Thursday, August 30, 2018

The French Escape

Fellow author and France lover, Suzie Tullett, is preparing for her latest book, French Escape, to be released.
So she allowed me to do a guest blog explaining how I had escaped to France. You'll find my guest blog here with a picture of me twirling around in the darkened streets of our village.

Take a look at Suzie's blog and consider leaving a comment and ordering some of her novels.
You'll find her at Suzie Tullett
Her novel The French Escape will be released September 20

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

My French Morning

Life here is very different than it was in the States, but a lot of that difference might be because I had to get up and go to work when I lived in Columbus.
For those who know me -- personally or via my blog -- you may be surprised to learn that I don't get out of bed until after 8 a.m. most mornings here in France.
In Ohio, I was always an early morning person. Many days I'd be out the door before 5:30 a.m. to go for a walk with a friend or a run on the silent streets of our town. Heck, I've even made it to the hospital ER at least twice by 6 a.m., which means I had time to go for a run and injure myself. Once for stitches in my knee and the second time for a broken nose.
When we arrived in France during the winter, it was dark and the roads were unfamiliar in the morning, so I started running later and later. I felt guilty about it, but my guilt has abated. I usually wake up, look at the news on my phone and finally hoist myself out of bed.
If I get up early enough, I can enjoy a beautiful sunrise over the mountains.
Gathering clouds framed by the mountains

A golden sunrise
Today, I headed out on a run close to 8 a.m. and finished my 5 1/2 miles before 9.
Sweating profusely, I found a hand towel and mopped at the drips running down my face and hair before I decided to put a load of clothes in the wash, but that meant peeling off my running clothes. My favorite running pants are capris and I'd wear them every day for my run if I could.
I also stripped the sheets off the bed and threw them in the washer.
While the clothes tumbled, I showered and finished in time to give the clothes an extra spin, something I wouldn't do in the States, because they'd be going straight in the dryer. Not here in France. Dryers are rare.
I always thought French people didn't use dryers because of the high cost of electricity here in France. But since Earl and I have been paying our own utility bills, the monthly cost for gas and electricity combined has ranged from 23 euro to 56 euro (that's $26 to $65) for a month. At home, we paid about $100 a month for electricity and around $90 for gas.
So, two more trips down the stairs to gather the clothes and hang them on the line.
The laundry hangs on the line outside our balcony.

There is something satisfying about hanging clothes to dry, but many times, the towels feel too scratchy. One thing I've learned is that the clothes should be shaken out with a sharp flip of the wrist, both before they're hung to dry, and again before they're folded as they come off the line. I'm not sure if this really takes out wrinkles or makes them softer, but I follow the rule.
The clothes dry very fast here in Southwestern France. If I'm doing more than one load, a lot of times the clothes on the line are dry before I bring up the next load.
Wet clothes hanging on the line, I turn my attention to breakfast.
My favorite part of the morning is having coffee.
I've once again transitioned to decaf, but it's a dark, strong decaf that I mix with some heated half n half.
The cafetiere slurps along on the gas stove

I love this coffee maker, known as a cafetière. There are practically poems written about the gentle sound of the shushing as the coffee rises from the bottom chamber to the pot, but what I'm impressed with is the taste. It's the best coffee I've had in France. Better than what I can get in a café.
While the coffee pot is percolating, I slice a loaf of pain a l'ancienne and toast it very briefly because French toasters always burn the bread, in my experience.
Butter and raspberry jam are my next steps. Another thing I've learned, from some British friends, never dip the knife into the jam. Instead, use a separate spoon to retrieve the jam so no toast crumbs fall into the jar.
Many days, I walk to the bakery and buy breakfast, a pain au chocolat or croissant. Sometimes my favorite a chausson framboise, like a flaky, folded apple pie but with raspberry filling.
Here's a picture of the display in our local bakery.
The cakes are not for breakfast, but they all look yummy
But today, I decided toast would suffice.
Finally, I can sit and have breakfast. Earl is traveling so it's a solitary breakfast these days, but I can't wait for his return. He'll read portions of the newspaper to me while I read a book or scroll through stories on my phone.
French bread toast and café au lait

Next I move to my computer. I'm still teaching university classes, although not as many as I'd like, I've had at least one every 8 weeks, and I also am teaching English to Chinese kids via VIPkids. Today I had a VIPkid class to prepare for. I get all my props ready, take notes on the important parts of the lesson, and make sure my technology is working.
Sometimes I wonder how different it is from my mornings at home in Ohio. I still exchange messages and Facebook posts with friends and family (well not family so much because it's the middle of the night there) but I catch up on any messages or posts they might have sent while I was sleeping. I do miss walking or running with my friends, but I don't miss having to get out of bed at 5 a.m.
I think I've adjusted to this new life pretty well.
And any of these plans can be thrown to the wind if we decide we want to visit a nearby chateau or take a bus to Perpignan and explore the city there or bike to a winemaker and taste the various wares. So nothing is set in stone, which is one of the things that makes life here delightful.

If you have questions about how things are different in France, be sure to ask. I'm happy to share my experience of this ex pat  experiment.

Monday, August 27, 2018

An Author's Life

I once had a writing colleague tell me that there's no such thing as "writer's block;" it's just a lazy person's way to avoid writing.
I'd like to say that my life in France has been too happy to write much, but I've had plenty of sad times or doldrums, and that still hasn't sent me to the keyboard.

Perhaps I could claim that I've been too busy living my life to write, but I've read nearly 300 pages of a novel and watched two movies this weekend, time that I could have spent writing.
So apparently, not writing is a choice for me now.
I have another novel finished, waiting for editing, and a novel that I'm so excited about, but it's only half written. Guess I'm not that excited about it.
If I followed a schedule, sitting down to write every morning, I know I'd be caught up in the characters again and finish it in no time.
Discipline. I knew I was missing something.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Attention Seeking

I have to admit that I've been slacking big time at advertising my novels for the last year or so.
In an effort to get them out there, I had some photos made that incorporate the book cover into pictures, along with a blurb of a review.

I love the way he found a picture that use the same colors and foliage.
The Summer of France is about (surprise) a woman who runs away from her life in Ohio to run her Uncle's B&B in Aix en Provence. Could a crackly phone call from France save Fia Randolph’s jobless and family troubles? That’s what she hopes when her Uncle Martin asks Fia, her husband, and teenage twins to move to Provence and take over his bed and breakfast. She pictures long picturesque walks carrying crusty baguettes and bonding with the kids. But Fia didn’t bargain on being pulled into Uncle Martin’s World War II secret that wrenches her family further apart.  
The Summer of France is available on Amazon or

This picture definitely feels like a dive down a forest trail, this one is my only novel set in the United States, so far. 
How does a woman know what she wants after spending 20 years thinking about her husband and children? Sometimes it takes an escape from everyday life, time to examine the forest before the trees become clear. Friends Jess and Andi figure life hiking the Appalachian trail can't possibly be worse than dealing with disgruntled husbands, sullen teens home from college, and a general malaise that has crept up in their daily lives.
Trail Mix is available on Amazon and Amazon UK

This photo might be my favorite, the way the book cover is slotted along the top of the building, like a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower between different sides of the building. 
I See London I See France is about another woman running away. When her husband of a dozen years walks out in a huff, Caroline Randolph walks out too – to Europe, with her kids after impulsively selling her minivan for travel money. Tired of being the perfect wife, she escapes to rediscover herself, and possibly rekindle the unrequited love of a Frenchman from her college days.  While shepherding her kids from London to Scotland then Paris to Provence, she finds herself at a crossroads. Does she choose love, or lust, in the arms of a European man, or should she try again with the father of her children and the man she truly loved, once?
It's available on Amazon and Amazon UK 

And, of course, my latest novel set in Paris needs a picture from Paris. I love the Metro sign in the foreground. 
When divorced mom Sadie Ford realizes her 17-year-old daughter Scarlett has run away to Paris, all she can imagine are terrorist bombings and sex slaves. After learning her daughter chased a French exchange student home, Sadie hops on the next plane in pursuit. She joins forces with the boy’s father, Auguste, and the two attempt to find the missing teens. The chase takes Sadie and Auguste to the seedier side of Marseille, where their own connection is ignited. Since the divorce, Sadie has devoted herself to raising kids and putting her dreams on hold, but when her daughter needs her most, Sadie finds that concrete barrier to life beginning to crack. In her journey, she learns the difference between watching the hours pass and living.
Paris Runaway is available on Amazon and Amazon UK 

If you haven't read my novels, I'd appreciate the support. Just click and download to your Kindle.
And if you don't have a Kindle, they're free to download on your computer or your phone. I love reading on my phone because if I wake up in the middle of the night and can't sleep, I don't have to turn a light on, I just pick up my phone and get lost in a story (with the screen on black and the print white to reduce ambient light).

Friday, August 24, 2018

Stepping Into History

Sometimes living in this southwestern corner of France makes me believe I'm in a Tamora Pierce young adult fantasy novel, the ones I used to read to the kids, where the characters fought as knights and used magic to battle evil. The landscape here just invites that kind of imagining.
Last month we visited one of the castle remains that stand on mountains within an hour's drive of our  new home.  Chateau de Peyrepertuse is called a Cathar castle and was built in the 11th century, yeah, that's a thousand years ago. The Cathar people were Catholics who rejected the authority of the Roman leadership. They were "put down" by the Catholic church in a series of awful slaughters.
But the Chateau de Peyrepertuse was never attacked by the soldiers of the Catholic church, and you can probably see why.

The castle was built on a sheer drop.

From the top of the castle, the next Cathar castle is visible, and from the next one, another one, all the way down to the Mediterranean. That was so the castles could signal each other if invaders were coming. 
But on the day we went to visit, we were simply blown away by the remains and the bold blueness of the sky. 

It was a bit of a climb up to the castle, but, as always when walking on such amazing historic places, the hike was worth it. 
So much of the castle remains, although you couldn't move in right away and just paint.

One part of the castle looked down on the other. What a view, huh?
I tried to take some artsy shots, but mostly just admired the beauty and  felt amazement at how lucky I am to be living this life. 
A window seat, circa 1050 AD or so
 We also got to see a raptor show at the castle.
I don't think I've ever seen a bald eagle this close. I wonder if they would use them in bird shows in the U.S.
This was phenomenal as the handlers told stories and sent the birds through their paces.

Earl and I still don't have a car, so we were fortunate to tag along with our friends Theresa and Jim to see this castle. I guess it's time for us to buy a car so we can travel farther afield. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Turns Out I’m Not Cinderella

For years, after raising kids and working, I've been climbing in bed at 10 or 10:30 every night. I'd rarely make it to midnight on New Year's Eve, dozing off and waking up in time to toast.
This week alone, I've been out dancing and enjoying my friends past midnight two separate nights.
It's a definite shake up of a sedentary, Middle American life.
Wednesday was the final day of the Festival of Quillan, the village where we live. They'd had music from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for four nights in a row, and the final night included fireworks. We had friends over for dinner but let them know we planned to head downtown for the celebrations. They decided to watch the fireworks from their home perched above the city, so when they left about 15 minutes before 10, Earl and I walked down the hill to join the crowd.
We luckily found a table where a family with a stroller was leaving, so we sat down to enjoy a glass of red wine as the band played.
Light show

And they were good! Covering all the popular songs along with numerous French songs we didn't know but swayed back and forth to. Friends passed our table, stopping to exchange cheek kisses and say hello.
Earl and I danced on the cobblestones in front of the stage then returned to the table to drink wine until we saw the crowd beginning to shift toward the old bridge.
Our view from the table
The fireworks would be going off soon.
As we made our way toward the bridge, we passed more friends seated at tables, so kissed our way through the crowd. Luckily, Earl's kind of a big guy so he managed to clear a space and we could watch the 15-minute firework display.
I took two pictures then put my phone away to watch without a filter.
I'd thought we would go home afterward, but as we made our way past the stage, the music started and we stayed to dance. For a good hour, we jumped, danced and followed the choreography of the leader to "Hey Baby (I wanna know if you would you be my girl)"
The band really engaged the audience and the female dancer/singers changed costumes throughout.
I saw on Facebook later that the band gathered the children on stage. So, somewhere between midnight and two a.m., they invited the kids from the crowd to join them.
I took this from the city's Facebook post
Finally, thirsty and needing to find a toilet, Earl and I walked home. So strange to gather steps on my Fitbit for the next day.
Then Saturday was another community dinner. I was a bit unsure about the menu, but convinced myself and Earl that the important thing was the camaraderie. So we gathered under the tent to share a meal. 20 Euros for aperitifs (predinner drinks and nibbles)

Community under the tent
Followed by cassoulet dishes filled with mussels.
I ate about two-thirds of mine then passed them along to Steve sitting next to me. 
Everywhere there commented on the deliciousness of the sauce - cream, white wine, garlic.

They set out bins for the discarded mussel shells
Earl was a little close to me for a picture, but I couldn't resist capturing him as he worked his way through the mussels.
We learned you should never pry open a mussel that didn't open during cooking. It was dead when it went in the pot. 
Our next dish gave me pause as well. Pork cheeks, or jowls. I wondered why I was okay eating pork cheeks if we're talking about the hindquarters but hesitated to eat the cheeks. Something about the face, I think.
When we got it, Dave across the table immediately removed the flat bone and set it on an empty plate in the middle of the table. I wondered if it simply slid out, cause it kind of bothered me to look at it.
"Give me your plate," he said. So I did and he deboned it for me while Earl accused me of being a five-year-old who needed her meat cut up.
Pork cheeks on potato and onion confit
Even with the bone gone, the meat was fairly fatty. I ate a few bites but did not become a convert. The potatoes and pearl onions were quite tasty. Then dance music got cranked up and Earl and I swirled onto the dance floor before dessert could be served.

Tiramisu for dessert
Some entertainment began that might have been more suited for the French, and we headed across from the train station for a glass of wine with our friends. We chatted and laughed until after midnight as the waitress sat on the edge of a nearby table smoking a cigarette waiting for us to leave.
We walked home to the strains of the music which had cranked up again.
Staying up late, enjoying the company of friends, and getting out of bed when I wake up.
I might have it better than Cinderella did.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Kissing Continues

There's a French man in our village who truly fits the idea of a Frenchman, perhaps even of Pepé le Pew from the Loony Tunes cartoon.
At every city event, he is there proudly.
No, he's not in this picture, but just to give you an idea of a gathering where he would appear.

He helps set up the wine tents, he carries a steaming pan of moules (mussels) from the kitchen luring prospective buyers to the stand.
We gathered in front of the mayor's office Saturday to receive "foulards de Quillan" scarves from Quillan.
What a crowd! 
But mostly the French man greets everyone there -- men with a hearty handshake and women with a kiss on both cheeks.
He goes throughout the crowd, 200, 300, it doesn't matter.
Do they speak French or English? Doesn't matter.
Here we are posing for a selfie with our new scarves; again, the French man is not in the photo.. 
Exchanging kisses with proper British women and men, or French friends, is not the same as receiving the traditional bisous from this guy.
With a British man, I might occasionally clink my sunglasses' frame against his glasses, or I might move forward too hard and bump cheeks.
This Frenchman goes in with a firm grasp on both upper arms. Other times he places one forearm at the back of a woman's head as if holding her captive. I've seen this from other Frenchman too, and it makes me feel a little claustrophobic. Luckily, I haven't been held in a headlock by any of the French men who do greet me.
Earl and I find the man's greetings amusing, but some women in the crowd draw more attention from him, and their husbands don't find it quite as funny.
The French would never hug, but the cheek kisses are a necessity, a little opening of politeness, so there's no refusing the man's hello kisses.
An English-speaking man who has lived here a few years, shared that he'd heard the French man might be a womanizer.
"No!" I acted shocked. Yeah, I had figured that out.
But as long as I'm not the black cat with the stripe being chased by Pepé le Pew, I find it pretty humorous to observe.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Market Addiction

Before we moved to France in January, I carefully purchased clothes to get me through the year. Boots, sandals, running shoes, dresses with leggings and cardigans, dresses with tights, a few pairs of jeans. I was ready. I knew that clothes could be expensive in France and I didn't want to have to buy new clothes.
But I hadn't anticipated the market dresses.
First, since I still have hot flashes, I almost always wear short-sleeved dresses, even in winter, so I can peel off a cardigan and not be so hot. By the time summer came along, I was pretty tired of my short-sleeved dresses. I resisted buying a new dress though until it got close to the Fourth of July. A friend was having a party and I felt so unAmerican to not have red, white and blue to wear.
That's when I bought a white dress and paired it with a blue necklace so I was close to being patriotic.

Having successfully purchased one dress, I fell victim to the next one, a blue cotton off the shoulder number.
I couldn't help myself
I hadn't anticipated the truly hot summer. Sometimes I'd change clothes two or three times a day, and I never seemed to have enough sun dresses. I bought a green cotton sun dress. I liked that one, so I bought a red one just like it.
Wine and sun dresses
Like a stone rolling down a hill, I began to careen out of control. I bought two dresses and sent them home for Grace.
I even accompanied friends in their purchases of dresses from the market as well.
Flowers and a flowered dress
I stopped by the market booths on Wednesday and Saturday, trying on dresses in vans or hastily created dressing booths. My addiction was leading me to places I normally wouldn't go. Sometimes I simply slid a dress on over my other dress to see how it looked.

My latest purchase, not really a sundress but comfortable cotton

Can you have too many off-the-shoulder blue dresses?
I know that I have to get my addiction under control, and even if I continue to fill the closet with dresses, the summer has to end eventually, forcing me to wrap myself in warm cardigans -- but there might be a cute sundress underneath.


The problem with not blogging for so long, is that there is way too much to blog about so then it's discouraging and I'll never be a...