March 6, 2014

Diane Covington Carter D-Day Article CoverDad was an officer in the Sea Bees, the Civil Engineer Corps of the United States Navy, and I grew up hearing stories about his time in France during the Normandy Invasion. The Sea Bees’ motto was: “we build, we fight” and their mascot, an exuberant looking bee, carried a drill and a gun. My Father spent over four months on the Normandy coast, fi rst building the Navy camp on the cliff above Omaha Beach, then rebuilding bridges and carrying out a number of other reconstruction projects in the surrounding areas. He liked to tell stories about his interactions with the French people during his time in Normandy. He’d studied French in a country high school in South Dakota, where the teacher had never even heard French and stayed one chapter ahead of her students. So Dad’s accent made ‘s’il vous plaît’ sound like ‘silver plate’.

Courtesy of France Today (France Media Group), the entire article is available as a facsimile of the published magazine article. Click here for PDF download (1.2mb).


September 25, 2013

Don’t look now, it’s the invasion of the GIANT…

The giant zucchini plus some luscious tomatoes

The giant zucchini plus some luscious tomatoes

 

Well, you guessed it, zucchini. They were so well hidden under the large leaves of the spreading zucchini plant. I didn’t see them and then, whoa, there were six of them, all the size of fat baseball bats. My little grand nephew, Dylan, with his sharp 6 year-old eyes, spotted them. “Aunt Diane, I see another one”, he kept saying.

We hauled them to the house and I’m contemplating them–hmmm, zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, stuffed zucchini, baked zucchini…

When my daughters were little and I was just a beginning gardener, we went off on vacation and came home to these behemoth invaders of our garden. I tried so many different ways to cook the monsters up that my oldest, Michelle, would poke at the dish in front of her,  look up and inquire ‘Is there zucchini in this?’ If so, she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Well, there’s always the chickens and the deer to feed.

On the other hand, I relish the bounty of tomatoes. The ones on the table next to their green neighbors were picked in about 5 minutes, and I do that daily. We’re loving their lusciousness, cut up with fresh ground pepper and sea salt on them, so full of vitamins and minerals.

I was thinking just what a good investment a garden is. Think about it. A tomato plant costs about three dollars, or less. With good soil, water and sun, it will produce for you so may pounds of tomatoes that taste best when picked ripe and red, just before eating. The ones in the store can’t be shipped that ripe, they will rot in the meantime, so you can’t get the same flavor and freshness from the store bought ones.

At my local organic store, the heirloom ones cost $5.19 per pound and the other ones priced out at $3.29. So fifty pounds of tomatoes from your plant that cost you $3, come back at over a $200 return for your time and effort. (We’re eating heirloom and other ones.) Not to mention how much better they taste and the supreme satisfaction of eating something that you grew yourself.

I love to garden and love to harvest what I’ve grown. Fall is such an amazing time. Right now, we have three kids of figs, plums, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, eggplants, basil, parsley, not to mention apple trees bulging with bright red apples ready to pick.

More soon about the apples. I’m asking them to hold on a few more days while I deal with these tomatoes and zucchini…

Enjoying the goodies from my farm.

Enjoying the goodies from my farm last week.  The grapes are done now.


September 16, 2013

Crossing the Finish LineI had three goals for the Triathlon, the first one was to finish and I did that. The next two, I didn’t do–to break 2 hours–I finished in 2 hours 4 minutes.  I came in #157 out of 202.

There were seven women in my age group, I came in 4th again, even though I was slower than in 2010, when I did it in 1 hour 53 minutes, but faster than two years ago, a time I’ve blocked out because my knee hurt — I think it was 2 hours 11 minutes!  (Turns out it was 2 hours flat!)

Before the SwimI didn’t sleep well Saturday night and was anxious, so when we started the swim, I must have gone out too fast and then couldn’t catch my breath and panicked.

It was scary in the deep water with people thrashing all around me and it felt like my lungs had seized up–very scary. The Scary SwimI had to call out for help to one of the ‘swim angels’ and he lent me a noodle for a few seconds. After that, I’d lost my confidence and did the breast stroke most of the way. So instead of less than 20 minutes for the swim, I got out of the water at 25 minutes.

The bike was fine, I felt pretty good and the run was slow and steady. There were definitely moments of struggle and effort but I literally thought of my sister Sharon and her brain surgeries and her being in the ICU after and said to myself–you can do this, you will do this, so just keep putting one foot in front of the other, or in the case of the swim, one arm in front of the other.The 12-mile bike ride

Landon was so great–he saw me go through what I did in the swimming and was holding his breath. I was so happy to go through the finish line at the end–very joyous. I was so tired yesterday that I didn’t do anything–took a nap and read a book, had Landon cook for me–I was a noodle.

Today I felt fine and led a writing group all day, so this is the first moment I’ve had to write. I received a few sweet emails asking how I was–are you okay, it’s alright if you didn’t finish, etc. Thank you all. You were my angels yesterday helping me to keep going.

It reminded me a lot of childbirth, how you forget how hard it is and then go ‘oh yeah, now I remember this’ but by then it is too late to turn back!

The women, the other competitors were great. We had our ages on our calves in bright black felt pen, so when I passed a few women younger than me on the bike, they called out ‘you go girl, you’re my inspiration!’.The 3-mile run

People lined the streets and clapped and cheered. Lots of little girls watching and I couldn’t help think how when I was little, there were no role models for women doing athletics at all. These little girls are growing up in a different world, thank goodness! Lots of young women competing too, though the woman who won was 47 and did it in 1 hour 13 minutes! Isn’t that amazing! I’m so impressed. I’d have to have had a motor attached to me to do it in that time! But that would be cheating.

We raised the 2nd highest amount–so thank you again for your generosity. It meant a lot to me.

Best wishes on taking some risks and stretching in life. It’s hard to leave the comfort zone, but so great on the other side.


September 14, 2013
Enjoying the goodies from my farm.

Enjoying the goodies from my farm.

Yikes.  Not thinking too much about it right now.

I read somewhere about an experiment where they had a group practicing basketball–free throws, and a control group visualizing doing free throws and the second group made more progress than the first!  So while I’ve been resting, since Wednesday, I’ve been visualizing long swimming strokes, strong bike pedaling and gliding, reaching running strides.  Who knows?  It can’t hurt.

Last night, though, I dreamt that I was running, couldn’t find the street to finish, didn’t have my number on–which would have disqualified me, and was in a panic.  Woke up out on the deck, under the huge oaks with Landon next to me–it was just a dream.  But it made me realize how much I’m into this thing, that it has invaded my dreams.  There will be lots of volunteers tomorrow, including Landon, who will be directing us so that we don’t get lost on the circuitous run.
We do have to watch out for squirrels, though, on the bike ride. They’re busy this time of year and run right out in front of you and one year, a woman crashed running into one!
While I’ve been not training, I’ve been catching up on some farm chores and enjoying all the goodies that are so abundant this time of year.  This morning, in just a few minutes when I went to let out the chickens, I gathered tomatoes, figs, berries, one giant carrot, a normal size zucchini (thank goodness), grapes and 3 eggs.  I put a photo below.  In the background, you can see a basket of lavender that I picked this week.
Also, we have so many deer that wander through and don’t get into the garden, thanks to a high fence. We give them banana peels, which they love and the apples that are no good, so they stand right by the back door and munch away. Two photos of one of the babies from yesterday.
Thanks to all of your generosity, our group has raised over $1,000 for the cause!  Hurrah!  I’m turning it all in today and you will receive something from the hospital for your taxes.  Thank you so much. Your support has meant so much to me and has kept me going when I wanted to quit. I know that tomorrow it will also spur me on to do my best.

September 7, 2013

Scotts Flat ResevoirYesterday morning, Landon and I went up to the lake, Scotts Flat Resevoir, which is 10 minutes from the house and where he usually rows.  He sat in a chair and read while I swam–he’s got a cold.  It was so beautiful and quiet there, the camp ground empty now that school has started, only one boat, bright sun and blue sky.

You can feel that fall is coming and yet it is still warm and the water, thank goodness, is still comfortable.  After all the business and bustle at the lake during the summer, the stillness was breathtaking.

I swam my 500 strokes, which I figure is at least a half mile, catching glimpses of the trees along the shore and the sparkle of the water coming off my hands as I glided through the water.  I like the swimming, unlike the running, and don’t feel tired at the end.

In the race, though, the swim is tough, with people flailing past, arms and legs crashing into you as everyone tries to find their way between 3 buoys in a triangular course in a deep lake.

They have ‘swim angels’. people on paddle boards or surf boards, whose job is to be there if someone panics.  For those who are used to swimming in a pool with a big black line underneath and  2 ends 25 yards apart, a giant lake can be frightening.

Today, I took a day off and it felt luscious.  I fed Landon grapes and pears and tomatoes and all the fresh things from the garden I could think of to help him to get better.  He’s on the mend now, so that’s a relief.  I’m praying I don’t get it, which is one of the reasons I rested today.

Tomorrow, I plan to face the real run, the course that is up and down hills, just to do it one more time–I’ve only done it once this year!  It begins with a giant hill that I walk up and it takes me 365 steps to the top, which I couldn’t help thinking stood for the 365 days I should have been training for this event.  Oh well, too late for that now…

Thank you to all of you who have sent notes and donations for the fundraiser.  Going to the mail box is such a treat.  I appreciate them all and they motivate me to keep going and will motivate me in 8 days to keep going.

Swimming at the lake

Some photos from yesterday.  The lake, which is way down from the beginning of summer, then me.  I swam in my suit to get used to it and it felt good.


September 5, 2013

IMG_0380Well, I’m not the gingerbread man and I’m not running very fast, but I AM running as fast as I can.  Yesterday, Marisha and her little crew ran along side me in a wooded area along flowing fresh water–very beautiful.  Marisha was always saying just the right thing–’swing those arms, step out with your feet, chest back, shoulders back, breathe deep, you’re doing great–how many other 64 year old women are out here running 3 miles?’

I ran in my new triathlon suit which I’m hoping will make me go faster!

It was very touching and good and I did feel like I was going a tiny bit faster.  Marisha was encouraging me to not compare myself to anyone else and to just do the best I can–always good advice in any arena of life, but so good to be reminded by my wise and good niece.

This morning, I’m going up to the lake to swim.  Landon has caught a cold, but he’s going to go with me and wait in the car so that I don’t have to swim alone–a bit spooky in that giant lake.  That’s very sweet of him because he’s not feeling so good.  I’m giving him hot lemonade and lots of hugs.

Thanks to all of you who said you’re going to support the cause here.  Your donation is tax deductible, by the way–I called the hospital to make sure.  I don’t like mammograms one little bit, but they do save lives, including some women close to me who are survivors.  When I think of their courage and the courage of my sister to go through what must be a terrifying experience and come out the other side, it rekindles my commitment to swim, bike and run.

Here are some photos from yesterday.  Marisha’s oldest son, Dylan, is in first grade at the local Waldorf Charter school, or he’d be out there too.  The sound of the water flowing, the early fall leaves floating down, the bright blue sky and my sweet companions made it a wonderful experience, in spite of the running.

Sending you greetings from clear skies and lovely days in the Sierra foothills, where squirrels scamper around, busy hiding nuts,


September 3, 2013

Diane at LakeA little update on the training for the triathlon.  It’s been hard.  We’ve had fires in Northern California, making the air unhealthy for exercise, but I had to go ahead anyway.  Finally, we got a fluke rainstorm on Monday, with 4 inches of rain, which cleared out the air and helped to put out the Yosemite fire.

Last Saturday, I did the bike ride with Landon and was pretty discouraged.  I was having a bad day anyway and my mind really kicked in.  When younger women were passing me, it said I should just give up and quit.

But I didn’t, I slogged through and tonight, when we did the bike ride again, it felt easier and I felt stronger.

daughterMarisha, my niece, is helping me with the running, which I am so slow at.  Last Wednesday, we ran along a trail with Marisha pushing her stroller with Nathan, age 1 ½ and Malia, age 4, riding along.  She is a great coach, getting me to swing my arms and to try to step up and out more, saying ‘good’ and ‘great’, just at the right moments.  We’re going out again tomorrow and I’ll get a photo. (Marisha was 12 when I moved up here in 1990 and used to jog along with my sister Sharon and I along Willow Valley Road.  Of course, she ran circles around us!)

The race is in coming up in 11 days—Yikes.  It always catches me wishing I had started in January instead of in July.  The run will be the hardest.  I can train for another week and then need to really taper off.

As a teenager, when I heard the Beatles song, ‘when I’m 64’, which is about being old, I thought, I’ll never be 64—which is what the Beatles thought too.  But here I am!  At least I’m doing something ‘out of the box’ from what they were describing in their song.

The photo is of tonight at the lake.  I look a little dazed cause we’d just ridden hard for 54 minutes!


August 15, 2013

“Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend…”  John Denver

We’re back at the farm, after five weeks traveling in Europe, where Landon to competed in the Henley Masters Regatta, in England, and won, and in the World Masters Games in Italy, and won. It is so good to be home at the farm after such a long journey–two long flights, lay overs, etc.

How strange it is, really, to sit in a chair up in the air for those hours and then transport yourself across the planet.  Always a miracle, in my mind.

Landon ended up with 2 golds and 2 silvers at the World Masters Games and he was happy about that. The last race, they were so close to winning that I thought they had. They only lost by a second, and that was against the German team who had trained together and had brought their own boat.  Landon’s group had never rowed together and used a rented boat. So they did great.

We high tailed it out of Italy Friday night for a few last days in the French Alps. We found little hotels in small villages, where I could swim in a clear lake nearby with Mont Blanc in the distance.

Lake in the French Alps

Then on to Geneva for our flights home.

Back here at the farm, the garden is going nuts with squash, tomatoes and sunflowers and there are still plenty of berries–yes! A mama deer had her babies and came around.  We put out banana peels for them and they love that.  (They can’t get into the fenced garden to the veggies.)

Two big loads of laundry and a clothesline full of clothes swaying in the breeze.  We were so happy to sleep out under the stars again. When jet-lag woke me up at 3, I got to see how thick the stars are.

IMG_0369

I got so inspired watching all the athletes and Landon’s efforts, that I decided to do the Women’s triathlon again this year. I’ve done it four times total, the last time was 2011. I always do it in my sister Sharon’s honor–we used to jog together down Willow Valley Road in the early mornings.

She died of brain tumors in 2003 and I still miss her. It’s a benefit, to raise money for Breast cancer awareness and the money pays for mammograms for women who can’t afford them.

If you’d like to support the event, contact me. The race is on September 15th. I’d so appreciate your support. It is always a stretch to do it, but I’m doing it with a friend this year, so that will be fun.

I’m attaching a few photos:  The lake where I swam with Mont Blanc in the background, the clothesline and the baby deer.

Wishing you all the best in your lives.

IMG_4083

 


June 18, 2013

A slow meander through the West and South of Ireland…

Dramatic Irish coastline

Dramatic Irish coastline

The green hills, wild coastlines and warm welcomes of Ireland are best savored at a slow meander. Follow along as I take you with me on a recent tour of the Emerald Isle that will give you a taste of the real Ireland, while including some of the fun ‘must dos’, like kissing the Blarney stone! Then plan your own magical discovery tour.

As Americans, we’re always rushing around, multi-tasking, juggling to do lists. Vacations are means to be a time to slow down and relax and Ireland is one of the best places I’ve found to do just that.

One of the ways I gauge my travel experience is by the quality of the welcome that I receive in the country and in the places I visit and stay. Each of the places I describe in this tour welcomed me like a long-lost relative. Many Americans are just that, (of Irish descent, I mean), but I believe that the genuine Irish hospitality is extended to everyone.

Flying into Shannon

Flying into Shannon airport means that you arrive in the west of Ireland, to begin your journey. After a long international flight, I like to make my first stop a great destination that is not far from the airport, especially if you’re driving on the ‘other’ side of the road.

Just a few minutes from the Shannon airport yet in another world, your

First stop:  Two nights at Dromoland Castle, Newmarket-On-Fergus

View of Dromoland Castle

View of Dromoland Castle

 

What better way to get over your jet lag than to be surrounded by 410 acres of lush green scenery on the shores of Lough Dromoland.

You can play golf, go to the spa or even try your hand at clay pigeon shooting, in addition to lots of other fun activities.

The grey stone walls of the castle and luxury bedrooms will make you feel like you woke up in a fairy tale.  The castle has been included on the Condé Nast Traveler Gold List, Europe, for six consecutive years.

Day trip:  the majestic Cliffs of Moher, with their views of Europe’s westernmost point, the Aran Islands.  The drive to the cliffs wends its way through the 100-square-mile limestone plateau known as The Burren with its stunning expanses of sea and sky.

After your two-day stay, you will be rested and ready for more adventures driving on the ‘other’ side of the road.

 

Second stop: Village of Kenmare, Two nights at Park Hotel Kenmare

Park Hotel Kenmare, Kenmare, Ireland

Park Hotel Kenmare, Kenmare, Ireland

 

The drive from Newmarket-On-Fergus to Kenmare will take you about an hour if you do it ‘American style’–fast.   But plan to stop along the way.

Take your time and don’t rush. Rediscover (or discover) what it means to meander down the road. You’re not on a super highway here, the roads are narrow and windy, so stop and explore a village or whatever beckons to you on your way.

The Park Kenmare Hotel was voted the Best Hotel in Ireland, 2012 by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure magazines.

For the next two days, you’re about to discover why. Think warm welcome, think Spa SÁMAS, a 25mt Lap Pool, Cinema and daily lifestyle classes.

 

Terrace of Park Hotel Kenmare, Kenmare, Ireland

Terrace of Park Hotel Kenmare, Kenmare, Ireland

 

 

The Victorian landmark Hotel dates from 1897 and is surrounded by the sparkling waters of Kenmare Bay and the majestic Cork and Kerry Mountains.

I felt like I was staying in a rich Aunt’s country manor and wanted to move in full time.

 

 

 

 

Be sure to explore the bustling village of Kenmare.

The village of Kenmare, Ireland

The village of Kenmare, Ireland

 

 

 

Or take a day trip to the ring of Kerry and take in the breathtaking coastal scenery.

 

 

 

 

The cute little lamb on my bed and I became so attached that I had to take him with me. See photo.

Hugging my sweet lamb from the Park Hotel Kenmare

Hugging my sweet lamb from the Park Hotel Kenmare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to meander on again, but by now you’re over your jet-lag and have slowed down enough to appreciate the subtle flavors of not only the delicious Irish food, but of all the varied shades of green in the landscape.

Take your time to enjoy your drive either winding along the coast or more directly inland to the vibrant city of Cork.

For your

3rd stop: Cork.  Visit Blarney Castle, explore Cork city with Dinner and overnight at Hayfield Manor Hotel

Front of Hayfield Manor, Cork, Ireland

Front of Hayfield Manor, Cork, Ireland


Cork’s first 5-star hotel, combines luxury, comfort and modern amenities, yet retains the distinct charm of a Manor.

The property was originally an estate that belonged to a rich Cork merchant and offers the convenience of being right in Cork City, yet tucked away in a quiet area, inside a walled garden, a unique and winning combination.

The Manor won the Conde Nast 2012 Reader’s Choice Award among other awards and is a member of  Small Luxury Hotels of the World and Ireland’s Prestigious Blue Book.

 

 

 

Hayfiled Manor, Cork, Ireland

Hayfiled Manor, Cork, Ireland

 

Staying in the family owned and run hotel made me feel cared for and coddled and clear that I was staying in an award winning hotel.

 

 

In the words of Deputy Manager Annemarie Scally, (who is also a daughter of the proprietors) “We are devoted to surpassing your expectations and making your stay with us, whether for work or pleasure, a superb experience every time

 

 

There’s lots to see and do in the vibrant city of Cork.  In the center of downtown Cork, be sure to explore the English Market,and have lunch at The Farm Gate Café.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the English Market during her state visit in May, 2011. The market dates back to the times of King James I in 1610, and has been officially trading since 1788.

And while in the area, visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney stone.

Here are my photos.  It looks a bit scary but don’t miss it–you can do it.

BlarneyStone1

 

 

 

 

 

BlarneyStone2

 

 

 

 

 

BlarneyStone3

 

 

 

 

 

BlarneyStone4

 

 

 

 

 

Short Drive to 4th stop: Ballymaloe House

Over forty members of the Allen family, spanning four generations, work together to create a warm welcome in this renowned Irish country house, hotel and restaurant owned and run by the family for over 40 years.

www.keewiphotography.com
Situated on a 400 acre estate in rural East Cork, just twenty miles from Cork and close to the south coast, Ballymaloe House offers activities for the whole family.

Take a walk along a meadow of bluebelles, play golf or tennis, or relax by the pool.

Some evenings, enjoy traditional music or concerts, or sign up for some cooking classes at the Ballymaloe House Cooking School

Fresh carrots from the garden served at lunch at Ballymaloe Cooking School

Fresh carrots from the garden served at lunch at Ballymaloe Cooking School 

 

 

 

Day trips: Waterford Crystal Factory

The Village of Kinsale
Cohb and the Titanic museum

For all the information you will need to plan your trip to Ireland, including specials, check out this website from Tourism Ireland.  Enjoy your trip!

 


June 17, 2013

Willow Valley Farm Blog, June 16, 2013

The Dance of the Yellow Butterfly

The Dance of the Yellow Butterfly

She stunned me with her bright yellow beauty as she floated by and started visiting all the bright pink flowers in the flower bed next to me.

I ran and got my camera and came back out and watched in amazement as she danced from one flower to the next.

As I moved closer to get a better shot, she moved to the bunch right next to me—not afraid at all.

Such a magical moment, one of so many here on this precious piece of nature called Willow Valley Farm.


May 31, 2013

Hen with BandAidI brought home seven new hens from a farm that was downsizing from 200 hens to thirty.  It has been a bit of a challenge integrating the new ones with the older ones, but it is working out—every day it gets better.

We lost one white chicken when a group of them wouldn’t go into the coop the first night.  They all survived that night but the next night, sure enough, the white one was gone the next morning.  Such a reminder that nature is operating all around us in full swing, even inside a fenced area, that a predator came and took the white one, the one that it could most easily see at night.  After that, the rest of them went into the coop.

One of the new chickens had string caught around her feet, something I hadn’t noticed when I first got her.  But then I saw how she couldn’t get up the ramp into the chicken coop.  I managed to cut the string between her feet, but she still had some wound around the bottom of her leg and foot.

HenBlogPost_henfront400Days later, I saw her limping.  Oh no, the string was cutting into her leg and foot.  With the help of a friend, I caught her and held her tight against me while he cut the string out. I talked to her in a low voice, telling her how much better she was going to be.  She looked up at me with her one chicken eye, moved her head back and forth, but didn’t try to get away.

Then we realized the place where the string had been looked infected and she needed some Neosporin and a band-aid.  A band-aid on a chicken leg?  Why not?  If we didn’t put the band-aid on, the Neosporin wouldn’t stay on and the infection might not heal.

So I held her tight and talked to her some more, while he ran and got the medicine and band-aid.  Then we realized we needed two band-aids, to wind around her leg.  The whole operation took about ten minutes, with me standing holding her close and the hen looking startled, but staying calm.

Now days later, she isn’t limping and the band-aid is still on.  Operation successful!  She also seems a little less shy around me—she knows my voice now and that I won’t hurt her.  We’re getting some green eggs and a dark brown one, a white one, such fun to have new hens.  Soon they will all be moving into a new coop that is not quite ready yet.  Hoping we can get them all to make the move.  Stay tuned for ‘As the World Turns’, at Willow Valley Farm…

Garden being plantedThe garden is about to be planted, the cover crop rototilled in weeks ago, the soil ready and waiting.  Here’s a photo before and then after I planted a few things.  Will update.  And here’s our hen with the band-aid.

 


April 25, 2013

When I bought my little farm in April 1997, sixteen years ago this month, I took on eight acres, about sixty fruit trees, mostly old variety apples, a substantial garden with a falling down fence that the deer did high jumps over to help them selves, and five sheds in various stages of dilapidation.

Once, when I referred to the shed closest to the garden as ‘the falling down shed’, my daughter Heather replied, ‘Mom, all your sheds are falling down sheds’. Since then, that one got torn down, thanks to my 4-runner doing the last bit on that—see video. Go 4-runner! Here’s the video:

I personally took the nails out of each piece of the old wood and we reused it to build a little guest studio inside another shed.

The apple trees produce the most delicious, tart or sweet, red, green or yellow, apples. When I bought the farm, the old couple who had owned it since 1948 and who planted all the trees were gone, so I couldn’t ask them what the varieties were. In my state of overwhelm with so much to do, when people asked what kind of apples I had, I replied, ‘red ones and green ones and a few yellow ones’. That was as close as I’ve come to being more specific.

Some of those old trees have gone back to the apple farm in the sky and some hang on for dear life. See photo here, labeled ‘Hope springs eternal’.

The little old apple tree that is only one branch.

The little old apple tree that is only one branch.

That little old tree is now one branch perched on a spindly, skinny trunk. When I looked at it this winter, I thought it was dead, but it was so excited about spring, it covered that old branch with as many blossoms it could squeeze onto it. Like it was shouting¬–hey, look at me—ain’t Spring great! Here’s that photo.

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope Springs Eternal

Today, a few weeks later, I marveled again at how the pink and white blossoms turn into tiny buds of apples, if the bees pollinate them. Looks like the bees did their work—you can see what will become apples in the fall.

I did an NPR commentary in 2010 about buying the apple farm and here is the link.

I’ll add photos as spring turns into summer. Thanks for reading!
Diane


October 1, 2012

In the fifteen years that I have owned this little farm, people have always asked me ‘how do you DO it all’?

The truth is that I don’t do it all—Mother Nature does most of it and I just help her along, here and there.  It’s amazing to me how forgiving she is, as long as I give her a few basic things:

SOIL:
I have good soil, thanks to the previous owners, who took care of the soil and were organic farmers.  In the winter, I sow a ‘cover crop’ to help put more nitrogen back into the soil.  Last winter, I just gave the chickens the run of the garden and they scratched and pooped and worked the soil over really well.  But this winter, I’ll do a cover crop again and then we’ll turn that right over into the soil before planting the garden.

WATER:
I have clear, fresh, cold water, which flows from a spring into a big pond and then by gravity down the hill to the garden and the orchard.  I put in a drip irrigation system for the orchard four years ago and that was a huge savings of time and energy—and water.  I use drip in the garden with timers and only have to turn on two as I let out the chickens in the mornings.

SUNSHINE:
I have plenty of sunshine with a good southern exposure.

AND THE LAST,MOST IMPORTANT AND MYSTERIOUS INGREDIENT:
This may be the most mysterious ingredient—I adore growing things.  I feel absolute wonder as I watch the magic happen day by day, as a seedling turns into a tall, lanky green bean plant that climbs up the fence and reminds me of my childhood fairy tale about ‘Jack and the Bean Stalk’.

Or witness the grey, dead looking apple trees burst into bloom in the spring, as the tight pink buds turn into white blossoms that make the trees look like they are covered in lace.  Then the bees come and the blossoms turn into tiny nubs of apples that grow and become sweet or tart or whatever they are supposed to become.

I weed when I can, but because I have a busy life of work, travel and being newly married, a lot of the time, I think of myself as ‘the fifteen-minute farmer’, fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there, usually early mornings and just before dark, a magical time to be outside and to witness the beauty all around me. My garden is not perfect or always pretty in a manicured sense, but I think it is beautiful anyway.

They say that children now days don’t know where food comes from.  That is so sad to me.  And most people live their lives mostly indoors, going from their home to work, in their car, then home again.  The farm forces me to be outside and to tend to nature, to watch it and help it along and then to reap the most amazing harvest, as I am, right now.

This morning, I cleaned the chicken coop, (which only takes me about 15 minutes, once a week—such a small price for those amazing eggs).  I put down fresh straw and then wheelbarrow the old straw and chicken manure over into the compost pile (that was constructed from some wooden packing crates and is rather falling down). After that, I spent about a half hour gathering wondrous things.  Here is what I gathered, followed by some photos.

21 tomatoes, 1 giant squash, 1 yellow zucchini, dark purple grapes, fragrant and sweet, smaller light green grapes, more tart but still delicious. Green beans, apples, figs and fresh mint.  Yesterday, sunflowers, peaches and pumpkins.  It’s wondrous—and so delicious, to bite into a tomato that was just picked, a tree ripened fig, a juicy, sweet grape.

So my advice is get your hands into the dirt.  Grow some flowers from seed.  Plant a tomato in a pot on your porch, if you don’t have a yard.  Create a tiny garden in a corner.  Just give it good soil, water and sunlight.  Oh yes, and some love.

Go play outside.  There are such gifts to be discovered if you do.  I can try to tell you about them, but it’s so much better if you let Mother Nature show them to you herself.

My visiting Bambi

Here’s a little ‘Bambi’ though her mom and sibling also come by each day looking for banana peels and other things that the chickens don’t like. When we remodeled our kitchen last year, we didn’t put in a garbage disposal. Why would we need one between the chickens, the compost pile and the deer?

Another photo of Bambi...

Luscious Tomatoes

Tomatoes that ripen on the vine have the deepest, richest red color and juice that runs all over the place. And the taste—sweet like fruit. You can just feel the vitamins and minerals going into your system when you eat something that just moments before, was alive on its bush in the garden.

A big hefty squash
I’m not sure what variety of squash this one is, but another one I baked was tender and sweet.

Cheerful sunflower basking in the sun
These girls smile all along my garden fence, cheering me on each time I go to gather eggs from the chicken coop.

French Plums
French Plums—Tart but tasty

Concord Grapes

These Concord grapes have seeds, but I figure that people pay a lot of money for ‘grape seed extract’ so I’ll just chew up the seeds and forego that expense.

Bright Red apples

Joni Mitchell sang in her song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ ‘give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees, please’. So yeah, I have spots on my apples, but so many birds and bees, and no wax or pesticides, and they are wondrously sweet and juicy or tart, warmed by the sun, when you bite into one just moments after you’ve plucked it off its branch.

Soft Pink Rose

Soft Pink Rose

Luscious Ripe Figs

I never really liked figs until I picked one off the tree, split it open and ate it, skin and all. Wow, no wonder Adam and Even wore fig leaves. Maybe the real fruit that got them into trouble was a fig, not an apple—the figs are way more sensuous. And the way you can pick them when you’re going to pop them into your mouth is way too ripe to ever be shipped to a store. It’s a bit of rapture inside a dark purple skin…

Yellow Delicious Apples

The yellow delicious variety actually have a rosy hue to them when they are allowed to ripen on the tree—kissed by sunshine. I didn’t know that till I grew my own. The commercial ones are picked before the sun has a chance to work that little piece of magic on them.
I love my apples. The ones that have a pesky worm, I just cut that part off, make applesauce with just water and cinnamon and give the other parts to the deer that cruise through the farm.


May 4, 2012
Blossoms and Snow and Sun

Blossoms and Snow and Sun

The almond trees always blossom first in late February and continue on in March.  And they get snowed on, like here, and survive.

The apple blossoms aren’t so sturdy and so I always pray they don’t get snowed on and this year, my prayers were answered.  The opened in late April to blue skies and a mild spring day.

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Apple blossoms-pink to white

Blue sky and sweet blossoms

It could be a good year for apples and I’m working on outsmarting the worms!


July 23, 2011

We said goodbye to the owners of our little hotel in Veyrier du Lac and caught the bus for the six kilometers around the lake to the village of Talloires, which has been called ‘the most romantic village in France’. The easy fifteen-minute bus trip, cost only 4.20 Euros for the two of us–so much greener and cheaper than that taxi the first day in Annecy, which cost twenty euros.

Landon’s friend met us at the bus and drove us to his hand built home overlooking the lake and the village. From our perch up on the hillside, we marveled at the breathtaking views, watching the lake change from blue to green to gray as rain clouds danced across the sky.

One of the advantages of staying with ‘locals’ is discovering jewels that you could never find on your own. That was the case when the next day, our friend drove us up into the hills, on rough and windy roads that required four-wheel-drive, up past fat cows wearing giant cow bells, till we ended up at a tiny chalet and farm, for lunch.

The menu of the restaurant centered around the Reblochon and Tomes cheeses, specialties of the region. Normally in the summer, we would have eaten outside, looking out over the spectacular view to the lake below. On this rainy and misty day, we crowded into the tiny wood-beamed bar, cozy and warmed by a woodstove.

The family run farm, which produces the special cheeses, has practiced their farming methods for generations—in this case, since the early twentieth century. The robust cows are milked twice a day, then graze in the hills on all of the rich herbes covering the landscape giving the cheese a ‘terroir’ flavor, similar to the concept of ‘terroir’ in wine.

The cows that produce the rich milk that becomes the delicious cheese, all grazed nearby or mooed from the milking barn, adjacent to the restaurant. Their huge cow bells clanged from around their necks as they mosied along; a collection of cow bells decorated the outside of the barn.

For lunch, we chose between bubbling fondues, tartiflettes (a casserole made with potatoes, onions, cheese and bacon), and omelettes, all enriched by the aromatic cheeses. When our omelette, salad and bread arrived, the omelette was as puffy and high as a soufflé. As a grande finale, we ordered hand made raspberry and blueberry tarts.

Ooh, la la and a good thing we’d been biking all week!

As we drove back down the hill, we spotted people ‘paragliding’ off the cliffs, drifting and circling through the sky down toward the lake. It’s possible to take a week-long course to learn to do the sport ‘solo’ or to do a jump ‘tandem’ with an experienced paraglider. I made a vow to try that next time. Even though I know I’ll have butterflies, it looks peaceful and amazing to sail through the sky like a bird, catching updrafts above the sparkling lake and next to the granite cliffs.

The village of Talloires centers around the ‘plage’ or beach at the lake. Set up for family summer fun, the large grassy area includes a swimming ‘pool’ area along the edge of the lake, a diving board, slide and even ping-pong tables.

From our friend’s home, I could walk down for an early morning swim in the clear, clean water, and be the only person swimming in the lake. Then stop at the boulangerie for fresh warm bread and pain au chocolate on the way back up the hill.

At the end of our three-night stay, we caught the bus for the fifteen-minute return trip to Annecy to connect with the TGV train to Paris. The bus station is right across the street from the ‘gare’ or train station, making it easy.

Now we’re settled into our comfy seats, gliding across France, watching the green landscape pass by. My computer is plugged in as I write and we’re about to enjoy our picnic at the table between us. It feels like a magic carpet ride. So much better than driving!

Next stop, Paris, for one night, then back to the USA. Stay tuned for adventures in the Latin Quater, 5th Arrondissement of Paris.


July 18, 2011

The sun sparkles on the lake beyond the little terrace of our balcony. We’re resting after a day of biking and then will head out to take a boat ride around the lake.

Yesterday it rained all day but then cleared up in the late afternoon, so we took off on a bike ride. I tried going up a hill with Landon and it was lovely–green fields and cows and little chalets. Then Landon’s bike broke down and a wonderful guy with a van stopped and gave us a ride to the main road, called the bike shop and we waited there to be rescued.

Back at the shop, he got another bike and we upgraded me to a better bike too–lighter for going up the hills. I’d been using a sort of granny bike with a bell on it that was fine for flat.

Today, we rode up a mountain for 8 miles up. Again so lovely with water falls and streams, huge cows lounging in green meadows and the views of the lake far below. Then Landon took off and went to do another mountain and I cruised down and had lunch at a lovely bistro. The have these ‘menus’ which include everything and I decided to have that. It also inlcuded a ‘quart’ or a 1/4 pitcher of wine.

The trouble was, I still had about 6 miles to go after! But I had a scrumptuous lunch of salad, pasta, dessert, wine and coffee and then wobbled a bit back, but I made it. I was thrilled that I rode 54 kms, or 36 miles, the farthest I’ve ever gone and also my first real climb was included in that.

Landon loved his extra riding and so we’re both happy campers. My new bike made a real difference on the climb, so much lighter and I’m less afraid of the cars now too. People here are respectful of cyclists–maybe the Tour de France inspires that. We usually watch that in the afternoon, but today must be a day off for them. I’m in awe of how far they ride and how difficult their rides are.


July 16, 2011

Life is good from the perspective of my lovely balcony looking out over the lake.

We’ve settled into a rhythm here in our cozy hotel. We’re doing ‘demi-pension’ which means we eat breakfast and dinner here, very easy and ‘en famille’, like being a part of the family. This is a small, family run hotel.

Yesterday, Landon did a four hour bike ride straight up a mountain–one of the ‘stages’ of the Tour de France from a few years ago. I was happy to do an easy one hour trip on the bike path around the lake, then go to Annecy for the open market and then a spa.

Ooh, la la, I spent 2 1/2 hours being pampered as only the French know how to do it. First a ‘hammam’ or steam room, to relax, then a ‘gommage’ where I was scrubbed with ocean salts, then a ‘bain bouillant’ where I sat in a bubbling bath, then some kind of a massage table that was like a water bed with jets, then a 45 minute massage. I was so relaxed after, I almost didn’t make it back.

We’re across the lake from Annecy, so we can either bike, take a bus or taxi or take a water taxi, which I did yesterday. Totally fun. It was just a little speed boat that a guy takes people back and forth in and we whipped across the lake in no time–about 10 minutes.

It’s fully summer here and France is officially ‘en vacances’ so it’s busy. Today, I rode all the way around the lake–2 hours of riding, and Landon went up another mountain. I’m getting more brave about riding with cars, but I still don’t like it. I sing to myself to give myself courage as the cars whiz past. But still, I think I’m the only female cyclist out there my age, as far as I can tell, so, well, that’s something, I tell myself when I’m trying to be brave.

This afternoon is lunch, swimming, relaxing–we’re really on vacation and it feels wonderful.

A few photos from yesterday: the open market in Annecy and a shot of the lake from the water taxi as we sped along.


July 15, 2011

July 14, 2011

Looking out onto the lake in Annecy, France, past ‘le balcon’, the balcony of our little room. So lovely to be here.

On Sunday, we traveled from England under the channel on the ‘chunnel’ train to Paris, then to Normandy to visit with Gilbert’s widow Huguette (for those of you who have read my story, Finding Gilbert. He was the French orphan my father tried to adopt during WWII). Huguette is so lovely and kind. We visited the cemetary above Omaha Beach, always so moving. She coddled us with delicious food. Landon had a cold and she mothered him. What a gift she is.

Yesterday, we sped across France on the TGV, past fields of sunflowers, tidy farms and villages wound around church steeples. Then the majestic mountains and this beautiful lake. The trains are so fantastic here and always such fun. So much better than driving. And we covered the distance from San Francisco to San Diego in three hours while we ate breakfast, talked, snoozed and read! Can’t do that in the car!

Today we rented bikes and will be riding each day for the next week — today it was a trip around the lake together, about 20 miles, then Landon took off for another two hours up mountain roads. I lounged in the room and pedaled up to a Brocante Marche — an antique faire and bought a tiny souvenir for 4 euros.

We’re staying in a little two star family run hotel about 4 km from Annecy — lovely and sweet and much more reasonable than the ones in downtown Annecy. Tomorrow, I go to a spa — have to include that in my stories about the region!. Ooh, la, la.

Tonight, ‘feux artifices’ — fireworks for Bastille Day.

Good thing we’re riding so much — the pain au chocolate is amazing.

Diane


July 9, 2011

I guess that’s what I’ve become, hanging out with all these rowers!  It’s a lot of fun though and very exciting.

Landon won his heat yesterday so went into the finals in the men’s skulling today—and won!  He beat the guy who just won the British Nationals a few weeks ago.  It was a very exciting race.  Whew!  I couldn’t breathe those last few seconds–it was close, but Landon pulled it off.  He’s such a champ.

Then he and his doubles partner Henry won their doubles race handily.  Tonight we’ll celebrate!

Tomorrow, travel on trains all day–back to London and then under the channel on the chunnel Eurostar to Paris, then on to Normandy to stay with Huguette, Gilbert’s widow, for three nights.  I’m hoping my ‘French brain’ wakes up!

She doesn’t speak any English but it’s always loads of fun and very touching to see her.

I haven’t been back since Gilbert’s funeral in February 2008, over 3 years.

Attaching some photos from today.

Diane


July 4, 2011

Well after a rough start of a cancelled flight, 24 hours of travel, lost bags and about everything else that could go wrong, we’re back on track now, in the peaceful river-side village of Henley-on-Thames.  It turned out that our bags didn’t arrive till late on the 2nd, so we had to go out and buy clothes for an important dinner that night.  Whew!  What an experience.  But all’s well that ends well, someone said, and I’ll buy that.

Sunday night, the 3rd, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at Quilon, a one star Michelin Indian restaurant in London.  Very yummy.

Monday morning, July 4th, we took the train to get here to Henley and the country side is lovely–green fields spreading out for miles and pink and yellow wild flowers growing alongside the railroad tracks.  I’m doing an article on ‘packing light for a trip by train’ and we managed just fine with our bags in the tube in London,  then transferring to the train at Paddington station, then walking to our place here.

We’re sharing an apartment with another rower and Landon is racing this weekend in a master’s regatta–all the old guys, as he puts it.  The big and famous rowing regatta that has been going on since 1839 took place last weekend.

Our apartment has big windows that look out on the Thames and we watch boats and ducks and geese float by .  Landon found me a bike, so today I’m going to venture out and explore a bit.  I’ve been writing and doing some editing, very peaceful and great.

After being in a hotel, I love having an apartment where I can make tea and we can do our own meals.  Plus going to the market is just great fun in another country, I think–seeing what foods they have and what they call them and how they are displayed.


July 1, 2011

Well, lesson learned–only take non-stops to Europe. We got seduced by the low fare–1/2 of the non-stop, but now know why. After we took the red-eye from SFO to Chicago, we were told that our flight from Chicago to London had been cancelled. We were put on two more flights, to Orlando and then to London–we were headed south to then go north again–and 24 hours later, arrived in London–without bags.

Luckily, we’ve kept a sense of humor about it all, especially when my pant leg got caught in the escalator teeth in the rail station and I thought I was going to have to take off my only pair of pants to escape! That made the rest of it rather trivial. But both of us had meetings today, which we had to go to in our traveling clothes. They say we may have bags by tomorrow?


May 13, 2011
Apple Blossoms on the old trees...

Apple Blossoms on the old trees...

Apple Blossoms on the old trees...

Up close, pink centers and fresh, sweet fragrance of spring...

More Blossoms

A bumper crop this year!

The sixty year old apple trees got hit hard last November with an early snow and lost some limbs.

There was some discussion–should we save them? Absolutely, was my response.

They’ve proven their strength by producing MORE apple blossoms than the newer trees!


January 21, 2011
Winter Berry Patch

blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and one rhubarb planted, weeded and mulched

Warm day so worked with Ralph to clean up the berry patch, adding 2 new blueberries and 13 new strawberry plants.  Also planted a rhubarb, really funny looking thing.  Will get one more, I think because Landon loves rhubarb.

Found the remains of the chicken that got taken when we were in Utah.  A clean job—whatever ate it was really hungry.  That’s nature.  It took the weakest of the flock, guess that is survival of the fittest and I’m grateful for that.

Planted a few sweet peas along the fence.

Greens garden

The lettuce and greens patch, survived winter and should perk up with the warmer weather.


winter sunset

Winter Sunset behind oak tree

Going out to close in the chickens and turned to see a rich sunset painted all over the sky.

By the time I got into the house to get my camera, it had faded far to the west, behind the giant oak on the deck.

But still breathtaking.


September 6, 2010

I’m training to do the ‘Celebration of Life Women’s Triathlon’ on September 19th in Nevada City.  It consists of a ½ mile swim (in a chilly mountain lake), an 11 mile bike ride (on a windy back road with squirrels running across it) and a 3 mile run (up and down hills).

I completed the event twice, in 2000 and 2001, both times in my sister Sharon’s honor.  I figured if she could face two brain surgeries, chemo and radiation and all the other terrors she had faced with her body, I could sweat a bit with mine.

In 2000, my daughter Heather and I completed it together.  I wrote an article about that that appeared in our local paper in 2003 and here is the link.  If you look closely between Heather’s arm and her head, you can see Sharon standing in the background.  I didn’t see that till the article came out, after Sharon’s death.

http://www.theunion.com/article/20030807/TODAYSFEATURE/108070038

Marisha, my sister’s oldest daughter and I are doing it together this year, also in Sharon’s honor.  The event raises money to support Breast Cancer Prevention and in honor of a local woman who died at 42 of breast cancer.

If you’d like to support me in my sweat and endeavors, you can send a check to my P. O Box 1122, Nevada City, CA 95959.  Checks should be made out to: SNMH Foundation/Millar Fund.  (That’s our local hospital, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.)  Please send them by 9/15 because we have to turn them in before the race.  Any amount will be appreciated.

I’ll be doing this blog on my training, which has been daunting.  Trying to keep up with the demands of the farm, teaching writing, writing, coaching clients and training—biking, swimming and running–on top of it all has me falling into bed at night exhausted.

But life is very good.   My partner Landon is here and very excited about me doing the triathlon.  I have to keep reining him in because he is very competitive and used to winning.  When he took up rowing, he quickly became both the national and international champion in his age group.

So I’m convincing him that I’m not going to win, I just want to do better than last time when I completed it in 2 hours, 11 minutes.  My goal this time is to break 2 hours.  I’m also nine and ten years older than I was then, but who knows?

Yesterday, Landon bought me a shiny new red road bike because he was worried at how slowly I was going on the mountain bike.  It is so beautiful, it made me cry.  I tried it out last night with him and took seven minutes off my time.  But it felt like I had Lance Amrstrong riding with me, coaching me around every curve.  He completed 13 marathons but now can’t run due to ankle pain.  But boy can he bike.  I was worn out and he hadn’t even broken a sweat.

So life is very full and good here at Willow Valley Farm.  I have an NPR commentary coming out in a few days on the California Report from the San Francisco station, KQED.  It is about the experience of having my farm.

This triathalon is really a push.  But I’m doing it to remember Sharon who I still miss in my life every single day.

More soon, stayed tuned!


August 26, 2010

This blog entry, edited down, became an NPR commentary on the California Report, August/September 2010

Crisp apples at the farm

Crisp apples at the farm

I never really planned on becoming an apple farmer. But thirteen years ago, I bought a rundown eight-acre organic apple farm in the Sierra foothills.

I had lived next door to the farm and had admired it for years-how the apple trees would change with the seasons.  Bulging with bright red and green apples in the fall, stark and bare against the winter snow.  And then glorious and abundant with pink and white blossoms in the spring.

I got to know the elderly couple that owned the farm, Willi and Maria.  They were in their 90’s and had lived there for over 50 years, planted all the trees and tended the huge organic garden.

They reminded me of my Scandinavian grandparents, who were also farmers.  I felt like I was visiting family when I’d stop by and admire all their work and the wonder of the beauty and bounty that the farm provided.  They’d send me home with a box bulging with their harvest, bright juicy tomatoes, sweet corn, crisp apples.

Then Willi and Maria died, and there was a rumor that a developer was trying to buy the farm.

I was almost as astounded as my friends and family when I stepped forward and declared:  “I want to buy this farm and carry on their legacy.”  I did and the rest, as they say, is history.

A rich history, full of blood, sweat and tears, but looking back, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

That first summer, I fluctuated between awe at my good fortune and terror that I was going to ruin it all from my ignorance.  I studied and read and called every farm consultant in the county to get help.  That first fall, I harvested a bazillion small wormy apples.  I made a lot of applesauce, apple butter and apple pies.

Since then, I’ve learned the nuances of pruning, watering and caring for organic apple trees.  I’ve discovered that it is safer to climb the trees than to trust ladders.

I’ve also broken an irrigation pipe while riding my mower in tall grass, creating a fountain of water 20 feet high.  After racing to turn off the water, hunting down a rusty wrench from a shed and unscrewing the broken pipe, I hauled it into the hardware store and, covered in mud and sweat, pronounced:  “I need one of these.”  New pipe in hand, I went back, screwed it on, turned the water back on and rejoiced in my triumph.  No more fountain.

I grow a large organic vegetable garden, filled with luscious, juicy tomatoes, beans, melons, corn and too many zucchini.  I send friends home with boxes full of our abundant crops.

Eight plump hens lay large brown eggs each day, still warm when I gather them, with a soft down feather stuck to them sometimes.

My apples taste crisp, fresh and delicious, though the worms and I are still battling it out.

I don’t belong to a gym—lifting 50 pound bags of chicken feed, raking, dragging hoses around, digging and reaching—all the movements mimicked by gym machinery, I do on a daily basis, outside in the fresh air.

I’ve learned the humbling reality that Mother Nature rules, when one night of a late spring frost can kill a whole year’s crop of fruit.  I have to scrub hard to get the dirt out from under my fingernails to go out in normal society.

What I could not have known is how much I love it all.

There’s the satisfaction of having a first hand relationship with growing food—choosing the seeds, laying out the garden, preparing the soil, watering and watching the tiny shoots emerge.

Then the wonder as a patch of rich, brown dirt turns into corn, beans, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, beets and too many zucchini.

It’s more than the thrill of how the fresh food tastes. I have a relationship with this land now that is as real as the ones I have with my friends and family.  I feel a responsibility for the care and welfare of the small piece of earth that I have had the good fortune to own for just a little while.

The fresh food I grow nourishes more than my body.  Living close to nature feeds my soul.

Watching the seasons turn and an apple blossom turn into a crisp, tart apple.

And at the end of the day, it’s magic.

Pure magic.


June 26, 2010

Hunter, my two and a half year old grandson visited the farm.  He has a favorite book about a ‘tractor’ and when he spied my mower, he was sure it was a tractor.  Now, my mower was old when I bought this farm 13 years ago, has a worn blanket on the seat, but Hunter didn’t care about any of that.  It went ‘vroom, vroom’ and moved and he was in love.  Here are some photos of his recent fun.  When we went for a ride, he was so excited that he didn’t even breathe, it seemed.


April 30, 2010

Wild Geese mate for life …

Pair of Wild Geese visit Willow Valley Farm

Pair of Wild Geese visit Willow Valley Farm

So it felt like a ‘love blessing’ to have a pair land at my farm last week.  I snapped a few photos of them—they let me get very close, before they flapped their enormous wings, called out their throaty cry and flew away.

I was so hoping they would come back and today there they were again, in the same spot in the orchard as last week.  I tried to give them some bird food and again they let me get close, but they were more interested in all the bugs in the grass.  We had rain, snow and hail yesterday and a hard freeze last night, but it all melted off today.

Not sure what will happen with the apple trees after the freeze.  That can really kill the blossoms and a whole crop can disappear in one night like last night.  I’m hoping some of the blossoms were already pollinated and will be okay.  We will have to see in a few weeks if any tiny apples are forming where the blossoms were.

I especially love the poem of Mary Oliver called ‘Wild Geese’ which begins with the wonderful line ‘You do not have to be good’.  So here it is.  Enjoy and pray for apples!

Wild Geese
Poem by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again,
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination.
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


February 25, 2010
A little nervous

Ready to go up in the glider

The fat brown Jersey cows munched the thick grass, flicking their tails against flies, then moseyed along. They never even glanced over at the light planes that zoomed past on the grassy runway, recently reclaimed from their pasture. The slender gliders raced up and down, landing and taking off, like birds in flight.

To go up in a glider, you get strapped into your seat, then the glider, attached by a cable to a wench, gets towed down the runway till it takes to the air, sort of like launching a kite. You’re taxiing down the runway, then whoosh, up, into the sky. No motor, no sound, just the feel of lifting up fast, carried by the wind. The wench releases, attached to a tiny parachute and billows down to the ground.

Up in the air, the sound of the wind rushing past the wings, a thin Plexiglas cover is all you have between you and the open sky. 1,000 feet above the ground, catching updrafts, lift as they call it, up, then down, circling, just like the ospreys, hawks and vultures, I’ve watched soaring, drifting, circling- -amazing.

I was stunned by the beauty of the perspective, thrilled by the closeness of the treetops, awed by the sensibility of literally ‘casting our fate to the winds’ and depending on the whims of Mother Nature to carry us along.

The sheep and cows below looked like little dots of white cotton or brown fuzz. The sun sparkled off the Plexiglas cover, the clouds danced along the ridges, almost eye level to us now.

It must be one of the most direct experiences of flying that a person could have, except maybe hang gliding. I was reminded of the myth of Icarus who fulfilled his dream of flying but soared too close to the sun and melted the wax holding his wings together and fell to his death.

I’ve had dreams of flying and this felt pretty close. I can see why Landon has logged over 600 hours in a glider, feeling out the air currents, riding them and soaring through the sky.

How could I have missed this for all these years? Where was I that I didn’t know this wonder?

It felt gentle somehow, like we were riding Mother Nature, in some sync with her moods and fancies, flowing, natural like a bird. It felt like she smiled at us in a playful way, played with us a bit, a game of hide and seek, hiding the currents—catch me if you can—down, down, down, then up, up, up, over, always gliding, soaring, falling, then soaring again.

I thought about life–where are the updrafts, the places where I can soar with ease and grace, the wind beneath my wings, carried by something larger than myself, but which I am a part of?

And saw that gliding and life both require that you pay close attention to what is happening, moment by moment. Looking for the gifts, like the updrafts, the lift, which will carry you on.

Cockpit of the glider

Cockpit of the glider



February 22, 2010

Nelson Lakes National Park

Nelson Lakes National Park

Hello everyone,

It’s now Monday 2/22 here, so would be Sunday there. We’re up in the mountains in a place called Nelson Lakes. Landon is teaching gliding for 3 days and I’m comfy in a Lodge with internet. Just down the road is a crystal clear Alpine Lake. He is going to take me up in a glider sometime during these 3 days, so another exciting flying exploit coming up. Hoping we don’t do rolls or loops, but with him, you never know!

Last night we camped by a river half way here–about 3 hours from his house. He has a van with a comfy bed in the back and New Zealand has great free parks where you can just pull in and sleep or camp. So last night about 11, we pulled in. The stars are so beautiful–you can totally see the Milky Way and of course, the sky is different here in the Southern Hemisphere. This morning we jumped into the river to rinse off and then headed up here where he had to start teaching at 10.

I’m doing articles, blogs and radio about the trip so this Lodge gave us 1/2 off on the room and we got a 2 story suite with a view of the creek, a jacuzzi tub and living room. Lovely. He took the van, but I have a bike and have already pedaled around and down to check out the lake where I’m going to swim as soon as I send this out. Plan to take some photos early morning when the light is good. I’m doing radio spots each Friday morning and last Friday it was about the bi-plane ride. This week it will be about this area.

I’ll be sending a few photos from the past few days. One is at Wharariki Beach, a beach that you hike to over hill and dale. It was very windy that day, so we didn’t stay long but it was worth the hike. I hope to go back when it isn’t windy.

Then a photo from Landon’s deck of the ocean below. It’s amazing to watch the tide come in and out each morning and afternoon. Yesterday we took another long bike ride and then jumped into the ocean again. Really fun and I’m loving the biking.

It’s been great to slow down and relax and be here. One of the articles I’m doing is how this area resembles California and it does. I feel comfortable here and many of the plants are the same. It doesn’t feel ‘foreign’ at all and the people are very friendly.

It’s a beautiful place and so worth the 12 hour flight. It’s so fun to get an ‘insider’s’ view with Landon and not be a tourist. His home is lovely as you will see from the photo.

More soon and hugs from here,

Diane


February 15, 2010

First day in New Zealand and I become a stunt pilot—even with jet lag! Read on and catch the two videos for more fun. Photos too. Enjoy!

If you’ve ever dreamed of being a stunt pilot, soaring high among the clouds and doing rolls and loops, this is your chance!

Read the full story at TouristTravel.com


February 8, 2010


December 9, 2009

It was actually 3 men on my roof, able representatives of the Nevada City Fire Department, with five more on the ground holding ladders and taking care of all the confusion I created by having a chimney fire this morning.

I have never called the fire department, but when I saw flames up my chimney and my rock wall in front of the fireplace started crackling and popping, I was afraid I’d burn the house down on the coldest day of the year.  They pulled up in a few minutes, 3 trucks and men streaming out in all directions, checking out the problem and calming me down.  It all turned out fine and gave me a real appreciation for where our tax dollars go.

Sunny day with a bright blue sky against the white snow on the trees.  Chickens still hate the snow.  Their water was frozen this morning inside the coop, so I’m grateful they weren’t frozen too.  Guess those downy feathers do a lot of good keeping them cozy. They won’t budge out of the coop and their small run and I now have a new sense of what the term ‘cooped up’ means and where it came from.  They also don’t like to lay eggs when it is too cold–only 3 today.

Three fireman make sure my chimney fire wasn't going to burn down the house

Three fireman make sure my chimney fire wasn't going to burn down the house

a few apples left on the tree, in the snow

a few apples left on the tree, in the snow

Sunset over the snowy orchard

Sunset over the snowy orchard


December 7, 2009

I awoke to the silence and purity of a foot of new snow.  My rubber boots crunched and sank as I made my way across the white expanse to the garden to let the chickens out for the day.   One of them plopped into the snow and then ran back into the dry space of the coop.   She was a ‘spring chicken’ and has never seen anything but dirt.

I grew up in Southern California and in the 19 years I’ve lived here in the foothills, I never get over the marvel of the changing seasons.  We just finished harvesting, sharing and selling apples and figs and putting the garden to rest for the long winter.  Now the trees are covered in white cloaks, their trunks stark gray and bare in contrast.  It looks like Christmas and I’m amazed and grateful.  Now if the pipes can just not freeze tonight when it’s supposed to get down to 19 degrees…

The chickens are not sure what to make of the fluffy white stuff...

The chickens are not sure what to make of the fluffy white stuff...

the apple orchard wearing her white winter cloak

the apple orchard wearing her white winter cloak

winter has arrived

winter has arrived


November 9, 2009
perfect!

perfect!

The crisp days and nights made for bright fall leaves. Color at every turn on the farm.

I never get over the wonder of the seasons, reminding me to slow down and notice the subtle changes day by day.

My daughter Heather and Grandson Hunter discover the chickens

My daughter Heather and Grandson Hunter discover the chickens

My grand nephew Dylan (age 3) thinks apple picking is fun!

My grand nephew Dylan (age 3) thinks apple picking is fun!

apples ready to be picked

apples ready to be picked


October 23, 2009

Stella joined the farm along with eight other baby chicks in March 2008.  I had picked out the other little cheeping puff balls of the breeds I wanted and was ready to leave. Then I noticed a tiny Americana chick, all golds and reds and all by herself.  I just couldn’t leave her behind, so added her to the mix.

This was my first try at raising chickens, so I learned a lot.  First of all, there really is such a thing as a ‘pecking order’ and the chickens, even when they are tiny, seem to know if they are different breeds.  So the other chicks had each other and Stella was a loner.  But she hung in there and stood up for herself.  We named her simply because she was so easy to tell apart from the others.  She was our favorite.

Her eggs were light green with little speckles on them.

But she tended to hang out alone, rather than in the pack with the others.  This may have made her vulnerable.  Even though they were supposedly safe within the garden fence, something got in and took Stella, leaving only a patch of golden feathers and her lovely memory.

So here is a photo of her in the garden near the flowers.

We’ll miss you dear Stella.  May you rest in peace in hen heaven with lots of worms and grains and soft nests to sit on to lay your green speckled eggs…

We’ll miss you dear Stella. May you rest in peace in hen heaven with lots of worms and grains and soft nests to sit on to lay your green speckled eggs…


September 25, 2009

My love affair with France and the French language began when I was about twelve.  This essay describes that moment when it all began, so many years ago…

They seem very ordinary.  Those moments that change our lives forever.  Really, it’s that just before them was ordinary.  And then something happened and everything stopped or glowed or vibrated and stood out somehow from the moment before.

And looking back, it is all clear, how life changed in an instant.

Albert Camus said: “A person’s life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art, or love, or passionate work, those one or two images, in the presence of which, his heart first opened.”

For me, it wasn’t an image.  It was a sound.  Or rather, sounds.

It was a hot September day, and my sister Sharon and her best friend Holly were huddled close together on Sharon’s bed discussing their first day of high school.  I was still in the 8th grade, anxious to hear about their new world–of cute senior boys, (I learned the term ‘upper classmen’) upcoming football games and something called ‘pep rallies’.

Then there were all their new classes—biology, chemistry, and for Holly, French I.  My sister, Sharon, had to take Latin.  My mother insisted that it was the ‘mother of all languages’ and that we all had to take two years.  Mass was still said in Latin, so that was something, too.  Sharon read from her Latin I Book:  ‘amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis amant’.  ‘I love you’ in Latin.  I was unmoved.

Then Holly began reading from her French I book, words and phrases like ‘chambre meuble’—furnished room.  She tilted her head and made her lips into a kissing shape—‘oui, oui, chamber meuble’.  She and Sharon giggled, seeing some meaning there that I missed, but I was transfixed.

The sounds—it sounded exciting, hypnotic and worldly to be able to make those French sounds.  Holly kept saying words:  ‘Je t’aime’.  ‘I love you’.  How romantic.  I kept listening, my attention riveted on her words and on the sense of excitement I felt hearing them.

I’d heard French words before.  My dad had spent four months in France during the Normandy Invasion of World War II.  He loved to tell stories about his time there, about the warmth and gratitude of the French people at the arrival of the Americans.  And about his efforts to speak French.  Dad learned his French in a country high school in South Dakota, where the teacher, who had never heard French, was reading a lesson ahead to teach it.  We’d giggle when Dad told how ‘s’il vous plait’ came out sounding like ‘silver plate’.  I adored my dad, but his French sounded Midwestern, American, boring.

But this French sounded luscious, sensual, inviting.

That day, that moment, those sounds, may not be something that Sharon or Holly would even remember.  But as I sat there with them, on the pink chenille bedspreads, in the bedroom of my childhood, something changed inside of me, woke up and paid attention.  On that hot September afternoon, my life turned in a new direction and vistas opened up beyond the life I’d known.

I could learn those sounds and words and be a part of that place in the French I textbook, with the side walk cafes where starving artist types sipped strong coffee out of tiny cups.

I didn’t know what starving artists were and I had never tasted coffee, but I knew if I went to this place, where they said ‘chambre meuble’ like that, I could be happy.

I could also be far away from the small town in rural southern California where I’d lived my whole life.  Far away from my mother’s coldness and sometimes cruelty.  It was even a place where my father had already been.  That was important too.

The next year, when I began high school, I suffered through the dreaded Latin I class—‘amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant’.  I was unmoved.

So I begged, pleaded and cajoled my mother into letting me out after only one year.

I could take French, I argued, a language that people still speak.  Didn’t that make more sense?  In one of the rare moments that I can recall when my mother actually listened to me and seemed to care about what I wanted, I prevailed.

The next year, Sharon and I began French I together.  I was a sophomore, she was a junior.  It was a first for us to share a class, since we were in different grades.  We were excited to sit next to each other, and chat before and after class.

But once the bell rang, I was riveted on the French.  That first year, our teacher was an egotistical bore who seemed to enjoy hearing himself speak French (in a pompous voice) more than he cared whether we learned any.  I studied hard anyway. He gave an easy A or B if you were a girl and smiled at him. I did that, but also earned my A+.

The second year, French II, Sharon and I moved into Mr. Maiwald’s class.  He was a short German man with a pointed head and one eye that didn’t move.  He had the reputation of being the hardest teacher in the school, who flunked students regularly.  He was also the German teacher and had taught our brother German.  Next to my dad, he was the smartest person I’d ever come across.

He made it very clear on the first day that he would give hard tests, be a tough grader, but that we would learn French.  I was thrilled.

I became obsessed.  I made flash cards by writing French vocabulary words onto 3×5” index cards and carried them with me wherever I went.  I’d study them on the ½ hour ride to and from school on the school bus.

I’d have them on the ironing board so I could be learning new words when I ironed my starched white gym shirt and dark blue gym shorts each week or the blouses with the big ruffles down the front that were in style in the mid sixties.

I’d stay up late studying and figure out all the tiny nuances of how the verb endings had to agree when you conjugated them, all the different tenses, all the accents and irregular verbs.

I knew he’d ask those things on the exams.  But it wasn’t that.  I had to learn it all.

French and my dream of going to France became the center of my own private universe.  I was safe from my real life as a teenager, from family problems, from boyfriend woes, from worrying if I was fat.  When I said those sounds, I felt free and alive in a way I couldn’t in my normal life.

I got 100% on all the tests.  It became a sort of silent battle between us, this short stocky German man with one funny eye and this tall, shy, high school junior.   He wanted to see if he could make me stumble.  He never did.

It was exhilarating for me to excel in his class.  But each word I learned, each rule I mastered, each accent egu or accent grave that I correctly placed on a French word became a small victory.

It was another step closer to the day that I would fly across the Atlantic Ocean to France, sit at one of those sidewalk cafes and move my lips like a kiss to speak French.

© Diane Covington 2009


Everything gets ripe at once!

Right now, there are grapes, plums, peaches, pears, apples, tomatoes, corn, melons, cucumbers, zucchini, figs, carrots, beans and chard.  It’s amazing to witness Mother Nature’s abundance first hand.

I love the miracle of watching a patch of rich dirt turn into all this food. Of course there’s a lot of sweat and effort that goes into it.

In the end, it’s magic, pure magic.

Some recent pickings...

Some recent pickings...


I wrote these thoughts down in France, 2004, just after I’d spent a week as a guide and translator for a group of veterans who had returned to France for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.  The time with them was moving and powerful as they revisited the scenes of their wartime experiences.

I’m currently working on a memoir that begins when my father was in France in World War II, before I was born. The book has been percolating in my brain and heart for about ten years now.  I had a few days after my time with the veterans to write and think about my life and the memoir.  Here are some of those thoughts…

My life and writing are intertwined.

The memoir that I’m writing is about fate, destiny and soul.  The mysterious map we follow through life that has been laid out for us ahead of time.   Why we go right instead of left in the twists and turns of our own personal labyrinth and how we learn to know which way to turn.

No one ever taught me this in school.  These are answers I’ve had to search out on my own. I’m talking about life as a vision quest, not a career path.  Some of my teachers have been pure and good, others evil and dark.  I’ve made mistakes, some big mistakes.

But I’ve also had the unmistakable fortune of being in exactly the right place at the exact right moment and the satisfaction of knowing that certain risks and lots of trust have gotten me there.

‘Croyez-en-soi’.   In French, that means:  ‘Believe in yourself’.  It means listening to the inner voice that takes something to hear and that is only available from making choices that don’t always turn out clean, pretty and safe.  But choices that take you to where you know you have something.

I’ve sometimes imagined that I have two guardian angels.  Those two plump cherubs you see on cards and posters, happy, smiling, agreeable little cherubs. But sometimes, as my angels, in my life, from my choices, they’re covering their eyes, gasping in horror.  ‘Oh No!  She’s going the wrong way’.  Other times, they’re shrieking in delight.  ‘She did it, bravo, hooray!’  A kind of ‘Mr. Toad’s wild ride’ through life that has as many near misses and crashes as straight-ahead easy roads.

But this book, ultimately, is about how to discern a life out of the chaos and confusion of choices presented to us each day.  How to have the strength to trust a choice when there is no ‘logical’ reason to trust it except your own inner knowing that you should.

“Go this way.  Yes, that’s right.   Good.  Now you’re on track…”

I imagine what it would have been like to grow up with adults encouraging me to listen to myself, trust myself.  In my fantasy of a perfect childhood, doting parents and teachers would always be there asking:  “What do you think?  What feels right to you?  Trust yourself, listen to yourself, follow your dreams, hunches and ideas.”  The way Joseph Campbell told us all to follow our bliss.

But I didn’t have a childhood like that and most others, I suppose, didn’t either.  I had a fairly typical, I imagine, childhood in the 1950’s in a small rural town.  The plusses were lots of freedom, fresh air and running around outside.  Time in nature, riding my bike.

Our family didn’t own a TV till I was seven or eight years old.  We spent two months in the summer in a trailer at the beach where my sister Sharon and I spent all day in the ocean.  I learned to feel how the swell of a wave could pick you up and carry you to the shore as a ride.

In the center of my childhood, I had a loving presence—my father.

Looking back, he was like a beacon for me, kind, open hearted and good.  I had a mother who was suspicious and jealous of me and of my relationship with Dad.  I had an older sister who not only tolerated me, she liked me and played with me.  We loved each other unashamedly.  In photos, we’re entangled with each other, arms around each other’s necks, smiling and squinting into the camera, a momentary still shot of the endless play we shared all our waking hours.

One of the advantages of growing older in our youth crazed American society is some well-earned wisdom that comes from perspective.  Looking back, the way seems straighter, the twists and turns less jagged.

I’ve heard that if you look down on a sailboat from above, the back and forth tacking looks like a straight line, even though it really takes many turns.

Stephen King, in his book “On Writing” says:  “Be brave.  Tell us all you know.”  This book is my attempt to do that.  It is the result of a lifetime of distillation of the everyday events and moments that add up to a meaningful life.  Or at least to some sense of a meaningful life, some sense of meaning.

This book is about:  How to have the courage to follow the inner voice that only you can hear.

How to have the courage to turn off the TV and to listen to your own life, not someone else’s made up life spiced with tricks to make you want to buy things.

How to turn right when everyone else is turning left and to know that you have to turn right, no matter what, you just do.  And even if it is lonely at times, that right hand path is the one you’re meant to be on.

How to have the courage to watch for the clues, the hints and signs that tell you ‘yes, that’s good, you’re on track’.

Because it is all written in a secret code and you have to really pay attention or you’ll miss it, you won’t be able to decipher it.

And in the end, or maybe not the end, in the middle somewhere as I hope I am with my life, there is a satisfaction that comes from living your own unique life.  And that is worth it all.

This book is about how to have the courage to stick to your own path even when it looks to others as though you’re walking captain Hook’s plank straight into oblivion.

My dad lived from the center of his power and the goodness of his heart.  He showed me that.  He was an extraordinary man living an ordinary life.

My memoir begins, on the Normandy Coast of France, above Omaha Beach, in World War II.  Somehow I got caught up in the war, through my father’s stories and his life there, before I was born.  I’ve learned a lot about the war since I first wrote about D-Day in Dad’s honor, in 1994.  I now can hold my own with any World War II buff, mostly men; I know what a Rhino Ferry is, the names of all the invasion beaches and the number of ships and airplanes that were part of the invasion.  (Over 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes.)

But what’s amazing about my father’s stories about France is that they weren’t about war, but about relationships.  How the French people were kind to him when he practiced his high school French.  Their gratitude when he shared the left over food from the Navy camp.  And most of all, about his relationship with a 7-year-old French orphan named Gilbert who Dad tried to adopt and bring home to America.

Those stories shaped my life and influenced me in ways I’m still discovering.  But most of all, when I was able to find Gilbert 50 years after the war, I experienced a deeper sense of the role of destiny.

I believe that our lives are affected by the interplay of our environments, relationships, what seem like chance events, and our own inner drives and longings.

This is one woman’s story of that rich weaving that became a life and I hope, is still becoming a life.

© Diane Covington 2009


August 27, 2009
sun ripened...

White peaches 8/27/09, sun ripened...

ready to eat

ready to eat

Today I picked some of the white peaches that have been gorgeous looking for weeks, but hard as stones.  I covered them with bird netting and have been checking them every day and TA DA!  Today was the day.  The first ones gently placed into a basket with a cloth in it to protect them.  Juicy and delicious, so worth the wait…


July 2, 2009

KQED:  The California Report

Commentary: An Apple Farmer Remembers Seasons Past — 9/10/10

KXJZ: Capital Public Radio

Commentary: Remembering a Father on D-Day — 6/4/09.

Remembering Yosemite

Click here to access audio file for “Remembering Yosemite”: California Report , 2/06

Award Winning NPR Series “D-Day Anniversary”

Click here to access award winning NPR Series “D-Day Anniversary” – May-June, 2004:

Day 1 (iTunes File) || Day 1 (Windows Media File)

Day 2 (iTunes File) || Day 2 (Windows Media File)

Day 3 (iTunes File) || Day 3 (Windows Media File)

Day 4 (iTunes File) || Day 4 (Windows Media File)

Day 5 (iTunes File) || Day 5 (Windows Media File)

Women Vote 2004:

KPBS 11/04


May 6, 2009

January 9, 2009
Diane Covington, Award Winning Writer & Photographer

Diane Covington, Award Winning Writer & Photographer

Hello and welcome to my website. Feel free to browse through my articles or listen to my NPR radio commentaries.

I am passionate about writing and also love to help others find their writing voices through my creative writing classes.

I recently co-authored and published a book with my husband, Landon Carter, which is available in paperback and as a Kindle download.

Falling in Love Backwards

Click to go to

and read our reviews, write a review, or order the book.

To read the blog and visit the photo and video galleries that accompany the book chapters, visit the Falling in Love Backwards website.

Click on Coaching to find a list of resources, including books and quotations that can keep the words flowing.

Please email me if you have any questions.

Thank you for visiting.

All the best,

Diane


January 8, 2009

Just click on the Santa Barbara News Press link and then on the ‘Travel’ Tab and go to these dates to hear some of my spots:

Santa Barbara News Press

8/30/2012 - Late Summer and Fall Fun at Whistler, Canada:  audio/video

8/2/2012 – Summer in the City, Vancouver:  audio/video

5/3/2012 – Late Spring Fun at Squaw Valley, California: audio/video

3/28/2012 – Springtime in La Jolla, around the world radio: audio/video

8/25/2011 - Annecy, France, the area and the biking done around the lake and in the region: audio/video

8/18/2011 – Taking the train in England, to France and around France, and how to pack light for the journey: audio/video

1/6/11 Gerstle Park Inn and Café Gratitude, San Rafael, Marin County, CA: audio / video

12/23/10 Deer Valley, Utah, Winter Wonderland: audio / video

4/1/10 Big Sur, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn:  audio/video

3/25/10 San Diego Crew Classic:  audio/video

3/18/10 New Zealand Golden Bay/ Takaka/ Abel Tasman National Park:  audio/video

3/11/10 New Zealand Nelson Lakes National Park and Alpine Lodge:   audio/video

2/18/10 Air New Zealand and Stunt Flying near Nelson, New Zealand:   audio/video

2/11/10 San Francisco North Beach, Washington Square and Highland Ranch, More Valentine’s Fun:   audio/video

2/4/10 Resort at Squaw Creek and Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Winter Valentine’s Fun:   audio/video

1/14/10 Monterey Wine Tasting, Literary Tours and more…

1/7/10 Squaw Valley and the Resort at Squaw Creek

1/14/10 Monterey Wine Tasting, Literary Tours and more…
1/7/10 Squaw Valley and the Resort at Squaw Creek
6/25/09: Kayaking on Tomales Bay in Marin County, CA
1/29/09: San Francisco’s North Beach and Beatnick History
1/22/09 San Francisco: The Historic St. Francis Hotel and Pres a Vi Restaurant.
12/11/08 The Gold Country for Old Fashioned Holiday Magic
11/27/08 The Bracebridge Dinner @ the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park
11/06/08 Undiscovered Provence, Part 2: Bandol, L’île de Bendor, La Cadière d’Azur
10/16/08 Undiscovered Provence, Part 1: Terre Blanche, Chateau de Berne, Ste. Maxime
9/17/08 The Gold Rush town of Downieville, CA
9/10/08 Ireland by bus, Shannon, Galway and Dublin
8/14/08 Squaw Valley, CA in the summertime
7/10/08 Glamour Camping at Sequoia High Sierra Camp
5/29/08 Philo/Booneville, California
5/22/08 Nevada City, CA
5/15/08 Park City Utah in the summer
5/8/08 Hiking in the French Alps
4/10/08 San Francisco’s Little Italy
3/6/08 Train Travel in Europe with Rail Europe
2/28/08 Aix-en-Provence, France
2/21/08 Truffle Hunting in France
2/7/08 Thalassotherapy and La Baule, France

6/25/09: Kayaking on Tomales Bay in Marin County, CA

1/29/09: San Francisco’s North Beach and Beatnick History

1/22/09 San Francisco: The Historic St. Francis Hotel and Pres a Vi Restaurant.

12/11/08 The Gold Country for Old Fashioned Holiday Magic

11/27/08 The Bracebridge Dinner @ the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park

11/06/08 Undiscovered Provence, Part 2: Bandol, L’île de Bendor, La Cadière d’Azur

10/16/08 Undiscovered Provence, Part 1: Terre Blanche, Chateau de Berne, Ste. Maxime

9/17/08 The Gold Rush town of Downieville, CA

9/10/08 Ireland by bus, Shannon, Galway and Dublin

8/14/08 Squaw Valley, CA in the summertime

7/10/08 Glamour Camping at Sequoia High Sierra Camp

5/29/08 Philo/Booneville, California

5/22/08 Nevada City, CA

5/15/08 Park City Utah in the summer

5/8/08 Hiking in the French Alps

4/10/08 San Francisco’s Little Italy

3/6/08 Train Travel in Europe with Rail Europe

2/28/08 Aix-en-Provence, France

2/21/08 Truffle Hunting in France

2/7/08 Thalassotherapy and La Baule, France


Shakespeare Festival: The Union 3/03


Thorny blackberries can be berry delicious: The Union 8/03


Discovering the Art of Plastering: The Union 7/04

Home Decorating on a Shoestring: The Union 10/03

Colorful Handcrafted Tiles: The Union 10/03

Composting 101: The Union 10/03


The Sierra Buttes – Hike to the top of our world: The Union 9/03

Mother and daughter ‘celebrate life’ in triathlon: The Union 8/03

Hiking, Biking & More: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 3/02
Empire Mine: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 3/02


New Moon Cafe; Complement of food and friends: The Union 5/08

Latitudes – Restaurant Review / Lunch: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 10/03

Rainbow Lodge – Restaurant Review / Brunch: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 10/03

Maria’s – Restaurant Review – Lunch: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 3/03

Le Bilig: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 10/02

Le Bilig’s Crème Brulée: The Union 


Make Your Own Wedding Veil The Union 1/06

Wolf Mountain Day Spa–Look Your Best On Your Special Day: The Union 1/04


Eight US Senators from Nevada City’s Early Days The Union 4/06

The Gold Rush Put Nevada City on the Map  The Union 4/06 


Peardale man encourages others to try the business of bees  The Union 1/07

The precarious production of a perfect peach  The Union 8/06

Engineering firm keeps family atmosphere  The Union 8/06

BriarPatch Community Market Goes ‘Green’  The Union 4/06

Maiden Lane:  San Francisco Style in Downtown Nevada City  The Union 4/06


The Horse Whisperer of Penn Valley: The Union 10/08

Children Unplugged: Fun at Camp Augusta: The Union 11/08

The Unseen Life That Dreams Us: The Sun 04/07 (article excerpt)

John O’Donohue On The Secret Landscapes Of Imagination and Spirit: The Sun 04/07 (full article)


KQED:  California Report

Commentary: An Apple Farmer Remembers Seasons Past — 9/10/10

KXJZ: Capital Public Radio

Commentary: Remembering a Father on D-Day — 6/4/09.

KQED:  California Report

Commentary: Remembering Yosemite — 2/06

KPBS:  San Diego NPR Station

Commentary: Women Vote 2004 — 11/04

Award-winning NPR Series:

Click here to access the NPR Series “D-Day Anniversary” – May-June, 2004:

Day 1 (iTunes File) || Day 1 (Windows Media File)

Day 2 (iTunes File) || Day 2 (Windows Media File)

Day 3 (iTunes File) || Day 3 (Windows Media File)

Day 4 (iTunes File) || Day 4 (Windows Media File)

Day 5 (iTunes File) || Day 5 (Windows Media File)


Diane Covington Shares Tips: “Never Give Up!” – Bay Area Travel Writers Magazine, August 2009

Conquering those little voices in your head in writing and in life: Insight, November 2009

Finding Gilbert: Readers Digest, June 2009

Kitchen Table Wisdom: OC Kids June 2008

I Should Have Shopped Locally: The Union April 2008

The Healing Power of Creativity: Insight 10/06

Other Voices: Father’s Day Gets Tough When They’re No Longer Here: The Union 6/06

Soldier’s daughter reflects on D-Day: The Union 6/05

Father’s love creates bond across ocean: The Union 5/05

Finding Your Writing Voice Why I believe everyone can write: Insight

Quality of life going away, tree by tree: The Union 5/03

Our county: the last, best place: The Union 6/02

Let’s preserve Nevada County’s natural beauty: The Union 3/02


Writing is a simple, direct link to your soul, a voice, waiting to be heard, tapped into. It’s right there. One way to access it is to find a safe place, some simple exercises and possibly some like-minded people to allow it to come through.

Your voice might be a whisper at first, but it is there. In the hundreds of people I have taught, it has never failed.

Here’s how I do my classes. You could follow this format on your own with a few like-minded folks. Each class begins with a short meditation to help everyone to relax and to arrive. The meditation becomes a signal for the right brain and the inner self to know that the time is coming for it to speak and to draw a line between the rest of life and the time to write.

Click here to read the entire story: Insight


I don’t remember much from history books about American Suffragists, the women who fought for almost 100 years so that I could have the right to vote. There might have been a few photos of some old-fashioned looking ladies in big hats carrying signs.

I never knew that suffragists were imprisoned, beaten and risked their lives so that I could have a voice in my government. Then I heard about Iron Jawed Angels, an HBO film about the courage of these women. I tracked it down and watched it. It was so moving, it inspired me to do some research on my own, to learn more of the story.

Click here to hear the entire radio program: KPBS


Back in my high school and college history classes in the late 1960s as I sat doodling or day dreaming, if anyone had told me that I’d become a journalist and write articles about World War II, I would have told them they were out of their minds.

I thought history was just a bunch of men and wars with no women anywhere, so what was so important? All those facts and dates certainly didn’t impact my life. But there I was wrong.

The seeds of my interest in history were at that moment lying dormant inside of me. They sprang from my dad’s stories about his part in the Normandy invasion and his time in France in 1944. Dad talked about the kindness and gratitude of the French people, for example. There were funny stories, about his efforts to communicate using his high school French. He talked about being a lieutenant in the navy and unloading the huge ships with all the supplies of war.

There was the poignant story about the little French orphan, Gilbert Des Clos who dad had gotten close to and tried to adopt and bring home to America. But one night, when I was about sixteen and clearing the table after dinner, I noticed that his stories were different. Maybe he thought I was old enough to know more of what really happened. I sat back down to listen.

Click here to hear the entire radio program: KXJZ — 6/4/09


In 1996 my sister Sharon was about to undergo her first brain surgery to remove several tumors. Though we had lost our father five years before, I had never questioned that Sharon would always be a part of my life. She was my older sister. Now I had to face the unimaginable possibility of being without her.

Sharon and I had been raised Catholic, but had both long ago abandoned the Church and often joked about being “recovering Catholics.” Now Sharon’s illness raised questions for me, and on the advice of a friend I attended a retreat led by a former priest: Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue.

The retreat was a great help to me, and I was impressed and soothed by O’Donohue’s deep kindness. He had no aura of Catholic guilt — something I had worked hard to get rid of myself. His words and presence left me feeling lighter and freer. I bought his book Anam Cara (Harper Perennial). Anam is the Gaelic word for “soul,” and cara the word for “friend.” In the early Celtic church, an anam cara acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide, someone with whom you could share your innermost thoughts.

In the coming years, as I watched my sister slowly slip away, I turned again and again to O’Donohue’s Anam Cara and his other books. They addressed my grief and also my questions about how to live a meaningful life, how to cultivate wonder, and how to be more gentle with myself. Since my sister’s death, I have attended two more retreats with O’Donohue and have discovered that underneath his gentle and kind manner lies a brilliant mind capable of addressing the most complex questions of our times.

Click here to read the full article.

Originally published in The Sun


January 7, 2009

“Late Summer and Fall Fun at Whistler, Canada” at TouristTravel.com

“Vancouver, Summer in the City–on a bicycle” at TouristTravel.com

“Springtime in La Jolla” at TouristTravel.com

“The Winter Wonderland at Squaw Valley, California” at TouristTravel.com

“More Adventures on the Road: Trains, Subways, Bicycles, Feet – and No Automobiles” a travel blog  at TouristTravel.com

“Finding Gilbert”, Reader’s Digest 2009, included in the anthology ‘Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011

At Home on the Flipside at Ventana Monthly, May 2011

Adventure and Romance in New Zealand at RomanticTraveling.com

Back Roads and Undiscovered New Zealand- A Travel Blog February/March 2010
part 1 at  TouristTravel.com
part 234

L’Art de Vivre; A Sensory guide to the fine French art of slowing down — Ventana Monthly 11/09

The Romance of Yosemite, Off Season – Romantic Traveling Newsletter 2/08

Highland Ranch — “Though Shalt Not Hurry” – Romantic Traveling Newsletter

Hiking the French Alps - Romantic Traveling Newsletter

Back Roads and Undiscovered Provence – A Travel Blog 9/08
part 1 at  TouristTravel.com
part 234567

Voila, Black Gold. On the trail of truffles in the Dordogne region of France : Ventana Magazine July 2008

Healing from the Sea: Organic Spa Magazine Fall 2008

Old-Fashioned Fall Fun with the Grand Kids: Coast Kids 10/07

Summer- Ain’t Life Grand!: Coast Kids 6/07

Enjoy holiday magic in western Nevada County this December: Tahoe World 12/06

Embarking on a Spiritual Journey: Insight 10/06

Feasting takes center stage at the Ahwahnee in winter: San Diego Union Tribune 10/06

Fall beauty and fine wines on Nevada County’s Gold Harvest Wine Trail: Tahoe World 9/06

Yosemite National Park, off-season: The Sierra Sun 2/06

Downieville wedding special for couple: The Union 1/06

Mother-Daughter Adventures through France: Traveling Adventures With Children 5/05

Rail & Drive: Make the Most of Your French Experience: Traveling Adventures With Children 5/05

The Lure Resort – A River runs through it: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 4/04

An Antique State of Mind: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 4/04

Growing Wine in the Foothills: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 4/04

Discover the Tahoe of Yesterday: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 10/03

Fall Beauty & Fine Wine: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 10/03

Just for Old Times’ Sake: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 10/03

A Wilderness Cure: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 3/02

Getting Situated: The Union Sierra Alive Magazine 3/02


December 8, 2008

Diane talks about the Women’s writing salon, and writing in general, on KVMR – 12/8-08

*note: this is a large file (46MB), and takes awhile to prepare to play. Thank you for your patience.


October 6, 2008

Dear Everyone,

I’m sitting on my couch with a cozy fire crackling and my two kittens in my lap and snuggled close. I got them in July and though Joanna took good care of them, they seem so glad to see me–Mom’s home! They usually run outside in the morning and start chasing bugs and climbing trees and things, but today they are staying close.

I spent Saturday in Aix and opted to stay that last night there and get up at 4am to take a taxi to the airport. The hotel there was so much nicer than a sterile cubicle near the airport would have been. I loved that day in Aix. I went to the coffee and chatted and then to lunch with 12 people. We carried on till 3pm. Then there was time to check email and do some writing and another party at 8pm! That was a typical day in Aix when I lived there. A slower pace and very relaxed. I made some new friends and reconnected with some old ones.

I traveled 24 hours to get home yesterday–very challenging. But I got upgraded to première class and that was super. Only problem was that they had some kind of water dripping problem and it was right over my seat–and that of a few others’. On take-off, I had to hold up my International Herald Tribune and try to stay dry. The woman who came around later wasn’t very nice and suggested I go to ‘economique’ or economy class, but I told her I wasn’t budging–I’d take my chances that it was all done dripping. It was, except for a few random drips and I could live with those. It was great to stretch out and nap and I had a fun seatmate and we chatted.

It was so amazing to look out the window and watch the clouds and land and the giant engines just behind my seat. What a mystery it is to fly like that. I don’t understand it any more than I understand email, but I am grateful that we safely traveled through all that sky and landed again in San Francisco.  Joanna met me and drove me home.

Fall started while I was gone. It is chilly now at night and the trees are beginning to turn. We had a giant rainstorm and that was good–we so needed the rain. I went out this morning and gathered some eggs, cut some flowers and picked some grapes and figs.  So yummy and fresh. The chickens are good and the garden still has tomatoes and we had a huge pumpkin crop this year, so lots of pies!

I know that it will take me weeks to integrate all that I experienced during those 15 days of magic. Thank you so much for sharing it all with me. Writing up the articles helps me to remember all the joy. If you want to check out the blog that I did that I got paid for, you can go to: (HYPERLINK “http://touristtravel.com/blog/”http://touristtravel.com/blog/). I’m not sure if he as all of them up yet and I still have one more to turn in, but it was a different flavor than the one that I sent you–you got the inside scoop!

I hope to go back next winter again, but for now, it is good to be home and to sleep in my cozy bed and enjoy the magic of my farm. Will send some last photos.

Big hugs to all of you,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


October 4, 2008

Dear Everyone,

Good morning!  My clock on my computer still says the time in California, so it is 12:32am there and 9:32am here. I’m propped up on my bed in my tiny room at Le Manoir, but happy and content. I have floor to ceiling French doors that open to a lovely tree outside my wrought iron railing (where I’ve hung some wash, hidden by the trees) and the courtyard beyond. The sun is shining bright through my window, just the way it used to in my apartment here.   Coming here last night felt so good. It is just a few blocks from my apartment in Aix, in the same neighborhood, so I knew where I was going. The sky is bright blue and the air crisp.

This is my last full day in France and it is a powerful feeling to know that tomorrow I get on the big metal ‘time machine’ and go back to California, English and modern life. This building is at least 300 years old if not older and it feels different, not to mention life in French.

Yesterday, I was totally pampered for the day. I didn’t swim in the morning since it was cloudy–I let my mind win there. I also wanted to be ready to go when the taxi came at 10:45 to go to the village. What a gorgeous area of France. It is all vineyards, farms, country houses, tiny villages and then the Mediterranean shining just a few kilometers away.

I arrived at La Cadière d’Azur a few minutes early, so left my bags and wandered around the tiny village. Then the manager of the hotel met me and spent about an hour taking me on a tour of the hotel and spa. It is the only hotel in the village and the rooms are in little houses right next to the hotel. The restaurant is a one star Michelin and more about that later! It was started by a mom and dad 40 years ago and now their son and daughter came back to help. The son is a chef, like his dad.

After an aperitif, champagne with peach liquer in it, then it was lunch in the restaurant with a breathtaking view of the valley. The lunch was so delicious-I took photos of the light, small courses. Then I went on to the spa for a massage and soaking time in their warm pool and steam room. They use aromatherapy for their treatments and I chose lavender. Just walking into the spa, there’s a fragrance that I recognize and go ‘Ahhh’.

After the spa, we had a quick tour of their farm where they grow a lot of their own vegetables and herbs (organic). Then back in to a taxi to the train station.

It took 2 1/2 hours to get to Aix and then the walk through town with the bags, but it is great to be here. So comforting to feel at home.  I spent the whole day yesterday in French, not one word of English, though I still hear English inside my own head. Though sometimes, after a day like yesterday, it starts talking French!

I wanted to find a bowl of vegetable soup, but couldn’t, so ended up with a picnic in my room of cheese, wine, tabouli and some cookies. I’d missed the party because I got here so late.  But the bath was hot and the room cozy, so I was fine.

I’m going to the English speaking coffee this morning, then probably to an airport hotel tonight.  It will be hard to leave Aix again, not to mention France.

Going to sign off now and send some photos of yesterday.
More soon.

Love,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


October 3, 2008

Hello everyone,

‘Ca va’ means it is going well, here in France. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road, but it still goes well.

I was so sad last night when I heard that the woman with the chateau was expecting me and had dinner ready and lunch the next day! What a confusion that was. When she didn’t respond, I didn’t want to be a pushy American, so I let it go. It turns out that if I’d called even one more time, it would have all gone through.

But I have to trust in the way things turned out, something I learned again from John O’Donohue. So even though my hotel room was only a tiny step above a youth hostel, it was where I ended up and I had to know that somehow it was right.

I called Adeline, the woman from the chateau/winery and we had a great chat and I told her I would work on getting a great assignment about Var region wines and then come back, this time with it all worked out way in advance. It seemed to smooth things over from all the missteps we took. If I had a cell phone here, it would have been so much easier. I have to try to figure that out for next time.

The sound of the sea was lovely last night and I had my windows wide open. I would have gone in again this morning, but it was cloudy and a bit chilly, so this time, I let my mind win that battle.

I’m waiting for a taxi to take me to le petit village of La Cadière d’Azur. It is so small that the place where I’m going is the only hotel there. It is called L’Hostellerie Bernard and it has a one star Michelin restaurant and an aromatherapy spa. Since one of the articles that I’m doing is ‘Sensory Provence’, that should really fit. The proprietière of the hotel seemed pleased with the fit.

So it is a gift to my body today to have some pampering. Dragging bags along bumpy streets and up and down stairs–no elevators in the last two hotels–is a total work out. But the swimming was grand yesterday, both times, and today should be good too. After the spa, it will be taxi/train/bus and then rolling bags for 15 minutes along the streets of Aix to my hotel.  But if I get there in time, I can go to a party tonight with old friends from when I lived in Aix. If not, then that’s alright too.

Just today and tomorrow to enjoy this journey and then back on the plane early Sunday to come home to San Francisco.  It all seems heightened, knowing I’ll be leaving again soon.

The hotel where I am is across the street from an École Maternelle, or school for tiny tots. I saw three-year olds playing as I walked by. Have you ever noticed how children scream in joy when they play? What a beautiful sound. Such music. I just had to stop and notice. When did we lose that capacity to express ourselves like that? We could/can learn so much from them. That’s my belief and why I love spending time with my grandchildren.
Love to you from here. More soon,

Diane

The hotel that I booked is one that I chose for my friend Janna and her family when they came to Aix. It is called Le Manoir and was an abbey and has these wonderful arches and old wood beams in the ceilings. It is just a few blocks from where I lived, so I know the neighborhood well.

Diane Covington

'Fall in Provence' 2008


October 2, 2008

Dear Everyone,

I’m still in Bandol, which is the little village across the harbor from the island I stayed on last night. Or rather, the island is across the harbor from Bandol. I swam this morning in the Mediterranee and it was divine. It wasn’t easy getting past my mind to get in and I had to laugh at the conversation in my head as I stood at the shore. It went something like this:

Adventuresome Spirit: Let’s go swimming! Look at how it sparkles!
Mind: Are you crazy? Look at those white caps. That’s from the wind. It is cold!
AS: Ah C’mon, don’t be a stick in the mud. How many times do you get a chance to swim in the Mediterranean?
A boat goes speeding by with two men in wet suits, who happen, it seems, to point at me, or not, but my mind seizes on that and runs…
Mind: Look at those men. They’re wearing WET SUITS–they’re smart–and they’re pointing over here–probably can’t believe you want to do this!
AS: Ah C’mon, it will feel soo good!
Mind; Well, just get it over with then, I can see that I can’t talk you out of it.
AS: 1,2,3–Yikes, it is chilly, but GREAT!
Mind: Can’t wait to get into a hot bath…

So it was great! It felt wonderful and I could taste the salt in the water and it was so cool, fresh and refreshing. Then I jumped into their very chilly pool. Then I took that hot bath and that was great too.

I took the ferry back across the harbor and ended up at a hotel in Bandol that is also on the Med, so swam again this afternoon.  Lovely.

It took me most of the afternoon to find a hotel, mostly because the Tourist Office was closed from 12:00 till 2:30–that’s the south of France for you.

I wanted to talk to them about hotels and also leave my bags there while I looked for one. So finally, at 4pm I had a hotel and was headed back to the beach. It occurred to me that a lot of traveling, when you’re living on the edge and it is not all planned out, it about where you’re going to sleep and where you’re going to eat! Such basic necessities.

It turns out that my friend with the chateau was trying to reach me and wanted me to come but I didn’t have a phone for her to reach me and she didn’t get my emails. Darn.  I sure wanted to go! But we talked tonight and I’m going to work on getting an assignment to do an article on wines of this region and come back. I would have gone to see her in a second if I’d known that she wanted me to come. Oh well.

Tomorrow, I go to visit a hotel and spa in a little village about 20 minutes from here. I could have stayed there but they were all booked up. But they invited me to come for lunch and to have a massage at the spa. It sounds lovely. I’ll take a taxi from here because that’s the only way to get there without a car.

After that, I plan to go back to Aix for one night. (That means trains and busses with my luggage). Being on my own is good, but it gets kind of lonely and so I’m headed back to Aix and friends. Saturday night I’ll have to spend the night near the airport, unfortunately, because my flight leaves at 6:15am on Sunday. So I have two more days of fun before heading home.

Last night at the hotel on the island, it was deserted. It turns out that a bank had booked tons of rooms for a conference but with the banking crisis going on, had to cancel. It was so empty. I met a lovely couple from Amsterdam and since we were the only people in the restaurant, we chatted and laughed. It is hard to follow all that is going on from here, (the financial crisis) but it sure sounds serious! What a mess.

My hotel room is so tiny!  Another 10×10, but at least it isn’t orange! When I’m on my own, oh well–and it is still $100! I miss the luxury of the Cinderella rooms. It is so easy to get spoiled. But the sea is lapping against the rocks under my window and it sounds wonderful. I should have time to take a swim in the morning before heading off to the village of La Cadière d’Azur for lunch and the spa.

More soon,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


October 1, 2008

Dear Everyone,

I’m sitting in my room, just a foot from my terrace, where the Mediterranean is lapping right below the window. Such a lovely sound, so eternal and soothing. Seagulls screech and dive and wind surfers are roaring along in the waves.

All is well, but earlier today, I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up. John O’Donohue always said that we are being ‘minded’ and that ‘do not be afraid’ occurs (or recurs in this case) 366 times in the Bible, but today, it took a lot of faith to remember that. But I did, thanks to two retreats with John and rereading his book Anam Cara about 200 times. And interviewing him for The Sun magazine, which required about 100 hours of transcribing…

But first, a little background. I had two fun days with Maite, my dear friend from Aix. She is a tour guide and now lives near Arles, and picked me up in Aix on Monday. She had to do a tour for a group of American bicyclists in Uzes, a wonderful little village, so I went along for the tour. I sent some photos of that.

Then yesterday, she had a day off, so after we did my linge, or laundry and hung it out on the line, we went to Les Baux and saw the Van Gogh ‘Son et Lumière’ which was powerful and very moving. It is so sad that he killed himself! He had so much in him left to express!

I will always remember one painting from the exposition we went to in Marseille. The paint was thick and swirly and in the top left hand corner, he’s signed it simply ‘vincent’ all lower case. Just to see those letters scratched into the paint moved me somehow–to be in the presence of his work, and to feel him there in those letters.

After the Van Gogh time, we visited the village of Les Baux– magical.

So today, I’d planned to leave Maite’s and go to the chateau where the woman had invited me from the luncheon last week. But by this morning, she hadn’t returned my calls or email. I wasn’t sure if she was avoiding me or just too busy to get the messages.

So truth be told, I was leaving Maite’s and going to the train station with nowhere to go. I decided to go to Marseille, which is a jumping off place for many options. Luckily, this morning, I called my good friend ‘Tink’ from the tourist office of the region of the ‘Var’ which we visited last week.

She was my early morning swimming buddy as the sun was coming up, and we bonded over the chilly morning and chilly water. She went to work to look for somewhere for me to go. We laughed about that fact that I was ‘homeless’ and ‘la Perdue Américaine’ the lost American. She couldn’t find anything for me right away–I called her a few minutes before I left for the train station, so we agreed that I’d call her again from the train station in Marseille.

I did and she asked me to call her back in a half hour. She was still trying to find something. So I trundled off (with bags) and had a light lunch and then called her back. She really got into the spirit of the adventure of it all, that I was willing to go wherever she could find me a place. At one point, she asked to call me back at the phone cabine where I was calling her and I stood there waiting for it to ring. We laughed about how it could have been some espionage, with me waiting for the public phone to ring.

But Tink came through big time. I knew I was going to a hotel on an island just off the coast of Bandol, so I took the train to Bandol. I had to ask which stop to get off at and that usually horrifies people that I’m on a train and going somewhere and not sure where to get off. But I got off at the right place and since there were no taxis, lumbered down the hill with my rolling bag, computer bag and backpack.

I try to maintain some sense of dignity in these cases, even though I feel pretty silly walking through the streets of a strange town towing my bags. They make a really loud sound rolling along on the old stone sidewalks. It’s hard to be invisible! I seemed to be the only tourist and the only American–a good sign, and after about 15 minutes of wrestling the bags, I ended up in the port and right ahead of me was the little ferry to L’ile de Bendor and a photo of my hotel, L’Hotel Palais de Bendor.  Wow, it really was a palace!

So here I am, sipping a rose wine that was a gift from Chateau de Berne and feeling very content. John O’Donohue would be proud!  I didn’t freak out. I have a card at home that says: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Well, today, I was not taking up too much space and I am so blessed to be here in this gorgeous place.

I’m labeling Bandol the ‘undiscovered St. Tropez’ because there are huge yachts like in St. Tropez, but this place seems to be as yet, undiscovered.

Not sure where I”m going tomorrow! I may stay here another night on my own, at a hotel in Bandol, or head back to Aix.

Helen Keller said: “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all”. Today totally qualified as an adventure. And I landed on my feet.

Will send photos! I also discovered that the three magic words here are:  “Une journaliste Américaine” (with an introduction, bien sûr!)

The adventure continues and more soon…

Love,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 30, 2008

Hello Everyone,

Just a few photos from a bakery in Aix-en-Provence and a little girl who was appreciating the view. They do these kinds of creations every single day, in a normal bakery–can you imagine? I’ve been with my good friend Maite in Arles and will write soon. Today I’m leaving and not sure where I’m going yet!

Getting on the train to Marseille at 10:45 and either going to the castle where I was invited or somewhere else. It is a bit nerve wracking but also part of the adventure to see where I end up. All the options are good, so we shall see what the divine has in mind for me.

More soon and à bientôt,

Diane

PS: You can read my other blog at touristtravel.com. Scroll down to the first one and then up to the 3rd.

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 28, 2008

Hello everyone,

There’s talk of putting in a TGV-fast train-from Aix to Nice and it would go through vineyards and farms near Mount St. Victoire, the mountain that Cezanne painted over 80 times.

So today farmers and wine growers from that area had a demonstration at La Rotonde, the largest fountain in Aix.  It is also a huge round about, so they basically snarled up traffic for a while, but it was interesting to watch.

I hope they win. I hiked that mountain on 1/1/2000 with a group of friends and we drank champagne at the top.

I liked how the water from the fountain and the cool lions were all a part of the tractors with their signs—kind of a collage…
Hugs,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


Hello Everyone,

It’s Sunday and I’ve spent since Friday getting to know my city in France, the one that I can call home, Aix-en-Provence, where I lived for 8 months between November 1999 and July 2000.

It is so special to have a place in France that feels like home, where I know the best boulangerie, the open markets with the freshest fruits, vegetables, etc. The streets here of the ‘centre ville’ or old town, where I lived and where I am again, wind around like a snail, all cobblestoned, and end up at the Mairie, or Mayor’s office. That’s where I was on Friday night with all the people from Maison de la France or the French Government Tourist Offices from all over the world.

That place or square is where I had a photo with my article in More magazine in 2001, and I always stop and take a moment there, it is such a beautiful square with its 13th century clock tower that tools the hours. I took a photo this morning that I will send along.
Saturday was a perfect day here in the south, in Provence–sunny, bright blue sky, warm.  After the coffee with the group of English/Americans where I met a lot of new people, I took the bus to the village of Equilles. I met up with my friend Solange and her friend Elizabeth, and we drove to Ventabran, another village, for a ‘Vide Grenier’ or ‘Attic cleaning’ literally, where people had set up booths to sell their junk.

Some of the vendors were ‘les professionales’ as my friend Solange said, and we avoided those. I spent a total of 12 euros, but got some treasures. An antique dress with handmade lace that could fit Ellie or Ava for dress up, for three euros, a beautiful old soup bowl with tiny roses, Limoges, for one euro, an antique piece of linen, for one euro and then some lovely Provencal napkins for one euro each that would sell in a shop for five-eight euros each.

We wandered around for hours, looking at everything. The village itself was very ‘charmant’, and we walked the steps down and then up to see it. After a light dinner at Solange’s, we headed back to Aix to see a movie–American dubbed in French. We had spent the day ‘en francais’ so I had a lot of practice, but in the movie, they talk so fast that a lot of it went over my head. My head is clearing, though, as I get more used to the time, so it gets easier and easier.

I understand again how the French can eat what they eat and get away with it. Since I landed in Aix without a car, I have averaged about three hours a day of walking. That burns up a lot of ‘pain au chocolat’ (which I had for breakfast today). I went to mass in the Cathedral and the huge pipe organ sounded so beautiful in the soaring space. I am a ‘French Catholic’ and only go to mass here, where the French reminds me of my childhood when it was all in Latin, and they use Frankensence incense and sing the loveliest songs.

My apartment is comfortable and there’s a hotel next door where, thanks to the card of introduction from the Office de Tourisme here, I can use the email. Cool.

My brand new camera, which I bought for this trip, is mysteriously ‘en panne’ or not working, so I’m using my little Nikon as a back up, so will send photos soon.

I am so happy and grateful for each moment here. I got some news that a friend in Nevada City, younger than me, died. Life is so precious. I wake up each morning with a prayer that I may know what it is that I am to do that matters, with this precious day.

In love and gratitude from here,

Diane or ‘DEE-Ann’ as they say here…

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 27, 2008

Dear Everyone,

It is now Saturday morning and I’m back in Aix-en-Provence, staying in an apartment of a friend. I belonged to a group (when I lived in Aix) called the Anglo American Group of Provence and they have coffees twice a week, so I dropped in on one when I was here in February. I met this woman with an apartment and she was open to me renting it from time to time. So through the wonder of email, I am here for three nights and very comfortable.

After my last entry, we had dinner in Aix with Bernadette from the Office of Tourism. Another amazing dinner and she is lovely. I met her last February too and she arranged for me to have a free hotel. She feels like a friend and was surprised to see me, so that was fun.

Thursday, we went to Marseille, just 30 minutes from Aix, for a tour, lunch and dinner. Marseille is a fishing port, first of all, and our hotel looked out on the harbor where the boats come in each morning with their catches and set up tables and sell the fish right there. It was amazing to watch it all happen and to know that I was witnessing something that has been going on for centuries. Marseille is also the oldest city in France because of its location and harbor.

We went to the most expensive restaurant on the harbor for bouillabasse–$100 per person, with six kinds of fish in a stew. It was good, but it turns out that the real story of this ‘fish stew’ was that the fishermen had to use up the fish that were either damaged or the ones that they couldn’t sell, so they created this stew out of them. It has evolved into much more than that now.

The basilica on the top of the hill was exquisite with inlaid gold and glass and tiles in frescos on the walls and ceiling. The Mediterranean looked so inviting, but I couldn’t just get our and jump in. I hope to before I leave though!

After one night in Marseille, I’m back in Aix for these three nights. I said goodbye to my group yesterday and got a ride with our bus driver to Aix. Then I went to the spa and was in heaven. A salt scrub, mud treatment and then massage sous affusion–the massage with the five shower heads and essential oils.  Ooh la la… I brought copies of my article (from my last visit, in Organic Spa) for the director and she was happy. I had sent her the link, but it is nice for them to have a hard copy of the story. I’m writing ‘Sensory Provence’ so will be able to include the spa for sure in that one.

There was a group of all the representatives from the Maison de la France offices around the world who were meeting in Marseille and they were all coming to Aix for a dinner last night, so I got included in that. I met up with them at the Mairie, the mayor’s office and then we walked to the restaurant.

It was really fun meeting people from all over the world and the mayor came with us, a woman who was charming and sweet. We all had to introduce ourselves to her, one at a time, in French, in front of the group, and I told her about how I’d lived in Aix in 2000 and she seemed pleased. It was kind of like getting called on in class! Whew!

After dinner, we all walked back to their bus and then I headed back to the apartment. I was walking down dark streets alone, but luckily, Aix is safe and there are lots of people around, so it went well.

Today, I’m going to the coffee then taking a local bus to a village to meet my friend Solange and go to a giant flea market in another tiny village. That will be fun.  At the dinner last night, I told a man from the tourist office that I needed a way to use wifi and he gave me his card and told me to introduce myself at the hotel next to my apartment and tell them that he said I could use their wifi, so here I am, another miracle on my list in France.  I just love to hear the sound of the emails going out!  With a mac, it sounds like a paper airplane flying.

I’ll send some photos of Marseille and more to come soon!
Sending love and hugs from Provence–and lots of magic!

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 24, 2008

Dear Everyone,

Our dinner last night at L’hotel Beavallon was with the director of marketing for the hotel.   he showed us around and then we had an elegant dinner, 3 courses, foie gras, steak and dessert, with 3 different wines. The tablecloths are always lovely damask with matching napkins, usually white or a very light pastel yellow or peach color, the tables perfectly set and the service impeccable. They come around and scrape off your crumbs and always clear everything between courses.

I got up this morning early again to swim with my buddy from the tourist office, Tink, is her nick-name and the sky was pink again behind the clouds. The Jacuzzi at the hotel was warm and bubbly and a great reward after swimming. The pool was right down on the beach and if it hadn’t been so early–dark when we started–we’d have gone into the Med.

After breakfast, we drove to a Formula 1 racetrack and had a ‘once in a lifetime’ chance to ride in a Formula 1 racecar. People pay $500 for this experience and though I was terrified, I did it. We had to wear a jump suit, helmet, gloves, special shoes and earplugs.

We sat behind the driver and there was a red button we could push if we got scared and wanted him to slow down. I pushed on it a lot!  The normal speed is about 150 mph, so he probably slowed down to about 120 for me–still really fast, but I did it. It would have been so easy to pass and not do it, but I decided to ‘just do it’.

People can pay about $2,000 to spend the day learning how to drive the racecars in the morning and then actually take a few laps round the track in the afternoon. They pay by the lap! Photos to follow!

We then drove back to near where we stayed the first two nights to have lunch with two female wine makers of the “Cotes de Provence” types of wines. They make about 80% rosé wines, which are served chilled, since it gets so hot here in the south. They also make some white and red wines. I hit it off with one of the wine makers and she invited me back to her chateau next week when I have some free days. I think I will go back. It would be lovely to stay at a big estate and rest and get caught up on the writing.

Then we drove to Aix and got into our hotel just long enough to drop off our bags and leave for a tour. Aix is such a special town, with buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries and so many fountains everywhere. We’ll meet up for dinner in a while, but I just had time to whip off a few lines here. No pool to swim in tomorrow!

On a group press trip like this–I’ve only been on two others–the dynamic between the people on it can sometimes be a challenge. Like the rest of life, there’s the press trip, with all the tours, meals, jet lag, etc. and laid on top is the group and how everyone gets along. We’re crammed into a van off and on all day and though there are moments, overall it has been fun. All the same, I’m looking forward to being on my own again on Friday.

Hoping tonight’s dinner is light!  But oh well, it is just a few days and it is all so delicious. I am going back to the spa here on Friday afternoon for a massage and two other soins and that will be such a reward for all this ‘work’ of being in the group and running around Provence. The spa is going to ‘comp’ the treatments, I believe.

So for now, au revoir, and more soon.

Hugs from here,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 23, 2008

Hello Everyone,

It is now Tuesday evening and my head is swimming from all I’ve seen, heard and experienced and of course eaten. I feel a bit like a stuffed goose at the moment and look forward to being on my own on Friday so that I can eat lightly. They all want to impress us and go out of their way to have feasts and it just becomes too much.

But at this moment, I’m sitting up in  my bed, looking out on the Mediterranean, through the trees. A sailboat glides by and a kite dives and swirls along the shore.  It is lovely.  Even worth feeling like a stuffed goose.

Yesterday, we went to Chateau de Berne, again out in the country, down the road from Terre Blanche. It is a chateau with buildings dating from 1750 and so full of charm. It was like staying in a country home, all the rooms are upstairs and you just go down for dinner and breakfast. They have over 1600 acres of grapevines, olive trees and gardens. I loved it.  I could have moved in for sure. This morning, we toured the winery. Last night at dinner, we drank their wines.

This is such a lovely region of France, called ‘Le Var’ and a bit less known that the coastal towns. After Chateau de Berne, we headed down the hill to the coast again and had lunch at a very posh hotel in St. Tropez and then wandered around the little village. The Yachts are huge and dominate the port, but the village itself is quite charming.

Jet lag has been a challenge. I got up again this am to swim in the lovely pool at Chateau de Berne, to help with all that I’m eating and also to help with the jet lag. It was still dark when I went outside to go swimming and my mind did not at all like the idea of getting into the pool.  It was perfectly quiet except for a lone rooster crowing.

I was looking for the Jacuzzi so that I could promise my self to get into it after the swim but couldn’t find it.  I heard my mind say ‘where is the Jacuzzi, pronounced  the French way as in JAcuzzi, where as in English, we say jaCUzzi. I had to laugh at how my poor mind, with jet lag and speaking French, would be talking inside my own head saying the word in the French way.

But no Jacuzzi, whatever the pronounciation, but the pool was great and the sun came up pink again while I swam. A woman from the Tourist Board joined me and we chatted and swam. She invited me to come back anytime and stay in all the great places and more that we couldn’t see. I think I just might do that.

I was thinking about jet lag and how it is like childbirth–you forget that it is bad till you’re in it again and then it’s like–oh yeah, I remember this now…But like childbirth, you forget because what comes after is so great. And it should get better soon. It is also because we’re on such a busy schedule and having to be ‘on’ all the time.

So now we’re at the Hotel Beauvallon, a beautiful ‘Belle Epoque’ hotel right on the sea and I look forward to checking out their pool and JAcuzzi. If I can just get the internet to work, we’ll be good.

I’ve lost both my watch and my clock, so the only way I know what time it is is from the computer and it tells me the time in California, which doesn’t help with my jet lag, to be reminded that it is 9:15 am there and 6:15 pm here.
But all in all, this is a great adventure and I’m loving it.

Will send photos soon.

Hugs from across the pond,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 22, 2008

Dear Everyone,

This morning I went swimming in the outdoor pool at Terre Blanche before breakfast. We’ve had some light rain, so it was cloudy and the sun coming up over the hills was pink behind the clouds.  I had the whole place to myself, the water felt silky and the air chilly, making the heated water feel that much better.

This pool was built for beauty. It was at least twice the length of an American Olympic sized pool but there were no black lines telling you to stay in your lane. Just tiny tiles in shades of blues and greens and an invisible edge where the water flowed over and sounded like a waterfall. After I padded back to my room in my thick terry cloth robe and showered and packed, we met in the restaurant for breakfast. The breakfast was a buffet, with fruits, pain au chocolates, eggs–everything you could possibly want. French toast is called ‘pain perdu’ in French, I learned this morning. That would translate as ‘lost bread’, probably meaning that the bread got stale and you could salvage it by making it into French toast.

We’re in the hills here and it is quiet and lovely. This is definitely not the Provence most tourists see, it’s off the beaten track, away from the glitz and crowds of Nice, St. Tropez and Cannes.  I love it. Southern France feels a lot like California, with many of the same plants. I saw a pomegranate tree, which I remember from growing up in Escondido. It’s rather dry here, so the rain was welcome.

My room key was in an envelope that said ‘Diane Mary Covington’ when I arrived yesterday. Growing up, I was only ‘Diane Mary’ when it was either really good or really bad. Now, only the most important documents have my full name on it–IRS tax forms, my house closing papers, my passport. I guess they had that name because of my passport and also, in France, they’re used to double names–Jean-Claude or Marie-Louise. But it just made me smile to see ‘Diane Mary’ and I could almost hear dad saying:  “Diane Mary, come here’ and I would be trying to figure out if I was in trouble or going to be congratulated on good grades or something.

We’re at a golf resort and then this afternoon headed to Chateau Sainte Roseline to visit a chapel and taste some wine. Then another Chateau de Berne, where we’ll spend the night, located on a vineyard.
A bientôt, Till soon, and photos to follow later,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 21, 2008

Dear Everyone,

Just got back from an amazing dinner and the deep tub in my bathroom is calling, but I have to send a few words.   We took a tour which included the Terre Blanche Suite where Brad and Angelina stayed a few years back and which rents for 13,000 Euros a night. That’s about $20,000. It was huge, with many bedrooms, bathrooms, a pool and Jacuzzi, TV’s and whatever else you’d want. Then we went into the kitchen of their one Michelin star restaurant, the Faventia, to watch the chefs at work, drink champagne and eat wonderful hors d’ouevres–foie gras, prawns, beef brochette, pea soup–with a straw. Then on to dinner which was four courses, luckily very small, in the French style.

Everywhere you go here they greet you and say ‘bonsoir Madame’ and when we ate at the table, with the manager of the restaurant, they were right there, refilling your water glass, (and wine) so you had to watch how much you drank because it is easy to lose track when they refill like that.  What an amazing evening.

I sat next to the manager of the hotel and we spoke both French and English and as my dad would have said, ‘it was grand’. I had worked out all my clothes with Bo from Maiden Lane in Nevada City, so I could change quickly from the spa to a black skirt and top and some great earrings, pearls and a pashmina shawl that was my mom’s, to transition to the evening.

Tomorrow, we leave here to some other amazing place, but I’m hoping that my body will cooperate to wake up early and swim before we have to leave at 9am.  They have two huge pools, one in the spa and one closer to my room, both heated to a very comfortable temperature.

It was fun taking photos of the chefs with their huge chef’s hats.  I made chef’s hats for Ellie and Ava and here, they really wear them!

I always feel so thrilled to be in France, speaking French, enjoying their culture, their language, the way that they do things, with so much heart, so much time, so much pleasure and the hope that you will feel and enjoy their efforts.  I do and I have.

In gratitude and more soon,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


Dear Everyone,

I’m sitting in Provence at a Four Season’s Resort called Terre Blanche, in the hills above Cannes.  I’m looking out onto my private patio and it is utterly quiet. I can smell rosemary and lavender as the sun filters down through a few clouds.  I just got back from the spa—had a scrumptious massage, swam and took a steam bath–and need to get ready to leave for drinks and dinner soon.

But I have to back-track a bit.  I did fly première classe–I was the only woman with eight men.  It is always such a relief to actually be sitting on the plane and know that I made it, especially into first class.

As we took off, I could see the bridges of San Francisco with the sun glinting on the bay, the skyline downtown–such a beautiful city. The map showed our course and there was Sacramento and Yuba City and it looked like we passed right over Nevada City. I waved.

We had four or five courses, starting with champagne, then noix de Sainte Jacques over Wyoming, with white wine. Salmon, the main course came over Montana, then cheese over South Dakota and the fresh raspberries over North Dakota.  Lovely. I couldn’t eat most of it, even with their small portions, it was a lot.  But perfect. I watched Sex and the City, which I had missed, and then tried to sleep. Too excited, but the seat did recline nicely.

I flew into Paris and then on to Nice.  By then, I was pretty whipped and in jet lag la la land, but decided to try to take the bus to my hotel and not a taxi. I always opt for the adventurous route, though sometimes it’s a challenge. My inner dialogue went something like this.
“Take the cab, you’re tired.”
“But the cab is 40 Euros and the bus is 4.”
“Yeah, but you don’t know where the bus leaves from.”
“Okay, let’s just look for the bus, no commitments, and if it is too hard, we’ll take the cab.”

So I asked someone where to find the bus and a few moments later I was having a great conversation with a group of American women who were all taking the bus and had a friend with them who lived in France as a nanny. We piled on and chatted away till I realized I had no idea where to get off the bus. The friend let me use her cell phone and I found out, then hopped off and walked the six long blocks to the hotel. It was called the Hotel Little Palace but a palace it wasn’t.

Let’s just say that the 10×10 room, decorated in orange and brown, had a metal door that clanged shut like a prison or storage unit. But it was quiet and clean and I was tired.  So I stayed. I walked around for a few hours, then collapsed into the bed and slept for 12 hours. Today I feel good and here I am at this amazing resort.

My suite here at Terre Blanche is almost as large as my house and the spa was amazing. I’m doing an article on ‘Sensory Provence’ and it will be fun to write about this one. The people on my trip seem nice. There are three men and one woman.  I had thought it might be fun having three men on the trip, but it seems that all three are gay, so they’ll be interesting, just not in the way I’d thought they might be.

I’m very grateful to be here, to have this chance to have such amazing experiences and to be able to share them with you. I need to do my other blog and will start on that tonight. Sorry you’re getting this right after the other one.

I couldn’t get the internet to work in the Palace Hotel.

More soon.

Love and hugs from here,

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 19, 2008

Dear Everyone,

Somehow, I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore…

I’m sitting in a comfy chair in the Air France 1st class lounge.  I just had my first glass of French Champagne (lovely) today. Walking in here feels like a big ‘ahhhh’. The soft sounds of French all around me, yummy snacks, wine, cheese, chocolate, lattes. Ooh La La. I’ve been assigned seat 2B, my luggage trundled off, marked ‘priorité’ and I’m feeling the buzz of the ‘Cinderella effect’ of these trips.

It does feel like magic to go to the head of a huge line, show them by e-ticket from the French Government Tourist Office, politely suggest that I was told that I would be upgraded if there was space available and ‘voilà’, I was.

I just read the International Herald Tribune, my favorite French (written in English) newspaper.  Always so interesting to get the European perspective.  Major headlines:

“Obama leading race as the agent of change”  (Yes!  Why don’t we see that here???);  “US Legal Influence Dips”;  “Around the world, stocks fall after U.S. props up AIG…” (not surprising)  and “Has U.S. stopped practicing what it preaches?”

I will arrive in Nice on Saturday and the press trip begins on Sunday, when I’ll go to the airport in Nice and meet up with the other four people on the trip.  We’ll go to our first Deluxe Provence stop, Terre Blanche, in the hills behind Cannes. The PR firm which manages this property is the same one that handles the Georges V in Paris, so that says a lot.

But tomorrow night, I’ll be back in pumpkin phase, on my own, going to an inexpensive hotel I found on the internet (still $100). I can’t figure out whether it is a youth hostel or a hotel, but at least I have a private room, though it seems that the bath is down the hall? It was hard to find a room at all and so I took it, to avoid wandering around Nice, dragging my bags, in a jet-lagged daze looking for somewhere to stay.

So I’m going to settle back here and for the flight, drink champagne, eat delicious food served to me on real plates with real silverware, be called ‘Madame’ very politely and hopefully snooze in my comfy chair which reclines all the way back. I’ll savor every minute of the sweet journey.

Now, it is time for another glass of champagne and the French Elle is calling.

Bises (Kisses) for now!  À bientôt,  (till soon)

Diane

'Fall in Provence' 2008


September 18, 2008

Dear Everyone,

It’s 10:30 pm and I’m sitting at the Travel Lodge in San Francisco across from the airport so that I can fly out tomorrow afternoon on a press trip to France.  It is called ‘Luxury Provence’ and will definitely be a ‘Cinderella’ time with chateaus, wine, and amazing food, Sainte Tropez.  We’re even going to Aix where I lived for 8 months in 2000.

I got invited just 8 days ago, so it has been a scramble to get ready to go.  But I couldn’t pass it up.  I’m armed with a bunch of assignments for newspapers, magazines and radio, and some time after the trip to visit some friends in and around Aix.  All the other writers are from New York and then there’s the California Farm woman/writer.  It will be interesting!

Life is more complex these days with nine lovely hens and two little kittens at the farm, a winter vegetable crop in (small), plus a project of turning one of the sheds into a guest room.  But Joanna is still living on the farm with me so she supported me in going, including driving down with me to San Francisco and then coming back to get me in 15 days.

It has been an amazing summer since the deck was finished.  I had my first ‘Camp Grandma’ with Ellie and Ava for six days.  We went to the river almost every day and played our hearts out.  We played a lot with Marisha and Dylan and then everyone came together for the weekend and a fun reunion.  Michelle and Claude, Heather, Dan and baby Hunter, Marisha, Tad and Dylan and Brendan and Maggie.  What fun.

We sang with Brendan playing the violin and Maggie on guitar and had a yoga class Sunday morning on the deck with Marisha and Heather presiding–both excellent yoga teachers.  I’ve been sleeping out on the deck all summer.

Such sweet times to fall asleep looking at the Milky Way.

So today, I said goodbye to the farm and am off to France.  I’m going to do a blog again and this time I’m even getting paid to do it!  I will do one for that website—called Traveler, and a slightly different one here, so that I can include you.  This press trip will be busy from morning till night.  I’m flying over one day early to get one night’s sleep and try to get over my jet lag before being wined and dined nonstop for 5 days.

So stay tuned!  I hope to be able to blog each day and include photos.  It will be fun.

Sending hugs from here.

Love,

Diane

Being silly dancing with a chess King at the Nut Tree.

Being silly dancing with a chess King at the Nut Tree.

'Fall in Provence' 2008


February 25, 2008

In the first few days of 2008, I lost two very special people.  First, John O’Donohue, a spiritual teacher and a friend, died suddenly in his sleep on January 3rd.  He had just turned 52.

Then my French brother, Gilbert, who my dad tried to adopt during WWII and wasn’t able to, but who I found in 1994 and who did become my French brother, died of liver cancer on January 20th.

I was going to France in late January, to visit Gilbert and to write some travel articles.  Gilbert got sick in November, so I thought I had time.  I missed him by four days.

I was able to move my trip up to get to his memorial service in time. Then, after spending six days with his widow, Huguette, I traveled to Ireland to go to John’s memorial service at the Galway cathedral.

After such a powerful beginning to my year—death in three languages—English, French and Gaelic, I began a whirlwind trip of French spas, Truflle Hunting, and delectable wine, gourmet food and chocolate.  What a contrast.

But as always, France took me into her arms and held me tight.  And as John O’Donohue would say, I was ‘minded ‘every step of the way.

This blog and the photos that follow were what I sent to friends and family to keep them up on my journey.

Enjoy!

-Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 20, 2008

Dear Everyone,

I’m sitting here by a cozy fire and a bit jet-lagged, but safe at home.  Four weeks ago today, I flew to France to be at Gilbert’s memorial.

What an amazing journey.  So full of blessings. Thanks for sharing it all with me. Here is my last email for the trip.

My last day in Paris, Monday, was full. The Hotel de Crillon in the morning, the Ritz in the afternoon. I loved the Hotel de Crillon, but found the Ritz ‘trop’ the French word for ‘too much’. Big heavy curtains, pretentious and over stated. That surprised me, but there you are.

That evening, I walked down to the Seine and went to a concert in the oldest church in Paris, L’Eglise Sainte Julien le Pauvre, near Notre Dame. A pianist and a soloist and Ave Maria, Amazing Grace and other wonderful sacred songs in a magnificent church with candlelight. Heavenly end to my trip.

I took the train to the airport on Tuesday morning early and arrived at Charles de Gaulle with plenty of time. But the police were holding us back. Baggages abandonees. Abandoned luggages, I was told. We had to wait while they searched. Everyone was tense. Then we heard a huge bang. More tension. Then another one. We were all thinking the same thing, probably–is this it? Am I going to be blown up here at the airport? No, please no.

We were all bracing ourselves for another blast when the whistle blew, but it was the ‘all clear’ and we could go. Thank you god.

I got put into business class again and it was heavenly.  Champagne, wine, white tablecloths, delicious food and a comfortable seat that reclined. It was an easy flight and soo pleasant. The last of the Cinderella moments of the trip for a while.

I’m home now with piles of mail to go through and lots of deadlines ahead of me but grateful and happy for all the joy of the trip. It seems a bit like a dream and I’m glad I wrote the emails because I have a record of it–it was real!

I’m sending some photos of my last day in Paris. Now I’m having trouble with my email here!!! But I’m sure it will work out soon.
Hugs and blessings,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 17, 2008

Dear Everyone,

My four days in Aix-en-Provence were perfect. The spa, which I did on the 14th, was ‘formidable’ as they say here–fantastic. I got painted with hot algae, had a scrub with sea salt, a bubbling bath and then a massage to finish it off. Both the massage and the scrub were ‘sous affusion’ which means they work on you while warm water is being showered on you with five showerheads. Ooh, la la.

It was such fun to wander around Aix and to feel at home. The town has over 50 fountains and you’re always bumping into one somewhere. I walked past my old apartment and looked up. It looked like someone was living there–3rd floor with a tiny balcony out one of the windows and there were some plants on it. I had pink geraniums on the balcony when I lived there and used to hang out my wash, like my neighbors. I have only good memories of Aix.

There is a 12th century Catholic church where they sing the mass in Gregorian chants and I stopped in there twice for mass. So moving. They walk up and down the aisle with the strong incense and the walls are light yellow with the huge ceilings and arches. It is like stepping back in time.

The tourist office paid for my hotel, the Augustin, which was right in the center of town, just steps from the main street, Cours Mirabeau, where something is always happening.

I couldn’t get my email to send–a problem I’m still having, so I found a FNAc store–that is where I was able to send email from Toulouse. They were really sweet and helpful in Toulouse, even though I came in and hadn’t bought my computer there, they stuck with me for about 20 minutes till it miraculously sent. With my Mac laptop, it sounds like you’re sending a paper airplane when your email goes out and I was so happy to hear that sound and to watch the emails go out!

So I went to the store in Aix and told them how I’d been able to send in Toulouse and they did the same thing–about 20 minutes of fiddling, but it still wouldn’t send. Then the guy told me to try going to another part of the store where the wifi was stronger. (Pronounced wee-fee in French.)  So I took my laptop and walked around, watching the rings of the wifi to see if it changed. Sure enough, it did. It would come in and then go out and I was just about to give up when suddenly, out went the email.

But I must have really looked funny, because a man asked me if I was looking for wifi. I told him yes. I must have looked like one of those people with metal detectors, or a water witch or something, but it worked. I’m going to find a FNAC store tomorrow and try it again.

One of the articles I’m writing from Aix is about Cezanne. He was born in Aix and lived there his whole life. He was penniless as an artist and only became famous after he died. But he did some lovely paintings and over 80 of Mount St. Victoire, a mountain just outside of Aix.

I hiked that mountain on 1/1/2000 with a group of new friends and we drank champagne at the top. Yesterday, I went to his ‘atelier’ or studio, which was a short walk out of Aix. What an inspiration. He had a whole wall of windows to let in the natural light. All his things were there, just as though he could show up at any moment. His worn leather duffle bag, his paint boxes with paint splattered all over them, his canvas folding chair that he carried around with him, his backpack that carried his easel. The garden was also peaceful and beautiful.

I also went to the Musee Granet, the local museum, and had a tour with the director. They have about 9 of Cezanne’s paintings and are going to do an exposition in 2009 with Picasso and his relationship to Cezanne. It was an amazing museum.  It had been closed for renovation when I lived there.

Today I took the TGV or fast train to Paris. It covered the distance of San Francisco to San Diego in 3 hours. What a lovely trip. I just sat and looked out the window, read, drank some tea and relaxed. When I got to Paris, I found a bus that got me back to the Latin Quarter and then hopped on another one that stopped right outside my hotel.

This one star hotel is definitely Cinderella style.  They gave me the same room I had when I arrived weeks ago, and it felt like home when I walked in. The shower is down the hall and it has barely warm water, the towels are thin and worn, the floors creaky linoleum. But it is clean and safe. I’m grateful to be here.

So much has happened since I was here last.  It has been an amazing journey. Starting with the two memorial services and then going on to such luxury and fun. It has really been a healing trip and has reinspired me to value my connection to France. When I ‘m here, amazing and magical things happen to me that don’t happen anywhere else.

Yesterday, when I was buying some apples at the open market in Aix, I felt a moment of pure happiness and contentment. Talking to the farmer, exchanging pleasantries as I gave him the right coins. I was struck by how mysterious happiness is. It comes in little spurts like that and they always feel like a gift, even a surprise. They’re unpredictible and erratic, but so welcome when they come.

And I saw how I am happy in France, even though I don’t understand why, another mystery. But I’m not going to question that anymore. I’m just going to enjoy it and count the blessings of happiness wherever they come from.

And speaking the language continues to be something that I enjoy being challenged by. And it is still a challenge. But I’m going to recommit to speaking it well. Why do it half way, I realized. I must lose at least 20 IQ points when I open my mouth here, unless they add some back in for the fact that I’m speaking a foreign language. But it is satisfying somehow. So I’m not going to question that anymore either.

I had two offers of very inexpensive places to stay in Aix if I want to come back for a while–longer than 4 days. I am going to see if I can line up a bunch of articles and spend a month there again. Four days just made me realize how much there is to enjoy there. It is a place to slow down and savor life.  ‘Prendre votre temps’, they say. Take your time.

Being back in Paris, the pace is much faster. Tomorrow, I go to the Hotel de Crillon at 10am to look at their art and antiques for an article and then to the Ritz at 2:30 pm for an article for Golf for Women–they have a 6-hole golf course there that is new.

It will be such a contrast to my place here, but then it is all Paris. I’ll take the bus over to the right bank. Heather and I stayed at the Crillon in 1994 when I was writing an article about traveling with her. We had two nights there in a suite. It was unforgettable. I’ve never been to the Ritz, so I’m excited about that. I believe both interviews will be in French, so I’m going to have to pay close attention.

I found the FNAC store today when I got off the bus after my stop and had to walk back a few streets, so will stop in there and hope they can help me to send this.  It is hard to believe I have only one more day here.

Hugs from Paris, Love,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 14, 2008

Dear special people,

I just arrived in Aix-en-Provence last night at 11pm after an amazing 5 days in the Dordogne region of France, hunting, cooking and then eating truffles. They are called the ‘black diamonds’ of France because they cost about $1000 per kilo. Our group of 8 people ate almost a kilo of truffles during our tour! They are very rich and earthy and are supposed to have aphrodisiac effects. Not sure about that one!

But I ate them in breakfast, lunch and dinner and, bien sûr, they are powerful!

Our guides were an Englishman and his wife, who have lived in France for 17 years. It was like being at a very elegant dinner party that lasted 5 days and included walks during the day. Each day, we’d drive down these one lane roads and then wander–the English call it ‘ramble’-up and down hills, through forests and through tiny villages.

We’d stop for lunch in some out of the way spot we could have never found on our own (a tiny village with one magnificent restaurant on the square) and would enjoy a perfect French lunch, with wine, of course. Then some more rambling and after the day, we’d rest and dress for dinner. James, our guide, would seat us so that we kept moving around the table and having interesting conversations with different people.

Of course, the political situation in America was much discussed, since we’re here and it is all there. There were 7 Americans and one Brit on the tour. Our lodgings were in a small 14th century stone house with a roaring fireplace. Our table was set in front of it, with fine damask linens and china and crystal. We had at least two different wines with dinner to go with the different courses–usually 4 or 5.

It was good that we were walking off all of the feasting! Our itinerary included going to a real ‘truffle market’ where the locals bring their treasures to sell. It was amazing to have a chance to be a part of such authentic French life.

And the ‘Grande Dame and her pig’–I’ll send pictures of her. She was so cute. The pig was named Kiki and she would beat on it with a stick and say ‘cherche!’ which means ‘look!’. At one point he ate the truffle he found and she really whacked him with the stick!  Each year, she gets a new pig and trains it and then at the end of the year, she eats it!

I loved the new friends I made and we became like family after living, walking and eating together for 5 days. They dropped me off at the train station yesterday, Wednesday, so that I could catch the train to Marseilles. Lovely train ride across the south of France for 3 1/2 hours. Picnic of wine, cheese, bread and fruit as I watched France glide by out the window.

I arrived in Marseilles at about 8:30pm and needed to find the bus to Aix-en-Provence. After a few directions, I found the place outside. I had asked a few men in passing, how to find the bus stop. Marseilles has a very high Muslim population and I could feel the horror of several men with thick accents in their French, that I was lost and alone in the dark night. I found it sweet though. I’m used to being lost and by myself and always find my way, though I do admit that I said a few prayers when I got off the train because Marseilles can also be a very dangerous city.

Then I learned I had to go back in and get a ticket from a machine. The machine only took Visa cards for payment and it didn’t like my card. So I asked the young man next to me if he would be willing to put his card in and I could pay him the 6.50 euros for the ticket. Pas de probleme! He was so kind. So thanks to him, I got on the bus a hour later and headed for Aix.

When I got off the bus in Aix, I couldn’t remember which way to go to ‘centre ville’ where my hotel was, so I asked the bus driver. He again was horrified that I didn’t know which way to go and seemed really concerned. But it was only a few blocks and Aix is a very safe town, so in about 5 minutes, I saw the main street and almost cried in relief.

Aix was where I spent the 8 months living in France and feels like my second home. I hadn’t been back since 2002, so I was a bit rusty about how to find my way from the train station. But I found the hotel and was so happy to get into my cozy room.

This morning, I went to a cafe where they always had a ‘coffee clatch’ for a group I was a part of when I lived here–the Anglo/American group of Provence. These meetings are a place for the group members to meet and for locals to practice their English. In walked one of my closest friends from here and we both squealed in delight. We’re going to a movie tomorrow night, PS I love you, dubbed in French, I believe. That will be good practice.

It was amazing to realize that 8 years have passed since I used to go to those meeting and that nothing had changed, really. Many of the group even remembered me. It was as if those 8 years hadn’t passed at all and time had stopped. But that was only for a second. A lot has happened in the past 8 years.

It is lovely to be here and I feel so grateful to have this chance to come back to such a wonderful town. And to feel so at home here. Today I go to the spa to check it out–it is in my article about spas that will be in a magazine called ‘Organic Spa’. I’m looking forward to more hot water and mud and massage. More soon. I’m still having trouble sending emails, but hope to find a way.

More soon and photos, I hope.
Love and hugs from here,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 9, 2008

Dear Everyone,

It is Saturday the 9th and I’m now in Toulouse. I took the train yesterday for 8 hours to get here, with two train changes. It was a bit hairy at moments, but people helped me.

I get a lot of goodies on these trips plus tons of written material, so my bags were so stuffed. I’ve already mailed stuff back and mailed another box today, but it is still hard on the train because you have to go up and down steps. I try to pack light, but it all feels like too much.  I always swear that next time….

Toulouse is a lovely town, the sun is out and it is gorgeous. I walked all over this morning and saw some of their amazing churches. I was lost most of the time, but the great thing today was that I had time so it didn’t matter if I was lost. Isn’t that a great thing about vacation–you have time to get lost. And today, I was a free person, because I didn’t have to meet with anyone. It was lovely.

I found an open market and bought two wonderful fresh carrots, so clean I was able to much on them. Then a slice of pork from a guy cooking chickens and such. The pork was the only thing he had a piece of. He added in a few wonderful roasted potatoes. A few pieces of fruit and I was set.

I sat in the sun across from a church and listened to the bells as I ate my lunch with a little wine from a half bottle I had left from last night’s dinner–another picnic-quiche from a bakery and the wine.  The lunch cost about 4 euros and the dinner last night about the same. I’m on my own, so it is budget Cinderella time but it is also fun and an adventure.

I walked along the river and everyone was out at cafe’s to take advantage of the sun. The river is lovely and wide, with old bridges. It makes the Seine look tiny by comparison. At 5pm today, I get picked up for the truffle hunt. There are 4 more Americans here at the hotel–we ran into each other last night–and we’re all on the hunt.

The tour is run by a British couple who live here now, so we’ll be talking a lot of English for a few days. I’ve been here over two weeks now and my French has kicked in. It takes about a week for it to wake up. It is such a relief when it comes more easily. It might also coincide with jet lag begin over.

One of the things I love about France is how they all do the ‘kiss kiss’ when they greet each other. Even teenage boys kiss each other! It can take a long time when one group meets another group–with all the ‘two kisses’ being exchanged by everyone!

When I was with Gilbert’s family in Normandy, I always got four kisses when I was being greeted. I guess that was some kind of sign of respect. I didn’t ask. But it was very sweet.

Am going to an Internet cafe to hopefully send this if all goes well. Will let you know about the truffle hunt.  In case I didn’t tell you before, I’ll be hiking for 4 days with this group, till the 13th, in the Dordogne region. We’ll be looking for truffles with a ‘Grande dame’ and her ‘couchon sauvage’ or wild pig. It should be really fun.

I did the radio program last Thursday and it went well. I’ll try to send the link if I can, but it is aroundtheworldradio.com if you want to check it out.

Hugs from here,

Till soon,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 6, 2008

Dear Friends and Family,

It is now Wednesday night here. I looked on USA today to find out about Super Tuesday. France is fascinated by the elections in the US. I asked a young woman today who they favored and she said Hillary. Their president just married Carla Bruni last weekend—a former model and singer. Politics!

I have been pampered here like I’ve never been pampered before. It really is like I’m Cinderella and when I’m on an assignment, it is all coaches and footmen and when I’m not, it is pumpkins and well, you get the idea. The bus rides in Ireland were on my own dime. The suites in the hotels are not.

These spas are amazing. Today, I was painted with hot algae and then wrapped like a burrito to rest for 1/2 hour. Yesterday, I had the same treatment with grape seed oil. They call the treatments ‘soins’ which translates to ‘care’. So you are cared for. There is no ‘hiking at dawn up a mountain’. There is a gym—a new addition since my last visit–but no one talks about it. It is just there if you want to go.

But the soins are these wraps, or a ‘massage sous affusion’ which I had as my last soin today. A guy was massaging me with oil while warm sea water showers came down. Blissful. I also had a bath where a woman massaged me with water—kind of like a hose—the pressure is good for your muscles and circulation, getting rid of cellulite, etc.

I interviewed the chef here today, all in French. He spoke like a house on fire and I did my best, but a bit of it went over my head. I think I have enough for a good article, though. He said the word ‘plaisir’ pleasure, over 10 times in an hour.

He has just written a cookbook called ‘La Cuisine de Bien-Etre’. ‘The Cuisine of Well-Being’. He cooks lighter than the old fashioned French way, but without sacrificing the flavor. In fact, he was talking about how the fresh fish, caught each morning here, tastes better without all the heavy sauces. He even has a recipe for Creme Brulee, which is normally all cream, egg yolks and sugar, which is light. I tried it and it is amazing. I’m hoping to sell the article to Cooking Light magazine.

I also visited a chocolatier today who is world known for his chocolates. I got to go into the kitchen and take a lot of photos of this cake they make which takes 2 days to do. Ava would have loved it–they had those things to mix eggs that were giant. She loves it when we bake and she gets to use that. I took photos, but can’t send till this Internet glitch gets fixed. I also got to lick a spoon with this divine chocolate concoction on it.

I also got another assignment from Golf for Women. There’s a castle near here that is unreal it is so gorgeous. She wants to include it in a round-up article about golf at castles. So I’m going to visit tomorrow for the day. That means I can come back and stay there! Such luck! It is called Le Domaine de La Bretesche” and is a 4-star Relais et Chateaux, the restaurant is a one star Michelin, the golf course (18 hole) is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world, set in a park of 200 hectares. The spa offers ‘soins’ treatments for ‘forme et beaute’—health and beauty. I’m excited to see it and will just have to come back to stay there…

I just had dinner at a table with the manager of the hotel, the dietician who helps create some of the menus and a group of other guests. They all spoke so rapidly that I missed a lot of it. The food was delicious but very light. The whole dinner, 4 courses, was only 400 calories. It seemed like it was a lot of air—mousse of carrots, that kind of thing. But it tasted good! The French also speak very softly sometimes and that makes it hard for me to figure out what they’re saying. I’m okay one on one, but in groups, it is hard.

This afternoon, before I interviewed the chef and after I had a tour of the town and lunch with someone from the tourism office, I had about 1/2 hour and jumped on one of the bicycles here at the hotel. It was a spectacular day—sunny and clear. Yesterday it stormed, so today was a blessing. I rode along the promenade along the beach and I swear, I felt about 8 years old when I first learned to ride a bike. I could feel that thrill of moving through space, with the wind in my hair, gliding along, so much faster and so much more fun than walking.

And of course, here, no helmet, just like when I was a kid. I did notice that my belly jiggled some and I didn’t have that when I was 8. But all in all, it was a sweet time and it was over too fast. I hope to cram in a few more minutes again before I leave.

Time to sleep in that yummy bed again. Tomorrow I have to decide whether to leave here on Friday or Saturday. The truffle hunt starts Saturday evening. I need to take the train to Toulouse, which will take about 7 hours. I was going to do to Toulouse on Friday, but it is sooo fun here, I might stay another day. I could use some time to get some of this writing done and also to go back on that bike, swim in the warm pool, etc. We’ll see.

Hugs to all of you. It’s good to be here and I also think of home a lot and many of you are in those thoughts.

Till soon, A bientot,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 3, 2008

Dear friends and family,

It was a whirlwind trip to Ireland for the memorial of John O’Donohue. I left Shannon and that lovely hotel, Bunratty Castle and took the bus to Galway. I arrived there and went to my hotel, another comped one and it was fine. Not as
nice as the other one, but welcoming out of the rain.

I walked around and went to the cathedral to make sure I knew where it was for the service. I didn’t want to have come all that way and miss it because I got lost!

As I walked around Galway, I noticed how the Irish look like us! I mean us–my family. My mom’s sister, Auntie Molly, married Larry Sullivan—probably O’Sullivan before he came to America. I saw a man standing in a doorway and I could have sworn it was uncle Larry! I had to stop myself from going up to him. And of course it couldn’t have been uncle Larry, but that’s what I mean–they look familiar.

And they’re kind and friendly. I think Ireland is a great country to visit if you want to have that European foreign experience and still speak English. I must admit, even though I love France and speaking French, when I got off the plane and realized I could speak English, it felt so easy. I needed that respite, maybe because of all these memorial services.

I spent the evening with a friend from Northern Ireland. She and I met at the retreat in 2006 in Ireland and had been emailing about getting together. We were joined by another friend from Northern Ireland and a Scot. We ate and drank some and talked about John, all sharing stories about him. It was good to be able to do that. At times like this, I realize how much we all need each other. We can’t explain why he is gone, but somehow facing it together is good.

A friend once said to me, trying to help me deal with Sharon’s death: “We come in in the middle and we leave in the middle.” And somehow it always feels too soon, like we needed more time.

The weather was cold and blustery when I walked to the cathedral the next morning, Saturday. I went at 11am to get there early to be sure to get a seat. There was mass at 11am, so I went to mass. I am an ‘European Catholic’ because I actually enjoy going to mass in Europe in the gorgeous old churches and cathedrals. Maybe it is those hundreds of years of praying, but it feels different. I don’t go to mass at home.

Then the mass ended at 11:30 and more people came in. The Cathedral was full by noon when the mass for John started (I’m guessing about 800 people–it was a huge space). The first thing that moved me to tears was when the priests came out. Two by two, they just kept coming and genuflecting in front of the altar, then another two and another two. There were almost 20 priests up on the altar for his mass. John was very liberal and outspoken and left the priesthood because of that. So it meant a lot that these priests knew who he was and were there to honor him. The priest who spoke called John a priest, and a holy man. He was.

There was wonderful singing, music–Irish music and traditional organ music. People talked about John. And there was a traditional mass. I think this is a record for me–two masses in one day, back to back. Even in the days of St. Mary’s school, I never did that.

After the mass, a group of us went to a little hotel and had some food. John’s family all were there and we had a chance to talk a bit. They were all going to someone’s house for more food, but I had to leave to go to Dublin, so said my goodbyes.

I understand now what the term ‘paying your respects’ means. Being there to honor someone after they are gone is showing your respect for their life and their contribution. John taught me the power of writing something deep and well, as he did in Anam Cara and his other books. I’m proud of the interview I did with him in the Sun. Lots of people there thanked me for it. It was a lot of work, but following John’s example, I did my best on it. I did it deep and well. His life and the shortness of it has inspired me to write what I need to write, while there is still time.

The bus ride to Dublin was long and tiring–4 hours and so I arrived at my hotel at 9:30pm. Ireland had just won a rugby match against Italy or Spain, I’m not sure. The city was bustling with people everywhere. What a lovely city! I wish I’d had more time. Dublin is a place I want to go back to. I was booked into a suite at the Brooks Hotel and I loved that place. I was ready to just move in and stay.

After my long day, the lovely bath, the expensive sheets, the fruit platter I devoured–no dinner again! It was great. I thought about going down to the bar, but my room was sooo lovely and I was sooo glad to be there that I didn’t.

There are lots of workers from Eastern Europe working in Ireland and struggling to learn the language. One man said to me this morning, when I told him I couldn’t get the Internet to work: “Please take our apologizes for eet not
vorking.” Hey, I’m sure I’ve said much worse things than that in French!

Since the Celtic Tiger economy of the mid nineties, people have been flooding in. But my taxi driver told me their economy is starting to slow down–I wondered if it is because of our economy slowing down? It was wonderful to have my hotel so set up for business–they had American plugs and EU plugs! No adapters needed. Wow.

Today I flew from Dublin to Nantes, France. I’m staying at a lovely hotel in La Baule, along the Atlantic. They gave me a suite, too, with a view of the ocean. It has been raining and cold but gorgeous to look at the ocean and feel so cozy in here. I’m writing a bunch of articles on this area and am even going to be on the radio on a show in Santa Barbara this coming Thursday at 10am. It is called aroundtheworldradio.com, so check it out and listen if you can. Or you might be able to catch it on their website archives.

I will be going to the spa and meeting with people from the tourist office every day. Tonight I had dinner in a tiny restaurant in a quaint village near here, with a young woman from the tourist office. Crepes. Yum.

This hotel is called the Hotel Royal Thalasso and is the place where the French film stars come to get away. It’s posh and great. They have a saltwater pool, very warm, a steam and sauna and I was able to use that today before going out to dinner. Tomorrow, I start the ‘soins’ or spa treatments again. Ooh la la! Can’t wait.

Now, if I can just get my Internet connection to send out mail! When you get this, it means I will have succeeded at that.

Going to sign off now. More expensive sheets are calling to me..
Hugs from here,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


February 1, 2008

Dear friends and family,

The sun just came out after it had been snowing–a bit intimidating since I’m about to embark on a ride back to Shannon airport and then a bus to Galway.

Tomorrow is the memorial service for John O”Donohue at the cathedral there.  For any of you who don’t know, I interviewed John for the magazine The Sun last April.  There is a link to a portion of the article on my website and also on John’s–johnodonohue.com.  If you want a copy of the whole article, I can mail it to you when I get home. He was an amazing teacher.

He had been a priest for 19 years and then left–he was much too liberal to survive there.  But he helped me to sort out my Catholic past and my spiritual present and to make sense of it all.  His book Anam Cara is a jewel.

He helped me so much with dealing with Sharon’s death, too and with my relationship with my mom, which was very challenging to me.  He told me:  “Just be kind to her.  She’s old and you’re not.”  I heard his words thousands of times in those last years and months of mom’s life and they were right.  He taught me so much about kindness.

I’m leaving a wonderful hotel here in Shannon. Will write more from Galway.

More soon,

Love Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


January 31, 2008

Hello everyone,

I’m now sitting propped up on my bed in a wonderful hotel that was comped by the Irish Tourist Board of New York.  A far cry from my one star hotel in Paris.  I now have 6 pillows to choose from, velvet curtains, a spa I visited with Jacuzzi, steam and a pool, plus all the exercise equipment you could ever want.  And free Wifi–at least that is the same as Paris, though it didn’t work there this am–the woman just rolled her eyes and shrugged in the typical French way.

I was thinking today how this life of a travel writer must seem like a dream life.  Just show up and get all these things for free and be treated like a princess at spas.  Yes, it is wonderful.  But what goes on behind the scenes is just plain hard work.  Like all of December and January right up until I left, when I was pitching to different magazines, contacting the different tourist organizations with my plans, getting actual assignments so that I can get the free things.  Dealing with cranky editors who don’t return my calls or emails.
When I stay at a hotel, like tonight and the next two nights in Ireland, there is an exchange that has to happen.  I need to write about it in some publication that I can then send to them and to the Tourist office so that they are happy.  Rail Europe gave me a train pass, so I need to make sure that I mention how great the trains are–now that is easy–they are!
So each place where I accept something means an article or reference.  Luckily I adore this whole process, but it is still work, which on good days is fun and on regular days is okay and on bad days is hard.

Like today.  I booked my flights to Ireland from France on Ryan Air, which is an Irish airline which says –fly to Ireland from Paris for 1.99 euros!!!  Then after you book the flight, it ends up being 40 euros because they add on all these ‘taxes’.   But the worst part was that they fly out of an airport in Paris called ‘Beauvais’ which I have never heard of, so all day I was nervous about how to find this place.  So on their website, they say that if I go to this street near the Arch de Triumph, there will be a ‘navette’ or airport shuttle to take me to this mysterious place I’ve never heard of.  So after two bus rides across Paris with my ‘baggages’, I look for this bus and it doesn’t exist.  All the while, the clock is ticking and my flight departure is coming closer.  (They’re very clear on their website about no refunds, etc.)
I go into a ‘Hamburger Quick’ and wail and cry in French about how I can’t find this bus stop. One of the guys sweeping the floor takes pity on me and we go to look for the bus stop. Nothing.  We do find a taxi driver who knows where I can go to catch an airport shuttle and he will take me for 6 euros.

I jump into the taxi, the guy from hamburger quick says ‘bon courage’ which is what the French always say to you when they think that you’re headed for disaster, and we head off. I find the bus to Beauvais, and almost 2 hours later, I’m at this airport in the middle of nowhere and paying another 32 euros because they have a weight limit on bags and I’m over ($50 shot to hell!)  So at this point, I just pay it and get on the plane.

Then I arrive at Shannon airport and the only time I’ve been to Ireland was to go to a retreat with John O’Donohue.  It feels so sad. I came to Ireland to go to his memorial, so it’s okay to feel sad, but at the same time, I’m shocked by how it hits me when I land.  The sweet accents of the Irish people.  The man who takes my passport–’How long are you staying?’  ’3 days.’
‘Why are you here?’  ‘For a memorial service’. There was a moment when he looked at me, just for a second and I felt his kindness.  I wanted to say to him ‘did you know John O’Donohue? He was from County Clare?’  But I didn’t.

I just went over to baggage claim and felt the warm tears coming down my face.  I hope no one saw.  John O’Donohue was one of the kindest persons I ever knew.  I’m here to grieve his loss, but I just didn’t know how hard it would hit me. It is as if I feel his presence everywhere.

So I’m propped up on this wonderful bed with expensive sheets and drinking a bottle of good French wine that I had in my bag (part of the overweight problem, I’m sure) and eating a stale roll from breakfast.  I went to the spa when I got here and so missed food in the bar, but the spa was great.  Tomorrow will be an Irish breakfast, which last time I was here, was a marathon of food, so it is good that I missed dinner.

I have a couple of photos from today that I will send on.

Take care and more soon,

Diane–I spelled it right this time!

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


January 30, 2008

Dear friends and family,

It has been an amazing journey so far, this time in France for Gilbert’s memorial.  I left Caen this morning in a drizzling rain.  Huguette and Romain drove me to the train station.  They didn’t just drop me off, they went with me to the voie and waited with me till I got on the train, standing, shivering and waving and blowing kisses (Huguette) till the train pulled away.  Romain hefted my bag into the train for me.

I was so touched by that and by the whole experience of being with them for the past 6 days.  I left today with a true sense of family and how losing someone you care about is the same in any language.  And that we have a real family in France.  I feel closer to them all than I ever did before.  If dad had adopted Gilbert 64 years ago, it would have been a ‘fait accompli’.  But somehow, in his not being able to, we now have this link across the ocean from here to America and so many powerful connections.

They were genuinely touched that I made the effort to come for the memorial and I’m so glad that I did.  After days of doing things related to Gilbert, yesterday, I went to the spa in Ouistreham to do some research for an article I’m writing on the French health spas for Organic Spa magazine. What a wonderful day.  I got painted with hot algae, then massaged while warm seawater showered over me.  They call the treatments ‘soins’ which translates to ‘care’ and I felt so cared for by the end of the day, relaxed and refreshed.

I arrived at Gare St. Lazaire in Paris this morning and crossed the street to get onto the #21 bus.  It took me across town to the Hotel Gay Lussac, near the Luxembourg Gardens.  It is a clean and cozy 1 star hotel which also has WiFi and includes breakfast for 60 euros.  So I’m happily sending you this email from my room, propped up on my bed with an old wool blanket wrapped around me.  I walked all over today, visiting Notre Dame cathedral and the Latin Quarter, where my hotel is located.  It was chilly and rainy, but then the sun came out near sunset.

I also took a chance and had my hair done at a salon on the Blvd St. Germain.  130 euros later, I look much more chic and feel better too.  It was quite an experience.  Pictures to follow…

My hotel room has pink walls and a toilette in the room but the shower is down the hall.  I have giant windows that look out onto the street.  I’m on the 5th floor, which they call the 4th since they don’t count the first one.

This trip has been a chance to do lots of articles for different magazines about France and more and more assignments keep coming in.  I just got another one today from Golfing for Women. I don’t golf but I met the editor at a writer’s conference last fall and she said she wanted to work with us all.   So when I read that the Ritz in Paris just put in a 6 hole golf course, I pitched it to her—6 weeks ago.  Today she emailed me and told me she would take it—just a short piece for the front of the magazine, but it got me a tour of the Ritz when I come back to Paris on the 18th of February!  (and who knows, maybe a stay there, too.)

I leave tomorrow to fly to Ireland to go to a memorial for John O’Donohue, who died on the January 3rd.  He was 52.  It was a real shock to lose him.   He was a great teacher and friend to me.  But the miracle is that from another contact at that same conference in the fall, I’m staying at 3 amazing hotels in Ireland, all comped, just from making a phone call.  And the good part is that this whole trip is like this and it feels like so many blessings coming my way after losing two very special friends in the first few days of the year.

So I’ll be sending a diary/blog out and I thought you’d like to know what is happening. I’m going to send some photos and I hope they come through alright.

Life is amazing and I’m glad to share it all with you.

Blessings from Paris,

Diane

Ps.  I have email till tomorrow and then am not sure in Ireland—I hope so.

The view out my window from the Hotel in Paris.

The view out my window from the Hotel in Paris.

This is my 'before' picture at the salon in Paris

This is my 'before' picture at the salon in Paris

this is the 'middle' picture.  If I look a bit dubious, I was - I was afraid I'd end up with tiger stripes!

this is the 'middle' picture. If I look a bit dubious, I was - I was afraid I'd end up with tiger stripes!

But it turned out!  I kept telling myself, it will grow out, just relax!

But it turned out! I kept telling myself, it will grow out, just relax!

In Front of Notre Dame at sunset in my long black coat that I bought in Paris in 1999!  What a lifesaver.  It also makes me fit in and not look like a tourist. It is so good to be here!

In Front of Notre Dame at sunset in my long black coat that I bought in Paris in 1999! What a lifesaver. It also makes me fit in and not look like a tourist. It is so good to be here!

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


January 28, 2008

Hello everyone,

Just a moment to say hi before I go to the spa to do my ‘research’ for one of my articles—I know—someone has to do it!  But it will be a nice break from the reality of the last few days.

I just want to say that if you speak French at all, which I know some of you do,—get out ‘le dictionnaire’ and send ‘quelques mots’ to Huguette.

You can use the address that I forwarded or send it to me and I’ll forward it.

That is Huguette’s but Cathy checks it since Huguette doesn’t like the computer.

I leave tomorrow to go back to Paris and to begin the rest of the trip writing various articles.  But I’ll keep in touch with Huguette while I’m here and can call relatively cheaply with a phone card.

It has been an amazing experience here, of seeing how family is the same in any language when a loved one dies and that what started with dad and Gilbert almost 65 years ago now goes on with the rest of us, still linked in a touching way.

So just know that you have family here and if you want to come and visit, start reviewing (or learning) your French.  As I told Ariel—she hopes to visit sometime, start studying French because it is as if you were dropped into a French film, without subtitles and you play a starring role.

Because they really do care about all of us across the ocean and I think we’re lucky to have that.

Hugs from over here,

Diane

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


January 26, 2008

Dear Everyone,

I’m glad we didn’t send flowers—there are over 30 bouquets at his grave. Here are a few shots of them. Huguette and Cathy have been going every day. I was too tired yesterday but walked there this am and took these. You can see how cold it is here— the roses on one near the bottom have frost on them.

Huguette is having a hard time but it seems to be some comfort that I’m here and it gives Cathy a little breather. We’re just taking it easy and hanging out after all the things this past weekend.

Take care,

Diane

Flowers at his grave.

Flowers at his grave.

Flowers, close up.

Flowers, close up.

For my husband...

For my husband...

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


January 25, 2008

Hello everyone,

I traveled 20 hours yesterday to get here last night and arrived, had some soup and went to bed.  Today was very moving and sweet.

What really touched me was how the photo of Dad and the photo of Gilbert from the 50th anniversary of D-Day (from when he was seven) were at the front of the coffin in the church.  The priest asked me to set it there during the memorial and I did.  I took a photo of it and hope you can see it.

All of Gilbert’s veteran friends were there with the flags.  We went and saw his body first, then to the church. There were at least 75 people there, then the crematorium to say a final farewell.  Then lots of people came over to Huguette’s for a lunch—about 20.  I took a nap about 3 and then at 5 we went to the cemetery to put his ashes into the crypt where Huguett’s family is buried.

Tomorrow, we go back to the cemetery and then to lunch at Cathy and Jean Louis’ house.

It has all been very emotional and touching.  Huguette is holding up well.  She is so strong.  I’m going to send the photos. No email here at Huguette’s but tomorrow at Cathy’s, I hope it will work or I can go to the MacDonalds here—they have wifi.

Till soon,

Diane

You can see the 'vieux soldats' older soldiers lined up with their flags.  the coffin is in front with the photo of dad and Gilbert in the front.

You can see the 'vieux soldats' older soldiers lined up with their flags. the coffin is in front with the photo of dad and Gilbert in the front.

A close up of the photo on the coffin in the church.

A close up of the photo on the coffin in the church.

the people here are, from the left,  Jean Louis (Cathy's husband), Romain, 2 of his friends, Romain's girlfriend, Huguette.  Cathy is sitting on the left of Jean Louis.  the people there are friends of the family.

the people here are, from the left, Jean Louis (Cathy's husband), Romain, 2 of his friends, Romain's girlfriend, Huguette. Cathy is sitting on the left of Jean Louis. the people there are friends of the family.

At the cemetary, with all the flours and plants from friends and family.  I'm glad we didn't get flowers--there were so many.  His ashes are in the urn.  They were put into the crypt and then it was bolted shut and there will be a plaque there.

At the cemetary, with all the flours and plants from friends and family. I'm glad we didn't get flowers--there were so many. His ashes are in the urn. They were put into the crypt and then it was bolted shut and there will be a plaque there.

'Traveling in Europe' 2008


© Copyright Diane Covington..