“Let Them Eat Cake” – by Debbie Ambrous

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake - Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake – Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Let them eat cake.” Did Marie-Antoinette utter these famous words?  Some historians believe it is unlikely since Marie-Antoinette donated generously to charitable causes despite her lavish life-style.  I couldn’t tell you whether she did or not, but I can tell you with authority that Jim spoke these words in a royal order while he bears no resemblance to a lavish life-style.  Why?  I hope you’re not wearing your hoop skirt and powdered wig today.  If so, get comfortable and let me tell you my troubles.

First, I was nominated to decorate for a luncheon of about forty or so people – when I wasn’t present to vote, of course!!  Somehow they confused the fact that I like to decorate houses with decorating tables and all that frivolity.  I would rather sit and wait for my number to be called at the Social Security office.    They even mentioned balloons and paper streamers.  I asked when was the last time any of the group had played Pin-the-tail- on-the-donkey.  Jim moved out of the way fast for fear that he would be the donkey.  I searched the house for any ideas of something I could use not involving money out of my pocket.   Tablecloths were located inside drawers, along with other linens.  It was here that I found crocheted and embroidered dainty pieces from Mother, Grandmother Bryan and flea markets – an armful.

A portion of the crochet-work spread on my bed

A portion of the crochet-work spread on my bed

  The handiwork of many hours of work is tucked away, almost never seeing the light of day.  I ironed with heavy starch, lavender scented, until it was all crisp and pretty.  I like to iron and smell the heat on the cotton.  No, don’t send me your ironing! When I was younger, I would iron and watch soap operas.  Some of the steamier scenes may have led to scorched shirts, but I’m not telling.

014Shabby chic was my theme with crochet items, bouquets of flowers in old vases and small figurines scattered along the tables.

A circle of roses spread in the sunshine to dry.  I tried the sugar-water mixture for heavy texture.  Click here for information.  I boiled a cup of sugar and a cup of water, then dipped the cloth.

A circle of roses spread in the sunshine to dry. I tried the sugar-water mixture for heavy texture. Click here for information. I boiled a cup of sugar and a cup of water, then dipped the cloth.

   Adding to the interest and creating conversation pieces, a few old books in dark green and dusky rose colors to match the over-all color scheme would be arranged on the tables. 018 With this plan underway, we hightailed it over to Wal-Mart to buy flowers. Yes, Jim had been volunteered without his permission, just like I was, into the party preparations.  I selected roses and lilies.  Jim investigated the price tags, and his eyes rolled around in their sockets.  His facial color matched the pink color scheme, and he said: “Aren’t these awfully expensive?  Do you need this many flowers?  I was planning to buy something for us to eat this week, you know!!  I explained that I had cut back on expense by not buying tablecloths and other decorations, especially balloons and streamers, so this was truly my only expense. marie-antoinette Then, right there in the Wal-Mart shopping aisle he said for everyone to hear, “Well, I don’t know why they need all of this stuff – Let them eat cake!”  Find a white wig and a big ole puffy gown for Mr. Party-Pooper, Marie’s long-lost cousin!

We had one more stop.  I had noticed a couple of dumpsters behind the florist shop downtown containing flowers they had thrown away.  Jim wouldn’t stop before we went to Wal-Mart since it was still daylight.  He didn’t say that was the reason, but I knew it.  We pulled alongside the green, plastic bins filled with flowers and greenery, some wilted but others still in good condition.  I rummaged away, pushing aside and digging to the bottom, finding carnations, ferns, roses and chrysanthemums.  This was great fun to me, free flowers and the excitement of the find.  The freebies would supplement my purchased flowers.  Jim wanted no part of it and left me to forage while he was hiding in the car protecting his affluent, bleu-blood image.  When he spoke his – Let them eat cake! – command, he admitted he was a cheapskate, but now when it came down to the garbage cans he wanted no part of it.  Well, your royal highness, if you’re really tight with the purse strings, you may have to bend down with us commoners and do some scrounging.”  He muttered something about the guillotine for me and eating cake by himself.

I know one fellow who would have loved hearing all about this nonsense – our dear Sweet Mr. Lee.  (You can read an earlier story about this kind gentleman by clicking here.  The story is a bit silly, but the lovely person in the story was special to us.)  Sweet Mr. Lee, also known as Jack, died this week. 

Jack Lee and his beloved wife Francis

Jack Lee and his beloved wife Francis

He was 87 years old, but he didn’t seem that old in very many ways.  We will miss him greatly.  Jack saw us almost daily when he drove his golf cart around the circle and stopped to see what we were up to.  I enjoyed talking with him about many subjects, and Jim teasingly called me Jack’s girlfriend.  Quickly, I told Jim he shouldn’t do that because it might embarrass this elderly widower, but then Jack picked up on it and came back at Jim.  He would say, “Hey Jim, you caught us again!”  I told Jack to keep an eye on Jim to be sure he didn’t stray from any of his assigned tasks in the yard work.  I printed my stories from the blog for him since he wasn’t very adept with the computer.  One of the last things that Jack asked Jim to do was to print a copy of the most recent story for him.   I always shared my baking with him, wrapping up cookies, cake and other stuff from our kitchen. 

Jack was a great scrounger.  He brought all kind of stuff that he had found on his rounds with the golf cart: a broken flower pot, part of bird bath, ornamental iron stands and other goodies.  He gave flower seeds to me for the bright red celosia flowers.  Jack wanted me to plant blueberry bushes, and when he talked about them his eyes were bright and it seemed that his mouth was watering for those blueberries.  I can still hear him saying “blueberries”.  We finally bought three bushes and planted them near the driveway so he could reach them when we had berries.  It was difficult for him to walk very far.

Jim told me that Jack’s kind and caring daughter Charlotte had mentioned that he was like the son that Jack never had since Jim had been there to help when he especially needed it.  Jim was quick to be there for company and for tasks that Jack couldn’t handle.  I could see that Jim was touched by this, and rightly he should be.  I hugged him and said, “That’s all fine and dandy, but remember that I was Jack’s young girlfriend.” 

We love you Sweet Mr. Lee, and oh so much, we will miss you!

I must apologize since I have no new pictures on the France – storytelling and pictures page and no time to add the recipe for the cake.  It has been a busy week with Marie-Antoinette’s direct descendant here in the palace.  Please come again!  Merci! Just leave a message for me in the reply area, and I will send the recipe for the cake.

Do you have crocheted items like these?  Do you have shabby chic ideas for a party?  You can comment and see other comments in the reply area below.

“Le blah-blah on Narrow Roads” – by Debbie Ambrous”

Saint Cyprien's main street with fleurs, boulangerie and shoes!

Saint Cyprien’s main street with fleurs, boulangerie and shoes!

Go, go, and go to France.”  The theme to each of my stories could be tagged with those words. Get ready to flip-flop that notion because I’m planning to scare you silly. 

Setting the scene, it was early May in Southwest France about three miles from Saint Cyprien, a picturesque medieval village with narrow streets climbing to the hilltop twelfth-century bell tower.  A colorful Sunday market overflowed through the twisting lanes with fresh flowers, spices, pretty clothing, fragrant soaps, delicious fruits and vegetables.  Art galleries, boulangeries and cafés beckoned me to linger and savor. 

So far, you are not scared, huh?  Sit in the back seat.  Oh, and don’t forget to buckle your seat belt.  Jim and I were only minutes away from our destination when he asked, “Which way do I go now?  You Google-mapped this place so many times that it must be embedded into our computer screen at home.”  The sign directing us to the rental appeared on the right almost immediately.  He was to the heart of the matter about the Google-mapping.  I was in eager anticipation for our month-long stay in a three-bedroom stone house in a serene hamlet. 003  The pictures of the house promised an idyllic French house with a wealth of exposed stonework, massive beams, a huge fireplace, pretty blue shutters and a terrace that overlooks Chateau Roc. 

We were finally there, just moments away and turning to follow the signs to the dreamy French cottage.  Leaving the paved highway, the road narrowed to a rutted, gravel and rock surface snaking through the woods and marsh, dipping into mud and then climbing up the hillside.  Approaching the hillside at a flip-over-backwards angle, the road did a sharp meet-yourself-coming-back turn with a boulder-faced wall ready to embrace us eternally.  I use the word “road” very liberally since it narrowed into a goat track.  I held my breath, kept my mouth shut, cringed into a rigid statue of an old lady who wished she had taken that last pit stop.  Not a word, bleat nor scream – that was stuck in my throat – were uttered.  I’ve been married way long enough to know to – “stifle” like Archie bellowed at Edith in the TV series – when we’re under X-treme circumstances.  Jim was navigating between rolling down the hill and never being found again and, or smashing MY side of the car!  It was no time to sound off directions since I was the one who chose this house with the Thunder Mountain roadway, and it was my fault until I could devise some way that it was his fault. 

Le curve, a masculine he man curve!  Or, is it La curve, a she-devil monster? I'm keeping quiet.  You can express your opinions later!

Le curve, a masculine he man curve! Or, is it La curve, a she-devil monster? I’m keeping quiet. You can express your opinions later!

The wall on MY SIDE of the car when we did our first test drive

The wall on MY SIDE of the car when we did our first test drive

R+F For Life (Vie)  - I just hoped it wasn't J+A Mort (dead) on this wall!

Sweethearts R+F For Life (Vie) – I just hoped it wasn’t J+D Mort (dead) on this wall!

We were not out of the woods yet, literally.  The goat track took a blind curve to the right, so we could not see if vehicles or goats were headed our way.    With no room to pass, we would have to back up if faced with oncoming traffic.  What a sickening thought!  We made it safely around the curve and followed the pathway around the hill through more woods.  Chateau Roc was peeking regally through the tall trees in the distance to the left, but I kept that observation to myself since I was still stifling in a moment of silence while Jim kept us from harm’s way. 

Le blah blah erupted here when the car stalled

Le blah blah erupted here when the car stalled

We left the woods behind and climbed the hill to the hamlet.  Jim was faced with another sharp left at the top of the hill.  He stopped since he was facing a house under construction and two driveways with potential traffic of backhoes, trucks or toddlers that could create a traffic hazard.  Our rental car had reliably submitted to the trail of rocks and shocks so far.  With its front end pointed upward and another car suddenly joined to its back bumper – it stalled! The French car had manual transmission; you can’t rent automatic transmission in Europe unless you are dripping rich.  Trying to crank the car and not roll back into the lovebug joined to our backside, Jim maneuvered expertly and almost moved forward.  At that moment, I decided to start with my blah blah and le blah, blah.    I’ll jump out and ask the fellow to move his car backwards so you won’t have such pressure to move the car.  I know it isn’t easy for you and you might roll back and hit him. You’ve driven a long way with jet lag.  Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.  Hot under the collar, Jim told me to keep seated and other words of endearment.  He made the sharp turn to the left, jostling me in the seat but only slightly disturbing the pretty poppies growing on the stone wall as they swished only inches from my window. 

DSC02932

One last curve before we make it past the barn and miss the stone wall - Whew!

One last quick curve before we make it past the barn and miss the stone wall – Whew!

We crept past a garden and a sweet older couple by their front door, draped in a red climbing rose. Their faces wrinkled in puzzlement showed they were wondering what the neighborhood was coming to when we flashed our bewildered smiles.  Jim wedged between an ancient barn and a steep bank, not knowing what was ahead over the hill, and there on the left we saw our French blue-shuttered, beautiful home for a month in France.  Ahhh!  Wasn’t that worth it all? You may enjoy reading more about our month-long stay in the lovely house if you are new to A French Opportunity.  Just click here for Heart of the Lion” and especially “Bonjour and Hi Ya’ll”  

Looking down our lane for the month of May - gorgeous blue-shuttered house on the right

Looking down our lane for the month of May – gorgeous blue-shuttered house on the immediate right

Truthfully, Jim got the hang of it and drove like an expert Frenchman.  However, we only went out at night once!  Riding a French roller coaster, goat track in the total darkness is not our idea of a good time!  Jim has driven where we had to close in the rear view mirrors to drive through lanes in medieval villages.  He has entered walled villages with narrow ancient arches, and he has made it through flocks of sheep, goats and cattle.  When we’re out of the thick of trouble, he doesn’t mind it none at all when I go on and on with blah, blah and le blah blah when he is getting the praise.

I gave Jim my story to read and review.  Yes, I know, what was I thinking?   He saw the French le in the paragraph and said, “You are all wrong there with your le and the blah, blah.  Le is masculine.  You should be using “la” the feminine French article.  Everybody knows blah and blah, blah started on the feminine side!”  He laughed at his cleverness, but inside I had the last laugh because he never did figure out that the road to nerve attacks was my fault – at least until he read this.  

 I hope you weren’t too scared and you will ride with us again.  We did learn to ask more about the roads to any potential rental houses.  We will keep going our way independently as long as we feel we can safely do so.  This isn’t for everyone.  I would like to suggest a wonderful alternative.  Perigord Tours can take you to the beautiful places like you see in pictures on this website and arrange nice accommodations. 204 They find the special out of the way villages, and you will not have to worry about the potential hazards.  English is spoken.  Jim and I met the lovely family who manage Perigord Tours, and we know they will welcome you and make you feel comfortable.  They have two adorable daughters who will charm you with their polite manners and English accents. perigordtours Now, don’t you feel better about travel to France already?  Go, go and go to France!

I borrowed the “blah, blah and le blah blah” phrase from Bobbi French who lives in Canada and is also a writer and author.  Click here for Bobbi’s blog.  She is extra funny and maybe spicier than the Southern lady who travels with romanticism and Opp-timism.  She is more than one up on me because she lived in France and then on to Switzerland for a while.  We have a few things in common since she is crazy about her husband Rusty who is the cook in the family, and you know already that I feel the same about my crazy husband who is Chef Extraordinaire.  Who knows?  Maybe we will have a Canada-Alabama bake-off!  Thanks to Bobbi for being such a good sport and mixing up with us Southerners!  Next thing you know, she will be eating collard greens with cornbread and washin’ it down with a tall glass of iced tea.  Thank ya’ll!

Just look to the top right-hand area of this page for the Subscribe area; enter your e-mail for a free notification when a new post appears.  Then you will never miss out!  I must apologize since it was out of order for a while, but should be fixed now!

Click here for more narrow lanes on the French-storytelling and pictures page.  Thank you very much for your kind words and especially for the comments in the reply area.  Could you perhaps tell us about your harrowing accounts on the road whether in France, Alabama or even Canada?  See other reader’s comments and enter yours. 

I must add that I greatly appreciated the heartfelt support of the Adams family last week.  I was touched by the comments I received both here and on Facebook.  Thank you very kindly.

“One of a Kind” – by Debbie Ambrous

108I need a generous dose of beauty to help ease my sadness.  I’ve cried the tears.  There will be more.  A lovely friend of mine from childhood who cheered me on through ups and downs is no longer there for me and all those dear to her.  She wrapped her arms around her husband, children, grandchildren, friends and strangers making them feel warm inside and bringing smiles to their faces.   Stray kittens and stray lonely people were cuddled and caressed by her generous hands and soothing voice; they remember the beautiful person that came their way in a time of need.  People filed in for her memorial service until they congregated in standing room only in the back and along the sides, packing the room with love and respect.  057

When I was a girl at that awkward stage of becoming a young woman, she was my new friend who was two years older and two years more knowledgeable.  Mother was there to explain what was happening, but having a close friend who understood my strange new feelings of wearing a bra for the first time, casting aside patent leather shoes with white nylon socks for my first low heels, needing deodorant – and believe me, most of it didn’t work like what we have now – and being embarrassed about so many things was deeply appreciated.  We went through it together until she moved away.

She entered my life again a few years later when I was dating.  You see, her precious husband Ed was the first person I dated.  He is precious to me also in a different way.  Ed is, and always has been – a gentleman – a perfect husband for my friend.036  After Ed, I kissed a few frogs who didn’t turn into princes and a few princes who rescued other damsels – not me.  Then I met my true prince – Jim.  Maybe I will tell you that story sometime.  You know the ending.  108I’m sure you know wonderful wives, mothers and friends.  How is the lovely lady that I am describing different?  How is she unique?  Shirley Evelyn Adams was one of a kind.  When Shirley’s name was spoken, a smile spread across the face of anyone who knew her.  A glimpse of Shirley and one would think of Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor or Jacqueline Kennedy. 0201141448a Shirley didn’t copy these ladies consciously, but she had style and class of her own in a comparable way to these grand ladies.   How did she do it?  Shirley had a humble origin, no uppity-training or designer wardrobes, but when she stepped on the scene she was stunning from head to toe.  She wore wide-brimmed hats, or swept up her curly dark hair in a signature style.  0201141448bBeneath the brim of the wide hat, her eyes sparkled, crinkled in a smile or laughing; all were captivated.  Yes, she was unique.  We will remember the beauty of those bright, sparkling eyes.  Shirley’s voice was her most characteristic, stand-alone asset.  I have never heard another in comparison, except perhaps Jackie Kennedy.   Shirley spoke words in a voice worthy of poetry, and often they touched us the same.  I still hear her voice – not literally – yet in my mind. Shirley still brings happiness to me. 

She wasn’t perfect.  She was one of us.  Maybe that was part of the reason we loved her so much.  She moved like a princess, but she had flaws like the rest of us.  Her slip might be showing, a bra strap could peek at the edge of her lacy blouse or the exquisitely coiffed curly hair could collapse in the heat.  We liked her just the way she was.  She made us smile. 

When Shirley and I were a bit older, our doctors noticed we were not 20 or 30 and said we had to stop taking the pill.  Now, you may be thinking I’m straying from the subject, or this is a taboo subject for memory of my friend.  I’ve considered this already, and I feel that Shirley would approve since she would likely talk about any and every subject that entered her mind in her sweet voice and cause chuckles all along her pathway.  Continuing with my and Shirley’s situation of no longer having the trusted pill, a quiet discussion ensued.  Shirley confided her alternate choice of birth control, and I followed in her dainty footsteps straight to the maternity ward.  Yes, we both wore maternity clothes together.  I blame Shirley and thank her for my last beautiful baby. 

I’m comforted by those memories and by a deeply assured hope for the future.  I wore the obligatory dark suit for the memorial service, but when I selected a blouse I reached for a brightly colored, paisley one, thinking Shirley would approve.   I said on the way that I don’t always cry as expected, and I didn’t until I heard the music.  After I had wiped away the tears, I gasped when I thought – I should have worn a big hat!

This story is in memory of Shirley Evelyn Adams, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a sister and a friend to a circle of loved ones.  A unique Princess is not forgotten.0201141447

A rose arrived at my home on the day of the memorial service, the 2005 rose of the year, named Voluptuous with satiny, deep fuchsia-pink petals and a soft fragrance.    The rose is in our garden now and renamed always in my mind in memory of Shirley.

You can see comments of others and leave yours in the reply area036 I enjoy hearing from you!  I hope you like the lovely pictures of France by clicking here for the France-storytelling and pictures page.

“Alabama and Italian Ice” – by Debbie Ambrous

My camelia bush shed its pink blooms on the ground creating a work of art with new colors in the ice.

My camellia bush shed its pink blooms on the ground creating a work of art with new colors in the ice.

Snow and ice sheathed our Alabama home and yard like the finest designer-inspired, radiantly white silk shantung wedding dress – for two days only. snow

Then it all melted away exposing ugly brown grass, our old car with its dents and dings, dead camellia blooms in the mud and a dried-up jasmine vine with its arch above the cracked walkway. Funny, I hadn’t noticed those cracks as much before the snow.  The wedding gown had been lifted, exposing cracking skin, hairy legs and ugly warts. 001 Or, were those my legs after the thick socks, leggings and heavy pants for the 18 degree dip?  Of course not!  Jim would never take me on another Umpteenth Second Honeymoon.  I’m talking about the snow covering a multitude of unsightly stuff and creating works of art on unlikely objects. 

We stayed inside except for a few photo forays around our circle, seeing youngsters slide on the snow and hoping we wouldn’t do the same with broken legs or hips.  One father was towing his children, and I’m not sure who was having the most fun – the kids or the father. I had my hot tea and viewed the pristine white scenes through all of my windows. We looked through pictures of our travels to beautiful areas when snow was packed on mountains and buildings.  No special, beauty cold-pack was needed in the mountains surrounded by lovely villages, but the snow was icing on the cake, to use a cliché.

hotelwithbeautifulmtnbackgroundJim looked at pictures of a special trip that he took with his sister Virginia to heavy snow in the Swiss Alps and a stay in a small apartment on Lake Como in Italy. (If you missed the PARIS trip, click here.)  He doesn’t get into heavy dialogue about his travel, going on and on about the color of the drapes, or how thick and lush the carpets were, like I do when I travel to great destinations.  Then, 75% of his pictures have chopped off most of what I want to see, or a telephone pole is covering the center of a lovely building.  I’ve gleaned the best of the photos, and I believe you will agree that they are beautiful.  Lake Como has to be lovely because George Clooney has a place there – probably a palace!   And, Jim and Virginia slept there!  How much more recommendation do you need?  If you are looking for beautiful snow and can’t find any at our palace, consider Lake Como and a side-trip to the Swiss Alps.  I’ll let the pictures do the 1000 words more since Jim is not a Rick Steves  travel commentator. 

villageandlakemountainvillavillagelakemountainshotelloadedwithsnowmountainwaterfall

verycolorfulhouses

Did you enjoy Jim’s photography of Italy?  I gained an education since I worked on the photos, cropping highways and aluminum railings etc., plus a few other edits.   I’ve never tried the photography enhancements except for cropping a few pictures for my book preparation.  

Do you use a program that you like very much and could recommend?  I would like to hear about anything easy to use, very dummy-proof! 

Do you dream of going to Italy?  Under the Tuscan Sun, both the book and the movie filled many of us with a love of Tuscany.  Then, Venice is a city like no other with its ancient buildings and romantic waterways.  Italians are friendly.  The food is wonderful.  Why wouldn’t we love Italy?  Order your copies of some wonderful books about Italy in the –  CLICK HERE French Market Place.  I enjoyed A Thousand Days in Tuscany very much and Lady in the Palazzo even more so.  If only I could write like Marlena de Blasi!

Despite all of this, my first love is France!  What about you?  Which do you prefer?  I love to see your comments, even if you like Italy better than France.  How could you??!! 

Don’t miss more of (Just Click here!) Jim’s photography of France is on the France-storytelling and picture page.  Thank you for your encouragement and for visiting us!