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.  

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Last Day

As we walked home Thursday night, the clock ticking toward 11, Earl said, “I’m really glad the day is over.”
“I guess I pushed it too much,” I replied as we removed our masks, leaving centre ville behind. 
We laughed but on Thursday, the last day before a month-long quarantine, we tried to squeeze every bit of life out of it. 
The day was glorious with sunshine and tinkling yellow leaves in the breeze. 
A small vineyard shows off its fall colors
With the announcement Wednesday night that everything would shut down on Friday at 12:01 a.m., we made a plan to get some necessities on Thursday. We knew the grocery stores would remain open, but we had slacked off and let staples get depleted, and the shelves of the stores often go bare the first few days. 
So Earl dropped me at the grocery store at 10 til 9. It opened at 9 and there was already a line. The line behind me was even longer than this. 

A grocery cart is called a chariot in French. The couple in front of me must have been
taking advantage of shopping together, which we aren't allowed to do
during confinement. Only one person per household. 

Earl went on to fill the car up with gas. I had driven to the Mediterranean the day before and the gas light came on as I returned to town. Gas prices will probably go down, but I didn't like to have an empty car in case of an emergency. 
He also went to the hardware store Mister Bricolage to get some supplies we need for patching and painting the walls of the office, along with continuing to sand and repair the shutters. During the last shut down, the hardware stores weren't open at the beginning, then they opened to builders, and finally they opened to everyday people stuck at home and wanting to make improvements. 
By 9:30 or so, we were through the long lines and returning home with the bottle of Beefeater gin since the Bombay shelf was empty. We have definite necessities. And a few other bags filled with yogurt, broccoli, potatoes, cat food. You know. 
We walked to the small market in town for decaf coffee and a few other things that I had forgotten -- oatmeal and cocoa. Then had coffee in our favorite café, Le Colibri, which means hummingbird. We talked with the owner about what she would do during the lockdown and she showed up pictures of their horses and farmlands where they would work while they couldn't run their café/bar. 
Earl had scheduled a last minute quarantine haircut, and lucky for us, Melissa came to our house to do it. I taught Chinese students while Earl went to meet Jack for lunch. Jack's wife Jules is still in the States, so he will start the quarantine alone. 
After I finished teaching, we climbed on our bikes for a ride. During quarantine, we are allowed to exercise for one hour a day within one kilometer of our homes. This was our last chance for a long ride. 

Every bike ride requires a stop at a cafe
We biked about 13 kilometers to the town of Couiza and met some friends there for drinks. They were supposed to be coming to our house for dinner on Saturday, but now that is cancelled. No friends. No interaction in person through December 1, at least. 

Enjoying the sun
We pedaled home before the sun set, a little earlier here in Quillan because of the mountains. 
Then we walked back to the Colibri for drinks with friends. It was to be our "French-speaking" group which has been meeting on Fridays, a combination of women who do both belly dance and tango. Isabelle, our tango teacher, came for drinks but couldn't stay for dinner. So from 6-8 we drank and laughed, enjoying that we could be together. 
I had suggested dinner, reminding people that this was our last chance not to cook for a month. Restaurants plan to offer take out starting next week, so that may not be strictly true, but it seemed like a good excuse.
So at 8, we walked over to Pizzeria les Platanes. We had reservations for 8, but we had to separate into two tables of four because only groups of 6 can gather. Inevitably, the women sat together and the men sat together. 

Cheers

Men's selfie
Photo interrupted by Olivier, the always charming waiter. 
We ate and drank and ordered dessert and some ordered coffee, reluctant to leave knowing that we wouldn't be together again for a month. We watched the waiters turn over the tables and seat more people. That doesn't usually happen in France. People eat and linger, but everyone was desperate for one last dinner out. Some people came in as late as 10:30 and we wondered if they would be finished eating by the time the lockdown began at midnight. 
At our table, we talked about meeting furtively on walks or zoom meetings and then we said goodbye.

The month will fly past and before Christmas, hopefully, we'll be huddled under outdoor heaters sipping hot chocolate and amaretto.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Regrets and a Long November Ahead

Now I wish I’d gone into the sea. 
The sea was so still yesterday
And Earl was right, I should have taken my water shoes. 
And I wonder if, instead of rushing to the grocery to fill my larder for the coming lockdown this morning, I shouldn’t instead get in the car and drive back to the sea and fling myself in. An October baptism against the November loneliness of lockdown. 
France is going back to confinement - no travel, restaurants and bars closed, one-hour a day for exercise. And papers, don’t forget the papers that say why you have left home during a pandemic. 
I get it. 
But a panic sets in that maybe I don’t remember how to do this. Last time, Grace and Jack were here. We played cards and mah-jong and talked to neighbors as they walked past with their dogs. 
Before we knew that the lockdown was returning, on Wednesday, we had an impromptu girls’ trip to Collioure, a charmant village along the Mediterranean with a strange obsession for the church tower along the coast.
A view of the church and the crescent beach

We decided to eat lunch first and found a place in the sun. It became almost too hot as the sun shone onto us, me with my Aperol Spritz and Tina, Jo and Melissa with their rose wine. 
My empty drink as we came to desert and our goofy poses for the cameras

Lots of laughter

Around us, the world seemed normal, except for the masks that covered everyone's faces. 
After we ate, we walked around the cute shops and oohed and aahed at the quaint streets.
The stairs and plants and colorful painting "The gate of solace."

Then we drove to a more secluded beach. The plan was to swim and then to practice belly dancing on the beach. 
The sun had disappeared behind big flat clouds and a breeze blew. I wore a sweater over my dress. 
Melissa changed right into her "swim costume." That's what the Brits call it. I said I would wander down to feel the water first. 
Tina made it clear she would hold down the towels on the beach, not even considering a swim. 
Melissa had brought swim shoes and I had brushed off Earl's suggestions. The beach was much sandier and smoother than Nice, but close to the water there were more stones. I let my feet sink while Melissa plunged right into the water.
After a few minutes, as the cold water swarmed around my ankles and the clouds hung low over the sky, I decided that I wouldn't swim. I went back to the towel and plopped down. Jo said she would join Melissa, so she changed and headed down to the water. The shrieks she emitted as she walked into the water, made it clear that the water was cold!!!
Two brave souls

Tina and I stayed on the sand, but we enjoyed watching them swim. 

Tina and I on the beach, my bangs shrinking upward already in the moist air

After Jo and Melissa dried off, we did some belly dancing on the beach. It was our promise to ourselves that we would practice since we didn't have belly dancing class on Wednesday. 
Melissa teaches, and she brought along "jingly belts" and scarves. 

The scarves are swoopy in the wind. 

These three with the Sea in the background. What fun we had, even if we scared off many people on the beach. 

Belly dancing with the curve of the Mediterranean behind them. 
  
We drove home as the sun set and a black cloud hovered above the mountains as we made our way toward them. 

It wasn't until later that night, after we got home, that Macron announced a confinement for all of France that begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday and lasts until December.  
We got a last trip in just under the deadline. 
So, I should have gone for a swim, but maybe in December. 

But still dreaming of the smooth sea

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

House Work

 We're creeping along on improving the house. Some of the work that has to be done isn't really visible, not as visible as repainting the door and the shutters.

I started sanding these shutters because they were low and easy for me to reach.
Earl finished them, of course. 

I'm so glad we finally choose a color. 

Our "front" door with a yellow rosebush that will be trained to curl across the top.

Before, the doors were brown. I hated the doors and I sat and looked at them a lot in the kitchen. They were brown inside and out. 

You may be thinking, there's a lot that needs to be fixed. Yep, but we're getting there step by step. 

My husband is meticulous, of course. The doors and shutters must be taken down and sanded smooth, then painted. The doors need the window panes to be re-glazed. That all takes a long time. 

Black trim on the blue shutters. 

So we have one door and two shutters completed. 

Then, the electrician came in last week to do some of that hidden work. The office I use is between our bedroom and the terrace. It has a concrete floor and walls that we haven't touched yet. But what it didn't have was a heater. We had some colds days in the past month, so we knew a heater was necessary. 

Our heating source is the cast-iron radiators that were here in the house but were connected to an oil tank. We didn't want oil heating, so removed the giant tank. Now each radiator is filled with water and has its own heating unit, so we can turn each one on individually. 

The "office" has only one outlet and that outlet is busy with my computer and the printer and the light I use for teaching. Plus, as Jay the electrician pointed out, a heater needs a line directly to the fuse box. So he had to drill a trench to run a line to where the heater will be. 

Jay framed in the doorway, kicked up a lot of dust last week. 

Knowing that the room would be filled with dust, Earl and I cleared out nearly everything. Once the dust settled two days later and the electrical outlet was in place, we decided we might as well paint the room and lay tile on the floor. But the floor takes a distinct dip from one end to the other and there is no way we'll be able to tile it. We're debating carpet (something you don't really see in France) or maybe just a big rug. 

What color will we paint the walls? Some variation of white that we have in big tubs. One of our many good friends gave us a tub of "magnolia" paint. I think it came from some friends who are moving and clearing out their home. Magnolia sounds good for the office. It will make the walls look fresh and remove one of the many construction materials we are currently trying to store in what will one-day be the media room, but that we currently call the "cozy" room. 

It may be a long winter, but we can hope that we'll get more work done and be warm in our first full year in our new home. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Literally, In My Head

 While Earl was away hiking in Spain a few weeks ago,

Cows and rolling hills in the lush Spanish countryside

I decided to do a juice cleanse -- only fruits and vegetables in juice form. Our social life revolves so strongly around food that it's hard to do most of the time in France. 

A few days in, I started to notice a dizzy, swooping feeling when I lay down in bed or when I sat up in the morning. I would pause for a few moments, get my balance, and continue on with my day.

But when the juice cleanse ended and Earl returned home, that feeling -- like I had gone airborne over a hill on a narrow road-- continued whenever I would lie down or sit up. I had a check up with the doctor planned and asked her about. As long as she could rule out brain tumor, I could live with it.

She confirmed that it was an inner-ear thing, that the fluid sometimes gets out of whack. It would go away eventually, but she printed out some exercises I could do to help it along. I took the paper and didn't examine them until the next morning when I began to do them. 

I'm good at exercises, it's kind of my thing,

New running shoes regularly

but I read through the paper in disbelief. I should do these exercises 3 times a day with 5 repetitions each time. And, I should continue for two weeks.

How long does this usually last? Wouldn't I be over it naturally in two weeks? 

I began. Sit on the bed, turn my head to the right, tilt over onto my left side and lay on that side for 30 seconds. Sit up, turn my head to the left, tilt over onto my right side and lay on that side for 30 seconds. Each time as I lay down or sat up, that swoopy feeling swamped my brain until the world righted itself. 

I managed to do it morning and evening on the first day, forgetting in the middle of the day. Then yesterday, I didn't even think about it until I lay down in bed at night and the earth took a spin around my head. 

When I sat up this morning, I thought about turning my head and tilting 30 times a day for the next two weeks. I did some feeble math in my head and got the  number 420. 420 times I would turn and tilt as the fluid in my ear reset. Wasn't this exacerbating the problem if I only normally faced it twice a day -- when I get up and when I go to sleep at night. That's 210 days to cure itself. 

Cheers after belly dancing

Oh, well, I'll probably follow the doctor's orders. I just need some kind of phone reminder to get me into the groove. And probably should cut down on social outings so I have time for all those exerciseexps.



 

Hope everything is upright in your head as we continue to go through the roller coaster that is 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 h...