Saturday, July 26, 2014

doings | "when the game stands tall" movie

So this time it was my sister who got the email invite to attend a special movie pre-screening.

And...

Guess who she took as her guest???

It was me, guys.
I am the least athletic person is the entire world, but I love love love a good sports flick.  This one was no exception.  Brooke and I showed up at the theater and the rep from Sony said that we were probably the most dressed up people to ever attend a showing.  Haha!

As soon as I walked in I realized that everyone else in the theater was either a coach or some type of high school sports star.  We were the only ones there not in baseball shorts or a school polo.  Thankfully, they let us stay and watch the movie.  And even gave us the coolest swag bags with mini footballs, tee shirts and lots of other goodies!

The story is about a high school football team that has the longest winning streak in history.  And what happens after they lose.  I love the theme of the movie "its not about how hard you fall, its how you get back up".  It's kind of a reverse story of your average football movie, but I enjoyed the perspective of how these guys work to overcome failure.

Go see it on August 22, 2014!  Take all your people!

Details are here:  When the Game Stands Tall

Friday, July 25, 2014

travels | normandy +70 | of lemon tart, castles & la vie en rose

I love this photo.  I remembered a darling customer from my shopgirl days who was always visiting France and was on a personal mission to find the best lemon tart in the world.  And suddenly, I was craving lemon tart!  Thankfully, there are patisseries on every corner and I was able to quickly locate the delicious treat.  We had decided to take the afternoon off, so after an absolutely refreshing 3 hour nap, I made some coffee and sat down to catch up on my journaling.  Hoping that the change in scenery would bring some clarity to my thoughts.  I found the perfect spot at a large wooden table that had been placed underneath a perfectly draping weeping willow tree.  It being France and in a garden, there were giant rose bushes lining the wall to my right and a perfect carpet of emerald green grass.  I couldn't have styled it better myself!  It was truly one of those "all is right with the world" kind of moments that you want to bottle and keep forever.  It's one of my favorite memories from this trip, and the tart was incredible!
It's a castle!  Anna is one of my best friends in the whole world.  We've had the opportunity to travel to some incredible places together and have some great stories to go along.  Our familys actually met about 6 years ago on a history tour (surprise!), then we went on another tour together, and another...  Both of us being introverts, we never really hit it off or talked.  At all.  Finally, on one tour, three counties, fifteen cities, and 12 days into the trip, she and I ended up on a castle wall, both very disgruntled at some kids who were climing on top of the ancient, already crumbling, walls.  We started talking and over the next year or so, a great friendship came to be.  Nothing like friction to bring people together!
We found an old castle not too far from where we were staying and all voted to visit.  It was probably in the worst shape of any I've explored, but was slowly being repaired.  It was also very small, most people think of castles as giant structures, but your average castle is really just a house that needed to protect one family.  This one had three walls surrounding it (paranoid much, sir?).  Above one of the arches was a disintegrating, cut stone, coat of arms or Richard the Lionhearted. How cool is that?!?  The legend goes, with this particular castle, that the family was being held hostage inside the walls while the enemy waited for their surrender.  One morning a flock of geese flew over the walls and off into the distance.  As the castle was invaded, it was found empty with no trace of the family anywhere.  It is believed that they turned themselves into birds and escaped.  (P.S.  I just love family chapels, this one was no exception.)
Our final stop before flying home was Paris.  Oh my heart.  This city will never be overrated to me.  We returned our rental car to a place right in the center of the city.  Our darling little Peugeot!  How it ever fit all five of us and our suitcases and our map that was literally the size of its interior, I will never know.  But it was fun!  We ate some lunch (salad nicoise, merci monsieur) and then Anna and I hailed a cab to take us to the Louvre.  Neither of us had been and we were ready to seize the day!
The hilarious part of the story is that I had found a Starbucks in Paris and was thrilled to finally have a coffee to go (and a new mug for my collection).  I was only a few sips into my americano when we got into the cab and took a wild ride around the city.  Well, I just so happened to get a cup with a lid that leaked.  With every turn, hot coffee was spilling on my hand and dress.  I tried to act real cool and nonchalant in the back seat.  "Who? Me?  No big deal back here...  Just enjoying the sights...".  I could see the cabbie watching me in his rear view mirror and rolling his eyeballs.  He dropped us at the curb and tried to apologize in broken English, but it was fine.  As was my dress.  I was laughing too hard to care very much  Just throw the coffee out Abbe!!!

Anna and me goofing off at the Louvre!  It was so hot inside and the humidity was approximately 500%, my hair started to go crazy.  I loved seeing all of the famous works of art, of course we stopped by to visit with Miss Mona Lisa and took a quick spin around Marie Antoinette's apartment.  The color scheme was just as magical as I'd imagined.  Marie wanted Anna and I to stay for tea, but we had to decline, perhaps next time.  Do save us some cake!
Whoever built this place knew what they were doing.  It's quite the view from the upper floors.  I would love to have a free pass for the day to explore every nook and cranny.  You know, behind the velvet rope and all of that.  Ah the daydreams of a museum volunteer!
We called it an early night and settled into our fabulous hotel (little boutique hotels are so much fun!).  We're probably the only twenty five year olds in the world who would find themselves in Paris and decide to hang out in their hotel room and repack their suitcases.  It's because we're introverts.  Anyway, I was sitting in my bed trying to decide if I should call home or repack said suitcase when I looked up.  Above the apartment building facing my window was a little spire and some flashing lights.  It took me a second to realize that I was looking at the very top of the Eiffel Tower.  All this time and I was practically sitting under it!

We flew home the next morning, after a visit or two to the airport Laduree for some much needed travel provisions.  Haven't you heard?  Macarons are the new pemmican.  

And that's a wrap!  A few more scars on my suitcase, a few more stamps in my passport and a lot of memories of time spend traveling with my friends.  Life doesn't get much better than than.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

travels | normandy +70 | omaha beach

After watching the fireworks light up the Normandy coast on June 5th, we went back to our chalet to get about three hours of sleep before driving back to Omaha Beach for the sunrise ceremonies.  

Was that ever worth the effort.

Military bands played and hundreds of people gathered at the water to pay their respects.
We stood and watched the horizon as the sun rose, imagining what it must have looked like at that exact moment 70 years ago when our troops arrived on the shore  I could almost see those 6500 ships anchored offshore, waiting,  as the fog lifted, for the longest day to begin.  Honestly, we can't comprehend how horrific it would have been.  Beautiful blueish green water and creamy sandy beaches became red in a just moments.





This statue was unveiled that morning.  It's of a Ranger, carrying his friend to safety.  The flowers are from grateful communities in the Omaha Beach area.  70 years later and the scene has returned to one of peace, the beaches are beautiful again.  

And look at that, our flags are flying high next to each other.  As a tribute to the French and Americans who fought together.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

travels | normandy +70 | the incredible story of michel de vallavieille

We stayed in the farmhouse cottage of a chateau in Flottemanville.  Our first morning, over a breakfast of chocolate croissants, the owners dropped off a book at our table and pointed out a chapter that referenced his wife's father.  We politely nodded and glanced at the words, hoping they were in English and not in French.  They were, and they spelled out one of the most unbelievable stories I have ever read.
Her father's name was Michel de Vallavieille , he was 24 on DDay.  He was staying with friends not too far away at a home called Brecourt Manor when the invasion happened.  Major Dick Winters and his easy company approached the house and Michel came out waving a white handkerchief trying to tell them that the Germans have left and there are only Frenchmen inside.  Seeing only movement and in the anxiety of war, our GI's shot him 5 times.  It must have been a frantic few minutes while Michel's family tried to communicate that he was indeed a friend and wounded badly.  Michel was taken to Utah Beach, patched up and flown to London where he would recover in a hospital for the next nine months.  His family held onto the hope that he was still alive, but for all they knew he had died on his way to the field hospital.  
These papers were dropped by airplane to warn the French the invasion was coming
When he finally came home, the Normandy region was a mess.  Houses were no longer standing, hedgerows were blown through and huge bomb craters remained.  Michel was grateful to be alive, but no longer able to farm or do physical labor.  Here was a man who's entire future was altered.

And here is the incredible part of the story...

Michel de Vallavieille was grateful, from the bottom of his heart, for the Americans and their sacrifice as they came to liberate his people.  He dedicated the rest of his life to preserving the memory of DDay and the men who fought in France.  He never let bitterness get in the way of moving forward, he got married, raised children and became the beloved mayor of a small village for over 40 years. 
His life blood was the Utah Beach Museum.  This is one of my top five museums to see in the world (you know my love of a good museum!).  You have to go if you are ever in France.  It is absolutely world-class and has in its possession, a heart, which many museums today are lacking.  The displays were well designed, high tech, and I found new stories that gave an even broader perspective on WW2.  I also cried.  

When you see a newspaper article about precious teenage girl who lived through this terror of war and she says "we can only get dark bread, there's no white flour, but that's okay, freedom is better than bread."  I dare you to not to get a lump in your throat.  It reminded me of how often I take my freedoms for granted and how important it is to be grateful.
One of my favorite things about visiting Normandy is seeing our American flag hung everywhere.  The people of France fly it alongside their own flag as a symbol of their thanks.  I'm always surprised.  Don't you think that after 70 years they would have forgotten us?  No, the answer is no.  They have not forgotten, they are a culture that remembers and honors the past.  Our tour guide said that people often ask if the flags are just a touristy thing, just to make us feel good about coming and spending money, he said "these flags fly year around, we cannot thank you enough".
And I cannot thank them enough.  These brave soldier boys who came to France, to fight the very forces of evil, and who died violent deaths on these beaches.  They died for generations of Americans that they would never know.  We are grateful.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

travels | normandy +70 | jack schlegel

The first afternoon of our DDay tour took us down narrow, winding, tall-hedge lined roads, until we came to this chateau.  It was the type of house that you thought only existed in black and white movies.  Ancient, elegant and regal.  The kind of home that you know has lived to see some pretty incredible things and you wish for a minute that you and those proverbial walls could just have a chat.  You know that they are filled to the brim with stories and secrets.
This is the home that used as his personal headquarters for Nazi officials (the photo here is of a photo  of General Field Marshall Rommel standing by the front door).   It was a spot chosen by German General Falley, and since he was too cautious to stay here overnight, he instead would drive around back every evening to a small trailer that was hidden in the woods.  On June 6, 1944, Falley and his driver were killed by American GIs.  It was several hours that a disoriented paratrooper named Jack Schlegel happened upon the car and discovered the dead general.  The area was still buzzing with Germans and Jack was quickly taken prisoner, but not before he took a large swastika flag from the car and hid it in a barn by the road.  After spending several weeks in a German prison camp, enduring torture, he attempted to escape three times and finally on his fourth try, he made it back to the American side.  While riding back to the beach, he asked the driver of the jeep to stop at the barn so he could retrieve the flag as a little souvenir.  He kept it and 25 years later he returned to Normandy and donated that flag to the museum at St Mere Eglise.  The full story can be read here:
(http://www.508pir.org/nott_notes/schlegel_jw.htm)

We're not a group to decline a brief "turn about the grounds"...  So we took a few minutes and explored this beautiful French property.  We discovered that it had massive stables (which are being renovated into a B&B room), a private and incredibly beautiful family chapel as well as an orangery that came straight out of my dreams.  Currently, a Countess, who fluently speaks 6 languages, lives here and is a friend of our tour guide.  She is as lovely as you'd imagine her to be.
 Driving back down the road we took a right turn onto the tiny single lane that Falley would have driven on.  Where it all happened.  And there is the sign that says "Jack Schelgel".  (the photo above is his road.  It's breathtaking and peaceful now, I can hardly believe that the ugliness of war marched through it.  This photo also shows the density of the famous hedgerows and gives a bit of perspective on how difficult it would have been to navigate around Normandy as a soldier.)
It was several days later when Anna & I had just completed our tour of the Utah Beach museum and I was in search of some coffee, that we started down the sidewalk towards the best (okay, only) restaurant on Utah.  There was a crowd of people gathered around a very animated old veteran.  We were curious to see what what going on and heard the name Jack Schlegel mentioned.  We both looked at each other with wide eyes and rushed over to a gentleman who appeared to know what was going on and said "Who is that?!?"  

"It's Jack Schlegel!"

I forgot all about my coffee and leaned in to hear what he had to say.  He was the kindest man, laughing and joking and reveling in the joy of being a celebrity for a few days.  He talked about being a paratrooper at the age of 19 and what that was like.  Then he saw Anna & I (it must have been our pretty faces! haha!) he asked if we wanted his autograph.  Of course we did!  He signed our papers and looked at us with tears in his eye and said "You know, I go to a lot of schools and I talk to kids about the war and what I did.  They always ask me "how many people did you kill?" and they're excited about it.  And it makes me sad, because killing is no fun.  Dropping a bomb is one thing, but when you have to look a man in the eye and shoot him, it just takes something out of you.  War is not fun, we did what we had to do."

As I was doing some last minute fact-checking for this blog post, I googled his name and the first thing that came up was an obituary from Woodstock, NY.  Jack died only a week after we met him on the beach in Normandy.  My heart just sank and I remembered what my Mimi says every time someone of note passes away.  "A library has been burned".  The very reason this trip meant so much to me was because I knew that most of these precious men would never come back, but knowing his story and meeting the the man behind it, shaking his hand, thanking him.  It gives such a personal connection to what happened at DDay.  I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to say hello and that he took the time to tell his story.

You can learn more about Jack Schlegel here:
NBC News - War Hero Dies Days After Celebrating DDay Anniversary - link to video