“Living in a Mini-Banquet Hall” – by Debbie Ambrous

Very French small cottage that lives much larger than it appears.

Very French small cottage that lives much larger than it appears.

We’re living in a mini-banquet hall for two weeks in Brehemont, France.   Once you see the pictures, I’m sure you will agree.  A cottage, oozing character, perfect for two people – two characters from Opp, Alabama – is the launching pad for our adventures.  We will be in a different house for a month, beginning on the third of May.

bestfireplaceWe flew from Fort Walton Beach, FL to Atlanta, Georgia, with Paris as our final destination.  After dinner was served and when I thought I would drift into sleep after changing position in my seat again and again, I thought I heard an announcement saying the plane was turning around.  Finding my hearing aids, which I had removed to sleep without the sound of the jet engine, was suddenly a priority!  Once I regained hearing capability, I learned that a medical emergency had occurred and we were flying over an hour back to St. John, Newfoundland.  Baggage for the passenger had to be removed and the plane refueled before we continued our flight.  Overall, we lost at least 3 hours, but compared to the situation of the person who had to finish the trip on an ambulance to the hospital, who could complain? Our complications of more time on the plane, losing sleep and possibly missing our train connections were much less concern.  We made our train connection since the train was late, and a railway employee rushed us directly to a first-class car. 

Photo taken from mezzanine which has two beds

Photo taken from mezzanine which has two beds

Our cozy bedroom - Could you imagine anything more intimate, romantic and French?

Our cozy bedroom – Could you imagine anything more intimate, romantic and French?

Now, we are settled into the cottage with grocery shopping done and our sleeping patterns almost adjusted.  Jim is cooking a pot roast with little potatoes and carrots while I’m writing.  My eyes are getting heavy here on Saturday at 5:30 PM, so maybe I’m not nearly as adjusted as I thought.

Jim cooked sardines on Friday night, a feast in our banquet hall

Jim cooked sardines on Friday night, a feast in our banquet hall

sardinesWe had lunch yesterday across from the Chateu Ussé, the Sleeping Beauty castle. IMG_0704 After touring on a future day, I will tell you more since it is a stunningly beautiful castle only three miles, or less, from our cottage.  Langeais, across the Loire River via a beautiful bridge, is the nearest larger town with the main stores and the closest castle (pictures later) to our cottage.

Today, we went to Chinon and walked the ancient streets with our cameras clicking in unison.  Jim has my old camera since I upgraded, so I’m expecting his pictures to outshine mine.  We purchased mini quiches and a pastry to share at a boulangerie.  Then, I worked up the nerve to ask a waiter if it was permissible to eat our food purchases at the outdoor café tables in a beautiful location if we purchased drinks from him.jiminsquare  He said certainly, so I was glad I asked.  Eating on a park bench by the river is wonderful also, but this was much better.  We are hoping our days continue this way and the weather treats us kindly.  So far, it has been cool with the sun shining while we wander around pronouncing French words with our Alabama accents.  Ya’ll come back and pray for sunny skies and kind consideration to these strange, stumbling Southerners.

Merci to this cafe for allowing us to dine with our brought goodies.

Merci to this cafe for allowing us to dine with our brought goodies.

Steps away from our cafe table

Steps away from our cafe table

Please forgive the lack of detail in the story.  I’ll work on putting my mind in gear.  We are having fun and smiling at each other like much younger lovers instead of AARP members.  We hope ya’ll are happy and healthy! Love and kisses to Miss Kitty, the lady who designed the cottage and the big house next door, the former owner of both.  We wouldn’t be here if she had not lovingly described the cottage. 

Pink dogwood from Alabama on the property, introduced to French soil by Kitty

Pink dogwood from Alabama on the property, introduced to French soil by Kitty

Thanks to Kitty from the bottom of our hearts!

Read more about this charming home and cottage in A French Opportunity.  An entire section is devoted to it.  Click here to get your copy. 

“Ugly Happens” – by Debbie Ambrous

Doesn't this just make you want to pay admission for garden beauty?

Doesn’t this just make you want to pay admission for garden beauty?

Looking down the walkway and surveying the damage, here at the tail end of winter, I see a dead-ugly sago palm with its brown stumps forming a greeting committee.  Standing in line as the second hospitality sister is the dead jasmine with no heavenly- scented bower of white flowers and canopy of green leaves on the arbor.  Naked, brittle, brown vines cover the arbor in embarrassment after the Yankee weather with cold icy winds came down South to humiliate my garden.

Barren archway showcasing my garden saga

Barren archway showcasing my garden saga of the sago

  Jim asked why I kept standing at the glass door.  You are not going to resurrect those plants by standing in the doorway moaning.   Next thing I know, you’ll be dressed in black, wailing and tossing Alabama dirt on your head!  You never liked that sago palm anyway, and I can get two more jasmine vines at Walmart.  Quit stewing about the plant life and take care of important stuff like me! Come sit down and sew this button on my shirt.” 

Yellow pansies edge my flower bed; amaryllis will open soon with huge red and white blooms; dogwood branches are aflutter with white blooms; yellow and white daffodils are swaying with their last display of delicate petals; Sweet William (Dianthus) has a few early purple flowers with many buds, just waiting to burst open and my rose bushes are lush with green leaves and fat roses to come. 

Early-blooming rose covered in rain drops

Early-blooming rose covered in rain drops

rosetrellisazaleaIMG_0572The grass is green, and the birds are singing.  Stop standing at the door and looking at that small patch of bother!  It will work itself out.  You are not the only one with a dead sago palm.  Look over it and enjoy the wide expanse of beauty all around it. 

doorwaywithbistro

Frances Mayes, a favorite writer of mine, wrote in a book of hers about a wonderful island.  She said the flowery landscape was so lovely that she would go to the poolside and “drink a cup of beauty” each day.  I loved that imagery, but I’m here to tell you that she could drink a bucket of ugly while driving some of our South Alabama roads.  Now don’t tar and feather me! I love this country as much as the rest of my fellow folks here among my kin and friends.  But just take a good long look at the discarded and rusted trucks – some with trees growing from them! Non-functioning appliances decorate front porches and outdoor plastic pools with the sides crushed and crumpled linger on the lawns with multiple rusted lawnmowers.  Just when I think I’ve seen the worst, another monstrosity smacks me in the eye which could only be described as unbelievable.  Warning signs are posted stating “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” – like anyone would even want to enter.  Seeing it was quite enough, thank you!   Then, thinking about my own personal Sago Ugly Spot, I thought it is comparable to what Forrest Gump said, “S— happens.”  Except, in this instance, the saying would be, “Ugly happens!”

I’m still working on that stack of clothes on the bed that I mentioned last week. 

I hope you will join me again to find a "cup of beauty" in France.

I hope you will join me again to find a “cup of beauty” in France.

Our trip is coming soon now.  Mabel, a lovely friend will be looking after our house, plus keeping an eye on the ugly spot to keep me posted in France.  Ya’ll come back to visit us. 

“Spring Break – 2014″ – by Debbie Ambrous

springbreakshirtsSpring Break 2014!  DanielsandBeauties in bikinis and guys with rippling muscles glistened in the Florida sunshine.  Ocean breezes and a Diet Dr. Pepper kept me cool under the boardwalk at Fort Myers Beach while I only had eyes for grandson Daniel. 

jimandmeatthebeach

Just a few years away and Daniel will be chasing little girls like these.

Just a few years away and Daniel will be chasing little girls like these.

bikesonbeachparrotwithmanhorizontalFtMyersbchtrailerhousewerentedJim and I stayed in a (great value and super clean -just click to see details) rental vacation home in Cape Coral, Florida, the city we called our home from 1986 to 1998. 

Tabebuia trees were blooming all over the city.

Tabebuia trees were blooming all over the city.

Cape Coral was in a real estate development boom with homes under construction on every street when we arrived.  We contracted for our home to be built and chose tropical colors for every room plus aqua Bahama-shutters at most windows for the Florida breezes.  A lengthy screened lanai extended along the back of the house with French doors from the master bedroom and breakfast room to step casually to an in-ground Jacuzzi.  Triple-sliding glass doors opened from the living area creating a barefoot indoor-outdoor style.  Custom painted tiles with hibiscus, beach scenes and shells brightly decorated my kitchen back-splash, surrounding the kitchen counters and set the tropical vibe in the master bathroom.  Each room was a new challenge to decorate and so much fun.  Outside, we planted bougainvillea, tabebuia, hibiscus, croton, palm trees and much more. capecoralroad Then much too soon, we had to move.  Owners of companies made decisions without consulting me, and we had to move on to jobs in another city, leaving the friends and home we loved so much.  I didn’t know it when I shed tears, but wonderful adventures with beautiful surroundings and more loving friends were waiting for us ahead in Coconut Grove, Florida. 

Cape Coral has many, many waterways.  This canal is at Wally and Dianna's backdoor.

Cape Coral has many, many waterways. This canal is at Wally and Dianna’s backdoor.

Two of our dearest friends, Wally and Dianna, welcomed us back to Cape Coral with the same warm connection we’ve always enjoyed with them.  Wally seems to have knowledge about almost any subject while not seeming like a know-it-all; he can explain the workings of a vast number of things – especially anything in the nautical field! fooddisplay2 Dianna is truly in the same league, but I would say that her specialty is culinary.  Her lovely mother was a caterer – and not just any caterer!  Banquets for football teams and even the Governor of Florida were on her resume!  I will try to get some recipes from Ms. Dianna; meanwhile, just enjoy a few pictures. 

Pretty "Dianna" candlestick

Pretty “Dianna” candlestick

Wally and Dianna always have interesting friends – with the possible exception of us – and this evening was no different.  We heard stories from a nice gentleman who lived in a Swiss castle when he was a youngster.  His wife with long dark hair and beautiful eyes was lovely as a Russian princess, and she shared stories about her childhood that kept us spellbound.  I think she should write a book since her stories are much more interesting than my life under the shadow of Opp’s water tower.

If you land here on Wally and Princess Di's deck - you are at the right place!

If you land here on Wally and Princess Di’s deck – you are at the right place!

The white sands and abundant shells of Sanibel and Captiva Islands were on our agenda.  However, these pristine islands were apparently on everyone’s list. 

Sanibel beach with shells - Be early for the best!

Sanibel beaches with 250 kinds of shells – Be early for the best!

Traffic clogged the entry and exit roads, plus everywhere in between.  We did see the islands again, and they are just as beautiful, not changed much at all.  We know the relaxation of visiting without the crowds and finding a bucket of beautiful shells!  We couldn’t eat at any of the favorite restaurants since they were packed out.  There was no place to park so I could get a photo of the famous Bubble Room.  I could taste the delicious cake which is served in huge slices.  So close and yet not on my fork. 

Colorful shops are in old cottages with bright bougainvillea

Colorful shops are in old cottages with bright bougainvillea

I’m sorry to say that Subway was our eating place, on the front porch.  Nearby was a favorite shopping place of mine when we lived on the Florida West coast – Goodwill on Sanibel.  They have great merchandise donated by those much wealthier than the Ambrous family.  I found like-new Ralph Lauren capri pants for $6.99 and Jones New York shorts for the same price.  Now, you know why l liked the store.

Sit on the porch, facing the ocean in a rental cottage.

Sit on the porch, facing the ocean in a rental cottage.

  After our fine meal and shopping delights, we drove past mansions and cottages on Captiva with captivating names: Bali Hi, Livin’ on the Edge, Orange U Glad, Seas the Day, Hale Makai, Zurich by the Sea, Tenderly, Shell Seekers and Chateau Blanc. 

Voila!!  I could write here and feel perfectly at home wearing my sandals on the Rue Ambrous!

Voila!! I could write here and feel perfectly at home wearing my sandals on the Rue Ambrous!

I’ve only hit the high spots with my Spring Break story.  If I open up with too much detail, an ocean wave of emotion will carry me away with memories of our home and our life in Cape Coral.  For instance, we drove past our house that still has its soft peach paint color that I selected, and we saw the tall, spreading trees we put into the ground and nourished as small plants from the nursery.  I thought about asking the owner’s permission to take pictures, and then we drove away deciding to leave it undone.  It isn’t our house now.  Better to think about our French cottage in Alabama!

 My list of things to do was not checked in many of the boxes.  Time flew!  We did check the best box as often as possible.  SEE AND HUG DANIEL AND HANNA! Check, check, check and check again!!

Jim wants to know why Daniel isn't eating COLLARDS AND TURNIP GREENS!

Jim wants to know why Daniel isn’t eating COLLARDS AND TURNIP GREENS!

Buttered biscuits are best when you lick two fingers!

Buttered biscuits are best when you lick two fingers!

Hanna, thanks for wearing the earrings we gave to you.  Humor Nanu-Nanu and GranDeb!

Hanna, thanks for wearing the earrings we gave to you! Humor Nanu-Nanu and GranDeb!

Send messages if you are a wardrobe expert.  Please!!

Please!!! Send messages if you are a wardrobe expert.   CLICK OVER TO FRANCE-STORYTELLING AND PICTURES to find why this stack of clothes is on my bed.

“Soaring with a Cuckoo” – by Debbie Ambrous

What story lies hidden in this picture?  The lady seems a bit skeptical to me.  (This faded old tapestry hangs on the wall in my view where I sit and apply my makeup.  I wonder who looked at the tapestry in a French home.)

What story lies hidden in this picture? The lady seems a bit skeptical to me. (This faded, old tapestry hangs on the wall by my antique vanity.  I sit there and apply my makeup, and I wonder who had this tapestry in their French home long ago.)

Talented writers weave stories with metaphors, using words like an artist with beautiful, even poetic words that evoke different meanings for each reader.  Hidden in the words are clever backgrounds requiring insightful thoughts, like finding the pictures painted inside works of art and using only the keenest of eyes.   Do you enjoy connecting the dots to find poignant or stimulating stories, represented by the metaphors?  Is it easy for you to understand the writer’s meaning, or create your own?  I enjoyed literature classes and quickly waved my hand in the air to answer the teacher’s questions.  The deep, dark lake viewed in a sad walk at midnight means death,” I answered correctly.  Now, I find the mysteries of the creative wording are often tiresome, and I wish the writer would just get to the point.  Or, I simply don’t like the meaning of the deep, dark lake. 

Inspiring and uplifting messages are found in many writers’ work.  Their words may become immortal, reaching generations to come and quoted thousands of times over.  Imagine the author in years past with fountain pen in hand, writing a few words and never dreaming they will spread through Facebook and Twitter. 

Ave Crayon - Helian Magnou

Ave Crayon: by artist Helian Magnou – Enjoy the story about the artist if you have not read previously.  Just click here.

What will flow from a keyboard as inspiration from the French painter’s work of art? Silent in the sky, soaring with wide, powerful wings, I could feel its power and I knew it saw me far below.  Distance could never separate us.  Each day brings more confidence for me when I look into the future and feel deeply that there is hope as bright as a beautiful, blue sky on a cloudless day.  Climb on in majesty, keep your vision keen.  I am watching.

Do you find meaning in these words?  Who, or what is represented by the eagle?  Who is on the ground? I leave it up to you.  Is it deep and spiritual, or could it be the words of an Eagle’s rock band admirer taking it to the limit one more time?

Perhaps this broken Crayola smudged picture of words will suit your taste much better.  A frantic screeching of words filled the air and dropped unheeded like an unanswered phone call, but the mournful sound continued pleading intensely.  Tears fell on the ground from the red and wrinkled face that was upturned and following every movement of the bird that flapped unsteadily above.  Moving perilously close to live power lines and dipping low to flirt with extended claws of a fat cat, the foolish bird flirted with death.  Little cuckoo chattered merrily, ignoring the tired voice of warning.  The weary legs of the hopeful, watchful one on the porch continued to pace back and forth.  In desperation, arms were flung upward and smart crackers were offered to lure the cuckoo back to home ground.  Finally, the porch was empty.  Hope was still there.  However, seeing a feather cat-sandwich or a singed, bird-sparkler-on-the-wire was not the vision of dreams.

Mirror on the wall, who is the cuckoo?  Who is inside hidden behind the door?

Mirror on the wall, who is the cuckoo? Who is inside hidden behind the door?

As you can see I have my ducks in a row except all of them stuck their heads in the water - cuckoo birds!!

As you can see, I have my ducks in a row, except all of them stuck their heads in the water – cuckoo birds!!

I have nothing against cuckoos!  Some of my favorite people are cuckoo, at least a little bit. 

Looking for something

Getting all gussied up to see the grandkids!

I’ve been accused of having birdbrains, at least behind my back if not to my face.  I had no particular person in mind for the story, but if the birdcage fits??  Jim says he wants to set the record straight, “Just so everyone knows, I am not the cuckoo fluttering around up there in her daffy story.  But I could be the person running around like a chicken down below.  She left out the smelly part about the embarrassing bird poop on the head.  Good reason to hide in the house!

I don’t usually write stories with symbols and poetic language, at least not very much.  You say you understand why after reading all of this and you’re hoping I find a box of smart crackers.  Well, I do have better plans ahead.  Jim and I will be visiting family, especially our grandchildren – Daniel and Hanna! 

Grandeb and NaNu NaNu will see you soon.  To make sense of these names (or nonsense of them), click to read here.

Grandeb and NaNu NaNu will see you soon. To make sense of these names (or nonsense of them) see an earlier story, click to read here “All About Daniel”

I will not have a post on the website next week.  I hope to see you on March 30th.   Have a great week wherever you are and leave the metaphors to rock on the front porch with the Eagles.  Shop at the French Market by clicking here.  You will save money and help Daniel’s grandmother.

You may enjoy gliding over to the France – storytelling and pictures page to enjoy soaring in France with a cuckoo.

“Academy Awards” – by Debbie Ambrous

Did you watch the Academy Awards in a chair like this?  It isn't my chair!  I borrowed it just for you.

Did you watch the Academy Awards in a chair like this? It isn’t my chair! I borrowed it just for you.

According to a reader’s poll, at least half of the Academy Award audience did not readMother Knows Best” posted here for their entertainment and pleasure this past Sunday.  A big, brown-eyed cow, a precious petite blonde girl petting a goat and snow-capped Austrian Alps worthy of a yodel – all of these Hallmark moments were forgotten and overlooked!  The hordes of glazed-eyed viewers of television skedaddled to their surround sound, HDTV and cozy leather recliners to watch Ellen and the star-studded audience.

When Ellen passed around the pizza and Brad Pitt served up the plates, I knew it was a lost cause.  I say that using Brad Pitt is an unfair advantage to seduce my readers.  Some discerning and wise viewers clicked during commercials, or before the grand event, and saw the sage advice that “Mother Knows Best” left as a confidential brief near the undies in the travel suitcase.  Hmm!  I see you’re blushing and thinking maybe you should look. 

I would like to mention that I was a bit teary-eyed when Lupita Nyong’o won as best actress in a supporting role.  Now, you are asking how I know so much about the academy award show and thinking I was settled on a recliner also.  You don’t really expect me to read all of that stuff on the blog after the slaving and hard work of writing it, do you?  Seriously, it always touches my heart when you take time from your busy life to read what I’ve written.  Thank you!  I thank my mother, my second-cousin, my editor, the garbage collector and of course, Jim!  I knew I was forgetting someone.  Thanks again, Jim!

Do you know someone who deserves an academy award for starring in your life production and giving a sterling performance, or providing a supportive role?  I know that I could read a list that would fill a very long Sunday night with a box of Kleenex by the sofa.

My mother would head the list, and yours would likely be the Best Actress in your winners’ circle also!  One performance occurred on a Saturday night when the stores were closed in our little town of Opp, Alabama, and I was crying my little eyes out for a frilly, precious hat covered with rosebuds and taffeta ribbons that I saw earlier in the day in a glass showcase. 

I love hats!  If you are new to this website, or have not read "Belle of the Ball", you may enjoy reading about the bright blue hat.

I love hats! If you are new to this website, or have not read “Belle of the Ball“, you may enjoy reading about the bright blue hat.  Or, you might enjoy “A Tale of Two Hats“.

How could anyone refuse this little girl?  Picture the wide blue ribbon tied in a bow under her chin.

How could anyone refuse this little girl? Picture the wide blue ribbon tied in a bow under her chin.

I don’t know the words, or lines spoken, in a convincing enactment that motivated my dad to call the business owner, Mr. Finkelstein, to open the shop after-hours.  I went with my daddy to point out the hat, and Mr. Finkelstein smiled with no annoyance, like it was a genuine pleasure.  I can’t imagine this happening anywhere now, not even Opp!  I’m thankful to him for the little bonnet that tied under my chin and probably started my love of hats.  Yes, Mom deserved an academy award!

The best actor award goes to my son, Chet.  You may want to hold your applause and appraise his errant lack of homework.  High school in Florida and his wearing flip-flops to school without his homework sets the scene.  An assignment of a commercial presentation for the class was not prepared.  He traced his flip-flops on a poster board and drew in the straps.  When the teacher called his name, he showed the poster and told a weepy story of meeting a shopkeeper who was barely surviving as a flip-flop vendor.  He said he generously bought out the meager business giving the poor fellow a nice profit.  He pitched his advertisement, promoting the economic value of the flip-flops, the comfort and new styles for women with pearls, rhinestones and sequins.  As an entrepreneur, he flip-flopped his “F” grade to a successful “C”.  He still wears the flip-flops, not the executive shoes.  Maybe he is the successful one since the executive only works long hours in anticipation of the flip-flops.  The Oscar goes to Chet!

Let’s hear it from the audience by writing in the reply area.  No excuses!  Mother knows best, and she has heard them all. I don’t want to hear that your dog ate the computer mouse, so you couldn’t click in to see the comments. 

Did I hear another question?  You want to know why I didn’t have very many pictures in this story!  I didn’t think you would want to see my son’s smelly feet in his flip-flops. Wasn’t the extra-cute little girl enough, already?  You might just try the France-storytelling and pictures page for more pictures.  Ya’ll come back!  You’re always welcome ‘round here!

Would you like a free subscription notification when stories are posted? Just enter your e-mail address in the upper right-hand corner.  Merci and thank ya’ll to the many readers who have bought A French Opportunity in paperback and Kindle!

“Mother Knows Best” – by Debbie Ambrous

130380926872164920A friendly, Austrian, brown-eyed cow greeted Jim up close and personal through the car window.  Young daughter Brittany didn’t know whether to be frightened or delighted when a herd of cows surrounded us on the narrow country road.  Memories of her excitement vividly play in my mind adding much more to the experience compared to traveling without a youngster’s viewpoint.

130356749724877964I hear other Moms say: “I will go when the children are older.”  They also say they want the children to be old enough to remember the places they visit.   I say these are not good reasons, if this is the only roadblock and travel funds are available.  When the little ones are teenagers, they may not even want to be seen with you!  If they grudgingly allow you to drag them along, they may mope and grumble so much that you will want to throw them in the moat surrounding the dreamy castle you’ve longed to visit.  Or, they may laugh at you when you trip and fall spread-eagle on the cobblestones at Piazza del Duomo, as one of my own offspring (who shall remain nameless) once did to me. I waited for the crowd to part and a handsome Romeo to appear and rescue me; alas, I was humiliated in despair with a scraped knee and torn jeans.  Torn jeans were the style, so I thought I was a cool Mom, whether the snickering teenager thought so or not.  Never fear, she will have a teenager soon enough to get even for me.

Little Mermaid and her dad at the glacier

We took a cable car to the top of the mountains which was great fun for Little Mermaid and her dad.   Stubai Glacier

I will return to my opinion of traveling while you can with little ones.  Don’t put it off if it is a reasonable possibility.  I’ve followed my own advice.  Our two oldest didn’t see Europe when they were young travelers, but with our very modest travel budget we did see the Smoky Mountains, Disney World, Six Flags over Georgia,  Destin, Jamaica and many small destinations.  Travel with these two stretched nerves and endurance to epic proportions.  After hearing the brother and sister duo exchange “Don’t touch me!” and “It’s my turn!” like dueling banjos around every curve in the road, I screamed “STOP THE CAR!” When I wearily trudged away from the car on a quiet forest pathway, I heard the worrisome two ask, “Daddy, what’s wrong with Mama?  Jim replied, “You’ve driven her crazy!  That’s what’s wrong with Mama!

We planned vacations hoping for delicious meals in nice restaurants.  Let’s see, which dinner of catastrophe shall we reminisce upon?  Mama Mia, there was the Italian restaurant with the roving accordionist striking notes of discord for our dining displeasure.  He chatted with Jim and learned that we were from Alabama.  Why didn’t we plead some witness protection act and use an anonymous state, say maybe Alaska?!!  The accordionist proposed playing “Stars Fell on Alabama” until he saw our cute kid in the highchair smeared with tomato sauce and spaghetti dangling among her curls and probably from her ears.  He gulped and ran to the next table. Wish I could have followed him!  Honestly, I’m so very happy that we went on all of the vacations and took them with us.  We hear our children now as adults with children of their own laughing about those trips, and we feel the reward for our efforts.

130356747720007426The youngest daughter came at a time when we traveled longer distances.  Jim and I took one trip without her for a week; I worried the whole time, although she was fine and not scarred for life.  From then on, she went with us.  Admittedly, she was a great traveler.  I’m sure there are many more children out there who will be happy companions, given the opportunity.  Children open adults’ eyes to fun activities that would not happen otherwise.  There’s a whole other world of things to enjoy with a child in tow.  People react differently when you have a cute kid in your arms, or skipping along beside you.  Conversations begin, and you are invited to see more than you would without the calling card of a little one.  Even with language differences, we saw cookies and little extras appear from people with smiling faces when a petite girl entered the scene with us.  They wouldn’t have bothered without our goodwill ambassador with the long blonde hair.

130380928815545700However, if you are convinced that your brood will bounce off the walls like a can of Mexican jumping beans and behave like a pack of heathens, maybe you should stay home and protect the home country’s image!  Mother knows best!

As a Mother, I will tuck a note of advice in your suitcase between your clean undies and the warm sweater, that I am suggesting also.  My note written hastily says, “Don’t max out your credit cards!  It isn’t worth it despite the advertisements luring you in that direction.  Be careful and try to be patient with each other.  Remember that you are making memories for the future.  Along the way, please teach your children to appreciate this beautiful earth, our home.austriawaterfall

Our adventure was just underway after the circle of cows escorted us into Austria.  I hope you enjoy the picture journey and plan your own, wherever your dreams may lead you with Mom’s approval. 

We stayed in pensions, bed and breakfast homes and inns, plus a special stay in a castle!  Prices were reasonable then.  Bargains are still out there, but not easy to find anymore.

We stayed in pensions, bed and breakfast homes and inns, plus a special stay in a castle! Prices were reasonable then. Bargains are still out there, but not easy to find anymore.  You could start here at the Frommers website.

We slept in a romantic hotel

We checked into one of the Romantik Hotels – Hotel Forstinger – The rooms are now updated to the current modern trend.

Romantic bedroom

I prefer the old romantic bedroom!

Princess hat, courtesy of Disney - We stayed in a castle which no longer accepts guests.

Princess hat, courtesy of Disney – We stayed in a castle which no longer accepts guests.  We were the only guests at the time and felt like we were friends of the family in this ancient, magnificent building.

View of Innsbruch, Austria - All photos are scanned - I didn't have a digital camera then

View of Innsbruck, Austria – All photos are scanned – I didn’t have a digital camera then.

Inside the castle, we were allowed to make ourselves at home - "Guards, find my hair stylist and take him to the dungeon!"

Inside the castle, we were allowed to make ourselves at home – “Guards, find my hair stylist and take him to the dungeon!”

This sign was much funnier with little girl giggles from the back seat.  Gute Fahrte to everyone!

Gute Fahrt (Good Ride)  This sign was much funnier with little girl giggles from the back seat. Gute Fahrt to everyone!

I tried something new on the (click to see) France – storytelling and pictures page.  Let me know what you think.  Do you like the collage or the single pictures?  I enjoy reading your comments.  Thank you for dropping by to visit.  Come again!

“Let Them Eat Cake” – by Debbie Ambrous

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake - Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake – Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Let them eat cake.” Did Marie-Antoinette utter these famous words?  Some historians believe it is unlikely since Marie-Antoinette donated generously to charitable causes despite her lavish life-style.  I couldn’t tell you whether she did or not, but I can tell you with authority that Jim spoke these words in a royal order while he bears no resemblance to a lavish life-style.  Why?  I hope you’re not wearing your hoop skirt and powdered wig today.  If so, get comfortable and let me tell you my troubles.

First, I was nominated to decorate for a luncheon of about forty or so people – when I wasn’t present to vote, of course!!  Somehow they confused the fact that I like to decorate houses with decorating tables and all that frivolity.  I would rather sit and wait for my number to be called at the Social Security office.    They even mentioned balloons and paper streamers.  I asked when was the last time any of the group had played Pin-the-tail- on-the-donkey.  Jim moved out of the way fast for fear that he would be the donkey.  I searched the house for any ideas of something I could use not involving money out of my pocket.   Tablecloths were located inside drawers, along with other linens.  It was here that I found crocheted and embroidered dainty pieces from Mother, Grandmother Bryan and flea markets – an armful.

A portion of the crochet-work spread on my bed

A portion of the crochet-work spread on my bed

  The handiwork of many hours of work is tucked away, almost never seeing the light of day.  I ironed with heavy starch, lavender scented, until it was all crisp and pretty.  I like to iron and smell the heat on the cotton.  No, don’t send me your ironing! When I was younger, I would iron and watch soap operas.  Some of the steamier scenes may have led to scorched shirts, but I’m not telling.

014Shabby chic was my theme with crochet items, bouquets of flowers in old vases and small figurines scattered along the tables.

A circle of roses spread in the sunshine to dry.  I tried the sugar-water mixture for heavy texture.  Click here for information.  I boiled a cup of sugar and a cup of water, then dipped the cloth.

A circle of roses spread in the sunshine to dry. I tried the sugar-water mixture for heavy texture. Click here for information. I boiled a cup of sugar and a cup of water, then dipped the cloth.

   Adding to the interest and creating conversation pieces, a few old books in dark green and dusky rose colors to match the over-all color scheme would be arranged on the tables. 018 With this plan underway, we hightailed it over to Wal-Mart to buy flowers. Yes, Jim had been volunteered without his permission, just like I was, into the party preparations.  I selected roses and lilies.  Jim investigated the price tags, and his eyes rolled around in their sockets.  His facial color matched the pink color scheme, and he said: “Aren’t these awfully expensive?  Do you need this many flowers?  I was planning to buy something for us to eat this week, you know!!  I explained that I had cut back on expense by not buying tablecloths and other decorations, especially balloons and streamers, so this was truly my only expense. marie-antoinette Then, right there in the Wal-Mart shopping aisle he said for everyone to hear, “Well, I don’t know why they need all of this stuff – Let them eat cake!”  Find a white wig and a big ole puffy gown for Mr. Party-Pooper, Marie’s long-lost cousin!

We had one more stop.  I had noticed a couple of dumpsters behind the florist shop downtown containing flowers they had thrown away.  Jim wouldn’t stop before we went to Wal-Mart since it was still daylight.  He didn’t say that was the reason, but I knew it.  We pulled alongside the green, plastic bins filled with flowers and greenery, some wilted but others still in good condition.  I rummaged away, pushing aside and digging to the bottom, finding carnations, ferns, roses and chrysanthemums.  This was great fun to me, free flowers and the excitement of the find.  The freebies would supplement my purchased flowers.  Jim wanted no part of it and left me to forage while he was hiding in the car protecting his affluent, bleu-blood image.  When he spoke his – Let them eat cake! – command, he admitted he was a cheapskate, but now when it came down to the garbage cans he wanted no part of it.  Well, your royal highness, if you’re really tight with the purse strings, you may have to bend down with us commoners and do some scrounging.”  He muttered something about the guillotine for me and eating cake by himself.

I know one fellow who would have loved hearing all about this nonsense – our dear Sweet Mr. Lee.  (You can read an earlier story about this kind gentleman by clicking here.  The story is a bit silly, but the lovely person in the story was special to us.)  Sweet Mr. Lee, also known as Jack, died this week. 

Jack Lee and his beloved wife Francis

Jack Lee and his beloved wife Francis

He was 87 years old, but he didn’t seem that old in very many ways.  We will miss him greatly.  Jack saw us almost daily when he drove his golf cart around the circle and stopped to see what we were up to.  I enjoyed talking with him about many subjects, and Jim teasingly called me Jack’s girlfriend.  Quickly, I told Jim he shouldn’t do that because it might embarrass this elderly widower, but then Jack picked up on it and came back at Jim.  He would say, “Hey Jim, you caught us again!”  I told Jack to keep an eye on Jim to be sure he didn’t stray from any of his assigned tasks in the yard work.  I printed my stories from the blog for him since he wasn’t very adept with the computer.  One of the last things that Jack asked Jim to do was to print a copy of the most recent story for him.   I always shared my baking with him, wrapping up cookies, cake and other stuff from our kitchen. 

Jack was a great scrounger.  He brought all kind of stuff that he had found on his rounds with the golf cart: a broken flower pot, part of bird bath, ornamental iron stands and other goodies.  He gave flower seeds to me for the bright red celosia flowers.  Jack wanted me to plant blueberry bushes, and when he talked about them his eyes were bright and it seemed that his mouth was watering for those blueberries.  I can still hear him saying “blueberries”.  We finally bought three bushes and planted them near the driveway so he could reach them when we had berries.  It was difficult for him to walk very far.

Jim told me that Jack’s kind and caring daughter Charlotte had mentioned that he was like the son that Jack never had since Jim had been there to help when he especially needed it.  Jim was quick to be there for company and for tasks that Jack couldn’t handle.  I could see that Jim was touched by this, and rightly he should be.  I hugged him and said, “That’s all fine and dandy, but remember that I was Jack’s young girlfriend.” 

We love you Sweet Mr. Lee, and oh so much, we will miss you!

I must apologize since I have no new pictures on the France – storytelling and pictures page and no time to add the recipe for the cake.  It has been a busy week with Marie-Antoinette’s direct descendant here in the palace.  Please come again!  Merci! Just leave a message for me in the reply area, and I will send the recipe for the cake.

Do you have crocheted items like these?  Do you have shabby chic ideas for a party?  You can comment and see other comments in the reply area below.

“Le blah-blah on Narrow Roads” – by Debbie Ambrous”

Saint Cyprien's main street with fleurs, boulangerie and shoes!

Saint Cyprien’s main street with fleurs, boulangerie and shoes!

Go, go, and go to France.”  The theme to each of my stories could be tagged with those words. Get ready to flip-flop that notion because I’m planning to scare you silly. 

Setting the scene, it was early May in Southwest France about three miles from Saint Cyprien, a picturesque medieval village with narrow streets climbing to the hilltop twelfth-century bell tower.  A colorful Sunday market overflowed through the twisting lanes with fresh flowers, spices, pretty clothing, fragrant soaps, delicious fruits and vegetables.  Art galleries, boulangeries and cafés beckoned me to linger and savor. 

So far, you are not scared, huh?  Sit in the back seat.  Oh, and don’t forget to buckle your seat belt.  Jim and I were only minutes away from our destination when he asked, “Which way do I go now?  You Google-mapped this place so many times that it must be embedded into our computer screen at home.”  The sign directing us to the rental appeared on the right almost immediately.  He was to the heart of the matter about the Google-mapping.  I was in eager anticipation for our month-long stay in a three-bedroom stone house in a serene hamlet. 003  The pictures of the house promised an idyllic French house with a wealth of exposed stonework, massive beams, a huge fireplace, pretty blue shutters and a terrace that overlooks Chateau Roc. 

We were finally there, just moments away and turning to follow the signs to the dreamy French cottage.  Leaving the paved highway, the road narrowed to a rutted, gravel and rock surface snaking through the woods and marsh, dipping into mud and then climbing up the hillside.  Approaching the hillside at a flip-over-backwards angle, the road did a sharp meet-yourself-coming-back turn with a boulder-faced wall ready to embrace us eternally.  I use the word “road” very liberally since it narrowed into a goat track.  I held my breath, kept my mouth shut, cringed into a rigid statue of an old lady who wished she had taken that last pit stop.  Not a word, bleat nor scream – that was stuck in my throat – were uttered.  I’ve been married way long enough to know to – “stifle” like Archie bellowed at Edith in the TV series – when we’re under X-treme circumstances.  Jim was navigating between rolling down the hill and never being found again and, or smashing MY side of the car!  It was no time to sound off directions since I was the one who chose this house with the Thunder Mountain roadway, and it was my fault until I could devise some way that it was his fault. 

Le curve, a masculine he man curve!  Or, is it La curve, a she-devil monster? I'm keeping quiet.  You can express your opinions later!

Le curve, a masculine he man curve! Or, is it La curve, a she-devil monster? I’m keeping quiet. You can express your opinions later!

The wall on MY SIDE of the car when we did our first test drive

The wall on MY SIDE of the car when we did our first test drive

R+F For Life (Vie)  - I just hoped it wasn't J+A Mort (dead) on this wall!

Sweethearts R+F For Life (Vie) – I just hoped it wasn’t J+D Mort (dead) on this wall!

We were not out of the woods yet, literally.  The goat track took a blind curve to the right, so we could not see if vehicles or goats were headed our way.    With no room to pass, we would have to back up if faced with oncoming traffic.  What a sickening thought!  We made it safely around the curve and followed the pathway around the hill through more woods.  Chateau Roc was peeking regally through the tall trees in the distance to the left, but I kept that observation to myself since I was still stifling in a moment of silence while Jim kept us from harm’s way. 

Le blah blah erupted here when the car stalled

Le blah blah erupted here when the car stalled

We left the woods behind and climbed the hill to the hamlet.  Jim was faced with another sharp left at the top of the hill.  He stopped since he was facing a house under construction and two driveways with potential traffic of backhoes, trucks or toddlers that could create a traffic hazard.  Our rental car had reliably submitted to the trail of rocks and shocks so far.  With its front end pointed upward and another car suddenly joined to its back bumper – it stalled! The French car had manual transmission; you can’t rent automatic transmission in Europe unless you are dripping rich.  Trying to crank the car and not roll back into the lovebug joined to our backside, Jim maneuvered expertly and almost moved forward.  At that moment, I decided to start with my blah blah and le blah, blah.    I’ll jump out and ask the fellow to move his car backwards so you won’t have such pressure to move the car.  I know it isn’t easy for you and you might roll back and hit him. You’ve driven a long way with jet lag.  Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.  Hot under the collar, Jim told me to keep seated and other words of endearment.  He made the sharp turn to the left, jostling me in the seat but only slightly disturbing the pretty poppies growing on the stone wall as they swished only inches from my window. 

DSC02932

One last curve before we make it past the barn and miss the stone wall - Whew!

One last quick curve before we make it past the barn and miss the stone wall – Whew!

We crept past a garden and a sweet older couple by their front door, draped in a red climbing rose. Their faces wrinkled in puzzlement showed they were wondering what the neighborhood was coming to when we flashed our bewildered smiles.  Jim wedged between an ancient barn and a steep bank, not knowing what was ahead over the hill, and there on the left we saw our French blue-shuttered, beautiful home for a month in France.  Ahhh!  Wasn’t that worth it all? You may enjoy reading more about our month-long stay in the lovely house if you are new to A French Opportunity.  Just click here for Heart of the Lion” and especially “Bonjour and Hi Ya’ll”  

Looking down our lane for the month of May - gorgeous blue-shuttered house on the right

Looking down our lane for the month of May – gorgeous blue-shuttered house on the immediate right

Truthfully, Jim got the hang of it and drove like an expert Frenchman.  However, we only went out at night once!  Riding a French roller coaster, goat track in the total darkness is not our idea of a good time!  Jim has driven where we had to close in the rear view mirrors to drive through lanes in medieval villages.  He has entered walled villages with narrow ancient arches, and he has made it through flocks of sheep, goats and cattle.  When we’re out of the thick of trouble, he doesn’t mind it none at all when I go on and on with blah, blah and le blah blah when he is getting the praise.

I gave Jim my story to read and review.  Yes, I know, what was I thinking?   He saw the French le in the paragraph and said, “You are all wrong there with your le and the blah, blah.  Le is masculine.  You should be using “la” the feminine French article.  Everybody knows blah and blah, blah started on the feminine side!”  He laughed at his cleverness, but inside I had the last laugh because he never did figure out that the road to nerve attacks was my fault – at least until he read this.  

 I hope you weren’t too scared and you will ride with us again.  We did learn to ask more about the roads to any potential rental houses.  We will keep going our way independently as long as we feel we can safely do so.  This isn’t for everyone.  I would like to suggest a wonderful alternative.  Perigord Tours can take you to the beautiful places like you see in pictures on this website and arrange nice accommodations. 204 They find the special out of the way villages, and you will not have to worry about the potential hazards.  English is spoken.  Jim and I met the lovely family who manage Perigord Tours, and we know they will welcome you and make you feel comfortable.  They have two adorable daughters who will charm you with their polite manners and English accents. perigordtours Now, don’t you feel better about travel to France already?  Go, go and go to France!

I borrowed the “blah, blah and le blah blah” phrase from Bobbi French who lives in Canada and is also a writer and author.  Click here for Bobbi’s blog.  She is extra funny and maybe spicier than the Southern lady who travels with romanticism and Opp-timism.  She is more than one up on me because she lived in France and then on to Switzerland for a while.  We have a few things in common since she is crazy about her husband Rusty who is the cook in the family, and you know already that I feel the same about my crazy husband who is Chef Extraordinaire.  Who knows?  Maybe we will have a Canada-Alabama bake-off!  Thanks to Bobbi for being such a good sport and mixing up with us Southerners!  Next thing you know, she will be eating collard greens with cornbread and washin’ it down with a tall glass of iced tea.  Thank ya’ll!

Just look to the top right-hand area of this page for the Subscribe area; enter your e-mail for a free notification when a new post appears.  Then you will never miss out!  I must apologize since it was out of order for a while, but should be fixed now!

Click here for more narrow lanes on the French-storytelling and pictures page.  Thank you very much for your kind words and especially for the comments in the reply area.  Could you perhaps tell us about your harrowing accounts on the road whether in France, Alabama or even Canada?  See other reader’s comments and enter yours. 

I must add that I greatly appreciated the heartfelt support of the Adams family last week.  I was touched by the comments I received both here and on Facebook.  Thank you very kindly.

“One of a Kind” – by Debbie Ambrous

108I need a generous dose of beauty to help ease my sadness.  I’ve cried the tears.  There will be more.  A lovely friend of mine from childhood who cheered me on through ups and downs is no longer there for me and all those dear to her.  She wrapped her arms around her husband, children, grandchildren, friends and strangers making them feel warm inside and bringing smiles to their faces.   Stray kittens and stray lonely people were cuddled and caressed by her generous hands and soothing voice; they remember the beautiful person that came their way in a time of need.  People filed in for her memorial service until they congregated in standing room only in the back and along the sides, packing the room with love and respect.  057

When I was a girl at that awkward stage of becoming a young woman, she was my new friend who was two years older and two years more knowledgeable.  Mother was there to explain what was happening, but having a close friend who understood my strange new feelings of wearing a bra for the first time, casting aside patent leather shoes with white nylon socks for my first low heels, needing deodorant – and believe me, most of it didn’t work like what we have now – and being embarrassed about so many things was deeply appreciated.  We went through it together until she moved away.

She entered my life again a few years later when I was dating.  You see, her precious husband Ed was the first person I dated.  He is precious to me also in a different way.  Ed is, and always has been – a gentleman – a perfect husband for my friend.036  After Ed, I kissed a few frogs who didn’t turn into princes and a few princes who rescued other damsels – not me.  Then I met my true prince – Jim.  Maybe I will tell you that story sometime.  You know the ending.  108I’m sure you know wonderful wives, mothers and friends.  How is the lovely lady that I am describing different?  How is she unique?  Shirley Evelyn Adams was one of a kind.  When Shirley’s name was spoken, a smile spread across the face of anyone who knew her.  A glimpse of Shirley and one would think of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor or Jacqueline Kennedy. 0201141448a Shirley didn’t copy these ladies consciously, but she had style and class of her own in a comparable way to these grand ladies.   How did she do it?  Shirley had a humble origin, no uppity-training or designer wardrobes, but when she stepped on the scene she was stunning from head to toe.  She wore wide-brimmed hats, or swept up her curly dark hair in a signature style.  0201141448bBeneath the brim of the wide hat, her eyes sparkled, crinkled in a smile or laughing; all were captivated.  Yes, she was unique.  We will remember the beauty of those bright, sparkling eyes.  Shirley’s voice was her most characteristic, stand-alone asset.  I have never heard another in comparison, except perhaps Jackie Kennedy.   Shirley spoke words in a voice worthy of poetry, and often they touched us the same.  I still hear her voice – not literally – yet in my mind. Shirley still brings happiness to me. 

She wasn’t perfect.  She was one of us.  Maybe that was part of the reason we loved her so much.  She moved like a princess, but she had flaws like the rest of us.  Her slip might be showing, a bra strap could peek at the edge of her lacy blouse or the exquisitely coiffed curly hair could collapse in the heat.  We liked her just the way she was.  She made us smile. 

When Shirley and I were a bit older, our doctors noticed we were not 20 or 30 and said we had to stop taking the pill.  Now, you may be thinking I’m straying from the subject, or this is a taboo subject for memory of my friend.  I’ve considered this already, and I feel that Shirley would approve since she would likely talk about any and every subject that entered her mind in her sweet voice and cause chuckles all along her pathway.  Continuing with my and Shirley’s situation of no longer having the trusted pill, a quiet discussion ensued.  Shirley confided her alternate choice of birth control, and I followed in her dainty footsteps straight to the maternity ward.  Yes, we both wore maternity clothes together.  I blame Shirley and thank her for my last beautiful baby. 

I’m comforted by those memories and by a deeply assured hope for the future.  I wore the obligatory dark suit for the memorial service, but when I selected a blouse I reached for a brightly colored, paisley one, thinking Shirley would approve.   I said on the way that I don’t always cry as expected, and I didn’t until I heard the music.  After I had wiped away the tears, I gasped when I thought – I should have worn a big hat!

This story is in memory of Shirley Evelyn Adams, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister and a friend to a circle of loved ones.  A unique Princess is not forgotten.0201141447

A rose arrived at my home on the day of the memorial service, the 2005 rose of the year, named Voluptuous with satiny, deep fuchsia-pink petals and a soft fragrance.    The rose is in our garden now and renamed always in my mind in memory of Shirley.

You can see comments of others and leave yours in the reply area036 I enjoy hearing from you!  I hope you like the lovely pictures of France by clicking here for the France-storytelling and pictures page.

“Alabama and Italian Ice” – by Debbie Ambrous

My camelia bush shed its pink blooms on the ground creating a work of art with new colors in the ice.

My camellia bush shed its pink blooms on the ground creating a work of art with new colors in the ice.

Snow and ice sheathed our Alabama home and yard like the finest designer-inspired, radiantly white silk shantung wedding dress – for two days only. snow

Then it all melted away exposing ugly brown grass, our old car with its dents and dings, dead camellia blooms in the mud and a dried-up jasmine vine with its arch above the cracked walkway. Funny, I hadn’t noticed those cracks as much before the snow.  The wedding gown had been lifted, exposing cracking skin, hairy legs and ugly warts. 001 Or, were those my legs after the thick socks, leggings and heavy pants for the 18 degree dip?  Of course not!  Jim would never take me on another Umpteenth Second Honeymoon.  I’m talking about the snow covering a multitude of unsightly stuff and creating works of art on unlikely objects. 

We stayed inside except for a few photo forays around our circle, seeing youngsters slide on the snow and hoping we wouldn’t do the same with broken legs or hips.  One father was towing his children, and I’m not sure who was having the most fun – the kids or the father. I had my hot tea and viewed the pristine white scenes through all of my windows. We looked through pictures of our travels to beautiful areas when snow was packed on mountains and buildings.  No special, beauty cold-pack was needed in the mountains surrounded by lovely villages, but the snow was icing on the cake, to use a cliché.

hotelwithbeautifulmtnbackgroundJim looked at pictures of a special trip that he took with his sister Virginia to heavy snow in the Swiss Alps and a stay in a small apartment on Lake Como in Italy. (If you missed the PARIS trip, click here.)  He doesn’t get into heavy dialogue about his travel, going on and on about the color of the drapes, or how thick and lush the carpets were, like I do when I travel to great destinations.  Then, 75% of his pictures have chopped off most of what I want to see, or a telephone pole is covering the center of a lovely building.  I’ve gleaned the best of the photos, and I believe you will agree that they are beautiful.  Lake Como has to be lovely because George Clooney has a place there – probably a palace!   And, Jim and Virginia slept there!  How much more recommendation do you need?  If you are looking for beautiful snow and can’t find any at our palace, consider Lake Como and a side-trip to the Swiss Alps.  I’ll let the pictures do the 1000 words more since Jim is not a Rick Steves  travel commentator. 

villageandlakemountainvillavillagelakemountainshotelloadedwithsnowmountainwaterfall

verycolorfulhouses

Did you enjoy Jim’s photography of Italy?  I gained an education since I worked on the photos, cropping highways and aluminum railings etc., plus a few other edits.   I’ve never tried the photography enhancements except for cropping a few pictures for my book preparation.  

Do you use a program that you like very much and could recommend?  I would like to hear about anything easy to use, very dummy-proof! 

Do you dream of going to Italy?  Under the Tuscan Sun, both the book and the movie filled many of us with a love of Tuscany.  Then, Venice is a city like no other with its ancient buildings and romantic waterways.  Italians are friendly.  The food is wonderful.  Why wouldn’t we love Italy?  Order your copies of some wonderful books about Italy in the -  CLICK HERE French Market Place.  I enjoyed A Thousand Days in Tuscany very much and Lady in the Palazzo even more so.  If only I could write like Marlena de Blasi!

Despite all of this, my first love is France!  What about you?  Which do you prefer?  I love to see your comments, even if you like Italy better than France.  How could you??!! 

Don’t miss more of (Just Click here!) Jim’s photography of France is on the France-storytelling and picture page.  Thank you for your encouragement and for visiting us!