Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Chapter, First Paragraph -- A Paris Apartment

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
Sometimes, I just need to get out of my head, and nothing works better for that than reading. I sure hope this book takes me away. It's A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. I'll be reviewing it  on Oct. 10 for FranceBookTours, so I hope you'll stop back then to see what I thought of it and to enter a
giveaway.
Here's a synopsis: A furniture specialist for Sotheby's travels to Paris to unearth treasures from an apartment that hasn't been used for 70 years. She  discovers beautiful furniture and a journal written by a courtesan from the Belle Epoque era.
Here's the intro:
She only wanted to get out of town.
When her boss sidled up and said the words "apartment," "ninth arrondisement," and "a ton of nineteenth center crap," April instantly thought: vacation. There would be work involved, but no matter, she was going to Paris. As every writer, poet, painter, and, yes, furniture assessor knew, it was the perfect place for escape. 
This seems promising. I'm just so glad the author didn't call the book "April in Paris" since that's the characters name.
 I'll be by later to see what you all are reading today.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dreaming of France -- Learning French


Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.

I minored in French in college, so I have a basic grasp of French and I can make myself understood for most things. I have a harder time understanding what people say to me in return. And I still haven't figured out all of those "y" and "en" and "ce" and "ci" in the middle of a sentence.
With hopes of someday moving to France, I figured I'd better get serious about learning French better. That's why I downloaded Duolingo to my iPhone. It's also available on the computer. And it's free.


Before I started on duolingo, I had a chance to take a test to see how much French I already knew. Then it bumped me past those lessons. Believe me, there are still plenty of lessons to go.
The app shows the challenges I have completed in gold. Ones I'm working on are in color, and the future ones, ones I'm not ready for, are in a pale black and white.
I immediately recognized that the program uses a method similar to the Montessori three-part naming lesson. With the three-part naming lessons, new words or things are introduced, then the student is asked to pick out the word when they here it, then finally the students are shown the thing and asked to come up with the word on their own.
Duolingo mixes up the language lessons. Some of them are as simple as repeating a short sentence by pressing the microphone button.
Another lesson gives a sentence in French or English and asks you to translate it. Choose from a mix of words below. A touch of a finger to the word moves it up underneath the original sentence.

A more challenging lesson has the sentence in French or English and you have to type the words that translate it.

The hardest lesson for me is the one where duolingo says a sentence or phrase in French and I have to write it in French. There's a turtle button that repeats the phrase slowly, but it's still a challenge for me.

I had thought that I would be able to quickly master French and move on to Italian, but I was wrong. I still have so much to learn, and the program returns to some of the previous lessons, so I have to return to them and practice them.
 I have plenty of lesson left in adverbs alone. The program also gives lots of encouragement and reminders to get you working. Hopefully by the time I get to France, I'll be speaking French, and understanding it, better. 
Thanks for playing along today. I hope you'll visit each other's blogs too so you can enjoy other bits and pieces of France. 

The Challenge of Raising Impetuous Children

I've been thinking about my son Spencer a lot this week.
From the moment he was born, that boy has been barreling through life. He rarely stops to think through decisions, which makes him a great guy to hang out with, but a little harder to parent.
Just on Friday we had a nice talk. He wanted to put down a deposit for a house that he will move into in June. This all came about quickly on Wednesday, and I suggested maybe he should go talk to someone (i.e. a counselor) about his decision-making processes.
"I don't want to talk to someone about my feelings," he complained. He said he shares his feelings with his friends, and they all give each other advice. I reluctantly pointed out that a counselor might have some different, professional kinds of advice.
Someday, Spencer will probably invent something fabulous or lead a revolution. He is never still. Even as a baby, he would toss and turn, flipping from one side to the other until...suddenly he was asleep. And I'd know he was asleep because that's when he'd stop moving.
As a 4-year-old boy, I remember walking through a Medieval French village with him. He stood at the bottom of a stone wall, sized it up and decided, yep, he could get over that wall. So he started to climb it.
That's the kind of kid he is. He rarely sees something that he thinks he can't tackle.
In the photo above, he's on a French merry go round, one that firmly says no switching horses during the ride. Every time that carousel rotated, Spence was on a different horse, animal, or boat. He just needed to try everything, even when the French attendant wagged his finger at Spencer warningly. Spencer just grinned his irrepressible smile and raised his eyebrows.
He is the kid who, at times, I most like to be around. He's sensitive to my feelings. He asks about my thoughts. But he's also the kid I most dread getting phone calls from because he often lands himself in hot water.
When he gets himself in trouble, I feel such a gnawing in the pit of my stomach -- that fear that maybe this time he won't be able to bounce back. After a day or so, I can see with more perspective that we'll all be okay. Things may not go as we planned, but nothing is irretrievable.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Feathering My Empty Nest

Does anyone else find that the more time you have, the less you get done?
Of course, I'm still working, and my Tuesday did consist of grading 90 rough drafts of essays -- comments and corrections. But I've also found plenty of time to enjoy life.
I lingered over coffee with Leah on Sunday. On Tuesday, I worked out with my friend Pam before walking to get coffee with Sheila.
On Wednesday when I finished teaching classes at noon, I smuggled my husband out of work and we went for a long lunch.
My phone camera is acting up, so I didn't get the earlier shots of
him smiling. We got to sit outside, which was nice.
We were picking up a car that was in the shop for repairs and had to take it to Grace at school. In between the shop and Grace's college is Easton Towne Center, which has a lovely French restaurant called Bon Vie.
I was finished working for the day, so I indulged in a glass of peach sangria.
It was as yummy as it looks.
My turkey and brie sandwich was accompanied with fries, or frites as we might say in France, served in a cute cup.
Earl had pasta with goat cheese.
This week, I've spent some afternoons in the backyard working on a new novel, typing away at my computer as the weather blew from hot to cooler.
Then this morning, after a sweaty, but lovely, 5-mile run, I met my friend Emily for coffee.
I'm not feeling lonely or at loose ends because my children have moved on to college. I still hear from them pretty much every day, including last-minute phone calls about great houses they want to lease for next year.
Health concerns. Emotional concerns.
Frustrations with classes or professors.
Even though they're not home any more, they're still very much embedded in my day-to-day life.
I know that Earl and I are not alone. We run into couples srolling around our little town. They're walking the dog or going for coffee or stopping for drinks.
I feel so fortunate that in my life, I didn't decide to focus only on my children, but cultivated outside interests. Friends, teaching, writing, and spending time with my husband have all helped ease my transition into the empty nest.
Still, this morning after a run, coffee, and a trip to the library, I have felt free to fritter away my time rather than doing something productive, like folding clothes, vacuuming, grading papers, or writing. I have to teach later tonight so my free time will end.
That's okay, I deserve some time to browse the  newspaper then flit from site to site online for a morning. I'm sure I'll be more productive this afternoon.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Dreaming of France -- Autumn


Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.
One of my favorite times to visit France is Autumn. The crowds of tourists have mostly returned home, the French are back at work, and visitors like me have the freedom to roam the countryside enjoying the beautiful weather.
One Autumn, Earl and I took a bicycle trip in France traveling from city to city with only the belongings in our panniers.
This is me at a scenic overlook as we rode our bikes through Provence. You can tell this isn't a picture that I've saved online because the color has faded. 
And here I am near Cezanne's atelier, posing with Mont Ste. Victoire in the distance. Yes, curly hair is still crazy in France in the fall, but not as bad as in the humidity of summer. 
I highly recommend a trip to France in the fall if you have your choice of times to visit.


How A Childhood Book Affected My Life

I had an epiphany yesterday while on Facebook. It wasn't the usual epiphanies, like the fact that I'm wasting a lot of time on Facebook.
I was reading my friend Tracie's post about the top 10 books that changed her life. From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg as number 4 on her list.
She listed
I commented that I loved this awkwardly titled book. If you don't remember it, it's about Claudia, a middle class girl who lives in the suburbs of New York and decides to run away and hide in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. She ends up taking her little brother along.
I can't remember what was going on in the girl's life that made her want to run away, but I remember the awesome adventure that she had as she and her little brother figured out how to hide in the museum each night then decided where they would sleep. They collected coins from the fountain and ate out of vending machines. A new exhibit of a statue (from Mrs. Frankweiler's collection) that is believed to be a Michelangelo intrigues the whole city. Claudia and her brother Jamie are intent on determining whether the statue is really the work of Michelangelo. They end up visiting Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and she lets them research in her files before the kids return home in Mrs. Frankweiler's limo.
As I reminisced about this childhood book that enriched my normal Midwestern  life, I realized I'm still trying to achieve the goal of escaping on an amazing adventure.
Sure, I've had adventures. I went away to college and to grad school, landing in Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, D.C. I moved away for a job in Florida, and turned down jobs in New Orleans and Las Vegas.
I worked as an au pair for three months in France. My husband and I have traveled to Europe several times.
But still, I don't have that clandestine adventure like 12-year-old Claudia. That's probably why I wrote the books that I've written. As a matter of fact, The Summer of France seems similar in so many ways. The family escapes from their Midwestern life to run a bed and breakfast in France. The main character Fia learns that her great uncle has a hidden secret from World War II, and she must help solve the mystery and save her uncle from danger.
Clearly, From the Mixed Up Files had more impact on me than I remembered until Tracie listed it on Facebook and reminded me of the joy the story brought me.
And my other two novels are also about people escaping. In I See London I See France, Caroline sells her minivan and takes her three children to Europe in search of the woman she was during her the European adventures of her college days. And in Trail Mix, two women whose children have gone off to college find themselves without a purpose, so they take off on an adventure to the Appalachian Trail.
Maybe my initial reaction to any problems or changes is to take off an adventure, to change the scenery and hope the problem fades. Perhaps that's why my husband and I plan to retire to France, picturing a new chapter
opening when our parenting days are finished (mostly)
If you haven't read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I highly recommend it. Who knows, it might send you off on your own adventures, or at least you can enjoy Claudia's exploits. And then maybe you'll give my novels a try, knowing that the characters go on trips and mostly end up learning something about themselves.