Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Before and After

I love 'before and after' photos.  Nuthin' I love better than a good makeover.  I enjoy seeing makeovers on TV and in magazines.  I don't care what's being made over.  People, homes, gardens.  I like it all.

I took numerous photographs of when our old deck was being torn down and when it was being rebuilt.  (See blog post of June 19, 2011.)

And now that we have new deck furniture, I have photos of that too.

But before we get to that photo, let's revisit my old deck.  Replete with rusting milk cans, flowers spilling over their quirky containers, resin chairs, a fountain, and old wood railings and floor planks.

At the end of its life, our old deck needed to be put out of its misery.  The wooden structure was rotting off its foundations and it was unsafe.  But while it was full of life, I loved our old deck.  The hippie in me still sighs when I see the above photo.  It was fun squishing into the small space surrounded by plants and flowers.

But now we have lots of room to fit a big patio table, a loveseat, two swivel chairs and a coffee table.  I love to sit out here in the morning with my coffee, in the afternoon with my book, in the early evening with a drink, and at the table with our dinner.

Maybe I'll let my old hippie out next year and place a few pots of flowers here and there for old time's sake.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


We have been home a full week now.  As you know, returning home after being abroad for the summer is not my strong suit.  I don't know what it is about reality, but I don't like it.  Give me the fantasy world of travel any day.

Here are the best three things about being home...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer Highlights

Here are my summer highlights in chronological order....

1)  Living in this amazing house in the hamlet of Martignac for the entire month of July.

2)  Eating French breads.  (The bread is something that I am really going to miss.)

3)  Eating French food.  Everything is made with the freshest ingredients, with love, with simplicity.  (The food in rural France beats food in Paris any day.)

4)  Taking our meals at this table while gazing out onto the Lot Valley.


6)  The gorgeous French countryside.

7)  Our Martignac neighbours, David and Gill.

8)  The beautiful village of Puy L'Eveque.

9)  The flowers of France.

10)  Shopping in the markets.

11)  Meeting Madame Murat and eating at her restaurant 3 times.

12)  Meeting the Geddes family (friends from Squamish) for lunch in Bergerac.

13)  Having my sister Chrissy and brother-in-law Kevin stay with us in Martignac for 12 fun-filled days.

14)  Visiting the lovely lavender farm in L'Herm.

15)  Having Adrian and Julia stay with us for four days in Martignac.

16)  Going to all of the community suppers in vineyards, churchyards and village squares.

17)  Celebrating my 53rd birthday.

18)  Spending the evening with my French BFF Marie-Anne and her friends at the 'Fete en Pomarede'.

19)  Meeting Linda and Steve, our hosts at 'Les Portails Bleues' in Aze, France.

20)  Touring the Hospice de Beaune.

21)  Spending 9 glorious days in Paris.

22)  Spending 9 glorious days in this apartment in Paris.

23)  Spending 9 glorious days looking at this view from our apartment in Paris.

24)  Meeting my former kindergarten student Pam (I taught her in 1986!) for lunch in Paris.

25)  Randomly running into fellow Squamoleans Kyle, Riley and Sam on the Pont de Saint Michel in Paris.

 26)  Spending our final weekend in France with our German friends Alex, Christine, Julia and Florian.

Thank you France for giving us yet another amazing summer holiday.  Thank you for your food, wine, countryside, history, art, culture, and people.  Especially your people.  You have welcomed us with open arms and for that we are forever grateful.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


We've had another fantastic time in Paris. Joe and I have spent the past nine days walking its streets and taking in all there is to see. With 2,000 years of history that's a lot of stuff to absorb.

We are heading to the airport in a couple of hours. We're just about to eat our last French breakfast of croissants and coffee. Before the shuttle bus comes to pick us up at 11:00am, we're hoping to have one final walk-about in the neighbourhood to say good-bye to my urban lover.

Paris, I adore you. See you soon.

- Posted from France by Nancy

Germany and Canada In France #2

You remember when I wrote about my young German friend Julia? She and her boyfriend came to visit us for a few days last month when we were staying in Martignac.

Well, we are together again! This time in Paris. Julia is here with her mother, father, and brother for the weekend.

Let me tell you about Julia's family and how wonderful they are.

When Joe and I were planning our first trip to Europe in 2006, Julia said, "You must come visit me and my family when you come to Europe! Please stay with us in Germany." We accepted her generous offer and factored that stop into our holiday plans.

As we were getting ready to leave Canada, she wrote to say that she had gotten a summer job at Disneyland Paris, so she wouldn't be seeing us when we were visiting Germany.

"Is that okay with your parents?" we asked her. "They don't mind hosting two complete strangers in their home?"

She assured us everything was fine with her parents.

When we arrived in their village, we felt very uncertain as we rang their doorbell. Talk about a cold call! But Julia's mother opened the door and warmly welcomed us into their home. Julia's father arrived shortly afterwards with a big smile and a big hug.

Thank goodness their English was excellent, because other than 'gesundheit' our German was non-existent.

Alex and Christine are both pharmacists and run their own pharmacy. Before our arrival, they made arrangements to have a pharmacist from another city come to take over their business so they could take a few days off to show us the sights.

They took us to all the 'bourgs'. Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Luxembourg. We laughed, we ate, we drank, we drank some more.

I cried (of course I did) when it was time to say good-bye to Alex and Christine, and their son Florian. I was so grateful for their hospitality.

We have stayed in touch over the past 5 years. When they learned we'd be in Paris this week, they booked a hotel near our apartment to spend the weekend with us!

Joe cooked everyone a fine meal at Julia's boyfriend's mother's apartment last night. Today we met for lunch at our apartment then hiked up to Sacre Coeur for a wander around Montmartre.

We are meeting them later on tonight for dinner at a restaurant.

This visit has made me stop and think about how a young German girl's decision to attend a Squamish high school in 2003 led us to staying with her family in 2006, becoming friends, and spending a weekend together in Paris 5 years later.

Pretty incredible if you ask me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I Do

Every time we have been in Europe, I have seen a bride and groom. Each and every time. The newlyweds have always been walking by us, having their photos taken.

A few days ago Joe said, "Hey Nanc! You haven't seen a bride this trip!" He was right. I hadn't!

Until yesterday.

We had gone for a long afternoon walk around Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite. We came across them in the little park behind Notre Dame. A group of school children were sitting on the benches under the trees and were hooting and hollering, egging the couple on. The kids wanted to see a kiss!

They got one, much to the delight of the crowd.

The bride and groom left the park and walked toward Pont de l'Archeveche. That was the way we were going! So naturally we just had to follow them.

There is something about seeing a bride and groom in public that brings so many smiles to so many faces. They sure brought a smile to mine.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Location! Location! Location!

Realtors are always telling us that the most important thing about a piece of property is it's location. The location of this apartment is the best we've ever had in Paris. We walk out the front door and are immediately in the heart of the city.

Our neighbourhood dates between the years 1000-1400. It gives new meaning to the word ancient. Staying here is like stepping back in time.

We are surrounded by churches. Notre Dame towers over everything around here. Construction started in 1163 and the cathedral was finished in 1345.

The oldest church in Paris is right next door to us. St. Julien-le-Pauvre was completed in 1250.

The oldest living inhabitant in Paris is a robinia tree planted in 1602 by Monsieur Robinier in a nearby park.

Right across the street from us is the Guillotine Pub. It sports an authentic guillotine from 1792 on it's wall.

One block away on rue St. Severin is the skinniest house in Paris.

Around the corner is a sundial on the wall that Salvador Dali created in 1966.

Paris' oldest street sign is just down our street on a scruffy wall above a cinema. It's from the 1300s. It's a bas-relief of Saint Julien and his wife helping Christ across the Seine.

I love this location. I can hardly wait to stay here again.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Seven years ago, Paige called me from the S.P.C.A. where she was volunteering. "Mom, come inside the building when you pick me up. There is something I want to show you."

When I arrived she led me into a back room. An overturned laundry basket was on the floor. She lifted the basket and there sat the most beautiful cat I had ever seen.

"His name is Spirit. He's about three years old. He's a California Ragdoll. He's really afraid, that's why he's in here under the basket. Isn't he gorgeous?"

Gorgeous indeed. But we weren't looking to adopt another cat. We had recently lost one cat and had 2 other cats at home.

But I couldn't get Spirit out of my mind. I thought about him constantly. A few days later, we adopted him.

Best decision I ever made.

Spirit came into our home and made us laugh. He was always sitting where we'd least expect him. In, on and under things. Every day was a surprise.

He was playful. He'd hide and wait so he could leap out at us and gently swat at our ankles as we walked by. Nothing delighted him more than to have us drop to all fours and swat back. Or chase him. Oh, how he liked a good chase!

I've never known a cat who loved having his belly rubbed as much as Spirit did. Joe would lay down to take a nap and 3 seconds later Spirit would jump up onto the bed, flop onto his back with his legs in the air and snuggle in against the length of Joe's body. The two of them were sleeping buddies.

He was my official greeter. When I came home from school each day, I'd open the front door and there he'd be. Stretching out from a day-long nap he'd saunter down the hallway to sit at the top of the stairs. Halfway up the stairs I'd lean down and put my face up to his. He'd sniff my hairline, then we'd bump foreheads. I guess that was cat speak for 'Glad you're home'.

I don't know what life was like for Spirit during his first three years, but that kitty was afraid of everything. He'd drop to the ground and head for the hills when the phone or doorbell rang. Friends of ours didn't even believe we had a cat named Spirit. They'd never seen him.

Spirit hadn't been well for the past several months. We brought him to three different veterinarians before we left for France. Each did their best to diagnose him. He received treatment after treatment after treatment.

He seemed to be on the mend at the end of June. We left him in the loving and capable hands of Molly and Paige, fully expecting to pick him up on August 15th and take him home with us.

It was not to be.

He took a turn for the worst this week and landed in a Vancouver animal hospital. An ultrasound showed he had stomach cancer and that it had spread to his liver.

Molly and Paige were with him at the end. Will called and the girls put the phone up to Spirit's ear for him to listen to Will's tearful good-bye.

I will miss that cat terribly. Whoever named him was spot-on. He truly was a 'spirit'. I told him that all the time. I'd ask him, "Who are you? Where did you come from?" I've never met an animal who would gaze so deeply into my eyes like Spirit did. He touched my soul.

Thank you Molly and Paige for caring for Spirit while we've been away. You both have done an exemplary job. Dad and I are so proud of you.

We will be home soon.

- Posted from France by Nancy

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Safety Last

Thierry, the of this owner of this apartment, is in Sri Lanka at the moment so his brother Lucas (who looks all of 10 years old) is managing the place in his absence. When Lucas met us on Saturday to collect the rent and show us how the washer/dryer worked, he said, "The one thing you must never do is double lock this outter door. The key doesn't work all that well and it is very tricky to open from the inside." We looked at the door and the lock system. We nodded our heads.

Not only does Thierry own this apartment, he also owns the suite above us. The two apartments share the outter door. The outter door we are not supposed to double-lock. The one that is tricky to unlock from the inside. Yeah, that one. (Can you see where I'm going with this?)

We got up early today because we wanted to hike up Notre Dame Cathedral. I grabbed my camera and opened our inner apartment door. Joe had the keys in his hand and tried to unlock the outer door. Nothin' doin'. Try as we might we could not turn the key in the lock. We looked at the door jamb and saw about 5 deadbolts firmly in place.

We were locked in! The people above us obviously did not get the memo about not double-locking the outter door!

I said to Joe, "Now is NOT the time for either of us to have any sort of medical emergency! It would take the fire-fighters 3 hours to use the 'jaws of life' on this door!"

Joe quickly ran to the phone and roused Lucas out of bed to tell him of our dilemma. Lucas came flying over on his motorbike with a master key (that worked) and released us from our prison.

We thanked him and started to make our way down the narrow stairs.

We called back over our shoulders, "Hey, Lucas! You better tell the upstairs neighbours not to do that again!"

"I will leave them a note!" he promised.

We got to Notre Dame late and as a result ended up having to wait over an hour in the line-up. The view was spectacular and it was fun being up with the gargoyles again. When we arrived back home we saw that Lucas had run a strip of duct tape over the deadbolts to prevent anyone from double- locking the door again.

This is France. Safety last.

- Posted from France by Nancy

French Women and Smoking

One thing that really upsets me in this country is the number of smokers there are. Honestly, so many people have cigarettes dangling from their mouths or their fingers. I see these absolutely drop-dead, gorgeous, fashionable women on the streets and they are all smoking!

The medical experts in France fear that tobacco related cancers will be the #1 killer of French women within the decade.

In 1950, 66% of French men smoked. That percentage has dropped to 33%. Women are catching up to men and their smoking rate is rising.

The reason so many women smoke? To keep their weight down. French women have been quoted saying, "I'd rather be dead than fat."

Go figure.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Long ago and far away when I was a fresh faced teacher with light brown hair, I taught kindergarten at A.H.P. Matthews Elementary School in Surrey.

The year was 1986.

I had a great bunch of students. But none were as lovely as little Pamela.

Pamela had big sparkling eyes, an inquisitive nature, and a sweet personality. She was a teacher's dream.

Her mom and I became friends that year and we've stayed in touch ever since. There were visits when my babies were born; cards exchanged at Christmas time.

When I joined the Facebook revolution, Pam and I became 'friends'. We've been able to keep up-to-date with each others' lives.

You can imagine my surprise and joy when I received a message from Pam on Saturday night. "Hi Nancy! I am in Paris! Are you free tomorrow to have lunch?"

Of course we were free! Joe and I met Pam and her boyfriend Rylan outside the Musee d'Orsay at 1:30pm the next afternoon. We walked to a local cafe to have drinks and a bite to eat.

Pam has not changed. She still has those incredible sparkly eyes, is quick to laugh, and that bubbly personality of hers is so delightful.

We reminisced about the good ol' days when I was her teacher and she was my 5 year old student.

We couldn't believe our good fortune. Here we were 25 years later, enjoying each other's company in a sidewalk cafe in Paris! I said to her, "How many other former students and teachers are doing this?" We knew the answer to that question.

After lunch there were hugs all around. They were off to stroll the Champs Elysees and we were off to shop for our kids. Pam and Rylan were taking the train to Brussels the next morning. We wished them a 'Bon Voyage' and went our separate ways.

Life is so surprising. There is always something waiting around every corner.

Thank you, Pam and Rylan for a wonderful visit on Sunday. It was great to see you. I am so happy we got to spend a couple hours together. Enjoy the rest of your European adventure!

- Posted from France by Nancy

Monday, August 8, 2011

Strike While The Iron's Hot

About three years ago, I learned about a tiny shop in Paris called 'Astier de Villatte'. They made ceramics of all kinds, everything in white. I'd sit for hours and drool over their on-line catalogue. I fell in love with a vase that resembled a tin can. How I adored it.

In 2009 Joe and I were in Paris for an extended stay. Going to Astier de Villatte was definitely on my 'to do' list. But it kept getting shoved down the list as we visited museums, sat in gardens and ate ourselves silly. At the tail end of our trip, we finally made the trek down rue Saint Honore to the shop. IT WAS CLOSED FOR 'LES VACANCES'! I was crushed. I was beyond disappointed. And to make matters worse, the sign on the door said that they had just closed up the day before. We had missed it by one day! Why hadn't we gone earlier? I knew all of Paris went on holidays in August! I was so mad at myself.

Fast forward to the present day.

We arrived in Paris on Saturday afternoon. We hadn't even dropped our bags in the apartment when Joe said, "Come on! Let's get outta here! Let's go for a walk and find Astier de Villatte."

I groaned. I was whiny. I was tired. I didn't want to go that minute.

"We don't even know if they're open. They're probably closed for vacation. We don't have a map. I can't remember where it is."

Well Joe got on the computer and discovered the shop was open until 7:00 o'clock that night. He did a google map search and located rue St. Honore. "Get on your shoes. We're going."

We arrived at Astier de Villatte and were not disappointed. It was housed in an ancient building with peeling paint and worn stone floors. White ceramic cups, bowls, trays, plates, dishes, and platters sat on shelves that covered the walls from floor to ceiling. And there was my beloved vase. Just like I had imagined it three years before.

Joe also became enamoured with Astier de Villattes wares. He bought a serving bowl and 2 small plates.

As Madame was wrapping up our ceramics and Monsieur was ringing in the sale, we told them our tale of woe from 2009. Monsieur turned to us and said, "Well you are very lucky today because tomorrow we close for our vacation!"

I couldn't believe it! Thank you Joe for forcing me out the door that day. I would have been inconsolable if I had missed shopping at Astier de Villatte twice.

I have learned my lesson. Strike while the iron's hot.

- Posted from France by Nancy

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Looks Can Be Deceiving #2

Joe always does a marvelous job booking us places to stay. He certainly does his homework, that's for sure. When he was choosing us an apartment to rent in Paris for this week, he based it on location. We have location in spades! Our apartment is one block from the Seine River, right across from Notre Dame Cathedral.

We drove in from Vezelay yesterday morning. Joe is becoming so used to the French way of doing things, he just pulled up onto the sidewalk and put on his flashers while we unloaded the car.

We were looking for 73 rue Galande. We found it.

We opened the narrow door and were expecting to step into a courtyard like we have in the past. Nope! Just a long ugly hallway with buzzing and flickering fluorescent lights.

At the end of the hallway the stairs began.

Are you ready for the climb? Okay, let's do it.

Oh, let's stop for a little breather shall we? Let's look out the window from the stairs.

Oh, isn't that a lovely view. Let's keep going!

Don't stop now! We're almost there!

Oh, here we are. Home, sweet home.

At this point Joe and I are saying to each other "This better be good!"

We opened the door....

...and it was good!

Our bed and dining table.

The other end of the bed.

The sitting room.

The kitchen.

The view from the bed.

The view out the window.

Looks can be very deceiving, non?