Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer Solstice Shining



My Sister lives on a Christmas tree farm. And while last Monday was the polar opposite to the 25th of December, as I set out on my late afternoon walk, alone, I could feel the happy ghosts of holidays past around me, the slight echo of delight as families decided, "Yes, this one. This tree will come home with us!"


Visions of snow melted away in the heat of the sun, gold, as I followed the path up a slight incline as it snaked unknowingly out of sight. I stayed on the path as I have stayed on the path. It has been a time of feeling forward blind but my eyes were kissed with beauty at every step on this Summer Solstice day, the longest of the year and one brimming with good intentions.


I had been reading a bit of astrology - whispering to the mystical to come back in to hold me up if it could, just like it did in childhood - about this event punctuated with the second consecutive full moon in Sagittarius, not only a blue moon but a Strawberry one, previously so called by the Algonquin people as they were able to pick the sweet fruit under its soft glare. This conjuncture - the first during my lifetime - was predicted to be the end of a chapter, not only delineating the final phase of what has been a challenging first half of 2016, but to something greater within ourselves. 


My senses were on high. It felt so expansive to be out in the country, breathing deeply. How could I not feel a surge of joy? I withdrew the newly repaired iphone out of my pocket again and again, framing with decisiveness then to photograph, "Yes, this one. This I will take home with me." Dust on my toes, heel slapping flip-flops with the occasional vague swipe to clinging bits of pollen across my bare legs. Warmth spread around me without the sweat, no pain just a floating fearless fine being.


As I crested the hill, I caught at the breeze with outstretched fingers and began my descent, careful to crunch a little more quietly as I came towards the opening where my Sister had mentioned that deer could sometimes be caught unaware. No, today it was just the fields and me. I paused to look down at the patterns in the dust, fallen branches and traces of previous passerby, myself included. "I was here then and I am today." Click, click and click.



The shade beckoned, as did the promise of the creek that was my destination. Bubbling water holds an inexplicable draw - maybe for hopscotching back to memories of chasing crawdads or maybe with the promise of what it could carry swiftly away in its current.



Stepping onto the gray wooden slats of the open bridge, I heard a crash to my right and froze. Snaps of grass breaking drew my gaze downstream then up to the ridge directly noon in front of me where a deer - a young buck? - was bounding away. Mid-gasp of surprise, I heard the sound and saw the movement repeated as a second followed, fleeing, with a white undertail flipping goodbye. I reached to follow them with my camera, so late, having been paralyzed by their effortless grace. ("How can I describe the way that they leaped and hung in the air?" I asked my Sister the next day, knowing I wanted to write about them. "A jété?" she suggested and we both nodded in agreement.) The afternoon draped languidly across the treetops and the world seemed a bit proud of itself, this Summer Solstice shining so brightly with gifts given and the receiving of pure joy.

             (Click to enlarge and then look in the middle of the path)

I shook my head slowly, a smile lifting my lips and turned back towards the comfort of my Sister's floorboard creaking Victorian house, lighter than when I started out, buoyed with quiet if completely unspecific relief. The day played itself out with the lacsidaisical shuffle of an old-school card game. Me, I was waiting for the moon. I love la belle lune and always have.


With night finally ascending, I let the screen door sigh shut behind me and headed out, hunting. Through the stolid shelter of the pines, I could see a light and headed towards it...but it was no moon. Across the indigo sky a massive storm cloud surged, blotting out the stars. Within it, lightning snapped laterally, playing tag with pockets of humidity until the mottled gray throbbed, pulsing. But the pines sighed comfortingly and so I watched, open-mouth gazing without a worry that a stray bolt could find me until the game was no longer so amusing.


I know that I have mentioned Tara Brach quite a lot recently. Her talks and writing are what have helped me the most (along with my walking and walking) during these past few months. When so much of one's world has disappeared with a magician's puff of smoke, thoughts can take a "pride of place" in the mind, shouting out in otherwise empty rooms. Now, that can lean in the direction of obsession or make the place for change.

One of the themes that she touches upon repeatedly (and often with humor) is a gentle reminder that thoughts "are real but not true" and that with compassionate reflection we can trace back those of the consistently negative variety to our core beliefs about ourselves. While waiting for the devilish storm to pass and lifted with courage from the simple splendor of the day, I felt safe enough to admit my old ones deep - like worry beads rolled between my fingers - which keep me seprarate within our amazing world; those that declare "I am unlovable" and "There is something wrong with me/ I don't belong." But somehow, I was no longer afraid of those ideas anymore. I stepped back outside to find my friend.


The moon had risen, the storm passed on. There was mon copain, playing cache-cache behind the trees. "Move further back, out into the open," it said; so I did and was flooded in its rays that reached through to my bones, sweeping me clean. As I stood there on the grass, the light shown into the darkness of my misconceptions and told me that I was very much a part of our complex world, that I had an important place in it just as we all do. That while I have my faults, I am not broken and in that moment I felt very connected to everyone and everything and in so being, felt very loved. And loving too.

"I am grateful, grateful, grateful," I sang to the moon, the sun and the hope that a new chapter had just begun.

 ****


 Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
I am heading back out to my Sister's where I have less time on the internet - and yes, that is a good thing - so I hope you will pardon me if I am not as present here in the next few days.
Be well,
Heather

Friday, June 17, 2016

Little by little, the bird makes its nest



I walk in the mornings. Somehow I knew that it would save me, my body moving forward in space while my heart was reaching back over the ocean. My shoes are old but barely used, bought on an assignment with Remi in Vancouver many years ago with the aim of exploring further afield. 

I follow the sidewalk circling the blocks of the subdivision, fast-paced, arms swinging. It is a movement I remember from my past, even further ago, when, penniless, I would head up through Central Park for an hour and a half, chasing the chimera of an adult self not yet born. The houses I pass these days are closed up. I can never understand it for they are all lived in. For some reason, people seem to want to say, "We aren't home." It is the opposite of what I want. 

When I first arrived back to the States, I brushed snow out of my eyes, then the crocuses rose; now the trees wave and I swipe away the heat. It is Monday and I am listening to Tara Brach speak calming words in a podcast, spooling out a future of possibilities, through borrowed headphones. Buddhist insights mixed with pragmatic psychology. I am so focused that I nearly crush the little half moon on the sidewalk, blowing sideways, tumbleweed. Pause pressed, I bend down, sunglasses lowered, to see.

It is a fallen birds nest. I straighten back up, hand perplexedly on hip, to discern from which tree. But it is stolidly in the middle of a nowhere. My nowhere. I crouch back and pick it up, unthinkingly. Now it is scented with me. 

It must have been quite comfortable with its lining of cotton, puffed and shredded, a true find for a mama bird, welcoming. This light thing, so fragile in my hands. Grass carefully bended and pecked into shape. "Little by little, the bird makes its nest." This is a phrase that Remi and I shared so often, almost like a code. "Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid." We built our lives over fifteen years and did so with such pride that only the first three words were needed to be uttered for an understanding to be passed between us like a wink. 

I let my heart fall into the softness between the twigs to rest, put the nest down and kept walking, my face whipped taught like a sheet. "Little by little"..."little by little"..."little by little" on Monday morning.

And then that rhythm of thought and footfall, repeating like a dance or pulsing like lights in the nightclub, one filled with bodies twisting joyfully. Friends and loves, flirtations and fantasy projecting into a future too, one stretching towards a weekend feel of forever, also with such pride, also solid yet free, but sucked so quickly into the void, bullet-snuffed.

"Petit à petit" my tears could fall, sliding down my chin to tap the concrete. 

It didn't make sense but it did to me, that eventually - not immediately but eventually - I changed my steps stumbling to come back to that nest. I chose a tree, the one with the right branches and tucked it up as high as I could reach. It was too late, too late for so many things but I wanted it to be safe. So that maybe, somehow, one day those possibilities that I had held between within my fingers could be wishing true fulfilled.



I check on the nest every day when I pass by just to make sure it is still there and am thinking of it now, looking out the window as an early summer rain comes down. Because it is so fragile. As we are, yet strong enough to make a home out of the best in us. And we do.

I am sending so much Love and Strength to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A perfect vacation rental in Saint Germain des Prés - Paris!



Are you ready to dream a little dream with me? And to perhaps make that dream a reality?

Today, I am very, very excited to share with you what I think is the perfect apartment vacation rental in the best neighborhood that Paris has to offer...Saint Germain des Prés.


What makes this particular apartment so special to me is that it is the home of someone whose taste quite a few of you have come to know and admire...that of my friend Anthony.


For Paris is where Anthony and his partner hang their hats - that is when they are not in Provence working on their amazing home renovation project

As they have only very recently decided to start renting out their apartment, you will be one of the first to know of this address...one that Anthony calls a "petit endroit secret sous les toits de Paris" - yes, indeed...


I have long been a believer of renting out apartments rather than camping out at hotels. It gives you, the visitor, the opportunity to live entirely on your own schedule and more importantly, to have the irreplaceable experience of tapping into the usually unknown life of a local. As a travel writer, this was always my goal, to discover the true "esprit du lieu"...or spirit of place.


And what a spirit! Their apartment covers the entire top floor of a 17th century hôtel particulier (not to worry, each floor is private) in the heart of the 7th arrondissement.


Are you starting to get the sense that this is an exceptional pied à terre for all of your Paris sojourns? Good! Because it truly is...save that in France, pied à terre is usually a code-word for "tiny" and this apartment is an incredibly spacious 75 square meters (over 800 square feet)! Considering that many Parisian hotel rooms run in at around 15 square meters...well, you are smart enough to figure that one out on your own. ;)


There is everything that is needed in a true home away from home...wifi, full kitchen, dishwasher and laundry.


I know first-hand from when Anthony was renting out his previous village house that he prepares fantastically helpful lists of suggestions...you will have the key to hidden spots in the neighborhood that even Parisians don't know about! Plus, there is family just at hand should you need extra help. This is an extremely safe area and there is a digicode for entry to the building as well.


All one needs to do is just walk out the front door and enjoy - there is even a great antiquaire in the courtyard below. The Seine is a one and a half minute walk in one direction (!) with the Louvre and the Jardins des Tuileries just beyond. My personal "nothing bad could ever happen to you here" Le Bon Marché is a quick stroll in the opposite direction with Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots at a three minute hop! You could go every day...


And if you really felt the need to leave the cartier for some strange reason ;) the metro and bus are a five-minute walk away. Oh, and the bus is direct to both the Gare de Lyon and the Gare Montparnasse for those coming/going further afield.


The apartment is perfect for two people. There is one bedroom but also an office that is open to the living area and kitchen. A baby bed or small mattress can be set up in the office as needed but this will be not as comfortable as the fluffy bed in the main bedroom.


The design is a mix of antiques and modern - Anthony and his partner's signature. I think that the photos speak for themselves on that point, non? I will add that the beautiful original tomettes are quite unusual (this is Paris not Provence after all) and I love the texture of the wooden beams plus the sloped ceilings. The apartment is filled with light, has spectacular (and rare) views and is very quiet.


"Oh my," you might be thinking. "This all has to be wildly expensive." Now, really. Would I do that to you? That is not my style. And that is why I am so thrilled to share this address with you.


 For you see, the Secret Paris in the 7th apartment is available to rent for 140 Euros ($160 USD at the time of writing) per night.


Is there a catch? That depends on how you look at it.

I did mention that the apartment is on the top of the building, yes? So that would be the sixth floor and there is not an elevator in this formerly private mansion. But...as anyone knows who loves Paris, if you want the views and if you want the light (crucial in la cité de la lumière!), then you have to be willing to walk a bit. Anthony has assured me that the flights are not too steep. And just think, it would be a carte blanche to have all of the croissants and Montrarchet Grand Cru (perhaps just not together) that you could desire! Trust me, it is worth it...


...because at the end of an amazing day in Paris, you could rest your weary but memory-filled head here while looking beyond to the night sky floating over the rooftops of your dreams...

****

If you are interested in renting this little bit of heaven, please contact Anthony directly at: anthonyleewatson@hotmail.com for further information and availability.
 
Yes, he speaks English et mais bien sûr, il parle bien français.

****

As always, I am only sharing this with you because I believe that it is amazing, just as I feel strongly that anyone who gets to have such a true Parisian experience is very fortunate. Enjoy and feel free to pass this along!

All photos courtesy of Anthony Lee Watson


Monday, May 30, 2016

Across the lines



It was quite a surprise that I suddenly wanted to take pictures again. So I picked up the camera for the first time in many months, cradling it to my chest with one hand in-between the clicks, happy to see again. 

That is a gift that you gave to me. Yes, you. Your comments and emails of support and understanding are like a talisman that I always have in my pocket, just in case. I thank you with all of my heart. It is freeing to know that I can share and that being 'alone' is an illusion.

What wasn't surprising, not in the least, was that I would love my friend Elizabeth, La Contessa, in person as much as I have through communicating across the lines, over the years via the internet and eventually, due to her insistence, on the phone. She invited me to come out West to change my mind and then some. Maybe to shift perspective and pick up a bit of strength on the way. 

I could feel the smile spreading up through my throat, across my lips to raise up my hand in a goofy wave as soon as I saw her at the terminal, waiting, searching the crowds for a redhead, possibly in a caftan. It was a recognition, a "Hello you" of a friendship made solid, something that would only intensify over the days as I fell head over heels for her and her antiques-filled (and I do mean filled) home, her charming Italian Husband, her winsome Corgi named Winston and even, astonishingly, a wise cat named Theodore (just don't tell Ben and Kipling). That all of this was to be found in California only added to the sweetness.

It was a champagne bubble of a week filled with everything that I like.

Did that pop when I returned back to reality? It did. I realize constantly that I am in the early days yet. But, when courage has been instilled it cannot so easily be stripped.


And so too, on this Memorial Day in the States, I think of the men and women who have crossed truly frightening lines, fueled less by inspiration but something lit like freedom. I thank them as well.

"The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate." 
-- John Ruskin

A thought that I held onto tightly on that day in February when I flew out of Paris?
There is a horizon always above the clouds and it is shining blue.

****
*For those of you stopping by because of Elizabeth's unending kindness? Thank you so very much for being here. If this post or the links are a little too cryptic, you can find out more of my recent story by clicking here. Bienvenue...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Unfolding the bloom




I think that today I am ready to tell you what is going on. I have been ghost-dancing around this decision for quite some time now. 

I hope that you will be patient and understanding. Because more than ever I realize that "the only way past is through."

So. I am writing you from the United States. Michigan, to be precise.

Remi and I are "taking a break" or a trial separation, if you prefer.

Do you remember when we had the head-on collision in the beginning of January? While we both were so fortunate to walk away physically unscathed, it became apparent, within days, that a lot of important emotional issues had been shaken loose and brought to the surface. 

While the details of those issues only concern the two of us, the outcome was that we would take these months apart. To be clear - we did not fight, both of us are at "fault" for lack of a better word and these are issues that developed over a long period of time.

However, I can tell you that I did not see this coming and I was devastated. It all happened quite quickly. This is, by far, one of the most challenging periods that I have been through in my life. 

I miss Remi, our home, Provence and our dogs.

But. But, this is an opportunity. And I am taking it. 

My friend Stephen joked that I was going to "rehab" before I got here and that is really kind of perfect in its way as I am taking a good long look at my life and my behavior. Stripped of so much of what has been my world, there is plenty of room not only for introspection but also for action.

And so that is what I am doing.

I am incredibly grateful to have had a safe place to land. My Mom and her Husband have welcomed me into their guestroom, my Sister is close by. They have literally held me up when I needed it.

At 46, I am learning to drive. I am petrified, especially after the accident, but am breathing through it. Actually, so much of what I am going through is about facing or "leaning into" my fear (as the very wise Tara Brach puts it) and shining a light into the dark. That includes my well-being so I started therapy and am attending Al-Anon meetings. My Sister has sponsored me for a class in Tibetan Buddhism and I have started meditating. I bought a stack of books before arriving to help me understand me better and have been reading voraciously. My tennis shoes are getting put on every single day as I exercise. My diet has been completely shifted to eliminate inflammation (more on that soon) and I have lost over twenty pounds, safely. I have never eaten so healthily in my life. My pen is my friend as I have been journaling again. And alcohol has been completely cut back so that I can think straight and hear my heart. I don't want to hide. I am learning so much.

On Monday, I ran into someone that I had not seen in a few weeks who said, "It makes me really happy to see you doing so much better, Heather." That felt good.

Many of you have been through this or similar or harder already in your lives. I am well aware that this is just my current story but I wanted to let you know about it before diving back into the beauty of Provence. Of course I am going to keep the blog going, am staying up to date on all that is happening and prepared material before leaving - such as these photos of the magnolia tree in the courtyard, taken with the hopes of one day having the courage to make this post happen. I didn't talk about this sooner only because I was a) frankly too much of a mess to find the right words and b) afraid that I would lose all of you when I admitted that I wasn't in France. But again, I am tired of fear running the show. I also remember how you remained loyal during those months when I was in the States for visa reasons in 2014. And it is just better this way.

Yes, I do have a return ticket for France.

Do I know what will happen? I have no idea. But I am doing my best to stay positive and open.

Let's keep moving forward then, yes? 

It is never too late to unfold the bloom.

****

To those of you that have known about this, thank you so dearly for all of your kindness, wisdom and support. 
Some of you have gone above and beyond, including an amazing friend who I am going to meet very soon...I may not post for a bit but not to worry, I will be having a very good time!
Thank you so much for being here and I ask that you are considerate of all parties if you leave a comment, much appreciated. Your responses to my previous post made me feel wonder-ful and full of hope.











Be well.

Bisous,
Heather

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Let's remember, love wins



Hello there, today's post is about Provence in the visuals only. The text is an appeal for a cause that will touch many of you though, so I wanted to write about it. If it isn't your thing, no worries and see you soon...


 Our personal stories can take up so much of our head and heartspace that the rest of the world can seem so far away. Of course, it isn't really. We forget sometimes. That we are all connected.


Mes amis, I know that some of us have been going through really challenging times of late but think about it for just a moment, most likely it is nothing compared to what is happening for the refugees in Europe (wait, don't leave just yet for there is something really positive and happy in this post). This is the most drastic situation of displaced peoples since WWII and it is horrific and far from over. As most of us already know, these are folks like you and me who had homes, jobs and families but were forced to leave everything behind to flee the atrocities of war or chaos. For so many of them, all they want to do is go home but to one that is safe and sound. As borders have closed, many are trapped in a no man's land and are literally starving. The situation is far more desperate then it was last year when the media brought it to our attention. In some camps, the percentage of women and children by themselves is staggering (65% in Idomeni in Greece), the number of children that have been separated from their families and are now alone in this world, heart-breaking.


As many of our biggest humanitarian agencies are either not able to offer effective help or are unable to fill the needs, Glennon Doyle Melton formed the Compassion Collective along with Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Brené Brown and Robert Bell. You can read more about the amazing work they are doing here: http://thecompassioncollective.org/


Since last fall, they have distributed 1.4 million USD in aid - every penny of which goes directly to assistance as they are working with specialized groups directly on the ground so there is zero overhead. Among their many life-saving projects, they are currently feeding 6450 refugees a day (!), providing tents, clothing and light in the darkness but after a massive donation of 714k, the funds have now run dry. 

So today, May 3rd, is a drive to prove that Love Wins. Because who is making the difference by sponsoring this collective? We do - yes, just normal people like us - by giving $5 to $25 (the maximum limit of the donation as this is not a competition about who gives the most but about us being in this together). By doing so, you can literally help save lives. Their funding for Refugee Rescue in Greece, for example, is essential - over a three-day period, these partners assisted 25 boats and helped 1200 people safely to land. That is just in three days! And, as the Compassion Collective is ever expanding its reach, this drive will be the first to also benefit America's homeless youth. Those statistics are frightening. Again, you can get more of a specific breakdown on who is being assisted and how by reading here.  The personal stories and the photos included are amazing as well.



So I hope that you will consider helping our fellow human beings who are suffering mightily, if you can. And if you can't make a financial donation, would you consider passing along the word about today's event? I would truly appreciate it. If you are seeing this after May 3rd but would still like to help out, not to worry, it is never too late to do some good. I know that this situation seems so huge as to be impossible. But it isn't - especially if we reach from person to person, just like we know how to do best.


You have already shown me over and over and over again that you are a loving, caring community. 


If there is one thing that I am sure of, it is that love wins.

For more information or to donate, please click here:


Thank you so much for reading,
Heather

 *PS. In no way am I affiliated with any of the above, I just believe in this and the good it can do!

Friday, April 29, 2016

On the rue de l'Amphithéâtre - Arles



Sweep out the cobwebs, shake out those shadows. Sometimes we need to go right back to where we started.

In Arles, after moving in and wandering the cross-caught streets, I fell fast in love with the tales of its shutters and doors. Cliché, absolutely, and some would say that I should now move beyond those facile waters...but...but...there was a day, not so long ago, when the sky was so blue that it tricked me back to the beginning of seeing one street as I had in the before of before, allowing me to dip in just one more time.

Instead of hurrying along the far too narrow sidewalk, I stepped out into the rue de l'Amphithéâtre, camera in hand and lifted. I had easily half an hour to spare before my doctor's appointment. All was quiet, the tourists still sleeping. The light was flirting. A passer-by gave me a slight nod of recognition, someone else from the center of town. I love Arles before showtime. When history stretches and yawns before settling in to be admired.

Now I can add my own little histories to its two-thousand some years that are more patient than I will ever be. On this particular stretch alone I remember...my mom and I struggling with our suitcases on the bumpy pavement against a winter Mistral wind on an early descent from Paris to visit an apartment that would not work out. Being invited to a party where rooms opened upon rooms until fading into darkness and everyone was trying too hard to be casual. Pulling Ben and Kipling out of the way of a roaring car, music blaring, with only inches to spare. Perfect imperfect these memories, just like the patina scribbled on the surrounding walls for all to see. No need for them right now.

So I snapped back, quite literally with a click-click, present-bound and looked without judging and felt a tiny lift of joy without judgement too. The worn faces above the doorways winked conspiratorially before I turned into the shade of an alley, a short-cut but also a window closing. It is funny that it is no longer one of the more fashionable streets to live on, despite leading directly to the Arena (or maybe because of it); it clearly once was and perhaps will be again. Sometimes, we need to go right back to where we started.









 

Arles, eternal and ever the heady mix. Who says all roads lead to Rome?




Still no news about Teddy, friends. I will let you all know...
Bon Weekend.