Monday, February 22, 2021


 This morning, as I rounded the top of a path and stood on the Col du Portel, a winding road that leads through a mountain pass, a rush of wind swept down tugging my hat brim so that the hat leapt backward, hanging on by my ponytail, and the rain began to fall in earnest. And I may have risen my arms in the air, twisting my hands like an Indian God or Goddess in praise and celebration of the power I felt standing there on top of a mountain along the road. 

Sheep, including a caramel-colored lamp hiding on the other side of its mother

It's been months since I've had successful runs. I fell at the end of July, and although I worked back to walking and hiking, my knee continued to hurt when I attempted runs. Then another injury in November set me back, and I determined to have an MRI to see if I'd done real damage to my knee. 

Meanwhile, though I was left to take walks and to endure lockdown, longing for the day that I could finish my exercise in 45 minutes, eating up the road with my quick stride. Sure, I may not be a fast runner, but running is always faster than walking.

After an MRI and an appointment with a knee specialist, he assured me that I could run again after physical therapy to "retrain" my muscles. I registered with the local physical therapist, who is apparently so booked up that I remain on his waiting list. 

If the doctor says I just need some muscle retraining, that assured me that I wasn't going to injure anything further if I started running. 

It's been slow though. Running and walking. Watching out for the pain in my knee. Noticing that my knee is better but my lungs are a long way from running again. 

Saturday, I managed a 3.5 mile run without walking or gasping for air. 

These look like tiny wild roses in bloom, but, if my detective work is correct, may be flowering quince

I wanted to go for a walk or run this morning, but the weather forecast was foreboding -- high winds, rain. It wasn't raining a bit before 8 and I asked Earl where I could go that I wouldn't be in danger of flying tree limbs. 

He recommended the road to Ginoles, not too many trees along that road. True, but it was uphill the whole way. 

I decided to give it a try. I started running outside my house and was able to continue running until about 1.2 miles, or two kilometers. Considering that it was all uphill, I felt quite proud. I walked on the steep parts and then ran in  between. I took a straight path, leaving the road behind to have a chance to run before I walked, out of breath, up the steep path to Ginoles. 

An almond tree in bloom and an unsettled sky

As I continued up past Ginoles, I saw a car snake around the "Col" the mountain pass above. Why not? I set out toward the ridge looming above me. Again, there were a few running parts, but more sharp uphill parts. 

Olive trees

I continued on, listening to music and singing along at the top of my voice, as much as my labored breathing would allow before I reached the winding road. 

The view of faraway Quillan

The only option was to go downhill, sticking close to the side of the road facing traffic and the few cars that passed. 

I saw one car that revved its engine and wanted to pass the car in front of it, trying to twist around the curves like a commercial, and I let out a laugh. "Your car might go fast, but you aren't out conquering it by foot!" I thought. 

So I wound back into town and kept running past our house until my app indicated that I'd passed five miles. 

The feeling of accomplishment and power has lasted all day, feeling the ferocity of the rain and wind and lifting my arms in victory over them -- this time. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Spanish Excursion

 For some reason, I started going to an English-speaking dentist in Spain. He was recommended by several people on a Facebook page for expats. I've gone to see him three or four times as he tried to fix a problem I have with a front tooth with bone loss that was getting infected. I'll skip the grisly details, but suffice it to say that in October, we made a plan to fix it. 

Then Catalonia, Spain, an area that includes everything from the French border to Barcelona, closed to visitors. France went into lockdown, too. The dentist and I emailed occasionally, but it always seemed that we would risk a fine if we drove to Spain.

Finally, as my local doctor gave me an antibiotic for an abscess of the tooth, I figured we needed to get it resolved. We would drive to Spain.

But France had recently passed a rule that anyone entering France needed a negative Covid test. This entire time, going on a year with Covid rules, I had never needed a Covid test. 

I made an appointment with the local lab. It's just around the corner from us. I dreaded it because my friend Derrick, who has been back and forth to England several times warned me that the lab specialist here was "a butcher." He said a man in front of him came away bleeding after his Covid test. 

So with trepidation, we went on Monday afternoon. Earl went first, pulling down his mask under his nose while the lab tech swabbed with a long handled cotton swab. I went next, telling him it was "my first time." The swab was smaller than I had pictured, and he might have twirled it around my right nostril longer than I thought necessary, but I walked away with only some stinging in my eyes. Not nearly as bad as I had dreaded. 

Ironically, Monday evening, I had a fever. The next morning, it was gone, and my test results came back negative by email. Earl didn't receive his so Wednesday morning, before we drove to Spain, we walked over to the lab to get a copy of Earl's negative results. 

The drive to Spain was sunny and beautiful. Two hours and 15 minutes to Girona with a view of snow-topped Canigou.

Canigou, part of the Pyrenees between France and Spain

We drove on the turnpike in France, and when we stopped to pay before we entered Spain, we expected to see Gendarmes asking why we were leaving France. But no one was there. Next, when we halted to take a ticket from the Spanish toll highway, we weren't asked for paperwork or test results either. 

We did see a few Spanish police officers standing along the side of the road near the toll booths, but they weren't stopping people.

The busy outlet mall that people from France frequently visit was closed, no cars in the parking lot. But groceries and small stores were open in Spain. 

Girona in the sunshine

When we pulled into Girona, we looked for a grocery store. Things are generally cheaper in Spain so we had decided to do some shopping before my appointment, thinking I might not feel like it afterward. We found a Lidl and definitely came away with some bargains. 6 Euros for a 12-pack of Spanish beer. 1,49 euros for a large jar of Hellman's mayonnaise (mayo in France has mustard added). Amaretto for 4,59 euros. Yeah, it was an off brand, but the DiSaronno amaretto costs 20 euros in France. 

The dental work was over quickly and the outcome was the best we could have hoped for. I wasn't allowed to eat or drink for three hours.

But the restaurants and bars were open in Girona. In France, all restaurants and bars have been closed since October 30th. I know it's a small sacrifice, but I just miss sitting outside with my friends having coffee or wine. 

So when Earl said we didn't have to get lunch (for him, obviously, not me) I insisted that we would sit down and have lunch even if I couldn't eat or drink anything. The temperature was in the mid-60s (17 celsius) and it felt so nice to enjoy the weather and the privileges we didn't have in France. 

Enjoying lunch outdoors

We found a restaurant with an 11 euro menu for two courses and a drink. Earl, knowing he had to drive home, chose a Coke to drink. His primo course was a spinach crepe. His segundo was pork and fried potatoes. He turned down dessert, but I wanted him to keep eating so we could continue to sit in the sun. 

Shops close in Spain from 2-4 for lunch hour, so we walked past the closed shops and found another square filled with tables and umbrellas to block the sun. 

We found a courtyard filled with outdoor restaurants

We made our way back to the parking garage, paid the 5,20 we owed for the few hours of parking, and made our way back to the highway. 

When we entered France, the gendarmes stopped us and asked to see our Covid tests. 

I told the man that we had been to the dentist. "I'm afraid of the dentist," the officer told me. "Moi, j'ai peur du dentiste." 

"Oui," I agreed with him, although not so much afraid as in pain by that point. I was still counting the hours until I could drink something so I could take some Advil. 

We arrived home before the 6 p.m. curfew that continues in France. 

Now, I don't mind planning another trip to the dentist, thinking we'll make sure to get there early enough to at least have coffee outside before my appointment. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mid-Winter Outings

The groundhog may have seen his shadow on February 2nd, but spring is fast erupting here in the South of France. 
Some things haven't changed much. Restaurants and bars remain closed. We have a 6 p.m. curfew every night, which means we can't gather with friends in the evenings. (Yes, this is what it is meant to do.)
The vaccine is being given out at a very slow rate in France, which is a bit disheartening. 
Still, we find ways to occupy our time. 
My time is complicated because I work most days from 11-2, taking only Wednesday off work. But when I have the day off, we try to have an adventure.
This Wednesday, thanks to friends who recommended it, Earl and I traveled with Jack and Jules to Roquefort les Cascades. That's roquefort like the cheese, but not a cheese in sight. Instead, the end of the name "cascade," which means waterfall, is what we went for. 
Our friends Jim and Theresa had been earlier that week and said the waterfalls we're at peek from the melting snow. 
Several cascading jets of water made their way from the top of the hills

Each rise we climbed showed us more waterfalls.
 If the temperature had been warmer, I might have suspected a tropical paradise. 

My perpetually crooked sunglasses on top of my head as we attempted to pose in front of a waterfall. 

There's a short video of a waterfall at the bottom of this post. I couldn't get it to move up 

A week ago Sunday before, I had seen a sign advertising a honey festival. I grew up with a honey festival and continue to dream about the deliciousness of honey ice cream. I wasn't expecting that, but still decided it was worth a trip. The day was gorgeous and our friends Sue and Steve agreed to join us. 
The honey festival was in Tautavel, famous for an ancient skull discovered there proving that human ancestors lived in the area 550,000-400,000 years ago. 

The sunshine convinced us to show Sue and Steve the gorge near Tautavel. 

 The honey festival couldn't hold a candle to Lebanon's honey festival that I remember as a child, but we enjoyed looking at some bee basics. Earl and I bought a jar of honey to support the local beekeepers, along with a loaf of fig bread. Everyone who bought honey got a free sprig of mimosa. 
The mimosa blossoms were gorgeous.
Too bad I learned they can be toxic to cats so had to throw it out. 

The Wednesday before that, we had to travel to the "big city" of Perpignan to pick out new tiles for the half bath on our first floor. Since we were in Perpignan, we decided to take a trip to the beach, the Mediterranean. 

Glorious sunshine. The sand was soft, no wind blowing. But the water was cold. 

Jim came prepared, as always, wearing shorts.
Earl just walked in with his pants rolled up and they quickly unrolled. 

We didn't stay on the beach long, but it was nice to remember that warm weather and more outings will come our way as winter turns to spring. 
Theresa and I didn't spend much time in the water. 

On another Sunday morning, we went to the market in Esperaza with Jack and Jules. 
The market is in full swing, including little cups of take away coffee. 
So we'll consider having outings with our friends and exploring this beautiful country we live in. 

Here's a video of the waterfalls at Roquefort les Cascades

Monday, February 08, 2021

Buyer Beware

 You know that exhilarating feeling that comes with buying something big and new? 

I got that feeling in December when I bought a new laptop. It doesn't happen every year or even every other year, but being so reliant on teaching online, I decided I needed a new laptop.

I had been wanting to add some software called ManyCam that allowed me to show slides while I taught. The recommendations were for an i7 processor. My old laptop has an i5 processor, so I upgraded. Ordering a computer from Amazon on December 8. 

You can see the blur beginning at the bottom of the screen.

Last week, February 1, conveniently one day after the Amazon warranty expired, the camera began to get fuzzy. I asked fellow teachers what could be causing it. They agreed that it looked like a camera problem, and sure enough, my camera was slowly blurring from the bottom of the picture upwards. 

By the next day, I had a student who said the picture was so dark he couldn't see me. I knew the camera was getting worse. 

This is what it looks like today. That's me peeking above the expanding blur.

Trying to get help with a technical problem is a ridiculous process. I spent about six hours on the phone calling Dell for help, being cut off, then shifting to another IT person. I watched various tech people moving around the cursor on my screen, checking for drivers and updates, turning on my camera only to see a blurry me looking back at them. After talking to seven people on two separate nights, here's what they told me, call the Dell France division. They'll have you mail your computer to them and they'll fix your camera then mail it back. How many weeks without my computer does that sound like to you? 

I teach on my computer six days a week. I just spent a thousand dollars on a new computer in December, and I'm going to have to send it away for an unknown number of weeks only to receive a "repaired" computer back, rather than the new one I thought I was getting in December. 

So, this is my attempt to warn you to avoid making the same mistake I did. Do not order a computer through Amazon, Best Tech Deal (which is apparently Best Buy) or Dell Inspiron. They don't care if you get a faulty computer or camera.

A company concerned about good customer service would send another computer, allowing me to return mine after the new one arrives. Then, I wouldn't miss any days using my computer to teach. I'd get a computer with a working camera, the company could fix the camera on my laptop and sell it as a reconditioned laptop. 

But a lot of things would change if I ran the world. Sigh!

Friday, January 29, 2021

Book Review and Giveaway: L'Origine by Lilianne Milgrom

Lilianne Milgrom

on Tour January 18-29 with L'Origine  

L’Origine: The Secret Life Of The World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece

(historical fiction) Release date: July 28, 2020 at Little French Girl Press 255 pages

2020 Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion Award

I've always been a fan of novels that dig into the history of artwork, ever since Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland in 2007. I know that the stories behind the artwork are mostly fabricated, but I just love the idea of peeking behind the scenes. 

I had another chance to pull back the curtains of the art world in the novel L'Origine by Lilianne Milgrom. The novel explores the life of the painting L'Origine du Monde by French artist Gustave Courbet. Not familiar with the painting? Neither was I, but don't look it up. Wait until after you've read the book. 

Milgrom is also an artist, and the novel begins as a biography. She travels to Paris and asks permission to paint or "copy" L'Origine du Monde in the Musee d'Orsay. The title L'Origine du Monde means the beginning of the world or the start of the world, and it is known as an early erotic painting of a woman's torso and vagina. I really enjoyed joining Milgrom as she painted in Paris each day, responding to museum goers and their curiosity. 

I didn't realize the book was then switching to fiction as it jumped back to the 1800s and followed the artist Courbet's life. After the painting left Courbet, the reader continues to follow it as it switched hands in back deals, never actually seeing the light of day until the late 1900s. The author did a good job creating these historic scenes and characters as she kept the painting at the center of the world events; through World Wars and fallen governments, the hidden painting continued to exist in secret. This book was a smart read with good continuity and writing that kept me hooked. It definitely made me curious about the painting and I'll make a beeline to see it next time I'm in Paris. 

I received a copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

(Spoiler alert: about the painting) From the pictures I've seen online, I'm not a great fan of the painting. Courbet was a realist painter, but perhaps this painting would have benefitted from a bit of impressionism. The vagina doesn't bother me, it's the rest of the painting. It looks a bit grotesque because of the lack of arms and head. The breasts seem stretched and misshapen because of the twisted torso. In the novel, Milgrom writes that Simone de Beauvoir said the painting depicted women the way men liked them, no head (brain) just breasts and vagina. I can see her point. I'm also puzzled that men looked at this painting erotically. It doesn't seem sexy to me.


Buy It Here

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*** See the book on Goodreads


L’Origine‘ traces the extraordinary, clandestine odyssey of an iconic 19th century painting that shook up the author’s world and continues to scandalize all who set eyes upon it. Gustave Courbet’s portrait of a woman’s exposed torso and sex – audaciously entitled ‘L’Origine du monde’ (The Origin of the World) – was so shocking it was kept hidden for a century and a half, surviving revolution, Nazi plunder and the foibles of its eccentric owners. Today it draws millions of visitors to Paris’ Orsay Museum. Lilianne Milgrom brings a fresh, feminine perspective to an iconic work of art created specifically for the male gaze. ‘L’Origine‘ offers readers more than a riveting romp through history–it also reflects society’s complex attitude towards female nudity.
NB: this is a historical novel, no explicit scenes
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L'Origine - Lilianne MilgromLilianne Milgrom Paris-born Lilianne Milgrom is an award-winning international artist, writer on the arts and author. Her art can be found in both private and institutional collections around the world and her articles have been published in Huffington Post, Daily Art Magazine, Ceramics Now and Bonjour Paris. Her 5-star, bestselling novel ‘L’Origine‘ is the result of ten years of research and was accepted into the Historical Novel Society. Lilianne lives in Washington DC with her husband. Follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Join her mailing list
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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

She Made Me a Mom

 Twenty-nine years ago today, I didn't know what being a mother was like. 

But one day changed all that, as Earl and I drove an hour in the dark early morning to the hospital, and Grace was born at 12:30 p.m. Our little bundle of joy was a whopping 8 pounds, 8 ounces (maybe I shouldn't have married a giant) and she turned us into parents.

She's a great first child, holding us to our promises, living up to our dreams. It's been a joy to watch her grow up and fly away. 

Even if growing up meant that she needed to step away and have a photoshoot with a wolf, we knew she had a lot of strength and good decision-making skills. 

Raising Grace has been a joy from the moment that we overdressed her in a onesie on that sweltering January day in Florida, to watching her leave us behind in France while she moved to Dublin. 

Happy birthday, my sweet girl. 
I hope 29 is another magical year for you. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Book Review and Giveaway: Loving Modigliani by Linda Lappin

Linda Lappin

on Tour January 7-20 with Loving Modigliani  

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife Of Jeanne Hébuterne

(literary fiction/historical fiction/fantasy) Release date: December 15, 2020 at Serving House Books 343 pages Goodreads

 Exploring art and novels seems to go together, but this one goes a step further by exploring the afterlife of an artist. Everyone has heard of Modigliani, but how many know about his muse, an artist herself, Jeanne Hébuteme?

This novel explored a subject that I didn't know a lot about. I'd heard of Modigliani and recognized some of his iconic paintings, but I knew nothing about his tragic life or that of his common-law wife Jeanne Hébuteme, who died a few days after Modigliani when she threw herself from a window while nine-months pregnant. I barely these tragic figures in the novel before we were thrust into a bleak afterlife as Jeanne searched to be reunited with Modigliani, only to learn that he wasn't in the grayness of the dead in Paris, a place where the rich continued to look down on the poor, kicking them out of first class on ghost trains, and white men continued in their power, judging the lives of everyone in a ghost trial. I was super depressed thinking this world, not heaven, not hell, might be the fate of those who have died. Luckily, just before I threw the book aside in despair, we moved on to explore how the life and history of both Modigliani and Hébuteme continued, including artist notebooks and a long-missing painting.

I'm always intrigued by missing paintings from World War II, as evidenced by my book The Summer of France. Love a story that supposes what might have happened to the pilfered artwork. 

In the end, this book definitely captured me, creating a world I couldn't have imagined for myself.  

Buy It Here: Amazon


Amedeo Modigliani, embittered and unrecognized genius, dies of meningitis on a cold January day in Montparnasse in 1920. Jeanne Hébuterne, his young wife and muse, follows 48 hours later, falling backwards through a window. Now a ghost, Jeanne drifts about the studio she shared with Modigliani—for she was not only his favorite model, but also an artist whose works were later shut away from public view after her demise. Enraged, she watches as her belongings are removed from the studio and her identity as an artist seemingly effaced for posterity, carried off in a suitcase by her brother. She then sets off to rejoin Modigliani in the underworld. Thus begins Loving Modigliani, retelling the story of Jeanne Hébuterne’s fate as a woman and an artist through three timelines and three precious objects stolen from the studio: a notebook, a bangle, and a self-portrait of Jeanne depicted together with Modi and their daughter. Decades later, a young art history student will discover Jeanne’s diary and rescue her artwork from oblivion, after a search leading from Paris to Nice, Rome, and Venice, where Jeanne’s own quest will find its joyful reward.


Loving Modigliani_Linda LappinLinda Lappin has published four novels: The Etruscan (Wynkin de Worde, 2004); Katherine’s Wish, dealing with the life of Katherine Mansfield (Wordcraft, 2008), shortlisted for Foreward Book of the Year and iPPY gold medal winner in historical fiction; Signatures in Stone: A Bomarzo Mystery, winner of the Daphne DuMaurier Award from RWA for the best mystery novel of 2013; and Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne. She is also the author of The Soul of Place: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci, winner in 2015 of the gold medal in creativity in the Nautilus Book Awards. She lives in Rome. Visit the author’s website and her blog. Follow the author on Facebook, and Twitter Join her mailing list
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 This morning, as I rounded the top of a path and stood on the Col du Portel, a winding road that leads through a mountain pass, a rush of w...