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. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Beauty in the Midst of Unsettling Times

Quarantine can be a scary time. The slightest tickle in the throat and we're convinced we're coming down with the virus.
One way I have been coping with the quarantine is running most mornings.
Forsythia blooming with the wispy clouds over the mountains
It's a bit of a debate here with some people raging on Facebook that no one should be out.
I have a hard time justifying why I can't go for a solitary run. I usually pass one or two people on the other side of the road, but I'm not spreading the virus to them and they aren't spreading it to me.
In crowded cities, I know this is more of a problem, so I count my blessings that I live in a small town and not many people get out early in the mornings to go for walks or runs.
Apparently, President Macron has now declared that people need to stay within 1 kilometer of their homes and can only go out for an hour, but if I make a big circuit around my house, staying within a kilometer, I can still run 5 or 6 kilometers.
I rounded a corner and saw dark clouds looming and the sun shine peering beneath
Yes, the run gives off endorphins, but the beauty, the stubborn beauty of nature, reminds me that the seasons continue even in the midst of a virus, even in the midst of a quarantine.
I climbed on a rock to get this picture of the bridge into our town. You can see that there are no cars on it. 
The mountains, the clouds, the blue sky give me respite in this time of turmoil. And it reminds me to be thankful for the air in my lungs and the strength of my legs.
Stay safe and be on the lookout for the beauty around you.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coming Out on the Other Side of Coronavirus

I was Facetiming with my niece recently, home on spring break with her two girls, and she asked whether the kids in China know what's going on. She meant what was going on in the States as people began to self-isolate.
They have lived what's going on, I told my niece. They aren't concerned about what is happening in the States or in France where I live because they have been quarantined for more than seven weeks.

And what happened during that isolation? More than 81,000 cases of coronavirus and only 3,255 deaths in China. Their quarantine made a huge different. Italy, slower to quarantine, has 47,000 cases of the virus and 4,032 deaths already. (Stats from Worldometers and unfortunately they will have gone up by the time you check it)
Slowly, through the eyes of its children, I see China emerging from the virus.
I teach English online to Chinese children, one on one.

 I start most classes with "What did you do today?" For months now, the answer has been: "I stayed home."
Recently though, Justin set a white transformer in front of the screen and said, "I played transformers in the park with my friend."
I was so happy for him.
A new student, Milo, dressed in a tan shirt and a red kerchief, the Chinese equivalent of boy scouts I suppose, joyously told me, "I picked strawberries today!"
My heart soared, imagining these children who have been isolated in their apartments for nearly two months going into the sunshine and pulling red berries from the vine, tasting the sunshine in each one. And I bet they are the sweetest berries since the skies are clear of pollution from the lack of factories running.
Henry told me that the weather is sunny and the skies are sooo blue!
One thing I noticed when the students were in lockdown was that parents had taken to cutting their children's hair. What's the first place many of the students go? To get a haircut.
William told me he went out for the first time, but the barber shop was closed so his hair is still a bit shaggy. Jacob wore closely cut hair, looking like himself again with his shy smile as he nodded that he had gone to get a haircut.
What does this mean for those of us who are seeing restaurants and bars close, stores shutting their doors and government orders to stay home?
It means that we can come through on the other side.
We can stay in our homes, only venturing out for groceries or medicine or solitary exercise if we don't live in big cities.
We can video chat and play card games and do puzzles and watch Netflix until our brains are numb. We can clean our homes and put up those shelves we always meant to get to.
We can write novels and compose music and draw pictures.
We can have conversations and make love.
The sun will be shining in mid-May when we slowly emerge from our homes again, hopefully with as good a result as the Chinese had.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Living in Quarantine

The events in France happened quickly, as I'm sure they have all over the world. Restaurants and bars were closed on Saturday night. Then word came that President Macron would make a speech Monday night.
I'm generally a Macron fan, but I think he botched things by announcing that he would make a speech and not giving people the details. That caused a panic on Monday that filled all the groceries and will probably cause a spike in coronavirus cases.
On Monday around noon as I was teaching, Earl came upstairs to say that the rumor was Macron was quarantining everyone starting at 8 p.m. and no one would be allowed out even to get food. We tried to logically think whether this could happen. It didn't seem right, but we didn't know. Would they deliver food to people in little boxes like when the train is delayed?
Grace, Jack and I had been planning to go to LeClerc, a Walmart-type store with groceries and many other goods, when I finished teaching because Jack needed some IT supplies and the only stores open were groceries. I didn't think it would be bad, because I hadn't seen widespread panic in France.
But the announcement of a coming announcement with no one knowing what would be said sent everything into overdrive.
The parking spots were few and the shopping carts were fewer.
We agreed to separate, I went to get some staples while Jack and Grace went to the tech section of the store. There was toilet paper. Noodles were completely gone, but I was able to find several boxes of soup -- they do boxes instead of cans here.
The only onions were red onions, which Grace is allergic to so I couldn't get onions. I found some chocolate bars (priorities) and headed back past long lines that stretched from the cashiers at the front to the middle of the store, line after line of people.
I had somehow missed the paper towels and I was retracing my steps. When I found them I started toward the front of the store knowing Grace and Jack had gotten in line and saved a place in the mass of people.
Perhaps because I was not near the grocery section, but down near the beauty products, I found a line with only two people in front of me and I stopped moving. Grace and Jack were in a longer line and came to join me.
The picture of the people in line doesn't begin to show the craziness,
I don't know why the lines were so much worse farther down the line of cashiers. 
but as we saw all the people clustered together waiting to pay, we predicted that many people were exposed to the virus that day, and that's where Macron went wrong. If he'd let us know we will be allowed to go out for food during the quarantine, people wouldn't have panicked.
We also noticed that there were people in line, at least two that we saw, buying trees.
People in line buying trees because "quarantine."
Who says, "well, it's going to be a quarantine so I better buy a tree?"
That night, Macron announced the quarantine. People had to stay home unless they were going to the grocery store, the doctor, the pharmacy, to take care of someone who cannot take care of themselves, or to exercise alone. And if they were out doing any of these things, they needed to carry a paper called an "attestation."
I made a joke about "papers, please" as in Nazi Germany. And the next morning as I headed out on a run, my French neighbor asked if I had heard the news?
I said I had and he went on a bit of a rant about "papers to run, papers to eat, papers to go to the grocery!" I could tell he was not happy about the situation.
I said perhaps it would make the situation better and he gave a French shrug.
Tuesday, our first day in quarantine, was kind of normal except the builders didn't come, leaving us with a ceiling that is boarded for drywall but not mudded yet, and walls with support beams and no boards. It may be weeks before they return so we have arranged things as well as we can.
I taught from 9:30 - 2 and then had to work on my online class for the university, so it was just another work day for me.
Earl went to the butcher and said that the small grocery store in town was only allowing in two people at a time. The post office wasn't taking any mail, so Earl wasn't able to mail his absentee ballot to vote in Florida's primary.
Our friend Derrick, a loquacious Irishman, wondered how he would stand being quarantined. I suggested that he text me when he heads to the market and we could stand in line together, but I guess that defeats the purpose.
Grace, Jack Earl and I had dinner together and played cards. Jack and I lost 10-9 so it was a close match with no one feeling they were slaughtered.
I went for a regular run this morning. These horses seemed to know about the quarantine as they both stared at me, wondering if I had my papers, no doubt.

Today we spent some time cleaning our small yard, pulling greenery that has decided to grow in what was once a concrete patio or in the cracks of our house.
As I was sweeping, I found two empty snail shells and a Bueno Kinder wrapper.
Sweeping up in the garden
Earl is busy tackling the "cozy room" which has become filled with construction debris as we continue to work on our house.
After a few loads of laundry, Grace and I settled on the veranda with some sweet drinks -- menthe a l'eau.

Mint syrup and water, plus Grace's knitting.
No one wants to be quarantined, but hopefully it slows down the virus, and we're lucky to be in a warm environ today where we can sit in the sun and sip green drinks the day after St. Patrick's Day.
How bout you? Has your life changed since the virus arrived?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Joyous Reunion in the Nick of Time

On Friday morning at 5 a.m. Earl and I got in the van we had borrowed from friends and drove to Barcelona to pick up Grace and Jack.
They had gotten on their cruise ship, Allure of the Sea, on March 1 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and they docked on Friday the 13th in Barcelona, Spain. I'd felt anxious that the ship might not be allowed to come to port because of coronavirus and worried that we wouldn't be allowed to leave France to get to Spain to retrieve them.
People texted me asking if the borders had been closed. Each time it made me turn quickly to the news, searching to see if there was a report I hadn't heard about. But borders remained open, no one was on "lock down" in either country.
The drive to Barcelona took three hours and then we got a little lost around the Port of Barcelona and ended up following Grace's iPhone signal to find her amidst a crowd of people who had disembarked from the 16-story cruise ship.
What a relief to see the two of them.
What an excellent opportunity to share their wedding photo
We piled up the four big suitcases and a few carryon bags into the van and escaped the throng of people waiting for taxis or buses.
Originally, Grace and Jack had planned to spend a few days in Barcelona before we picked them up, but with the virus gaining strength, we agreed to fetch them early.
We aren't worried about them bringing the virus to Quillan since they've been on the ship 13 days, but we're feeling a bit guilty about bringing them here where the virus has struck.
As I understand it, a local doctor and his wife visited Egypt. Then they returned to Quillan and the doctor began to see patients. Fifteen days after he returned, he and his wife were diagnosed with Coronavirus. Last week, the number of people diagnosed in our village of 3500 people or so was up to 14. That's a lot of cases here.
My anxiety focused on getting Grace and Jack home though. So, after we picked them up, feeling hugely relieved, we followed the coast for awhile, debating if we should find a place along the Mediterranean to have coffee. Jack pointed out that they had been at sea for two weeks so really didn't feel the need to have breakfast along the waterfront.
Instead, we booked it toward France, admiring the mountains that jut along the coast between France and Spain.
With little fanfare, we crossed into France, feeling a sigh of relief that they had arrived and we had returned to France with them.
We stopped in Perpignan and the sun decided to come out. We sat along the canal eating lunch
Sunshine and the first French meal for them. 
 and then we returned to Quillan along the windy road, Grace snapping pictures of random castles on mountain tops and accusing me of underplaying the beauty of the countryside.
If I haven't told you that I live in a beautiful place, and I think I have, it's amazing.
Morning in Quillan
On Saturday, we learned that the Port of Barcelona had been closed. No more ships could dock there. That same day, France and Spain announced lockdowns. No more restaurants or bars would be open. Only essential stores, like grocery stores and pharmacies would be open.
We came very close to not getting Grace and Jack home.
For now, we're spending a lazy Sunday, grateful that we're all together. We'll deal with the virus if it comes our way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Life Under Lockdown in China -- From a Child's Eyes

I teach English to Chinese kids on the computer. Each day, I get to peek into their homes and talk to the kids.
Me teaching at a friend's house at the end of January. 
Some of them have very limited English skills and others can elaborate on what is going on since they have been quarantined in their apartments at the end of January. Not just students in WuHan, the starting point of the Coronavirus, but people all over China have been hunkered down, required to shelter in place since their winter holidays, before Chinese New Year.
Think about that! Many of the children, who live in apartments, have not stepped outside for nearly six weeks.
As I waited for Sam, a regular student of mine, I saw a note that his 11th birthday was approaching.
"Sam, is it your birthday?" I asked when he appeared.
"Tomorrow," he said grinning.
I knew I had to tread carefully. I couldn't ask about a party because he was isolated from all his friends.
"Will you celebrate with your mom and dad?" I asked. "Will mom bake you a cake?"
He blinked a few times then said, looking down, "My mom is a doctor."
And I realized that Sam's mom would not be there for his birthday because she is out on the front lines, unable to return to her family and risk bringing the virus home to them.
About four weeks into the isolation period, I noticed a string of male students trying to hide hair cuts. Apparently four weeks is the amount of time that parents can stand to let their sons' hair grow before taking matters into their own hands.
Kevin tugged on bangs that rose high above his eyebrows. "My mom cut my hair," he whined.
"It's okay," I assured him.
"It's not."
At the time, he didn't know that it would have weeks to grow before anyone in China would see it.
Another regular student, Patrick, who had sported a bowl cut of thick black hair, arrived in class with his hands clasped in front of his face and forehead.
"Did your mom cut your hair?" I asked gently to the boy who was obviously upset.
He moved his hands and revealed a bald head.
"My dad shaved it," he said. Patrick is often an annoying student and I had determined to be firm with him about staying on track, but instead I tiptoed around him that day, feeling his wounds.
Some of the students are lucky.
Helen had traveled to the countryside to stay with her grandmother for the winter holidays when the travel ban went into effect. She explained that her grandmother lived on a farm, she had chickens and lots of vegetables canned and stored. Helen could go outside and play, alone, but outside, nevertheless. Until one day when it snowed and her Mom wouldn't let her go outside in the snow because there could be germs in the snow, Helen said.
Other students who traveled for the holidays were not so lucky.
Ethan, a loquacious 6-year-old, lives in Macau, a tropical area in southern China, kind of a Chinese Florida.
When I saw Ethan after the schools had been closed, I asked whether schools were closed in Macau.
"I'm not in Macau," Ethan said. "We came to Beijing for Chinese New Year."
Now he and his family are stuck in Beijing, unable to travel to their home in Macau.
I talked to Ethan earlier this week with more than six weeks isolated in Beijing. "When can you return to Macau?" I asked him.
"Maybe April," he said. "I think I should be able to go to Macau now!"
"I wish you could," I agreed with him.
"At least you're healthy," I said to Ethan, and I say that  to each child I teach when we talk about the quarantines that they are under.
I wonder how this quarantine will change their lives. Will the school systems change? Will the parents change what is expected of their children each day? They are all overachievers who rarely find time to play or watch TV, instead focusing on academic pursuits.
For six weeks, they've had abbreviated studies. They've drawn pictures and played games with their siblings or parents. They've watched some TV or played video games.
This virus may change their entire outlook.
Or, they might work harder than ever, cancelling summer vacation to catch up.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

My Morning at the Market

Saturday morning is one of the market days in Quillan and although I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, I hadn’t had a chance to shop at the market, being preoccupied with work.
This morning, Earl was working on the house, so I ventured out alone. Here’s my haul this morning. 
This should get us through the weekend.
My first stop was the butcher
We're having friends for dinner tomorrow so I bought 4 entrecote
Next the fruit and vegetable stand
Pears, clementines, carrots and courgettes (zucchini)
The woman at the vegetable stand often gives us free herbs or a lemon as we check out. That lemon in the corner by the pears was a freebie. This pile of fruit and vegetables cost me 4.80 euros. So much cheaper than what I would pay in the grocery in the States. 

From the cheese stall. 
Next I picked up a small Camembert cheese, brebis or sheep's milk cheese.
I had to stop at the bakery, of course. They didn't have my favorite pastry, chausson framboise, a raspberry turnover, so I got a muffin instead. The French pronounce it "mufeen." This is a red fruit muffin. I got Earl a Jesuite, one of his favorite treats which has a licorice flavor. Not something I like. The baker is going on his required vacation for two weeks (congé) starting Monday, so we need to stock up on our favorites. 
Quiche for lunch, pastries for breakfast
Finally, I went to the coffee truck, where the young Frenchman who runs it is celebrating a year in business. He makes me a white mocha even though it is no longer on the menu.
My carry out cup
The truck has become quite popular, even with the French who don't walk around with coffee to go. He is opening a second truck this spring.
I returned home to eat my quiche and begin teaching again. When I finish teaching around 2, I'll join other townspeople in a clean up along the river where flooding left trash.
I figure if I'm going to enjoy the views, I better help take care of the place.
Hope you all have a relaxing weekend. 

Monday, March 02, 2020

Home in France - Our New Old House

It filled me with joy and relief to return to our home in France.
The house is not magically completed and free of construction debris, but some of the rooms are really coming together and we are focusing on details to make our house a home.
Sunday when I arrived was my birthday, and I enjoyed dinner in La Gallerie, a local restaurant, with some true friends.
Dinner with friends
Plus, Earl had made me a birthday cake. Some of our meals included dessert, but (since my French is better than most of us English speakers) I asked the restaurant owner if we could bring the cake in. He said, of course and he would serve it. He even gave Earl a thumbs up as he served it, so maybe he tried a bite.
He served the cake with whipped cream and a celebratory stick,
Cake and whipped cream
 then placed a giant flame in front of me as they sang happy birthday.
Thanks, Steve, for taking the picture
To top it off, since we didn't eat dessert, he took a carafe of wine and our aperitif drinks off the bill.
So my birthday behind us, we could focus on getting our visas for the coming year and working on the house.
I have time to go for walks again in the morning, since I am not teaching at 5 a.m.
The river Aude runs through our town
While I was gone, my friend Jules put up a kitchen backsplash for us. There are a few tiles yet to be finished because we have to tile around the electrical outlets. And we just ordered a couple more cabinets, one to go between the sink and the refrigerator, and the other to go on the opposite wall.
But you can see the progress.
Yes, Delana, that is your goat cutting board hiding the missing tile.
Flowers on the window sill from my husband after he stole them from my friend Jules. 
The kitchen remains our "finished" room where I grade papers and we hang out with friends. But the guest bathroom is almost complete.
There was only a master bathroom upstairs and a toilet room downstairs. (I won't even call it a half bathroom because there is still no sink in it).
Our friends and builders Kris and Jason, stole some space from both bedrooms and created a full bathroom that will serve guests, like Grace and Jack who arrive in two weeks.

The shower and sink. A marble ledge is yet to come where the hand soap is. 
The bathroom is small but serviceable and hopefully will make anyone staying here more comfortable, and us too.
The sink is tiny, so we removed this medicine cabinet and put a flat mirror there. That way people can spit into the sink without knocking their heads on the medicine cabinet.
The toilet and towel warmer. A cabinet will go above the toilet for more storage. 
The bathroom still needs a door frame. I'm trying to pin Kris down to creating that when he returns from England next week.
Earl is still working on heating for the house, slowly painting radiators and then attaching a heating unit to each one. The electrician is coming tomorrow and will hook up the one in the kitchen, living room and guest bedroom. The one in our bedroom is already plugged in and keeping us toasty at night.
Today, I'm finishing up my three classes and my schedule should be a bit freer since I'll only be teaching one university class, plus all the Chinese students who I'm meet online every afternoon.
Before you know it, we'll be ready to start sprucing up the exterior of our house.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...