“Off the Top” – by Debbie Ambrous

Hair salon in Beynac, France

Hair salon in Beynac, France

I’m here to tell you about a major issue.  World peace?  The U.S. government shutting down in a few days?  Terrorists shooting anything that moves?  No! It’s much more serious than any of that.  I’m talking about my hairstyle crisis.  We moved from Florida to Alabama, and I left my precious hairstylist Michelle behind.  I went into withdrawal and let my hair grow until I looked like a scarecrow. 

Meanwhile, Jim was popping around the corner to Off the Top hair salon with good results.002  Since he didn’t look like a Jeff Foxworthy joke or Grandpa Jones after his haircut I thought I would give it a try. The salon is less than five minutes from the house.  I could leave my work behind during my lunch hour, get a hair-cut and be home to enjoy my lunch of meat loaf and gravy, mashed potatoes, fried okra,  green beans, buttered-biscuits, a tall glass of iced tea and chocolate cake for dessert.   Sorry.  I got carried away with my menu, remembering the country food list on Hee Haw.

Grandpa Jones - downloaded complete with banjo from wikipedia

Grandpa Jones – downloaded complete with banjo from wikipedia

You probably wouldn’t remember Grandpa Jones “What’s for Supper?” menus on the Hee Haw television show. Or, do you? Perrier, a sandwich and a salad would be my reality lunch.

I took my hairstyle crisis to Mindell, a pretty, friendly hairstylist and proprietor of Off the Top.

Mindell - talented hairstylist

Mindell  Glisson- talented hairstylist and pretty as a star

Describing simple instructions, I said “Cut this part short, but this layer should be long; flip this up and layer this under; the bangs should be wispy and the overall effect should be thick; the color should be blonde but not too blonde with dark streaks, but not too dark; the hairstyle should be fresh and young. Got that?” 

Michelle, my hairstylist in Florida, always had soothing music playing and a cup of green tea waiting for me.  Her shop was situated in tropical greenery and flowers with soft lighting.   I always looked pretty in the salon mirrors.  I told Mindell about Michelle; she looked skeptical and asked if I had a picture of me with this fantastic hairstyle.  I admitted that I didn’t, but I had another picture that looked just like me when Michelle finished styling my hair.jenni  Suddenly Mindell’s eyes nearly bulged out of her head and she rushed to the back room with the other ladies following her.  I heard loud laughter like they were watching a new episode of the Big Bang Theory.  I asked if they saw something funny in the back room when she returned.  She said I needed to bring another picture that wasn’t Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie and hinted that she was a hairstylist not a miracle worker.  I thought she said something about me going back to Saint Michelle’s shop as I walked away.

Isn't this a pretty hair salon sign in Martel, France? Notice the stained glass at the top?

Isn’t this a beautiful hair salon sign in Martel, France? Notice the stained glass at the top.

A few days later, I was looking for a recipe in a cookbook when I saw my hairstyle on the book cover, on Martha Stewart’s head!  Mindell didn’t rule out Martha Stewart’s picture.  I slipped the cookbook cover into my purse and called for a hair appointment.   When I was leaving for my appointment, Jim saw the cover peeking from the top of my purse and called out, “Hey, looks like your cookbook fell out of the cover.”  Ha! Ha! Very funny!  I left the cookbook so you can prepare meat loaf, mashed potatoes … while I am gone.  

Le Petit Paris Daglan, France Click the picture to enjoy a visit

Le Petit Paris
Daglan, France
Click the picture to enjoy a visit

  Or, perhaps you could prepare lunch from the Le Petit Paris menu. Jim mumbled something about me needing intensive care for my hairstyle if he had time to cook all of that stuff.  From the car door I called out, I heard that!  Barely audible, I heard him say as he walked away, “Sometimes I wish she didn’t buy those expensive hearing aids.”  Maybe he is like Grandpa Jones.

Jim offered me some advice in the form of a Hee Haw joke: Roy – “Say, Gordy. I hear your girl is a real smart one and makes her money with a pen. Is she a writer?”

Gordy – “Naw, she raises hogs”

I’m declining Jim’s smelly hog pen proposition and hoping you will prefer seeing my book “A French Opportunity” that is filled with the influence of my upbringing with colorful, wholesome humor.  Just click the picture below to enter the door with photographer Jim’s reflection.  Click to France-storytelling and pictures to enjoy seeing some of my favorite French doorways without Jim’s reflection included.

Happily signing my book since Mindell solved my hair crisis

Click the picture for your copy of the book. I’m happily signing away since Mindell solved my hair crisis

“Make Room for Art” – by Debbie Ambrous

Zinnias Looking at You - Clementine Hunter

Zinnias Looking at You – Clementine Hunter

A work of art was spread on the Cherokee, North Carolina glass case awaiting an answer. Turquoise and silver hand-crafted by a Navajo craftsman into a unique squash blossom necklace held my adoring attention. It was beyond anything I had ever owned. I would say “or ever dreamed of”, but I knew how to dream big. It was in the realm of my dreams! I could see the turquoise and silver beauty around my neck on my black sweater, adorning my young twenty-something body. I paced a few steps away from the jewelry case as I thought that no one would believe it was real if I wore it as an accessory. Or, they would think I was silly for buying such an extravagant purchase. Other scenes played through my mind. My mother-in-law’s arched eyebrow and unflinching stare would drill into my expensive necklace. No one could win a staring contest with her. She would always have the last blink! I would blabber some excuse for buying the turquoise and silver work of art, but I wouldn’t escape her penetrating eyes. My mother would have scolding words, “Deborah, you are being foolish and wasteful. I raised you to know better than that.”
How did we have the money to even consider the beauty arranged enticingly on the showcase?

Young son Chet and me. Jim has never been the best photographer in the family, but he did catch the sunshine on my hair.

Young son Chet and me. Jim has never been the best photographer in the family, but he did catch the sunshine on my hair.

After all, we were on vacation in the Smoky Mountains, camping in a tent and cooking food from a Coleman cooler, not exactly upper crust in the money game. A recent tax return was the ticket to win my necklace.

Chet and Jessica Aren't they cute?

Chet and Jessica
Aren’t they cute?

Young husband Jim in the mountains.  Isn't he sexy?

Young husband Jim in the mountains. Isn’t he sexy?







Young husband Jim was in agreement if I broke the silence with a “Yes, I will take it.” Our two little children needed shoes, pigtail ribbons, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a Sit-n-Spin, a Stretch Armstrong doll, s’mores and more. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Hand-made dolls by local artisans fit our budget.

Hand-made dolls by local artisans fit our budget.

I left the work of art on the table in exchange for all of those other items that are now long gone. The necklace would have doubled or perhaps increased even more in value. I probably could have taken care of the necessities and walked away with my necklace also. Art comes in last place too often. Make room for art when you can.


Select yours at Gitter Gallery

Select yours at Gitter Gallery

An opportunity is open for you to have affordable art. Don’t leave it on the table. Ignore your mother-in-law’s arched eyebrow. Mom should stay mum with any negative comments on this one so you can have folk art that is a piece of American history. Clementine Hunter’s artwork is available on hand-painted ceramic pieces with no two exactly alike. Each piece has its own distinctive shape with a textured surface that allows you to feel the passion in the artist’s work. A percentage of the proceeds from each purchase goes back to Clementine Hunter’s estate to further promote Clementine Hunter.

Clementine Hunter is considered to be one of the most important self-taught American artists of the 20th century. Her works can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, The American Folk Art Museum and countless other museums and private collections. Now, you can collect her work for your own collection – affordable art.

Home Store by Toby Hollinghead in the background with Clementine Hunter's in foreground

“Home Store” by Toby Hollinghead in the background with Clementine Hunter’s “Cotton Wagon” in foreground

Let me back up my wagon here and tell you how I learned about all of this. I met Toby Hollinghead, a local, talented artist, and showed some of her folk art in “Pushing the Color Around – Part I”. After enjoying her company, I was privileged to be introduced to Doug Gitter of Gitter Gallery. I learned that while I was tent camping with my handsome husband and two young ones, grilling hot dogs and looking for bears, the smart, young Doug Gitter was searching for folk art.

Doug Gitter

Doug Gitter

On weekends when other young men were dashing around to football games and showing off their flashy cars to their girlfriends, Doug Gitter was driving down country roads looking for folk art created by interesting characters in a soulful manner, straight from the heart. These self-taught artists didn’t form ideas from European art or preconceived directions. Their motive was not to make money. They had limited art supplies and worked with what they had. I asked Doug about the colorful personalities of the artists, and he mentioned so many names I couldn’t keep up with him. He started with Bernice Sims in Brewton, and then talked about how he was directed to find Woody Long in Andalusia; finally, he said how much he just loved Toby Hollinghead’s work. I was impressed with Doug’s passion for these artists as individuals and his love from the heart of this piece of American history. Doug donates a large number of paintings each year to hospitals. There is nothing quite as depressing as a blank, algae-green wall when waiting in anxiety for test results in a hospital.
My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”
― Oscar Wilde
Mr. Wilde’s final words compared his troubled situation with the lackluster hotel wallpaper. The wallpaper has since been removed and the room re-furnished.

Beautiful artwork transports one to a different place, lifts the spirits and invites hope. Thank you, Doug, for sharing the world you discovered!

I asked this last question, “Do you have stories about the one that got away, like a fisherman tells?” Doug said, “No, I got the ones I went after and my line is still in the water.”

Does your home say “Bienvenue”?  Click here and compare.

The pretty dolls are saying you should read "A French Opportunity" - Just click on the picture

The pretty dolls are saying you should read “A French Opportunity” – Just click on the picture

“Pushing the Color Around – Part II” – by Debbie Ambrous

Fashion on display in Saint Antonin-Noble Val, France

What should I wear to an art show? Denim jeans and a shirt are not classy enough for the sophisticated art world. Do you think I should wear the modern outfit in the picture above? Could I wear it to grocery outlet in Opp, Alabama? Visualization stopped that purchase before it left the boutique.

An Alabama Burger King incident played in the You-Tube of my mind when I fingered the voguish ensemble in the French clothing store. I had worn my deep lavender sweater coat and my purple beret arranged to drape to one side, like any French lady would for a BK visit. We only dine at the best when we are at home. The moment the big glass door swung open into the Opp BK, and I made my grand entry, a gaggle of young ladies openly gawked at me and laughed their heads off. Nudging each other and pointing at my beret, they almost turned purple with fits of unhidden guffaws. Speaking in a low voice to Jim I said, “You woulda thought I was a foreigner wearing a purple, deflated party balloon on my head!” Smiling in their direction, I kept my Southern manners as a lady oughta in all fine dining establishments. I kept control, but I’m not sure I could say the same for those girls if I stepped foot into the BK wearing the modish duds. The sight of me might cause them to laugh until they wet their pants. Now, we wouldn’t want that, would we?

“Jim, are you ready for the art show?” He proudly appeared, wearing a gag-gift tie from the back of the closet. Quickly I gave my fashion assessment, “You cannot wear that tie! We only gave it to you as a gift intended to be funny.” He stopped me in my tracks with his reply, “Well if it’s supposed to be funny, why aren’t you laughing?”

Basic black for me, and a gray coat, white shirt and no stupid tie for Jim, then we were ready.

Now, we are proud to present Helian Magnou, an exceptionally talented artist who lives in Les Eyzies de Tayac, France.

Helian Magnou – charming, talented and hospitable artist (He didn’t laugh at my beret.) He will be happy to hear from you if you send a message on his website.

Helian is Franco-Venezuelan in his twenties, and he has studied visual communication, specializing in illustration. He says it is through his work that he seeks to share the world he perceives. We were privileged to meet Helian and see for ourselves his warm and friendly nature. In addition to his work as an artist he does volunteer work, plus much more. I am grateful that he has allowed me to show some of his work.

From June 15, 2013 to September 30, 2013, his work is in exhibition at “Metiers d’Art et Produits du Terroir”, La Halle Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France. From April 1, 2013 to present, his work is in exhibition at Le Grand Bleu Restaurant, Sarlat-la-Caneda, France. On April 29, 2013, his work was shown in exhibition at the Cultural Center of Sarlat, Sarlat-la-Caneda, France.

I was drawn to Helian’s hummingbird paintings since I enjoy seeing them hover in my flower garden, sipping the roses, bougainvillea, butterfly bush and daisies. Be sure to view the other beautiful birds on his website. Perhaps you would also enjoy reading about the hummingbirds at our house if you have not read it previously.

Chromatic Girl – Helian Magnou

This type of art is not appealing to me for my personal use, but I admire it on display in other areas and appreciate the artist’s work of accomplishment. Wouldn’t this painting bring light into any room, like a stained glass window?

Ave Crayon – Helian Magnou

Jim’s favorite painting! Isn’t the bird magnificent? I like the background of the painting that creates a sense of filtered light through the forest canopy.

Gato de Lidia – Helian Magnou

Lazy cat on a cool, stone floor with a beautiful blue-shuttered background. I’m sure that Lidia has a spoiled cat.

Wasn’t that a wonderful art show? Scoot on over to Helian Magnou’s website by clicking here. You can see his gallery without wearing out your shoe leather. Do you know a gallery owner who would like to show his work? Perhaps in Miami, Birmingham, Orlando, New York, or in Sweden, Spain or Germany? Helian deserves a recommendation. Send a message to him in the contact area on his website, or look for him on Facebook. He speaks English, of course. Just a note of “hello” would be extra nice. What did you see in the paintings? Which are your favorites?

Word leaked out faster than greased lightning about my surprise showing of Jim’s art collection. Facebook was a tattletale about his special exhibition. See below and share with best friends, worst enemies and the garden scarecrow.

Famous art collector, Jim, communing with Elvis
Thanks to Just Stuff in Opp, Alabama for their courtesy and good humor. I love their stores (two antique/junk stores). I’ve bought everything from bird houses to furniture. Visit if you are in the area. You will be glad you did!

I’m proud to tell you that the next post will be a special edition with an interview of a true art collector. You will also want to see his exceptionally wonderful release of affordable, beautiful artwork. Pour a glass of iced tea and get ready to enjoy next time, unless he changes his mind after reading my post. Don’t forget to click over to the France-storytelling and pictures page to see a couple in the buff in a city park, no less.


“Pushing the Color Around – Part I” – by Debbie Ambrous

Debbie’s thoughts on the painting: Just imagine what it was like to get water from a well and heat it in a cast iron pot under a wood fire to wash clothes. What was it like to use a wringer washer, pushing the clothes through the wringer? Go and kiss your Whirlpool duet set right now!! Do you have stories about these times? Please share them so they are not forgotten.  I heard stories from my mom and grandmother.  I have a vague memory of the wringer washer.

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”
― Beatrix Potter

Butterflies fluttered from one side of the long, narrow, dirt road to the other, dancing an Alabama hoe-down on the yellow wildflowers.  My stomach had the same butterfly hoe-down in full swing as Jim drove our red Jeep, stirring up dust as we neared the end of the tree-lined country lane.

A mixture of nervousness and excitement painted my viewpoint of an interview with a talented, local artist, Toby Hollinghead, who lived at the end of the road.  I hoped she was not expecting Katie Couric.  My first interview, more than a year ago, was with two lady goat herders.  Remember the puppet show of the lonely goat herders in the “Sound of Music”? No!  (Well, rent and watch it immediately!)  Imagine the goatherd scene. Take away the snowy Alps and glacial lakes.  Substitute a big pond just brimming over with fat catfish, bordered by a line of gourd birdhouses and a field of goats munching grass in the background.  Now, you have it.  I interviewed the nice ladies, photographed them and the goats, and forgot to get their names – the ladies’ names, not the goats!  I’m just owning up to my interviewing credentials.

A white two-story house with a wrap-around porch beckoned us to put on brakes, slow down and forget about the nervous butterflies and smelly goats.  Fig trees, tall as the house, were loaded with sweet fruit by the barn with bees buzzing lazily.  Toby met us in the front yard, wearing a denim dress, a colorful necklace she designed and a warm smile that melted my worries.  She invited us inside the humble, country house, not a Tara mansion.  A burst of vivid color met us inside immediately.  Brightly painted walls and two chandeliers heralded the presence of a creative artist.  No blandness or dreariness in this home!  I loved it.

Chandeliers did not decorate Toby’s childhood, at least not the glittery, crystal variety.  Although, with her imagination at work, she likely had rainbows, fireworks and Monet’s light on her pathway.  From Toby’s biography and from her own words, I learned that she worked hard in cotton and tobacco fields.  When she was only two years old she sadly had an accident that resulted in blindness of  her right eye.  She lived through difficult times, but her family struggled together with love for each other.  A sound of music was in her household.  She played guitar and sang at church.  Then her daughter’s gift of a paint-set unleashed a fountain of creativity.  She told me that she painted her first picture, and she was so happy with the results.  Then she slept through the night and awakened to see the painting again, wondering if her viewpoint would change.  Beaming with her soft smile, she said she still liked it and “every painting I do has felt the same as the first one”.

Cows Got Out – by Toby Hollinghead
Debbie’s thoughts on the painting: I remember a story my mother told me about an elderly friend that drove her home on country roads in Alabama in the early days without street lights around. The car’s headlights went out, and the friend drove cautiously in the dark. He hit a cow that was on the road. Mama said it was scary at the time, but she laughed about the cows big eyes shining in the guy’s flashlight. I can hear her laughter now, very easily, since I only need to listen to myself. My voice and laughter is like hers. Sometimes it makes me sad even when I’m laughing.

While I visited with her, more than once she said she begins her painting just “pushing the color around”.  Toby is self-taught, like Beatrix Potter.  Perhaps Toby would agree that her paintings are unspoiled like Ms. Potter’s since she didn’t have any special schooling or training.   She has sold more than 600 paintings, and she has appeared on Alabama Public Television; her work has been shown in New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and other cities.  Two of Ms. Hollinghead’s large portfolios were exploding at the seams with acknowledgements and memorabilia.

Click here to enjoy more of Toby’s paintings.

Ms. Hollinghead is an original.  She speaks the language of the old South, truly knowing from the heart from experience what it was like.  She used words in a way that I had forgotten from my childhood.  Relating a sad story, she said the woman “squalled”, deeply sobbing.  I had forgotten about squalling babies and squalling when a boyfriend left. That old-fashioned word was replaced by other words I considered to be more up to date.  She reminded me that I should remember and use the simplicity and honesty of the past.

any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep.”
― Clive BarkerDays of Magic, Nights of War

You won’t hear “ya’ll” inserted into Toby’s conversation for effect.   Listen and see for yourself with deep appreciation.  Each painting has a story or inspiration from the artist, but you may find your own stories bubbling up as I did. Notice how they took me to another time in the comments on the paintings above.   Perhaps you will be inspired and begin “pushing the color around” with creations of your own.

How did I do with the interviewWhat mistakes did I make this time?

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
― George Bernard Shaw

I talked too much about myself.  I didn’t take enough notes.  I have used “Toby” and “Ms. Hollinghead” above, not sticking to one or the other.  I could easily change it, but part of me feels drawn to “Toby” as the sweet, hospitable lady, while another part of me is in awe of Ms. Hollinghead who can turn the heads of art collectors with her paintings.  I’m grateful for the time I spent at the end of the road filled with fluttering butterflies.  Ya’ll come again, and I truly mean it.

I hope you return for the next post “Pushing the Color Around – Part II” with a special appearance of an artist from France.  Be sure to click over to see “Pushing the Color Around in France”.

Add “A French Opportunity” to your wagon.  Just click below on the Radio Flyer especially if you enjoy nostalgiaBrowse around the French Market for artwork and more by clicking here.