Tuesday, January 05, 2021

A Near-Perfect Morning

 One thing that I have tried to learn from the time of enforced lockdown the past year is to enjoy the moment where I am.

I may not be with my parents or my kids or my friends from home, but I have some marvelous friends here in Quillan and I live in a place that is beautiful.

This morning, when I woke up and went to the bathroom, I realized that we had a rare snow in Quillan. Even though Earl was still asleep, I threw open the shutters so we could see the snow fall and cover the cars, streets and mountains. In spite of the lovely white stuff, the temperature was barely below freezing, -1 in Celcius, 30.2 in Fahrenheit. 

It wasn't long until we were out of bed and having a lovely walk through the snow and up a nearby mountain (with a gentle slope because of my injured knee). 

Snow on the palm trees too. 

Usually when we climb the mountain, there's a beautiful view of the surrounding peaks, but today the sky was gray, blocking the view and promising more snow. 

I made a snow angel.

The snow was good for packing, but Earl knows better than to pelt me with snowballs. I'm sure he wished that our sons were around for a good snowball fight. 

Snowball threats
An arch of snow-covered trees

The snow was more prevalent up the mountain and heavy enough to cover the branches. Only a few walkers and dogs had been up the path before us. 

We came upon our favorite donkey and Earl felt super guilty about not bringing him a carrot as he stood in the falling snow.

He found some dry grass and offered it to the donkey. 

When we returned home, we noticed that the snow was much more melted, but it continued to fall.

I made myself a mocha and a crumpet (Thanks, Derrick for supplying them) with apricot jam for breakfast. Work was looming, but I stayed a minute more at the table enjoying breakfast and time with Earl before I jumped in the shower to start teaching. 

And I'll take a minute to remind myself, no matter what or who I am missing today, this has been a near-perfect morning.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Covid Christmas in Dublin

No one expected Christmas 2020 to be normal. Why should it when everything has been turned upside down this year? 
We could have flown to the States for Christmas, but with 200,000 new cases a day, that seemed a folly. 
Also, we wouldn’t risk seeing my parents and passing on the virus to them if we picked it up in our travels. 
Grace and Jack were in Dublin. Our sons were in the States. I knew that Ireland was allowing Americans to enter, so I proposed we all meet in Dublin.



 Spencer and Kaitlin decided it was too risky. They were very mature about it. Tucker, faced with a Christmas alone, decided to join us. 
We knew it wouldn’t be a touristy trip, just a family get together. 



We rented an Airbnb. We sprung for an extra bedroom because Tucker often complains that as the only single person he gets stuck on the pull-out couch. 
The apartment was less than a mile from Grace and Jack’s apartment. 



We all arrived on Sunday December 20. Earl and I flew from Barcelona, a couple of hours from our home in France. 



The Covid situation was changing quickly. Suddenly, France and a number of other countries were closing their borders to the UK. Of course, Ireland is in the EU, not in the UK, but it made me nervous when friends got stranded in England. 
And Spain declared that everyone visiting from Red areas needed a Covid test to enter. It was kind of a puzzle because Ireland, with a low number of cases, isn’t a red area, but France where we originated, is. 
The rule was that we needed a test 72 hours before the flight, which would have been Christmas Day. I couldn’t find any place giving Covid tests on the day after Christmas and the only tests at the airport I could find were drive-up tests. We didn’t have a car. 
We decided to risk it, calling ourselves in transit to France. We have our carte de séjour or résident card, an electric bill to prove our address, and our parking ticket to show that our car was awaiting us. We would promise to make a quick getaway from Spain. 
So all of this was going through my mind as we tried to enjoy a family Christmas. 



We managed to cook a few meals on the wonky apartment stove and Jack cooked a delicious beef Wellington for our Christmas dinner. I had to make Tucker’s favorite holiday dish corn casserole but there was no corn meal or flour and no creamed corn to be found in Ireland. I made my own creamed corn and found a recipe that used flour. 
Grace made a delicious apple pie. 



We played family games most nights and had takeout a few nights. We walked and shopped and watched in amazement as the sun set each afternoon at 4ish. 



It was great to be together, even though we missed Spencer and Kaitlin. 
Tucker flew out this morning to the news that the US wasn’t accepting travelers from the UK. I told him some people in the US might not know that Ireland isn’t in the UK. 
As I write this, he’s on his plane, nearly to New York. 
Earl and I are waiting for our flight. The airline checked to see if we had the necessary health form required by Spain. We do and they waved us on. 
Fingers crossed that by the time you read this, we have safely landed in Barcelona and roared off in our little Audi back to France. 



Sunday, December 20, 2020

What I Miss

People always ask, “What do you miss from home?”



My kids, of course. 
My parents and family and friends. 
But what things are gone from my life? 
Until recently, bacon. 
Bacon here in France is called poitrine, but it is more like Canadian bacon. It doesn’t crisp up. 
British friends have given me streaky bacon, but again, it’s more ham like than bacon. 
So I was overjoyed  when I found poitrine fumée (smoked) fine (thin sliced). It looked like American bacon but I couldn’t be sure. 
I took it home and threw it in the skillet one morning, along with French toast. 
As soon as I saw it cooking, I texted two American friends with pictures. So happy to share my news that I let the bacon get a bit dark. 



“Are there bones?” One American friend asked and I had to laugh. 
We have had gristle or bacon in the poitrine. 
No bones! 
What else do I miss here? 
Bagels. 
I tried my hand at making everything bagels, but I didn’t boil them as soon as I shaped them, so they rose again and didn’t hold their shape when I did boil then bake them. Still, they tasted good. 


And sometimes I wonder how I managed to move from the 21st century to a place where most people don’t have clothes dryers. 
I thought about that as I spread a white sheet over a radiator and imagined my grandmother being horrified that I’d given up the luxury of a dryer and fluffy towels, instead watching Earl hang clothes on the line on sunny days or drape them over river the drying rack. 
It has been 10 months since I was in the States. 
I might find bagels and bacon and even a clothes dryer, but more importantly, I’m about to spend a bit of time with two of my children. 
They’re awaiting us in Dublin right now as Earl and I fly direct from Barcelona. 



Who cares about bacon and bagels? 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Compare and Contrast


On Facebook, a memory popped up showing a set of pictures from 4 years ago. The temperature was 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius), we had snow and our house’s big front window shown with Christmas lights. 
I had been scrolling through Facebook while I lay in bed in the dark with the shutters closed. I hadn't been walking or running lately after another knee injury. So I got out of bed in France and determined to take a walk and some pictures to contrast life then and now. 

Today

Baa bass black sheep

I chose a flat path that I could walk and as I rounded a corner, I heard the tinkling bells of sheep and a baa. I knew where they lived and walked around to the backyard to see two of them standing on an old concrete well. 
That’s something I never saw on my runs in Ohio.

Mountains and a river
I continued my walk and the faint pinks of sunrise still shone over the mountains. 

A closer look at that river, the Aude. 

The river continues to rush to its destination in spite of COVID-19 and confinement and curfews. 

The path not taken

This path looks so welcoming but it leads up a mountain and the path is unsteady with lots of stones, not good for my knee, so I resisted. 

Berries
The orange and yellow berries reminded me of a photo I took 4 years ago, but the berries in Ohio were covered with snow. 

4 years ago
Here's my montage from four years ago. 
The pictures from my Ohio life made me feel homesick.

My life in France is very much changed from that Ohio life. 
But the sun still decorates the sky every morning. And even though the air feels a bit cold when I go out in the morning, the temperature is in the mid-40s Fahrenheit, about 8 Celcius, which is a far cry from 14 (-10). So I may long for those days, but I probably wouldn't get out of bed and go for a run like I did on that morning four years ago. 
In every new life, you gain some things and lose some things. My goal is to be able to see the beauty of whatever life I'm in. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Four Weeks of Confinement - So Far

I imagine that life in France isn't that different from life in the States right now. 
I go out for walks or to the grocery store. 
I huddle around the coffee truck during the twice weekly market, "accidentally" running into friends as we surreptitiously lower our masks and sip café crème in the crisp fall air. 
France has been under quarantine since October 30th. Here, it's called confinement -- con-feen-mahn. 
Our area of France, the Aude department, has had low numbers of the virus throughout, but we're surrounded by cities that have high numbers and full hospitals.
What does confinement mean? It means that every time I leave the house, I fill out a form that says why I am going out. Americans might scoff at this idea, but it does make you think twice about why you're going out and where. You also have to "certify" that you are telling the truth when you generate the form. 
So why can I go out? For 1 hour a day within 1 kilometer, I can go for a walk or exercise. I'm also allowed to go shopping -- only for essential things. The big groceries have blocked off sales of socks and underwear and books and candles -- anything the government deems non-essential, because it isn't fair to the small shops which sell those things that have had to close. Of course, people just order them from Amazon, so they've really made more business for Amazon. 
Today's package from Amazon should have a stuffed panda bear in it for Louis Catorze, our overgrown kitten, to attack

My morning walk today, frost on the ground and the sun moving toward the mountains

Today as I started my walk, I imagined sitting at the café in the main square and sipping coffee with friends. What a luxury that is. First, to gather with friends most mornings just to chat. Second, to have the time to linger over coffee and maybe a second one. To cross the square to the bakery and bring back a pain au raisin or a croissant abricot and break it apart, scattering the crumbs onto the sidewalk then shooing away the pigeons that eye the crumbs. How many mornings have I spent savoring coffee with friends?  The pocket of my trench coat still holds three little chocolate squares that come with our morning coffees - just in case of emergency. 


Another morning walk, this one along the river on flat ground. 

The last confinement, Grace and Jack were here with us. We were very careful because several people in our town had Coronavirus. We were keeping each other safe. 
This time, we aren't as careful. We see people a couple at a time, maybe coffee in our kitchen or a glass of wine in their salon. If the weather's nice, of course, we stay outside, to limit exposure even more. 
People have rebelled against this lockdown more so than the spring. 
"The numbers haven't come down," one friend lamented when we met at the grocery store to talk and shop while wearing masks. 
"But it hasn't been two weeks yet," I pointed out. It takes two weeks for the virus to stop spreading. And sure enough, on the following Friday, the numbers began to creep down. 
We had an 8-week lockdown in the spring and we had a pretty normal summer. The quarantine was worth it for the lives it saved and the feeling of normalcy throughout the summer. People in the States have been in a perpetual quarantine since March if they're being careful. 
Our area may not have needed to lockdown based on the cases, but if the whole country doesn't quarantine, the virus continues to spread and grow. 
In our "normal" summer, we skipped meals with the entire town, but we did enjoy concerts and dancing. We drank outside in bars. 


We visited castles with Grace and Jack, along with Jim and Theresa.
Stone built on stone


We traveled to Nice and Aix en Provence,
A glorious fountain

I went on a hike with my friend Claudine

 and Earl went on a hike in Spain. 
Along El Camino de Santiago
So if this lockdown of four weeks or six weeks helps us have a "normal" Christmas. Then I'm willing to stay in my house and go our for gorgeous walks, watching the fall days pass. 
And I'll also be counting my blessings. 

Another day, another view of the mountains

Monday, November 02, 2020

FranceBook Tours review: Lost in Lavender

There's nothing like a worldwide pandemic to send me reaching for some novels to help me escape, and that's just what I did with this novel Lost in Lavender by Lise McClendon. 

Lise McClendon

is back! on Tour October 20-November 2 with Lost in Lavender  

Lost in Lavender is one of 13 books the author has written about five sisters who have a love affair with France, and a few international men as well. This book, which can stand alone, focuses on the sisters Merle and Elise. Merle lives in France full time in an ancient village, while Elise, the youngest, signs up for a work experience on a lavender farm in Provence. Haven't we all dreamed of working in France, picking grapes or cutting lavender or smashing olives into oil? Apparently, it's not as easy an experience as one might imagine, but even that, the author manages to make romantic. The idea of tired muscles and warm baths with the scent of lavender makes it all seem worthwhile. Plus the handsome tractor driver turns out to be a distraction as well. 
The action in the novel takes readers across the country from Bordeaux to Provence, offering a chance to travel that we haven't had this summer. The descriptions of the scenery are just lovely:
The lavender fields were in full bloom, stretching in endless, bumpy rows toward the horizon. The purple was so vivid, as alive as blood in veins, the blossoms shivering in the wind. 
If the beauty of the landscape, the allure of the French language, and a bit of international romance weren't enough to pull you, there's a mystery as well that the sisters must extricate themselves from. 
If you're looking for a fun trip when you can't go anywhere, pick up Lost in Lavender
    

Lost In Lavender

(mystery/women’s fiction) Release date: October 15, 2020 at Thalia Press 254 pages
***

SYNOPSIS

Facing a crossroads– both career and personal– the youngest of the five Bennett Sisters, Elise, does what she does best: she runs away to think. This time she runs to a farm in Provence that produces heaven-scented lavender for oils. The area is famous for the beautiful purple flower, the symbol of this southern region of France. Her sisters are stumped. Elise never seemed like the farming type, or even gardening, for that matter. But she’s signed up for a farm stay vacation, an idea she got from an unlikely source, the trophy wife of one of her law partners. When she arrives, courtesy her older sister Merle who drives her to the Luberon from the Dordogne, she discovers she is the only guest at the picturesque family farm who is not a college student. The rest are all doing a French language exchange program and are 20 years younger than Elise, leaving her feeling like an outsider and wondering about her life choices. Not only is her judgment in men and careers awful, but she can’t even plan a decent vacation. Meanwhile in the Dordogne, Merle’s niece, Willow, arrives for some R&R before she starts law school. But she brings a few surprises with her, a boyfriend plus Elise’s fiancé. Or is it ex-fiancé? It will take several sisters– and of course Pascal– to unravel the facts as all descend on southern France for July in the heat and lavender. Suspense, romance, intrigue, and humor as the summer heats up for the Bennett Sisters again. Another delicious adventure in international travel and cozy mystery as the Bennett Sisters fight their way to truth, justice, and a perhaps a summer fling, deep in Provence. A summer fling in France never hurt anyone, now did it?
Works fine as a stand-alone

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lost in Lavender LiseMcClendon
Lise McClendon is the author of thirteen books in the Bennett Sisters mystery series including A Bolt from the Blue, Blame it on Paris, and DEAD FLAT. She wrote two mystery series, the Alix Thorssen and Dorie Lennox mysteries set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and World War II-era Kansas City (The Bluejay Shaman; One O’clock Jump). She also writes stand-alones as Rory Tate, including PLAN X, a thriller featuring a Bozeman, Montana policewoman. She edited the 2020 anthology, STOP THE WORLD: Snapshots from the Pandemic, bringing together 40 writers around the globe to discuss their experiences and emotions during this year, plus poetry and short fiction. Her short story, Forked Tongue, was included in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, The Obama Inheritance. As Thalia Filbert she wrote with four other well-seasoned crime writers the darkly comic culinary thriller, Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. Lise has served Mystery Writers of America in the past as a national board member and Montana representative. She lives in wilds of Montana near Yellowstone National Park.
Visit her website
Subscribe to her mailing list
Follow her on Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
***
You can enter the global giveaway here or on any other book blog participating in this tour. Visit/Follow the participating blogs on Facebook/Twitter, as listed in the entry form below, and win more entry points!

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

Tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time! [just follow the directions on the entry-form] Global giveaway open to all 5 winners will receive an ecopy of this book

***

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Sunday, November 01, 2020

Time to Write for a Month

 What choice do I have this month? It's November and France is on lockdown until December 1st. If ever there was a time to take part in NaNoWriMo, it's now. 




NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Apparently, I've taken part in NaNoWriMo nine times now, counting this month, but I've only won it twice. 

How do you win it? By writing 50,000 words from November 1st through November 30th. Somehow, I've managed to publish five novels even without completing NaNoWriMo every year. 



Since I moved to France, my writing has gone on a back burner. Four of my novels involve running away to France, so it's possible that since I ran away to France, I've lost the impetus to write about it. I think my social life is so busy now that I don't have time to write. Between working two jobs and meeting people for coffee, drinks, dinners, walks -- who has time to write? 

And I always loved going to a coffee shop to write. It was such a great excuse to leave home and any chores that waited -- laundry, dishes, dinner -- and immerse myself in writing. That's not really a thing here in small town France. A few of the cafes have WIFI, but of course they're all closed now for the month anyway because it's lockdown, confinement, quarantine. I can't see anyone unless we arrange to go to the grocery store at the same time. I can spend my time dragging the cat on his leash as an excuse to get out, or I can sit down and write. 


Now, the tough decision. What will I write? 


I'm 35,000 words into a novel that I began three years ago. It's call The Wedding Dress Theory and it's about a mother-daughter road trip through the United States as they try to repair their relationship. I think it's pretty good, but I'm unsure about the next scene, so I have let it flounder for a few years. And I can't overlook the irony that I now live in France but would be writing about a road trip in the U.S. Still, I could plunge in again and another 50,000 words would help me complete the novel.  

The next choice is that I've started to piece together stories about our move to France. I don't have a title for it. I know that lots of people have written about moving to France, but they are mostly Brits. Moving to France when you're British is like moving to Canada when you're American. You can be back home in a couple hours, and plenty of people do skip across the English channel monthly. So as an American who moved across the Atlantic, leaving behind children and parents, it's obviously a different experience. Any suggestions for a working title, that aren't "A Year in Provence," are welcome.

The other idea I've written a bit about is a hiking book, similar to Trail Mix, but this one is set in France and Spain on El Camino de Santiago, the famous hiking trail known as "The Way" in the movie with Martin Sheen. El Camino ends in Spain, but trails from around France, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany begin to connect to the trail. We've hiked two sections, and it couldn't be more different than hiking the Appalachian Trail and carrying all your belongings on your back, including a water filter, a camp stove, and a tent with a sleeping bag. Instead, we hike from one gite, B&B or hotel, to the next. It's not really wilderness most of the time because there are bars and restaurants nearby. But it is a challenge and can leave you with 3rd degree burns on the bottoms of your feet, as my husband found out. 

So, three options, and one of them should end up being 50,000 words by the end of November. That's 1667 words each day. And if I skip a day, then I'm in the red, trying to catch up by writing 3333 words the next day. 

So I'd better get going. I'm going to write 1667 words today about something, and this blog doesn't count. 

If you're doing NaNoWriMo, friend me. My writing name is creatively Paulita Kincer.  

A Near-Perfect Morning

 One thing that I have tried to learn from the time of enforced lockdown the past year is to enjoy the moment where I am. I may not be with ...