I woke this August morning to the warm sound of summer rain pitter-pattering a soft birthday song on the frail window panes outside of our bedroom, one year older, one year more grateful for this life of mine. I swear, sometimes I still feel like my 10-year-old self taking a long walk through the tall, grassy field behind my childhood home, humming, pondering, dreaming. I did a lot of that when I was younger, happily by myself in a world that felt big and strange and full of wonder that I could see and feel and touch, but didn’t understand. Not much has changed. I am beginning to think that that part of me will always be there, and maybe it’s not my 10 year-old self, but my soul and inner voice shining it’s light from time to time like a lighthouse when I need a good centering back to what matters most. Just maybe.
I took it upon myself to sleep in past 8 am today, which was entirely perfect to say the least, because deep sleep has always been one of my favorite gifts, especially in the rain. But because I’m a mom, each of the kiddos took it upon themselves to give me a good tug on the shoulder, foot, and arm, reminding me it was my birthday so I was needed downstairs.
“You know…it’s your day, mom.” – Theodore, gently
“Wake up, mom! It’s not dark outside!” – Alfie, with a lisp
“We have something for you!” – Stella, eager to have me read her card
I gathered myself after a good stretch, quite thankful for the overcast day ahead because I have been wanting to watch The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Netflix, which by the way, is going to be one of our book club reads this year! Have you read it? I am thinking Winter for that one, maybe Spring. We’ll see. Before making my way downstairs I laid there staring at the ceiling overhead, thinking of my grandma Mary Jeanne and how blessed I am to have my health, my mind, and the good fortune to love what I do, where I am, with whom I care most about. She was admitted to the hospital yesterday and the past several weeks have been a hard for us – a constant reminder to slow down and savor the present, for that’s all we have for sure, you know? Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But now. So today I am going to celebrate today, my birthday, because that’s what she would want.
Sometimes I go through life thinking I’ll be ready to begin next month, next year even, or maybe after the current season if it’s crazy stressful, all the while dismissing the plain and simple fact that life is now and I am indeed living it. It sounds so obvious and odd when laid out like this, typed even, but I think it’s probably not as common (sadly) for many people to consider that life is happening this very moment, and despite our best intentions, it’s not going to wait for any of us to jump on in. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received about life is that it’s now o’clock, which is kind of a kick in the pants, and entirely the point, I suppose. As much as my grandmother’s decline with dementia is breaking my heart, her everyday devotion to life’s ordinary arts and the spiritual mysteries that hug each day is not lost on me. We are only here for a brief time, if we’re lucky, and so I’m going to spend what I have of it spreading light in the now, just as she taught me to do.
Upon making my way down our creaky stairs I heard four voices begin to serenade, “Haaappppyyyy birthday….” Though my eyes were still groggy and half shut, I could see a faint glow coming from the dining room, a candle perhaps? Yes, one tiny beeswax taper stuck on the top of a macaroon mountain, alongside fresh flowers in my grandma’s porcelain pitcher, several handmade cards, and a gift of all things French (a theme to be sure!). We all took turns sampling the flavors before breakfast and coffee: lavender, pistachio, PB&J, raspberry, salted caramel, and red velvet cake. I then the read my love notes and little one scribbles, and opened my gift of a nice bottle of white from the Rhone Valley, a favorite cheese, and…drumroll…two years worth of French lessons! Magnifique! Andrew chimed in, “I thought you’d love knowing how to chat with the locals and market vendors when we go on holiday to Paris!”
My husband, my dear, is the most thoughtful person I know, always thinking outside the box and full of surprises just like this one. He knows my favorite things in life are those we cannot hold with out hands but our hearts, and this one takes the cake. French lessons have always been on my mind and now I get to take them. How very lucky am I! His brother Jason lives in Paris and after spending a few weeks there last summer, the two of us decided while walking along the Seine to make it our family’s annual trip. He recently renovated an old Parisian flat so there’s plenty of room for us to stay, and there we will make it a tradition to summer there and travel to and fro, spending time doing what we love, which is being together, eating good food, and enjoying simple pleasures in city that sings beauty and hope around every bend. I am beyond grateful for my gift and very excited to begin my lessons, which I am going to dabble in, or at least browse through, during quiet time today.
Instead of a drive-in like we had planned, Andrew and I are going to a new/old restaurant for dinner tonight, one that lives up the road from our first home here in Kansas City. We moved here knowing little to nothing and settled on an apartment downtown next to an old jazz bar that became my first job here. If you ever find yourself in Kansas City and want a place to hunker down with a good martini and some live soul music, The Phoenix is just the place for you. I worked there while teaching youngsters ESL North of the river, moonlighting as a server/bartender until I became noticeably pregnant with Stella, whereby it was time to call it quits and spend less time serving said martinis on my feet for hours on end. But it was a good job, a great job even, and one that nourished my love of jazzy instrumentals and paid my way through the last bit of school. So tonight we’re hoping to stop there either before or after our meal for drink and some tunes, to toast to the year ahead and for all the goodness life has given me so far.
Cheers to my 31 trips around the sun! May it be a year full of all things beautiful, good, and true. And like my 10-year-old self, I’ll be humming, pondering, dreaming as I make my way through.
Lisa - I visited Guernsey last year — I recommend it as a day trip from France! It’s the cutest little French island village. Victor Hugo lived there and you can tour his home, which is a trip to say the least. It’s a very Chocolat-esque town.
Marie-France Lalande - Bonjour ! I’m a French middle school teacher in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. If you ever want some French online written conversations, practice, tips or just have someone proofread something. Let me know. I’ve been following you for a while and love everything you do! Love the blog, your home, your way of thinking for educating your kids. I’m on mat leave with my first baby so I have a bit of time on my hands. I was raised French and live in a French community. I’m teaching French to French kids but I also did tutoring with French immersion/core french kids in my first years of teaching. France is also my heart and soul dreamy place to visit/dream about.
Good luck on these lessons. Youll do GREAT!
Ashley - Hi Marie-France, my children attend French immersion school here in GA. We have always wanted them to have penpals. I wonder if we could connect with your school? That would be so fun!
Rachel - Hey Ashley! I’m currently looking for French immersion schools in Georgia as well! Which one would you recommend?! Thanks in advance!
Blair - I read The Guernsey… last year with my book club and just discovered the movie on Netflix this weekend. It was such a treat to watch during naptime. The actors are some favorites! Happy Birthday!!
Melissa - Happy birthday, it sounds like a lovely way to begin a new year. Bonne chance avec…well my French isn’t what it used to be but good luck! 💛
Rachel - Happy Birthday Amanda!! I hope you have the most special day! I love your writing and I especially love this post. You make every day sound so magical. ☺️
sylvia - I share this same wonderful day for my birthday too (though the 14th was yesterday where I live). Birthdays are our souls most visionary days 🌞🌜💛 happy birthday to us both!
Jacinthe - Happy birthday Amanda! Or as we say in french : Joyeux anniversaire!
Peppermint Dolly - What a beautiful read, you have such a way with words Amanda. Happiest of Birthday’s to you – you’ve accomplished so much already!! I hope you enjoyed the rest of your day and here’s to your next 31 years!!
Rebecca | http://www.peppermintdolly.com
Conny - Happy Birthday still. Or as we say in the Netherlands: Gefeliciteerd! Hope you enjoyed your birthday…
Sonja Bee - Happy Birthday !!! Hope your day and all future days are sublime. And YES! I need constant reminders to live for right now and not for when this or that happens. A shame to waste your life looking only for future events when it is all around us to enjoy.
I too read The Guernsey in a book club a few years back and loved it. I have to admit when I first saw it I didn’t want to read it at all but it drew me in and in the end I added that lovely island to my list of places to see, along with Jersey (which I have loved for years having read all of Gerald Durrell.)
Martina Gunnarsson - So beautiful written. I do too feel like my “10 year old self.” Myself at 8-12 year old. Playing in our old forest behind our house, talking to trees, imaging trolls lurking behind the trees, and feeling like the wind in that makes sounds in the treetops speaks to me. This was also a time when I looked forward to sit down in my quiet room in the evening, writing my diary and feeling excetiment to fall asleep so I could wake up early and play. Especially when the house was still asleep.
I’m thankful I happened to click on this reading. I needed it today.