Here are some things I wish to improve in the new year. Not resolutions, because I don’t make those, but just some things to think about and work toward. Things that, in my rich fantasy life, will make me 5’10” tall, thin and blonde.
I had little expectation of enjoying France this fall, beyond seeing my pals, Beth and Kris, and maybe eating some great cheese. I didn’t plan on falling in love with Bordeaux, the vineyards, the lifestyle, and the great service.
That’s right. You heard me.
I attribute this, in part, to the crash course in shopping protocol that Beth hissed in my ear before I entered my first shop. The French greet you before the bell stops tinkling, and the custom is to offer a pleasant bonjour in return. And not just any bonjour, but one offered in a sing-song lift, an octave higher than normal.
I excelled at it.
The inflection is almost exactly the same one Czechs use in their greeting and I have years of practice with that. So now I think I have an ear for languages, and am toying with the idea of taking French lessons, because I clearly have a gift, and it is just how I see myself. All five feet, ten inches of me.
Some of my pals met up with some of their pals in London, and when they came home they talked about their admiration for the way their British friends live. Let’s start with the fact that they are just lovely people, down-to-earth and creative, and accomplished in interesting ways. But more than that, my friends were graciously treated, and they both made mention of it.
I wanted to know more about that, so they told me. It is about being invited to their friends’ home and all the attention to detail that surrounds their lives. The food was delicious, well and lovingly prepared. Abundant Everything at table, just, well, right.
The guest room wasn’t large and fussy, but the linens were luxurious. Falling asleep and waking up were events cradled in comfort and ease. Indoor living and outdoor living were seamless, pleasant and easy. Striped sling chairs in the garden, a little table for the lemonade. Flowers well attended.
I have friends who create the same kind of graciousness right here at home. They build fires and read by them, on rainy afternoons or snowy mornings, with coffee and warm socks. Friends who would rather cook for you than meet at a restaurant—because their food is better. Which is true, but it is also true that the act of feeding people, and doing it well, has at the heart of it the gift of time, attention, care.
Over the holidays a pal and I were talking about our lives, our hopes for the coming year. We were discussing, as always, clutter. I have too much of it, she doesn’t have enough. Naturally neat, she purges and curates her belongings to the point of austerity, and then she feels untethered, impermanent. At which point she goes and gets more stuff, and the winnowing begins anew.
We decided that the idea of gracious living might guide us both. So, I am working on that, one comforter, one bedside lamp at a time.
I ain’t getting any younger and the time has come, is long overdue, for paying attention to my health. Blessed with my father’s prairie stock genes and my mother’s hardy constitution— she could eat anything, could our Gretchen—I am rarely ill and surprisingly fit for someone as out of shape as I am.
I am paying more attention to what I eat, and when, and I find myself committing to memory articles I read about how to tell when a calorie isn’t a calorie, and why we must debunk the myth of metabolism, followed in a few days by new articles on how to fire said metabolism up.
You won’t find me eating kale, or chia seeds. Chia seeds, come on. I tried them once and the gelatinous mess they made in my teeth gave me nightmares for a week. I figure, if chia seeds are a superfood in their native Central and South America, then it is only sporting that a similar, but alternative, superfood must grow around here.
My father would have voted for the pinto bean.
So, I am dedicating myself to healthier eating in the coming year, and working on my house—adding gracious elements, removing clutter. I may download Babble for a laugh. If I can speak French, do I need to be blonde?