Saturday, November 10, 2018

Guadeloupe: France in the Caribbean

France has always been my favorite country to visit.  We've been to Paris a number of times and traveled through the country in a camper with our teenage sons, where we stumbled upon Rocamadour, a pilgrim site set in a gorge.  Pilgrims used to climb 216 steps up to the four churches on the top.

We fell in love with St. Tropez on the coast of the Mediterranean.  Walking the streets in the evening light we stopped in a shop once owned by Brigitte Bardot and had chocolate crepes freshly made and topped with Cointreau from a shop window.  Some years later we discovered that Georg had relatives in Arcachon, near Bordeaux and we had the pleasure of visiting them.  They were incredibly hospitable to us with sumptuous meals night after night.

For that reason it was natural for me to seek out other French enclaves, especially in my exploration of Caribbean islands. Georg and I rented a house on St. Barts, after which he could forever brag about having a French maid. Last year,  I heard about Guadeloupe, a region of France located in the Leeward Islands, near Martinique.  Coincidentally, Norwegian Airlines began direct flights there from New York for an incredibly cheap round-trip price.  Since I lost my husband I was now a solo traveler, and I booked my flight and a great vacation rental, Blue Haven Villas.

I was telling my niece, Jessica and her husband Lee about the upcoming trip.  They expressed an interest in perhaps joining me.  I couldn't think of anything better.  They are starting a new chapter in their lives, so possibly this was a once in a life opportunity to spend time together in a unique way.  Truth be told, I had a little trepidation going as a single woman to a foreign mountainous island and I didn't speak much French.  I did have some in high school to fall back on and a quickie Rosetta Stone course.  In retrospect, I believe it was meant to be for them to join me.

We spent a day and night in New York before our flight and enjoyed some good meals as well as a unique presentation of the Broadway musical, "Sweeney Todd".

The next day, because we had a late flight, we landed on the island when it was getting dark and the drive from he airport to the vacation rental was across the island, on mountainous, dark and sometimes foggy roads.  I was relieved that Lee was there and eventually ended up driving the rental car most of the time on the vacation.

We were greeted at the villa by a strikingly beautiful woman, the owner Jo Bennett. an American ex-pat and French model.  Jo was very gracious in talking with us and explaining what we needed to know about the rental and the island.  We were so impressed by her clever design and decor, not to mention the cleanliness of the rental.  I have rented many houses on vacation and this surpassed them all.  We were even more impressed in the morning when we saw the ocean view.  My favorite part was the outdoor kitchen and living area.  Previously, I had worried a bit about mosquitoes, since my niece is childbearing age, and the Zika scare, but there was not one problem with bugs, inside or out, on this trip.


By the time we got settled in that night we were hungry but most nearby restaurants were closed.  The only place we could find was an outdoor local barbeque with live music.  No one spoke English, but we managed to place our orders for barbequed chicken and rice and settled in among the locals. We got an instant indoctrination to the culture of Guadeloupe and it was a great beginning to our week.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

"My Cup Runneth Over"

I haven't written in my blog for awhile.  I needed time to digest all the happenings in my life these past months.  But now I am ready to share this amazing story.

Two and half years ago my dear husband Georg was diagnosed with stage four liver and colon cancer. That entire year revolved around his illness, treatment, hospitalization and we lost him on January 12, 2016.. Georg and I had been caring for his mother, who lived alone on her property an hour away from us. After he passed, I continued to visit her, as we had done, each Sunday. Not long after Georg died, she started ailing physically and was back and forth to the hospital and rehabilitation. A little more than a year after Georg, she passed on as well, leaving behind her home of 35 years on 55 acres of land.

Thus begins the list of nonstop blessings and miracles from the Lord in the space of only 3 months from July through September, 2017.

Miracle #1:Sale of Acreage
After her passing in March, my brother-in-law and I were faced with what to do with her home and 45 acre property.  It was too much for us to keep up and we decided to try and sell it. One detriment to selling the house was that the back twenty acres were inaccessible, due to a family member's house being in the middle of the property. The house itself, being old and in a remote rural location was going to be difficult enough to sell, let alone this complication.  Then one day, just by chance, I was informed that a neighbor was interested in purchasing the back 20 acres. I contacted him and we made a deal. Now the rest of the property was a neat rectangle that would be more appealing to a prospective buyer.

Miracle #2: Finding My Condo
While this was happening, my own house was becoming more and more difficult to maintain. I began to feel that I should move to a condo.  I had never imagined myself living in a condo, but nevertheless amused myself in the evenings looking at them online. My criteria were specific: I wanted a small complex, a condo with two bedrooms, two baths, one with a pool and I wanted my unit to be close to the pool.

I must have looked at hundreds, none of which were to my liking. But one night, lo and behold, I saw one in an area I never thought to look, which was near the water. I called my friend who is a realtor and we scheduled a visit. It became disappointly apparent almost immediately that this was not the condo for me. It was on the second floor with a miniscule kitchen and the complex didn't seem to be well maintained.

As we drove away, we discovered another complex next door which had a for sale sign posted. My agent called the number and we gained immediate access. It was a ground floor unit with an entire wall of windows and doorwalls overlooking the beautifully maintained grounds and immediately in front of my veranda was the swimming pool. In addition, there were boat slips with a path directly to Lake St. Clair, about two minutes walk. I knew immediately this was the place for me. We made an offer, which was countered, and I accepted. Now, came the question: how was I going to pay for this before selling my house?

Miracle #3: Getting the Loan
I applied for and had an anxious month waiting to see if I could get a home equity loan on my house. Amazingly,  I did receive the loan and was able to pay for the condo with cash and this loan. I was now the owner of a house and a condo.

There were changes I wanted to make to the condo before moving in. Finding the right companies to do the various jobs, such as refinishing the floors, painting the walls, doing minor construction jobs and repairs was challenging because everyone in that industry is always so busy and I needed the work done quickly. While all the work was being done on my mother-in-law's house, I needed to prep my own house to put it on the market and now also get the condo ready to move into,  so I was virtually working on three dwellings at the same time.

Miracle #4: Sale of My House in One Day
The listing for my house went online and the next day there were already 10 showings scheduled. I had to stay away from the house during the showings, so  I drove around trying not to be anxious, or curious.  I tried to occcupy myself, going to lunch, to a movie, shopping from 9am to 9pm. By the end of the day, we had two offers, both above asking price. We chose the most appealing one. Now we had to wait for the house inspection, which went through with flying colors.  Closing would be in about a month which meant I had to scramble to get the condo ready and decide what to take and what to get rid of.

I felt strongly that none of my furnishings from my house would look right in the condo, so I decided I was going to sell everything and start completely from scratch at the condo. Which meant that not only did I have to pack, but had to sort through everything I owned and organize an estate sale. In addition, I had to shop for all new furnishings for the condo as well.  With the help of friends and family, we held an estate sale and sold almost all of my belongings in one weekend.  I was left with a lawn chair in my living room on which to watch TV and my mattress on the floor of my bedroom, which was all I needed for the week before my move.

Miracle #5: The Piano
On my first visit to the condo, I noticed a space in the great room that was perfectly suited for a baby grand piano. In my mind, I pictured a white piano. I've been a lifelong pianist and growing up had a baby grand at my parent's house. Once I was married we never lived in a house which could accommodate that size instrument. I jokingly told my agent, “The first piece of furniture I buy will be a white baby grand.” Now my nightly internet search was directed at locating one. White baby grands are not common, but I did find one in a private home and made an appointment to look at it. It was ok, but it was older and not a bright white and she was charging $5000. I was in close touch by phone with my piano tuner and he recommended that based upon the age I should not pay more than $2500.

I put my search on the back burner because I needed to find an estate sale company to do my sale. The Lord directed me to look online and write down names of companies which were doing sales in my area and visit them at their sales to see if I liked the way they did business. As I was finding sales online in my area, lo and behold, one of the sales included a white baby grand! My heart was beating so fast as I read the ad, but dropped as I saw it was the third and final day of the sale. Surely the piano wasn't still still available. As I drove there, I was praying all the way. Deep down I felt that if it was not sold, it was meant to be mine. The first thing I asked at the door was about the piano. It was still for sale.

It was so beautiful, it took my breath away. I sat down to play it and tears began to well up. The estate sale people, not understanding what was causing my emotion, were rubbing my back, asking if they could get me some water. I knew that God, in His goodness, was giving me this piano. There was a price tag on the leg: $5000, which I knew was well worth it. But then I looked up and saw a sign: “Last day of sale, everything is 50% off.” I got my dream piano for $2500. I purchased it immediately and called my piano mover to pick it up and store it for me.

Miracle #6: Selling Her House
In the last few years, my mother-in-law been unable to care for the property, which had always been beautifully maintained, and it had fallen badly into disrepair. My brother-in-law and I knew we had to try to sell it quickly to avoid expensive maintenance costs. With the help of my sister, my daughter-in-law, and Georg's cousin we began the monumental task of cleaning out the house and hosting a huge estate sale. After the sale, we needed to hire someone to empty was was left.

Then began the renovation, which included wall paper removal, painting, new carpeting, and finding someone to make the surrounding yard look presentable. Finally we were ready to put the house up for sale. It took a bit longer for us to find a buyer for my mother-in-law's home. Time was of the essence, since the maintenance, grass cutting and potential winter snow removal was going to be expensive.  A few weeks later we received an offer and we accepted. Our buyers were a family with children and the house was perfect for them.  Once again, the home inspection went through with only one improvement, easily taken care of.  The closing went off without a hitch and the stress and drama of the last three months was finished.

Moving Day:
I was blessed with the help of wonderful friends and family that got me moved into the condo.  I could never have done it on my own.  We sat on the terrace and had a celebratory glass of wine together.  Life is good.

Now that I am settled, I feel as though I am starting a whole new life.  I look forward to what the future holds.

I feel as though a 1000 lb weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I can't begin to express how grateful I am to the Lord for the way He has walked me through every step of the way. He has been my provider, my advisor, my guide, my confidant. No one can ever tell me there is no God.  I have felt Him and His presence daily and I will be grateful forever.

My husband Georg wrote me many lovely things over our 46 year marriage, but the very last thing he wrote to me before he went to heaven was "My cup runneth over" from the 23 Psalm.  I actually found that he had written that in three different places that I discovered in his effects when I was sorting his belongings. I know he wanted me to know that he "dwells in the house of the Lord forever" and not to be sad.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: 

for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: 

thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Revisiting Kauai: Memories of Georg

My last visits to Kauai were in 2002 and 2004 with my beloved husband of 46 years. It has always remained fondly in my memories as being the most idyllic, romantic vacation spot. At his memorial service last year we showed a slideshow (which my grandson Nathan put together) made up mainly of pics of him on the island and underscored by Iz singing "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World". I felt strongly that I wanted to return to Kauai with my family.

The trip was filled with memories of him, hiking Waimea Canyon, eating Jo-Jo's shave ice, eating at Keoki's Paradise, driving to the north shore. My grandson retraced his steps and my daughter-in-law took a photo of him standing at the very edge of the canyon my husband did and she stitched the two photos together to look as though they were standing there together. Our last day, which happened to be Georg's birthday, we tossed a lei off the balcony into the ocean.

We rented a beautiful condo right on the ocean, enabling us to take in the tropical breezes and the sparking blue water.  Nathan learned how to dive at the pool and discovered a newfound love for hiking.  I took him on his first helicopter ride to see the amazing scenery of the inaccessible places on the island.  It was a special time of togetherness that I shall never forget.