Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A Magical Labyrinth

Within a 15-minute drive of our house weaves a path through mossy rocks and trees shrouded in greenery.  It's called the Labyrinth Vert, or Green Labyrinth.
It felt like something from the dinosaur ages
There doesn't seem a lot there that is man made, as large boulders line the paths and trees look to be upholstered in green fabric.
The path through was clear, though. 
We lost track of the magical sights.
This tree had several trunks weaving together. 
We walked through the labyrinth then back, rather than making the loop after someone had told us the rest of the walk wasn't that interesting. It was just about 2 1/2 miles but we spent nearly an hour and a half meandering through the rocks and trees, stopping for photos and stories shared.
Why can I never look the right place for a selfie? Anyway, here's our group
Jim offering wisdom from his perch
The walk from the car to the beginning of the labyrinth took us past these historical sights, including an old windmill that was used as a lookout by the Germans during World War II, along with another now decrepit building that the Germans used.
Apparently, this was a good place to watch for anyone sneaking in or out of the pass below.

As you can see, another clear day in this part of France.
The walk amongst the trees wasn't too warm and other than occasionally clambering up and down some rocks, the hike wasn't too challenging.
We ended the hike with a home picnic at our friends' house.
I don't think we'll ever be able to see all of the interesting sights near our new home in France. I wonder if that's true no matter where you live if you just take the time to go exploring.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sightseeing in Southern France

I'm feeling a pressing need to get out and show the sights to Grace and Jack since they've been housebound for nine weeks in France.
On our latest outing, they may have wished they were back in their snug bedroom.
In the morning, we took a hike with our friends Jim and Theresa. Jack didn't come along because his knee is out of commission, but Grace joined us.
We were going to hike through an old railroad tunnel that runs under a mountain.

The old railroad tunnel. 
We had some flashlights (thanks, Derrick) and the lights from our phones. At first, the tunnel had a few side exits that let in light. Then as we went farther, the dark became denser. Water dripped from the roof, splashing onto our heads or shirts.

The five of us venturing into the tunnel. 
According to my phone, we had gone about 1.5 kilometers into the tunnel, arriving at the some arches that overlooked the river, when Grace's claustrophobia kicked in. She could not go any farther!
Grace and I told the others to go on and we would walk back to the car.
So their beams of light disappeared and we were alone in the tunnel.
We started walking back toward the beginning of the tunnel. The light faded, the black closed in.
Gone were the lights of Earl and Jim bopping ahead of us as Grace, Theresa and I followed. Now, it was just the two of us.
And as we moved into the blackness, Grace made a break for it back to the arches along the tunnel, the overlooks, gulping in the fresh air.
"We'll just wait for the others to come back," I suggested. So we stood there, watching the river run far below.
After about 15 minutes, we wondered if the others might exit the tunnel on the far side and find another way to return to the car. That would leave us standing in the tunnel forever.
I tried to text Earl and unbeknownst to me, he tried to text me, but our signals were not going through. Obviously, since we were under a mountain.
As the wait stretched to 20 minutes, Grace and I decided we'd have to brave it alone. I suggested we sing a song as we walked, but we couldn't think of any songs we both knew all the words to.
Finally, I came up with the childhood song "This is the song that doesn't end..." We held hands and stepped into the darkness.
As we walked, we looked back and suddenly saw three faint lights moving toward us.
"Here they come!" Grace called.
And we waited for their return before walking out all together.
What a relief!
I can't imagine how exhausted Grace must be from the angst of claustrophobia.
We returned home to muffins and iced tea with Jim and Theresa before dragging Grace and Jack out for an afternoon adventure.  
We wove up mountains and down again on a circuitous route to Gorge de Galamus.
I'd visited there before with friends (Thanks, Kris and Derrick) but we had come in from the south. They assured me the view had more impact coming from the north, which led me to the winding roads.
The problem was, that both Grace and Jack get carsick. This was not the right route for them.
But eventually, an hour later, we arrived at the stream that carved the gorge. We waded a bit then drove on to see the gorge.
The gorge with the snow-capped Pyrenees in the background

View of L'hermitage from the other side of the gorge. It wasn't open on the day we were there. 

Jack, slowly recovering from his carsickness. 
Grace and Jack in front of the gorge
Me in front of the gorge, clutching my dress so it doesn't fly up, I guess. 
We drove home from the south. The drive was a straight shot on a nicely paved road. No mountains, no twists, no turns.
Well, another lesson learned.
They both collapsed into bed when we got home, recovering from their day of French adventure.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Blue Skies in the South of France

After nine weeks of quarantine followed by a week of rain, today dawned with a fierce blue sky and balmy temperatures.
Our daughter Grace and her husband Jack arrived three days before quarantine and we were already social distancing, so they have not seen much of France.
On Saturday, I dragged Grace along with me to pick up the chairs we purchased in Carcassonne. The rain had passed and we drove up to "La cité" which is the castle that hovers above the city.
And, of course, Jack felt like he had missed out. So today, we returned to let Jack experience the castle.
Although the ramparts aren't open, the rest of the castle and the shops within are. 
Very few people were wandering around the castle, so we got to enjoy feeling like we were back in Medieval times.

What's up with this sculpture? It's breasts are way off. 

Grace and Jack wander ahead of us through the city gates. 

We ventured inside the basilica and lit a candle for the world. 

The doors to the church are giant, as you can see from a comparison of me to the door.
 Notice the homemade mask I'm wearing

Grace and Jack removed their masks for this picture. 
We had some ice cream and sat on a concrete step to eat it, offering bites to a mottled cat who refused both bites of raspberry sorbet and hazelnut. A little sparrow, however, gratefully accepted bits of my ice cream cone.
The shops that are open are being very careful, insisting on hand sanitizer and plastic gloves for anyone entering.
We purchased an iron bell with an Occitan cross on it that Earl installed next to our front door when we got home.
And we also bought a few castle-related gifts for our nephews. We are trying to support local businesses, even if it isn't much.
Afterward we drove down to the "modern" city of Carcassonne and walked around. We got take out from a kebab restaurant and ate it in the Square Gambetta, until Grace accidentally gave food to pigeons and we had to abandon our park bench. Not really, but we did give her a hard time about the gathering, until a little boy on a scooter zoomed by, scattering the pigeons.
We have discovered that the simplest outings are exhausting these days.
I think it's going to take some time to get used to going out again. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Lockdown Eases

On Monday, the lockdown in France eased.
We were allowed to go out without an attestation, a paper that said where and why we were going somewhere. The reasons were limited -- fulfilling essential needs, like medical or grocery, exercising within 1 kilometer of our home, or helping others who couldn't go out.
We weren't even allowed to go to the grocery with other family members. Only one person per car.
As of Monday, we are allowed to travel, no papers required, within 100 kilometers of our home. That's quite a bit for us. It includes Carcassonne, Toulouse, the Mediterranean -- but the beaches are still closed.
Andorra and Spain are also in are 100 kilometer area, but the borders are still closed to both of those places.
We were so excited to venture out of our house and to take Grace and Jack to see some of the beautiful places near us.
Remember that they arrived on Friday before the lockdown happened on Tuesday. Since then, they've been sheltering in our house, taking occasional walks and stopping at the bakery sometimes.
We debated going to an old medieval town and showing them the market. It's about an hour away.
But the weather forecast had other plans.
The forecast has been rain for the entire week.
Monday afternoon, we went about 10 kilometers away to Rennes le Chateau. As you can see from the picture, the weather was ominous. 

On a sunny day, the view from here is beautiful.
Rennes le Chateau is one of those mysterious places that has to do with a priest and sudden influxes of money that allowed him to build this tower among other beautiful structures.
Our next day out was planned for Wednesday. Earl and I needed to pick up our visas. In France, they're called carte de  séjour or titre de  séjour. They give us permission to stay in the country for another year.
We had our appointment on February 25th and received a text that the cards were ready on the Friday before lockdown. Obviously, we hadn't been able to retrieve them.
Strategically planning when to arrive and how to avoid long lines, Earl and I drove to Carcassonne. Grace and Jack decided not to come along because rain was once again forecast for the entire day.
The map on our phones took us right through Carcassonne rather than around it because traffic was so light. We found a parking spot a block away from the prefecture. We waited maybe 5 minutes for the security guard to allow us in. Another 5 minutes and our cards were in our hands. By 8:59 a.m., we were back in the car.
But wait! I paid for parking until 10 a.m., I wanted to protest.
In years past, we would go with friends and celebrate our new visas with breakfast in an outdoor cafe. This year, no restaurants or bars are open.
Instead we visited a home improvement store for paint and a used furniture store where we found chairs for our kitchen table.

The living room in the background is in a state of flux because the drywall is going up this week. 
Throughout the quarantine, this is how our living room has looked. Metal supports on the ceiling and along the walls. 
In preparation for drywall

Our builder friend Kris put up the boards a week before quarantine ended. How did we convince him? We had a new kitten arriving and couldn't allow it to hide inside unfinished walls. 

Next came the mudding, or as the British call it, plastering, to cover the boards. 
Now the walls and ceilings are complete and we are waiting a week for them all to dry, because everything is humid as we apparently are going through a rainy season. Soon we'll be able to do a few mist coats and then to paint.

A week ago today, we picked up our new kitten, Louis Catorze -- that's a play on the name Louis Quatorze, the 14th. The Sun King.

Louis is an upstairs cat right now as we work on the downstairs, but he's mostly fine with that because the stairs are a challenge to him.
The rain is scheduled to dry up next week, so we're hoping for some adventures then.
Meanwhile, our market has still been happening every Wednesday and Saturday with fruits, vegetables, cheese, honey and plants, so we get to walk around and make eye contact over our masks. And I heard even the coffee truck has returned, so I'm super excited to see all the vendors that arrive Saturday morning.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Medical Experiences in France

I'm about to write a post that makes me a little uncomfortable -- one because it reveals some private information and two because it includes nudity.
Then why am I writing it?
I think back to myself, living in the U.S. and reading all the blogs I could about life in France so I would be prepared.
I learned all kinds of things on those blogs, like the fact that I would need to exchange my driver's license the first year I was in France or else I would have to attend driving school and spend thousands of dollars to get a French driver's license.
I heard the horrors of going to French doctors and being told to strip down without a gown in sight.
I gleaned a lot of knowledge that I now get to apply while living in France.

When I walked out of the hospital this afternoon into a gloriously sunny afternoon, I knew I would need to write about my experience so that others could learn from it.
The walk from the hospital down to home include a view of some poppies
During my sojourn in the States, I began to feel an uncomfortable tugging along my right ribs, under my breast.
I'd had a mammogram in September, so I didn't worry about it too much, but the feeling continued.
We don't have health insurance in the U.S. this year, so going to the doctor wasn't an option for me. I figured I would have it checked when I returned to France.
But I hadn't been in France long before Covid-19 hit and we went into lockdown. The pharmacy would give us meds without a prescription as long as we didn't bother the doctors who were busy fighting on the front lines of Coronavirus. Even in our small town, dozens of people had it.
Luckily, none of us showed symptoms of the virus so we had no need to call the doctor and bother her.
As things have loosened up, I called the doctor last week and made an appointment for two days later.
Our doctor, unlike the ones I have read about who ask patient to disrobe, rarely even touches us to look in our throats, listen to our hearts. She frequently writes out a prescription and sends us on our way.
This time, of course, she did tell me to remove my shirt (and bra, if I was wearing one, but I wasn't).
I sat on the examining table. It is an upright chair instead of a table. So she pulled her stool up and checked my breasts and honed in on the place under my breasts where the soreness persisted.
She assured me she thought it was nothing, just that I had perhaps injured myself and the nerves were continue to react.
She gave me a prescription for Vitamin B and for a chest x-ray just to be sure.
What a relief, I congratulated myself as I returned home from the doctor and prepared to forget about the uncomfortable tugging sensation under my ribs.
But after a week, I decided to call the hospital to make an appointment for an x-ray. Calling is always a challenge because I have to speak French. I always preface every conversation by apologizing for my French. English speaks will always say I speak good French, but that's only because I know more than many of them do. It sounds impressive if you don't understand it.
The woman set up an appointment the next day at 16h 30. That's 4:30 in American time. I repeat the time over and over to make sure I get it right. At the end of the phone call, the woman said: "Come .. and wear a mask."
What? I asked. I wanted her to repeat that part that I hadn't understood. It sounded like cellar.
She repeated all, of course, and the word that I had to pick out was "seule" -- alone.
"Come alone and wear a mask."
It sounded much more exciting than it would be.
My homemade mask and my x-rays
Grace and I went for a walk that afternoon (part of our allowed hour of exercise everyday) and we walked up by the hospital so I would know where to go the next day.
I'd never been to the hospital in our town, but I'd seen the sign so I knew the direction.
Then today, I walked the road again -- seule. It's only a few kilometers each direction.
I followed the signs to "radiologie." I walked into the waiting room and murmured "Bonjour" to the other waiting patients, who responded in kind. Just because we have to wear masks doesn't mean we've thrown out all the French niceties.
I waited several minutes for a receptionist to come from the back office to take my x-ray order. She asked for my carte vitale, the card that shows French health insurance, and I told her I would pay for it myself because I don't yet have a carte vitale.
I'm sure everyone in the room was scandalized. To them, the cost of medical procedures are outrageous, but they haven't lived in the States.
To visit the doctor in France without insurance, it costs me 25 Euro. I didn't know what the x-ray would cost, but I had a friend who paid 35 Euros for an MRI. A quick web search tells me that an x-ray in the States, without insurance, costs $100-$1000.
As I sat reading a book on my Kindle, in spite of the "No cell phone" rule in the salle d'attente (waiting room) I noticed that the other patients would be called out then come back. In a few minutes, the receptionist would come forward and hand them an envelope before they left.
That's right, the next step was for them to give patients the x-rays and patients are responsible for taking them to the doctor, or holding onto them for future medical needs. There's no such thing as a permanent medical chart where all of my information is collected. As a matter of fact, when I was at the doctor and I asked her to refill my prescription, she asked me what it was because they had changed systems on their computers and she didn't have my information anymore.
I was the last person in the room when the x-ray technician called my name, and I followed the bald man in green scrubs into the x-ray room.
He motioned to a side room and indicated that I should strip from the waist up. The word I recognized "nue." I walked into the room, smaller than most closets and saw two round knobs where clothes could be hung. I reached to close the door behind me and realized there was no door knobs. Apparently, I would not be closing the door to disrobe.
I shrugged off my sweater and then pulled my dress over my head.
Nude from the waist up, I walked back into the room.
The tech indicated that I should step onto a platform, facing a wall and push my chest against it. He indicated I should put my hands on my hips. Then he told me to hold still and moved cameras around. The platform shook causing me to rock back and forth and wondering how he would get a clear picture. Then when everything had come to a standstill, he told me not to breathe.
He had me turn several different ways, lifting my hands in the air. He told me to blow the air out of my lungs "soufflez," yes, like a cheese souffle.
And then, he said we were finished and I returned to the open-door closet to put my clothes on.
I went back to the waiting room and in a very short time, my name was called.
Too personal? A view as I lean forward against a wall and get an xray taken. 
I received my envelope with the x-rays. I paid 52 euros with my credit card, the full price for an x-ray.
I asked the woman what to do with the x-rays. She said I should make an appointment with the doctor and take them with me.
Are you kidding? That will be another 25 euros! That will bring the total of my medical misadventure to just over 100 euros.
When I looked at the x-rays and the results, I noticed that someone had read the x-rays and written at the bottom "Absence de..." several times. They didn't find anything on my x-rays. Which is fine.
It's good to know that if I have a medical problem I can get it checked out without fear of bankruptcy.
But don't worry, Earl and I are in the process of sending in our information so we can get our carte vitale. The cost for that will be about 8% of our yearly income, not counting retirement income.
What a relief it will be to know that we have low prices and insurance.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Book Cover Reveal

I'm excited to share with you a new book cover for The Summer of France, my very first published novel.
Without further fanfare:

Why, you may ask, a new book cover for The Summer of France?
Because The Summer of France is now book 1 in the series A New Life in Provence.
That's right, the 2nd book, Falling for Provence, is coming soon.
And I'll share that book cover when I have more details.
A shout out to my fabulous book designer Janna Thompson-Chordas.
When I was searching for someone to create covers, I thought about going with a designer far away in India or Pakistan, but then I thought to ask around my town in Ohio and found Janna. She designs covers for OSU publishing so you know she's a pro.
You, my readers, all have always been so supportive of my writing and I really appreciate it. I wonder if you'll be able to see differences in my writing now that I am living in France.
I'll tell you one change that I had to make as I was writing Falling for Provence. I had Fia, the main character, listening to Pandora music on her phone.
Guess what? You can't get Pandora in Europe. Good thing I moved here to learn that little tidbit.
If you are interested in learning more about when my next novel will be released, please leave your email in the comments or send me an email at and I'll begun compiling an email list.
That way, you won't miss it when book 2 of A New Life in Provence is released.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Moody Mountains

Our town is surrounded by mountains. They look like gentle hills in some places (unless you try to climb them) and they appear to be craggy mountains in another direction.
The sun on rocky mountain crags
So many times, my run is interrupted by the need to halt and take a picture. I wonder if other people think I'm a tourist. Maybe I still am.
Low-lying clouds
I went for a walk with Grace one afternoon and she asked the clouds if they were tired, resting on the mountains so.
This is a view I often take as I run across a bridge. 

The same view on a sunnier day

And here's a snapshot of the bridge where I stop to take the picture. 

A sunrise through the mountains

Every morning, when I leave the house to run or walk, I'm always startled by the beauty. Around every corner might be another beautiful vista that makes me slow to a walk and snap a picture.
I'll be perusing my pictures the next few days as we have rain, including a flood warning for tomorrow morning, but I hope I'll be out running again, searching for landscapes that move me, even if they are mountains.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

France Quarantine Continues

In many ways, the rules have gotten stricter here in France. We're only allowed to leave the house once a day. We have to take a paper that says we are going to buy groceries or medicine or to help someone who can't go themselves. But the main reason I leave my house is to exercise each day, usually a run, but sometimes a walk.
We are supposed to stay within 1 kilometer of our homes. I roughly try to comply with that.
 I'm allowed to walk with people who live in my house, but no one else.
I try to take a picture on every walk or run to share with my running friends
It's been nearly a month since we raced over the border to Barcelona to pick up Grace and Jack. Even then we were social distancing and the next morning they closed all the bars and restaurants.
I've been to the bakery a few times 
I got breakfast and lunch at the bakery on one trip. 
and the grocery store twice.
The local grocery set up a series of barricades where people can wait until it is there turn to get in the store.
The stores limit the number of people who can go in, so sometimes the longest wait is outside before you can get in.

I've talked to friends from our balcony and over fences.
I'm not sure if Grace and Jack feel lucky to be stuck here, but I'm really glad they are. We have four hands for euchre. And just last week I received a mahjong set, so we can play three or four-handed mahjong.
I used to play mahjong with my homeschool mom friends so it brings back lots of good memories.
Earl apparently never played back in the day, but he is being a good sport and learning the game. 
What else are we doing to pass the time? Well, as soon as the quarantine started, I caved and we ordered a television.

Add caption
We rarely watch television in France so I had argued that we didn't need one; we could simply watch shows on the computer during cold winter nights that we weren't out with our friends drinking wine, dancing, telling stories.
But realizing that the four of us were going to be inside, except for an hour per day of exercise, I immediately went on Amazon and ordered this 43-inch television. It isn't a show stopper, but gives us something to do on nights when we aren't playing cards or mahjong.
Our dinners have drifted later, usually starting around 8 p.m., so there isn't a lot of time afterward to watch TV.
We have scavenged a few plants for our garden.
We should have enhanced the soil first with alpaca dung from our friend with alpacas
My life remains much the same. Working most days teaching English to Chinese kids. The hours are longer because they aren't in school so can take classes anytime of day. I'm scheduling two days off every week from teaching. I considered continuing to teach everyday since we're quarantined, but I realized that I need a few days where I can go for a leisurely walk and not rush to shower and get dressed, a day where I can linger at the breakfast table over coffee. So I'm allowing myself those days off.
 I'm also teaching an online university class and am lucky enough that another one starts in May. I take two days off from being online for my class, but unfortunately they aren't the same days that I don't teach the Chinese children. The only day that I don't work at all is today, Wednesday. And it feels like a bit of a vacation.
I know I'm fortunate to still be able to work, so I won't complain about it.
A few restaurants are open these days for take out, so that is a nice break from someone cooking for 21 days straight. We had galettes last Friday -- those are savory crepes, with a delicious bottle of hard cider.
Maybe we'll try the Vietnamese restaurant next or the pizzeria so Grace and Jack can experience some local eateries.

We have also committed to getting a kitten.
Nougaro, who we are currently planning to call Nougat, will be ready for adoption in mid-May. Grace has been having withdrawal since she can't have her cats brought over. We've always had cats so decided it might be a good time to get one. He comes from a local animal rescue organization.

That's our life in quarantine. We'll continue to take walks and look at beautiful scenery. Hope you're all being safe and stay healthy.

Mountains through an arch

Thursday, March 26, 2020

My Novels Free on Kindle Through Sunday

I can't really do much to save the world and the people around me.
I'm not a doctor or a nurse or a scientist working on a cure for Coronavirus.
I'm not even a grocery store clerk making sure that the shelves are full and people don't hoard.
But I am an author and I can offer my four novels for free on Kindle.
Just visit my author page on Amazon to download any of my four novels. Hopefully it will help the time to pass more quickly for you as you are hunkered down in your home trying to stay safe.
Three of my novels are about running away to France, and now I've done that.
I took this picture on Thursday morning on my run. The mountains had snow last night and
the sun was shining on them behind the church steeple. 
My most recent novel is Paris Runaway:  On a quest to find her teenage daughter, can a mother find herself? Romance, travel, adventure.
Photo credit Virginia Jones from "Paris Through My Lens" blog
 The Summer of France is also available free on Kindle. Escape to Provence. But don't expect only sunflowers and blue skies. Family secrets and suave Frenchmen may complicate life.

My final available novel set in France is I See London I See France. Here's a review so you can see it through someone else's eyes: “This novel is a fun escape to France, including a whirl-wind ride through neighboring countries. I loved the descriptions of the various settings and interesting tidbits about living in France. If you like stories set in places you'd love to visit, and enjoy a bit of intrigue and history as well, you'll enjoy this book!”– Jackie Bouchard, author of What the Dog Ate
Photo credit for this one goes to my youngest son. 

But I did find some adventure while still in the United States as I wrote Trail Mix. Two suburban women in their mid-40s  decide to hike the Appalachian Trail as the ultimate diet plan but sometimes it takes an escape from everyday life, time to examine the forest, before the trees and life become clear.

I hope you'll download one of my novels and let me know if all of the characters running away from their responsibilities help you escape some of your worries. 

A Magical Labyrinth

Within a 15-minute drive of our house weaves a path through mossy rocks and trees shrouded in greenery.  It's called the Labyrinth Vert,...