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Our trip to France: Honfleur

After leaving Rouen, we headed to Honfleur. The drive to this pretty port town was easy, and finding parking was surprisingly easier. Coming into town, Damian spotted a dirt parking lot on the right just over a little bridge that was €3 for all-day parking.

Honfleur is known for its picturesque old port, but it’s also known for its historic importance: William the Conqueror received supplies shipped from here in 1066; Samuel de Champlain sailed from here to discover the St. Lawrence River in North America and founded Quebec City in 1608; and in 2011, Damian Fanelli lost his iPhone somewhere in Ste. Catherine Church.

You read that last sentence correctly. More on that a little later. First here’s the old port:

The Vieux Bassin: pretty but not as grand as I expected

Vieux Bassin

Plus de Vieux Bassin


These skinny houses overlook the square harbor. Apparently back then, taxes were based on their width, not their height:

Model buildings: Tall and skinny

We then walked along Quai de la Quarantaine toward Ste. Catherine Church, iPhones in pocket. We walked inside, sat on one of the wooden pews and took it all in. This church isn’t your typical gothic kind you see in France. This one was built by sailors and fishermen, so naturally, it looks like an upside-down boat:

Inside of Ste. Catherine Church

We left the church and walked leisurely through the cobblestone streets back to the car. At the parking lot we saw a sign with the word “hippocampe” on it. I asked Damian, “What does that mean?” Damian replies, “I don’t know. I’ll look it up on my phone. (Long pause) Where’s my phone?” We left it in the boat church! We ran back, went into the church and toward the pew where we were sitting. It wasn’t there. A lady standing in the aisle toward the front of the church, holding up something in her hand, noticed I was looking for something. She showed me the iPhone. I said, “Merci! Merci! C’est mon mari.” Thank God no one steals in his house!

Here’s a photo of a sign Damian was able to take with his newly recovered iPhone.

We got into our car and drove to Bayeux, our final stop of our first day in France.

By the way, hippocampe means seahorse.

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Our trip to France: Rouen

April is right around the corner, which makes me think about our awesome vacation to France in April 2011. It was my first time there, and Damian’s first time outside of Paris.

I had told my family and friends, “Keep an eye on my blog because I’ll be writing about our trip every day.” Yeah right; that didn’t happen. How could I have had time to write a typo-free blog from my iPhone, imbed photos and post everything from hotel rooms that may or may not have WiFi? All this after a full day of Damian and Cindy’s excellent adventures … and some misadventures?

Luckily, I had jotted some notes in the Plain Text app on my iPhone. I’m glad I did, because I wouldn’t have remembered some of the little details. You might not be so glad to read about the little details, but here it is:

We arrived at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport and picked up the keys to the rental car we’d booked through Auto Europe. It was easy. The rental cars are kept in the airport garage, so no shuttles are needed. We opted for no GPS, because I prefer maps and finding our own way to having a machine tell us what to do. I had the road map of France I had bought back home, and we were ready to head to our first destination, Rouen, which is northwest of Paris.

It seemed like we also needed a map to get the car into reverse. Damian tried multiple times to no avail. I tried (with my left hand) and got it on my first try. Damian tried again for practice, but still no luck. So we drove out of the parking space — Damian in charge of driving and me in charge of reverse.

We drove out of the garage and soon saw signs for sud (south) toward Paris, which we avoided because of its horrendous traffic. So we took the highway nord (north) but noticed it was toward Lille. This wasn’t so easy anymore. We turned around and headed back south toward the airport and stopped at a very crowded gas station/store. I went inside and Damian waited in the running car hoping he wouldn’t have to back up for anyone. I grabbed a map and asked the clerk behind the counter how to get to Rouen. The clerk turned to a patron standing at the far left of the counter enjoying a cup of coffee and asked him. He nodded. I paid for the map and took it to the man at the end of the counter. He spoke only French, but I managed to communicate with him! He explained directions, “En direction de Paris.”  So Damian and I left the jam-packed gas station at 9:45 a.m. and headed south toward jam-packed Paris.

Two hours later, we still hadn’t reached our destination. We pulled into a rest stop north of Vernon, and that’s where we discovered these wonderful cappuccino machines:

€1.70 per cup. Yummy!

We picked up some tuna sandwiches, chips and Leerdammer cheese. This was a very important stop; it re-energized us.

After € 11.50 in tolls, we arrived at Rouen.

Damian quickly found underground parking at Place du Vieux Marche, a market square surrounded by half-timbered buildings and a park commemorating Joan of Arc’s burning.

The first thing you see coming out of the underground parking.

rue du Gros Horloge

We walked by the modern Joan of Arc church and followed along rue du Gros Horloge and came upon the Big Clock:

Gros Horioge, circa 1528.

We walked under the clock and made a left on rue Thouret to see the Palace of Justice:

Palais de Justice. Very Gothic!

We then headed back up rue du Gros Horloge and ran into this other Gothic structure, Notre-Dame Cathedral. Claude Monet saw this with his own eyes too. He painted many different studies of this facade:

Cathedrale Notre-Dame

After-school activity for French teenagers

We followed a path on the left of the church around the back to a traffic-free street, rue St. Romain, packed with more half-timbered buildings:

rue St. Romain

This street lead us right to this crusty, scary but fancy church:

St. Maclou Church. Flamboyantly Gothic to the 10th power!

Street scene right next to St. Maclou Church

We ended our walking tour of Rouen at the Plague Cemetery.

Courtyard, circa 1560s

This courtyard was used as a mass grave for people who died during the plagues in the Middle Ages. Bodies would be dumped into the grave where the well is now  — apparently a hangout for teenagers — and drenched with liquid lime to decompose the bodies faster. Then the bones would be stacked in the alcoves on the buildings that line this courtyard. Try spending time here on Halloween night.

Next, Honfleur!

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Rusty to Trusty

Lately, I’ve been trying to start — and finish – those lingering domestic projects from that never-ending “to do” list.  For example, last weekend, I finally finished sewing curtain panels for the living room from fabric I purchased more than a year ago.

Well this weekend I checked something else off that list:  I cleaned and seasoned my mom’s old cast iron skillets that I found and brought home a few months ago. I was so happy to find them, especially the one she used to cook cornbread with, but they were both riddled with rust. When I first brought them home, I washed them with warm water and soap. That didn’t do the trick, so I tucked them away and put it on the to-do list for “tomorrow.”

Click here for the video I used on how to clean and season rusty cast iron skillets correctly.

This is the small skillet my mom would use to roast chile peppers:

Before: rusty

The smell of the roasting peppers was delightful at first, but then it would sneakily overwhelm the entire house and everyone but my mom would start coughing uncontrollably. “Son los chiles!,” my mom said, blaming the chiles, as though she had no hand in vaporizing us all with pepper spray.

After: clean, seasoned and ready for chile peppers

This is the cornbread skillet with individual sections to make perfect wedges. My mom would make us stovetop cornbread in this skillet for Sunday breakfast.  We’d add a pat of butter and drizzle on some maple syrup.

After cleaning with a little vegetable oil and sea salt

I made cornbread this morning for breakfast. It was great, but I wish I had taken a picture of it.

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Big Night

Hello, people!

It’s George Washington’s birthday, and it’s also been exactly one year since my first blog post. Last year, I posted about going to Quebec and speaking French and seeing that quirky French-singing Quebecois. Well this year, Saturday night to be exact, it was all Italian.

Saturday night reminded me of that great 1996 movie “Big Night,” with Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci. It’s about two Italian brothers who prepare a magnificent meal at their restaurant, Paradise, for a group of friends and the supposed guest of honor, Louis Prima, as a last ditch-effort to keep their restaurant.

Well, Saturday there was a group of friends, including two brothers and lots of food to prepare a fantastic Italian meal, and there was an Italian-born chef, Gianni-Pietro Ferro, calling all the shots in his thick, endearing Italian accent at our own “Paradise,” Kim and Brian’s kitchen.  By the way, Louis Prima didn’t show up to our affair, either.

Gianni-Pietro, who goes by “J.P.,” became a chef at an early age in Italy and moved to New York in his twenties. He’s worked in Manhattan most of his life at several restaurants, including Fiorello, Barolo and Da Silvano, and he now runs his own catering business.

J.P., our executive chef

The night started with the group helping the chef peel, chop and grate.

Damian chops peppers

Linda peels garlic, Antony minces herbs

Lisa and Brian chop red peppers

Some of the sous chefs

This is what happens when you give a group of friends some sharp knives, baskets full of vegetables and several bottles of wine:

Chopped, chopped, chopped broccoli

Grated radishes and carrots, chopped eggplant and peppers

  Meanwhile, back at the stove, the chef cooks his delicious tomato sauce.

Chef J.P. doing what he does with ease

The tomato sauce is ready for the food mill.

Linda spoons in the sauce. "Aaah, but nah too mush."

Linda cranks the food mill. (I want one of those nifty things!)

The next photo documents an historical event.

Antony tastes a spoonful of tomato sauce. AND LIKES IT! (OK, that's two historical events)

J.P.’s wife, Cathy, says, “Just give me a bowl of that, with some bread and wine, and I’m happy.”

Jarrod does just that:

 J.P. prepares the stuffed mushrooms:

Brian artfully assembles the caprese salad:

J.P. prepares the salmon …

but not before Damian adds his special essence:

Meanwhile, back at the stove, J.P. flips hot potatoes:


Caprese salad and roasted broccoli

Stewed peppers and sauteed whole onions

Pasta and Caesar salad

Roasted vegetables

Baked salmon

Brian takes on the role of dishwasher:

A Charlie’s Angels pose by Kim and Shannon; it’s the only way to shake your chocolate martinis.

Jarrod and Erik say,"Yum!"

Desserts by Kim:

Brownie walnut pie

Nutella cupcakes

Hola, gente!
Es el cumpleaños de George Washington, y también ha sido exactamente un año desde mi primer blog. El año pasado, publiqué acerca de ir a Quebec y hablando en francés y al ver un franco-quebequés cantar. Pues este año, la noche del sábado para ser exacto, era todo italiano.

Sábado por la noche me recordó de esa gran película de 1996 “Big Night”, con Tony Shalhoub y Stanley Tucci. Se trata de dos hermanos italianos que preparan una magnífica comida en su restaurante, El Paraiso, por un grupo de amigos y el invitado de honor supone que, de Louis Prima, como una última esfuerzo por mantener a su restaurante.

Bueno, el sábado hubo un grupo de amigos, entre ellos dos hermanos y un montón de alimentos para preparar una comida italiana fantástica, y había un chef de origen italiano, Gianni Pietro-Ferro, llamando a todos los tiros en su marcado acento italiano entrañable en nuestro propio “paraíso”, la cocina de Kim y Brian. Por cierto, Louis Prima no se presentó a nuestro asunto, tampoco.

Gianni-Pietro, que va por “J.P.,” se convirtió en un chef en una edad temprana en Italia y se trasladó a Nueva York en sus años veinte. Ha trabajado en la mayor parte de su vida en Manhattan, y ahora dirige su propia empresa de catering.

La noche comenzó con el grupo de ayuda a la piel de chef, cortar y rallar.


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Damien: A Good Omen

Early last Saturday morning, we quietly got into our car, equipped with our overnight bags, warm parkas and Google Maps directions for our 6½ -hour drive to Châteauguay, Quebec.

Driving at a safe, sound speed | February 2011

We made three stops and still got to the Canadian border crossing in perfect time, six hours. When I was still on the U.S. side, I texted my Canadian cousin, Cinthya, letting her know we’d be at her place within the hour. So we drove up to the booth and handed our passports to the border agent. “We’re seeing a Damien Robitaille concert tonight,” we declared to the disinterested border official. Well, he DID inquire about the purpose of our visit.

We turned off our phones (to avoid roaming and data charges) and followed the numbered, turn-by-turn directions to Cinthya’s place in Dorval, a Montreal suburb. I’ll get right to it: We missed a turn. Actually, WE didn’t miss it; an entire step on the printed directions was missing. That’s right — it went from 14 to 16. So we missed a vital turn and went an hour out of our way. I had to resort to turning on the data roaming feature on my iPhone to use the mobile map ($15.43 per megabyte).

We got back on track, only to get stuck in horrible construction traffic on the Mercier Bridge.

No mercy on the Mercier

When we finally arrived at Cinthya’s apartment 2½ hours later, we were welcomed with a nice dinner a la Mexicana. Thanks, Cinthya!

Then we headed to Châteauguay for the concert. On the way, we stopped for gas, but the debit card didn’t work at the pump, so I volunteered to go into the store and speak to someone (Cinthya came along for back-up).

Here’s how it went down: 

Me: Bonjour!
Clerk: Bonjour!
Me: Vingt sur deux (I handed him the debit card)
Clerk: (What I heard) Vous tjsatjltjaeiaeifanjfeia avez takjkajslznunsixkjfjeia.
Me: (Uh, oh)
Clerk: You speak English?
Me: Oui.
Clerk: (What I heard) You afejijkjdfskfjaelidk have to dfkjalkjelfksjefai
Me: (I turn to my cousin, who finishes the conversation) Merci! 

And now for Damien Robitaille. He performed at the civic center in Châteauguay. We waited for the doors to open in their lobby/bar area.

Cynthia et Cinthya

The place was packed. It was a small, intimate venue, so any seat in the place had a great view. We had front-row seats and a fantastic view of Mr. Robitaille and his red shirt.

He charmed us with his witty French lyrics and his nifty dance moves. The concert was magnifique. I only wish I could have understood everything he … and the gas station clerk said.


El sábado por la mañana temprano pasado, nos metimos en el coche, equipado con nuestras bolsas, parkas cálido y direcciones de Google Maps para nuestro camino de seis horas y media a Châteauguay, Quebec.

Hicimos tres paradas y todavía llegamos a la frontera de Canadá en tiempo perfecto, seis horas. Cuando yo todavía estaba en el lado de EE.UU.,  le envié un mensaje a mi prima canadiense, Cinthya, haciéndole saber que estaremos a su lugar dentro de la hora. Así que nos dirigimos a la cabina y le entregamos nuestros pasaportes al agente de frontera. “Vamos a Damien Robitaille en concierto esta noche,” declaramos al oficial. Bueno, el preguntó sobre el propósito de nuestra visita.

Apagamos nuestros teléfonos (para evitar cargos de roaming y de datos) y siguimos los numerado, paso a paso direcciones al hogar de Cinthya en Dorval, un suburbio de Montreal. Te lo voy a decir: Faltamos una vuelta. En realidad, nosotros no lo faltamos, un paso completo en las instrucciones impresas faltaba. Eso es correcto – se pasó de 14 a 16. Así que nos perdimos una vuelta importante y nos fuimos una hora de camino. Tuve que recurrir a encender la función de roaming de datos en mi iPhone para utilizar el mapa móvil (15,43 dólares por megabyte).

Nos regresamos al camino, sólo para atraparnos en tráfico horrible en la construcción del Puente Mercier.

Cuando por fin llegamos al apartamento de Cinthya 2 horas y media más tarde, fuimos recibidos con una cena a la mexicana. Gracias, Cinthya!

Luego nos dirigimos a Châteauguay para el concierto. En el camino, nos paramos para gas, pero la tarjeta de débito no funcionaba en la bomba, así que me ofrecí para ir a la tienda y hablar con alguien (Cinthya fue para ayuda).

Así es como se fue:

Yo: Bonjour!
Empleado: Bonjour!
Yo: Vingt-sur deux (Le entregué la tarjeta de débito)
Empleado: (Lo que escuché) Vous avez tjsatjltjaeiaeifanjfeia takjkajslznunsixkjfjeia.
Yo: (uh, oh)
Empleado: Usted habla Inglés?
Yo: Oui
Empleado: (Lo que escuché) Usted afejijkjdfskfjaelidk que dfkjalkjelfksjefai
Yo: (miré a mi prima, que terminó la conversación) Merci!

Y ahora para Damien Robitaille. Tocó en el centro cívico en Châteauguay. Esperamos a que se abrieran las puertas en la zona del lobby/bar.

El lugar estaba lleno. Era un lugar pequeño e íntimo, por lo que cualquier asiento en el lugar había una gran vista. Teníamos asientos de primera fila y una fantástica vista del Sr. Robitaille y su camisa roja.

Nos encantaron sus líricas ingeniosas francesas y sus pasos de baile elegante. El concierto fue magnifique. Sólo deseo que podría haber entendido todo lo que él y el empleado de la gasolinera, dijo.



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The First Cut is the Deepest

Today I got my first haircut since December 2008, when I had 11 inches chopped off to soften the inevitable blow of the chemo-induced fall-out. Fortunately, that 11-inch tail went to a very good cause, Locks of Love, an organization that provides hairpieces to children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

What about bob? | December 2008

In April 2009, I began sprouting shiny, new and, of course, very different hair. I expected it. That’s what everyone had been telling me, “Oh, it’ll come back different.” It sure did. It was a lot curlier than what I had before, but I couldn’t complain, since there are some instances when hair doesn’t grow back at all after chemo. So I thanked my follicles for growing a bevy of curly locks.

Curls, curls, curls | October 2009

And now today, as corny as this might sound, I felt a little emotional sitting in the salon chair, looking at my reflection in the door-sized mirror, thinking, “I am getting my first haircut. I survived breast cancer, and now I’m sitting here with my stylist, Ana, talking about what we can do with my brand new, curly hair.”

I went with layers and bangs.

Layers and bangs | February 2011

Hoy tuve mi primer corte de pelo desde diciembre de 2008, cuando me cortaron 11 pulgadas para suavizar el impacto inevitable de la quimioterapia-inducida caída de pelo. Por suerte, la cola de 11 pulgadas fue a una muy buena causa, Locks of Love, una organización que provee pelucas a niños que sufren de pérdida de cabello médica.

En abril de 2009, comencé de brotar nuevo, brillante y, por supuesto, cabello muy diferente. Me lo esperaba. Eso es lo que todos me habían dicho, “Oh, va a volver diferente.” Seguro que sí. Fue más rizado que lo que tenía antes, pero no me podía quejar, ya que hay algunos casos donde el pelo no vuelve a crecer en todos después de la quimioterapia, por lo agradecí a los folículos en mi cabeza por el crecimiento de mi bandada de rizos.

Y ahora hoy, tan cursi como esto puede sonar, me sentí un poco emocional sentada en la silla del salón mirando mi reflejo en el espejo del tamaño de una puerta, pensando, “Me estoy haciendo mi primer corte de pelo. Sobreviví cáncer de seno, y ahora estoy sentada aquí con mi estilista, Ana, hablando de lo que podemos hacer con mi nuevo pelo rizado.”

Fui con capas y tupé.


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