Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No Apologies For Sentimentality

I love holidays, especially Christmas, mostly because of the memories which warm my heart and, of course, the traditions that I adhere to. Little things such as decorating a gingerbread house, making candy, baking cookies, and stringing popcorn for the tree are all important in their own small ways. I remember that, as a child, our home seemed to be filled with visitors. Nearly every day from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, someone would stop by. Mom (and Dad, if he was not at work) would put on a pot of coffee and slice some fruitcake or pie. The house was warmed with the hum of conversation and laughter.

Gingerbread house 2014

Life is more hectic now, and it seems that many of us are too busy or too stressed to take the time to just breathe in and savor the season. People rush to and fro, frantically hunting for bargains or for that "must-have" toy or electronic gear. Some try to outshine their neighbors with ornate decorations and lights that flash in time to music. Each year the decorations become more elaborate. Though I prefer simple decorations in my own yard, I do enjoy taking a ride around the neighborhood to gaze at the twinkling lights. I remember one year in particular, when there was a gentle snowfall as we were on our "light tour". It certainly added an element of wonder to the evening.

Some of the ornaments on our tree are over 50 years old.

Of course, I am missing Darcy even more than usual. She loves the Christmas season as much as I do. She has always participated eagerly in the traditions and festivities. Now, she lives in France, and is creating new traditions even as she holds on to the old ones. Mathieu is benefiting from the traditions of both cultures, and is happily embracing these new experiences.

Darcy and Mathieu's French Christmas tree.

I find it sad that there are many people who become melancholy during the holidays. They try to hide away from the festivities and can hardly wait for life to return to "normal". My heart goes out to all those who are troubled at such times, and I hope that they can find some joy. I hope that all of you can open your hearts to compassion and love for one another, and may peace be with you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Last Warm Day.

As I write this, I am sitting on my deck, savoring what is predicted to be the last warm day we Kansans will have for the next couple of weeks. A massive cold front will move in tonight, bringing bitterly cold temperatures to many areas of the Midwest. Here, we will probably not receive any snow or ice. However, some western and northern states are bracing themselves for quite a storm.

It's time for all of us in this area to prepare for an early blast of winter. Storm windows will be closed tightly, garden hoses drained and coiled away, pumps will be winterized, plants brought inside.

This leaf is undecided. Summer or fall?

I worry more about my furry friends than about the windows or water pump. Our own animals will be well cared for, but I am concerned about a friendly little orange kitty who often visits. His owners do not seem to care for him, as he is nearly always outside and seems hungry when he stops by. He also appears to be starved for affection and will beg for pats and ear rubs before devouring the kibble we place in front of him. I'm glad he can find shelter beneath our deck, though it's tempting to invite the charming fellow inside.

Our friendly neighbor.

But just now the sky is a cloudless brilliant blue. The sunlight is glittering off the colorful leaves of oak, maple, and cottonwood as a warm breeze dances through from the south. I have plenty of housework and other chores to keep me busy inside, but I simply must take advantage of this shining day because, after all, dust keeps. Brilliant autumn days do not.

Our state tree, the cottonwood.

Monday, October 27, 2014

In the Here and Now

*Sigh* So now I'm back in real time and the real world. I have enjoyed sharing my journal pages and reliving the fond memories of that marvelous vacation in France. Of course, I'm already looking forward to our next trip to Europe. In fact, the planning has already begun. I will arrive in France ahead of Craig, and will have at least ten glorious days to reconnect with Darcy and Mathieu before Craig arrives. We will meet him in Paris, and then all four of us will board a train for London and then travel on to Bath the next day. I'm very happy that Mathieu will be able to join us on that adventure.

In the meantime, it's business as usual here in the Midwest. Autumn is upon us, though you wouldn't know it from the high temperatures we've experienced the past couple of days! At least the trees know it - they are showing off their extravagant hues and brightening every corner of the state. I love the cool fall weather and am glad that this warm streak won't last long.

 Fall color in the park near my home.

Last weekend was our Fall Festival. The weather couldn't have been better. The park was crowded with festival-goers and there was something for everyone to enjoy. Carnival rides, music, games, tractor pulls, a car show, fireworks, and much more. It was fun to wander in the shaded park, shopping in the many craft booths, seeing old friends, and slurping homemade sarsaparilla.

The festival grows larger every year. My husband and I always volunteer at the Friends of the Library booth, where we help with a used book sale that is always a popular venue. We can't resist poking around in the piles of books, discovering old favorites and a few new treasures. 

The grandchildren are becoming excited about Halloween. We enjoy it, too. Craig usually walks around the neighborhood with the little ones, while I hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. A trip to the pumpkin patch is needed soon, so that we can carve jack o'lanterns to place on the front porch. It's a tradition I never fail to participate in. And I'll enjoy this fall weather as long as it holds.

 Time for a visit to the pumpkin patch.

A few jack o'lanterns from years past.

RECIPE: Here is a yummy dish that is perfect for autumn. Braised Red Cabbage with Bacon. Even if you swear you don't like cabbage, you should give this a try.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dinner on the Seine

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 24, 2014

Craig, Darcy, and I had to be up very early in order to catch our train to Paris. We tried to be quiet as we trundled our cases down to the ground floor. The streets of Annecy were dark and silent. We weren't the only travelers, though. The train station was a bustling place, mainly due to a large group of students who were milling around excitedly. The train was blessedly quiet - no screaming babies this time - as it sped through the beautiful countryside. 

Paris was chilly, windy, and damp when we arrived. We checked into the hotel, which was an Ibis near the Parc de la Villette. I would love to visit the park one day. It has many unique and fascinating displays. The weather was just not conducive to a visit on that day. Mathieu arrived shortly, having taken a train up from Orléans. We walked through the cold mist-laden breeze to a Metro station and before long, we were in central Paris. The bouquinistes which line the Seine were nearby, but only a few of the stalls were open on this dreary, cold day.

The entrance to the Metro in Paris.

A warm restaurant and a bite of lunch sounded inviting. We sloshed along the avenues and soon ducked inside a small Chinese restaurant. The warmth was welcome and the restaurant was crowded. Our food was good, and relatively inexpensive for Paris. After lunch, we wandered about for a while, doing our best to enjoy Paris in the rain. Thankfully, it never poured; we were only slightly damp. 

We made our way toward Ile St. Louis, where we were determined to try the famous Berthillon ice cream. The blustery chill was not going to stop us! Before we reached the bridge, we noticed a small outlet for the delectable treat on a nearby corner. We ordered and then carried our treats down the steps to enjoy the ice cream in the shelter of the stone embankment along the Seine. Brrr! Oh, but it was worth it!

 Father and daughter chat while enjoying ice cream along the Seine.

Mathieu and I chose to stand near the wall
 where it was a bit warmer.

Later that evening, the four of us made our way over to the Eiffel Tower where we were to embark on our dinner cruise along the Seine. We arrived early, and entertained ourselves by watching boats float down the river. The wind had died down and the air seemed much warmer. Our boat arrived at last, and we thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, the cruise, and the company. My camera chose to give out a few minutes after we boarded, which will account for the shortage of photos. Even without pictures, I will never forget that pleasant evening Craig and I spent with Darcy and Mathieu in Paris. It was a lovely ending to a fabulous vacation.

 The boat has arrived for our dinner cruise on the Seine.

 Champagne? Of course!

Foie gras topped with fig jam and balsamic vinegar. 
And then my camera died.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Our Last Day in Annecy

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 23, 2014

It was our last day in Annecy. I wasn't at all sure that I was ready to leave this idyllic locale. It was just so beautiful and interesting, not to mention delicious! Of course, we had to pay a visit to our favorite little bakery just around the corner. Along with our morning pastries and coffee, we purchased a freshly baked baguette for our evening picnic.

It was time for us to explore the ancient Palais d'Isle, which had already appeared in many of our photos. It is, after all, one of the most photographed sights in Annecy. This 12th century structure was once a palace, and then a courthouse, a mint, and a prison. It is not grand or ornate, but still possesses a certain allure. The palace now houses a museum, and that was where we headed. 

Palais d'Isle, Annecy, France

Inside, we found intriguing displays and old prison cells. The medieval cells were not as gruesome and frightening as I had expected, though I couldn't imagine what it must have been like to be imprisoned within those thick, cold stone walls. The Palais sits on a triangular islet in the middle of the Canal du Thiou; it must have always been damp and cold inside. There is a tiny courtyard attached to the building. I wondered if prisoners were allowed outside for a breath of fresh air now and then. 

Thick stone walls and iron bars.

Equipment used for minting coins.

The courtyard of Palais d'Isle.

When we left the Palais d'Isle and were once again out in the balmy air, we located a small market where we purchased goodies for our evening picnic. We went back to the hotel for a rest and to catch up on email, and then set out for the park near Lake Annecy. Jardins de l'Europe is a huge and beautiful park beside the sparkling turquoise lake. There are many gorgeous flowers, fountains, statuary, and the looming Alps reflected in the water. 

 Darcy in the Gardens of Europe, Annecy, France.

 What an incredible view!

We spread our picnic upon an old beach towel beneath the shade of a chestnut tree. The three of us gazed at the incredible scenery as we munched our way through tapenade, pork rillettes, duck mousse, a baguette, cheese, sausage, chips, pistachios, fresh strawberries and a Tropezienne. I enjoyed a bottle of Pecheresse, my favorite peach beer. It was a relaxing and wonderful meal. We lingered until twilight fell, and then made our way back to the hotel.

 Our picnic in the park.

 Another beautiful view.

Au revoir, Annecy! I'll return someday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fondue in the Savoie

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 22, 2014.

Trying to take in as much of the beauty of Annecy as possible, we continued our walk in the late afternoon sunshine. One of the things that surprised me about this vacation was the fact that, even during this spring break, the crowds were not overwhelming. Annecy is a resort area, and a very popular one. Peak season had not yet arrived, for which we were grateful. Many people remarked on the incredible weather, as it was usually rainy at that time of the year. 

 A lovely canal view with the Alps in the distance.

 Craig and I pause for a photo. Annecy, France.

The three of us spent several more hours contentedly strolling through the beautiful cobblestone streets along the canals. We stepped into many shops and purchased souvenirs and gifts. A welcome break at a cafe gave us a chance to rest our feet while enjoying a fragrant café creme.

Another interesting well. 
We often saw people filling containers at the many wells in town.

I never tired of the scenery in Annecy.

As the time drew near for our dinner reservation at Le Freti, we wandered back toward the restaurant and located it easily. Le Freti has been in operation since 1974, so we felt pretty confident that we would get a good meal there. I have since read some mixed reviews of the place, but many of them were complaints about there being too much cheese in the dishes. Ahem... it IS a fondue restaurant, after all. If cheese isn't your thing, you might want to go elsewhere.

Le Freti is in an old building and up one flight of stairs. We entered the warm, rustic room and were soon enveloped in the heavy aroma of melting cheese. The three of us all chose the same dish, which was a four-cheese fondue made with local cheeses and white wine. A huge pot of bubbling cheese was brought to our table, along with an enormous basket of bread cubes and a platter of charcuterie which we had ordered to accompany our meal. A cool and delicious local wine was the perfect beverage with which to enjoy the delightful meal that was set before us. It was a fun and lively feast, punctuated by lots of laughter.

I had never tasted authentic fondue. It was amazing!

A platter of charcuterie was a tasty accompaniment.

After that delicious fondue feast, we walked slowly back to the hotel, enjoying the balmy
evening air and the gorgeous views.

 Beautiful reflections on the water.

 This place looked inviting. Maybe next time,

A dinner cruise sets out on Lake Annecy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

More to Explore

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 22, 2014

The boat tour on Lake Annecy was beautiful (see previous post). I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. There are also dinner tours, with boats pulling away just at sunset. I imagine that would would have been a lovely experience, but we had made plans for a dinner cruise on the Seine at the end of our vacation and were quite happy with the tour boat we had just been on.

We were more than ready for more explorations in the captivating village of Annecy. We wandered back toward the center of the old town, snapping photos and peeking into boutiques and souvenir shops. There was something to admire around every corner. 

The aroma inside this shop was irresistible!

An Annecy flower shop.

Picturesque wells flowing with spring water are all over town.

After a while, my foot and Craig's knee demanded a rest, so we returned to the hotel. We stopped along the way at a little stand selling sandwiches to go, where we each made a selection to take back to the room. We munched our sandwiches while catching up on email and news from home, and then we were ready to set out again. Before leaving the hotel, we inquired at the front desk regarding a recommendation for a fondue restaurant. We were told that Le Freti is the best in town, and reservations were made for that evening. 

 A charming hotel near the chateau.

 I can never resist an old door!

We walked up a steep, curving street to the Chateau d'Annecy, a restored castle which was built between the 12th and 16th centuries. It now houses a museum, which is definitely worth a look. 

 The oldest part of the castle has walls that are over 13 feet thick.

You may have a seat on one of these 1,000-year-old stone benches.

 Here is an interesting view through one of the old windows of the castle.

 The view from the terrace of the chateau is breathtaking!

We toured the castle at a leisurely pace, admiring the sculptures and other displays of art and artifacts. The afternoon had grown warm. We took leave of the chateau and went in search of one of the many gelato shops we had noticed in town. The three of us enjoyed our frosty treats while sitting on a curb, people-watching and listening to many different languages as other tourists ambled past. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Blue Lake

Pages from Jan's Travel Journal: April 22, 2014

Darcy slipped out of the hotel room early and came back with fresh espresso for us. What a treat! We woke up over the coffee and conversation about the day to come. We hadn't made any firm plans, but chose instead to simply wing it. It was wonderful to have no schedule to adhere to.

Our first stop was a cute little bakery just around the corner from the hotel. We were pleased to discover that they served coffee to go with the beautiful assortment of pastries in the gleaming glass cases. There were shelves of enticing artisan breads as well. Darcy and I discovered a new pastry, called a Tropezienne. It was made of brioche dough and baked in a shape that resembled a large hamburger bun, which made Craig's apricot tart look tiny. It was split and filled with a thick layer of lightly sweetened, fluffy buttercream, and was delightful!

 Breakfast in Annecy, France.

We strolled toward the lake, marveling over the beauty of our surroundings. There were many captivating scenes to admire and photograph. Annecy is truly one of the most picturesque places I have ever visited.

A peaceful canal in Annecy, France.

A riot of glorious spring flowers.

We followed the canals through the vieux ville toward the lake. A tour boat bobbed gently on the water, beckoning us to come aboard. After a short wait to purchase tickets, our boat pulled away from the dock and headed out into the calm turquoise waters of Lac d'Annecy. No wonder it is often called "the blue lake." The lake is fed by snowmelt in addition to pure water from an underground spring. We were treated to spectacular views of the shoreline and the looming mountains as we cruised. 

 An inviting tour boat on Lake Annecy.

 The weather was perfect yet again.

The snow-capped Alps were sometimes obscured by clouds.

I wouldn't mind a long-term stay in one of those!

It was easy to see why this area is such a popular vacation spot. In addition to bicycling, swimming, boating, and fishing, the lake offers opportunities for windsurfing and scuba diving. There are archaeological sites to explore underwater which date back to the Neolithic era. Annecy is a place I could easily visit again!