Golden straw, rusty metal, chartreuse, grey pavement...
down the lane, amongst the fields,
a canal running in back,
Willow creek over yonder.
Leaves tumbling down faster than we can rake them.
My mother loves to garden, but at 81 she is slowing down, but her slow pace is still faster than any of my good days.
As it is raining, we are in the living room around the fireplace, as my Mom talks Thanksgiving recipes: "Cranberry pie? How does that sound?" Meanwhile Chelsea is making a list. My nieces pulled a prank on Mr. Espresso. They put uncooked pasta shells under the toilet seat. When he sat down on it, they cracked and he thought he broke it. Never a dull moment.
Mom made Chocolate chip cookies. At church they served donuts. I am on a sugar high.
It is hard to hold that I have been away longer than I have lived here, a place I call home. Life looks the same: The ranch, the town, the rice fields, the sky, the distant Sierras, the birds lining up on the telephone wires, the cards going around the table, the aroma from the oven, my mom's sassy personality, my bedroom in the back of the house.
And yet nothing is the same.
Watering my soul.
After seeing many videos of my niece Marie (a Senior in high school) and my Godchild/Nephew George (a Freshman in high school) I finally saw them last night rocking out on the high school field.
The last three years in row I was been crazy enough to do a slumber party with the seven youngest nieces and nephews in my family. Let me just say that crazy isn't saying it enough. This year I am not so nutty, and refused to even let love get in my way in doing another slumber party. Staying up all night with seven fun loving kids is just not in me this year. I wish it were not true, but no way.
So instead two of them came over and slept in the living room while I slept far away happily. They said they made noise and stayed up, but I did not hear them. Whew.
This morning my mom woke up with the chickens and made waffles, cream puffs, popcorn balls... enough to make me wonder if the scale will tip when I get on it. Sacha gained 12 pounds when he came home last! He seemingly lost it over night once he was in France. The girls are making thumb print cookies. Does the baking ever end around here? No.
All that baking, how can I still have room for anything else?
Sacha sent me this photo, standing on top of the Arc de Triomphe.
What are you up to this afternoon?
Whenever we come home, whether it is Sacha, Chelsea or I we always crack and shell walnuts, and we are at it again. Three hours later several bags full.
Indian summer, or should I say summer going into late Fall.
Mr. Espresso cracked the walnuts and we shelled them.
When a handful cost 7 euros in France, we crack a couple pounds worth to take back with us.
Do you have a recipe using walnuts that you would like to share?
Pesto with walnuts is one of my favorite usage, or endive/roquefort/walnut tart... and you?
When you live in a foreign country rather than the one you know as home, there are certain things you expect will be different, unusual, far from the norm of what you are accustom to. Those big things like language, culture, food... those big things that are necessary to understand and help one to feel like they fit in. One doesn't expect to be thrown off by the little things such as how to open a door, toilet paper, signatures, hand shakes, ice cubes, you know the little things that you don't expect to be different but are and catch you off guard the first time you encounter them.
When you live in a foreign country you will learn the language, learn their culture, cook their food, sing their songs and eventually laugh at their jokes. But when you first live in a foreign country you will miss the smallest things from back home the most... for me the things I missed the most where so silly I can hardly bring myself to tell you... let's just say you will miss the smallest things because it is easier to cope with than feeling your heart breaking because you aren't there for your Mother's birthday, or your niece's birth, or your best friend's wedding, or a memorial for your cousin who died, nor any of the unending list of important dates that will come every month for the rest of your life.
When you live in a foreign country your mother tongue sounds like music. When you hear someone speaking your language your very words will race out, "Hello, where are you from?" Perfect strangers seem like your new best friends. You have much in common without even knowing the person name.
You wonder why you don't meet more people when you are back home... everyone there speaks your tongue?
Then after years of living in a foreign country you realize you have two places called home. You look around and the foreign place doesn't feel so foreign. The doors that were closed to you before have opened over time, and the homesickness feels so common you think of it as a bruise that won't go away; you know how to protect it.
When you live in a foreign country the keys to your new life will seem strange. The keys to any door at first feels awkward to use. Then soon enough without even knowing the passage that was once so hard to go through is accepted as just part of the journey.
Every nook, cranny, door, passage and key has brought you to a another place within yourself.
Home made Portuguese sweet bread, amongst many other things, reminds me of growing up in the rural countryside with my many cousins. Hot from the oven the aroma takes me back: I see my Va and Aunts around the wooden table in the kitchen, slabs of butter, children's chubby hands, coffee brewing, white ironstone mugs, the Holy Ghost crown in the living room and the Portuguese chatter filling the air with a happiness that gives my roots a safe place to remember.
Portuguese sweet bread begins with melted butter, eggs, flour, sugar, yeast...
Though it also begins with my Va passing the tradition of bread making to her daughters, and her daughters making it for every reason and none for their children. Since I have been home I have had five rolls and plan to have many more, preferably hot from the oven.
Today I went to my Aunt Louie's to make sweet bread.
Guess which ones are mine?
Recipe to follow.
Back home with family.
Every Monday night my mother makes a feast for her family, last night there was eighteen of us.
No dishwasher, it is a choice, when I was growing up it bugged me, now I do not have a dishwasher by choice and love doing dishes next to my mom.
Yes, my mom does the dishes too.
It is as she wants it to be, "...for as long as I can do it."
Mondays are full on with my brothers Marty, Mathew, Mark and Zane, their wives Suzy, Shelley, Diane and Zane's girlfriend Leslie, and the nieces and nephews Patti, Andy, Jack, Chelsea, Sacha, Gina, Maci, Kate, George, Sam, Joe, Marie, Molly and Warren. The youngest is 9.
Quiet it is not. The children come after school and stay until after dinner.
Some rode motorcycles, some wrestled in the living room, other played music, everyone talked.
My mom made three desserts, because one is not enough?
It is like Thanksgiving every Monday.
Joe came home from college, Chelsea and Mr. Espresso were there too.
Every corner of the house had activity.
It is odd to be at home and not feel well.
A blessing in the silence.
Listening to the clock tick,
watching the leaves tumble from the trees that surround my mother's house,
eating pomegranates with juicy red luscious-ness running down my chin, using the back of my hand to wipe it away.
Admiring my mother's busy hands collecting the chicken's eggs.
Listening to the wood pecker.
Thanking my lucky stars that I am able to see the moon rising, oh my, over the harvested rice fields.
Chelsea arrived with the same cold like bug. My mother said, "Between the two of you if I do not get sick it will be a miracle (my mother never gets sick), gee if that happens you two will have to cook Thanksgiving dinner."
Home. Caught a bug on the ride home. Should have worn a mask. Haven't been able to visit anyone really, cause who wants to get this bug? Chelsea comes to Willows this evening, gee I hope I feel better soon, one week is too long when a month is my time home. The last few nights I have gone to bed at 5pm... I have never slept so much!
Or maybe the mask had nothing to do with it, but the election did.
Coming home after seventeen months away,
living in France as long as I had lived in the States,
My children voting for the first time in an American election.
Knowing my family is growing older...
Wondering how certain people will feel safe?
Sensitivity, nor anger is a road delicate to thread.
Bloom where you are planted is a challenge,
or maybe the real challenge is scattering seeds.
My Godchild and nephew has changed the most. He is not longer looking like a little boy. Wow.
He is riding like his dad, like his Vo, my dad.
And he is a very good rider!
How lovely it is to be home, in my mother's house, in her garden...
Many bird houses, nests, on a ladder stand next to my mother's front door.
We are one, together.
Repost from 2009:
I have been down with a bad cold... so until I get my energy back:
At the first ray of light the farmer sets out for work, rice harvest is in full swing in the Sacramento Valley. Either Mother Nature has worked her wonder in their favor, or not... they know the moment their harvester's blades cut into the grain.
This year looks promising.
I drove alongside the rice fields until I met up with my brother Zane, (After four children my dad named my youngest brother Zane, Z for the last one he would tease.) he pulled the harvester close as I walked out into the field to meet him.
We rode up and down the long field, slowly, methodically, watching steadily as the rice went under the blade, all along talking about whatever came to mind. A day spent side by side in the small cabin on top of the harvester, rice dust circled and memories of our childhood floated with ease.
Zane talked passionately about farming, his family, his life... it was evident he was happy, that he loves his life and that all is good. What happiness it is in knowing that what you are doing is worthy, that what you are living is good and most of all that the days ahead don't matter as much as the moment at hand. Zane reminded me where to focus.
His harvest is rich in what he has planted: Awareness- on what is important to him and his family.
We talked on and on, cutting one field and onto another. Zane drives the harvester 13 to 14 hours a day during harvest time, all the while to the hum of the engine, rice dust in the air, and a view of gold as far as you can see, I sat with him for six hours, though it felt like ten minutes.
Every grain, every word, every memory... golden... simply because I got to be next to someone I love, watching him do what he loves to do.
He told me, "... the sunset is the most beautiful time to be out in the fields, you need to come take photos at sunset around six in the evening, you'll come won't you?"
A day well spent. Thank you Zane. I'll come back at sunset.
Here are a few photos of my mother and Holly's shop in Willows.
If you like rustic, country, homey, an autumn feel and a mixture of old and new then stop by!
And if you do so before Dec 6th I will meet you there.
Of course I get first dibs wink wink.
Home with my mother's chocolate chip cookies.
This is a repost so I can catch up with family...
Flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, chocolate chips, walnuts, vanilla, pinch of salt and baking powder... The ingredients are usually something like that when making chocolate chip cookies. In France chocolate chips are hard to find, unless you go to the exotic food section of a grocery store, a specialty food shop, or chop your own chocolate.
Imagine chocolate chunks instead of chips.
When I return to France I usually toss a couple of bags of chocolate chips into my suitcase.
Though I rarely make chocolate chip cookies. Terrible American ex-pat Mother that I am! The reason I do not make them is because my Mother's are the best and mine never turn out like hers. Please do not tell me to follow her recipe, she uses the recipe straight off the package (Toll House) which is darn good obviously. My problem is I don't follow recipes. I like to invent them, though my chocolate chip cookies never turn out the same twice. Do yours?
I'll stick to my chestnut soup, and Roquefort endive tart. That I can do...
but it doesn't satisfy the sweet tooth.
Thank goodness for yogurt with chocolate chips tossed in. It tastes good every single time.
Photos: My Mother's chocolate chip cookies, that she makes five days a week. Now you know my secret to gaining weight each time I return to America.
A few photos from 2014.
Some of my nieces.
The last few years my five younger nieces and I have been in a long hair contest. The last three years my niece Maci has won, then Marie won and last year it was Molly.
This year Gina, Maci and I cut ten or more inches off of our hair... we knew we would not win, nevertheless our hair was still long, just not long enough.
(2014 Marie, Molly and Kate took the honors. Marie had the longest hair she was the crowned winner.)
We set out into the harvested rice fields with wreaths that I made from the nearby eucalyptus tree and orange flowers from my mom's yard.
The three of them love having their photo taken, and I love taking their photos.
2014 Winner Marie.
We all agreed we would have long hair forever.
Or maybe I just said that because I want it to be true.
New photos of my nieces soon.
Luca, a friend of our family, who is French/American and studying in California this year, wrote:
"If you're angry, sad, or scared, you have every right to feel that way, but now isn't the time to run away. Problems don't fix themselves. You stand up and fight for what you believe in."
That is where my heart goes,
That is where I find my roots that hold me in place,
That is where the long road ends, where the green never seems less green.
Home is where my soul knows no bounds, and my arms never tire.
Home, that is where I am when I feel the distance between the
Here and now, don't have words nor need them.
Home is no longer an external place, rather it is within me. It rises from the core of my being, Like a spring that goes beyond space and time.
Heading home. I know home is in France, but home is also with my mom and family in Willows. Next year I will have lived longer in France than I did in the USA. Home isn't a place really...
As usual, I am not packed. My plane leave at 4am (a few hours from now). I do not like to pack, nor think about getting on that plane, it scares me.
I am ready,
but not ready.
Autumn in Willows fails to disappoint:
The harvest, the golden hue, the open spaces to stand in awe.
Feeling at home.
It is all the same.
I heard somewhere that the place where one lived when they are around twelve years old has a lasting impression on ones visual concept of soothing attractive colors.
Pick up trucks,
Long straight roads.
My mother's home.
Do you live in the same place where you were born?
Where do you call home?
Whatever we do will have an effect on someone.
It might or might not come back to us.
A blessing doesn't count on whether it does or doesn't.
A blessing is freely given.
How many did I give today? Wouldn't it be enriching if instead of
counting steps, I counted blessings given, kindness shared?
Today I honestly received more than I gave.
La basilique de Saint Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.
Thank you Arnelle and Roger for spending the day with us and helping us with Cassis.
After the French Muse the list of things to do before leaving for Willows (this coming Monday) was daunting. I had to remind myself one thing at a time. The very first thing was checking in with Rene regarding Cassis, the floor is nearly in place and tomorrow the kitchen will start to take shape! The grand scheme for the apartment is in place. When I return the decor details will be on the agenda. It is bittersweet to be leaving before it is completed, but we are on the same page as what is in store and what needs to be done. I trust Rene, and the plan we have for Cassis.
Our friends Arnelle and Roger came to spend the day with us. We were in Cassis and it felt like summer even though I had a sweater and tights on.
My friend Mo from Reves made the garlic out of black clay pottery and white glaze. Isn't it darling.
The House Next Door has seen three friends and a fourth one to come. Everyone seems to fall in love with it! The House Next Door has a calming effect, it is like a cocoon. If you are coming to Provence and need a place to stay think about coming to stay with us.
I call the photo I took above: Wall Flowers, as they were against the wall in a vase.
Those of you who know me, know I do not create art. But the other day I took a torn, tattered piece of 1700s altar silk, and carefully glued it to a board then framed it.
What are you up too? What projects are you working on?
A book review:
The Velvet Hours
Reviewed by Tongue in Cheek Blog Reader and dear friend Jackie Lantry:
I was interested in reading The Velvet Hours primarily because of the “frozen in time/Parisian apartment” pictures I’d seen online.
The luxury apartment, belonging to Marthe De Florian (an actress, demimonde and socialite during the Belle Epoque,) was shuttered as the Germans marched their way toward Paris during WWII. Filled with gilt, brocade, original artwork and other trappings of lavish life, it was-literally-an elegant time capsule, and a once in a lifetime discover.
With a list of lovers that included the likes of George Clemenceau (72nd prime minister of France,) and painter Giovanni Boldini, who wasn’t drawn in when they saw those photos and read the captioned tidbits about De Florian’s life?
The result was a spate of books, most thrown together to capitalize on the fascinating find. Alyson Richman’s version, decidedly not of that ilk, delicately braids fact and fiction into a luminous tale of love, life’s hardships, hedonism and eventually, redemption
As story goes between the late 1800’s and the 1940’s, Richman skillfully reveals Paris during the Belle Epoque, the fascinating lives of the demimonde and the affect of WWII on the city of light.
Born into a difficult life with few options, protagonist Marthe turns to the (then scandalous) theater, eventually abandoning her child and becoming a kept woman. Her life becomes more and more grand, but as a demimonde her hedonism became off-putting.
I suppose we all unconsciously continue to carry that which we thought we (consciously) left behind. This can lead to ruin or redemption. The death of her lover, war bearing down on Paris and a blossoming relationship with granddaughter Solange offers Marthe a chance at redemption on several levels.
“Light and shadow exist in every life,” and Richman skillfully allows us to witness the light revealed in Marthe de Florian’s life.
Thinking I was going to read a storybook accounting of a “frozen in time” Paris apartment, Richman instead took me on a journey through which (like Solange) I came to see humanity in the shadow side of life.
Have you read it? If so what are your thoughts?
We have had an incredible experience this French Muse. One of my favorite things that we offer is visiting people's homes.
Today we visited Anne Bonde's home who has been collecting antique textiles for years.
Sharing what we love, and walking away
happier and lighter because of it.
The French Muse is nearly over, it will be sad to say goodbye, such a fun loving group. If ever you come to the French Muse there are a few things that will help you truly get the most out of it:
A few French words in your pocket:
Partake in the cheese, bread, dessert...
Adapt to the French-ness.
This group loved the brocante, but they do not have shops. They bought what they could carried and mailed some things home. Of course there might be a vase worn as a hat, a basket used as a purse, night gowns worn as dresses, cutting boards used as carseats and a real umbrella used as a pretend umbrella.
Being creative is helpful when a suitcase is too full.
Each group is different, and we like that! Some prefer textiles, others paintings, some have shops, others do not, some come just to be and enjoy the atmosphere, to be inspired. Most enjoy good food, the brocante, and what to visit private addresses... You do not have to be a buyer to enjoy the French Muse. We offer tailored made experiences, no two are ever alike.
This was a group of four friends, three of them I met years ago.
The week has been delightful and I am ever so grateful
to be able to share what I have come to love about France.
“It is only with the heart
that one can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye."
Antoin de St Exupery from The Little Prince”
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed”
Antoin de St Exupery from The Little Prince”
The French Muse went to visit one of my favorite antique dealer's home.
photo via Laura Dene McHugh
Where poetry is in each vignette, a place where imagination can unravel,
a home that gives seed a place to root and bloom.
The pure pleasure of sharing what we hold to be true and beautiful with those who want to discover and claim it as their own. These last few days have been fabulous. The ease, the energy, the joy of being with Kelly, Laura, Barbara and Sue who love exploring and soaking their senses with Provence. They love the brocante, the countryside, the backroads, the everyday simplicity of daily life, the narrow streets, the cheese, the crusty bread and glass of wine, the two kisses on the cheek and everything that comes with being in France in the Autumn.
We drank champagne with a view of the Provencal landscape at sunset.
My friend Lisa invited us to her home and made dinner for the French Muse. A spectacular feast served on French antique dish ware.
Even though we venture around Provence everyday, absorbing beauty at every nook and cranny we are aware not to overload our senses. There is a mindfulness to taste the holy wonder of the moment. To indulge in the season freely given: The changing color of the leaves, the crispness in the air, the children playing on the square, the crumbs of a delicious lunch.
The friendship that buds with spending time together on each other's journey.
Thank you Ruth, Barbara, Laura, Sue and Kelly.
The roses around the French country house have faded, in its place autumn has arrived. The golden colors set the mood, lovely.
The dining room hosts a massive armoire probably as old as the trees around the house. Plus an equally massive chandelier, crystals tempting like apples ready to pick.
Antique cheer sets the mood.
Chez Kristin's home is a wonderland.
So far we have visited six antique dealer's homes and it is only the second day.
The French Muse is personally crafted to each group's desires. No two muses are ever the same.
Unless the group wants to see the homes and dealers we adore.
Creation using French antique elements by Kristin.
A sweet innocent postcard.
Sent from my iPhone