“Full Circle” – by Debbie Ambrous

005Steady rain fell on the circle.  We sit at the bottom of the traffic circle with few cars and only a handful of houses, most of them built in the early 1940’s.  Tall pine trees center the circle, dropping their golden brown pine needles and pine cones to the ground below, a view shared by all of the neighbors on our circle.   Jim played in the center of the circle under the canopy of trees and rode his bicycle around and around when he was a youngster. 

Rain droplets cover my redbud tree.  Thankfully, no freezing temperatures are forecast.

Rain droplets cover my redbud tree. Thankfully, no freezing temperatures are forecast.

The circular doormat has wording like a Paris manhole cover - a surprise gift to Jim a few years ago

The circular doormat has wording like a Paris manhole cover – a surprise gift to Jim a few years ago

Today, rainclouds blot the sunshine from spreading its warmth through our glass door at the entry to our Alabama cottage.  No youngsters were riding toy tractors or oldsters getting their daily walk since water saturated our day. 

Inside, feeling warm and cozy, wearing my thick socks and favorite sweatshirt, I watched the silent water show through the glass door; a jumble of thoughts occupied my mind.  Jim brought me to this house to introduce me to his mom years ago – seems like an eternity.  Soon, he left the house to marry me, and he moved far away from the comfortable circle to new challenges.  We raised three children, an accomplishment in itself. Then we discovered travel – new and interesting ways of living and people who spoke languages and accents much different than our Southern drawl.  

The front door points the way to French influence inside.

The front door points the way to French influence inside.

 Each new place put its stamp on our personalities and created memories that continue to seep into our thoughts.

Visits to see family and sad emergency rushes to family members in the hospital brought us back to the circle.  Painful trips, darker than any rainy day brought us home upon the deaths of our parents.  Family no longer lived at the bottom of the circle.  We drove around to see the little house each time when we visited Alabama – until we finally made the decision to return.

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Warmth and hospitality flowed from this house when Jim’s mother Aili prepared a meal.  Stepping inside now, we hope visitors are treated in a manner that Aili would approve.  No, it isn’t the same.  Our travel influences every wall of the house with heavy tones of France around each corner.  Pictures of our children, grandchildren, brother, sisters and parents are here also.  Comfort is here.  We’ve come full circle.  Will we stay here?  Our good friends ask this question and then tell us that we have to stay here!  We still have an urge to experience more than the security of this spot of small town life.  There’s big wonderful France to explore, different food to taste and new friends to meet.  Do you feel this way also?  Some people are quite content to stay in one place all of their lives.  They see no need to leave and ramble.  Does this mean they are less fulfilled?  How do you feel?

An episode of the Andy Griffith Show on television centered on this subject.  Andy met an old girlfriend at a high school reunion.  They were making fast strides toward a romantic reunion when the girlfriend who had moved far away upon graduation began to talk about Andy’s fine prospects in the big city.  He had no interests in that direction at all!  Suddenly, he remembered their differences.  He said he had found his happiness, contentment and satisfaction right where he was with no need or desire to move.  Andy does make his point.

I’m not Andy’s girlfriend.  He might not like my notions, but I understand his feelings because they do form part of my personality. 

While the rain continues to fall, I’m hoping for fair weather in the coming week for a short second honeymoon with my husband, my best friend who understands most of my notions.  If you are wondering about the honeymoon at our age, just click and read “A Wedding and A Funeral”.

During 2013, I hope that I have brought some enjoyment with words and pictures in A French Opportunity, the book and the blog.  More than this, I hope that love has shown through and possibly will travel FULL CIRCLE among many others.  Thank you for sticking with me.  I will be back in 2014 after that second honeymoon.   No blog next week.

Meanwhile, I will leave a recipe that I found in an old Southern Living magazine for an absolutely wonderful apple pie.  Aili would be pleased with my hospitality, at least I hope she would.

006Easy Skillet Apple Pie

2 lb. Granny Smith apples

2 lb. Braeburn apples

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1 package refrigerated piecrusts

1 egg white

2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Peel apples and cut into wedges.  Toss apples with cinnamon and ¾ cup granulated sugar.

2.       Melt butter in a 10 inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat; add brown sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and place 1 piecrust in skillet over the brown sugar mixture.  Spoon apple mixture over piecrust and top with the remaining piecrust.  Whisk egg white until foamy.  Brush top of piecrust with egg white; sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar.  Cut 4 or 5 slits in top for steam to escape.

3.       Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.  Shield with aluminum foil during last 10 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary.  (I didn’t find this to be necessary.)  Cool on a wire rack 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with ice cream if you would like.  (This is a delicious and easy pie to make.) 

4.       Enjoy!!  Come back to see us again.  Don’t forget to SHARE!

Click and ENJOY! "Rain falls on roses, irises and figs" on the France-storytelling and pictures page.

Click and ENJOY! “Rain falls on roses, irises and figs” on the France-storytelling and pictures page.

“Bugs” – by Debbie Ambrous

That's me with the flowers, turnips and onions - one of my favorite shots taken in Portugal.

That’s me with the flowers, turnips and onions – one of my favorite shots taken in Portugal.     Note: All photos of Portugal were taken a few years ago.  They are scanned photos.

I was bitten by a seriously influential bug – the travel bug!  When I’m overcome by that bug I can do some outlandish things, at least I have in the past.  Once when we lived in Coconut Grove and we had a long weekend from work, I had searched for a place to go with no success in our budget.  Jim went to work to handle some stuff and while he was gone I found cheap tickets to Merida, Mexico. (This was before 9/11 and all of the extra security, otherwise we couldn’t have done all of this so quickly.)  I called and told Jim to get to the airport fast.  Daughter Brittany and I were packing as I urged Jim to rush, rush!  Finally, altogether at the airport, I called to arrange a car rental while Jim checked us in.  The attendant said they were ready to close the doors and we should get on the move.  Unbelievably, I was dawdling at a payphone making the car reservation!

An Oregon trip was another rush with travel bug fever.  I bought a travel guide book in the airport and hurriedly read for the must-see places and best stays during the flight.  When we had a change of planes I called to reserve car and hotel.  Our travel isn’t always like this, but the travel bug can cause this lunacy.  We had a wonderful time on each of those trips and wouldn’t trade them for healthy non-bug-bitten experiences.

This time the bug struck immediately when I saw a comparatively cheap round trip fare to Mexico City; it is a rarity to find any cheap airfare from our area in Alabama.  We could go around December 9th and stay for a week. We could luxuriate in the beautiful house in San Miguel Allende that I described in an earlier blog. You may enjoy reading by clicking here.  I e-mailed the nice gentleman; he was extra friendly and made me feel like I would be exceptionally happy in the beautiful ambiance of his home with a friendly cook in the kitchen.  Jim liked that idea since he could skip kitchen duty.  Click here to see it and reserve.

The bug dug deeper under my skin when I found great airfare to Lisbon, Portugal.

This photo is framed about my computer. I love it!

This photo taken at Palacio de Queluz in Portugal is framed above my computer. I love it!

  I could use frequent flyer miles for one ticket and pay for the other.  I could play the game of a few cheap days to balance out a few more luxurious days.  We could stay at a cute, inexpensive bed and breakfast and then possibly on to more luxurious digs like the Seteais Palace Hotel.  The cost would compare to the same as the Mexico trip if I was willing to give up my frequent flyer miles.  Read more about our travels in Portugal by clicking here.

Palacio de Pena - This spectacular palace with eclectic architectural styles is unreal with surprises around every corner.

Palacio de Pena – This spectacular palace with eclectic architectural styles is unreal with surprises around every corner.

Palabillion added the cio de Queluz - The French architect, Jean-Baptiste Robillion added the sumptuous Robillion Pavilion and gardens.

Palacio de Queluz – The French architect, Jean-Baptiste Robillion added the sumptuous Robillion Pavilion and gardens.

Inside the palace, ladies were practicing for a performance.  Portugal is my second favorite country in Europe, after France, of course.

Inside the palace, ladies were practicing for a performance. Portugal is my second favorite country in Europe, after France, of course.

The old Debbie would have grabbed one or the other of these offers and ran.  Now I toss and turn in a bed of “what if?” with the sharp edges digging into my sleep and keeping me in indecision.  What if I don’t get a bonus this year?  What if we need more work on the car?  What if I have a huge medical bill for the ultra-sound routine medical test since I haven’t met my deductible?  What if I fall on the steep hills in San Miguel and I break something and can’t go to France this year? What if I give up my frequent flyer miles and then need the miles for a trip to France? What if my eye problem flares up?  What if it rains the whole time we are in Portugal? What if my laptop won’t work and I can’t reach my workplace?

The cheap seats were bought by other people who don’t suffer with the what if syndrome, and then I had no travel options – just travel fever.  Then the second bug descended with no mercy.  Sore throat, fever, chills, headache, cough and in a word – misery – landed at my gate.  018The first day I stumbled down the hall and sent an e-mail that I would be out sick for the day, thinking I would stop this thing in its tracks.  Ha!  Days followed with work at my desk while my hairstyle and choice of clothes grew uglier each day.  Dust and maybe even cobwebs accumulated.  Drugstore purchases approved by FDA covered tables instead of HGTV approved décor.  I didn’t care.  Jim was on the phone, and I asked who called.  He said, “Hollywood.  They’re sending around some blind-folded folks to do a Febreze commercial in our living room. phyllis-diller-before-the-nose-job And, more good news! I sent a picture of you, and they say you are perfect for a Phyllis Diller movie that’s being filmed. 

Next day, in the living room, I heard Jim – coughing and sneezing!  That bug surely likes to travel.

Whatever you look like, marry a man your own age – as your beauty fades, so will his eyesight.”  PHYLLIS DILLER

I wrote this blog in a heavy state of medicine-induced delirium.  After reading the story, my rating for readers is 2 stars: boring and lame, bordering on sick and stupid.  That sums up how I was feeling.003

Excuse me while I go lie down somewhere so I won’t hear Jim coughing.

See France with lovely pictures and an escape from the nagging “what if?” by clicking here.

Thanks for dropping by.  I hope you are healthy and happy!  Come around our way again and bring friends with you by punching that Facebook like button at the top of the page or sharing.  The more the merrier!

“A Wedding and A Funeral” – by Debbie Ambrous

We went to a sweet wedding of an octogenarian couple. 

A Glance

Admiring Glances –  Enterprise, AL   334-393-4080

I had only written this first sentence when Jim stuck his head over my shoulder and asked, “What religion is Octogenarian?”  Answering his interruption, I explained, “It isn’t a religion. Octogenarian is a person who is between eighty and ninety years old.”  Jim straightened me out with his reply: “You got it all wrong then, they are in their seventies.”  I turned red in embarrassment and said I would correct my sentence.  “You have to change their religion to Septuagenarian,” quipped Mr. Webster-walking-dictionary. 

Earlier after the wedding, we drove home on country roads with the sunset fading through the bare trees of a wintry landscape with cold winds whipping empty fields, stripped of their rich crops of cotton and peanuts.  I asked Jim a question I thought would be difficult, requiring some thought.  “Jim, if I passed away, would you remarry?” He nearly ran off the road, and finally answered:  “Do you know something I don’t?  I think one woman in my life might be enough already! But if I interview another one she will have to like French decorating because I am NOT toting all of the furniture, pictures and doo-dads out of the house!” 

Hanna, our beautiful granddaughter

Hanna, our beautiful granddaughter – a few years ago – time is flying by!

I offered to make a list to help him with the interview since I’m familiar with the subject, and I make plenty of lists now for any project big or small.  Interview list:  1) Will you quietly allow me to watch science fiction shows, especially Star Trek, wherever or whenever, despite the fact that I may have seen the same show ten dozen times? 2) Will you be an Auburn fan, or otherwise remain quiet as in the aforesaid sentence? 3) Will you understand that I won’t wear a coat or use an umbrella and will probably get sick despite any suggestions on your part? 4) Will you understand that I don’t talk much, and yes, I am listening to what you say most of the time?  5) Will you accept that I believe firmly in the Bible and respect what it says?  If you do not feel the same, this discussion is over.  6) Will you love and appreciate me like my Debbie did? 

Tears filled my eyes with the last two questions I had presented.  We were home.  Jim switched off the car and said we should switch the subject.  We snacked and watched an old movie titled Get Low, starring Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.  The movie is about a backwoods, Tennessee loner who plans his funeral in 1938 while he is still around to attend – and enjoy – the proceedings.  We watched for a while, and Jim decided to continue our earlier conversation and needle me in his proceedings.  He said, “Hey, I have an idea.  We could put on your wedding reception in advance like this funeral and film the whole thing for any future fellow.  We could invite all our friends to come on over right here in the backyard.  I would grill a bunch of hot dogs and hamburgers and play some country music.  We could build a bonfire and roast marshmallows.  I’d even be extra generous and order a small keg of beer and a giant cooler of Diet Dr. Pepper, your favorite, out of the kindness of my heart.  You got some fancy boots in Birmingham, and you could wear that skirt with the red swirly things and that blouse with the glittery rhinestones.”  He laughed at his pre-second wedding reception idea.  The laughter was not over yet. 

Jim met up with resistance on his idea.  I said in clear and understandable words that I was not interested in his redneck wedding reception.  He presented a second proposal with a big grin: “How about we go on a rehearsal honeymoon down at Destin?  I’ll give my rating for your future interviewees’ perusal.”  My ears perked up on that one, and I replied: “You got a deal.  We can go down for the end-of-year sales at the outlet stores and then spend the night at the romantic Henderson Park Inn by the white sands at Destin.henderson  That’s what I wanted all of the time.  How did you read my mind, Jim?”  No tears on my face now, only my laughter. 

Finding someone you love again must be wonderful, especially compared to being lonely.  Certainly, there will be obstacles to overcome, like those with any marriage.  Remarriage has its own complex hurdles.

Plan your bridal bouquet at Young's Florist

Plan your bridal bouquet at Young’s Florist, 114 Covington Ave., Opp, Alabama 334-493-4566  This is not her arrangement, but no worries, she can make the best.  I know since she made mine!

Have you, or perhaps a close friend or family member remarried?  I hope you are happy and have found a wonderful life along with solutions to any problems.  Would you like to comment in the reply area?  All of us need love and peace with understanding.

Click over to Love and Romance in France.  Don’t miss the lovely pictures.  Enjoy!

Find beautiful jewelry to keep for a lifetime at

Find beautiful jewelry by Paty Damera -a keepsake for a lifetime.  Paty’s work is highly praised.  Just click to Vida Jewelry Designs

“Hark! Treasure is Found” – by Debbie Ambrous

Treasured Old Binder Jam-Packed with Value

Treasured Old Binder Jam-Packed with Value

Jim was laughing and excitedly talking on his cellphone to his sister Virginia.  Virginia had found a treasure!  No, it wasn’t expensive jewelry or green-back dollars, but it held value equivalent to a treasure trove for us.  Virginia found their mother Aili’s old, well-worn, raveling-at-the-corners cookbook.  Memories of the delicious food prepared from the valuable cookbook filled Jim with happiness, like a kid with a new, red wagon.

Index written in Virginia's young girlish handwriting for Aili's cookbook

Index written in Virginia’s young girlish handwriting for Aili’s cookbook

We slowly savored the pages like any good food junkie would, except we had colorful recollections to enhance the pages better than any flashy color presentation.  Aili was Finnish, and her baking from that heritage was unlike cooking found in other Southern kitchens.  We saw Finnish Coffee Cake, Cardamom Cookies and Grandma Poutane’s Sugar Cookies on the yellowed, faded pages.  We didn’t find her cinnamon buns or the recipe for a braided loaf that Jim and Virginia called Boula (unsure of the spelling), but I found a blog with a recipe for Pulla that seems very similar.  Swedish baking is comparable to Finnish with equally delicious recipes. Friends in Sweden send pictures of baked goodies that look like they came from Aili’s kitchen.  If only the airfare to Sweden was not so expensive!

Aili wasn’t bound to recipes from the past.  The cookbook is filled with Southern recipes and regular American staples like Angel Food Cake, Buttermilk Pie, Pecan Balls, Gingerbread and Squash Casserole.  Turning the pages was a trip through an Opp, Alabama of the past with recipes jotted on a bank deposit slip from a bank that has changed names numerous times since and another recipe on a note pad from a supply company long ago out of business. 

Aili was an R.N. at the local Mizell Memorial Hospital, a strict do it right or else charge nurse that struck fear in the nurses in training, plus a few of the doctors.

Lovely lady, much loved mother and grandmother - Aili Pearson This old picture was taken in the kitchen we presently enjoy.  I believe she would enjoy the remodeled version.  If not, she would certainly not mince her words.

Lovely lady, much loved mother and grandmother – Aili Pearson
This old picture was taken in the kitchen we presently enjoy. I believe she would enjoy the remodeled version. If not, she would certainly not mince her words.

  One nurse told us that she could never get her nurse’s cap to suit Aili.  We believed her! We’ve heard other stories of gratitude from patients she helped in the emergency room and expectant mothers. She loved her job and truly did her best to help people.  I was amused to see a couple of the recipes written on hospital “bedside notes” with a name and room number shown on one.  A recipe for Peking Roast was written on the bedside note.  I would love to know the story behind that recipe.

I was quick to copy the recipes with spatters from many times on the counter top by the mixing bowl.

Splattered pages have the tastiest recipes.  You can find this recipe in the book "A French Opportunity"

Splattered pages have the tastiest recipes. You can find this recipe in the book “A French Opportunity”

  Smiling and remembering that many of mine look the same, I thought she would have a quick reply if I said a word, or at the very least an arched eyebrow with a penetrating glare.  She loved her family and showed it tenderly and firmly with no withheld discipline and opinions. Times have changed.  Mind your own business is the motto now most of the time.  Parents and grandparents tread more carefully about offering opinions and advice.  

What is your policy?    

When Jim was a teenager, Aili issued curfews and rules.  He was supposed to toe the line.  Aili was working the 3PM to 11PM shift at the hospital.  Jim should have been home when she arrived, but he missed the mark.  He got home late and was very relieved that Aili’s car was not in the driveway.  Since he was such a good boy, he starting making hot chocolate for his mom.  Can’t you see it?

Young, adorable hot chocolate maker

Young, adorable hot chocolate maker

  In all innocence and good looks with his blonde hair and green eyes with only a bit of acne on his guiltless face, he stood in the kitchen stirring hot chocolate with a big smile for Mom.  He thought he had gotten away with his late night with the boys and girls??  Not me!   Then his mom’s green and white Chevy arrived and parked under the big spreading oak.  The petite lady with the iron fist opened the back door and heard a sweet greeting from her young son with a Hershey kiss smile.  She had one sentence for him, preceding many others – I am sure.  Aili delivered her first punch, “This is my second time home for the evening!”  She knew he missed the curfew. I am so glad that I was not the one out with him that night! 

Mincemeat Squares was the recipe that excited Jim and Virginia more than all of the others.  It is a simple recipe and tasted good even when I prepared it.  Nostalgia for the original cook, who no one could ever replace, rules out the possibility of cooking the recipe with the same delicious results.  We can only try and then remember the best— a treasure to keep and cherish.

The china plate and the commandment plate were Aili's, now our treasure.  The camellia was picked from a bush Aili planted, now ours to enjoy.

The china plate and the commandment plate were Aili’s, now our treasure. The camellia was picked from a bush Aili planted, now ours to enjoy.

Aili’s Mincemeat Squares

½ cup Crisco All-vegetable shortening

1 cup brown sugar

1 ½ cups flour (I used self-rising and omitted the soda and salt from the recipe)

1 tsp. soda

2 tsp. salt

1 ¾ cups oatmeal

1 large jar of mincemeat (27 oz.)

Look for it in the baking goods aisle in the grocery

Look for it in the baking goods aisle in the grocery

Work the first five ingredients into a crumbly mixture with a pastry blender.  Add the oatmeal and mix well.  Put half of mixture into shallow greased pan (10×15 inches and .75-inch deep).  Pat well into place.  Spread this layer with one jar of mincemeat.  (I used Nonesuch mincemeat.) Then sprinkle with remaining crumbly mixture, patting into place over mincemeat.  Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes.  Cut into bars while warm.  Enjoy!

Later, the giant camellia will be covered in delicate pink blooms.  Thanks, Aili!

Later, the giant camellia will be covered in delicate pink blooms. Thanks, Aili!

Could you tell us about your special recipes or cherished cooks in the family?  Just click in the reply area below and enter a few words to share.  Tell us what’s cooking at your house.  Thank you for visiting.

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Read more about Aili includiing more recipes in A French Opportunity.  You can get your copy at Amazon websites almost anywhere in the world.   Aili would be amazed to know that a little lady in Panama or India could be using her recipe for Meringue Squares (my favorite) even as we speak. 

  CLICK HERE for your copy - Read about the time we decorated Aili's car

CLICK HERE for your copy – Read about the time we decorated Aili’s car

Read and enjoy the story.

Then, cook delicate, delicious Meringue squares.  Bon Appetite!  Shop ’till you drop in a French Market. Click here to see photography of France – Treasures in France.

You could purchase Downton Abbey to watch while the cookies are baking.  Don’t get involved and let them burn!

Just hit the castle!

Just hit the castle!