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Archive for June, 2012

Jean Turns 90

Jean is our neighbour and dear friend. We’ve been friends since we moved to Lincoln four years ago. She owns a flat in the same building that we live in. She has become part of our family.

The Birthday Girl

A few months ago Jean had to move into an assisted living home just a little over a mile away. Fortunately it is close enough that I can to walk to visit her. Even though she knows that it is better for her day-to-day life, she misses living in her flat. We also miss her living there too – it is just not the same, but we know that it is what’s best for her now as she is having trouble walking.

When she was living in her apartment, I would run upstairs to visit with her. Sometimes we arranged a time but as health issues arose, I would call her regularly to see if she was up to a visit. Most of the time she would say yes, as she looked forward to my visits. We would have a cup of tea. I would bring biscuits or a box of sweets and we would have the most interesting conversations. They were mostly about our families – hers in Canada and ours in California. We talked about what the doctors said and how she feels. But most of all we would finish with a story that would make both of us laugh, leaving us feeling light and happy.

Jean has had a few serious health issues and operations where it was touch and go for awhile and then she would bounce back and surprise all of us, including the doctors.

She is an amazing lady with a zest for life and we were so excited to attend her 90th Birthday Party on Sunday to celebrate this momentous occasion.

The Party Room

It was held at the church that she has been active at for many years – just down the street from us. Father Collin and two nuns that she has known for years were there, as well as her family and friends to celebrate with her. There was plenty of delicious food and desserts, and of course gifts for the “Birthday Girl” to open later.

I offered to be the photographer and take the pictures to keep the memories of this day forever. A few of my favourites are included here. Please click on this link to view the whole album.

We wish Jean good health, happiness and joy in every day.

Happy 90th Birthday Jean – We love you…

Jean and Maxine

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On the way back from Provence to Carcassonne, we decided to drive through Montpellier and make a visit to the bank to begin immersing ourselves in the world-famous French system of red tape. We have a premier account with HSBC in France and wanted to speak to someone about a mortgage. I phoned earlier to see if they have an English-speaking associate at the Montpellier branch of HSBC, the closest to our new property.

The Montpellier branch of HSBC

We drove right up to the bank in the centre of Montpellier, not an easy task in itself. Upon achieving a sighting of the bank, we now had to find a place to park. We drove around a bit, following the large blue “P” signs leading to a parking area, leaving virtual breadcrumbs so that we could walk back to the bank. Fortunately we found parking less than a ten-minute walk away.

Along the Way to the Bank

We very confidently walked in expecting to speak with the English speaking bank employee and stood in the queue waiting our turn. As we reached the bank clerk, we found out in our limited conversational ability, that the English-speaking person was not there – not exactly sure if they were not there at the moment, for the day, or ever. Sensing our frustration, the clerk picked up the phone and dialled a number and then he handed the phone over to Steve. On the other end of the phone was an English-speaking lady who listened to Steve explain what we wanted to do. She said that we would have to deal with our home branch in Nice, just over 200 miles away. She told us the name and phone number of the person that we needed to talk to. Steve thanked her and hung up. We thanked the bank clerk and left the bank. Then we looked at other and laughed at the whole situation, realizing that this is just all part of the adventure of buying a home in another country – especially one that we are not yet fluent in the language. When we are ready for another banking adventure, we will try to transfer our account to the Montpellier branch.

The Architecture of Montpellier

We decided to do some sightseeing around town. We had been to Montpellier a few years ago and wanted to revisit some of the sights and shops, and to have lunch at one of our favourite restaurants, L’ Entrecote. They only have one main dish on the menu, steak and fries – the best steak and fries that you can imagine.

Restaurant L’ Entrecote

It is a whole experience, from the beautiful interior to the friendly servers to the tables that touch one another. The tables are so close that each one has to be moved like a jigsaw puzzle piece to seat customers. The table moves are then repeated to let the customers out when they are finished. You can’t help but talk to the person next to you, having a wonderful conversation as well as a delicious lunch.

Empty Tables – But Not for Long

We arrived just after they opened, so it was still empty and quiet. We were taken upstairs to a cosy table in the corner. Then about  fifteen minutes later, it was as if a bell went off letting the people know that the restaurant was now open. A sudden rush of people filled both the downstairs and upstairs of the restaurant. As the energy rose so did the noise level due to the conversations at each table. A nice lady squeezed in to the table next to us. She was on her own and had a handful of shopping bags full of goodies that she had just bought. Each bag had a designer name on it. Some were colourful and decorated. You could tell that she was proud of her purchases as she carefully placed them on the chair next to her.

The waitress came over to take her order just as our food was being served to us. So we began to eat. About half way through our meal I looked at her and said “Bonjour.” She replied “Bonjour” and then started talking to us in French. I pointed to all of her shopping bags and she proudly opened each one to show us what was in them – shoes, a handbag and clothes. Steve and I both told her how nice they were and what a good shopper she was. The waitress then brought her lunch to the table and as she began eating her meal, we continued eating ours and the conversation paused as we all enjoyed a very delicious meal. As I said, you can’t help but make a new friend, even if it is just for an hour or two.

Here are some of the sights of the city:

Jumbo Soap Bubbles

Colourful Transportation

Sidewalk Cafes

Parks

Memorials Decorated for May Day

Merry-Go-Round

More Architecture

No Shortage of Restaurants

Still More Architecture

And Finally, Dessert!

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We met Kristin & Jean-Marc through reading Kristin’s blog (french-word-a-day) over two years ago. In my earlier post from 3 May 2012, “When Blogs Cross Paths” I describe the details of how we  became friends.

We had planned to be in France’s southwest during the first week of May, so we were very excited to be able to take part in one of the wine tastings at Domain Rouge-Bleu in Provence, where Kristin and Jean-Marc live and produce wonderful wine.

Domaine Rouge-Bleu

So there we were, in a blink of an eye – and a couple of hours on a Ryanair flight from East Midlands airport in the UK – back in the south of France once again. Though the main purpose of the trip was to visit our newly selected property, the first order of business was a visit to Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Since it was almost a three hour drive from where we were staying in Carcassonne, we decided to stay in a hotel near their house for the night. After all we would be tasting wine all afternoon.

Steve, Greeted by Smokey

As we drove down the long driveway we were greeted by Jean-Marc and their dog Smokey, who we recognized from the photos in Kristin’s blog. We then walked into the garden and were introduced to the other guests that were also invited to the wine tasting. It was surreal, being here in Provence, meeting Kristin for the first time and seeing Jean-Marc again at their home and vineyard.

At Home in Provence

One of the guests was Charlotte, an amazing lady of 92 years, accompanied by her son, Richard. Charlotte, born and raised in France, had a family home there but moved to the States in 1946. Many years later, Richard moved to France. As Charlotte grew older, they decided that it would be best if she moved back to France to live with Richard in their family home, which  they still owned. They both had some fascinating stories about their interesting lives that they shared with us throughout the day.

Charlotte is Ready for Wine Tasting

A short while later, Phillipe, Meredith and their two daughters, Nina 12 years old and Emma 14 years old arrived. Meredith is originally from the USA and writes a beautiful blog about all things Provence. Read her story about this wine tasting event at “May Day Wine Tasting.” Phillipe is French, as are both of their daughters. The girls went off with Kristin’s daughter, Jackie, as the rest of us went into the garden where there was a wooden table and chairs placed under a beautiful tree in a setting that had wonderful views of the vineyards and Mont Ventoux off in the distance. It created a great ambiance for us to have a taste of the wines that Jean-Marc produced from the grapes of their vineyards.

Quite a View!

The sun was shining and the temperature reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a casual atmosphere allowing all of us to chat with one another in between the different wines that we were tasting and reviewing, and then choosing our favourites. Jean-Marc invited us into his wine cellar where he produces the wines. He showed us the equipment used and spoke of the process of making wine and answered some of our questions along the way. I found it so interesting and left with a little more knowledge about wine making and a real appreciation for the art.

Richard, Phillipe, Jean-Marc and Steve

Kristin invited the women inside to take a quick look around the house, and ended up in the kitchen, where she signed my copy of her book that was just published, “Blossoming in Provence.” She is now working on her next book and has motivated both Meredith and myself to move forward with the idea of publishing our own books in the future.

Kristin Signing “Blossoming in Provence”

Jackie, Kristin, Maxine, Meredith, Nina and Emma

Charlotte left us with a funny remark as she and Richard were leaving. “Don’t walk too much as you may have difficulty with your joints causing you to move slowly when you get to my age.” I replied, “If walking gets us to 92 and in as good shape as you are, we will be happy with a few stiff joints.”

We had a lovely afternoon of wine tasting and sharing stories with our new friends, as we got to know a little more about each other until our next get together in France. We left with a few bottles of Jean-Marc’s wine in hand.

Just as I finished writing this story, I got a call from my husband, Steve, telling me that he just received an email from Kristin telling us that Charlotte passed away this past Friday. I needed a moment of silence to reflect. We are so saddened by this news. We really were so fortunate to have met Charlotte, even for just an afternoon. People come into our lives and many touch them in a very special way as Charlotte has.

Remember to “Treasure the Moment” – that’s all we have.

Charlotte aka Jeanne and Maxine

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We arrived at Carcassonne Airport, a small and convenient airport, only a twenty minute drive to our friends Muriel and Richard’s house. They were very generous in offering us their house for the week. They knew that we had been house hunting in the area, only about forty-five minutes from them. They are excited to know that we will be neighbours soon.

We had our sat-nav (aka gps), but Muriel knew that a sat-nav would not be able to get us directly to her house, so she gave us excellent directions.

Map of the Town

The route took us through the village and right up to their doorstep – well, right up to the gates to their doorstep.

The Town Centre

You see there was a locked gate just off the street that I had to unlock and physically roll back to open in order to get onto the shared driveway, and then onward to the next gate that had a padlock which I had to unlock and then open for Steve to drive the car through. This brought us up to the side of the house, where we parked.

Our Rental Car

We had been up since 4am getting ready for our 6:55am flight, so we were ready to open the house, unpack and settle in before going to buy food and drinks for the week at one of our favourite supermarkets, Carrefour.

Our Wonderful Home for the Week!

On the way out we met the neighbour, Francette. She is a lovely lady but does not speak a word of English – only French. Funny enough, we were able to communicate with her through the bit of French that Steve and I know, and with hand gestures. She has a French Poodle. As is with children, dogs are a good ice breaker, and as soon as she saw that we loved her dog there was a connection. By the end of the week we had become friends.

Francette’s Home

We told Francette that we were going to Provence the next day to visit some friends and that we were staying overnight in a hotel there. She told us that she was leaving to go to visit her relatives for a few days. The next morning as we were leaving, she handed us a hot pink post it with a note written in English, reminding us about the village market on Wednesday. Now she doesn’t speak a word of English, but she cared enough to want us to know about the village market, that she found someone to write this note in English.

Don’t Forget the Market!

We found that amazing. Just let someone tell me that the French aren’t friendly and I will give them a story or two. Now off to Provence we go.

The Baguette Gets Shorter on the Walk Home

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OMG! Here we are within the gates of the front grounds of Buckingham Palace, looking at the front of the Palace, as we walk through the main entrance into the main courtyard. We continue our walk through the entrance to the Palace, through the same doors that Will & Kate entered on their wedding day, after exiting their horse-driven carriage. That in itself is an amazing thought that added to the continued adrenaline rush that both Steve and I were feeling now. We went up the steps and through the Palace door into a beautiful room decorated with curio cabinets in each corner, filled with china dishes all with different patterns. Maybe just for show or possibly used for special occasions, only our imaginations knew the answer. We walked slowly as to take in every moment of this experience, looking at the pictures and furniture. We were then guided through a hallway and onto the terrace overlooking the entire garden. The same place that the Queen and the Royal Family will be standing in an hour’s time.

There were small wooden tables and chairs set out throughout the garden, so we headed for one not too far from the buffet marquis. We sat at a table that we shared with another couple. Steve went to get drinks for us. He returned with glasses of lemonade and water to begin with. We were sitting there taking in the ambiance and the sunshine and watching the arrival of the other guests who streamed in non-stop for the next hour. The military guests were dressed in full uniform. The civic leaders wore their traditional heavy gold chains, many of which were covered in jewels. The civic leaders are commonly referred to as “The Chain Gang.” Even their spouses and consorts wear gold chains.

The garden began to take on a whole new look. There were tables and chairs arranged all around. They seemed to disappear into the forty acres surrounding the Palace. Remember that Buckingham Palace and its forty-acre garden with its own lake is right smack in the centre of London. Yet it is its own little paradise with not a sound of the city to be heard. Only that of the two military bands taking turns playing selections of music during the afternoon.

As we sat surrounded by the other guests and dignitaries, Steve said that he felt as if we were in one of those classic paintings. I felt like Cinderella at The Ball. In other words, Steve and I felt as high as a kite and our feet didn’t touch the ground all day.

Before we knew it, it was tea time and the food was being served. We walked up and got into one of about forty lines. We were handed a rectangular, white china plate to place our food and drink on. The drink choices were hot tea, hot coffee and iced coffee, a rare drink for England. We both chose the iced coffee. Now for the food, it was a quintessential English Tea menu of smoked salmon and cream cheese on a mini cracker, finger sandwiches of egg salad, cucumber with cream cheese and the typical ham sandwich. The desserts were amazingly delicious and beautifully presented. Of course all were freshly handmade. There were mini raspberry tarts with cream, mini strawberry tarts with cream, mini lemon tarts, mini cream filled éclairs, mini Victoria sponge cake slices, mini fruit cake slices, and to top it all off the most incredible thick chocolate square with a gold crown stamp on top. Needless to say we were all in food heaven at this point.

While we were finishing our food, I noticed that people were beginning to crowd along the sides of the walkway to wait for the Queen to arrive. We rushed over to get as close as possible. The band began playing music and the Queen’s Guards marched out in preparation. Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, then entered the garden terrace. They were accompanied by other members of the Royal Family – Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge (William, the Duke of Cambridge was working and unable to attend), Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as other Royals. After the playing of the National Anthem, The Queen and Prince Phillip, together with the other members of the Royal Family, proceeded very slowly down through the two garden paths ending at the royal tent.

We stood along the path taken by the Queen. A number of people are chosen for her to speak with along the way. I was lucky enough to be standing next to one of those people. So I had the Queen standing next to me for a good three minutes while I watched her every move. Steve was watching me and said that my smile was ear to ear the whole time. I think that smile lasted the rest of the day. We then went to see Prince Phillip as he came down the other path toward the royal tent. Both the Queen and Prince Phillip look amazing for their age – 86 and almost 91 years old.

We went for a short walk around the immediate area hoping to find Kate. We ended up on the terrace where we met our friends from the entry queue. We enjoyed a spectacular view of the garden. Our friends pointed us towards the royal tent. As we stood looking into the royal tent from about fifty yards away, we saw Kate, the Queen and some of their other guests. Then we noticed where the path was that the royals would be exiting down and positioned ourselves right up front. A few minutes later they prepared to leave the tent. Before I knew it the Queen was just a foot away from me and she looked straight at me, as she slowly proceded towards the Palace. Just behind her was Kate and she looked at me and I said, “Kate, America Loves You,” and she looked at me and said, ”I love America.” That just made my day. We stood there until all of the Royal Family members left the royal tent.

A Stroll Around the Garden

It was time for Steve and I to take a stroll through the garden. The grounds are filled with a variety of beautiful trees, flowers, plants and its very own lake. We saw some statues and found a few hidden areas with benches allowing us to sit down and take in all of the beauty of this special garden, and also giving us incredible views of the Palace.

The Lake

Although all attendees were told that there was no cameras allowed and no pictures to be taken, we were allowed to bring our mobile phone with its built in camera. After the Queen and the Royal Family left the garden party, everyone brought out their phones and were taking pictures of each other in the garden areas, around the lake and of Buckingham Palace from afar.

Maxine & Steve at the Summer House in the Garden

Maxine at the Lake

Then we went back to the food area for a cup of tea and one more chocolate square. We found a table facing the palace and sat down to enjoy our tea and chocolate. Amazingly no one rushed us out, so we sat for a while and continued to experience the feelings of the day.

Steve Before Going Back to the Palace

Maxine Before Going Back to the Palace

Let’s not forget the weather as this plays a big part in any event taking place in England. It was picture-perfect weather with the sun shining, warm weather 75F, no rain with just a bit of overcast towards the end of the day. You could not have asked for anything more – consistently good weather all day – especially in England where you could have up to four seasons in one day.

Leaving the Palace

As we were the first to arrive, we were one of the last to leave. Walking slowly through the palace door into one of the main rooms and out the main door onto the outer courtyard, pausing inside the gates to take a few more pictures to try and capture the moment before leaving.

Saying Goodbye to the Guard

One Last View of the Gates from the Inside

We decided to walk back to the hotel instead of taking a taxi, which allowed us to stop in at The Buckingham Palace gift shop and buy a few mementos of the day.

Many of you asked how we got invited to the Queen’s Garden Party. Everyone is invited for a reason, for outstanding service. The military is allocated a number of tickets. The majority come from the many charities and societies across the UK for their service and volunteer work. The civic leaders and the clergy are well represented. As for Steve and myself, it was a joint effort. Steve was recognised for his work with the Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence, and I was recognised for my volunteer and charity work for a number of organizations in the city of Lincoln.

The whole experience seemed surreal at times. We went to bed that night realizing that we were with the Queen at her house – Buckingham Palace – to have proper tea with her. Although there were 7000+ other guests there too, we felt as if it was more of an intimate gathering of a few friends joining us to have tea with the Queen.

Another incredible adventure on our journey of living in England.

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OK, I promised all of you, my readers, that I would share all of the details of this very special day with you. From the process of getting ready, to arriving at the Palace, to attending the Garden Party and then leaving the Palace. Are you ready for the ride of your life? Well, here we go:

After a good night’s sleep, I woke up early to begin the process of getting ready to attend the Queen’s Garden Party. I really cannot say that too many times, it just sounds so amazing. Steve stayed in bed until I showered and then he began getting ready for this unbelievable event. As excited as we both were, we were still able to stay calm and relaxed saving the high emotions and energy for later.

Getting ready really was a process. I began by laying out all of my make-up, newly bought so brand new for the occasion. Steve looked at it all and said, “I do not think that the Queen has this much stuff” which made me laugh. As I carefully applied the foundation, the powder, the eye shadow, the eyeliner, the mascara and then the lip liner and lip gloss, my thoughts were running wild thinking about what I was getting ready to attend, and that in a few hours we will be seeing the Queen. I have been waiting for this moment for years. I have been visiting England to see my relatives since I was 13 years old and I would imagine and daydream about meeting the Queen one day. And here I was getting ready for that moment. So I guess that you could say that I was preparing for this moment for almost forty years.

Tools of the Artist

Now that I had my make-up perfectly applied, I did my hair.  Styling it in a way that would allow my hat to sit at just the right angle on my head.

It’s time to put on my clothes, one piece at a time. First the Spanks pantyhose, the skirt, the bustier, being careful not to mess up my make-up, then the jacket, the shoes and to top it all off, the hat paying careful attention to its placement on my head.  Let’s not forget the jewellery and the small matching handbag that I filled with the few necessary items for the day. Now the excitement is showing and my energy level is beginning to rise. Meanwhile Steve is now fully dressed in his black silk suit, white dress shirt and his tie that was custom made to match my outfit. We both took one more look in the mirror and off we went to get our taxi to Buckingham Palace.

Taxi’s Waiting

Passing by Victoria Station

The taxi driver dropped us off as close to the main gate as possible, as the roads around the Palace were closed due to the setting up of the Jubilee Concert over the coming weekend. As we exited the taxi, tourists all around stopped to look at us all dressed up. Many knew that we were going to the Palace. My hat was a definite give away.  As we walked arm in arm to the Palace gate we felt very special, and it really sank in what was about to take place.

Steve and I decided to arrive extra early at Buckingham Palace to be close to the front of the line. What we found was that we were the first two people in the queue of 7000+ people that would follow us into the Palace. Were we excited or what? A lady approached us and said, “You look like you are attending the Queen’s Garden Party” and I replied, ”Yes we are.” She told us that the official photographer will take pictures of us at the Palace gate and a few other poses. Steve and I looked at each other and said alright to her. He was wearing a picture badge around his neck and I asked for his business card which he gave me. Then he had me fill in a small form with our names and address (no phone number or email address). He took four different poses and then asked us for twenty pounds cash. Again, Steve and I looked at each other as Steve took his wallet out and handed him a twenty pound note. The photographer then told us to expect the pictures next week and he walked off. It was like the movie “European Vacation” with Chevy Chase, wondering if our £20 gamble would pay off. Shortly after that a few more couples joined us in line.  They had also had their pictures taken by the same photographer and they felt the same way. We all laughed and assumed that he was legitimate. We stood there for two hours getting to know each other, hearing their stories and making new friends. As the time passed we all started to feel the excitement, and you could feel the energy building within everyone in line.

It is now 2:30pm and the guard came to the main gate to tell us that he is ready to let us enter as he placed the key into the hole and turned it. As he opened the gate we were invited to enter into the front entrance area of Buckingham Palace. For security reasons we had to show our passport and personal invitation card. We walked in and stood in another queue to enter the Palace through the main entrance. OMG!

The Gate Moments Before it Opened for Us!

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