Sunday, December 11, 2011

Challenged by Challenges

I remember the first time I heard the term "Reading Challenges"  It was in October, 2009, the year that I discovered book blogs.  I was intrigued by the idea of setting reading goals for the year, and I was captivated by the number of different challenge themes to choose from.  Since I have never had the opportunity to be a part of book club, I thought this would be a way for me to connect with an online community of like-minded bibliophiles.  For the past two years I have signed up for several challenges, but completed very few.  And I vowed several months ago that I would not join another one.  I like the idea of challenges, but in the end, I miss the freedom of choosing what I want to read when I want to read it.

But since returning to the bloggosphere I have once again been tempted.  And once again, I will cave in.  But this time I truly plan to limit my enrollment to just two - and I have great expectations of completing both of them.

The first challenge in which I will take part is not so much a choice but a necessity.  I am very much looking forward to taking part in C.B. James's TBR Double Dare Challenge, which runs from January 1 - April  1, 2012.  The premise is simple:  read only books that are currently in your possession as of January 1.  Do not purchase any new books; do not put any new books at hold at the library.  For three months just read books that you currently own.

I would say my current ratio to books owned that I have not read vs books owned that I have read stands at about 10:1 (maybe more).  It is totally out of control.  Although I have not felt like reading for the past nine months or so, that has not curbed by book buying habit.  And the guilt is starting to overshadow the pleasure of this hobby.  So I gladly join this challenge with the hopes that it will not only help me to make a dent in my TBR backlog - but also that it will jumpstart my old reading passion.

The other challenge in which I will participate with great gusto is the Finishing a Series challenge hosted by Socrates Book Reviews.  I have started the Harry Potter series at least three times in the past two years.  I originally started them in audiobook form, having fallen completely in love with Jim Dale's voice - and managed to listen to the first two books while cultivating a treadmill routine (something else that has gone by the wayside lately).  Last year I started to read The Sorcerer's Stone again, but life seemed to pull me in a different direction.  At this point I have 'cried wolf' so often that my youngest daughter, the Hermione of the Totoro family, does not believe I will ever follow through on my promise to read them.  So, in an effort to prove her wrong - and to allow myself the pleasure of reading a beloved modern day classic, I have declared 2012 to be the year of Harry Potter.  I currently have in my possession all but the first book in hard cover; all of the books on audio CD; and just recently purchased all eight movies in DVD Blu Ray.  I hope to follow a routing of reading the book first (probably combination of audio and written word) and then watching the movie as a special reward.  If I weren't so gun-shy of challenges - I would even consider starting a Harry Potter reading challenge....but I'm not sure that I can pull that off.

I am very optimistic that 2012 will be the year that I complete all of the challenges in which I have enrolled.  Of course it helps that the two challenges can be completed simultaneously -- in that the books I choose to read will count for both.  And while it is not overly ambitious --- only seven YA books in a twelve month period --- it is best for me to start with baby steps.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Photography Pastime

I just completed an online course entitled, Photo Meditations:  Infusing Your Images with Soul, taught by the amazing Susannah Conway.  If you are unfamiliar with Susannah, you simply must visit her site.  She is completely down-to-earth and has this magical way of transforming a purely cyber-relationship into one of intimacy.  This summer I took her Unravelling 1 course which led me to immediately register for this photography course.  She also plans to offer a course on Blogging this spring as well perhaps other photography courses.  I have become a groupie of sorts.

But I digress.  The purpose of this post is to share with you a "game" that Susannah taught us in the first week of the course.  It is called a Photo Scavenger Hunt and I have become totally addicted.  The purpose of the game is to build a collection of photographs that inspire you.  Inspire you to do what?  That's just it.....whatever you wish.  Some photographs I have used to inspire me to take a better picture.  Other photographs I have used to inspire me to slow down and enjoy the moment.  Some photographs I have used not to inspire but just to enjoy for the vibrant colors - or the beautiful simplicity - or the magical mood.  Well, you get the idea.

The rules of the game are simple.  First, you must have a Flickr account.  If you don't have one, it is easy to establish and free to start (although I will warn you that once you start taking lots pictures you will definitely want to upgrade to the PRO version which is a mere $25.00 a year).

After your account is set you can begin to play the game.  There are several ways to start.  You can either go to the Flickr home page and begin viewing the most recently added photos. can input a search term to focus on more specific photographs (for example - conduct a search for Christmas Lights) can visit my flickr favorites and preview a few of those.  Once you find a photo that you like - click on it.  A larger image will appear and you can click the "star" icon above the photo.  This will add that photograph to your collection of favorites.

One of my "favorites" from Flickr.
Photography by Diyosa
Now... to keep the hunt going, visit the photostream of the person whose picture you just saved.  The link to that person's account is found next to their picture near the top of the right hand column. (NOTE:  click on the photo to the right and it will take you to the larger image of this picture on my Flicker page.  You will see Diyosa's favicon and link to her account on the right hand side.  Click that link).

 Once you land on their account page (in this case, Diyosa) - go to their favorites tab and see what images they have chosen to save.  Browse through those photos and when you find one you like, click on it.  This will bring up the larger image where you can add to your favorites by clicking on the star.  Then follow the link of that photographer to their photostream....go to their favorites....browse until you find you one like....etc.

This can be done as many times - or in my case - as many hours - as you desire.  And each time you play the game you will be led to different photographers who have different favorites from which to choose.  It is a delightfully fun game which has helped foster my creative side.

At some point I plan to revisit each of the photographers from my favorites page and spend some time searching their photo sets -- other pictures that they have taken categorized by theme.  I am sure that I will find even more inspiration.

I hope I have made these instructions clear.  It is really not at all difficult and quite fun.

Perhaps in another post I will discuss how I am using Flickr to help me learn the manual mode setting on my dslr.  In the meantime I'm gonna go find me some more pretty pictures.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Finishing what we start...

I truly love December.   I love anticipating the first snow - which transforms the bleak landscape into a winter wonderland.  I love the festive celebrations and spiritual truths surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.  And I love the peaceful rest that comes between Christmas and New Year's.  It is a time for me to reflect on the previous year by fondly remembering the highlights, as well as evaluating some necessary resolutions for the months ahead.  It is this anticipation of wiping the slate clean that energizes me - and usually causes me to take on more than I can handle.

The old saying "my eyes were bigger than my stomach" not only pertains to the dining table, but in all aspects of my life.  I immediately start to think of a new exercise routine and how I can easily fit thirty minutes of aerobic activity into my daily life.  And as long as I am at it, I could also add ten minutes of calisthenics before a quick shower.  Of course, the stress level in my life warrants some attention, so some deep breathing and beginning yoga classes would be in order.  Now I know many of you already follow this kind of healthy regimen and probably more.  But this goal is too lofty for me and I know if I attempt to incorporate all this change into my life at once - I will fail before I even start.

But this year I would like to do something different.  I would like to finish what I start.  I hope to reacquaint myself with the treadmill - perhaps 20-30 minutes four or five days a week.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?  That will be the focus of 2012 and perhaps in 2013 I can add another exercise routine to the mix.

But eating and exercise are not the only areas of my life where I tend to overextend.  I often manage to transform a relaxing pastime into a stressful event.  I am enamored by color (probably because my own personal outlook of the world is so black and white - but that is the subject of another post).  And while I really do not enjoy sewing - I love the patterns of quilt fabrics.  I have already purchased material for holiday table runners (both Thanksgiving and Christmas, neither one made so far) - matching placemats and napkins - a girly quilt for Brynn consisting of bright pinks, greens, and whites -  and a sudoku lap quilt for myself  made with nine different batik patterns of varying shades of green and purple.  I even spontaneously joined a quilt block-of-the-month group because the choices in patterns were either Jane Austen - Laura Ingalls Wilder - or Agatha Christie.  How could I resist?  That was in September.  I have yet to take those pieces out of the packaging and have been too embarrassed to pick up the other three months.

In 2012 I would like to complete one of these projects - just to say that I actually quilted.  I am tempted to declare that project will be the sudoku quilt, but it may end up being the 10 minute table runner (which took me three hours to make -- but hey, who's counting).

And then there is the photography interest that has yet to get off the ground.  I have read numerous books on the subject and purchased several of them for my own personal library.  I have taken a couple of online classes to help me develop my own creative eye - and yet I have taken very few photographs.  There is fear lurking in there somewhere.  Fear of what?  I have no idea.  But I would like 2012 to be the year that I actually get out of my head with photography and go out and actually take some pictures.  I have no expectation of the quality of these photos - just that they represent my perspective of the world.  Perhaps I will be inspired to write an essay or two from the pictures I take - or perhaps I will decide to scrapbook a few of them in a personal album.  But those goals are secondary.  I just want to feel comfortable behind the camera.  I want to learn to document my life in pictures.

And then there is the realm of books.  Since starting a book blog, my personal library has grown exponentially.  I have not read a novel in nearly a year - and yet I continue to browse (and sometimes purchase) more.  My most recent purchase was the entire series of the Harry Potter books in hard back for $40!  And here is what I have learned about myself.  The more choice I have .... the more paralyzed I become at making a decision.  When my personal library was small, I was a voracious reader - but would rarely buy one book without having read one from my own personal shelves.  Now that I have so many to choose from, I find it difficult to select just one to read for fear that there is another one that I might like better.  It is a mental illness,  I am sure.

So in 2012 I have decided not to join any reading challenges (as tempting as many of them sound).  Well, at least I did make that proclamation until I caught up on the posts of A Novel Challenge.  But even then I plan to only sign up for two challenges that I fully intend to complete.  But that will be the subject of a separate post.

I have already rambled long enough here, but hopefully you understand my predicament.  I do not want my energy and sense of anticipation to wane after January - but I want it to continue throughout 2012.  I want to start new projects - and I want to actually complete them.  I want to set goals for my life - but I want them to be manageable so that lifetime benefits can be realized.  I have much that I want to pursue in the years ahead - but I need to learn to pace myself so that I can actually enjoy life itself.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's Good to be Back!

I simply cannot tell you how right it feels to be blogging again --- and your kind and encouraging comments yesterday confirmed that decision.  THANK YOU!

I gave a lot of thought to reinventing "my" blog --- starting from scratch with a new domain, new name, new focus.  But in the end I decided that this blog is truly a reflection of me.   Three years ago my primary focus in life, outside family of course, was teaching and reading.  Period.  I was a two dimensional character.  But over these past three years I have not so much reinvented myself as I have discovered new aspects of me.   The butterfly is still the caterpillar - just in a different state.  I am still Molly, but in a new (and hopefully improved) way.  This blog will reflect that inner transformation.

So I decided to give the blog a new look - a facelift, so to speak.  I had maintained the same blog design for nearly two years and it signaled to me the bookishness of my personality.  I thought it might be best to change the outer design to signal to others that this blog is different - the same, but different.  I even changed my profile picture - from the one taken nearly seven years ago to one that I took myself on Halloween.  I have recently cut my hair from shoulder length to chin length --- and my costume that day was an authentic French beret.  Not really a costume, but more an inner connection with my Parisian love affair and desire to revisit that city on a regular basis.  It is not the most flattering picture that I have ever taken, but it is significant.

I currently have many posts ideas rambling around in my head - but I have promised myself that I will not stress posting every day - or even on a more modified schedule.  I will post when I have the time - and the material.  And I will thoroughly enjoy every minute of it!

Happy December to you all.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Photo Credit
I have missed blogging.  I have missed writing for an audience (I still write daily on 750words).  I have missed the personal connection with my cyber friends.  I have missed learning about myself by sharing with others.

So what has prevented me from writing?  I could say the busyness of life (teaching six different classes each week; adjusting to life as a grandmother; preparing for the holidays), but that would not be accurate.  I could say that I needed to take a break in order to recover from the life changes that I experienced this year (the loss of my mom; the birth of my first grandchild; the departure of my youngest for an apartment of her own).  But that would not be totally accurate either.  My primary reason for not blogging is because I have felt like an impostor in the book blogging world and I banished myself from the club.

Silly, I know.  But when I first started My Cozy Book Nook reading was my primary leisure activity.  And when I first discovered internet blogs, I was drawn to those that focused on books and literature.  I joined several reading challenges, and made many online friends who were more voracious readers than myself. I owe much to these bloggers as they opened my eyes to new possibilities:  new ways to connect with others - new ways to express myself - new genres of literature.

So this morning I researched the possibility of starting a new blog.  A blog where I felt comfortable sharing all aspects of my life - not just books.  Over the past two years I have experimented in several other activities that have provided me much pleasure:  photography - quilting - scrapbooking (again) - traveling - writing.  And I want to share these various aspects of me with others.

But I ran into several challenges this morning.  For some reason I could not create a new blog using Blogger with Safari 5.1.  So I rationalized that perhaps now was the time to switch to WordPress.  But all of the domain names that I wanted to use (Beautiful Butterfly - The First Day of the Rest of Your Life - Free to be Me) were already taken.  And then there was the decision whether to pay for self-hosting or not.  I'm just not sure I am ready for that learning challenge at this moment in life.

Photo Credit
I was more confused than when I started the research, so I decided to take a shower.  I do some of my best thinking in the shower and the thought came to me:  I could still use My Cozy Book Nook for this new blog direction.  Reading has not been eliminated from my life, it just isn't the sole focus of my life anymore.  And many of the activities that I currently pursue - often take place in the Nook (it is now my craft space as well as reading room).

I know many of you have encouraged to me to do this for quite some time - but for some reason I held on to the artificial boundaries that I had set.  So I thank you --- for your patience while I learned that this blog truly is for me and whatever I choose to make it.

So I am back.  The posts will probably be rather eclectic and may not always resonate with you, my readers of the past, but they will be honest and they will chronicle the rediscovery of me.  It's funny.  This blog began on December 9, 2008.  It is now reborn on December 3, 2011.  A lot has happened in these three years, and I am quite excited to see what the next several years have in store.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Sugar Cookies - round 1

I can't remember the last time I participated in the Weekend Cooking meme sponsored by Beth Fish - but I have sure missed it!  Along with not reading or blogging or writing - I have done very little baking these past few months.  But I hope that I am coming out of the funk and will soon resume my normal pleasurable pastimes.

I don't know about you, but every year I vow to start Christmas baking and holiday crafts early so that I can enjoy the festive spirit for a longer period of time - and so that I am not stressed to complete everything at the last minute.  And every year my good intentions never materialize.  Today, however, I decided to experiment with sugar cookies in the hopes that I could overcome the learning curve before December rolls around.  I have always loved a decorated cookie and have often looked with awe - and a bit of jealousy - at these edible works of art.  I have subscribed to the Decorated Cookie Blog for several months now and she has inspired me to try my hand at a simplified version of these artistic treats.

A couple of years ago  I purchased a delightful little book, Cookie Craft Christmas, which I reviewed here. In that post I discussed my problems with the flow technique of decorating.  Since that time, I have purchased some plastic squeeze bottles to help with the icing mess - and I must admit that they work very well IF I have the icing at the right consistency.  That was learning curve #1:  the flow icing needs considerable more water than the original recipe calls for.  I must admit that the transfer process of icing to bottle is rather messy and time consuming, but the ease in decorating the cookies makes it all worth it.

I really enjoy the sugar cookie recipe that is included in the book:  the dough is not too sweet and very easy to handle - and I LOVE the suggestion of rolling the dough between sheets of wax paper.  This helps maintain a clean surface and a clean rolling pin.  The dough is the perfect consistency and after just 30 minutes in the refrigerator it is ready to cut into shapes.  I decided to go with a fall theme, and the recipe made about 2.5 dozen leaves and a dozen acorns.  The perfect amount for our small family.  I would anticipate that the recipe could be easily doubled to accommodate a large holiday get together.

It was a good thing that I did not have any other plans today, as I spent most of the afternoon (12:30 - 5:30) in the kitchen.  The cookies were neither difficult nor time consuming, and clean up was a breeze, but it took a bit more time to make the icing.  The piped icing recipe was fairly accurate - although I had to add a bit more water, and it made more than enough icing to pipe outlines on all the cookies.

However, I failed to read the directions closely - which stated that the flow recipe made enough to decorate 2-3 batches of cookies.  Needless to say, I had LOTS leftover.  But I decided to go ahead and pre fill containers with Christmas colors in an effort to save time and frustration in December.  I should think that it would be safe to keep around that long as the only ingredients include water, meringue powder, and powdered sugar.

Anyway, it was fun experimental day and I am now excited to have a family baking day when both my girls will come over and help decorate these traditional Christmas cookie treats.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Apple Season

While I most certainly enjoy a good glass of cider this time of year, I must admit that the title of this post is my feeble attempt at a play on words.

Over the past six weeks or so I have totally converted to Steve Job's innovative computer technology.  It began over Labor Day weekend when my son and I went to the Apple store.  The purpose of that trip was to help me discern which product I might choose for my Christmas wish list.  Needless to say, two hours later I left the store with a new MacBook Pro.  Brian's rationale was that I wanted a new computer that could handle PhotoShop editing, and I should seize that opportunity now while my interest in working on the Paris pictures was still high.   In addition, the educator special which provided a $100 credit to the Apple Apps store would terminate at the end of the month.  So.... I took his advice and used the store credit to download PhotoShop Elements 9.

I was afraid that the learning curve would be frustrating and time consuming, since I have been a PC girl for decades - but in reality, I have found the MacBook Pro to be quite intuitive.  In fact when I now use a PC I become frustrated that I can't just swipe the mouse to move the page up and down.

While I haven't done much with PhotoShop, I have enjoyed using the iPhoto software that was preloaded on the machine.  Again, it is quite intuitive and will allow me to quickly upload any edited picture into my Flickr account (my user name is Mstermind1 if you'd like to connect).  So far I have whittled down my original 3,500 Paris pictures to about 900 and those have all been sorted and categorized in iPhoto.  I have only edited a few, but hope to work on more in the upcoming weeks.

Now flash forward to a week ago.  I have experienced problems with the tracking ball on my current Sprint phone - and I knew that I was due for an upgrade soon.  When I checked my account I realized that I could actually upgrade now rather than in November - and I had the option of upgrading to the brand new iPhone 4S.  I must confess that my attraction to this phone was mainly due to its powerful 8 megapixel built-in camera rather than its communication abilities.  Once again I gave in and rather than wait for a Christmas gift - I purchased the phone.  I ordered it on Friday night and was told that I should have it within 3-8 business days.  It was sitting on my pouch Monday afternoon when I returned home from school.  And that was the start of what has quickly become my iPhone obsession.

Fortunately I did not have a rigorous work week, because I have spent nearly every free moment on the phone - researching apps to download or features to try.  While I did not think that I would use the Siri function at all - I must say that I am duly impressed with her assistance.  She can type a text message faster than anyone - and her accuracy is about 90% (she did confuse iPhone 4S with iPhone 4 ass - but fortunately I caught the error before I sent it).  And I love the fact that I can talk or text someone while driving without taking my hands off the steering wheel.

I have absolutely LOVED reviewing all the different apps available - especially the photography apps, but have only allowed myself to download those that are free or cost $.99 (although I have quite a wish list developed for more expensive ones).  My favorite app so far is King Camera.  It is amazingly simple to use and yet allows me to edit the picture in so many different ways.  Of course, I have downloaded other apps as well, including a scanner which will allow me to scan a barcode and check the price at other locations online - the kindle app (still boggles my mind that I can read a novel on my phone) - and of course the ever popular game, Angry Birds (although I much prefer a word game or sudoku).

This morning I learned that the Scrivener writing software - which I was able to purchase at a 50% discount because I successfully completed NaNoWriMo 2010 - can actually be synced with a free word text app called SimpleNote.  While it took me about an hour to navigate the intricacies of this partnership, the end result is fantastic.  I can upload sections of the book that I might like to work on while away from my computer - actually use my iPhone to write a chapter - and then upload those revisions to Scrivener again. In essence, my iPhone can be a netbook computer.  I'm not sure how I will enjoy using the touch pad keyboard for an extensive period of time, but perhaps I will figure out a way to have Siri be my scribe (while I am writing this "tongue in cheek" somehow I have a feeling that there is more truth to this statement than I realize).

While I am sure I have only scratched the surface of the wonderful world of Apple products, I want to close by saying the iCloud function is beyond comprehension.  I can take a picture with my iPhone and it will automatically sync with my iPhoto folder on my mac.  So not only will I now have a camera with me at all times, but I will be confident that those pictures can be easily found at the location that is most convenient for me.

So I am curious about those of you have been Apple fanatics for a while, what tips do you have to share or favorite apps that you would recommend?  I am anticipating that my productivity will be once again curtailed this week as I learn more about my new toys.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Where's Waldo....

....or as the case may be, Where's Molly been?

I realize that I have not posted since my trip to Paris, which was over two  months ago - and this week two very kind considerate bloggers took the time out of their own hectic lives to inquire if I was still alive:  Alyce and Catherine thank you so much for checking on me.

Let's see if I can give a brief summary of these past several weeks:

I finally arrived home from France about 9:00PM on a Sunday night - and had to report back to school the following Friday at 8:30AM.  I barely had time to recover from jet lag when I had to jump into lesson plans and literary analysis.  For a variety of reasons - not the least of which include the economy and the necessity for the school to move for the third time in six years - our enrollment dropped about 30 percent.  This created quite a bit of anxiety for me as I am paid by the student, not by the class.  However, all has worked itself out financially, so no worries.

My goal this year is to complete most of my school work AT school - so that when I come home I am free to pursue personal interests.  So far, I have been able to keep this promise.  Well, at least as far as doing school work only at school.  For some reason when I come home I have had little energy or interest in anything else but sitting on the couch.  I have not picked up a book for pleasure reading since last spring - which is very unlike me and quite frankly, not conducive to the reputation of a book blogger.  So I have chosen to hibernate and not post or read blogs as I felt rather unworthy of that privilege.

Brynn at Pumpkin Patch
October 15, 2011
I wonder if perhaps my stressful spring - Mom's passing, the birth of my granddaughter, the high school graduation of my youngest, and the planning of my trip to Paris - finally caught up with me.  Not only did it zap my energy and desires, but I think it also lowered my immunity.  I rarely get sick, but  I have had the same cold for the past two weeks:  not sick enough to prevent me from teaching, but enough to keep me from doing anything else.

BUT...the weather is cooler now in Kansas City and the promise of a frost this week gives hope to those who suffer from allergies and cold-like symptoms.  The fall colors and thoughts of holiday preparations always puts me in a great mood, and the start of NaNoWriMo in just two weeks has put a new spring in my step and desire in my heart.  I plan to write a memoir of my Parisian trip - the thirty year wait for the adventure of a lifetime.  And as luck would have it, Dave Fox is offering an online workshop on travel writing in January - which is perfect timing to help me revise this very rough draft.

While I have still not picked up a book for pleasure - I hope to do that soon.  I truly missed participating in Carl's RIP challenge and the Dewey Fall Read-athon, but there is always next year.  I have wanted to write for the Weekend Cooking segment, but quite frankly I have had nothing to contribute.  This cooler weather, however, has sparked a new interest in cooking and an adventurous desire to find new recipes to test.  Since Trader Joe's just recently opened in Kansas City, I am anxious to sample many of their tasty treats.

The DUST - or as I like
to refer to it:  the black
scarf of death
For those who followed my Paris journal, I finally resolved my camera's pesky dust problem, and I am anxious to take it out and capture some of the vivid fall leaves before they all wither and drop to the ground.  I have also signed up for Susannah Conway's online course, Photo Mediations, which lasts through the first week of December - perfect timing to help me capture the fun of family holiday celebrations.

So  yes....I am still here and am slowly making my way out of hibernation and acclimating myself again to the activities that give me great pleasure.  I shall be visiting blogs again soon and look forward to reconnecting with many of my online friends.  I have missed you all.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 14 - Final Day

Well, this is the final day of the trip of a lifetime.  I knew that the time would pass quickly - so I tried to truly be present in each and every moment.  That was one of the reasons why I chose to document my daily adventures on the blog - so that when I re-read this few weeks from now, it will confirm that all really happened.

I wanted to make the last day special - but I didn't want to put pressure on the day (I am pretty good at that).  So last night as I was deciding what to do I realized that Paris means two things to me:  the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.  So that is the way I chose to spend my last day here.

This morning I did not set an alarm but woke up around 7:30AM.  I had a leisurely coffee and internet browse, and then I mapped out my course for the day:  Cimetere Passy (near the Eiffel  Tower) - Rue Cler (open air market that is also near the Eiffel Tower) - and the Rodin Gardens (if the weather held out).  At that point my plan was to return to the apartment and wander the streets of Montmartre one last time.

my "home" metro station
I decided that I would record my "every day" life in pictures - as I truly want to remember and document each event - no matter how trivial.  So I spent quite a bit of time taking pictures in and around the metro.  I had to take the #1 train on more time - and when I exited at Concorde (my usual stop) I was a wee bit disappointed that my father/son duet was not there to serenade me.  Oh well, I thought, it is the weekend and they deserve the time off. When I exited at my next stop however, there they were --- and what were they playing?  My all time favorite, The Chicken Dance.  I knew that it would be a good day!

I had no problem finding the cemetery this go around - it helps when you google the exact street address and then query map directions.  I even located a PDF file of all the French cemeteries - although a map was readily available upon entrance.  I wanted to visit the Passy cemetery for two reasons:  it is in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower, which would give me a different point of view of her loveliness - and it serves as the final resting place for Edward Manet - Berthe Morisot - and Claude Debussy.  I had no problem finding Manet's headstone - the map directions seemed just perfect.  And while he does not have a bird's eye view of the tower - he is looking in her direction.

One of the many views of
the Eiffel Tower from the
Passy Cemetery
I didn't have such luck with Claude Debussy.  I walked and walked and walked in the small circle that was supposed to house his tombstone, but I never had luck finding it.  Perhaps it was because I didn't know exactly what I was looking for - or perhaps it was because I was getting tired and the gnats were driving me crazy (it never rained on me this morning - but the humidity was so thick you could almost gag).

After spending about 45 minutes at the cemetery I felt that it was time to leave.  I decided to take the subway to Rue Cler - the open air market that I went to earlier this week, but several shops were closed for lunch (note to Americans:  the French often take a two hour lunch - and 2-3 weeks off in the month of August.  They are not afraid to relax and rejuvenate!)

What an absolutely delightful surprise the #6 train turned out to be.  I caught the train at the Trocadero metro stop - but immediately after leaving the station it exits from the dark subterranean tunnels and travels above ground --- giving the passengers a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower along the way. Quite magnificent.

I was afraid that Rue Cler would be quite crowded this Saturday morning, but much to my surprise, it was relatively empty.  There were certainly people milling about - several tourists but also many locals purchasing their weekend supply of fresh fruit, bread, and cheese - perhaps it was the uncertain weather that kept people away..  In any case, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to slowly meander up and down the two block roadway and even dare to take a few pictures (after the experience at Rue Montorgueil - I have been rather skiddish about taking pictures of local shops).  There were several spots available at the famed, Cafe Marche - so I sat at a table on the front row, ordered a cafe creme, and enjoyed the view.  Unfortunately I could not buy any food products, as today was my last day - but I did manage to find a chocolate shop that had some decadent looking confections that I decided to bring home to the family (shhhh....don't is a surprise).

The skies were still cloudy, but fortunately no rain, so I decided to walk to the Rodin Gardens - where  I knew for only one euro I could eat my lunch in a beautiful setting.  On the way there, however, I passed by the Hotel des Invalides where I noticed a lovely flower garden with lots of bench seating.  I decided to go through and check it out.  Such a unique setting with few tourists.  The perfect place to relax with my bread and cheese.

At this point I had decided that I had seen all that I cared to see in "the city" and decided that the rest of the day should be spent in my own neighborhood.  I went to the apartment to rest for a while - and then ventured back up to Sacre Coeur one last time.  She is truly beautiful and I will truly miss her --- although I must confess that I won't miss the hoards of people that surround her on the weekend.  It started raining around 5:00 and I considered that my cue to return to the apartment and begin the process of packing up.

Yes, this has truly been a trip of a lifetime - and I know I have been infinitely blessed.  I saw more than I really thought I would see - and I experienced Paris as a Parisian - which was the ultimate goal.  I learned that I can navigate a strange city on my own and I can converse in French "well enough"  I may not be an adventurer - but this was a spectacular adventure for me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Paris Day 13 - FREE

As I write this pre-entry on the Friday before I leave (two weeks ago) I am already feeling wistful that time in Paris is quickly coming to an end.  I intentionally left these final two days completely free:  no tours booked and no expectations.  I still have plenty of sights left to see and restaurants left to sample, but I want these last two days to be spent doing what I feel in my heart I need to do.  It just might be that I am ready to see more and do more and add variety to my itinerary --- or it may be that I will want to revisit some new favorites --- or it may be that I just want to sit in a cafe, relax, and begin to process what all this amazing journey has meant to me.

Well, I definitely didn't sit and relax - but that may come tomorrow!

I had so thoroughly enjoyed the chocolate tour last week - and did not want "Tony" to spoil the Latin Quarter for me - so I decided to meet up with the same tour company this morning and explore the Mouffetard section of the Latin Quarter.  Unlike the chocolate tour - I didn't have to pre-register.  I just showed up at the assigned metro stop and participated.  The fee was 12 euro for a two hour tour.  It is billed as the Hemingway Tour - and the guide does discuss the author quite a bit - but really it was a tour of this particular section of the Latin Quarter.  I would not hesitate to recommend this group to anyone who is looking for a way to discover a new region of Paris in just a couple of hours.  The two guides that I had were quite knowledgeable - and passionate - about their chosen topic and so it was quite delightful to walk around and listen to their expertise.

Steps on the side of the church -
St Etienne-du-Mont
scene of Midnight in Paris
The weather was a bit odd today --- rain and cool and then bright sunshine, humid and hot.  The coat came on and off several times - but mostly it was just cloudy and really didn't prevent anyone from having an enjoyable time.  We saw two of Hemingway's apartments during his seven year stay in Paris - and we were able to walk down the market street of Rue Mouffetard.  But the true highlight for me was when we saw the steps where Owen Wilson, in the movie Midnight in Paris, is transported back to a different era.  It was truly magical and now I can hardly wait to see the movie again, now that I have seen this location.

The tour ended about 12:30 and I decided to take the metro to the Marais section and walk down rue Faubourg-St. Antoine to Place de la Bastille.  I wanted to try to imagine what it must have been like for the DeFarge's - in Charles Dickens's, A Tale of Two Cities - living in this area during the time of the French revolution.  Well, let me tell you it took some real imagination.  The street is filled with as many American shops (Gap - Izod - Nike) as it is filled with French couture.  I did manage to stumble upon the Marche d'Aligre - the street market that is touted as being truly authentic.  The sign says that it is open until 1:30 and they weren't kidding.  I arrived at 1:31 (I checked my watch) and all the vendors were packing up.  I wandered up and down the street however and realized that this market specializes in fresh produce.  It would be lovely to see at its prime, but I'm not sure that i would be able to purchase anything.  I was thrilled to have found it though.

The last relics of the Bastille
I continued walking down the gentrified Faubourg-St. Antoine until I reached the Place de la Bastille and it truly took my break away.  I spent a bit of time in the park across the street - munching on some bread and taking it all in.  I then decided to walk a bit out of the way to a small park on Rue Henri IV to see the few remnants of the original Bastille prison.  There is only a small plaque indicating their significance - and on the opposite side there is the space where the park employees store their equipment.  Not much of a spectacle, but I hope that I can bring this experience into my Brit Lit classroom next year.

Interior Park at Place des Vosges
At this point it was about 2:30 (significantly earlier than I anticipated) and so I continued down Faubourg-St. Antoine to Victor Hugo's house.  I had heard that it is quite a little gem in the city, as the fee to see the apartment is FREE and the views are spectacular:  overlooking the Place de Vosges.  I wish I knew the works of Hugo better, as I am sure that the apartment tour would have meant a bit more - but it was still fascinating to see how the writer lived.

Hard to tell the view - but
trust me - spectacular!
From here I caught the train home - although I knew it was a bit early to turn in (about 4:00)  It then occurred to me that I had not really had lunch (unless you count those two pieces of bread in the park) and I was starving.  I decided to treat myself to another Salade Nicoise at Le Relais de la Butte -- the first restaurant I visited when I arrived and the apartment was not yet ready.  I sat in almost the exact same place - still had the spectacular view - and enjoyed a filling salad.  As I was walking home (just a few steps away) I noticed a new sign for an apartment in the area --- similar apartment to the one I am renting --- and the price?  A mere 359,000 euros (approximately $503,000)  Hmmmm...I think I got a pretty good deal for paying 1,000 euros for two weeks and living like a true Parisian.

I am now glad that I called it an early day - it is down pouring outside!  I think I will relax - perhaps organize souvenirs etc to pack tomorrow - and think about how I wish to spend my last day in this beautiful city of lights.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Paris Day 12 - Tour Eiffel

While I have visited her before - and no doubt have seen her numerous times already this trip - I simply cannot imagine that a trip to Paris is complete without a formal rendez-vous with the Tour Eiffel.  I fully anticipate doing such touristy things as taking loads of pictures from Trocadero Square, riding up to at least the first landing of the tower, and treating myself to a boat ride along the Seine.  This is quintessential Paris - and I look forward to every minute of it.

I also hope to travel to the Ile des Cygnes (Island of the Swans) to visit the smaller Statue of Liberty that resides in France.  I have only seen her quickly  - and from a great distance - and I would like to visit her up close.  It is my understanding that one must travel past several homeless areas in order to reach Lady Liberty - and I hope that I do not chicken out.

In addition, the Musee Marmottan is nearby this area which houses many of Monet's artwork as well as other Impressionist paintings.  This museum was not included with the Museum pass, so I intentionally scheduled the visit a few days after that whirlwind museum tour.

Well, today was back to the walking tour.  I got rather used to being driven around the French countryside - but the walk did me good today.  I managed to drop my pedometer on Monday and broke the back off --- so I can only estimate that my step count today was between 12,000 and 15,000 steps.

I left the apartment around 8:30 so that I could travel around Montmartre and take a few pictures that I have meant to snap - but just have not taken the time to do so.  I went back to the original site of the photography class and took a few pictures of Sacre Coeur in her entirety.  I have retired the dslr until I get home - so these pictures were done with the point and shoot - but that is better than nothing.  I then walked a bit around the area in an effort to retrace the Impressionists' steps.  I walked to Place de Pigalle, where it is my understanding the origninal cafe Nouvelle Athenee stood, but now there is just an ugly fountain (with only stagnant water).  I think there is currently another Nouvelle Athenee that has been built - but it is significantly further down the street.

The one picture that I knew I wanted to take was of Degas's last home where he lived:  #6 Blvd de Clichy.  It was so strange to see the door open, a woman mopping the sidewalk, and the door flanked by commercial shops on either side.  I then went to find the door of Van Gogh (which I didn't knew existed until yesterday's tour) and it is still located in a very residential section:  54 Rue Lepic - which happens to be the same street, just a wee bit downhill, from the Moulin de la Galette.

It was then time to head out of the neighborhood and into the Tour Eiffel section of Paris.  It seems that in order to get to anywhere in Paris from Montmartre (line 12), I need to change at the Concorde station and transfer to line 1.  And every day when I exit the metro I hear this lovely French music echoing through the halls.  I don't know if this is a father and son duet or not --- but the elderly gentleman plays the accordian, and the younger one the tuba.  I decided to work up my nerve to take their picture today.  I had planned to offer them a bit of money for providing my entertainment these past few days - but come to find out they had a CD available.  PERFECT.  I bought a CD and took their photo.

It was then on to the Musee Marmottan - which features mostly Monet and Morrisot.  It was really a lovely collection and I thoroughly enjoyed walking through all the rooms.  Of course, the most significant part was in the basement which housed several sketches and paintings that Monet did over his lifetime and which had been in the possession of his son Michel.  There were also five portraits of Monet done by various artists over his lifetime.  It was really a lovely museum.

I then caught the metro again and this time went to Trocadero Square - the heart of Paris if you ask me.  This is where you see the Eiffel Tower in all her beauty and are able to take a great picture (if you are patient with all the other hundreds of tourists trying to do the same thing).  After taking a few obligatory photos - I then walked down towards the tower and bought myself the quintessential - croque monsieur (basically grilled ham and cheese sandwich) and a bottle of water.  I sat on a bench and enjoyed people watching while eating my lunch.  This picture was my view from the bench - pretty amazing!

The one thing that I did not accomplish on my pre-write list was to go up the tower. The line was amazingly long (I would guestimate two hours minimum) and since I have already had that experience, I decided to forego it this time.  Instead, I followed my trusty map and managed to find the Allee des Cygnes - which is a fairly long alley, I am here to tell you - and I found the Statue of Liberty.  I had so hoped that it would provide a view of both Lady Liberty and Tour Eiffel (I know that there is a certain roadway where you can see the two together), but this was certainly fine.  Not many were there (it is fairly off the beaten path) and so obtaining a few pictures was possible.

I had planned to walk from the Statue of Liberty to the Passy Cemetery - but I was having a difficult time finding its exact location on the map.  It was starting to rain a bit harder and I decided to forego the cemetery in favor of returning to a more populated area.  Perhaps if I have time on Friday or Saturday I will try to find it - as it houses the final resting places of Manet, Morrisot, and Claude Debussy.

Once I walked back to the Eiffel Tower I noticed that the clouds were rolling in.  Rain had been predicted, and I did pack an umbrella, but the morning had been so warm and sunny that I left my raincoat at the apartment.  Not necessarily a wise move.  I did manage to walk to Rue Clerc (similar to Rue Montgorgeuil although smaller - only about two blocks long, but highly touted by Rick Steves) but several of the shops were closed.  I'm not sure whether they were closed for August -- or just for lunch (many establishments seem to close their doors between 1:00 and 3:00) - but it was nice to look around a get a feel.  I have pretty much decided to take another tour tomorrow that should travel to Rue Moufftard - where I am hoping to get a few pictures with some friendly shop keepers.

At this point it really started to drizzle and so I took out my trusty purple PARIS umbrella that I bought on the street - and it promptly blew upwards in the wind.  Oh well, I suppose you get what you pay for.  I figured I was too close to the Rodin museum to miss it, so I braved the now steady rain and walked the few blocks.  I had to stand in line - but it wasn't too bad.  The museum was very nice --- but it was sensory overload for me.  I barely have acquired a little appreciation for paintings - I haven't quite worked my way up to sculpture yet (although it is a little daunting how a sculptor has to consider all sides -- whereas a painter is just working in two dimensions).  If the weather were nicer I would have done as Rick Steves suggests and just paid the one euro for the gardens (which has to be one of the best deals in Paris).   They are truly amazing and I am considering - if I have time on Saturday and the weather is nicer - returning to the gardens so that I can truly enjoy them.

I got home about 5:30PM and decided to call it a night.  It was a good day - but I am ready to put my feet up and relax a bit.  Like I said, I think I will do the "Hemingway Tour" tomorrow which essentially covers the Latin Quarter - I figure I won't have to be wary of "tony" if I am with a group.  This is the same tour company that hosted the chocolate tour that was exceptional - so I have very high hopes.  After that, I'm not quite sure what I might do.  I think perhaps head over to the Marais section and check out the Faubourg-St. Antoine area.  It is amazing hard to believe that I have but two short days left of this fabulous trip of a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paris Day 11 - Giverny

Perhaps the visit to the Musee Marmottan filled my Monet void and I will not choose to travel an hour by train to his home in Giverny.  Or...perhaps that museum visit just left me wanting more.  Right now I have left this time free, but thought it might be nice to take the train from the Gare Lazare to Vernon and then on to Monet's final home.  The town sounds quite picturesque and worth the trip.  His home is open to view, and visitors are allowed to walk the paths in the garden and see his the famous waterlilies firsthand.  I would try to leave on the first train out in the morning, however, in the hopes of avoiding some of the crowds so that I can actually take some floral photographs without the backsides of fellow tourists.

The town also offers an Impressionism museum that sounds fascinating, and having lunch in a cafe outside the city of Paris may be the perfect way to relax after a week and half of constant travel.

Ok --- well, there was a bit of adjusting going on here.

After the experience with Tony - my "pick up" guy - I have been a little leery to travel too far out of my comfort zone --- and getting on a train to Giverny at Gare St. Lazare was definitely out of my comfort zone.  So over the weekend I decided to splurge and take my chances on another tour.  I had found this tour some time ago.  The negative side of the tour was the cost (169 euros) and the fact that it received mixed reviews on Trip Advisor.  However, over the weekend I decided to thoroughly read the reviews and it seemed for every negative review, there was a response from the company asking to be contacted so they could make it right.  This seemed like a step in the right direction.  In addition, this tour not only provided transportation to Giverny (if i took the train I would have to catch a bus or taxi from the station in Vernon to Monet's house) -- but it also included a second tour to Auvers - where VanGogh spent his last days.  I threw caution to the wind - once again - and booked it.

The tour was scheduled for Wednesday - so my original plan to do the Eiffel Tower and Marmottan museum beforehand has been switched to tomorrow (so stay tuned....)

Unlike the wine tour yesterday - this tour picked me up right outside my apartment.  Again, they were only about 5 minutes later than anticipated, so that was perfect timing in my book.  The tour guide was not as polished as Jean-Bernard --- and he was also training another guide, so most of his time was spent speaking french with her.  There were only two others in the van, so we were a small group.  Sylvain (the guide) was very good about pointing out areas of Paris that we might be interested in as we were leaving the city, and he provided good commentary about Monet on our way to Giverny.  The others in the van were very quiet, so I assumed that this would be a very independent (and quiet) day.  Which is not a bad thing in my book.

It took about one hour to drive to Giverny - but we were able to park right away - obtain our tickets - and enter the gardens by avoiding the crowded lines.  It was beautiful - spectacular - in fact, I am not sure that I could find "le mot juste" to describe these gardens.  Almost sacred.  There were numerous tourists, but all were quiet and respectful.  The rainbow colors of the flowers - the tranquil lily pads floating in the water - the majestic weeping willows all worked together to provide the most serene setting.  I spent about 30 minutes walking the pathways and taking pictures.  Quite honestly - we could not have asked for better weather.  It was raining in Paris when we left - but had dried up with cloudy skies when we arrived at the gardens.  I think if it had been a sunny day the crowds would have been fierce - and it would not have been as enjoyable in the rain.  Simply perfect.

We then exited the gardens and walked towards the house.  Flowers were blooming absolutely everywhere -- and in every color and size and shape.  I am not even a flower lover and I was swept away by the beauty.  We entered the house and were able to tour (although not take pictures of) the living room - the salon where he painted - the dining room - the kitchen - and then venture upstairs to see two bedrooms and a hallway.  It was fascinating to think that Monet walked these same stairs that I was climbing.  I must admit that I was somewhat appalled by the actions of other tourists.  We were politely told not to take pictures inside (and there were plenty of postcards available in the gift shop afterwards) and yet people were clicking right and left.  One mother had her toddler child sit on one of the chairs to pose for a photographic -- can you believe it?!  I rushed out of the room before I was about to same something rather unkind.

We were then able to visit the Impressionism museum which was currently exhibiting a collection of Impressionism paintings from the Clark collection.  They were magnificent - several Renoirs, plus Degas, Manet, Monet, etc.  The ideal part of this tour, I think, is that we were allowed a full two hours to see and do whatever we wanted.  If we wanted to stay in the garden two hours and forego the house tour and museum, we could.  While the guides did not actually lead us through the exhibits - to be honest - there was no need for them to do so.  It was the absolutely the perfect amount of time to spend - and I spent it exactly the way I wished.

We then climbed back inside the van and ventured to lunch at a lovely little restaurant, Le Moulin de Fourges, about twenty minutes down the road.  The restaurant obviously caters to the tourist crowd - as we were placed in a separate building from the main house - but it was still very pleasant. Having led two student group tours to London, I must say I am accustomed to tour meals that are less than mediocre - but not so in this case.  The three of us travelers were sat at a table together - and the two tour guides sat alone.  This proved to be a wonderful idea.  The three of us - all single women traveling together - opened up and shared a little bit about our lives.  Chelsea was an Art History major at Arizona State University student who had just finished a four-week intensive language course in Lyon and today was her last day in Paris before heading back to the states.  Margaret was probably a late 50s professor teaching art history 101 in Kuwait at the American University.

We had an absolutely lovely chat together over a simple meal of salad - chicken with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes - pomme tarte - red wine and coffee.  It is highly unusual that these kinds of mass lunches are as tasty as this one - nor as inclusive.

The next stop was Auvers - and Chelsea was a great admirer of VanGogh so she was able to share lots of information on the one hour drive.  When we arrived we first visited his room where he spent his last days.  Because others were superstitious of staying in a room of a man who committed suicide -- all the furniture had been removed and the room left exactly as it was in July, 1890.  The holes where he apparently hung his paintings to dry were evident - and a portion of the 7 square meter room has been partitioned with the hope of putting the original painting of "his room" for us to view.  It was a sober experience.

There was another room that we were able to visit where they actually have his iron bed and marble washstand set up the way they think perhaps it was originally placed.  This room they have wallpapered in a sunny yellow and it is not nearly as sacred - although very interesting to view.  The museum has also put together a fifteen minute video that chronicles the last few days of his life -- marrying photographic images of the area at that time with his actual paintings of those places.

We then walked from the restaurant above which he lived to the cemetery where he is buried next to his brother Theo.  Along the walkway there are plaques that show a famous VanGogh painting next to the actual sight.  One such place was at the "eglise" - and we were not only allowed to take pictures outside, but inside as well.

 It was then just a short walk up to the hill to the cemetery -- very understated - where we found the two brothers' graves.  We later learned that it was just across from this cemetery where VanGogh shot himself - which led to his untimely death.  All in all it was a very worthwhile experience.

We then traveled back to Paris - only about 40 minutes away - and I arrived home a bit after 5:00PM.  I am half tempted to go out and do something - and half tempted to stay home and relax, plan my last three days in Paris, and just relish the joy of these two tours.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Paris Day 10 - Winery Tour

I have great expectations of this trip - and I hope that it does not disappoint.  I had originally thought that perhaps I could visit the Beaujolais area of France (Lyon) as that is my favorite wine to drink and brings back such fond memories of living in New York City and celebrating the winter months with good friends and fruity wine.  However, the distance between Paris and Lyon is just too great to attempt during this short trip.  So that led me on an internet search for a wine tour that is within a day's travel of the city.  One option was Riems, home to the great champagnes of the world - but I am not much for the bubbly, so I continued to search.

I booked with Wine Day Tours because they offer small groups (no more than eight) - private mini van service - visits to two local wineries who promise to take us out to vineyards and truly teach us the process from start to finish - as well as a sampling of their fine products - and a visit to a local farm that makes chevre (goat cheese - my favorite!).  This is an all day affair (7:30AM - 7:30PM) and includes breakfast and lunch.  I hope to document this unique educational adventure with lots of photographs.  I only hope that I am not the only single in the trip and feel like a fifth wheel.

WOW -- what a marvelous day with terrific people and a wonderful tour guide!

I had to meet Jean-Bernard at an unfamiliar metro stop this morning at 7:40.  He is happy to pick up customers at hotels, but for obvious reasons he can't be expected to make stops at every apartment.  I arrived right on time and he was only about 5 minutes later than expected  PERFECT timing!

The van was full - and all of South American decent.  There was a couple (probably early thirties) from Brazil and very welcoming; two girlfriends on vacation from Brazil (probably mid thirties) and one was the life of the party - a real delight; and then two guys from San Francisco, probably mid twenties who were very nice but still dealing with jet-lag.

While Jean-Bernard has only been doing this tour a little over a year (he was let go from work about two years ago - spent a year deciding what he really wanted to do - and then started the company) - he is a top of the line professional.  He schedules stops every hour - so those who have rather small bladders do not have to suffer.  The first stop (just outside of Paris) he included hot coffee a croissants for us to munch on.  The next stop was just outside of Pouilly - at a goat cheese farm:  Ferme du Port Aubry.   Absolutely delightful!!

While I could wax on and on about today's excursion - I thought I might allow my pictures to do the talking.  I took over 350 photos today (with my compact camera - I don't trust my dslr anymore) and have really only briefly reviewed them.  I was very excited to share the day with you, however, so here is quick review.

We were able to watch them make a fresh batch of cheese from the morning  milking.  The 400 goats are milked twice a day:  once in the morning and once in the late afternoon.

After the cheese is properly made it is put in the drying room.  How long it dries is dependent on how aged you want the cheese.

We were able to try 4 different agings:  the "fresh" cheese which was only 6 days old; then another cheese with a slight bit of mold (we were assured it was "good" mold) that had aged about 3 weeks; another that had aged about 6 weeks; and the last that had aged about 8 months.  I thought goat cheese was always soft - but I guess I have never had aged goat cheese.  The 8 month old tasted similar to Parmesan to me.

After the tasting we were allowed to look around the shop (they not only had cheese --- but fresh creme - fresh butter - dried sausages from another local farm - several different styles of jam - fois gras - etc, etc etc.  If I didn't have to carry it all on the metro - and if I were staying another week, I could bought half the store!  We were then allowed to tour the farm a bit and see the goats. They were SO much fun!

From there we went not too far down the road to winery.  In this area most of those who live in the villages are somehow connected with the wine business.  This particular winery has been in business for hundreds of years - and her house was beautiful.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take many pictures as we were in a hurry to get to lunch.  She only makes white wine, however, and we were able to taste all four different whites that are made.  It was a very worthwhile tour.

Next we drove across the Loire River (which is VERY shallow -- quite surprising to me) to the Sancerre region.  We had lunch at a lovely restaurant - where one side is a Michelin Star restaurant - and the other side is a bistro.  We ate at the bistro, which suits my taste just fine.  As part of the wine tour, we had a three course meal that consisted of a very fresh pasta salad, roasted chicken and potatoes, and fresh fruit with espresso for dessert.  Simply perfect.

After lunch we went to the "old" town of Sancerre.  We visited the wine museum, which was really quite informative ---explaining the difference of terroire and how the same grape grown in the same region can create such different wines.  We were then allowed to walk around this quaint section of town for about 40 minutes before we had to board the van and head to the second winery.

As wonderful as the first part of the trip was --- the second was hand's down my favorite.  The Wine grower was very personable - obviously passionate about his wine and willing to share any information (and wine) that he could.  We spent over an hour in his tasting room - tasting 2 reds - 3 whites - and then he allowed us into the fermentation room to taste "straight from the vat".  What a wonderful experience.  I don't think any of us wanted to leave and all felt as though we had found a new friend in Michel.

And if that wasn't enough - as we headed out of town Jean-Bernard stopped along the side of the road and allowed us to walk through the vineyard and take a few pictures.  OH MY - another truly great experience.  In this picture I wanted to try to show what is meant by 'terroire'   The soil in this region is not so much dirt, but rather limestone and/or flint. Look how rocky it is!

The grapes themselves are still rather small - and green.  They should begin to change color in about 15 days.  This year the harvest will be very early - probably the first part of September.  While I have experienced mild temperatures, it was apparently quite warm in France in March, April, and May which has meant an earlier harvest than usual (it is my understanding that if you take this wine tour during the harvest - you actually get to go into the vineyard and cut your own grapes --- how great would that be?!)

As we were loading into the van we noticed that Jean-Bernard made a quick dash to the vineyard one more time.  Come to find out he picked a few small berries for us to taste.  The skin was still very thick - and the taste quite bitter - but I was amazed how the taste of the flint rock came through the fruit.  I guess I did learn something today.

All in all an absolutely fantabulous day --- and I am now very excited to see Giverny tomorrow!

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