Sara and Spring

The little bird who tapped on my window was leaving me a message. I began to notice isolated bird song cutting improbably through the fog, and now patches of Snowdrops are popping up in meadows and woods, sometimes with purple crocus alongside. I haven’t examined the bare branches of our Japanese maple or rosebushes yet, but I expect they are preparing their entrance, too.

It has warmed up a little. Our temperatures are in the 40’s instead of 30’s, and some days have been brilliant with blue sky and sunshine. Not today, though. Gusts of wind disturb the fir trees, and the dawning day is misty and dark. I hope it improves for my visitor from California, here for only a few days, bringing the breath of home and evidence of the continuity of life and relationships.

For Sara has been the midwife to my life as a grandmother. We met through the internet. Six years ago, I was looking for a place to stay when my first grandchild, Nico, was born. Her house overlooking San Francisco Bay is 10 minutes from the house my son and his wife lived in at the time, close enough for me to be a nuisance, or help, depending on whom you are talking to, and on which day. We worked out a house exchange, her dramatic home in Oakland for stays at my then-house overlooking olive groves in France.

I stayed with her many times after that, on my frequent visits to learn how to be a grandparent and mother-in-law. And then another grand child came along, Nico’s little sister Gabriella, and another small creature to get to know and love. Then David married Holly and began a family. Now there is Malia and Sage, as blond and fair as Nico and Gabriella are brunette and olive skinned, and all the while, Sara and Sara’s house in Oakland was a refuge from the sometimes difficult, always humbling, always rewarding time learning more about love and relationships than I thought I would ever learn.

Without Sara’s reminders that the world outside my little family was still going on, that it was interesting and exciting and full of beauty, I would have completely lost perspective, though I did sometimes lose it anyway.

Now she is here in our old world house, connecting me to the teeming vitality of that time, arriving with the first signs that winter will soon be over.



Pilates and a frosty morning

Helen, our local physiotherapist, teaches Pilates several mornings a week to the ladies of the parish. Not only do I make the 5 minute walk to the Village Hall, where the classes are, but also spend an hour gently stretching and pulling and using those deteriorating “core” muscles so I can stand up straight, and fight the plunging senior belly . The classes are composed of people – we have one male – who live in the surrounding area, many of whom I already know. It’s friendly and comforting to feel an inclusion I rarely achieved in France. Helen also helps keep Bernard’s excruciating back pain under control, as well as the aches and pains of the rest of us over 50’s. She used to treat Olympic athletes. Now she’s stuck with us.

This morning’s walk will require shoes with traction. The snow is mostly melted, although patches remain in sheltered spots, but cold nights have rendered the sidewalks icy and slick. Shiny frost glitters in the morning sun and, as it melts, coats the leaves and grass with twinkling light.

This morning, most magically, the big roof windows of our summer room are glazed with arabesques and curlicues, beaded strands weaving up and around and over the glass in white and glorious trees of life. We took pictures, which I will try to post later, as they are in this case really worth a thousand words.

And then, as I sit at my desk looking out the window, an little yellow and gray bird looks in at me, wings fluttering, before perching at the window, as close to me as the length of my arm. We look at each other, sharing our hopes for an early spring, before he swoops down to the garden to scratch for seeds.

Art Class in Albury

Wednesday mornings I go to a painting class in the nearby village of Albury. Our  teacher lives off Rectory Lane just down the road in Shere. I’m not feeling much like a painter, today. Well, yes, a painter, but rather of walls than of canvas. The thing is, this man is really teaching us to paint, and not just to mess around, and that means re-thinking methods and outlook. He says  he can tech us to paint what we see, but he can’t turn us into artists. That is up to us. As of now, I not only don’t feel like an artist, but a klutz as well.

One of the 8 or so women in the group is an experienced water color artist who is learning oil painting. Whatever she does turns out beautifully, despite this being a new technique to her. Another teaches pottery and ceramics and is expanding to oils, and she is also very accomplished. Most of the others are learning water color; another is doing pastels. Rosie, at 83, is taking up water color painting.

Our teacher spends time with each of us, turning our efforts into better pictures with a stroke of his brush . It is inspiring, if humbling, to see how little it takes to make it come to life, but how important that little bit is. And it’s all about the way you observe, he says.

If we don’t become great artists, it is at least bonding experience, this common effort, and our gang of four have decided that lunch at Wooten Hatch ought to become a regular feature. So after the class we brave snowy roads to this upscale pub a few miles away to catch up on each other’s lives, have a glass of white wine and enjoy very nice food at pub prices.

Tiny Rosie has a starter meal composed of a slice of frittata, smoked salmon, and a little salad, all beautifully presented on a pristine white plate. Pat and Anne choose a chorizo pizza with jalapenos, thin-crusted, brightly red and green. I have ordered seared scallops and black pudding on mashed sweet potatoes, drizzled with black balsamic vinegar. It, too, is beautifully presented on a white plate, delicately flavored with a hint of garlic and butter. But this is a starter dish, and there are only THREE of them, so Pat shares a slice of her pizza and I leave feeling well, and not overly, fed.

But my soul is replete with the companionship and common humanity of friends.l

Snowed In

We awoke yesterday to a snowfall which had been going all night. Roads were invisible beneath 6 to 8 inches of snow, sidewalks indistinguishable from them. I jumped out of bed –a very unusual occurrence for me – eager to discover our transformed world. We also wanted to get down to the corner store to stock up a little, just in case. On the way, we met friends and neighbors out for the same reasons. We stopped to exclaim over this world simplified by the white snow into angles and lines and shades of gray and white. Few cars tackled the hidden roads, even on this, a Monday, so the unsullied streets were ours to roam without fear of traffic.

Supplies at the little shop were sparse, not because of hoarding, but because no delivery vans could get through. No milk, no newspapers, no bread. Not a disaster for us, we could easily get by on what we had on hand, except for Bernard’s addiction, the newspaper. Bernard took some beautiful pictures as we wandered around the village and our circuit by the river. We couldn’t drive anywhere because the roads were impassable and our car, in any case, would not have negotiated our steep driveway. Children were out with sleds made out of anything they thought would slide, throwing snowballs and starting snowmen. It was like a holiday, only better for being impromptu.

We came home with numbed toes and fingers to a nice hot cup of tea, and a log fire to warm our bones. Couldn’t watch tv, though – we couldn’t receive good old BBC, not even radio, but hey, it’s good to return to the real world now and then.

Pictures are on Facebook, because I had to download on B’s computer. Sorry.