One wedding, two funerals and a ”nouvelle maison”.

Pop goes the French champagne cork of my life on the eve of  2011.  How else to  capture the fabulous happenings of 2010 which have taken Olivier’s and my life together to a higher plane.

Goodness. Who would have imagined I would sell the film option for my best-selling book From France With Love, but  young Adelaide film-maker, Peta Astbury wants to bring my love story to the big screen.  And whoever would have thought I would face my greatest fear  and launch my own website in May 2010.  There were daily challenges, but I have written 90 articles since and husband Olivier has dutifully posted them all with accompanying photographs for your information and entertainment. ( hope.)

The year of our family began with the wedding of my step-daughter Sylvie to her long love, Alain, in Pine Creek, Northern Territory.  It was a simple garden ceremony while the rain bucketed down onto the white marquee. A sensational French banquet prepared by a young French chef named Julie, who happened to work there at the bar meant we feasted on oysters, barramundi and entrees galore.  Dessert was a multilayered masterpiece.   The event triggered my return to travel journalism and we enjoyed a trip on The Ghan in platinum class, and the article was publishedin 50-Something magazine.

This was also the year sadness struck our family. Olivier lost his French mother, Giselle, who in Avignon. Despite a mercy flight courtesy of Qantas, he missed saying “Goodbye’ by half an hour. But she knew he was in France and on his way because he telephoned her from the airport before taking the TGV within 50 minutes of arrival. It simply wasn’t meant to be, but at 91, she was suffered a fatal heart attack as he passed the hospital gates.

Despite his grief, he chuckled somewhat when the priest of the historic St Martin’s Basilica in St Remy de Provence was a French speaking black priest from the Ivory Coast. “Maman would have loved a black priest conducting her funeral,’’ he later related.

It was a humble farewell with few villagers attending and she was cremated in Marseilles.

He and his sister, Francoise, scattered their mother’s ashes in the pine forest behind their first home in Pont Demay as she wished.  She lived in the white house close by as a young married woman during the war with her two toddlers before her life tumbled into poverty.

I met Olivier in London in August and we visited Edinburgh with our London family, daughter Serena, Jon and the three grand-children and attended the sensational Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Another glorious road trip around France, a few days in Paris and we returned home to move ourselves from Belair (where Oli had lived for 35 years) to Hindmarsh Island.

I need to backtrack because while Oli was conducting his duties as the only son, I was left alone here in  OZ to pack up our belongings. That one word “belongings’’ is a story in itself as his much-loved things far exceeded mine because I had sifted through my stuff three times.

Our seachange has also presented challenges, not the least being travelling to Adelaide repeatedly. But our island home sits on the marina where the River Murray flows past and all we lack here is a boat tied to the jetty at the bottom of the garden.  Birds are our neighbours.

However, our biggest change this year, a sometimes overwhelming challenge, has been to raze our home at Belair to build our new retirement home.  This is not a task for the faint-hearted!  We took our lunch the day the bulldozers arrived and it was an emotional event for husband Olivier.  However, the foundations of our new retirement home have been poured and we say roll on 2011 to bring us back to our real home – Belair.

My three  children have wrestled all year with the deteriorating health of their dad, Graham Williams, my former husband, who suffered from melanoma. He lived to see his son, Tyson, turn 30 and we had a happy celebration at Tyson’s house on June 12.  Graham died in his bed on November 1 and by chance, I was staying unexpectedly at Tyson’s house that night.  It was a poignant moment, as was Graham’s funeral a few days later. Naturally, the children have been grief-stricken. I don’t know how ex-wives are supposed to feel, but I have wept this year, too, because we were married for 15 years and together for 20 years.  I have much to thank him for especially my tertiary education and at this time all those happy memories rise up in the mind.

To happier things.  In October I was guest speaker at my largest society event – Novita’s Spring Rose Garden lunch which was a sell-out and in November, this event connected me to a prominent South Australian who is keen to try and find funding to bring From France With Love to the screen. Peta has also fulfilled an important clause in our contract and has hired a screen-writer.  So, watch this space.

Challenges help us age well, which is a reason why I started up my Facebook page Life & Style by Nadine Williams in November!

Christmas was a delightful, fun expression of our crazy family life… great French food on Xmas Eve,  traditional turkey and trimmings riverside on Christmas Day, wonderful friendship and great experiences.

However, this has been a unique year because it is the only time I will be living anything like my Germanic forebears,  great-grandmother and grandmother, who lived on the River Murray at Caloote. And I treasure each day here.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year, Joyeux Noel and do check out my website

My Hand-made Christmas

We wanted something different and special to decorate our island home for Christmas because we didn’t want rummage through our storage pile of boxes to the artificial Christmas tree.

And with ingenuity, we have created a beautiful Christmas tree from half dozen dead pine branches still with pine cones attached, which we sprayed silver. They were fixed into an empty  red tin flower bucket filled with polystyrene filling for packing boxes.

Piled to the rim, they looked remarkably like snow and around the bucket I wrapped a  pretty Christmas ribbon.

We shopped for baubles light enough not to snap off the twigs of the pine branches and found eight hand-made Christmas decorations for an average of $2.30 each and a tube of red baubles from Ned’s at Victor  Harbour (the cheapie shop).  They were dangled strategically from the branches to create a beautiful thing.

The most poignant decoration on the tiny tree, though, was a lone felt cut-out of the word “Peace’’, so light, it might float away.

As if a magic potion, there the tree sat on the sideboard and that word “peace’’ prevailed throughout our Christmas Day celebrations. It witnessed all the joy of gift-giving, making  ham sandwiches for a packed lunch at the beach, and the mayhem of preparing the evening Christmas meal for seven.

And sitting around the table, the joy of the family gathering for our roast turkey Christmas dinner, was reflected in those small red baubles.

The pretty floral centrespread, too, was my handiwork after Olivier and I picking foliage from the verges of Hindmarsh Island.

The colors – the emerald greens of pencil pines and three gloriously yellow Banksia flowers with sprigs of holly  and other leafy natives – toned in with the French Provincial table cloth.

How wonderful it is to be retired to have the time to make these embellishments to give our home creative style at Christmas.

Philipa’s Christmas: How Arts Decoratifs create joy

This is the house, so glorious with colourful Christmas arts decoratifs that it could well be used as Santa’s cave.

It is laden with the exotic style and Christmas cheer of  new-found Goolwa friend Philipa, who sits amidst the living room’s splendour with her doggie, Misty, on her lap.

Misty has a festive collar, too, which tinkles as she jumps from Philipa to tear around the room.

Of course, the Christmas tree is a splendid thing with its cluster of wrapped gifts, but it is the cheery overall festive theme which delights.  The twinkling lights and pretty pine garland strung above the kitchen cupboards, the tub of tinsel and baubles and pine cones positioned at the window and the placement of myriad things, which makes this such a special place.

“I bought the laurel pine garland and decorated it,’’ she says.

“I am a country girl, you see and a farmer’s daughter, so we have always been self-sufficient.’’

Now she switches on the piece de resistance, a magnificent piece of decorative China, an animated  snowman, and like magic, tiny Christmas figures begin to revolve around its open core.

The single-fronted glass house exudes Christmas style from the street where the full glory of her decoration is visible because of its window walls. The front approach is stunning, too, with a beautiful Christmas wreath on the door and the decking dotted with tubs of bright red geraniums and lone green miniature pencil pine.

“I like to make my house cheery for people driving by and they see that this is a happy place,’’ she says.

“It makes them smile.’’

“I like the excitement, the anticipation and I love the decoration of the home at Christmas, the whole preparation for celebration.

“But I also love the spirit of Christmas; the spirit of giving, of being able to receive graciously.

“Keeping the spirit of  Christmas alive for children is paramount… the happiness, the excitement, the anticipation, for children to see this is a happy time.’’

Yet, behind all the beauty of her environment and her warm words, lies a Christmas story of absolute tragedy which befell Philipa.

Sitting here amongst the twinkling lights, the draped tinsel, the table decorations and her carefully displayed Christmas treasures of a lifetime, she tells of one Christmas 19 years ago, when she was helping a messy friend to clean her house for Christmas.

It was on December 9 and her three year old daughter, Felicity was with her. One minute she was playing with the white kitten of the house, and the next minute, Philipa saw that her little girl was no longer there. She found her face-down in the backyard swimming pool. Felicity had opened the door behind her mother’s back, following the kitten, who had used the kitty door.  Philipa applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until the ambulance arrived, but it was too late.

“There I was vacuuming my friend’s house and I guess Felicity found she could reach the door handle,’’ says Philipa.

Christmas to Philipa could so easily be a season of mourning.  Yet she chose not to.

“Life is only what you make it. Even the Christmas Felicity died, I was determined to feel some joy, to capture a little of the spirit of Christmas.’’

Breast Cancer – A Beast of a Disease

Life can be such a bitch!  Over the past few weeks two close friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer and had operations to have breast lumps removed and diagnosed.

It means that today, fun-loving Anne will have a mastectomy. Her right breast must be removed because the lump taken out three weeks ago revealed third stage, aggressive cancer.

We heard the news yesterday at a joyful Christmas party at the home of mutual friends, and Anne, who has voluptuous breasts, was happy to show her scar. She has been always a cleavage girl, showing off her “assets’’ and now she pulls her lipstick from between her boobs, purses her lips and imitates painting it on her lips:

“I will have to find somewhere else to put my lipstick,’’ she says, shoving it right back  “because after this is all over, I am going to be a new woman.

“This is all going to go,’’ she says of her ample platform. “I am going to have this boob reduced,’’ she says, grabbing her left breast  “and the other one reconstructed with my tummy fat.’’

Anne is a funny, laugh-a-minute personality and now she laughs heartily as she grabs a roll of her “spare tyre”.

“But you know, I had the lump removed on November 25th and on November 27th, our first grandchild was born….so we went from the deepest low to the highest joy in two days!  To see this beautiful baby boy, gave us such much joy.’’

My friend from afar, Sydneysider Jane, underwent her second lumpectomy in six years last week. Her lump was in the other breast and this week, she telephoned to say it was another small primary cancer. “Thankfully, it’s low-grade,’’ she said.

In our lifetime one in eight women will experience the fear of finding breast cancer, but over the past 30 years, the survival rates have almost doubled. Mortality rates have dropped to about 23 per cent of all women diagnosed with breast cancer.

There are skeptics arising in our midst who question the cost versus effectiveness of Breast Screen to save lives.  But they need to heed the stories of Anne and Jane whose cancerous lumps were both discovered through the free breast X-ray service.

They both received that dreaded telephone call within a day or so and were called back for further tests.

Their new year heralds  the breast cancer journey of chemotherapy,  radiotherapy and life-saving medication – all part of the mix to save lives.

Women all say that treatment is a harrowing process, but I can now count on one hand, the number of friends, colleagues and acquaintances of a certain age, who have battled with breast cancer – and all have survived.

A moment with Margaret

In  the midst of the Christmas shopping frenzy I met an old woman in a wheelchair and she called out to me in barely legible words that she was selling a book for $2 a copy.

“It’s a book of my poetry,’’ she says as I momentarily stop.

Her left hand is wrapped in a sock and lies limp in her lap with two cigarette packets, one crumpled and empty, the other recently opened.

“I’ve had a stroke and lost the use of my left side,’’ she says, guessing my question.

But, I simply say “Merry Christmas’’ and walk onward to the chemist to pick up a prescription. But I stop in my tracks in the store and ask myself.  “What am I doing? I can surely spend $2 to make an old lady happy at Christmas’’.

So I turn round, walk out the store and stride back towards the wheelchair slowly moving down the main one-way street at Victor Harbour.

Catching up, I ask her “What’s your name?’’ .

“Margaret,’’ she replies and thrusts a booklet towards me.

“I’m selling my book for $2 and it’s all my own poetry.’’

And, sensing a sale, she rattles off in her croaky whisper “What’s all this about the Crows?

I just don’t understand.

There they are with pretty clothes

And biceps Oh! So grand.’’

Three verses long she recites before launching into yet another poem.

My head is full of questions: How old is she? “80 years old” Where do you live?

“In the Nursing Home over there.’’

Surely she is like a difficult teenager, slipping out when grounded.

“Do they know you are here out on the street selling your book?’’

“They can’t stop me,’’ she retorts.

Sensing my curiosity, she launches into another piece.

“Australia has been my land for years of that there is no doubt.

Their conversation is politics, football and cricket, too.

She’s proud of her koala, platypus and kangaroo…’’

But there’s one thing that fazes her –a team called “All Black’’.

“Wow! That’s great’’,  I say, and she smiles.

“I have been writing poetry since I was a little girl,’’ she says softly.

“They took my work and someone from head office got it all typed up.’’

And I cannot help myself as this retired journalist takes over.

“Do you have any children?’’ I enquire.

“No, I have never married,’’ she replies.

“I just love to write poetry, but I have been a secretary and a typist.’’

I think of my long gift list for my husband, my adult children, their spouses, the grand-children,  and they are the blessings of my full life. My heart goes out to Margaret – all alone on the street in Victor Harbour.  Her poetry, her expression of self is all she has left and she is so proud of  her gift.

“Well, I would love to have a copy.’’

So, we do business and I take the simple black and white booklet entitled “Always Bright’’ Recent poems by Margaret Mitchell.

It’s evening now and I am reading her poetry gems on quitting smoking, on cheating, about Horace, a wild wattle bird, and of a broken heart. Then, I catch my breath at the last ditty: It is named Tyson, my son’s name and its about her long gone dog.

So many chapters of her life are captured in her clever words, such as One is “Ten Small Steps’’ which she wrote rhythmically on October 14, 2004. “They said I’d never walk again, All I could do was pray.

“But Annaliese, Roger and Linda were there To help me on my way. I walked those steps, those precious steps, I walked ten steps today.’’

However, her poem Selling Books, reflects Margaret’s amazing zest for life as an 80-year-old out there plying her creative work.

“Selling books is quite a job,

In fact it bleeds me dry.

My intention is to rob

But never, never lie.

I have a book worth twice as much

As my asking price.

Its full of laughter, smiles and such

And makes you feel so nice.

O come and buy, come and buy, It’s really worth your while.

I’m out to make you happy,

I’m out to make you smile.’’

And I wonder at Margaret’s lyrical wit and her clever turn of phrase, which does make me laugh and smile and feel happy that I bothered to stop and buy “Always Bright’’.

Margaret, I suspect, will never feel old and my Christmas is richer for having spent a moment with her.

Elsa an inspirational French teacher

Never has learning French been so inspiring as this week’s lesson in the rose garden of Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens.

My French teacher is Argentinian-born and now new Australian citizen, Elsa Rozannes and we are sitting here on a bench under a flower bower, reciting French poetry.

It is her idea to take this pleasant excursion into the National Rose Trial Garden, adjacent to the Conservatory and I notice above me hang clusters of  “China Doll’’.

Usually Elsa and I meet in the Intercontinental Hotel and sip potted tea sweetened with honey while I converse and try to grasp difficult grammar, such as the subjonctif tense.

But don’t start me on the frustrating idiosyncracies of the French language, because today’s lesson has been pure pleasure.

I am reciting  la Poesie Francaise, Correspondances  by Charles Baudelaire, about La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers (In Nature’s temple living pillars rise) and sweet words such as “Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte, les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se respondent’’.

All of which, thanks to Elsa’s creative teaching style, I can read and pronounce more or less correctly and understand.

It has been a long, arduous task to learn French and it has taken much of this past decade to achieve through a variety of means including many terms at Alliance Francaise.

But Elsa’s dedication and our one-to-one instruction each week all year has been tipping point to my mastering the language.

“Maintenant, je peut dire que je peut parler assez bien the langue Francaise.’’

I can think in two languages that Elsa has taken me along meandering paths, past “vast pillars’’ of  “les arbres’’, glorious century old trees of myriad kinds, past a century-old Bunya Pine and a beautiful old Bottle tree even before we reach the Rose Garden.

The National Rose Trial Garden was established in 1996 as the first of it kind as a joint venture between the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, the Rose Introducers of Australia (RIAUS) and the National Rose Society of Australia.

We have smelt many colourful roses even before I read about scent and colour.

However, the poem I must learn by heart now, because Elsa says it is a fundamental piece in French literature known by all French students is a sad little roses poem entitled “Consolation’’ and it was written in 1598 by Francois Malherbe. He wrote these heart-felt words for his lady love who had lost her five-year-old daughter, whose name was Rose.

“Mais elle etait du monde

Où les plus belle choses

Ont le pire destin.

Et Rose, elle a vecu

Ce que vivent les roses

L”Espace d’un matin.

Which means”: But she was of the world where the most beautiful things have the worst destiny.

And Rose, she has lived like the life of roses – in the space of a morning.’’

Such beautiful words transport me into a new phase of my journey into Frenchness – the study of French poetry and literature. And as we take coffee at the kiosk I cannot think of a more beautiful place for this transition to happen – alongside the Mediterranean Garden brimming with hedges and plants of myriad kinds with an inspirational teacher.