Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Few French Connections

I am having great trouble posting pictures, most likely because of my lack of expertise. But I managed to get some pictures posted. The one above represents our first day in Paris. We flew overnight, arrived early in Paris eArly in the morning, got to our hotel and our rooms were not ready. Headed to the nearest cafe for large cups of cafe Au lait and dejeuner (breakfast). 

(Some spelling may be wrong as blogger has a bad habit of self-correcting what it thinks is wrong. I may not catch all errors.)
Halloween chocolates displayed at a chocolatier.
A favorite stop to salivate and ooh and aah - a bakery.

One of our new friends. We walked by not noticing the statue - until he started moving!

Our group taking pictures along with Thibault, our cute guide in Provence.
The four travelers in front of the Louvre. Tuilleries Gardens behind us.
Lots more to come...
Not paying additional fee for upgraded internet service, so speed is very slow And frustration builds. After a long day sightseeing and eAting, my patience weArs thin.
Until next time, Au revoir from Provence in the south of France.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Top Ten Things I Want to Do in France

A magical trip is about to begin. Four friends will soon embark on a journey to an exciting foreign locale, a wonderfully romantic and dreamlike place – France!

We will stay four days in Paris, then head south, spending time in Aix en Provence and Nice.

We are all married. It may be difficult for our hubs, but they will survive. We will come home to mounds of laundry and disheveled homes, but that is a minor price to pay for our overseas journey. In addition to four husbands, we leave stateside ten adult children, six sons/daughters-in-law, 11 grandchildren with one more on the way, two Moms and one Mom-in-law.

The idea began with my girlfriend Nancy. Looking for a special way to celebrate her 65th birthday, a trip to France evolved. An art devotee since a little girl, she wanted to tour museums and see the places where wonderful French painters – especially the Impressionists – lived and worked.

Her husband was not enthusiastic about spending hours strolling around Paris and exploring museums. She turned to her girlfriends. Always ready to help a friend in need, three of us agreed to share her journey.

Nancy carefully planned the trip in conjunction with her Travel Agent cousin and Museum Director brother.

And now it all comes together – for real. We leave on a US Airways flight to Paris this evening, Tuesday, October 22.

One of the things I did to prepare for the trip was compile the following list. Actually the list is the result of an exercise completed in a writing workshop I took a couple of weeks ago, but I think it is a good way to begin our ten-day adventure.

So here are the Top Ten Things I Want to Do in France:

.      1.   Buy unbelievably delicious, and probably expensive, chocolate.

    2. Sit at a café (preferably outdoors), linger over cappuccino and watch Parisians go by.

    3.    Window shop at designer boutiques offering merchandise at sky-high prices. I would never buy anything, but it will be fun looking.
    4.    Buy unique holiday gifts for certain family members, especially the grandkids.

    5.    Enjoy luscious, leisurely meals without feeling guilty about the calories.

6  6.    It is too late to study French. But I want to learn a couple of unusual, unique things about the places we will be visiting.

    7.    Not an art aficionado, I want to understand what our museum guides are talking about. I have a feeling I will be pretty lost in the lingo.

    8.    Take some pictures that turn out really, really great.

    9.    Savor the company of three girlfriends in a land of artistic vision, culinary delights and history.

   10.  Not overspend and not be overly worried about the dollars deflating my pocketbook.

Of course I will not accomplish everything.

An 82-year-old friend of mine gave me a coat for the trip. I asked what I could bring her from France.

She thought a moment and said, “A Frenchman. Preferably a young one.”

Oh well. I think she is going to have to settle for something else…

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fresh Air and Exercise for a Good Cause

The weekend began with a visit with my nephew, currently living in Truckee, California. Back East for a few days, he showed off his new physique, having lost 50 pounds since May by undertaking a running and nutrition program that is obviously working. Great work Josh!

Meanwhile my niece started her own exercise program outlined in an ap downloaded to her iPhone entitled 'Couch to 5k workout'. She is now running too.

My running days, amounting to about three attempts at jogging while in college, are long gone.

This morning – Sunday - dawned chilly but beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. Hub and I participated in the local Alzheimer’s Association walk along with about 20 other members of team Harvey’s Angels.

We left the house and walked to the registration place and starting point, then walked the three mile route along with thousands of others. The air warmed, the sun shined bright and strong and we shed layers of clothing.

Following the walk we got to sit down and enjoy lunch before heading home.

We walked a total of nine miles. My body, not quite rejecting me, is weary. 

But that is nothing compared to our son Jason, who ran what is called a 50 mile ultramarathon race in State College PA this morning, winning third place. Congratulations Jason!

Tomorrow I will take it relatively easy, doing laundry and packing for my next adventure. More on Tuesday, day one of what promises to be a unique travel experience.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Big Sarge

Meet my new Zumba instructor, Big Sarge.

My gym likes to stir things up occasionally, adding different kinds of classes, new instructors, changing class times. Some things catch on and become part of the regular schedule. Other trial programs disappoint and disappear.

A new instructor with the handle Big Sarge spent the past few weeks auditioning for a permanent position on the instructor and fitness class roster. He – yes, he – began class proudly announcing he is the only six foot, black male Zumba instructor. I do not know if that is in the entire state of New Jersey, the whole country and possibly the world of Zumba International (if there is such a thing), but I would not doubt it. His day job is Army fitness trainer. His ‘real job’ hours vary, so he is available for some morning and late afternoon classes.

I graced his class two times a week for the past few weeks. Our gym has a great policy where the purchase of a membership allows attendance at any class and does not limit the number of classes attended.

Graced is not the right word. I am not at all graceful on the Zumba floor, or anyplace else. I attend class and make a great effort to keep up with Sarge’s manic pace. My goal is not to collapse or quit before the hour is up; that would be embarrassing. I try not to watch the clock, because that can be frustrating.

I do talk to myself a lot, but not out loud. I guess I think to myself a lot. You mean that song lasted less than five minutes? Impossible! It feels like it took at least 15 very long minutes…Water, I need my water…I don’t know if I can survive another 45 minutes…half hour…we have only done three songs and I want to go home…What did he just say? Warm up is over and now the REAL work begins. I am already exhausted…I can’t think straight. It is beautiful outside today. When can I go home?
One of our Zumba songs...
Gracefulness is not attempted or considered. I have enough to contemplate watching the fast-paced master execute moves. Mimicking the steps, hand and body movements is an exercise not necessarily in futility, but a participant like me must have a devil-may-care attitude. If I cared how I appeared to others I would slink home and not return.

Luckily most of the women – occasionally one man shows up for class - are not elegant swans and are not into wearing designer outfits or spending a lot of time fixing hair and make up before dashing to class, especially those of us showing up for early morning classes. We want to exercise, if not actually sweat. It makes us feel good. 

It makes us feel less guilty about the food we eat the rest of the day.

It is enjoyable seeing friends and catching up (before and after class only – working too hard to socialize during class).

Class is fun and challenging.

If you consider exercise fun.

I like the feeling of exhaustion following the hour class, sweat pouring down my face, wondering if I have the energy to accomplish much of anything else the rest of the day, barely able to drag myself home and shower.

Exercise gurus assert vigorous exercise gives us more energy. I am leery. I think they just want us to spend more money on classes, exercise clothes and equipment. Although I must admit after a couple of days of not exercising I feel lazy and lethargic.

There are exercise mavens at my gym taking two or more classes a day. There are those who take a couple of classes and then take a long walk or run, play tennis, or participate in other active pursuits. Some play golf, but I do not believe driving around in golf carts, getting out and hitting a ball occasionally great exercise. Walking the course is different. Anyway…

Back to Big Sarge. He has a great sense of humor and runs the class not exactly as a tough-ass drill sergeant, but more like a supportive drill sergeant goading everyone to push themselves and work harder. Sort of a Tough Love exercise strategy.

Big Sarge has become a fixture at our gym. His classes draw eager Zumba enthusiasts class after class, week after week. Seniors in their sixties like me, older women too, as well as much younger ones show up. Women attend his 7:00 a.m. class then make a dash for the showers before going to work. Moms fill a later class when childcare is available.

I can go to any class I want. That is what a flexible lifestyle is all about.

And I love it.

Both the Zumba class and a flexible schedule.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Greetings From My New iPad

Mac, iPhone, iPad. I am becoming quite the techie. I love my Mac, and the iPhone has almost become a new appendage, an extension of my body.  
Now I have a new electronic thingamajig.
So why do I need a new gadget, you might ask? A very good question.

I must admit I do not need a new electronic anything, But am slowly being sucked into an alien world of electronic stuff I barely understand. It is almost addictive. Maybe it is addictive. But at least it is not fattening.

Unless it keeps a person from moving more than a few fingers and exercising.

OK, so why did I purchase this new toy?

I will be traveling soon and do not want to take my laptop. Taking Mac works when traveling by car or staying in one place.  But on a trip where I will be on the move it becomes a drag on my desire to travel light.

So hub and I spent over two hours Saturday morning at our local Apple store, a people magnet on a rainy, dreary day.

Three guys in blue Apple Shirts assisted us. (I am not being insensitive; all three were men. There are women Apple employees, but they are a minority). The guys were knowledgeable and helpful, answering questions with a remarkable amount of patience, ignoring the fact that many of my questions Highlighted my techno-ignorance and were, In a word, dumb.

And so many decisions to make. Size of iPad, color, amount of storage needed, WiFi and cellular or WiFi only, protective jacket (Do I need one? What kind? Style? Color?)

 It was exhausting.

Around lunchtime we walked out of the store with a brand new Gadget.

Now I am practicing touch typing on the screen and Learning Pages, the Apple word processing program. I have been using Word on my Mac (does that make me a traitor?).

I will practice taking pictures with my new toy.

I will attempt to get my email and surf the net.

What did we do before spending endless hours with gadgets on our lap?

Maybe we did things like clean the house, cook, go to work, spend time outdoors - which I would love to do if the weather cooperated - do the laundry...

Which is waiting for me now. Take out the dry, shift wet into dryer, throw In a new load...

Maybe even spend time talking to real people face to face.

A novelty.

I will have to try it.

Just not now...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Holiday Season Arrives with the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book

One of the most eagerly awaited winter holiday yearly events is the publication of the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, more for its Wow! power (for most of us) than perused for serious purchases. 

And that very special time of year has arrived – the 2013 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is available. Online, of course – I am not on the retailer’s mailing list.

I awoke this morning to the second day of rainy, cold, windy and just plain dreary weather. I perked up when realizing it was the perfect day to sit back in a comfortable chair, wrap a blanket around me (for the first time in months as summer disappears), relax, and take a good look at the new catalog.

The red cover beckons me to turn the pages, one after another, and see what fabulous gifts await others under their menorah or Christmas tree this year.

Opening the first page a tag line begins, “The tradition of giving all you got is alive and well.”

I do not know about Neiman Marcus customers, but if I gave all I have there would not be much left for mundane stuff like bills or food. But maybe I am too practical. Or literal.

Gifts range from the unbelievably expensive – well over one million dollars – to sort of affordable, although personally I would never spend $175 for monogrammed pajamas.

Items that caught my eye include women’s clutches ranging in price from a meager $2,945 to $4,030. One cute little black bag adorned with pearls on the handle struck my fancy, but does not fit my lifestyle or current pocketbook.

There is not a lot offered for double-digit dollar amounts, but options exist. For instance monogrammed mugs are available for only $12 and a set of four monogrammed coasters are $34.

I liked a Melissa Masse red dress (whoever she is – I imagine the designer and not the previous owner, as I doubt Neiman Marcus sells second-hand anything) for $295. The model looks like she is at least six feet tall. Being almost a foot shorter, the price seems a lot when I will not be receiving close to the amount of fabric the taller woman receives.

The real magic and take-your-breath-away of the catalog are the Fantasy Gifts, each year different and fanciful.

There is a two-page spread of a Global Falconry Companion for $150,000. Staring at the picture I could not figure out what the gift was all about, but then I know nothing about falconry. Reading the information, I discovered the buyer receives a falcon – a real bird of prey, not stuffed or a picture -  and an entire camp set-up for hunters and those along for the occasion. The camp gear has nothing to do with roughing it, but entertaining up-scale, pampered friends in the great outdoors without actually having to give up everyday pampering and luxuries, such as crystal goblets and cigars. Also included is designer furniture, a 20-carat gold-plated perch for the falcon, and a few other items.

Enough about falconry.

How about a ciclotte for $11,000? Now here I admit my ignorance. I had to look the word up. A ciclotte is an expensive exercise bike, or what the book terms a lean machine.

Then there are a few diamond baubles, the Forevermark Ultimate Diamond Experience, for $1,850,000. No typo there.

The men on your gift list will worship their new over-the-top motorcycle; prices range from $80,000 to $750,000.

A less expensive gift for the man (or men) in your life is a pair of 14-karat-gold NM Star War – Darth Vader ($4,200) or Yoda ($4,000) - cufflinks.

Art collectors will appreciate a Jeff Koons’ limited edition Venus Rising sculpture for $20,000. I did not particularly care for it, but an art critic/aficionado I am not.

A newsworthy event every year is the His and Hers gift. This year the His and Hers gift consists of the Ultimate Outdoor Entertainment System, ranging in price from $1,500,000 to $2,640,000. I have no room in my cubby-hole-sized back yard for an outdoor entertainment system, so did not bother reading the details. If interested, check out the catalog online.

I loved a Michael Kors black gown for $1,195, but unfortunately have nowhere to wear it. The Sofia cashmere black cape for $1,995 would get some wear, but last winter was not that cold around here.

The catalog contains men and women’s clothing, jewelry, personal accessories, food and home décor items.

176 pages of Neiman Marcus pleasures.

If you are not a clearance rack shopper like me, you might find interesting gifts for your loved ones.   

Or you may simply enjoy spending a cold, yucky day or evening doing the online equivalent of window-shopping, warm and comfy in your own home.

So waste some time – do not feel the least bit guilty - and partake of this annual ritual.
Full disclosure: Not me shopping, but could be...