A Good Home, Twigs in My Hair - A Gardening Memoir

The Story Behind the Story

I remember the day when CBC Radio host Shelagh Rogers and her colleagues Jacqueline and Erin came to interview me at our old farmhouse on the northern edge of Toronto.

It was summer 2014 and a day like the one pictured on the cover of Twigs in My Hair

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My first book, A Good Home, had been recently published, and I, who had interviewed hundreds of people on television, was terrified. Of forgetting, of stuttering, of other painful things resulting from a car accident.

Wise woman that she is, Shelagh asked me to stroll with her around the gardens before the interview.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Shelagh and Cynthia in Garden

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Garden

My friend Marilyn Mirabelli prepared tea for everyone. “Everything goes better with a cup of tea,” she said, trying to calm my anxiety.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea Ladies

The interview complete, we sat outside and enjoyed ourselves. Marilyn regaled us with stories about the history of the afternoon tea tradition in Britain. We heard names like Queen Victoria and Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford.

Blog Photo - Afternoon Tea pink cup and saucer

I remember the tea party, but almost nothing of the interview.

Much later, I remembered this:  Shelagh asked if I was writing a sequel.  I said I was terrified of writing a sequel because I’d have to revisit my journals — and that was too painful.

No way. I’d come too far to go back.

Blog Photo - Cynthia Reyes on The Next Chapter

Instead, I said, I was working on something fun — a gardening book! It was, in fact, almost complete.

But life went and did what life does.

Something unexpected happened. It led to the writing of An Honest House, the sequel I had dreaded.

Book cover - An-Honest-House

It went on to win an award and much critical acclaim for its raw honesty. But writing it traumatized me. The gardening book was shelved and forgotten.

Now, five years after I first wrote that gardening memoir, I look at the cover and feel a bunch of differing emotions.

  • Surprise. That we (Hamlin and I) and Mother Nature created such a beautiful garden.
  • Gratitude. That God graced us — my husband in particular – with ideas and  stamina to care for it. Hamlin built those garden beds and created the garden structures by himself.
  • Delight. That the book is finally published.
  • Satisfaction. That Hamlin’s photos and my story reflect a real life. Many images are gorgeous, but because the book is a memoir, we chose photos of real gardens and a real family. No staged or airbrushed photos here!

TWIGS -3D Cover Black BG

I see memories everywhere in this book cover. Most are good, a few are painful, and all in their own way, are precious. 

Almost every object you see has meaning for us.

Look closely at the boxwood semi-circle behind the round garden bed.

Twigs in My Hair - Photo of Arbour and boxwood circle and veggie garden to right

Now look at the biggest of the boxwoods, given to us in the 1980’s by a revered gardening teacher, Donald Moore. You’ll meet him – and the boxwood — when you read Twigs in My Hair.

Of course, I should apologize to Shelagh Rogers for misleading her, and for the book being years late. But hey! We finally got it done!

 

 

 

A Good Home, Adopted HOme, Family Stories, Living in France

At Home with Nancy Ing-Duclos: France

Nancy Ing-Duclos is a TV news producer and online publisher of INSPIRELLE.

Blog Photo - Nancy INSPIRELLE COVER 3

France has been home for almost 30 years.

She loves it. “I can happily say:  ‘Je suis chez moi’ .  I’m at home.”

This spectacular rooftop view of Paris, by the way, is from her home.

Blog Photo - Nancy Rooftop Terrace - Photo Credit Alexis Duclos
Credit: Alexis Duclos

Long before Paris, however, Nancy spent her childhood in Windsor, Ontario.

“When my father bought the house (in Windsor), we were the first Chinese family on the street and the neighbors, I’ve been told, drew up a petition. We felt the need to blend in and soon, the fireworks display on our lawn every Canada Day on July 1st  and our elaborate Christmas lights made our home indistinguishable from other Canadian homes.”

Nancy went to university in Toronto and got her first big job in TV news in the 80’s “at a time when Canada’s multicultural communities were finding and defining their voices.” 

That’s how we met.  Nancy and I were both young journalists at CBC TV.

But a car accident changed her perspective on life.

“So when I met my French husband, Alexis, six months later at a G7 Economic Summit, I said to myself, ‘You never know when tomorrow will be your last day’ ”.

Blog Photo - Nancy at Work

She moved to Paris and worked at various news jobs for years.

“Paris is truly one of the most beautiful, cultural and dynamic cities in the world but once the honeymoon period wears off, the reality can be rude. Moving abroad is a very humbling experience. No one knows you or knows what you have achieved or are capable of.

“I had to start from scratch. I read loads of books, attended classes, explored each of the French neighborhoods in my quest to become a “Paris insider”. And what I learned is I will never feel totally ‘French’ but ‘je suis bien dans mes baskets’. I’m comfortable in my sneakers.”

Blog Photo - Nancy and Alexis

Did she ever imagine this kind of life?

“I always thought the person who married me would have to learn to accept the Chinese culture ingrained in me. In fact, I’ve done most of the work in the relationship by learning to speak French, reinventing my career, tackling bureaucracy and understanding all the nuances of my adopted home, France.”

A car accident had changed her attitude to life.  And it was a car accident that changed her career:

“Covering the death of Princess Diana in a Paris tunnel landed me the position I still hold today with a major American television network.

“I have been privileged to interview presidents and pop stars, produce major live shows from iconic locations. It’s also been sobering to witness the tragic aftermath of plane crashes and terrorist attacks on French soil.”

Alexis built them a small house on a hill, next to the woods.  They and their son Jordan moved to Sèvres 20 years ago.

Blog Photo - Nancy - Paris suburbs drawing

Blog Photo - Nancy Alexis Jorxdan

“Retreating to the suburbs was the only way we could own a house.  I left the city of lights reluctantly but Alexis promised me that if I was unhappy two years later, we could move back to Paris.

“On my first night in my new home, I slept soundly. No more waking up to every creak of my Parisian neighbors, conversations sneaking through walls and babies crying down the hallway.”

Her son Jordan could walk to school and play in the woods. It didn’t take Nancy long to realize that they lived only a short drive to the Seine River; Paris was only 20 minutes away by car.  She decided to learn to drive in France.

Blog Photo - NANCY TABLE SETTING CORSICA

“Last summer, my entire Canadian family and close friends, 25 in all, traveled to France and Corsica to help me celebrate with my husband’s French family.

Blog Photo - Nancy and Family and Friends

“It was pure joy for two weeks. Never have I felt so at home with the people I love the most.”

In 2015, Nancy and two expatriate friends launched INSPIRELLE.

Blog Photo - Nancy INSPIRELLE Team - Photo Credit Alexis Duclos
Credit: Alex Duclos

“We created INSPIRELLE to inspire, connect and empower international women in France. Having experienced the challenges of living abroad, raising a family in an unfamiliar setting with different sets of rules and values as well as reinventing myself at work, I wanted to share stories and resources to help women in their personal and professional lives.”

Blog Photo - Nancy - INSPIRELLE_cover

Sixty contributing writers share advice, expertise, and personal stories on how to navigate and celebrate life in Paris.

Nancy, Alexis and Jordan are now thinking about a bigger home to accommodate visiting relatives or friends.

It will have “a large kitchen with a long dining table to host dinners. We figure the only way to afford that is to move a bit further outside of Paris. We’ll build a beautiful house so everyone will want to come to visit us.

“For me, home is where I am surrounded by family and friends.”

~~

 

 

A Good Home, Family Moments

Pride or The Lack Thereof

My good man doesn’t understand why I like my sister’s old clothes. She shows up with a bagful of clothing and I rummage through them like a kid with a treasure box.

The look on his face says: “At your age, you really should not be wearing your sister’s hand-me-downs.” 

I could tell him they’re not just any old cast-offs: they’re my sister’s cast-offs! But he didn’t have older brothers; he doesn’t understand.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat - bag of clothes

I could say that wearing each other’s clothes goes back decades, to stories like this one: for her first big job interview, my sister wore the light-blue suit that I had just bought with all my savings. She got the job and I shared in her pride. We never forgot that moment or that suit.

I could remind him that my sister did me a favour by accepting my collection of shoes.

Many had been bought on sale in Italy when I worked there.  But some were bought closer to home, after the car accident.  They were a commitment: I would heal, would wear “nice shoes” again.

It never happened, of course, and a few years ago, I finally surrendered. But I knew those shoes had to go to a special person. Someone who wore the same size and would understand.

My sister understood. My sisters always understand more than I tell them.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat full

They’d also understand why I bought this strange-looking coat, another thing my good man can’t fathom.

“Why are the sleeves different?” he said when I first wore it some years ago.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coatsleeve 1

Blog Photo - Cynthia coatsleeve 2

“And those buttons!”

I said each purchase contributes to funds for families in the Himalayas. That didn’t change his mind.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat closeup

It’s been over-worn. When the zipper got stuck last week and I had to step into the coat, cane and all, in the middle of a restaurant, he wasn’t there. And a good thing, that: he’d have turned white with astonishment — a difficult thing for a black man to do.

Blog Photo - Cynthia coat zipper

“You did what?” he asked, when I mentioned it. 

“It was a struggle! And when I looked up, giggling, other patrons burst into laughter,” I blithely continued.

“And that didn’t bother you?”

“Of course not!”

You should have seen the look on his face. 

The issue, you see, is personal pride and dignity.  It seems I’ve lost all of mine.

~~

Dedicated to my sisters, and to my husband, who love me, no matter what.

A Good Home, Pets

The Caregiving Cats

We’ve heard it said: pets often sense when something is wrong, especially when their human companions are ill.

Blog Photo - Jerome on injured knee

Our family has observed this in action recently. Our son-in-law broke his leg while skiing, requiring surgery and weeks of recuperation. Our daughter takes great care of him, of course. They’re a very caring couple. And  they both noticed that their cats, Jerome (above) and Simon (below), have been extra attentive. 

Blog Photo - Simon on lap3

What’s even more interesting: Simon tends to be reclusive, and Jerome tends to be edgy at times. But they have both been showering our son-in-law with attention and affection.

Blog Photo - Jerome on lap1

It’s not just the cats in our family that have stepped up when someone is ill.

The canine crew has been just as observant and affectionate.

Kinu, the gentle-giant, was my constant companion through pain-riddled days after a car accident. Sometimes, he would put a paw on the side of the bed, as if to reassure me.

Blog Photo - CR and Kinu

We’ve seen similar behaviour from our younger daughter and son-in-law’s pets too, staying extra close when someone is ill.

Blog Photo - Julius and Dawson Sleeping

But right now, it’s Nurse Simon and Nurse Jerome to the rescue. They keep our son-in-law company when our daughter goes to work, and their actions make him smile.

Blog Photo - Simon on lap2

As our son-in-law (and anyone who’s been laid up with injuries and been helped by their pets) knows, that’s a true gift.

Blog Photo - Jerome on lap2

Bravo, Simon and Jerome. And to all the canine and feline family members who help nurse us back to health.