over-consumption of solacing butter tarts cold turkey.

 

 

Light the Candles, Feel the Love

It wasn’t my plan to take so much time off blogging.  Some time, yes.  This much time, no.  I have reasons – no excuses, but pretty good reasons – but they’re for another blog.  This one is about family, and specifically two members of my family who are celebrating birthdays today!

Let’s start with the oldest my sister Andrea — although she will quickly point out in her comment that she is younger than me.  In this context, she is the older of the two birthday celebrants.  Andy Pandy.  Andrea Joy.  Andrea with the string of last names we won’t go into here.  She’s also known as Mom by three amazing kids, grown up kids now, who adore the hell of her, as they should.  To me, she’s my hero.

The hands she’s been dealt in the past couple of years, the work she’s done to try to get back on her feet, the support she continues to give other people even as she needs a lot for herself… that’s a kind of bravery I’m not sure I have.  Not without a lot of things being thrown at walls and a lot of single malt being consumed anyway.

Andy made a great attempt at living and working out a dream, and it turned into a bit of a nightmare through no fault of her own.  This forced her to make other decisions that I think she’s been happy with, but have also put her back at the starting line again.  The cool thing is, she’s up for the race.  She relishes having challenges and takes them on like nobody’s business.  But she would be great for somebody’s business (Hello, Calgary!!  Are you paying attention??) and I want things to work out for her.

But in the meanwhile, I hope she is having a great, happy, delicious birthday.  I hope she knows that she is loved and admired.  I hope she knows that some art thief is going to lose his balls someday for what he did.

Love you, sis, for all 60 years and I hope many more.

As for the other birthday… my daughter (who has a mother but who lets me share).  Durita and Andy never met, which is sad, but perhaps also good, because I think they might have stories to share I’m not sure I want shared!  They would like each other though, having the same sort of “yes, I’m going to do this!” attitude.

My Darling Girl is in law school in Copenhagen, living with her “man” Toki (I’m still not prepared for this), surrounded by a circle of wonderful friends (two of whom, Maria and Gunn, we were thrilled to meet last summer), and still and always loved by her ‘original’ family in the Faeroes.  And by me.

We met on my birthday, which makes  her the best gift I ever received, and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about her and how she’s filled my life and heart.  Of course, the fact I have a photo of her in every room in the house probably helps me keep track of that but still…

The sun sets very late in Copenhagen this time of the year, and I hope she & Toki and all their friends are taking advantage of a summer birthday eve.  I hope she knows I would love to spend a birthday with her again.  I hope she knows how valued and missed she is by Jeff, and by me.

Happiest Day, Darling Girl.  And many, many more.

 

 

 

Summer Wanes…

This summer has been filled with so much and yet at the same time, I feel as if nothing has happened except the rush of time.  Can both things be true?  Perhaps.

I have been so fortunate to have had time with family and friends this summer.  It started in May, really, with a work reunion of sorts.  How wonderful to see so many people with whom I had enjoyed working at the radio station, and meeting so people who still remembered me!  That was a shock – pleasant, but still a shock.  That same weekend, we were entertained by someone who really didn’t know me, only in a few passing meetings of a book club I helped organize several years ago and of which i was a member just a year.  That was a lovely afternoon and early evening, drinks and nibbles and lots of “remember??”.  I treasure time spent with old friends, re-inforcing bonds with new ones.

Time at the “cottage-on-wheels”, at Oliphant, followed over several weekends. So wonderful to see all my brothers, never together sadly, but one by one, sharing food and drink and much laughter, all in pretty much equal measure I think.  I love my brothers who could not be more dissimilar in so many ways and yet they are all fierce in their family ties.  They show it differently and they may sometimes resent it, but the bonds are there.

Labour Day weekend, still more family.  My cousin Judith and her husband Ross, her brother Stewart and his wife Mary — family I hadn’t seen in so long I am embarrassed.  All of them were exactly as they have always been — do I seem so to them? I’m not sure if I want it to be so or not!  We were at Michael & Rita’s cottage, “The Point”, the cabin that once was our grandparents, and then our parents, and now belongs to them (and Michael’s siblings’ hearts too, I think).  It was the first time Judith had been back there since our father’s death and she was a little teary, a lifetime’s worth of memories of that place flooding her heart.  I so understand.

This place is magic.  Judith and Stewart’s cottage is just up the beach from The Point, and From WhiteCaps, brother Max’s place, and a little further away from Belle Mer, which will be our cottage name when we finish building.  We were children together who had golden summers of sunshine and fun.  We were let loose onto the beach and into the water from sunrise to sunset and we flourished in it.  I know bad things happened then, accidents and illnesses, difficulties for our parents, periods of boredom for us when the sun would give way to rain, but I don’t remember those things, not the way I do the joy.

And once more we were at The Point for a couple of days, invited by Michael & Rita to enjoy a couple of days quiet and work, a place to stay that had running water (not the cottage-on-wheels, that’s for sure!) while Jeff worked out taking out trees and putting in more gravel.  It was so perfect… so… well there are no other words.  In the afternoons, I sat on the dock and I listened to the water and I let some tears flow in both remembrance and pleasure.  In the evenings, we drank wine with supper and watched the moon dance on the waves.  I lived again a whole lifetime of summers these past few days, as a very full, very sweet, summer rushed to a close.

The last afternoon of summer... the clear blue of sky and lake, the warmth of sunshine, the call of... childhood one more time.

The last afternoon of summer… the clear blue of sky and lake, the warmth of sunshine, the call of… childhood one more time.

Reflected light reflected back on the gently dancing waves... Such peace...

Reflected light reflected back on the gently dancing waves… Such peace…

DWTS – or – how to use a box of tissue in one evening

I do not watch reality television as a general rule.  I’m a writer.  I like my television (and movies) to have story lines that are performed into something interesting, not edited into highly manipulative states.

That being said, I am addicted to Dancing With The Stars most seasons.  I add “most” because there have been two or three celebrity contestants who simply by breathing made me crazy-itchy-nutso and I couldn’t watch for fear I’d see them or, in one instance, hear her speak.  With that contestant, as bad as her so-called dancing was, her speaking voice was worse. Blech.

Sometimes, the complete opposite happens and every one of the contestants thrills me with their background stories and their hard work, the bond they develop with their pro- partner, even how the goofiness of Tom Bergeron plays off them.  This season, DWTS’ 20th season, is one of those ‘must-watch’ ones for me.

Tonight, one of the four semi-finalists will be eliminated.  This after a show last night that brought out great dancing (even a two-left footed bumbling boob like me could see the dancing was superior) and more heartfelt, heartwarming stories, not to mention a very simple and sweet marriage proposal!  The four celebrities remaining are Nastia (a former Olympic gymnast), a pop singer named Riker, a war veteran-model-motivational speaker named Noah and Rumer Willis, the daughter of Demi Moore & Bruce Willis.  Rumer, Ryker and Nastia came into the competition with performance backgrounds of one sort or another, an understanding of how to create an atmosphere, a story in the dancing.  They also started out a pretty good amateur dancers and have become much, much better as the weeks have gone by.

Noah is a different story because he’s not just a war veteran, he’s a double-amputee.

He lost is left arm from just below the shoulder and his left leg above the knee in an IED explosion.  He wears a prosthetic leg and foot, but not an arm.  His partner, Sharna Burgess, has had to choreograph to his skills, his desires, his challenges and still make us think, make us see that Noah is a dancer.  That Noah deserves to be a semi-finalist in this competition. Honestly, I’m not sure who is the braver one of this partnership — Noah for exposing himself to a world he never knew before his injuries and then needing to work around and with them to succeed in that world, or Sharna for going into a whole new place in dance to make it work.

Carrie Ann Inaba, who is one of the judges, said the first week, amongst her tears after watching him dance, that Noah had helped her see beyond her own images, her ideas of what dance is, what dance should be.  Not that she marked  him that way often but at least she was moving forward.

Without a knee, Noah cannot be as fluid in his movements as he might like, indeed as he should be, in dance.  It’s bloody close to impossible for him to do “rounded” floor movements although the choreography in both routines he did last night were so mesmerizing, so true to his strengths, so close to ’round’, they were brilliant.  There was one moment, at the end of one of the routines, I hoped everyone who was watching noted and remembered as they were voting — Sharna and Noah walked up the stairs together using his gait, where his left leg swings out a little to compensate for not having a bendable knee.  Matching his step in every way, from exactly how high his left leg swings up to how much bounce gets from his “good” leg, Sharna made that could-have-been-awkward walk up the stairs completely, utterly beautiful.  They made it a dance….

If I’m honest, Noah probably shouldn’t win this competition because he is not, yet, the dancer that Riker and Rumer and Nastia are, but I still gave him every one of my votes last night (and he’ll get them next week if he moves on). I gave him those votes not because I feel sorry for him, and not because he proposed to his girlfriend (who said ‘yes’, btw), and not because he’s a drop-dead gorgeous war hero.

I voted for Noah Galloway because he really has opened up the world of what dance is and should be.  He is a walking, breathing, strong reminder of why we all need dance and music and art and theatre in our lives.  We are enriched by the arts.  We are humbled, stretched, encouraged, enlightened, saved by the arts.  We are better for dancing, we are smarter for music, we are more aware for theatre, we are educated by art.

Thank you Sharna, for helping to make that happen with such brilliant routines.

Good luck Noah. I hope the journey continues in the world of dance for you forever…

Here’s The Thing We’re Not Prepared For…

We’re prepared for a lot of things as we roll through middle age.

Thanks to Madison Avenue, we have our wrinkle creams, our hair dyes, our botox injections, our medicines for things that can’t get up and things that won’t go down.  We take longer vacations to Florida or Arizona in the winter and spend more time in the summer at the cottage.  We don’t camp in tents anymore, but we love to have the grandchildren or great-nephews in pup tents in the backyard.  We go to 35th high school reunions and 40th university reunions and remark on how great everyone looks!  We gather for the weddings of our best friends’ children and send christening gifts when we become honourary grandparents, kidding our friends about being “Grandma and Papa” now.

And  yes, we think about our mortality a little, just enough to do some estate planning maybe, certainly write a will, definitely think about how long those retirement dollars will last.  But what we’re really not prepared for is other people dying.

It’s the natural order of things that our parents die before we do – at least, that’s what parents want, to go before their kids.  Of course we know that that’s what’s going to happen.  But when it does, we’re still shell-shocked.  And then, slowly but surely it’s not just our parents, but our godfather and our uncle and our cousins who are dying, and suddenly that close, expansive, joyful world of family and friends-who-might-as-well-be-family is smaller, tighter, sadder because people are dying.

And it’s not just that we’re aging: our children and nieces & nephews are growing up and bringing new partners into the circle and it’s not what it was.  It’s not who we are any more… it’s who we were.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot through the winter.  My cousin Jeff died just over a year ago, my dear father-in-law died late last fall, and just a couple of months later, my cousin, my father’s much-loved cousin, Janet Stewart Prince, died from the complications of Parkinson’s.  Ross would have been the first one to mourn her, after her children, Judith & Stewart, of course.  They were buddies all their lives and I know she felt his loss deeply when he died 11 some years ago.

 

Uncle Walter & Aunt Janet with my father, Ross

Uncle Walter & Aunt Janet with my father, Ross

 

Aunt Janet, as we called her, and Uncle Walter are woven into the fabric of my life.  They dominate memories of my childhood at the cottage in Oliphant, along with Uncle Walter’s brother’s family (Uncle Jack & Aunt Elaine and their boys, including my first ‘fiancee’, Cam), Aunt Janet’s sister, another cousin, Aunt Margery & Uncle Jack and their boys, and the Bennett families (Uncle Cam & Aunt Mary and their children, Uncle Jim & Aunt Patsy and their children), and in later years, we were thrilled to also welcome to every day life at Oliphant my Uncle Bruce (Dad’s ‘baby’ brother) and Aunt Patty.  When I think of beaches and swimming and fishing and sailing and boating and water-skiing and softball and picnics in the dunes behind the cottage, I think of these people and the Dixon boys and Dougal Robertson (another cousin!).  Eating wieners on a stick and burnt marshmallows and I think of them.  Playing games of Red Rover and British Bulldog and I think of them.  Biking down to the general store for ice cream cones and I think of them.

Just as a little aside, I have story Aunt Janet used to tell on herself which I never fail to think of when baking.  She didn’t. Bake, that is, but some occasion called for her to do so, probably a tea, or maybe a funeral.  In any case, she bought a box mix for brownies, thinking that these had to be easy to do.  And they were!  She followed the instructions for pre-heating the oven and prepping the baking pan, and then adding eggs and oil to the brownie mix.  Then she got to the next part.  Which she read twice and said, “Oh well….” and went to roll up her sleeves and wash her hands thoroughly because the instructions said: MIX BY HAND.  It took her a sticky, chocolatey moment or two to realize that perhaps they meant stir, WITH A SPOON, by hand and not a mixer.

They were all of a kind, these adults who filled my childhood.  They worked hard and contributed much.  They raised pretty large and fairly happy families for the most part, they loved good martinis & Oliphant just about equally, and they asked for very little back except to enjoy a good life.  I think most of them got it, most of the time, and if things didn’t always turn out the way they might have hoped when they were children and teenagers, I hope with all my heart that they know that the one thing that did turn out was giving us the very best of childhoods.

There will be a memorial service for Aunt Janet on Saturday, the day before Stewart celebrates his birthday, the day before what would have been my father’s 82nd birthday!  My joyful heart is aching that I cannot be there — sad to miss the people I love, happy to share in heart and mind so many, many wonderful memories.

Dear Judith & Ross, Dear Stewart & Mary… I hope your hearts and those of  your children are also joyful this weekend especially, even as they ache.

in the front, Aunt Janet, Aunt Elaine, my mother Joy (being squeezed by Uncle Jack P); second row Uncle Jack C, Uncle Jim, my father Ross, Aunt Patsy; back row Aunt Margery (partially hidden), Aunt Patty, Uncle Bruce. Uncle Walter is the photographer.

in the front, Aunt Janet, Aunt Elaine, my mother Joy (being squeezed by Uncle Jack P); second row Uncle Jack C, Uncle Jim, my father Ross, Aunt Patsy; back row Aunt Margery (partially hidden), Aunt Patty, Uncle Bruce. Uncle Walter is the photographer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m The Reasonable One

He said before we moved in “That guy is a lunatic.  Are you sure you want to do this?”  Well, of course I was sure.  I wanted my dining room out of storage and more closet space and yet still be in the same neighbourhood.  What was one lunatic landlord, more or less???

Apparently, a lot.

Everything was an argument about how broke he was, how he couldn’t fix things properly, how stuff that happened was our fault.  And now he’s refusing to return our security deposits, yes, depositS as in two of them.  One for the apartment, based on the monthly rent of course, and one for $400 for The Grey Cat because,  I don’t know, he’s a lunatic.  And something about fleas which made no sense whatsoever but what the hell, I’m the reasonable one.

So now we’re off to Small Claims Court.  Not because we want to go (well, the Reasonable One doesn’t; her spouse is getting all Perry Mason-y. Sigh.) but because the landlord thinks that this is the way to solve problems.  Not by talking them out, coming to an agreement.  We would take an offer from him, something better than deducting the $650 he wants to deduct from the deposits, something more than the $50 we’ve offered for the two legitimate complaints he has, but he just wants to dick around with us because, I don’t know, he’s a canny lunatic.  And they’re the worst kind.

Sigh.

All I can hope is that we don’t get Judge Judy.

 

judges-gavel

It’s That Time of Year

For those of you who follow my blog (and bless you for hanging in there during my long, long winter of discombobulation) or know me personally, you will know that summer & I are not the best of friends.

I do not like being hot.  I never have.  My mother used to say that I kicked off my blankets at three weeks and, as a summer baby who doesn’t like being hot, I always believed her!  There are two good things about summer: going to the cottage and lots & lots & lots of fresh, local fruits and veg.

These are two very good things indeed, so unless sweat is actually rolling off my forehead and stinging my eyes, I try very hard not to complain too much when the temperature rises above 26/78 degrees.  Seriously.  Hotter than that and I do have a tendency to slide into Miss Cranky Pants mode.

Until I get out the canning pot.

 

canning pot

 

and I go to the market and buy berries

 

strawberries

 

which is not to say that I’m no longer hot.  In fact, standing in front of a hot stove, over a hot canning pot, stirring berries and sugar and lemon for quite a few minutes, I am quite hot.  But I’m also deep into a fantasy about a mid-December morning and looking out at a grey, cold, damp start to the day, thinking what can I do to brighten things up a little??  And then it comes to me:  Fresh popovers and homemade strawberry jam!!

Making jams and jellies, canning fruit, processing tomatoes, making chutneys and relishes… this all about capturing the fleeting goodness of our summer weeks (not even months!!) and keeping them close to us in some fashion.  I can’t do much about capturing the beach to help get us through a long, dark, cold winter (other than a trip to Indian Rocks, maybe) but this, this good food from our neighbourhood and from my hands, this I can do.

 

jam_jar

 

So this week there will be strawberry jams — at least two kinds — and blueberry jams — at least two kinds — and I’m thinking about making some raspberry-lemonade concentrate.  Found a great recipe for this stuff that you freeze and then pull out when you need a little sunshine… with or without vodka!!

And I’m seriously considering making brandied cherries when the local cherries pop up.  What do you think?

Mmmm.  Summer goodness.

 

 

 

Robert W Mols

As my mother-in-law says, getting old is not for sissies.  But if you’re lucky enough to age with the support and love of family and community, it can be done with comfort and grace.

Dr Robert W Mols Musician, Conductor, Composer, Teacher Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather

Dr Robert W Mols
Husband, Father, Grandfather, GreatGrandfather… but also a gifted Musician, Conductor, Composer, Teacher

 

Jeff and I decided more than two years ago and seemingly on the spur of the moment (but with much talking and questioning for some months before hand) that we would move to Buffalo and be here for his parents.  At the time, they were 90 years old and mostly healthy but still… they were 90 years old!  It was time to get serious about end of life concerns. So we packed up and moved out and found ourselves here, Jeff’s hometown and my second favourite city in the U.S.

Once we caught our breath, we could see his father, in fact, was growing noticeably slower, aging quickly before us, showing signs of both physical and mental challenges. As the months went on, Jeff wound up doing more and more for them. Not leaving his sister and brother out of the picture, but they had (have!) lives that are more complicated than ours in many ways so it was simpler for Jeff to take on more of the little things that could be done.

Earlier this fall, after a difficult summer, and with his parents’ cautious agreement, Jeff moved in with them and was there 24/7 — except for Thursdays when brother Robin would stay for 24 hours.  Being there, being available to support his mother and physically help his father with day-to-day needs was not just necessary for their being able to live at home, but for Dad to be able to die well.

When I would call, to see how things were going, or stop by for a game of cribbage and maybe supper, I would ask how things were, what were they doing with their time.  Jeff’s first answer was always “We laugh!”  Over meals, they would share memories of people and places from his parents’ childhood, from Jeff’s childhood, about the suburban neighbourhood they moved into as “pioneers”.  They watched a few football games and a few hockey games, and Jeff suffered the Texas Rangers losing another run for the Series, and they listened to a lot of music.

With Jeff, with all my in-laws, it always comes back to music.  On October 20th, the Amherst Symphony Orchestra opened their season by playing, amongst other pieces, the first movement of Robert Mols’ Symphony No. 1  Fortunately, with the support of family and friends, Dad was able to attend, to hear his son play his music, to hear the heart-felt welcome and appreciation the movement received from the orchestra and the audience.  That evening created a memory we will all treasure forever.

From there, Dad’s decline speeded up a little more with every day, until there came the day when he went into hospice care.  We cannot say enough about the concern and caring shown by everyone who is part of the Hospice Buffalo team.  They made Dad as comfortable as they possibly could.  Almost more importantly though, they made the family comfortable too, as comfortable as possible with the idea of having someone deeply loved, deeply admired, dying and moving on.

Dad slipped away in the middle of the night, quietly, peacefully.  The way we should all die I think.  Another member of the Greatest Generation gone, but his gifts of family and humour, of friends and responsibility, and especially of music, will linger for as long he is remembered by those who loved him.

I Have Been Stalking Paris

rue Cler cobblestones

It’s been going on for weeks now.  It started with a movie – I don’t even remember which one now, but something from Warner Brothers, made in the 40s I’m sure, set in Paris – and I began to do a little internet research, borrowed some books from the library, started listening to podcasts in French (because, you know, my French is so good!).  And then I began to pull out some cookbooks, some of my parents’ cookbooks from their adventures to France.

La Fromagier

This lead me to a little more research on line.  I learned about rue Cler, one of the great open air marche’s in the city, with wonderful fromageries like the one pictured above, and patisseries, like the one below.

La Patisserie

And I began to read about cooking schools and language schools, about walking tours of the city and using the bikes available to rent everywhere (the Velib system).  I learned about the easy-to-use Metro, the buses that are almost as good and offer wonderful sights along the route.  I came down on the side of Musee d’Orsay over Le Louvre (line-ups can be such a bore on holiday, don’t you think?).  I worried about the pickpockets and the gold ring scams.  In my head, my suitcase has been packed and unpacked a dozen times, at least twice for every season, as I debated the bliss of Paris in April with the fresh fruits and flowers v. the relative calm and contentment of a quieter, cooler, rainier Paris in November.  I visited every website I could find with apartments for rent because, as expensive as some of those might be, I will never be able to afford Le Bristol Hotel, to which I have given my heart.  I became a lurker on Trip Advisor and even posted once or twice, offering up my opinion.  Not because I know Paris, but because… well, because I think I should know Paris.

Once, a long time ago, when I was young and foolish and thought that Paris would always be there, I decided to merely travel through it, on my way to see my pilot husband, sailing somewhere in the Med.  So my only experience with Paris was 5 hours in Le Gare du Nord, waiting for a train to take me south to Rome.  That’s it.  That’s my experience with Paris.  And for the past several weeks I have felt bereft, empty, lonely for a city I haven’t really ever seen.

There just is something about Paris that has generated in me such feelings of… longing, of belonging, of being drawn to the romance, the pride, the beauty, the smells and tastes of history and art and culture and, yes, the food & wine that so defines the city.

When my parents went to France, they planned in great detail their dining adventures.  My mother was in the business after all, so she wanted to see and taste and feel what made food so different in France.  As I stalk the city, I read the reviews of restaurants, find out what people like and don’t like, how they find themselves surprised by the formality of even the smallest cafes, how they finally learn to embrace the pleasure of savouring a meal and not rushing through it.  And in my reading I think I might have found the cafe for me…

Leo le Lion

Leo le Lion is a little bistrot in the 7th arr which has no stars, no one famous amongst its clientele, it’s just… part of the neighbourhood, the warp and weave of a village within a city, welcoming residents and visitors alike with good food and excellent service.  This is where I will have my first dinner in Paris.

When our lives turtled a couple of years ago, any plans or ideas I might have had for travelling overseas were halted.  There is no short-term plan for me to be in Paris… or anywhere else that I cannot reach in a half tank of gas or less… but still, I dream.

I walk the Champs de Mar, the paths along the Seine, the rue Commerce.  I visit les passages, the undercover ‘streets’ of Paris where sweet little boutiques can be found.  I sit in Notre Dame for Sunday morning mass, listening to the Gregorian service and bathe in the sound and glory.  I drink champagne at every meal and indulge in a croissant for every breakfast.  I sit in Rodin’s garden and let my mind wander with The Thinker.  I visit Giverny and wish again with all my heart that I could paint but as long as I can gaze upon Monet’s work, will let that joy suffice.  I wake up early to take photos of a rising sun lighting the golden domes and stay up late to stroll the cobblestones in the rain.

Paris, I am stalking you… I am loving you… I am missing you…. and someday, we will be together.

Paris in the rain

Of Resolutions and Revelations, Of Friends and Family

January 1 is not my only New Year.  Having been a student for so long and sometimes also a teacher, I also treat Labour Day and that Tuesday, the First Day of School, as a New Year.  I use both for making inner resolutions and taking stock.  I rarely keep the resolutions for long but the stock taking… That’s different.  That seems to settle into my bones, slowly maybe but there, helping secure and direct where and how I go next.

I have been considering many things in the past few weeks – RIVERDALE, my collection of short stories; my family and how I miss being near them and how they influence my life even from a distance; my relationship with my in-law family and how that’s been changing since we moved back here; even my political/social beliefs seem to be not changing perhaps but certainly solidifying.  Mostly though, I have been thinking most about the people who are in me but not with me.

We have been so lucky to have friendships from many places, many times, many situations and a lot of those friendships have continued on however rickety a basis – sometimes a matter of just birthday and Christmas cards, sometimes more frequents communication and, if I’m really fortunate, with time spent together.  I was particularly struck by this late last month when my niece, Lauren, was in town with her husband Geoff.  I really don’t know him; he was a hug & a handshake at their wedding a couple of years ago but he seems rather nice and is definitely a very bright young man.  Nor have I had the chance to spend a lot of time with Lauren since she was a girl, although I have always admired her quick mind and faith in herself and her beliefs.  Still, the couple of hours we had together were a revelation: family is family.  You can ignore it or you can embrace it or you figure out something in between that works for  you but family is always with you in some fashion.

Friends, however, are different.  Friends, I think, need to be encouraged.  They need to be reminded sometimes that they are fundamental to your well-being and you are grateful for that.  You need their kindness, their support, their laughter, their ability to pick you and kick you in the butt when you need that and hug you when you don’t. You need the generosity of friends to see you through the hard times.  You need friends their wit to share a point of view and their voice to help you sharpen your argument.  You need friends to borrow their pots & pans, their books, their eggs and 3 minutes of their time.  You need friends to kick back and share a bottle of wine, a pound of cheese and insight into the world of reality tv.  You need friends to be a better you.

Because what you take out of friendship, you need to give back.  You need to be a friend to offer a shoulder to cry on and practical advice when the shoulder’s damp. You need to be a friend to agree that he’s an idiot and she’s been unkind and that movie is amazing, always without burning any bridges in your comments.  You need to be a friend to offer a bed, a meal, a light at the end of the tunnel, and to help dig that tunnel sometimes.  You need to be a friend let the venting happen, just like you feel safe to vent on your friends.

I also want to remind us all about friendships that seem too big for the word friend.  These are the people who have put you on a path that changed your life.  Or who tell you “yes you can” when you think you can’t.  Or who simply just show up when it feels like very knock on door is more bad news because this person knocking has no agenda, except friendship.

I have friends in several different countries, of varying ages and backgrounds, of many different occupations and avocations, of competing and complementing passions and paths.  I have friends with whom I swear I share a brain and a heart, we think so much alike and I have friends who are my polar opposite. I have friends whom I love as much as family and friends I really barely know and yearn to find out more about them.

My stock taking this month includes reviewing all my friendships.  Going through my address books and my journals, reading my facebook page, sifting through old – written – correspondence.  This is my mental and emotional “Pensieve”, my gift to myself and also, I hope, to my friends who mean so much to me.

My resolution, which comes out of this stock taking, is write more letters, send more cards, be more available to reach out to and be reached by my friends because, as Helen Keller said, it is better to walk in the dark with a friend than to walk alone in the light.

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