“100,000 Flowers” – by Debbie Ambrous

Powerful pink peony bush is like 100,000 flowers in its glorious impact.

Powerful pink peony bush is like 100,000 flowers in its glorious impact.

SAINT-FRAIMBAULT, FRANCE –
“Saint-Fraimbault is a true village fleurie. Each Spring, 100,000 flowers swamp the village in color as villagers try to outdo each other’s displays.” I read these words from my travel guidebook when Jim and I were hurrying along the road in the rain in the Lower Normandy region of France in April of this year. Pointing to the suggestions in the book, I told Jim, “This lovely village with four stars for its flowers is just a short distance off the main road. Could we turn off and see the flowers?IMG_1525With 100,000 flowers dancing in my head, like a Disney production of fleuries on parade, we drove into the small town. Workers were digging into the soil and planting the flower beds at the entry, surely a direction sign for beauty in the village. Up the hill in the center of town was a rather average place with a church, a few businesses and houses. We parked and searched for the 100,000 flowers. Wisteria vines of old growth clung to ancient stone walls with purple clusters perfuming the air and enticing bumblebees. Beautiful, yes, but this was not the ecstasy of flowers that lured me from the main highway.IMG_1534We searched the streets and found humble flower gardens, all beautiful in their own simple manner, but not the 4-star-extravaganza I envisioned.IMG_1537-1 Gradually, we were won over by the village and the smiling ladies who spoke to us when we snapped our cameras at their flower gardens.

I read a sentence about the grand flower show that I had overlooked in the guidebook later when I was seated in the car: “It all culminates in a mid-August festival.” Ah, we were too early! The blooms were still sleeping and waiting for the big days in the summer. Perhaps some of the simple buildings were hiding away the full production like Disney has the parade floats under cover until it is show time. In the summer sun the bands will play, the children will laugh and old ladies will be happy with the production in the lovely village in France. I was happy with the giant, pink peonies and the promise of more to come.

Saint Céneri le Gérei, France
“The ravishing village has a memorable setting. Crowned by a fine Romanesque church, its stone houses overlook the gentle River Sarthe as it flows around a rocky promontory on the edge of the Alpes Mancelles.” IMG_1929These words in my Eyewitness Travel guidebook lit passion in my Francophile heart for yet another idyllic beauty to store in my camera with the other 2000 photos. I was not disappointed. With this short description, I will leave the pictures to speak their words.IMG_1944IMG_1937IMG_1910IMG_1920As for my current plans, I will be taking advantage of this warmer weather while today is gorgeous and hoping I will have a modest fleurie garden this coming spring.IMG_1916

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed the short visit to the villages. I thought I would be quiet about the reason for my brevity for the blog, but I will own up to the truth. As I sit here today, I have a shoulder and a knee with bandages from skin biopsies after my dermatology appointment. This isn’t the best company for writing!

It does provide the perfect time to give a reminder to protect your skin from the sun and see a dermatologist regularly. I’ve had a number of skin cancers removed including two that were close to the danger zone. I am very careful and I appreciate the excellent Dr. Boni Elewkski’s (University Medical Center – Birmingham, AL) thorough exams.

Yes, that’s Jim between the two lovely ladies on the left – proving his unbelievable chick magnetism  again!

I will be away from my keyboard most of the coming days with no blog entries until 2015.

See you next year! Be safe, happy, healthy and please come to visit again!

 

Thank you for all of your generous kindness during this year! Ya’ll are the best of the best!!

“Wednesday or Tuesday Night” – by Debbie Ambrous

The well-trained dog waited patiently for his croissant. Now, this is the real France!

The well-trained dog waited patiently for his croissant. Now, this is the real France!

Tell them about the morning when we had breakfast with the dog.” That was Jim’s suggestion when I was pondering my next story for the blog. He thought it was great fun to drink his coffee and share his croissants with the friendly black dog in France while local people gathered at the counter for their morning choice of drinks. No fancy restaurant, or touristy place, to start our day. We were there for the French breakfast of champions. I agreed with Jim saying, “That’s a good idea. I should have written it several days ago instead of playing around and lazing around here. Why don’t I have it ready ahead of time instead of waiting until the last minute?

Painted sign on the pavement a few yards from our morning coffee & croissants

Painted sign on the pavement a few yards from our morning coffee & croissants

Neighborhood house a few doors away

Neighborhood house a few doors away from early morning coffee

Colorful houses lining the next street below

Colorful houses lining the next street down below

With those energetic, ambitious words floating around in the air, I settled into my soft, down-filled cushions on the sofa to continue reading “A House Somewhere”, a Lonely Planet compilation of tales of life abroad. The stories of Paris and Provence were finished quickly, and I was concentrating on the piece titled “Digging Mr. Benny’s Dead Uncle” by Rolf Potts. The plot was rolling out with Mr. Benny, Potts’ barber, who had dug up the grave site of his uncle in the darkness of night in Burma in 1993. Mr. Benny smuggled the bones across the border to Thailand in a sack, bribing the border police with whiskey. Deep into the story, I was anxious to see what happened next but annoyed at a continuous noise sounding like a motor outside. It was Wednesday night of this week, or maybe it was Tuesday – one of those lazy days.
In annoyance, I asked Jim, “What on earth is going on outside?
It’s an airplane.”
An airplane!? No way! I’ve heard the noise for 30 minutes, or more. Our neighborhood isn’t exactly JFK runway!

Leaving Mr. Benny’s dead uncle’s bones, I joined Jim on our tiny porch to look up into the sky for an airplane. Sure enough, a small airplane, not a helicopter, was flying back and forth overhead under the bright moon, circled in a wide halo.
Grinning at me, like the silly person he is, Jim said, “I think we’re under attack.”
Right! This is Opp! Remember? Aliens in an UFO would be more likely!

What did we do? Call the Opp Police Department, or Homeland Security? No, we waved to the Alien UFO so they could get a good shot of me in my cuddly, pink pj’s and Jim in his Auburn sweatshirt (like it did the football team any good). Jim’s departing words were, “If they’re looking for intelligent life in our house, they won’t find any!” Speak for yourself, Jim!

I rejoined my tale of the grave robbery just at the time when Mr. Benny grew worried about dogs attacking him for the bones. In fear, he threw them into the sea and got pig bones from a butcher to send to the cousin. The cousin was very angry and accused him of tricking her for money. Mr. Benny said a scientist reported that her grandfather was a pig. Mr. Benny said he didn’t know anything about NDA testing. The man listening to the barber’s story replied, “Oh, right. DNA testing.”

Interrupting my thoughts about the amusing, old man in faraway Thailand, while the background drone of the airplane continued in the night air, Jim said,
What about those giant, pink flowers in the old lady’s yard that you liked so much?
Holding my place in the book, I turned and asked, “What?! What are you talking about?
You asked me what to write about. Ex-cuuse me. Forget I ever said anything! I just thought you could write about those pretty flowers you liked by the road.”
Oh, o.k. Sorry. Thanks for the idea.”

The sweet lady in Normandy reminded me of my Granny Bryan and her beautiful flower garden.

The sweet lady in Normandy reminded me of my Granny Bryan and her beautiful flower garden.

The smiling, gray-haired lady cultivated some of the most beautiful rhododendrons I’ve ever seen. Her house was beside a highway with busy traffic. The mature tree-sized bushes lined both sides of the road with a fantasy world of large, pink flowers.IMG_1846 IMG_1833I planned to snap a few photos from the road and move along, but I was stopped in my tracks by the sweet lady’s insistence that I come into her flower garden.IMG_1817 Azaleas in many colors and other dazzling flowers grew in the well-tended garden. The French lady didn’t know what Jim was saying, but she thought he was hilarious. I knew she was intelligent when I first laid eyes on her. She pegged Jim right away.

Returning to Wednesday, or maybe it was Tuesday night, the noise of the plane had drifted away. I had enjoyed the unbelievable tale of the barber in Thailand. However, barbers in Thailand don’t have a monopoly on tales that will curl your hair. Alabama barbers and beauticians have their own yarns to tell. A suggestion from Jim in the easy chair reached my ears, “What about a science fiction story about the UFO over Opp, Alabama?
I rolled over and flipped my page to a new chapter and knew in my heart that I would have strange dreams on that Wednesday, or Tuesday night.

IMG_467711:30 PM (Wed. or Tues. night) Fluffy, pink Easy Spirit slippers padded to the king-size sleigh bed, moving like an older Pink Panther to a saucer of warm milk. Pink Panther stopped near the soft mattress and said:
“Jim, I still don’t have a title for the story. How does “Evening in Opp” hinting at “Evening in Paris” sound? Or, I could headline it with “The Dog Who Came for Breakfast”. Husband Jim sleepily said, “No, Honey, come on to bed. Sleep on it. You’ll come up with something, but don’t tell your readers about the bones buried under our house!

Could you leave a note in the comments box and tell me if you like Jim’s story suggestions? Naturally, he suggests “A French Opportunity” for everyone including UFO Aliens in Alabama airspace and beyond. Jim tried his hand at science fiction writing in a previous story. If you didn’t see it when it was posted earlier, you must click below and take a look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, you might like the Alabama beauty shop tale “Off the Top” if you haven’t read it – no pig bones involved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Anniversary to our friends, John and Mary Moyer! Their love story is one of the sweetest.  Read about what follows their wedding in a story from last year if you missed it.

Thank ya’ll for joining us. Come see us again!

“My Gifts from Brittany” – by Debbie Ambrous

Do you still have a youthful curiosity for exploration?

Do you still have a youthful curiosity for exploration?

I’m thankful for a teaspoonful of Brittany: a small taste of sea, sand, sailboats, fortified castles, stone-built ramparts and a plate of delicious mussels served with a view of a pink cloud hovering above the bay’s rippling tidal water.

Imagine a young woman, an artist, in her twenties from Chicago moving to France back in the 60’s. She fell in love with a young, volatile painter and bought a run-down Breton farmhouse with outbuildings, all needing complete renovation with no floors, plumbing or electricity. The villagers’ lives had changed very little since the Middle Ages. The young couple separated, and the young lady was left behind in the hamlet with their child. Mom and daughter formed a friendship with a peasant woman despite generations of age difference, and no similarities of culture, or language. Marjorie Price lived these experiences and wrote her memoir in the book “A Gift from Brittany” which undoubtedly influenced my opinion of the region since I enjoyed reading the beautifully written story. I hoped that some of this era was still evident in Brittany except with modern sanitary facilities.

Another young one with curiosity with strong hands guiding her way ...

A young one with curiosity and strong hands guiding her way …

Another influence that affected my view of the region happened in the 80’s. I had the gift of a daughter – named Brittany. Britney Spears had no influence on the name since she entered the scene later. My inspiration came from a travel magazine with picturesque scenes of the French villages of Brittany and the colorful costumes with embroidery and lace used for festivals. I thought the name was beautiful, and I considered using Dinan, the featured town in the magazine, as my daughter’s middle name. But I rejected the name in favor of Elizabeth, her great-grandmother’s name, since I thought a spelling confusion with the name Diane could cause problems in the future.

My Brittany wore the typical baby bonnets with lace, ruffles and embroidery, but nothing to compare to the lacy creations by the Bretons in France!

In a display case at Chateau Villandry - Loire Valley (not Brittany)

In a display case at Chateau Villandry – Loire Valley (not Brittany)

In years past newborn Breton children customarily dressed in a bonnet, gown and apron. They continued dressing in this pattern until they were five or six years old. Breton clothing differed from one area to the next, and it was possible to tell the exact geographical origin of a person by their dress. In one area young women wore a small, flowery shawl; married women wore a shawl with squares; widows wore a white shawl, and when a close relative died, a winged headdress was worn. Unmarried men wore green coats, and married men wore blue jackets. The most impressive lacework headdress is worn by the Bigouden, which are nearly thirteen inches high! They are shown proudly on the heads of the older women on Sundays.

At the last of April of this year, Jim and I closed the doors of our rental car which was parked a short distance from the main entrance – Porte St. Vincent – a gateway in the walls which are twenty-three feet thick! A stairway leads up to the rampart walls, but we had coffee and croissants on our minds, not a long walk. That could wait until later. We had arrived early, snagging the close parking space by the quiet marina with its watery parking spaces for ships, yachts and fishing boats, colorfully welcoming us to St. Malo’s walled city.IMG_1569 Inside the walls, the city was awakening with metal, protective doors sliding up and opening to glass shop display windows and awnings cranked in place. People rushed to work, and children wearing backpacks trudged to school. A modern boulangerie with lime-green chairs wrapped around a side-street; there we savored our wonderful coffee and flaky, buttery croissants. Then, we could face the many steps of walking along the narrow streets, through the square with the children’s play equipment, up the stairs, down the stairs, along the sand, on the massive rocks, up the stairs again, along the ramparts, down the stairs again, along the street by the many restaurants and to the parking lot. Back in the car we rushed away to Mont St. Michel – Jim’s favorite destination which I hope you saw last week. My turn for show-and-tell is this week. IMG_1698IMG_1623IMG_1635

A walk along the rampart walls ...

A walk along the rampart walls …

Since I took you dizzily along the fast track of all of our steps, I will return to the walled city of St. Malo and drop a name you may remember if you were paying attention in history class. Do you remember the name you missed on the exam about the explorer who sailed from his native St. Malo in 1534 for Newfoundland? Here is a hint: he discovered the estuary of the St. Lawrence River and following the river upstream, he discovered Canada! The territory was named New France.

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier

Yes, his name was Jacques Cartier. A statue is erected in his honor on the ramparts and his tomb is in the north chapel of the Cathedral St. Vincent, the one with all of the grimacing gargoyles. You say your history teacher resembled one of the gargoyles?

The history of St. Malo tells a story of fiercely independent people who accumulated great fortune. Privateers and ship owners became rich here, building grand private residences, and these homes can be seen today as proof. Almost eighty percent of the city was destroyed in 1944, but it was rebuilt in the same manner using much of the same building materials. There are many museums, historic monuments, sculptures, artwork and many discoveries waiting to be seen in and around this city, a place that is lively with interesting people, tasty food, incredible history and beautiful scenes in every direction. See it for yourself, if possible, or enjoy a travel magazine like I did when I named my last child Brittany.

Have you named a child, dog, cat or parakeet for a beloved location? What did you think of St. Malo? Do you like this location better than Mont St. Michel? Or, do you side with Jim? Careful with your answer!

Thank you for coming along with us? Jim and I always enjoy seeing your comments. They are truly the reward at the end of the story.

Next week will possibly be a vacation week for me with no post on the website. Stay safe, healthy and warm.  Reach for A French Opportunity” for your fireside reading during the winter!

“Jim’s Favorite – Mont St. Michel” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1710-1Sound the trumpets, clash the cymbals and beat the kettle drums! And, run to tell Jim that I’m finally sharing Mont St. Michel, his favorite! Sorry, it’s too late for the newsflash. I caught a glimpse of him at the doorway when he sneaked a peek at the photos on my laptop. I heard his giggle.

My photography of France and other locations from our travels is framed and scattered around the house among the photos of friends and family. Jim has only one picture from his camera on the wall. Well, actually, he claims another one that I contend is mine – all mine! He should know that I took the picture of the Sleeping Beauty Castle that hangs just inside our front door, but he disagrees quite erroneously. At least we agree that he struck the image of Mont St. Michel, his single entry of majesty above his well-worn comfy chair with the cushion proclaiming: “It’s Good to be the King!IMG_1710I am not totally smitten with the “Wonder of the Western World” sited on the western coast in a bay with the highest tides in France. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy, and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. (CLICK here for more history.) UNESCO classed Mont Saint-Michel as a world heritage site in 1979. Tourists swarm here each year, mounting to a total of more than three million visitors!IMG_1733

The crowds of tourists and the long line of shops displaying junky souvenirs spoiled the first impression for me. Disney theme park on a jam-packed day of screaming, shoving, loud tourists came to mind instead of a French monument. The history in the ancient stones didn’t speak to me; there was no life within the walls. Mont St. Michel claims only 44 citizens living therein, probably hiding away from the people arriving by the busloads. When Jim and I first visited several years ago, we parked at the front door after driving on the causeway. Now, the parking is some distance away with trams regularly taking tourists back and forth. Construction is underway with conservation and protection of the UNESCO site as the primary objective.

Mont St. Michel was our focus, especially for Jim. However, I hoped to see more of Brittany and Normandy during our short time away from our rental house in the Loire valley. Our first night was in an inexpensive, rather plain hotel a short distance from Jim’s heartthrob. He slipped out of bed very early while I was still sleeping and left a note so I would know about his rendezvous. Like an excited little boy, he returned grinning to tell me: “I found a place you can take pictures of a huge flock of sheep in front of Mont St. Michel! Get your camera and let’s go!” Not even dressed fully and without the benefit of a hairbrush yet, I said, “Not before coffee!IMG_1720In the early morning, we went the short distance to the Kodak-sheep-Michel-spot and found it wasn’t a secret location. A busload of Japanese visitors snapped selfies with the sheep, and we smiled at their delight.

Cows graze here, also.  Ahh! Butter!!

Cows graze here, also. Ahh! Butter!!

We left them posing for Facebook photos and we drove on to Saint Malo, a place on the coast that we had not seen previously. In many ways, I preferred it over Mont St. Michel, but that was not Jim’s travel advisory. We knew we had to hit the road from there by noon since I wanted Jim to fully enjoy his visit to the place that ranks a place on the wall by his easy chair. We found a great photography location, out of the way with only a couple of cars parked under the trees. After carefully locking the car doors, we walked on a polder, or dike wall, for a distant view of the towering beauty in the bay. I wished that I had taken my tripod for a less shaky image, especially for the night photography. I will try to stop complaining since I made the sacrifice for luggage space. We were a little worried about safety in this out-of-the way spot, so we returned to our car quickly after we got our photos and drove to the huge parking lot. Trams moved around quickly, but the walk from the parking lot can be quite some distance depending upon the parking spot.

Once we were moving along, I noticed an older couple seated near us. The sweet, gray-haired lady wore simple clothing, not stylish, reminding me of my mother who continued to wear blouses with ruffles and lace that she had sewn back in the sixties. I mentally put myself with Jim in the older couple’s place. Would we return for a nostalgic view of Jim’s much-loved place in France in years to come? When the tram stopped, we stood aside honoring the elderly couple and allowing them to move down for the long walk to the entry. Low and behold, they took off like the hare while we were slow as the turtle. My knee was complaining from all of the walking at St. Malo, not to mention the rambling around for photos on the dike. The old couple way ahead of us seemed fit for a marathon. We followed in their dust to our check-in at Les Terrasses Poulard. I had watched for several days until I saw a good rate on AARP for the hotel, and it was worth the price to be on the island when the majority of the tourists went away.IMG_1774IMG_1783We walked the ramparts with views of the bay all around and then selected a restaurant in the Hotel la Croix Blanche. Massive windows provided a panoramic scene of the sunset and protected us from the cold winds. During warmer weather, there are tables on the outside terrace. In the corner of the restaurant, a long table was surrounded by a lively group. The elderly marathon runners presided over the group. I couldn’t believe the transition when I saw the lady speaking with such authority and energy. Maybe it was the wine. Pour a glass for me.IMG_1745

Claudio and Jennifer - friendly and helpful service

Claudio and Jennifer – friendly and helpful service Hotel la Croix Blanche Restaurant

We knew before we entered the restaurant that we wanted mussels, a rare treat for us. We first enjoyed mussels in Sintra, Portugal, and I’m sure we will never find the exact taste again, but on Mont Saint Michel we had our mussels and frites and tried to keep up with the aged folks at the corner table.

After dessert, we walked in the rosy glow of the setting sun to the entry to see the waters rising. Some unfortunate soul had parked in the wrong place and had to call a tow truck to take away the car after the water climbed above the doors. I hope his insurance didn’t exclude Mont St. Michel. IMG_1797IMG_1798Now, this is the essence of Jim’s love for the island. I don’t mean the car in the water, although if he had an old jalopy he would probably sacrifice it to be overwhelmed by the tides. Actually, his 1999 Acura would qualify as a jalopy; at least it’s safe in Alabama. The tide’s powerful and rapid forces totally fascinate Jim. He stayed on the island with his sister Virginia and took photos of the tide’s progression in an almost time-lapse fashion. Virginia has more patience than I’ve ever given her credit for!

Just get Jim going, and he will tell you all about the tides saying how dangerous it is to be caught on the sands close to the incoming tides since you cannot outrun them. When he finishes rising and falling with the tides, he may tell you about the time he and Virginia stayed out so late that the hotel’s front desk was closed with their key inside. No worries, they went to a bar next door and found help so they could snooze on the island while the waters were rising.

The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 meters (46 ft.) between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed “St. Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighboring coast.
Occasional flooding has created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavored meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the pré salé (salt meadow) makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb) a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants…

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After sleeping soundly, we were up and going early in the morning. The fog swept through the narrow lane creating a dream sequence in the clouds. Our luggage clattered on the stones, shattering the silence and opening the way for the next sightseers with their hopes and dreams of the “Wonder of the Western World.” I turned to have one last look and saw the hazy fog had folded the scene from view.


 

“Watcher of the Tides”
Oh, Watcher of the Tides, do you see?
“I love you” is etched on every grain of sand.
Oh, Watcher of the Tides, do you know?
An everlasting love – until the tides are no more.
Debbie Ambrous

Don’t forget to leave comments for Jim! He will want to hear what you think about his dear old Mont St. Michel. I wouldn’t be surprised if he caused the story to go viral! Look for the book “A French Opportunity” at  Amazon, available in paperback and on Kindle.

Perhaps you would enjoy these stories if you didn’t previously see them.  Just CLICK below:

“Free Stuff” – by Debbie Ambrous

Chateau Carrouges - 16th Century Gatehouse

Chateau Carrouges – 16th Century Gatehouse

Send your order in the next ten minutes and receive a FREE set of stainless steel cookware!” Have you ever been tempted into these promotions of FREE stuff that isn’t free in the least?

Valuable Free Stuff
Some free stuff is valuable, however. A red rose bush by my front door is welcoming visitors with sweet fragrance and dainty blossoms that bring a smile to my face. No credit cards or cash purchased the rose with branches woven into the stair railing and wrapped around my heart.mamarose My frail mama in her eighties, wearing a big straw sunhat, dug her trowel into the rich, black soil near the front window of her house – the window she looked through to watch the birds and her portion of the world pass by each day. A small stem with a delicate root system emerged, and with a big smile Mama presented it to me as a FREE gift. She isn’t there to look through the big window to see the blue birds and the brightly colored butterflies dart among her flowers anymore. Now, I gaze through my glass door to the flourishing rose bush and remember. Ah, yes, this is one of the valuable free gifts, worth more than the expensive ones that fade, rust, go out of style or tossed into the garbage.

What are your FREE gifts, worth more than money can buy?

A Bouquet, a Drawing and a Big Kiss
France heaped some of the free gifts into our arms without the necessary euros or credit cards in Jim’s wallet. We met new friends who lavished us with friendliness and kindness that we will treasure.IMG_0950 A lush bouquet of lilacs and roses was presented to me by a group of sweet children. One of the children, a little boy who is all-boy, rarely quiet and bursting with energy, drew a picture for me with a note in French. Translated from French the note said: “Hello, I hope you like the drawing. Love and a big kiss, Ilann.”

 

IMG_4644Thank you, Ilann! I love your picture of a French house with a giant tree, birds, a cat, the forest and a castle at the end of the road. You have a vivid imagination! Your artwork is safely kept in Alabama. I hope to see you again.

FREE CHATEAU TOUR
Occasionally, Jim’s wallet stayed in his pocket when we enjoyed a chateau visit. These rare, FREE CHATEAU tours were very welcome to lighten the cost of our trip. I am not complaining that the fee is too expensive at the castles and other monuments. I totally support the contributions for the upkeep as very worthwhile. IMG_1874Chateau Carrouges was a wonderful surprise and a free treat for Jim and me. We didn’t have any pictures to lure us to the site, so we were startled in a very good way when we crested the hill and looked down below to the pepper-pot towers and an orchard of flowering apple trees.IMG_1900 Yellow wildflowers and bluebells freshly decorated the grounds with their cry of spring and beyond the chateau, misty green hills beckoned in the distance. Chateau Carrouges, founded in the fourteenth century by Jean de Carrouges, has all of the attributes of a grand chateau with moats, terraces and a grand gatehouse. The chateau was in the Le Veneur de Tillieres family for almost 500 years before it was bought by the state. We found the gates open and no one to pay our admission fee for the entrance. The state lost on this one. We couldn’t enter the chateau, but the grounds were open for us to walk and enjoy. The chateau is constructed of brick, very unusual for the area and beautiful.IMG_1883IMG_1894 I fully enjoyed walking under the apple trees, heavy with pink blossoms, a delight for me to photograph and simply admire in the sunshine since we do not have apple orchards like these in the southern climate of Alabama. I had spotted a few apple orchards when Jim was driving, but none of them were convenient for a stop. I was pleased to have a whole orchard to myself. A few other tourists came and wandered around also, but we had it to ourselves most of the time. Such a wonderful FREE CHATEAU!

Could it be Onslow?
We had left our rental house in the Loire valley at Brehemont with St. Mont Michel as our main destination, but we hoped to see more of Normandy on our short two-day jaunt. On the return we squeezed in the chateau and a short tour of Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, a spa town which attracts thousands of arthritis sufferers to the thermal waters. Legend says that Hugues de Tesse left his horse Rapide to die quietly of old age in the forest, only for the animal to trot home in good health! Old Hugues found that a spring was the cause; he took a dip in the horse-curing waters and was rejuvenated. Unfortunately, the thermal rejuvenation is not a free gift. We absorbed only the atmosphere of gracious houses built for the wealthy and merchants’ window displays of expensive goods for the rich shoppers.

Bagnoles

Bagnoles-de-l’Orne , France

Bagnoles

Bagnoles-de-l’Orne, France

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We believe we spotted Onslow, one of the stars of “Keeping Up Appearances” a funny Brit-Com that we like to watch. He seemed out of place toting a shopping bag with pink handles and wearing only an undershirt in this rich town, but Onslow always dresses like this with a laid-back and no-care attitude.

In the comedy show, Onslow’s character is the lovable slob watching the telly whose ambition is to remain bone idle according to his wife Daisy.IMG_1853 Daisy reads romance novels, imagining a handsome man who gets her motor running. Hyacinth Bucket is the social-climbing sister with the primary aim of impressing people, especially the upper class of society. Hyacinth tries to avoid her poorer relatives, but rushes to their aid with love when she is needed. Richard is her long-suffering husband. Have you seen this series of comedy shows? Can you see Hyacinth wearing one of the hats in the photos and hoping she is mistaken for royalty?

Keeping Up Appearances: A Job for Richard” (1993)
Onslow: I’ll say this much for your Hyacinth, she leaves a lot of happiness behind her. It’s such a relief when she’s gone.
Onslow: Listen, Daisy. When I promised to love, honour and obey, I didn’t necessarily mean “every” Tuesday.
Hyacinth: Today could be the day I’m mistaken for somebody important.

Geoffrey Hughes – (February 2, 1944 – July 27, 2012) Mr. Hughes was an English stage, television and film star with many credits to his name, but we especially remember and thank him for the comedy of his performance as Onslow. I would like to think that he would have enjoyed “Free Stuff.”

So, there you have it: a free chateau, an opportunity to cure what ails you and Onslow with attitude. I would say that it was an all-around good day in France!  Thank ya’ll and come again!  Write a note below “free” without the first-class mail that Hyacinth demands!

 

“Opp Fest – 2014″ – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_4584Antique cars were gleaming in the sunshine, polished by their prideful owners for Opp Fest, and attracting young and old admirers. I found my best vantage point up a flight of stairs in front of the municipal building. I focused my camera for a photo of the line-up of colorful people and cars. Down below, I saw Jim shaking hands with a handsome fellow and hugging a nice-looking lady. Could that be Elaine, our old high-school teacher? Nah!! If so, she has hardly aged at all! Now, I know you are thinking anyone who taught us would be old, decrepit or lying under a tombstone. You are dead wrong! Elaine is still looking very attractive, and even more, she had a handsome guy on her arm; that lady is cougar material for sure! Whatever her secret is, it’s working!

Have you driven a car like this?

Have you driven a car like this?

This beauty was before my time, more in my parent's day instead.

This beauty was before my time, more in my parent’s day instead.

We parted company and continued our nosing around the antique autos. Back in the day, we remembered the cars on display, some just like the ones our parents or friends had owned. I stopped by a few of the models that I recognized from my youth, lost in reminiscence, thinking of the lovely people who drove cars just like these on the streets of Opp. I remembered: Mrs. Sasser had a Buick like this; Mr. Jackson drove a Ford exactly like the black one; Daddy owned a Studebaker similar to this one and Jim’s mother gave us a 1956 Chevy just one year older than the showy model on display. I parked Daddy’s turquoise Chevy with the high fins and shiny chrome to take my driver’s license test – in the very spot where the old cars were displayed. Somehow, I passed the test –even the parallel parking – the part of the test I dreaded most. Years have passed since then with many hours clocked under the steering wheel. That young teenager who was terrified of the officer who sat in the front seat for the test has different worries now. That scene seems only like a dream. Hard to believe that it happened in the same spot that I was standing. Hmm.. I better move on and catch up with the cougar.

I asked Jim, “What’s with keeping the car hoods open? I can’t get good photographs with the ugly engine out in the open.” Jim set me straight saying, “Why, that’s the key portion to display! Hours and hours have been spent refurbishing those engines, and in case you don’t realize it, that’s the most important part of the car!IMG_4582 Still not impressed with his answer, I said, “I still don’t get it. They should keep the hood down and just show the pretty outside appearance, like a lady who wants to impress someone, she …” Laughing at me, Jim said, “Yeah, you don’t know where you’re going with that line, do you?” He was right. It has been a long time. In fact, it was back to the time of these old cars when ladies dressed with the “hood down” so to speak. I must admit that women here in our community don’t dress like Kardashian as much as the Miami crowd where one could easily blush on a daily basis at the plunging necklines and short skirts only an inch or so from the crotch line.

We moved on to the art display and enjoyed the children’s art work first. Notice Charlize Mae Qualls won first prize with her creative entry.IMG_4592 Many families with cute children in tow were having a great day at Opp Fest. I saw one adorable little girl with a big bow in her curly blonde hair running around enthusiastically. I love capturing pictures of children, and I manage to snap great photos of young ones very often. IMG_4598But sometimes after I ask permission from the parents, the children go berserk, hiding under tables, running in sheer fright, crying and screaming. No coaxing or bribing will work. The cute little blonde finally warmed up to me a little bit, showing her pretty face and a timid smile. Thank you!

The art display next door at the Opp Cultural Arts Center was very impressive and included an entry by Toby Hollinghead.

Painting by: TOBY HOLLINGHEAD

Painting by: TOBY HOLLINGHEAD

You may remember an earlier post about the talented Ms. Hollinghead that also led to my interview of Doug Gitter with Gitter Gallery. Don’t miss these stories, if you did not see them earlier. CLICK here for Toby Hollinghead and CLICK here for Doug Gitter. I enjoyed meeting these interesting and talented people, and I’m very thankful that I had the privilege of sharing their stories here on A French Opportunity. The website for the Opp Cultural Arts Center has a great quote: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.Pablo Piccaso

He smiled for me like the next Brad Pitt!

He smiled for me like the next Brad Pitt!

 

 

If you missed our Opp Fest visit in 2012, CLICK to enjoy more pictures.

We enjoyed seeing the crafts on display such as Debra Coon’s booth. I searched for something cute to buy for grandson Daniel, but didn’t find his size. She has great items at very reasonable prices.IMG_4612

Drifting toward the bandstand to hear the music, people were gathered in a semi-circle, seated in the sunshine. I moved in close to the cute lead singer – Ethan King – while he sang with his heart in every word. IMG_4610His arms were deeply tanned and muscled like he worked hard for a living. He leaned toward me and I captured his ruggedly handsome features with my camera. Jim doesn’t worry about any romantic entanglement when I move upstage in these situations. No. He worried that I would be entangled in the sound system with its huge speakers and that my big feet would kick out the sound, or knock out the entire City of Opp’s electricity! I’m moving with more finesse than that, almost like a cougar!

After enjoying my photo session with the singer, I was wondering why no one was applauding after each song. The cute and talented performer was pouring his heart out, and the band was working up a sweat in the heat, yet no one clapped! I turned and asked a few folks near me about the applause in a low voice. Either they didn’t hear me, or thought I should mind my own business, because no one replied. Jim put his arm around me and shoved me on down the street. He offered this advice, “Do you remember in the movie ‘Marie Antoinette’ when she was at the opera and no one clapped? She was top of the heap then so everybody clapped along with her when she asked them to join her. But then later on when folks thought she was lower than scum and she clapped at the opera, they sat and stared at her like she was a low-down skunk. I think we should mosey over here to the pork skin and boiled peanuts stand since I’m not King Louis XVI! No clapping, ya’ hear?IMG_4618We didn’t cover all of the exhibits and didn’t go to the carnival to see the amusement rides. I don’t have as many photos as I would have liked since my knee was hurting. A few days before Opp Fest, I fell at the end of our driveway and smashed my knee which still looked like a cross between a watermelon and a purple cabbage. You didn’t know, did you? I thought there was some reason you didn’t send flowers and chocolates.

We met up with some of Jim’s kinfolks as we were leaving. As you can see, he was happy to get reacquainted. Ya’ll come back now!  We had great fun at Opp Fest!  Hope to see you there next year!

Jim and his kinfolk - Thanks for being such a good sport, Jim!!!

Jim and his kinfolk – Thanks for being such a good sport, Jim!!!  Did you win a prize for ME?

We hope to show off grandson Daniel at Opp Fest one day!

We hope to show off grandson Daniel at Opp Fest one day!

 

 

 

Could you leave a message below in the reply area?  Enjoy hearing from you!

Since I don’t have anything much for the French theme on this page, I have added photos on the (CLICK) France – Storytelling and Pictures page. I created the page when I started the blog with this type of situation in mind. Enjoy!

The hot pink bag lady hopes you click on the book below to ORDER YOUR COPY.

The hot pink bag lady hopes you click on the book to ORDER YOUR COPY of  A French Opportunity.

“Exclamation Mark !!!” – by Debbie Ambrous

These two cute dogs were sitting regally in the sunshine in Richelieu, France

These two cute dogs were sitting regally in the sunshine in Richelieu, France

Today I found a funny quote while I was wasting time on the internet. You must picture two, fat, old ladies walking along in crazy, mismatched outfits talking loudly enough to be heard over a Harley convention. You can put me in one of the ensembles if it helps you visualize, although, you know I’m just not like that at all. With glasses perched at the end of her nose and a hot pink handbag swinging on her arm, the wildly-dressed lady says, “With my ailing memory, I’m thinking of changing my password to ‘incorrect’. That way, when I log-in with the wrong password the computer will tell me: Your password is ‘incorrect’!

Two more happy dogs with wagging tails at St. Malo, France

Two more happy dogs with wagging tails at St. Malo, France – Just hang on for a few seconds and you will understand my choice of photos for this story.  Thank you!

I’m not confessing to all of my forgetfulness, but I am seeing myself in some of these so-called humorous jokes about folks who can’t remember important stuff, like where they put the remote control.

Waiting for a hand-out.

Waiting for a hand-out.

Since I tend to write a few items about world-shaking events, I quickly grab whatever is handy to put together a sketch of a story when it pops into my head. One writer said she once wrote notes on a bed sheet. No bed linen was involved in this indecipherable note: “Punctuation – Dog’s Tails – College Degrees.” What wild dream brought forth this note? I should remember it easily since it was filed recently in my brain. I searched under recent items, but no hilarious pop-ups appeared in the dusty files, only reminders to pay the gas bill and remind Jim to declog the bathroom drain.

IMG_2304Just for funsies, I wondered what would happen if I Googled “Punctuation – Dog’s Tails – College Degrees.” I refer to the learned, wise and fluent Jeff Foxworthy as the source of my phrase “Just for funsies.” Mr. Foxworthy frequently said “Just for funsies” on the television show “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” when the pitiful contestants stood humiliated not having any funsies at all. Since I know already that I stand knee-high to a grasshopper when compared to a fifth-grader, I waited on an answer from the all-powerful computer search engine and voila an answer appeared. Ha-Ha!! It all came back to me. A load of punctuation rules wagged a finger at me and my writing, jolting and shaming my memory.IMG_0798

I’m not bragging, but when I was in school I made A’s in all of my English classes, and punctuation was never a problem. I detect a hint of disagreement about the bragging. I would admit to boasting if I puffed up and enumerated degrees such as: M.S., M.A., M.D., PhD or PMS. No one would believe me anyway, especially the PMS! That isn’t my problem. Punctuation is puzzling. I can see it now with messages pouring in saying: “what is punctuation and why bother with it anyway rules are DEF a bother I don’t have time to stress my brain what are you talking about LOL this is ridiculous DUCWIM this is a CWOT.” DUCWIM – Do you see what I mean? And, who knows whether that string of degrees above could be foreign swearing with this new way of communicating? We talk more on phones and computers with messages that are misspelled, with no punctuation (except a string of exclamation marks) and acronyms instead of words. IMHO (In my humble opinion)IMG_2260

The item that surfaced when I did the funsie search was an article from The Guardian by Stuart Jeffries, who must truly be smarter than a fifth-grader. Mr. Jeffries mentions Saint-Louis-du-Ha!Ha! the city in Canada from my last rendition on this site. His humble opinion on the town’s name is: “Someone went potty with the exclamation marks, throwing them around with gay abandon!!! The two exclamation marks serve as reminders of those happy days when we weren’t so parsimonious with what Lynne Truss, in her book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, calls, “a screamer, a gasper, a startler or (sorry) a dog’s cock.” Mr. Jeffries has no shame and says, “That was her “sorry” not mine.”

My favorite!  Can I keep him?

My favorite! Can I keep him?

Now you understand the dog’s tails in my scribbled message. They wag their rears all over my page in wild abandon. Exclamation points like the vertical dog’s tails or the white tails of startled deer mark my writing. Do I yank them, or leave them to roam?

Further along Stuart (my new BFF) says: “Novelists (at least male ones) are apt to be mean-spirited about dog’s cocks. ‘Cut out all those exclamation marks,’ wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. ‘An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”

 

IMG_4591 I do declare, Scott!! The “F” in your name does not stand for funsies, does it? Bless his heart. I’ll forgive him since he’s done and gone. But I sure would have thought that his wife Zelda Fizgerald, a fine Southern lady, born in Montgomery, Alabama, would have taught him some manners.

Summing up the punctuation situation better than Sesame Street, Stuart offers up more quotes from male writers. One of the characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series insists that: “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” That jab isn’t nearly as irksome as the words from a character in Maskerade (not my spelling) who remarks: “And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head!IMG_3190

I say!! Mean spirited indeed!!! I don’t wear underpants on my head. As for husband Jim, does he wear underpants on his head? He says: NOYB – none of your business. I’m getting the hang of this renaissance of !!! and short-hand messages, going from one extreme to another.

IMG_4625As for Jim, he just reminds me that the emcee and shining star of television Jeff Foxworthy says,

You might be a redneck if your wife keeps a can of Vienna sausage in her (hot pink) purse.” SMH –shaking my head!!! And, Jim, I know you added the “hot pink” in the fine and upstanding Mr. Foxworthy’s quote!!

I do hope you enjoyed the dog show and understand my punctuation predicament.  Since your memory is better than mine, remind me to tell you about the beautiful St. Malo, France in the second picture above.  Ya’ll come again!!

Check my punctuation.  CLICK for you copy!

Check my punctuation. CLICK for you copy!

“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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If you are new to this blog, you may enjoy reading these older posts.  Just CLICK on the titles below the pictures.

 

“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.