“Jim’s Ha-Ha Moment” – by Debbie Ambrous

Airvault, France - The Auberge was re-opened in August, 2014 for a World Music & Dance Festival.

Airvault, France – The old Auberge was re-opened in July, 2014 for a World Music & Dance Festival.  The newspaper article says Mexican food and folkloric dance was performed.

May 18, 2014 - A charming British couple invited Jim and me to dinner. If you are counting, this was our third invitation to socialize in joyeuse compagnie comme invités d’honneur. Are you astonished that the two of us would receive a R.S.V.P. from nice, unsuspecting folks in France? They may still be laughing about the Alabama couple who came for dinner and said, “You might be a redneck if you ask for Budweiser or Dr. Pepper when Chardonnay is offered.” Oh, you know we wouldn’t have committed that faux pas!

First, we had to drive to their stone-built home tucked away on a narrow lane in St. Jouin de Marnes in the Poitou-Charente region. We had never explored this area, so we left our rental cottage after breakfast allowing enough time to locate their home which was about an hour’s drive to the southwest. Then, after finding our dinner location we would ramble in nearby villages until time to join Peter and Jean, our lovely host and hostess.

Driving west, we went through Richelieu, that favorite little town of mine. Well, it isn’t mine in the truest sense, but I do like it very much. My eyes were glued to the passing scenery of the moat surrounding the medieval buildings and the tall sycamore trees shading the roadway. The charming scene was left in our dust much too quickly. Then, we drove miles and miles and miles on straight roads, flatter than a flitter with not a cute village in sight and only a few trees in small support groups alone in wide open fields. I asked Jim, “Why would they want to live here? This is boring out of your mind. Even the crops are hanging over in misery.” After a few detours, we located St. Jouin de Marnes on a hill high above the flat, monotonous, straight roads in the valley.

Pretty doorway in the village.  Ladybugs are always welcome at our house.

Pretty doorway in the village. Ladybugs are always welcome at our house.

Things were looking up! A monumental church was an impressive architectural sight as we entered the town. I later found the history dated earlier than 843 when monks fled the Norwegians for safety here and took possession of the abbey. It was an opulent abbey in the middle ages. While no longer with its former grandeur, the architecture was worth a ramble around on the windswept hillside. The road led on to a pretty square in the center of the town with trees and benches where we stopped to stretch and gain the lay of the town.

We had Mapquest directions from the French website, converted to English which worked fine with the instructions of when to turn right and left etc. on the roadway. But when we were in the town, we needed to find the street name in French, not English. Notice an example of my problem: A French real estate advertisement is translated on a website to English showing two bedrooms, salon and naked cuisine. Aha! What are you expecting in the kitchen? It simply means: no appliances!

Back to my translated directions, I was trying to do my own Google translate in my head when Jim said, “Whoa! I’ve found the street for our house!” Surprised and annoyed, I asked: “Huh, what are you talking about?” He quickly pointed to a street name posted on a building and said, “See, that one right there. The ‘Ha – Ha’ Street!” He laughed his way up the hill, proud of his funny discovery.

The ha-ha is of French origin.  A city in Canada is named Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!  It is the only city name with two exclamation points!!

The ha-ha is of French origin. A city in Canada is named Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! It is the only city name with two exclamation points!!

In my best school teacher voice, I lectured Jim about the ha-ha’s meaning saying, “A ha-ha (or ha-ha wall) is a recessed landscape design element that slopes down sharply, typically with a masonry retaining wall. This design prevents access to a garden without blocking views. The name ‘ha-ha’ comes from the unexpected funny moment of discovering the invisible recessed wall.haha I read about this garden design in one of Frances Mayes’ books, and I read more in other areas such as the BBC history page on-line.(Cartoon from the BBC site) With a quick Google search of images for the ha-ha, pictures of Homer Simpson popped up right there in the spread of garden pictures. You would have especially liked one of the pictures without old Homer.”

“Two horses stood talking to each other. One of the horses with an upset and angry face said to the other, ‘I’m not very happy with my hip replacement!’ His left, hind portion was a zebra’s leg!!! I wouldn’t want to be the veterinarian who had to visit for the post-op exam!”

I finished my educational lecture and said, “Now where are we? I’ve lost my bearings and still haven’t found their street.” Student Jim replied, “See, that’s what happens when you read and learn all of that useless information!

Ancient market in Airvault, France was very quiet on Monday.

Ancient market in Airvault, France was very quiet on Monday.

We found the terraced home on a quiet back street near the ha-ha and then continued on our merry way to explore the new region. The first town along the road was Airvault. We stopped and parked next to the market hall, which holds a market on Saturday mornings. The town has many timber-framed houses and narrow cobbled streets. The Thouet River runs past the edge of the town with a twelfth-century bridge. A story is told that an aristocratic lady fell into the river over 1000 years ago. When she was near to drowning, she prayed and made a promise to build a church if she was saved. This story is an old legend and could be fiction, but nonetheless a church was built and the town grew to have one of the largest Augustinian Abbeys in the Poitou region.

St. Loup-sur-Thouet, France

St. Loup-sur-Thouet, France

Our lunchtime stop was at St. Loup-sur-Thouet, the most picturesque village that we visited on our jaunt around the area. We found a small café where truck drivers and other local people were enjoying lunch in the sunshine, and after a light lunch we set off to see the ancient town set alongside the Thouet River.IMG_3092 My camera had a workout with the many beautiful doorways, climbing roses, sweet grannies in the shade with their crochet work and narrow lanes to photograph.IMG_3103At the far side of the village we found the magnificent Chateau de St. Loup, and it was closed!! What a disappointment! Jim and I stood at the extravagantly grand entryway wishing we could go inside for a tour of the castle and the expansive grounds. I voiced my frustration, “I just wish that I could walk through and see the gardens and orangerie. They certainly have an impressive deterrent for unwanted visitors with the moat and the sharp protective ironwork.”

Could leave a lasting impression on an intruder!

Could leave a lasting impression on an intruder!

Jim replied, “They may need to string around some barbed wire instead of putting too much stock in the moat to protect them against outlaws because I read about a fellow who diverted a river fast as you could say ‘ME’NE, ME’NE, TE’KEL AND PAR’SIN. See! I read, and I’ve got smarts!

I rolled my eyes and quickly decided that was enough of that conversation. I walked away hoping we didn’t disturb the gentleman with the skinny legs in the paisley Bermuda shorts who was lounging by the pool. Jim put his arm around me and said, “I’m really sorry that you didn’t get to see the pretty garden. Who knows? Maybe you would have spotted a ha-ha.” Yeah, I think I already did!

I told Jim that I was looking forward to talking with Jean and asking about her beautiful shoes. She wears colorful shoes with very pretty designs such as lacing around the ankles, unlike anything I would ever wear. Jean is a former French teacher with a cheerful personality. Peter is intelligent and a very nice-looking fellow with his white hair and charming British accent. He probably doesn’t watch television shows about ugly fish. I brought this to Jim’s attention, hoping he would take the hint. Deep inside I knew it wouldn’t work, and he would probably just ruin Peter’s dapper image instead.

We entered their large living room and then on to the kitchen where the small range was working at full-capacity with every burner boiling, frying or simmering delicious food. Jean took me along to the courtyard garden with its high stone walls. I would love to have a medium-sized courtyard garden with room for outdoor dining among the vegetables and flowers. I would trade my huge labor-intensive yard any day. Even now, while I am writing Jim is mowing the lawn in the heat. He deserves many hugs and kisses for his long labor on hot days in the sun. And, I would do it pronto, but he’s awfully sweaty and smells to high heaven after riding rough-shod on the lawnmower!

We took our seats around the table to enjoy perfect steaks and delicious vegetables. Surprisingly, from out of nowhere a storm rolled into view. I do mean view because a large skylight was just above the table, and large windows were just across from the table. I tried to keep up with the conversation, but the roaring wind and crashing thunder distracted my thoughts. I shouldn’t have watched those weather shows with Jim, seeing tornadoes and earthquakes. Do earthquakes happen in France? Scenes of powerful storms tragically wiping away towns played through my head. I remembered the wide-open fields and imagined the strong winds raging across to ravage the little town. I read about a storm in France where rivers flooded and roads were destroyed. People drowned. Old buildings toppled over on the inhabitants. A horrible thought popped into my head:  “Oh, no, we might have to spend the night with Peter and Jean if the storm continues! They are not ready to see me without benefit of a toothbrush, hairbrush and makeup!”

Thankfully, the storm calmed, and we enjoyed melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake and strawberries. My worries were over with Peter and Jean’s kind hospitality. We drove the long roads in the pitch black darkness with only patches of light here and there. This time we were thankful for the straight roads with no ha-ha moments to plunge us into a ravine!

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“Baking for Dummies” – by Debbie Ambrous

OREO CUPCAKES - I took the cupcakes to the family reunion in an old Coca-Cola tray from my mom's kitchen.

OREO CUPCAKES – I took the cupcakes to the family reunion on an old Coca-Cola tray that was Mom’s.   Thanks to Judy H. for the recipe!

Recipes for pies, cakes and breads with many steps and lengthy time in the kitchen for preparation were out of the question when Jim and I had a dinner party a few years ago in Florida. I had a few tried and true favorites that I put together, but I longed to strap on one of my French aprons and have fun with baking gourmet complex pastries. Zipping along to my current kitchen operations, I have whipped up some of the recipes from gourmet magazines and the cookbooks of experts.

Are you waiting to know the results? Well, a few were rather outstanding. But very often I would find that another accomplished cook gained praise from the group with a thrown-together creation of cake mix, a bottle of 7-Up and whatever can of fruit was on the shelf. People gobbled it up like the concoction was a prize-winner! So, why should I spend hours in the kitchen and $$$ for the ingredients when a no-brainer plan is a successful win-win? Oh, I still go the long way around only when I want my own fun of the process, but I’m rapidly gathering those “Baking for Dummies” recipes.

Anaïs greeted us with a smile each day, always helpful with our selections. I took the picture on our last day when she had no make-up or her usual jewelry and pretty hairstyle.  As you can see, she is lovely anyway.

Anaïs greeted us with a smile each day on our last visit to France in May, always helpful with our selections. I took the picture on our last day when she had no make-up or her usual jewelry and pretty hairstyle. As you can see, she is lovely anyway!  With wonderful bakeries (boulangeries) like L’Epi Gourmand in I’lle Bouchard, a cook never has to worry about dessert or bread!  (The link to L’Epi Gourmand is a French newspaper article.)

When I saw a recipe for Oreo Cupcakes on my former classmate Judy H’s Facebook page, I knew I would be using it for our family reunion. Now listen and read carefully.

Oreo Cupcakes
Take two Oreo cookies and slather peanut butter between them, and on top. NO! Don’t eat them! Put the cookie/peanut butter combinations in cupcake liners in a cupcake pan. I used a pan for twelve cupcakes. Then whip together the ingredients from a brownie packaged mix. Spoon the brownie mix over the Oreo cookies. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. That’s all there is to it. Thanks again to Judy H!

The Oreo Brownies aren’t quite as beautiful or tasty as the French pastries shown below, but they are not half-bad.  The taste is quite like a brownie with a huge hint of Reese’s pieces.

Which ones would you select?  I like the ones with strawberries or raspberries on top.

Which ones would you select? I like the pastries with strawberries or raspberries on top. (Photo taken in Chinon, France)

You will not find this one in the Dummies cookbook!

You will likely not find recipes for these beauties in the Dummies cookbook! (Photo taken in Chinon.)

Why didn’t I wear my French apron much sooner? I will explain. Perhaps you have felt my pain and know the scene without the need of Mapquest or my personal travelogue to take you there. Maybe you have been “beaten down” and robbed of some of life’s simple pleasure at times. Then, you will understand.

You will not find posters proclaiming love of eight-lane traffic with snarls, delays, accidents causing tension, anger and tiredness. I despised my daily commute of twenty miles each way to work and back, usually at early morning and at nightfall. French music helped lighten my mood during the slow crawl of tightly packed lines of traffic when vehicles crashed and big trucks towed the smashed wreckage so we could rev into top speed again. With each turn of the ignition to start another day there was the potential of being the one in a pileup with a damaged car, higher insurance rates or being a fatality. Honestly, I didn’t dwell on this eventuality very much. Otherwise, I would have been unable to turn the ignition each day to face the highway nightmare of drivers and their aggressive, crazed driving.

In my red Jeep, I would yell loudly, or mutter softly, since no one except God would hear me when I said: “This is no way to live!” I felt that precious hours were slipping away from me, and the traffic stress left me so tired I couldn’t function with a good quality of life. Work had my best hours, and the remainder was just that – only a remainder. I tried at times to make the best of the driving by listening to CD’s to stir my brain and spirit, but I often found this distracted my attention to the bumper-car-game around me. I begged and pleaded for an end to my agony with dreams of an escape to France with gardens to tend and baking in the kitchen. You know what they say. Be careful what you wish for!

My fast-track ticket to a slower life came in a different form, and a different location. My mother was suddenly suffering from dementia with many other problems. I moved into a slower lane in Alabama, not France. I’m thankful that I was able to be with my mom for almost a year before she died. (If you didn’t read about my lovely mom previously, perhaps you would like to CLICK here read an older post.) She hated for me to be on the road, even what I consider peaceful roads, despite my insistence that, “I’m OK, Mom!” She read through me then, like she always had.

That's Jim with our daily baguette.  We miss the wonderful bread and pastries.  We can eat Oreo Cupcakes for dessert, but there is no bread to compare to a good French baguette!

That’s Jim with our daily baguette in France. We miss the wonderful bread and pastries. We can eat Oreo Cupcakes for dessert now, but there is no bread to compare to a good French baguette!                        The boulangerie was redecorated in bright raspberry and lime green by two young women.  Marie-Cecile Deniau holds a technical trade certificate  (BTM) in pastry, and she bakes the wonderful bread, special cakes and pastries.  While the lovely Anais Guesnand greets guests with her pretty smile and kindness.  All of the delicious goods are homemade!

Mom and I had our wishes fulfilled concerning the nasty highways. My commute now is a smooth walk down the hallway from my bedroom to the office with no interference unless Jim cuts across on his way to the bathroom. As a consultant, I’m no longer at the keyboard as much, and I’m learning to live a life without my hands gripping a steering wheel each day.IMG_1748

I smell the roses lining the front walkway daily, lingering as long as I desire. I sit at my bistro table with a cup of tea in my hands, enjoying the shade, listening to the trickle of water in my fountain and rarely hearing a police car siren. I plot and plan my next trip to France, still listening to my French music. Or, a cookbook could be in hand with new recipes to try under the category of “Baking for Dummies”.

Could you share a slice of A French Opportunity with friends who may enjoy some dummy-proof baking?  I’m not guaranteeing dummy-proof reading since Jim stumbles on to the page occasionally.  Just kidding.  Jim is the chef extraordinaire in our kitchen.  Read the book “A French Opportunity” for more recipes including a chocolate chip recipe from my mom and a meringue cookie square recipe from Jim’s mother.  Thank you for visiting for more tastes of France with Alabama as the side-dish.

“Backdoor Tour of Montresor” – by Debbie Ambrous

Backdoor view of Montresor, France

Backdoor view of Montresor, France

A plate loaded with collard greens, potato salad, barbecue, peas and sweet corn casserole with a tall glass of iced tea was my downfall today at a family reunion. The return trip for blueberry delight dessert was another contributor to my lazy, lazy disposition this afternoon. Rainclouds are spread above as a canopy over our little cottage in Alabama as I sit watching the hummingbirds dipping into the deep blue morning glory flowers outside on the toolshed. A sunshine yellow sofa with French cushions in the living room is calling my name for a power nap. Finally, the medical experts are saying naps are good for you. Keep those smart ideas coming!

Front door view of Montresor, France - There really are no bad views!

Front door view of Montresor, France – There really are no bad views!

On this lazy, sleepy day I decided to show the backdoor of Montresor, France with its flowing stream along a peaceful pathway. Earlier, I admitted to a delicious lunch at Café de la Ville in Montresor in the story “Jardin of Good and Scared” CLICK if you did not see it previously. We walked off some of the calories by the stream and over the bridges to find a different view of the town.

Jim used his camera almost as much as I did.

Jim used his camera almost as much as I did.

m19Other tourists could completely miss this memorable spot and  the chickens running around in a green garden if they are not as curious as we are about every little trail and pathway. Just take a look at the pictures, and I believe you will agree that it is an area not to be missed.

As for me, I’m following the pathway to the yellow sofa and telling Jim not to call me until dinner time. I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you may be. Ya’ll be careful, and come see us again! Thank you!m14m16m18Life Needs No Red Lights the plaque below suggests. But we could use a few helpful signs to guide us along the way. CLICK the smaller pictures for larger format.

Don’t forget to leave a message below. I just smile all over when I hear from you! Now brace yourself, here comes that commercial for the book “A French Opportunity” and a little encouragement to share the blog with equally smart folks who might just a take a likin’ to this blog and the book!  I am especially grateful to those who have shared a review on Amazon for the book, proving a guide on the roadway to reading a Southern lady’s take on France.

“Madame Michelin” – by Debbie Ambrous

l3May 23, 2014–“Where should we go today? What’s the plan, Madame Michelin travel guide?
l45Yes, those were Jim’s words almost every morning while we were in France, asking me what agenda I had cooked up for the day.  Jim renamed me Madame Michelin after seeing the Michelin atlas that I kept balanced on my lap for directions when we viewed the scenery of the villages and countryside.

Near the end of our stay in the adorable cottage in Crouzilles, France, I knew that I would soon say goodbye to the flamboyantly beautiful peonies in the garden. We would kiss the faces of the cute children we had met, and bid au revoir to shopping in the markets for vegetables, fruit, sausages, cheese and antiques. It was just too sad to think about.   Note: Click on smaller gallery pictures to enlarge.

I saw a real estate listing for a rental house in Huismes on the internet. It’s a two-bedroom stone house with a big fireplace, cute kitchen and small garden. I know we probably can’t ever arrange to live here, but it would be fun to drive by and see the house. We won’t bother a realtor and take up his time since he can’t make money on my dreams. The village looked cute, but we only saw a quick glimpse when we drove to Jean’s house for a visit with his family. What do you say? Will that be o.k.?Merci again to Jean Marc and family for your hospitality and very helpful advice!

Sure, we can look at houses as long as you stay far from the ATM machine and don’t sign any paperwork!

When we were driving downhill from the center of the little hamlet of Crouzilles, I saw an elderly man moving at a fast pace off to the left with an interesting cache of gardening tools in tow behind his bicycle.  Do you have anyone like this in your neighborhood?  We saw a similar gardener on our street when we lived in Coconut Grove, Florida.  He had a small gardening business with all of his equipment stowed behind, or on his bicycle.  Just shows what you can do with a little imagination and creativity!

I couldn’t miss the photo opportunity. Madame Michelin asked for a change of direction and the driver reconfigured his route with a minimum of grumbling. When we caught up with the sprightly gent, he was very cooperative about posing for me. You would have thought that he modeled for GQ magazine on a daily basis.

Huismes, France

Huismes, France

We never found the rental house, but we found a very atmospheric village with restaurants and boulangerie. l32We were welcomed by a nice fellow who chatted with Jim while I took pictures of his fragrant, climbing red rose. l31Then, the driver of a big truck smiled and honked his horn for me after I took pictures of his menagerie of stuffed animals (including a Daffy Duck) on the truck’s dashboard. I wished after the friendly man was on his way down the road that I had asked to sit in the driver’s seat for a photo. Why didn’t I seize that opportunity earlier? I could have bragged about the photo to my Alabama truck-driver friend Teresa. l18l22Yes, it seemed to be a friendly place to live. But I had to leave it for someone else. The house isn’t listed anymore, but I found another one to dream about in a nearby gorgeous town steeped in history. This rental (CLICK for the listing) faces the Chateau Langeais. I wouldn’t mind that at all!! “Oh, Jim, come here a minute!

You will see many, many fields of grapevines everywhere around here.

You will see many, many fields of grapevines everywhere around here in the Indre-et-Loire section of France.

I suppose I have only taken you on a picture journey, not many details, history or conversation. You can read between the lines and possibly plan your own tour with or without a realtor, or Madame Michelin.

CLICK here for your copy of the book "A French Opportunity"

CLICK here for your copy of the book “A French Opportunity” Read the history of Chateau Langeais.   ENJOY!

“Worth the Ticket Price” – by Debbie Ambrous

Certainly the "A" on the cottage is meant for "Ambrous" - lovely scene from the village

Certainly, the “A” on the cottage is meant for “Ambrous” – lovely scene from the village

April 26, 2014 – On the home-stretch to our cozy French cottage rental, I saw through my jet-lagged eyes the charming village of Saché. Jim and I were only sixteen miles from food and a bed with a real pillow, not an airplane sachet-sized-substitute sans the lavender scenting. I remembered the glimpse of Chateau Saché during our six weeks of exploration through villages and towns in the area around Brehemont, France and looked for more information on the pretty town.

The chateau was originally a Renaissance lodge.

The chateau was originally a Renaissance lodge.

My interest in Saché grew when I learned that the chateau housed a museum for Honoré de Balzac, one of the great writers of the first half of the 19th century. Balzac’s writings were not required reading in any of my studies in Alabama. However, my reading does extend beyond Better Homes and Gardens magazine on occasion. Hoping to increase our curve of knowledge in an upward direction, we drove to Saché after our morning coffee and croissants on a beautiful day in April. I hope you are wide-awake since more history is coming around the corner.

“The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.” – Honoré de Balzac    Now, wouldn’t a quotation like this make you want to see what this fellow is all about?

Balzac, born in 1799, lived mainly in Paris, where he died in 1850. His vast body of work comprises some hundred novels written in less than twenty years. “From 1825 to 1848, he paid regular visits to Jean Margonne, a friend of his parents at the Chateau Saché. There, far removed from the bustle of Parisian life and his financial worries, the writer found the silence and austerity that enabled him to work between twelve and sixteen hours a day.”

My view of buildings like this whetted my appetite to return.

A view of these buildings whetted my appetite to return.

Jim quickly paid the admission before I had second thoughts. I wasn’t sure the museum would be worth the price of the tickets, but I was wrong. It was worth visiting to see the printing room alone. Balzac managed a company with thirty-six employees from 1826 to 1828, overseeing the printing of some two hundred and fifty works on the seven Stanhope typographical presses in his workshop. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was still only possible to print a few dozen pages per hour and several months were needed to print a book.

Bright room decorated with hand-crafted wallpaper

Bright room decorated with hand-crafted wallpaper


Balzac wrote the first forty pages of Lost Illusions at Saché in 1836. The novel tells the life-story of David Sechard, a printer in the 1820’s. “At the time when the story opens, the Stanhope press was not in general use in small printing establishments. Leather ink-balls were still used in old-fashioned printing houses; the pressman dabbed the ink by hand on the characters, and the movable table on which the form of type was placed in readiness for the sheet of paper, being made of marble, literally deserved its name of impression-stone.”

We met this adorable miss in the chateau, and I promised to show her picture.

We met this adorable miss in the chateau, and I promised to show her picture.

We were fascinated by this printing history, and we could easily imagine what an idyllic life a writer could have lived in the grand chateau. Balzac affectionately dubbed Saché a “debris de chateau” in contrast with the majestic Loire chateaus nearby.

After the tour, I decided I would read one of his novels, Eugenie Grandet – purchased on Amazon. The novel is set in Saumur, France, which we visited several times. Jim enjoyed Saumur, spending the night in a castle hotel with his sister several years ago. Yes, I know, he did all kind of stuff leaving me at home, working my fingers off! I guess I’ll forgive him since he cooks a mean barbecue and carefully packs all of my breakable antiques from French markets and junk stores – unlike the orangutan husband Balzac describes.

Street scene in Saumur, France

Street scene in Saumur, France

Back to the novel, it’s all about a greedy man who makes his family live in poverty while he is counting his gold bricks. A handsome young man comes to rescue his young daughter, more or less. Young man leaves with the only gold the innocent young woman has. Greedy father refuses to forgive the sweet, generous girl for giving the money to the penniless young man. Will he return? What happens when the father dies? If you are interested in a book written in 1883, give it a whirl.

Each evening, currently on my side of the bed, I’m reading Paris My Sweet, by Amy Thomas. I may eat the pillow on our bed if I read any more of her luscious descriptions of food in France. I’m on page 156, and so far, Amy’s book is a winner. On Jim’s side of the bed is a picture of grandson Daniel with his fingers stuck into his ears. Last night, Jim said, “Did you put this picture here as a hint that I’m snoring too loudly?”

A good husband is never the first to go to sleep at night or the last to awake in the morning.” – Honoré de Balzac   Balzac apparently never had an opportunity to meet Jim!

Come around again! Get those fingers on the keyboard and send a message below. We love hearing from you!


“Backdoor Tour of Richelieu” – by Debbie Ambrous

This gentleman and his dog formed our greeting committee at Richelieu.  The gentleman smiled each time we met as he and his companion circled the town.

This gentleman and his dog formed our greeting committee at Richelieu. The man on his bicycle smiled each time we met as he and his companion circled the town.

Read pages 19 through 60.  You will be tested on this history material tomorrow.”  Groans and muttered complaints fill the classroom as the students grab backpacks and hit the door.  Remember those days in the past, or is this currently your daily grind?

One of the entrances to Richelieu with the moat now filled with gardens and only a narrow stream of water.

One of the entrances to Richelieu with the moat now filled with gardens and only a narrow stream of water.

I was taken back to those days of history-cramming when I decided to write about Richelieu, France.  My office printer labored slowly with twenty-nine pages of conquests, conspiracies and wars.   More facts funneled slowly into my brain from guide and reference books, plus more and more pages opened in the computer as I went from one history site to another.  Remembering the groans and complaints in the classroom, I couldn’t come to terms with an all-out history campaign here on the Southern lady’s weekly kisses and hugs approach to France.

Richelieu is a thriving community, not just a tourist town.

Richelieu is a thriving community, not just a tourist town.

But telling about the City of Richelieu without telling about Cardinal Richelieu, its founder, is like telling about Graceland without mentioning Elvis, or talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken and leaving out the Colonel.  So, sit up straight, no throwing of spit-balls (ask me later if you don’t understand) and pay attention since there will be a test following!

Notice the gardens behind the homes in the moat and the pleasant pathway to stroll around peacefully.

Notice the gardens in the moat and the pleasant pathway to stroll around peacefully.  I hope you like this backdoor approach to the city.

Jean de la Fontaine proclaimed the new town as: “The most beautiful village in the universe.” Fontaine could write blurbs for real estate brochures and magazine ads today!

Jim and I could live here.  He would barbecue, and I would sit on the bench in the shade.  Just planning ahead!

Jim and I could live here. He would barbecue, and I would sit on the bench in the shade. Just planning ahead!

Front doors along the main street.

Front doors along the main street.  You already know what lies at their back doors.

The city’s 17th- century urban planning was conceived by Cardinal Richelieu, who as chief minister was the most powerful man in France with the exception of the monarch.  “To ensure quick settlement, the Cardinal imposed no city taxes.  In return, buyers of plots for construction undertook to build within two years a house according to the plans and specifications filed with the court of the city, while being forced to choose as builder one of the Cardinal’s appointees.”  The architect Jacques Lemercier, who was responsible for the Sorbonne and the Palais-Royal in Paris, was engaged to create the walled town on a grid arrangement surrounded by an ornamental moat and large imposing walls. r17

I could handle a garden like this.

I could handle a garden like this.

The walls enclose a series of entrance courts, and on the opposite side there are formal gardens with gravel walks and surrounding trees.

In 1625, Cardinal Richelieu commissioned Lemercier to draw up plans for his huge palace, clearly intending for it to be incomparably luxurious.  It was filled with priceless furniture and works of art.  “Extremely fearful of competition, Richelieu ordered many of the chateaux in the area to be razed.  The town survived the French Revolution; the palace, ironically, was confiscated, damaged and then dismantled.”

That's Jim on a bridge in the beautiful Richelieu Gardens open to the public.

That’s Jim on a bridge in the beautiful Richelieu Gardens open to the public.

Shady long walkways are wonderful in hot weather.

Shady long walkways are wonderful in hot weather.

Soon she will have a backpack with history books.

Soon she will have a backpack with history books.

My homework reading assignment yielded facts that got under my skin.  I’m hoping not to offend the citizens of Richelieu, my regular readers, Elvis or the Colonel with my dislikes.

The tactic that disturbed me most was Richelieu’s plan of blockading La Rochelle to stop any land supplies of food and goods to the city in his campaign against the Huguenots.  This maneuver had a devastating impact on the Huguenots.  Before the blockade, the city’s population stood at 25,000.  After it was lifted, only 5000 remained alive in a very weak state.  “It was said that you either liked Richelieu or hated him – there was no half-way.”

Other than the beautiful village, what remains of his legacy?  His ideas of a strong nation-state and aggressive foreign policy helped create the modern system of international politics.  The International Movie Database (effective April 2013) lists ninety-four films and television programs in which Cardinal Richelieu is a character.  Richelieu is a major character and one of the main villains in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. A wing of the Louvre Museum in Paris is named for him.  Four warships of the French Navy bore his name.

Richelieu was famous for his patronage of the arts; most notably, he founded the Académie Française, the learned society responsible for matters related to the French language.

I found more stuff that put my nose out of joint as I read the pages, but I have to give him credit for leaving behind a lovely village that is very livable today after hundreds of years.  Don’t miss seeing a broader perspective of the town of Richelieu with an aerial, pictures of the squares and colorful scenes of a local celebration.  Just CLICK here for the website.

r3Don’t be surprised if the town of Richelieu appears again on these pages since it is a favorite of mine with its lively markets and antique stores.  I could easily write the village on my list of places to search for a two-bedroom apartment with garden in the moat and a stream flowing past, just a few steps from the market and boulangerie.

Ya’ll meet me in the garden for a picnic after I walk past Richelieu’s shadow.

Test Questions – Multiple Choice:

1: What city is the most beautiful in the universe?  Opp, Alabama or Richelieu, France

2: Who is a character in 94 films and television shows?  Cardinal Richelieu or Colonel Sanders

3: Who was the architect for Richelieu?  Rick Ruiz, John Gerald, Jean Perron, Roland Stout, Doug Walker, Dr. George Tseng or Jacques Lemercier (Like Richelieu, I promote my friends, in this case, my architect friends!)

4: Buy “A French Opportunity” and you are guaranteed an “A” on the test!

 Thank you for joining me for journeys in France and beyond.   Your kind support is greatly appreciated.  I will mark your attendance record as excellent on your report card!

I love hearing from students, teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and bachelors in the comments section.

“Sleeping Beauty” – by Debbie Ambrous

s8April 24, 2014 – Château d’Ussé – The grandest approach to the castle is along the narrow lane turning from the road situated high above the Loire River, from the direction of Brehemont where we stayed in a lovely French cottage.  Farms with barns stacked full of hay, and green fields with horses and ducks are down below on one side of the road, while views of the wide river are on the opposite side.  A wise person keeps his eyes on the narrow road, watching for the many bicycles and cars.  Husband Jim was the designated wise person behind the wheel, and I was the roving photographer looking at the beauty flashing by, with no pull-over spot.  I called for a quick left when I saw a perfect combination of stone-built barns, white ducks, chestnut-colored horses and tall green trees in the background.  After Jim did a perfect 180-degree turn with only inches to spare, I clicked and recorded the pastoral beauty.  When I walked to the car, an elderly gentleman rode his bicycle quickly past in the early morning light, smiling and returning my greeting.  It happened so fast that I had no time to adjust my camera, and I didn’t want to offend him either.

I sat quietly in my seat, with no other quick-stop alerts for the designated wise person driver until we stopped at the bridge over the Indre River, which flows below the chateau.  We lingered to enjoy the view, and who should appear but the the gentleman I greeted a few minutes earlier? He wheeled alongside us on his bicycle, pedaling along on his merry way.

He was so nice!  I wished that I had a bicycle to follow him.

He was so nice! I wished that I had a bicycle to follow him.

My camera was ready, and when I raised it for his picture he beamed and waved to me broadly.  He even turned again to wave when he was near the bridge.  I still smile when I think about him.

Welcome to the Château d’Ussé!  It is currently the property of the Duke de Blacas.  The first known owner was a fierce Viking, Gelduin I, who erected a wooden fortress around 1004.  Since Jim’s ancestry is Finnish with Vikings likely in the mix, I’m intrigued by this history.  Jim’s mother Aili was the fiercest, lovable Viking I will ever meet!  I could easily imagine her in the fortified castle.  Her piercing eyes alone could have kept enemies under control and caused the staff to toe the line, not to mention any dreamy-eyed daughters-in-law.  Aili would have perfectly cooked the venison presented by the hunters, and her Finnish baking would have rivaled any French boulangerie.

Now that I’ve paid tribute to my mother-in-law Aili who passed away too many years ago, I feel safe to proceed with the description of the Chateau’s gardens.s7  Hoping not to offend her even after all these years, I tip-toe quietly away and say here on this page in a whisper: “She did not have a green thumb.”   Smiling at this thought, I remember the bright tulips, irises, calla lilies, wisteria, pansies and lilacs in the formal gardens of the chateau that were designed by Le Notre, the famous architect of the gardens of Versailles.

Legend tells that while staying at Chateau d’Ussé, the writer Charles Perrault (17th century) was inspired by the romantic feature of the chateau and wrote the tale of Sleeping Beauty.

The Guard Room:s18

The ceiling is painted in imitation marble and it dates back to the renovations done in the 17th century.  This room contains many of the souvenirs brought back from Count de Blacas’ travels.  The collection of weaponry and oriental objects were brought back in the 19th century from a trip around the world by the Count Stanislas de Blacas, an ancestor of the present owner. The Duke of Blacas (1770-1839) was a friend and adviser to King Louis XVIII and King Charles X. s19 The genealogical family tree of the Duke of Duras, owner of the chateau in 1807 is displayed on the wall.

The Central Gallery:s23

In the 15th century, this was a passageway with arches which opened onto the courtyard.  Here, one can see the Chateau’s finest collection of Flemish tapestries (Brussels), woven in the 18th century by Davis Teniers, a 17th century painter, married to Bruegel’s granddaughter.  They show typical, daily life in Flanders with some bawdy details for that time period.


Flemish tapestries - woven in the 18th century.  I was taken with the detail and bright colors depicting ordinary life.

Flemish tapestries – woven in the 18th century. I was taken with the detail and bright colors depicting ordinary life.

s27s28A bust of Louis XIV by Bernini is in the center of the gallery.  The original is in the Palace of Versailles.

The King’s Bedroom:

Under the reign of Louis XIV, some of the larger castles were obliged to prepare rooms for the King.  The original silks on the wall were woven in the 18th century in the factories of Tours, with Chinese patterns.

Some of the well-furnished rooms have wax-work figures with period costumes that bring life to the rooms. - King's Bedroom Salon

Some of the well-furnished rooms have wax-work figures with period costumes that bring life to the rooms. – King’s Bedroom Salon

Canopy bed "a la polonaise" - made fashionable by Louis XIV's wife

Canopy bed “a la polonaise” – made fashionable by Louis XIV’s wife

I have only mentioned a few of my favorite rooms, leaving much for your imagination, and even more for you to see for yourself.  Next, we will meet Sleeping Beauty in the rampart walk, high in the tower above the pretty village.







Sleeping Beauty can be viewed through large windows in each room around the rampart walk.

Sleeping Beauty can be viewed through large windows in each room around the rampart walk.

On the opposite side, one can view the village, fields and forest.

On the opposite side, one can view the village, fields, river and forest.

I took a short break from writing the blog and joined Jim in the living room where he was eating dry roasted Shur-Fine peanuts from the grocery outlet and watching CNN for his daily dose of news.  I rattled off the gist of the story of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and he asked, “Now, you are not going to say my mother cast the spell on Sleeping Beauty, are you?”  Hmm, never thought of that!

No, I will not follow a story-line with my mother-in-law in that role.  Although, you might just be surprised at the audacious thing Jim’s brother-in-law John Alwyn did.  He presented a broom with a saddle to Aili as a gift!  He really handed over this outrageous present to her with his big-boy smile, risking life and limb and hoping she would laugh it off.  He is braver, or perhaps more foolish than I am!

At the conclusion of our tour of the chateau, I told Jim that I had just one more picture to take in the garden.  He’s heard me say that one many times!  I wanted a picture of the hard-working gardener in the front garden digging flower bulbs.  Can you imagine the hundreds of pansies and other flowers that he plants?  Think of the sweat and aching muscles after days of digging, hoeing, watering and pruning!  His work, along with the others working in the gardens, produces beautiful results through the entire year.s2

Jim leaned over to see where my Canon was aimed and said with a grin, “Seems like you have a thing for chubby guys!”  My goodness, Jim, you are certainly an observant, designated wise person.

May Aili’s firm Viking stance with generous love continue within this family and the generations to come!

                                                                                            THE END  


“Hairstyle by Fidji” – by Debbie Ambrous

Hairstyle by Fidji suitable only for Hell's Kitchen

Hairstyle by Fidji suitable only for Hell’s Kitchen

Tours, France – May 31, 2014:  A day that will go down in hairstyling infamy occurred here with no historic plaque recording the event, and thankfully no pictures!  Jim, the ever helpful husband, was in the budget hotel room watching the world news while I was addressing the more critical issue of what to do with my sopping wet hair.   I steamed and fumed while looking for the hairdryer; it is quite amazing that my hair didn’t dry d’une manière naturelle.   During a commercial, Jim appeared in the doorway to ask a ridiculous question.  “Are you ready to go yet?

Do I look like I’m ready to go?  Never mind!  Where did this hotel hide the hairdryer?”  With a smug look on his face he pointed to an apparatus on the wall.  IMG_3591Eyeing the device, I thought it seemed like something that would be attached to a hospital room wall; any patients in their right minds would hope the contraption would never be used on their personal bodies.  And, oh please, do not show a video of what would happen during the procedure!

Quickly realizing that I needed my glasses to examine the French hairdryer, I said to Jim, “Do something useful, and please find my glasses!”  I know you are smart and don’t need my help, but I will tell you anyway:  “Always have your glasses handy in the bathroom!”  For further instructions on this, I would suggest reading “Umpteenth Second Honeymoon”, if you have not previously perused this gem set once upon a time in Destin, Florida.

Peering through my tri-focals, I saw dangling, looped coils on each side, similar to the coils attached to a plastic bonnet used years ago as a hairdryer.  Pretty ladies stretched the plastic bonnet over their huge curlers and hot air dried their hair while they read fashion magazines. Do you remember the hairdryers with the bonnets and the beehive hairstyles?  You must have told me about it because surely I’m not that old!  I couldn’t have fooled anyone about my age when I stood there in a towel studying the fine print on Fidji the hairdryer via Asia.  In desperation, I yanked one of the coils from the unit.  Jim was back on the sofa watching the news.   What did he care if this thing sucked the hair off my head?  Suddenly, it came alive when the coil was outstretched like an Asian snake with a vacuum cleaner head.  If I stood in front of the commode with the long, white plastic tubing in a straight line, the dryer hummed and blew warm air, not hot!  If I loosened my grip on the loop, it stopped hissing on my helpless hair and died a natural Fidji death.

Notice hat on head, hiding Fidji hair.  Would you wear this wedding gown?

Notice hat on head, hiding Fidji hair. Would you wear this wedding gown?

No, the mirror did not extend to my hairstyling stance by the commode.  No, I do not want to remember what I looked like.  No, Jim never noticed what my hair looked like.

I put a hat on my head and tried to forget my hairstyle by Fidji.


Who styled her hair?

Who styled her hair?

These bridal shower ladies have the right idea!  Could you share some purple with me?

These bridal shower ladies have the right idea! Could you share some purple with me? – Tours, France

Jim and I spent the night in Tours before taking the train into Paris on our return home.  Tours is a good departure point for visiting the Loire Valley since there is a direct train, the TGV from the CDG airport, and the major car rental offices such as Avis are located at the St Pierre des Corps train station.  You can order your rail tickets in advance on www.Rail Europe.com, or through your favorite travel agent.  Previously, we have rented our car and driven from the CDG airport, but we don’t want to attempt the traffic around Paris, and especially the airport anymore.  Tours is a large city, but still much easier to navigate than Paris.

Ryan Air, the low-cost airline based in London, has round-trip and one-way flights from Tours to Dublin, London, Marrakesh and Marseilles.  We could have flown round-trip to Marseilles on the Mediterranean coast of France for less than $100.00.  I did a quick check today and found a fare of 47 euros round-trip on September dates.   Check the multiple cities within the Ryan Air system since you may find that you can visit many areas for less cost than you would expect after only one flight from the U.S.

The stained glass is notable for its rich, strong colors and for the amazing light filtering through. - located at Cathedral St. Gatien

The stained glass is notable for its rich, strong colors and for the amazing light filtering through.

t5t19When we stayed in Tours, we parked our car at the Best Western hotel on the outskirts of the town and took the city train to the historic center.  We chose this hotel for convenience, comfort and budget, rather than ambiance.   The front desk staff went out of their way to help us, providing information especially on the train which was super clean and modern.   A word of advice, American credit cards are not designed the same as European credit cards.  Quite often, we had problems using ours at machines.  Jim used ATM machines quite easily, so don’t fret about that, but toll booths and other such areas were difficult.  Have euros handy for this, especially coins.

Who is our mystery star?

Who is our mystery star?

In Tours, we saw the beautiful stained glass in Cathedral St. Gatien, and we meandered here and there along the ancient streets.  Then, we settled into seats at a tempting café at the place Plumereau, surrounded by medieval houses, local people and tourists.  We had at least one famous person with a huge diamond stud in his earlobe, just a few tables away from us – signing autographs.  I couldn’t approach him personally, not with my hairstyle by Fidji.

I have an extra special picture saved for last, some very good news!!!!  The sight of Dr Pepper in the window was enough to make a girl’s hair curl with desire.



Thank you always for joining us!  I am very grateful for the encouragement you have given, and for sharing the website with others.

Just leave a comment below.  It is always very nice to hear from such delightful readers.

Must rush away since it’s 10-2-4 time – Dr Pepper time!

Before I go for my Dr Pepper break, I want to remind some of my local readers about the great entertainment in Opp, Alabama, without a transatlantic flight.  Just CLICK “OPP FEST” to see the fun we got into.

“Think of the Children” – by Debbie Ambrous

d7S’il te plait … Pense à moi! The French words mean: PLEASE THINK OF ME!  This colorful sign near a school in the small village reminded drivers in their cars to be careful, watch and think of the children.  The color-crayon drawings of young ones playing, jumping rope and kicking a ball was a reminder to slow down and watch very carefully since a child could dart into the road at any minute.

BACK TO SCHOOL –  It’s that time of the year!  School is beginning again and parents everywhere will be anxiously seeing their youngsters off for the first day of school, hoping they will be safe and happy.  School supplies, backpacks, new shoes and clothes are bought and ready.  d58No more splashing in the pool all day or riding bikes with friends in the sunshine until they are hot and sweaty all over.  New teachers are ready for the first day of school, hoping all of the students will be safe and happy. S’il te plait … Pense à moi!

d37DANIEL IS BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND – Readers have asked about Daniel, wanting to know when I would show more pictures.  His mom agreed to share her photos, and naturally I am proud to show them off and brag.

Daniel with his mom, Brittany

Daniel with his mom, Brittany

Our grandson Daniel who is sixteen months old will not be ready for school for a few years, but we are reminded of him when we see other children playing and beginning a new school year.

Daniel and his proud dad, Craig

Daniel and his proud dad, Craig

Traveling in France, we remember Daniel often when we hear the laughter of little ones as they chase each other, or skate in the park.  We always think of the future when Daniel might enjoy playing with small sailboats on a pond, or climbing higher and higher on an enormous tree house at Chateau Langeais.

Daniel would have fun like this little boy!

Daniel would have fun like this little boy! – Paris, France

Will he be delighted to look through a telescope to see a wild deer with spreading antlers on a hillside, or to see birds through the lens close-up as they fly in the air?

Jim is down below planning to take Daniel to each level.

Jim is looking up and planning to take Daniel to each level.



What will he think of Sleeping Beauty in the storybook depiction at Chateau Ussé?


d25Which flavors of ice cream will he like?

Will he be excited to see the knights’ shining armor?



Riding a carriage will be almost like Disneyland.  "Keep your hands and arms inside at all times."

Riding a carriage in Tours will be almost like Disneyland. “Keep your hands and arms inside at all times.”

Which flavor will be Daniel's favorite?

Which flavor will be Daniel’s favorite?

How about a ride on a double-decker carousel?

How about a ride on a double-decker carousel? Tours, France

Riding on flashy cars is always an attraction for young and old males!

Riding on flashy cars is always an attraction for young and old males! Saumur, France

d42d18Farm animals along the narrow country roads are an immediate draw for me.  Will he be anxious to see the horses, cows, ducks and chickens like his silly GranDeb?

"Ya'll slow down now! 10-4"

“Ya’ll slow down now! 10-4″

We just hope that all young ones will be able to learn and play with no hindrance, or harm.   Keep in mind the sign in France, and please, please look out for the children.  S’il te plait … Pense à moi!

I’m off to the kitchen to bake a peach cobbler.  d46Tomorrow I will be mailing a little shirt to a VIP in our family – Daniel!  If you are new to this blog, perhaps you would like to Click and see “All About Daniel” which shows pictures of Daniel when he was only a few weeks old.

d31Thank you for allowing a proud grandmother to brag about her only grandson.   Ya’ll come back!

I imagined Daniel before he was on his way.  Read the book A French Opportunity and you will find me on the front porch of a farmhouse in France hoping for a future grandson.

Daniel gives the book a thumbs up!

Daniel gives the book a thumbs up! CLICK FOR YOUR COPY

I am always so happy to see your comments.  Just write in the reply area below and brag about your grandchildren!

“Sweet Talking in Georgia” – by Debbie Ambrous

Fruit and Vegetable Stand - Warm Springs, Georgia

Fruit and Vegetable Stand – Warm Springs, Georgia

You will not find Georgia in the Michelin Atlas of roadways in France.  Georgia is the friendly neighbor to the east of our home State of Alabama, and Jim and I took a nice, short trip across the border to Atlanta with a stop at Pine Mountain and Warm Springs on our return.  We are constantly turning around, backing up and circling in our travels anyway, so I’m doing the same on the blog and planning to jump back into the French scene after enjoying the roadways of Georgia.

Somewhere near Lagrange, Georgia, we were moving along carefully in the July 4th weekend traffic.  Jim cleared his throat and said in a serious tone, “Uh, it’s time for us to think about where we put the Marta train tickets.”  With no hesitation I said, “I never saw the tickets.”  You will notice that I politely did not say, “YOU had the tickets.  What did YOU do with them?”  I could tell that he was testing the waters, hoping I knew something of their whereabouts.  Worry spread over his face and combined with traffic irritation, yielding a scrunched, scowling face.  No words uttered, but a lot of groaning was brewing in the driver’s seat.  It was time for lunch so I suggested that he stop at the next exit at a steak house for lunch.  The restaurant was nicely decorated with western gear and had comfortable seating.  I was hoping for a nice lunch before we hit the big city of Atlanta.  You will notice that I haven’t mentioned the name of our lunch stop.  For the sake of the story, I will call it the “Wrong Steer” since the food was greasy, flavorless and only a step above roadkill.

Back in the Jeep, Jim was calling to see if he could get a refund on the train tickets.  After the call, I said, “Don’t worry, honey.  We will just buy some more tickets.  It isn’t very much expense.  Don’t feel badly, I forget things all of the time.”  Honestly, I really said all of that.  Wasn’t I the Sweetest Georgia Peach from Alabama?  I only mention this because a guy flatteringly called me by that description years ago.  Definitely not a time to mention that one to Jim during the ticket fiasco!

Once we hit the big city with more one-way streets going the wrong way and most of the street names containing the word Peach.  “Yes, that’s Peachtree Street, and you just passed Peachtree Road.  Which Peach thing do we need to turn on?”  It was sometime when we were riding up and down those roads that I suddenly remembered that I forgot my eye drops and we had to find a pharmacy.  All of my sweet talk paid off!  Jim had to stifle any groans.

Sunset viewed from our hotel room at Atlanta Mid-Town W

Sunset viewed from our hotel room at W Atlanta Mid-Town

We found our hotel, the W Atlanta Mid-Town, a tall, dark-gray building standing proudly like a Heat player visiting from Miami among the other contenders.  We like the W hotels for their good service, casual atmosphere and many amenities.  Pets are welcome.

Lobby - viewed from second floor level

Lobby – viewed from second floor level

Business hotels can be a good buy on weekends unless special events are happening, or holidays.  We have booked a good value room for our anniversary, or as we say “second honeymoon” no matter what number it truly is.  (You may enjoy reading “Umpteenth Second Honeymoon” which has received the most clicks, so far. Click and I hope you enjoy, if you have not seen it previously.)

W Atlanta Mid-Town is near the Margaret Mitchell House (Birthplace of “Gone with the Wind”), Atlanta Botanical Garden, High Museum of Art/Alliance Theater, and with those aforementioned and forgotten Marta passes you can get to almost anything else without worrying about the one-way streets.

Our comfortable room with L-shaped sofa, corner vanity area with magnifying mirror, large walk-in shower, desk workspace and rather strangely a king-size bed with lights underneath.g15  It glowed very pretty in the colorful room creating a modern, contemporary space facing a wall of glass framing a beautiful sunset, and then during the night a glittering show of city lights.  During the night when I had a headache, I got up without turning on any lights, hoping not to disturb Jim.  I looked for my black purse with the Aleve, fumbling on the dark gray carpet and black furniture. Suddenly, I slammed my foot into the desk, and sharp pain attacked my toes and surged to my eyeballs!  Fully expecting to see my white toes on the black carpet, somehow I kept quiet so I wouldn’t disturb Jim.  But Jim still jumped from the bed to my side.  I said, “Why aren’t you lying in bed asleep?  I’m OK!!”  Edging back to his side of the bed like a scolded puppy, he said, “Well, how could I sleep with you practicing a drop-kick for the World Cup on the bedroom furniture?  How did you hit your foot with all of the light shining from under the bed?”  Still holding my mortally wounded foot in my hand, I complained, “Why on earth do they have lights under the bed which we cannot turn off?”  With a lilting, silly voice Jim answered, “Because they’re ro-mannn-tic!”  Gaining strength, I said: “What romance??  Unless the designers planned a sexy mood for dust bunnies, they’re wasting electricity!”

Next day, we found the W hotel has a wonderful restaurant that serves fresh, local food.  TRACE has as its mission: “to create an updated Southern dining experience in the heart of the South by celebrating fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced and foraged from local farm to form healthy, signature dishes.” g3 With a helpful, friendly staff and delicious food, we expect TRACE to have great success.  Cem Vural, the Manager, was friendly and attentive to assure our enjoyment.g4  I especially enjoyed the Summer Pot Pie with Springer Mountain chicken, carrots, mushrooms, peas, potatoes and a flaky buttermilk biscuit crust.  Jim had rave reviews for the Seasonal Meatloaf with pork, cherries, savory herbs and whole grain slaw.  He still wants the recipe for the slaw!  Honestly, the menu is loaded with good stuff to eat at reasonable prices, especially considering this is a large city, business hotel.

We were very happy to have such a nice restaurant right there in the W hotel, and we thank the staff for a very pleasant dining experience.

Another fave: GA Shrimp & Grits

Another fave: GA Shrimp & Grits


On our way home, we spent one night near Pine Mountain, Georgia, a very pleasant town with antiques, good restaurants and a wonderful bakery.  While the pretty young lady packaged our pecan, raisin bread, Jim begged her to set up business in Opp.  I thought he would kneel at the altar of bread and ask her to knead dough in our kitchen.

g25g26Don’t miss The Bakery and Café at Rose Cottage since the atmosphere is more than you could ever hope for in a small town with food to match! g18 While you are there see the antique stores: Country Gardens, Sweet Home Antiques and Chanticleer. Visit Dog Gone Good Bargains that benefits the Humane Society of Harris County.  Many more stores line the pretty streets that had beds planted with tall stalks of corn and squash vines, mixed with flowers.

Murals are painted on many of the buildings

Murals are painted on many of the buildings

g33With a healthy amount of good food and shopping out of the way, we turned the Jeep toward Roosevelt’s Little White House.  We wanted to see the museum with its many exhibits of life during the Great Depression era and see much of the history that happened during our parents’ lifetime.  It was hard to imagine a President staying in the house which wasn’t much larger than our home and dying on a small bed in a room much smaller than ours.  FDR went in search of relief from polio to swim the springs’ naturally heated water.  I will not try to expand on all of this history, or provide an extensive review of our visit, but I would suggest that you look at the website and visit if possible.

Near the entry to the house, in a corner, is a wheelchair fashioned from a dining chair.g43  I almost cried when I saw it since it brought back memories from my childhood when my carpenter father did the same for my mother who was seriously ill for a long period of time.  Wheelchairs during that time, and earlier, had large wheels and were nothing like they are today.  My sweet dad built a small wheelchair from a dining chair, easier to move around our house.  I didn’t realize that a President did the same.

We had an enjoyable, late lunch at Mac’s Barbecue, in Warm Springs, Georgia with good prices in a laid-back atmosphere.g50

g55Our last stop was at The Crossroads Store, 6926 Whitesville Road, West Point, GA 31833 at Jones Crossroads with a historical marker.   Look it up! Don’t miss it!  It’s worth dropping by to see the antiques and the setting of the beautiful stone building, almost like a slice of France in Georgia.  I was very sorry that I had to rush.

Charming owners of Crossroads

Charming owners of Crossroads

Well, I’ve written more than usual.  Southerners tend to linger with their conversation and say good-bye at least a half-dozen times before they depart.  Departing, I must give a plug for my book.

Seriously, A French Opportunity is a concoction of Southern humor and French country life which any good person like you would enjoy.

g56CLICK THE DOGGIE to order your copy of the book in paperback or Kindle!

Thank you for visiting!