Saturday, October 31, 2009

Un Apres-Midi Parfait!

Yes, today we had a perfect afternoon! After lunch, our friends Franck & Sabrina invited us on a boat ride with their family.Jordan and Logan played perfectly with Max and Josey - both on the boat and off!

And Sabrina even brought edible, homemade gifts for the kids - les doigtes des sorcieres!

Here are Franck & Sabrina . . .

Look - there is even a picture of me with the Dado!!

And there's our house!! You can see it from the water. Well, I hope you can see it on the blog. If you look to the right of the church, that's our terrace with the open glass door. The highest glass door you can see.

And here are some amazing views of Bouzigues from the water and the oyster fields.

We motored through the canals of Sete. Including going under some bridges that were so low, we had to duck inside the boat!

Thank you very much, Franck & Sabrina, for an absolutely wonderful afternoon.

Love to all!!

Holy Moly

That title was Mike’s idea. Considering that he never contributes to the blog (literally - seriously, he doesn't even read my blog!), I figured I should use his one and only suggestion.

We just returned from a vacation in Biarritz where we greatly enjoyed the ocean. Wow! Waves, sea breeze, fog . . . we have missed the ocean. We love, love, love the ocean. My next blogs will tell all about Biarritz.

And, drumroll please . . . there is SURFING. For those of you who don’t know Mike, he loves to surf the way I love to knit. If only knitting burned as many calories as surfing.

We went to Lourdes on our way to Biarritz (thus the title of this blog), and we were all fascinated. The entire village of Lourdes has a good vibe, and the religious center was amazing.

The highlights . . .

First you see the gardens leading to the amazingly beautiful church (at the bottom) and chapel (at the top) with the stairs leading up to the chapel on either side of the church.

As we walked through the tiny village and down the path to the church, we were impressed by all the religious people we passed – nuns, priests, monks . . . it was quite amazing. And many of the “normal” visitors were incredibly religious (naturally). Read on for more details on that.

We passed by the church and found the holy water and the cave where St. Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary.

There were literally spigots from which you can fill your holy water containers. Many people were drinking directly from the spigots and splashing the holy water on themselves.

There was a line to see the cave, and the people in the line were fascinating. We heard many languages. Most of those voices were praying. People were running their hands along the walls of the cave, kissing the surfaces, leaving flowers and candles as offering, wiping their handkerchiefs and rosaries in the dripping water, etc. We were all touched by the display of faith.

We also saw the area where you can light a candle and the baths. You can literally bathe in the water of Lourdes.

The church was breathtaking. Inside was an amazing dome and some of the most stunning mosaic work I’ve ever seen (even better than what we saw in Barcelona!). Here are some photos for you . . . I only wish the photos were as impressive as the real thing was!

Here are some of my favorite mosaic pieces . . .

Notice my final zoom into the bottom right corner of the angel mosaic! Those are cleaning tools.

Here are some more photos of the church: the dome from outside with the courtyard in the background (where people were gathering for mass), the view of the church from the holy water baths, and the statue of Mary in the courtyard (notice the flowers in the foreground).

A very, very interesting place. We were very glad that we made a visit!

Grom & Dude - be prepared to answer lots of questions and tell lots of stories about Jesus & Mary at Christmas!

Love to all!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Sunset

Tonight's view from the terrace. Enjoy!

Love to all!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Belated (but very heartfelt) "Thank You!"

To all of my terrific friends and family who made my birthday perfect, thank you very much. Being so far away, it is even more wonderful than usual to hear from you - on my birthday or any other day.

First thanks go to Sophie, of course! See my blog entry on my birthday for all the delicious reasons why she gets the biggest and first, "Thank you!!"

Second and special thanks go to Sharlene and my wonderful, thoughtful, adorable, terrific, perfect "Knitting Friends".

Sharlene and I have become really good friends, (yay for me!!), and she invited me to her knitting night many years ago where she knits once a week with a group of great women who have all been friends since child birth classes. I was intimidated at first to enter into such an intimate group of women, but that turned out to be very silly of me. They are the best - seriously!

When news of Josey's accident hit America, I received several emails from my Knitting Friends. Thank you all so much for the caring thoughts! It really helped me feel better. That is just one example of how wonderful they are.

For my birthday, I got a package from America. Wow, wow, wow!!! We have received a total of about 4 packages from America in the mail since we arrived in France 15 months ago and only a few letters. So, when we have a notice that a package awaits us at the post, it's very, very exciting!

We received the notice ON my birthday, but I had to wait over the weekend to pick up the package. Excruciating!! I am such an impatient person!

Mike and I picked up the package on the way to get the kids for lunch, and I was so excited that I ripped it open in front of the school.

Guess what?! It was from Sharlene and my Knitting Friends!! They had sent me a birthday present!! And there were also gifts for Max and Josey!! Can you believe how sweet that is? I almost cried!! There were also yummy salt water taffy candies from Marini's in Santa Cruz and yummy gummy candies from Trader Joe's. I shared the bonbons with all of my French friends immediately (they were all looking into my box with me with excitement) - and to all the kids who were by now exiting the school.

Max and Josey unwrapped their goodies immediately. Max got some cool MadLibs, and Josey got pink nail polish, lip gloss, eye shadow. Perfect!! I waited 'til we got home to unwrap my present. The new Debbie Bliss knitting magazine. Yay!! I was thrilled. Knitting magazines are so wonderful!! I love, love, love them.

Thank you Sharlene, Julia, Laurie, Cheryl, Nancy, Heather, Lily, Rebecca, Willow . . . You ladies are really the best. I am very grateful that Sharlene invited me to your group and that you have welcomed me so warmly.

I honestly brag to Mike all the time about how "My Knitting Friends" are the best kind of people in the world. Yay for me!!

Third thanks go to my parents, from whom I received another great surprise. I had asked them not to buy me a gift, but to instead put my gift money into their "We want to go to France after Christmas" travel fund. However, when we arrived in Barcelona to see Jeff and Lindsley, Linds had a package for me. Cool!!

Mom had sent me some great water shoes. She said that when she saw them, she thought of me running down the banks of L'orb river in Roquebrun, chasing Max who was floating down the river screaming in his intertube. Sigh. Sometimes Mom's have to rescue panicking children.

She also sent me more great knitting magazines. Yay again!!

Fourth thanks go to Sabrina. She surprised me with a jar of homemade blackberry jelly. She had given us a jar of the jam the week before, and it was so delicious that we ate it all in a matter of days! So, when she gave me the jelly, she told Mike that he could only eat a teaspoon full. The rest was for me. LOL

And of course my wonderful mother-in-law got me yummy, yummy yarn! Did you notice that I describe yarn with the same words I describe food? Knit much?! Thank you, Pat!! You are terrific.

Thanks again to all of you who sent me emails, too.

I'm sure I've said this before, but it bears repeating: Every message Mike and I get in our inbox is like a little present! I check my personal email first thing every morning, hoping for email from friends & family. On those days where the inbox is full of nothing but spam, Mike says, "The love is gone."

Did everyone get that hint? Was I subtle enough?

Good example - this morning, Mike received an email from his friend Caroline! Thanks, Caroline. From your email, I can tell you read my blog, too. How's that little man of yours?

Okay, I got a little carried away today. Sorry there weren't any pictures to spice things up, but I opened those presents way too quickly to bother with the camera.

Love to all!!

New Favorite Salad

This is so delicious that I have to share it with everyone! It's Mike's concoction, a melange of the delicious salads we've experienced in France and Spain, so we don't have exact measurements ... do everything "to taste".

Saute until very lightly browned:
about 2 tsp really good olive oil (the taste really makes a difference)
chopped walnuts

handful raisins (white raisins are better)
chantrelle mushrooms (It's mushroom season here, and these are delicious!! Button mushrooms would not produce the same yummy flavor.)

Saute these ingredients until the mushrooms are softened.

In a salad bowl, combine:
Your favorite lettuce (I actually prefer Iceberg for this salad because it's so crispy)
Ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
Just enough oil & vinegar dressing to make you happy

Toss in the saute ingredients, and . . .

Voila! Deeeelicious - and healthy, too.

Love to all!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Journey to Barcelona

The 24 hours preceding our hook-up with Jeff & Lindsley was pretty cool, too! We left Bouzigues around noon, which meant that the kids got to skip school for the afternoon. Yay for them!

We stopped at La Jonquera, which is also referred to as the Frontier. This is where lots of Frenchies shop for staples such as alcohol, cigarettes, etc. You can also get great deals on some food – and, better yet, find some food that you can’t find easily in France. For example, we bought a box of Oreos! Yummy!

La Jonquera was fun because we found some cool slingshots for gifts for the nephews back in the US. I know, I know. Bad idea to gift a slingshot, right? Well, have you met Mike? Need I say more? He is the ultimate trouble maker, thus we are giving slingshots as gifts. Yes, my children got one, too.

After La Jonquera, we were off to a “nearby” hotel for the night. Since we couldn’t meet Jeff and Linds ‘til one the next afternoon, we figured we’d relax halfway to Barcelona, kick it by the pool while the kids swam, etc. He he he. I put nearby in quotes because it ended up being in the middle of nowhere – aka Macanet de Cabrenys.

I must admit, while we were driving along the endless country road, twisting and turning our way deeper and deeper into the Spanish mountains, I was wondering to myself, “Where in the hell are we going? Where did he make reservations? Is this going to be another Bad Reichenhell?” After all, the name of the hotel was Els Cacadors. Danger Will Robinson!

Just as I was beginning to think we should find somewhere else to stay, the motorcycle cops started passing us – going in the opposite direction. They had red lights flashing, and they were motioning us to either slow down or pull over. Well, as I mentioned, this was a narrow country road. There were no turn outs!

Finally, after about 4 cops had passed us, Mike found a turn out. We pulled over to wait. A few minutes later, one of the policemen stopped and told us to wait there until we saw a motorcycle with a green flag. We waited and waited and waited while more and more motorcycles passed by. While Mike and the kids practiced with the new slingshot, I wondered if there had been a horrible accident ahead!

Well, guess what it was?! The Tour de Espana!! You know – like the Tour de France, only the Spanish version. Sooooo cool! We were our own tiny little cheering spot as we watched about 100 cyclist go by along with their support cars, ambulances, police escorts, etc. It was about a 40-minute detour and well worth the time!

When we finally saw the motorcycle with the green flag, we were off again. Our next detour was more exciting to me than anyone else in the car. As we turned from the country road to the next “real” road, there was a flock of sheep and goats in front of us – complete with a shepherd. I thought was the neatest thing! I had to stop to take a ton of pictures. Must be the knitter in me.

Minutes later, we finally arrived at our destination: Els Cacadors hotel. Okay, so we didn’t arrive directly there. We had the standard Billat difficulty of actually finding our destination – despite the fact that this was a very, very small town. However, when we got there, the hotel was actually nice. Okay, so the pool was already closed for the season (most outdoor pools in Europe do not seem to be heated, so they close early), so there wasn’t any frolicking by the pool. Instead, we set off to explore the village.

It was great! Small, quaint, beautiful . . . almost like a movie set because it was practically deserted! Check out the village with this link:

After wandering around for a while, we meandered back to the hotel. Little did we know that we were being followed!

An American couple had heard us talking, and they were staying at our same hotel, so they ended up right behind us. They introduced themselves, Kathy and Rick from Boston, and we had a great little chat. They were very jealous to have missed the Tour de Espana because they are both avid bikers.

Later, we had a delicious dinner at the other hotel/restaurant in the village. My salad was amazing: sautéed mushrooms (still warm) over a bed of lettuce, raisins, walnuts, apple slices, tomatoes, with a drizzle of olive/vinegar dressing and a piece of toast with melted goat cheese atop the salad. One of the best I’ve ever had. Dado is in the process of recreating it for me.

We also had great desserts. Max had a hot fudge sundae (well, Max and I ate that, actually); Dado had chocolate truffles over Chantilly (whipped cream); and Josey had fresh, warm apple cake with sorbet. Mmmmmm!

The next day, we decided to visit the Salvador Dali museum, which is in Figueres – on the way to Barcelona. Ohmigosh. That was certainly an amazing experience . . . and not necessarily amazing in a good way. Mike summarized it very well: “Now I can walk up to anyone in the world and say with 100% certainty – I do not like Salvador Dali.” Ick. The guy was seriously twisted! I guess I can say that I like his use of color, and his works are very, very detailed. That’s something nice, right?

Mike now has this as wallpaper on his iPhone.

For anyone interested in more Dali . . .

So, in a sentence: Our journey to Barcelona to see Jeff and Lindsley was awesome – just as our visit with them was. Yay!

Love to all!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jeff & Lindsley in Barcelona!

I have to say that visiting with family and friends in Europe is one of the things I love the most about living in France. It’s the combination of people we love in a place that we love . . . who could ask for better? Not to mention that it’s absolutely surreal.

“I spent the weekend in Barcelona with my uncle and aunt, so we could see Jeff perform in a world-famous play.”

Seriously – does that sound surreal or not? Does that sound as far removed from my life in Santa Cruz as you could ever possibly imagine . . . or is it even beyond imagining?! I know it is for me! Three years ago, I never would have believed those words would pass through my lips. Now – we are living it!!

Okay – you probably tuned in to hear more than me waxing poetic about my current dream life. LOL

We had an absolutely fantastic weekend with Jeff & Linds!! The only disappointment was how short our visit was. We spent a fleeting 27 hours with them, but it was amazing!

We arrived at Le Meridien hotel on La Rambla in Barcelona around 1:45pm. We were 45 minutes late due to navigational difficulties (story of our lives abroad, right?!). Luckily, VJ & Linds are patient and didn’t give up on us. Yay! After lots of hugs and kisses, our Master Guide of Barcelona – Jeff – led us through the streets to the famous restaurant 4 Gats. Apparently, this restaurant is famous due to its patronage of old . . . Gaudi, politicians, etc., and it has been featured in movies.

Allow me to digress into a sidebar here. My uncle Jeff, screen name VJ, is an actor. Yay! You have seen him in such films as Million Dollar Baby, Indiana Jones 4, Flags of Our Fathers, to name a few, and such TV shows as The Shield, 24, Cold Case, etc.

Jeff is also a stage performer, and he is a member of The Actors’ Gang. The Actors’ Gang has toured amazing places performing “1984” (yes, based on the George Orwell book) and “Embedded”. Currently, they are performing in Spain. They started in Madrid, moved on to Barcelona, and then to Bilbao. In past years, they have been to Hong Kong, Beijing, Australia, London, New York, Greece . . . As I said – amazing places!! Jeff said that they always have sold out shows abroad because of the international interest in the story of “1984”. It’s absolutely fantastic! More about the play in a moment . . .

Here’s a link to some V.J. Foster factoids . . . and more great pictures!

As we sat in 4 Gats, enjoying the terrific ambience and the company, it was so cool to listen to Jeff and Lindsley. Apparently, the night before, after the performance, everyone had planned to go to dinner at 4 Gats – reservations were made, everyone was looking forward to it, etc. However . . . (drum roll for those of us not initiated to the “Hollywood” experience), their director, Tim Robbins, did not want to eat at a “touristy” restaurant. Jeff and Linds just call him Tim, since they are friends. For me and Mike, it’s cool to hear Jeff & Linds be so blasé.

So, anyway, Tim Robbins recently won a major acting award for a Spanish film he starred in, and everywhere he goes in Spain, people recognize him and flock around with cameras, etc. Thus, Tim did not want to eat at 4 Gats. His loss was our gain because it was very entertaining! And, no, we did not see Tim Robbins. He had flown home the day before for Susan’s birthday. Who is Susan, you ask? That would be Susan Sarandon, famous actress and wife of Tim Robbins.

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera!! Can you believe that? Remember I said that we were 45 minutes late due to navigational difficulties (my nice way of saying we were lost!)? Well, I left my camera in the car about 30 minutes walk from the hotel. When we finally found Jeff & Linds, I was not going to walk back to the darned car. I will have to get some pictures from Linds – she took a lot!

Here is a photo from the web . . .

Here’s a link to the restaurant's super-cool website:

We all enjoyed a great lunch, along with a delicious wine ordered by Mike, who loves to sample yummy regional wines. It was a nice way to begin the visit!

After lunch, our Barcelona Guide (aka Jeff), led us to the Roman wall in the heart of the old town and a beautiful old church. Jeff was great! He and Linds had been in Barcelona for 5 days already, and he was armed with a map, and he led us perfectly from one site to another. I wish I had that talent!! You would think that by now, I would be good at navigating.

My favorite part was just being with them, chatting, eating gelato, experiencing Barcelona! As we wandered back to the hotel, we again crossed La Rambla. For my Santa Cruz native friends, La Rambla is like the Pacific Garden Mall before the earthquake . . . but on steroids!! It is a pedestrian strip that spans at least a mile, and it is lined on both sides with street vendors (on the sidewalk) and restaurants, hotels, and stores on both sides of the street. The street vendors sell everything from jewelry to touristy junk to roosters and chickens and parakeets to flowers and plants. There are also lots of human statues . . . people in ornate costumes and makeup who only move when someone places money in their donation hat. Some of them are really cool! La Rambla is a great place to stroll. It is also thronged with people speaking in every language you can imagine. It is spectacular! And, it was right outside our hotel. Wow!

By now, it was time for Jeff to prepare for the performance. He had two in a row, so it was going to be a busy night for him. We would see him next on stage. I was so excited that I felt like a little kid waiting to go to Disneyland!

Because 1984 is so intense, Lindsley was kind enough to volunteer to hang out with Max and Josey while Mike and I watched the play. They were off to shop, eat more ice cream, and do in-room manicures.

Mike and I entered the theater (which was literally right around the corner from the hotel, right on La Rambla), and I was impressed immediately by the size of the venue. It was huge! We settled into our great seats (row 8, right in the center of the row), and started speculating on how all of these “foreigners” were going to understand the dialog in the play! Turns out that they project the subtitles above the stage set, and it works very well.

The play was spectacular, dark – but spectacular! The cast consists of only 6 actors, and it has a very strong impact. I could ramble on and on about the play, but really, the best part for me was watching Jeff on stage. He was amazing – really. That is not family loyalty speaking. The whole cast was incredible . . . I left with my skin crawling, looking around for cameras controlled by Big Brother, and now my innate suspicion and distrust of government is even stronger!!

For those of you who want a real review:

And here is a link to a 1984 program with lots of cool information:

After the performance, we got to hang out with Jeff outside the theater for a few minutes – before he had to prepare for the second show. Lindsley & the kids met up with us, then we were off for dinner . . . at almost 10:00pm!

Important reminder (to myself and anyone else who needs to know): Never eat at a restaurant on the main strip, unless you have received a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust.

The next morning, we started off wandering the artisan fair next to the hotel and looking for a café for breakfast. Our family was up much earlier than Jeff & Linds, so we had some time to kill. The kids were fascinated by the blacksmith and the glass blower. I found a woman spinning yarn, but unfortunately, her sale yarn was not very exciting.

When we met up with Jeff & Linds, we decided to go to Tibidabo park. Wow – that was amazing, too! Tibidabo is an amusement park on the side of a mountain overlooking Barcelona. The setting is beautiful!

We started off with a delicious picnic, compliments of Sophie. Yay, Sophie! You are wonderful! She brought us 5 different French cheeses, a local French wine, and a local French dessert cracker to share with Jeff, Linds, and company. We sat in a little café and sipped wine while snacking on cheese and break and crackers with an amazing cathedral as our backdrop.

After lunch, we were off to the rides. Jeff, Dado, and the kids had a great time. Linds and I stayed on the ground and watched.

Check out Jeff’s expression here! He and Josey were together in this basket, which was “as tall as Jesus” according to Jeff. That means that they were as high up in the air as the Jesus statue on the church. LOL Apparently, when the basket rocked, it was a little unnerving. (Yes, that’s one of the reasons Linds and I stayed on the ground!)

Okay . . . after uploading this picture, you really can't see Jeff's expression! For better pics, see my Flickr acct:

Dado and I snuck off to see the cathedral while Jeff, Linds and the kids waited in a line. Wow, wow, wow! I know that Spanish art uses mosaics. However, I have never seen such exquisite beauty in a mosaic before this. The detail in these is simply awe-inspiring! I was so impressed by these mosaic pictures that it made me think of the Bernini statues we saw in Rome – obviously a different media, but just as beautiful and incredible. Way better than Dali!

Like I said in the beginning of this ridiculously long blog entry, our visit with Jeff and Linds was only 27 hours long. Wah! We had to head back home since it was a school night, and Jeff had an early performance followed by a flight to Bilbao.

We had such a great time!! Jeff & Lindsley, we love you! Thanks so much for being so entertaining! We hope there is some way you can make it back for another visit.

Love to all!