Category Archives: gardens

TRIP TO NORMANDY: THE REST OF THE WAY

We were so packed with activity the last several days of the trip that I have not had the opportunity to post. I am in Chicago now and today will return home to Florida. Once I have my own computer I hope to post some of the almost 200 pictures I took while on this incredible journey. Just to catch up with the itinerary: on Sunday we spent another full day with our English guide, William Jordan, seeing Utah Beach, the village where the film THE LONGEST DAY was set, the German cemetery and the wonderful museum in Caens. On Monday we left early in the morning for the long bus ride to Mont St. Michel–an incredible place rich with centuries (dating back to the 8th century) of history and wonderful places to explore. Our guide here (*and indeed for all the sites we had yet to see) was equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic as William had been. They brought history to life. My impression of Mont St Michel was that J.K. Rowling must have visited the site while inventing the setting for her Harry Potter series–the church on top of the rock as well as the village with its narrow streets and charming little shops was Hogwarts come to life. I kept expecting to run into Harry himself!!

On Tuesday we spent the day at the home and beautiful gardens of Claude Monet. Because it is truly spring in France, the gardens were exploding with tulips of all colors, daffodils of all varieties, fabulous lilac and other flowering bushes and of course the wonderful Japanese gardens that so inspired his work — including the famous painting of the water lilies. I learned two important things about the Impressionist movement–the painting is all about the reflection/play of light on different surfaces from water to fabrics to buildings, etc. and 2) Monet was inspired by the art of Japanese woodcuts, many of them hanging on the walls of his colorful cottage. We had lunch at the museum and then a lecture by a member of the museum staff showing how in so many ways Normandy had been the “birthplace” of the Impressionist movement.

Back to the hotel for our farewell reception–how we had changed since that first night when we were all strangers–and to pack for a five a.m. departure for Paris and the airport. I did not sleep much because my mind was so full of thoughts about the trip and how much L would have loved everything about it (except perhaps the strong coffee and long bus rides). I thought of how proud he would have been that instead of burrowing into my shell (as is usually my habit when in a group) I had made a real effort to get to know almost everyone in our group and in the process made some connections that have the potential to last beyond Normandy. And I knew that L had been with me on this incredible journey when as we walked back to the bus after touring Monet’s gardens I spotted a single perfect feather on the ground. Since his death–nearly two years ago now– I have often found feathers like that when I was missing him and wishing I could tell him all about my adventures. The feather–along with the lilac in bloom reminding me of the lilac he used to gather for me every spring–made me smile and allow the peace and comfort of knowing he was indeed there and that he knew all about the trip…because he is watching.

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Strange Winter…

Back home in Wisconsin the weather has been really cold with sub-degree highs and wind chills that are almost impossible to believe. Here in Florida where I am so blessed to spend the winter months it has been cooler than normal and there has been more rain. The shelling has also been affected–very few shells on the beaches compared to previous years but sometimes wonderful discoveries like the number of live olive shells I have seen this year. The olive is a favorite of mine with it’s shiny brown shell–to discover the animal that calls this beautiful shell home has been a special treat. I do not take live shells–ever! Instead I delight in watching them make their little trails across the sand as the tide comes in.

Now that my Wisconsin home is an apartment I will not have a “home” there as I have in the past for the shells I have collected and carried back north with me each year. But I have this wonderful new home here in Florida and just below my balcony is a little park bench under a wonderful and enormous live oak tree. I have planted the two abandoned planters that sit at either end of the bench and every year before I head north I plant the bromiliads that I have nurtured on my balcony under the tree.  I have spread mulch under the bench and around the planters and perhaps in time I will cover the mulch with shells. My neighbors are of two varieties–they have either praised or ignored my efforts so I continue until someone tells me to stop. Even when we rented here I would plant the plants I had accumulate during the season (and could not take home with me) and many of them are thriving on the beautiful grounds here. There is one bush with bright yellow flowers that I see every time I leave the complex–it reminds me of the wonderful times L and I shared here and makes me smile every time I see it.

I know that one day it will probably be gone in favor of some landscaping change but for now it is a source of comfort and that is the point. Knowing how brutal the winter in Wisconsin has been I am grateful every day (in spite of the chilly rainy days here) that L brought us to this wonderful community. Seeing that flowering bush brings back memories that remind me of the love story I was so blessed to play a part in. And this new home here that L never shared with me is nevertheless filled with his spirit.