Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Never Lose Hope

I strive to keep my blog posts light and fun, sharing experiences of budget-friendly jaunts to France and beyond, throwing in some travel tips and recipes along the way. I hope I can make you smile or perhaps inspire you to broaden your horizons by trying a new dish or planning a vacation you had previously never thought possible. There are times, however, when I can not be silent or gloss over the realities of life. 

We are living in uncertain times. America is moving in a new, and sometimes frightening direction that has caused me some sleepless nights and anguish. I find myself wanting to apologize to the world for what is occurring in this country because what happens here has a ripple effect upon the entire world. America is a democracy which was built by immigrants, a country that welcomes people of differing faiths, skin colors, and abilities. We have been known as a generous nation whose people help others in need, whether that need is due to a natural disaster, persecution, famine. 

Honoring the flag in our small town on July 4
I'm doing what I can to support kindness and decency. I am, along with millions of others worldwide, making my voice heard. Never in all of my 65 years had I taken part in a demonstration, but that has changed in recent weeks. To stand by and do nothing while our brothers and sisters in America and around the world are being denied basic human rights is no longer an option for me. In my family, I have always been known as the peacemaker. I not only avoided confrontation, but I also attempted (and still attempt) to restore peace and balance.

I am doing my small part. Many of these acts are things I have been doing for years. I am kind. I volunteer. I donate to the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, and other causes which support my sisters and brothers in America and around the world. I call and write to my legislators. I boycott companies which promote bigotry and hate. I read and learn. I hope and pray. And always, always, I vote.

And when all of that wears on me, when I am downhearted and just plain tired, I take a break. I watch a mindless movie or lose myself in book. I go for a long walk in nature. I listen to music. I laugh with friends and family. I hold them close. I dream about and plan my next vacation. And then, I stand up, square my shoulders, and go on. We will go on. Love and peace to all of you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Going Forward

Going Forward

We're almost two weeks into 2017, a year that will bring many changes. Though there may be bumps in the road ahead, we will carry on in friendship and in love for our fellow travelers on this planet. I have a couple of announcements to make regarding some of those changes. 

First, and most importantly, I would like to let you know that Darcy will now be referred to as Desmond. He recently came out to Craig and me as transgender and we support him 100%. Our child is the same wonderful person as always and we love him to pieces. If you're a bit blown away by this, you are not alone. Desmond was initially rather nervous about the way family, friends, and coworkers would react, but I'm happy to say that the response has been wonderfully supportive and loving. 

Desmond and Bella, Christmas 2016

A proud mom!

Second, Craig is going to retire in March! We're thrilled about it and we both look forward to more time together. It's another new chapter in our lives, and one that we plan to fill with adventures. We are going to make a few more changes to the house and yard and we are, of course, planning to travel more. 

We haven't yet made concrete plans regarding our next visit to France. It may have to be during the summer. (Can you just hear me complaining about the heat?) I want to spend as much time there as possible, but there are family responsibilities that may require our attention here. We'll make the best of it and do all that we can to live our dream! 

I wish you joy in the coming year, and may all your dreams come true!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Never Ready

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Sunday, May 29 2016

After a restless night, it was difficult to arise at 5:30 AM, knowing what a long travel day we had ahead of us. We dressed sleepily and stowed our pajamas and toiletries away and were soon heading down the stairs to the lobby. We were too early even for coffee. We bid the usual tearful farewell to Darcy and Mathieu, who were remaining at the hotel for a while longer. They had just come down to see us off. 

Au revoir for now!

Traffic was light, so we made good time to the airport. The lines were shorter than usual and it wasn't long before we were upstairs near our gate. We gravitated toward the coffee shop, which was just opening. I was more than ready for my first morning coffee! I chose a pain au chocolate to accompany it and joined Craig at a little table next to the window. After breakfast, I browsed in the duty-free shops and picked up some last-minute souvenirs.

As boarding time neared, I thought I heard my name on the loudspeakers. There was already a crowd forming at the gate and with some difficulty, I managed to squeeze through to inquire if I had been paged. I was told that no, I had not been. I returned to my seat, but after a short time, we decided to join the queue at the gate. Once again, I thought I heard my name! I wove my way through the crowd to the gate attendant, who immediately ushered me forward upon hearing my name. I told her that I was traveling with my husband, so he was allowed through the barrier with me. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the reason I had been paged was because I had been selected for one of the random bag searches and additional pat-down! My carry-on and purse were both stuffed with the items I had purchased in the duty-free shops. I actually felt sorry for the TSA agent who was gingerly but thoroughly examining every item. Craig just stood by, looking amused.

Finally, we were able to find our seats and settle in for the long flight. I immersed myself in a book to pass the time, as I can never sleep on the daytime crossings. Craig and I also played a few games of Scrabble on his laptop. My seatmate was a very sweet young French woman. We chatted off and on during the flight. 

Wanna race?
When we arrived in Chicago, the airport seemed more crowded than usual. It took some time to retrieve our luggage and trundle it through to Customs. That part wasn't bad when compared to the lengthy wait we faced at border control! I have never seen such a crowd. The room was teeming with people and the temperature in there was stifling. The lines crept forward at a snail's pace. When we finally broke free of the lines and were in the terminal, we bumped into our French friend, who was now accompanied by a German woman. They both seemed lost and confused, so we offered to show them to their gate. We enjoyed visiting with them as we walked, and we would have liked to join them for lunch, but we had to catch the tram for another terminal. 

The last leg of our journey was uneventful. I suppose I was glad to finally return home, but really, my heart was still in France. I'm already looking forward to our next visit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Paris in the Rain

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Saturday, May 28 2016

It was our last morning in Orléans for a while. Our suitcases were open on the floor, waiting for those last-minute items to be tucked inside. We made one last walk to our favorite bakery, where I purchased a tasty chocolate-filled beignet and said goodbye to the sweet ladies at the counter. It was warm and cozy inside as we watched the raindrops roll down the window.

After breakfast, we finished the last few details of the new cabinets for Darcy's kitchen. When everything was in place, we patted ourselves on the back as we admired the finished pieces. With the countertop secured, the kitchen looked complete. It provided much more prep space and lots of storage.

Before long, the four of us were headed for the train station. We took the tram to Les Aubrais, where we caught the 11:00 train for Paris. We found seats together and sat back for the hour-long journey to Paris. It was raining lightly when we arrived, but that failed to dampen our spirits. Paris is lovely no matter the weather. Our taxi deposited us at the Hotel de l'Avre, a very charming and delightful place. We knew it would be too early for us to check in, but we were allowed to stow our bags until we returned at 3:00.

The Hotel de l'Avre in Paris, France
We began to explore. The hotel was a short distance from the Eiffel Tower, so we walked in that direction. The streets were bustling in spite of the rain. We found a cute little crêperie called Framboise, where we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a table near the window. The gallettes were wonderful. We finished with dessert crepes that were a perfect ending to the meal.

Lunch at Framboise in Paris, France

A refreshing crepe citron
We set out again toward the Eiffel Tower and soon arrived to find many huge tour buses parked along the side streets. Several areas were blocked off because of a marathon that had just taken place. The Champ de Mars was teeming with runners, locals, and tourists. All of us were sidestepping the puddles as we gaped at our surroundings. The rain had let up and there were vendors walking around offering selfie sticks for sale. They seemed to be a hot item. We saw many people using them to set up the perfect shot with the Eiffel Tower in the background. 

When we returned to the hotel, we were charmed by the lovely rooms that had been assigned to us. They were very cozy and were decorated with what looked like antiques. Many of the pieces were old clocks. The roomy bathrooms featured large bathtubs, which are a treat to find in a French hotel. The windows overlooked a sweet little graveled courtyard. Had the weather been nicer, I'm certain we would have enjoyed sitting in the garden, savoring a hot beverage. Instead, we found a neighborhood bar and warmed up over mugs of Irish coffee.

Just part of the lobby at Hotel de l'Avre, Paris

Our charming room at Hotel de l'Avre, Paris

Hotel de l'Avre had a sweet little courtyard.
For dinner that evening, Darcy had found an Italian restaurant called Chez Thomas, just a short walk from the hotel. The waitress was very sweet and animated; she actually kidded around with us a bit. My appetizer of bruschetta was fresh and delicious. Craig's antipasto was served on a bed of lettuce, which he left on the plate. The waitress good-naturedly chided him for not finishing his vegetables. His main course was also accompanied by a lot of greens, and when he had finished his meal, he quickly swapped plates with Mathieu so that the server wouldn't notice he had not eaten his vegetables! She was onto his tricks and was soon standing beside him, hand on hip, tapping her foot and waggling her finger at him. We all burst out laughing as he was busted! 

Delicious bruschetta at Chez Thomas, Paris
I devoured my plateful of chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce, served over pasta. It wasn't exactly an Alfredo dish, but was lighter and very flavorful. Dessert was crème brûlée for me, panna cotta for Craig and Darcy, and tiramisu for Mathieu. It was such a fun evening that it was hard to feel sad that our wonderful vacation was ending. We walked back through the rain to our hotel, where I later had a nice, long soak in that huge tub.  

A rainy day in Paris is still better than a sunny day anywhere else.

Monday, November 7, 2016

At the Zoo

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Friday, May 27 2016

For quite some time, Darcy had been eager to show us the ZooParc de Beauval. It's a world class zoo located about an hour and a half south of Orleans. We had heard many good things about the zoo and were looking forward to our visit.

The drive south was pleasant and uneventful. When we arrived at the zoo, the parking lot was beginning to fill up. People were streaming into the gates of the zoo; little ones excitedly jumping up and down in a frenzy to visit their favorite animals. 

The Beauval Zoo is built atop hilly terrain and is beautifully landscaped. It was definitely one of the prettiest zoos I have ever had the pleasure to visit. We wound up and around to the crest of a small hill to join a line for entry into the bird show. Darcy especially wanted us to view this exciting exhibition. She and Mathieu had seen the show several times and knew exactly where to sit for the best view. 

Waiting for the bird show to begin
 at the Beauval Zoo in France.

Bald eagles swoop down to feed from the pond.
We had no trouble finding our seats and enjoyed a beautiful view over the crowd to the small woods beyond. Darcy had told me that many of the birds would come flying straight at us out of the trees. That show simply took my breath away! It was so incredible that it alone was worth the price of admission to the zoo. The beautiful, ethereal music was a perfect background for the amazing antics of the birds. 

Coming in for a landing!

Many of the birds perched just behind us.
There were many varieties of feathered flyers swooping, banking, and performing right in front of us. Birds of all kinds, from vultures, to eagles, owls to parrots. All had something to contribute to the spectacle before us. Many of them landed on perches just behind our seats. The narrative was all in French, so we weren't really able to follow it, but I didn't feel as if Craig and I were missing much. 

After the show, we began to tour the grounds, viewing the animals that lived in these lovely surroundings. Naturally, the pandas were one of my favorite sights. It was the first time I had ever seen a panda in real life. The male was quite a ham. He seemed to be posing for pictures and enjoying all of the attention he received. 

The panda was hamming it up  after a snack of bamboo.
We had lunch at a restaurant in the center of the zoo, which served food cafeteria-style. It was reasonably priced and very tasty. We dined outside in the shade and had a view of the primates from where we sat. I read that the upper floor of the restaurant overlooked the sea lion exhibit.

The animal enclosures are nicely landscaped. 

Nap time for Kangaroos!

These two seemed to get along quite well
 by completely ignoring each other.
There were many sights to see, and as the day grew warm we stopped at a little stand and ordered ice cream. When it was time to leave, we were all pretty tired. The drive home refreshed us, however, and we enjoyed an evening with Arno, who had insisted that we stop by for supper. It was our last night in Orleans and Arno had made beef Bourguignon. It was delicious! It was hard to say goodbye to our friend as we headed out the door, knowing it would probably be at least a year before we returned.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Little Celebration

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Thursday, May 26 2016

After our morning coffee and pastries, Darcy headed off to work. Craig, Mathieu, and I had decided to do some shopping to find a gift to celebrate Darcy's second Master's degree. I convinced the men that she would really appreciate some kitchen cabinets to add to what little she had. That would give her additional storage and prep space, which was desperately needed in her tiny kitchen. 

I just had to get a photo
of the variety of breads at our nearby bakery.
Mathieu drove us to a large hardware store, something I would compare to a home center back home. With measurements in hand, we looked over several different styles of cabinetry and eventually decided on a nice white set with pewter grey countertop and handles. It had drawers and cupboards, and we even added a pull-out spice rack. The guys drove me back to the apartment and then set out again to stuff the unassembled cabinets into the back of the car and bring them home. Just as they were lugging the heavy boxes up the stairs, Darcy returned home unexpectedly and we were busted! She was at first curious and then delighted when she found out what we had done.

We broke for lunch before tackling the assembly of the new cabinets. At a little cafe on Rue Jeanne D'arc, sitting in the open air, we enjoyed delicious crocque monsieur sandwiches and crisp fries along with a lovely view of the cathedral. Then, back we went to assemble the cabinets, while Darcy returned to the university. It was a much more lengthy and difficult task than we had anticipated, but we managed to put together everything except the spice rack before Darcy returned home again. 

Lunch at a sidewalk cafe always tastes better!
Darcy was very pleased with the gift we had chosen. We were in a celebratory mood, and it was made more festive with the addition of fresh, hot gougeres and kir royale. Mathieu had whipped up the savory gougeres as Craig and I finished the assembly of the cabinetry. By the time we had finished the wonderful apero, we were ready for the short drive to La Ferté de St Aubin.

Apero to toast Darcy's accomplishment!
We had originally planned to visit the Chateau de la Ferte St Aubin, also known as the castle of toys, and then have dinner at La Sauvagine. However, the cabinet assembly had taken a while, and we were too late to be admitted to the Chateau. Instead, we wandered the streets of the village and popped into a few of the shops there. 

Chateau de la Ferte St Aubin, a castle of games and toys.

The unassuming exterior of La Sauvagine. 
Dinner at La Sauvagine was everything we had hoped it would be. The menu is limited, but the food is delicious. We were seated at a table near the window, where we began our meal with ewe's milk cheese spread on slices of fresh baguette. I had chosen a rabbit terrine as my appetizer. It was served with more crusty bread, a dark red onion jam, and crunchy pickles. My main course was a dish of tender pork cheeks in a mushroom cream sauce, accompanied by thick-cut fries, pureed carrots, and tiny green beans. It was wonderful! I passed on the cheese tray and enjoyed a dessert of pear cake with caramel sauce and a scoop of caramel ice cream. We were all very happy with the delightful restaurant and went home feeling quite satisfied. 

I could have made a meal from just the appetizer!

A delightful main course at la Sauvagine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Adventure in the Trees

Pages From Jan's Travel Journal: Wednesday, May 25 2016

I was glad we had awakened to beautiful weather. This was the day for the adventure in the trees, which everyone had been looking forward to. We woke up over coffee and then walked to the bakery for pastries with which to fortify ourselves. After that delightful breakfast and more coffee, we were on our way to Ile Charlemange.

What a wonderful way to begin the day!
 The Léo Parc Aventure is an amazing place for zip lining, climbing, and other activities carried out high in the trees. There were many courses to choose from for every age and ability. They even offer a small course for the little ones, who were simply adorable in their tiny helmets. After a short orientation film, Craig, Darcy, and Mathieu were clad in their harnesses and ready to climb! They selected a moderately difficult course. I was to remain on the ground and act as photographer. 

It was cool and shady on the forest floor, as I followed the progress of the adventurers. The first obstacle looked very difficult to me. Even Craig was a bit worried as he watched Darcy ascend a vertical rope tunnel. The course became a bit less strenuous after that first hard climb.

Darcy negotiates a vertical rope tunnel.
I was amazed at the planning and ingenuity that had gone into the creation of this incredible obstacle course. It was cleverly designed so that the climbers were quite safe, strapped into their harnesses and always attached to a cable by a heavy-duty carabiner. 

Craig and Mathieu, high in the trees. Those boards didn't remain
 still as they were walked upon,but instead popped up at an angle!
I was enjoying my job as photographer in the woods filled with birdsong. A pleasant breeze eddied through the trees and was just enough to cool us off. I got a kick out of watching a few groups of high-school students as they laughed and screamed their way around an adjacent course.

Darcy rides a kayak through the trees!

Darcy and Craig in the trees.
After Craig, Darcy, and Mathieu had completed their fun but strenuous activity, we all took a break at the little concession area where we enjoyed ice cream or a cold drink. Craig and I encouraged Darcy and Mathieu to go on another activity while we waited for them. They chose a zip line course which would have them zig-zag through the trees and even over the lake. We enjoyed watching them. 

Darcy zips through the trees at Leo Parc Aventure, Orleans Fr.

Darcy unhooking her line from the cable.

Everyone was tired after we finally left the park. They all agreed it had been a fun adventure. Craig was already talking about doing another course next year. We went home to relax for a while and then decided it would be a good evening to take Craig to Mont Fuji. It didn't take long to arrive at the restaurant and we were soon seated at a table with our delicious selections of Japanese treats heaped on our plates. My favorites were the sauteed fish, the spring rolls, and the cheese maki. Craig enjoyed a wide variety of foods from the buffet, and he kidded around with Mathieu when he saw his plate piled high with different types of sushi. Toward the end of the meal, Craig picked a piece of sushi off of Mathieu's plate and dunked it into the soy sauce before any of us could stop him. Imagine his expression when he realized it was a dessert sushi of rice, banana, and chocolate! We all had a good laugh over that!