“Exclamation Mark !!!” – by Debbie Ambrous

These two cute dogs were sitting regally in the sunshine in Richelieu, France

These two cute dogs were sitting regally in the sunshine in Richelieu, France

Today I found a funny quote while I was wasting time on the internet. You must picture two, fat, old ladies walking along in crazy, mismatched outfits talking loudly enough to be heard over a Harley convention. You can put me in one of the ensembles if it helps you visualize, although, you know I’m just not like that at all. With glasses perched at the end of her nose and a hot pink handbag swinging on her arm, the wildly-dressed lady says, “With my ailing memory, I’m thinking of changing my password to ‘incorrect’. That way, when I log-in with the wrong password the computer will tell me: Your password is ‘incorrect’!

Two more happy dogs with wagging tails at St. Malo, France

Two more happy dogs with wagging tails at St. Malo, France – Just hang on for a few seconds and you will understand my choice of photos for this story.  Thank you!

I’m not confessing to all of my forgetfulness, but I am seeing myself in some of these so-called humorous jokes about folks who can’t remember important stuff, like where they put the remote control.

Waiting for a hand-out.

Waiting for a hand-out.

Since I tend to write a few items about world-shaking events, I quickly grab whatever is handy to put together a sketch of a story when it pops into my head. One writer said she once wrote notes on a bed sheet. No bed linen was involved in this indecipherable note: “Punctuation – Dog’s Tails – College Degrees.” What wild dream brought forth this note? I should remember it easily since it was filed recently in my brain. I searched under recent items, but no hilarious pop-ups appeared in the dusty files, only reminders to pay the gas bill and remind Jim to declog the bathroom drain.

IMG_2304Just for funsies, I wondered what would happen if I Googled “Punctuation – Dog’s Tails – College Degrees.” I refer to the learned, wise and fluent Jeff Foxworthy as the source of my phrase “Just for funsies.” Mr. Foxworthy frequently said “Just for funsies” on the television show “Are You Smarter than a Fifth-Grader?” when the pitiful contestants stood humiliated not having any funsies at all. Since I know already that I stand knee-high to a grasshopper when compared to a fifth-grader, I waited on an answer from the all-powerful computer search engine and voila an answer appeared. Ha-Ha!! It all came back to me. A load of punctuation rules wagged a finger at me and my writing, jolting and shaming my memory.IMG_0798

I’m not bragging, but when I was in school I made A’s in all of my English classes, and punctuation was never a problem. I detect a hint of disagreement about the bragging. I would admit to boasting if I puffed up and enumerated degrees such as: M.S., M.A., M.D., PhD or PMS. No one would believe me anyway, especially the PMS! That isn’t my problem. Punctuation is puzzling. I can see it now with messages pouring in saying: “what is punctuation and why bother with it anyway rules are DEF a bother I don’t have time to stress my brain what are you talking about LOL this is ridiculous DUCWIM this is a CWOT.” DUCWIM – Do you see what I mean? And, who knows whether that string of degrees above could be foreign swearing with this new way of communicating? We talk more on phones and computers with messages that are misspelled, with no punctuation (except a string of exclamation marks) and acronyms instead of words. IMHO (In my humble opinion)IMG_2260

The item that surfaced when I did the funsie search was an article from The Guardian by Stuart Jeffries, who must truly be smarter than a fifth-grader. Mr. Jeffries mentions Saint-Louis-du-Ha!Ha! the city in Canada from my last rendition on this site. His humble opinion on the town’s name is: “Someone went potty with the exclamation marks, throwing them around with gay abandon!!! The two exclamation marks serve as reminders of those happy days when we weren’t so parsimonious with what Lynne Truss, in her book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, calls, “a screamer, a gasper, a startler or (sorry) a dog’s cock.” Mr. Jeffries has no shame and says, “That was her “sorry” not mine.”

My favorite!  Can I keep him?

My favorite! Can I keep him?

Now you understand the dog’s tails in my scribbled message. They wag their rears all over my page in wild abandon. Exclamation points like the vertical dog’s tails or the white tails of startled deer mark my writing. Do I yank them, or leave them to roam?

Further along Stuart (my new BFF) says: “Novelists (at least male ones) are apt to be mean-spirited about dog’s cocks. ‘Cut out all those exclamation marks,’ wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. ‘An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”


IMG_4591 I do declare, Scott!! The “F” in your name does not stand for funsies, does it? Bless his heart. I’ll forgive him since he’s done and gone. But I sure would have thought that his wife Zelda Fizgerald, a fine Southern lady, born in Montgomery, Alabama, would have taught him some manners.

Summing up the punctuation situation better than Sesame Street, Stuart offers up more quotes from male writers. One of the characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series insists that: “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” That jab isn’t nearly as irksome as the words from a character in Maskerade (not my spelling) who remarks: “And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head!IMG_3190

I say!! Mean spirited indeed!!! I don’t wear underpants on my head. As for husband Jim, does he wear underpants on his head? He says: NOYB – none of your business. I’m getting the hang of this renaissance of !!! and short-hand messages, going from one extreme to another.

IMG_4625As for Jim, he just reminds me that the emcee and shining star of television Jeff Foxworthy says,

You might be a redneck if your wife keeps a can of Vienna sausage in her (hot pink) purse.” SMH –shaking my head!!! And, Jim, I know you added the “hot pink” in the fine and upstanding Mr. Foxworthy’s quote!!

I do hope you enjoyed the dog show and understand my punctuation predicament.  Since your memory is better than mine, remind me to tell you about the beautiful St. Malo, France in the second picture above.  Ya’ll come again!!

Check my punctuation.  CLICK for you copy!

Check my punctuation. CLICK for you copy!

“Jim’s Ha-Ha Moment” – by Debbie Ambrous

Airvault, France - The Auberge was re-opened in August, 2014 for a World Music & Dance Festival.

Airvault, France – The old Auberge was re-opened in July, 2014 for a World Music & Dance Festival.  The newspaper article says Mexican food and folkloric dance was performed.

May 18, 2014 – A charming British couple invited Jim and me to dinner. If you are counting, this was our third invitation to socialize in joyeuse compagnie comme invités d’honneur. Are you astonished that the two of us would receive a R.S.V.P. from nice, unsuspecting folks in France? They may still be laughing about the Alabama couple who came for dinner and said, “You might be a redneck if you ask for Budweiser or Dr. Pepper when Chardonnay is offered.” Oh, you know we wouldn’t have committed that faux pas!

First, we had to drive to their stone-built home tucked away on a narrow lane in St. Jouin de Marnes in the Poitou-Charente region. We had never explored this area, so we left our rental cottage after breakfast allowing enough time to locate their home which was about an hour’s drive to the southwest. Then, after finding our dinner location we would ramble in nearby villages until time to join Peter and Jean, our lovely host and hostess.

Driving west, we went through Richelieu, that favorite little town of mine. Well, it isn’t mine in the truest sense, but I do like it very much. My eyes were glued to the passing scenery of the moat surrounding the medieval buildings and the tall sycamore trees shading the roadway. The charming scene was left in our dust much too quickly. Then, we drove miles and miles and miles on straight roads, flatter than a flitter with not a cute village in sight and only a few trees in small support groups alone in wide open fields. I asked Jim, “Why would they want to live here? This is boring out of your mind. Even the crops are hanging over in misery.” After a few detours, we located St. Jouin de Marnes on a hill high above the flat, monotonous, straight roads in the valley.

Pretty doorway in the village.  Ladybugs are always welcome at our house.

Pretty doorway in the village. Ladybugs are always welcome at our house.

Things were looking up! A monumental church was an impressive architectural sight as we entered the town. I later found the history dated earlier than 843 when monks fled the Norwegians for safety here and took possession of the abbey. It was an opulent abbey in the middle ages. While no longer with its former grandeur, the architecture was worth a ramble around on the windswept hillside. The road led on to a pretty square in the center of the town with trees and benches where we stopped to stretch and gain the lay of the town.

We had Mapquest directions from the French website, converted to English which worked fine with the instructions of when to turn right and left etc. on the roadway. But when we were in the town, we needed to find the street name in French, not English. Notice an example of my problem: A French real estate advertisement is translated on a website to English showing two bedrooms, salon and naked cuisine. Aha! What are you expecting in the kitchen? It simply means: no appliances!

Back to my translated directions, I was trying to do my own Google translate in my head when Jim said, “Whoa! I’ve found the street for our house!” Surprised and annoyed, I asked: “Huh, what are you talking about?” He quickly pointed to a street name posted on a building and said, “See, that one right there. The ‘Ha – Ha’ Street!” He laughed his way up the hill, proud of his funny discovery.

The ha-ha is of French origin.  A city in Canada is named Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!  It is the only city name with two exclamation points!!

The ha-ha is of French origin. A city in Canada is named Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! It is the only city name with two exclamation points!!

In my best school teacher voice, I lectured Jim about the ha-ha’s meaning saying, “A ha-ha (or ha-ha wall) is a recessed landscape design element that slopes down sharply, typically with a masonry retaining wall. This design prevents access to a garden without blocking views. The name ‘ha-ha’ comes from the unexpected funny moment of discovering the invisible recessed wall.haha I read about this garden design in one of Frances Mayes’ books, and I read more in other areas such as the BBC history page on-line.(Cartoon from the BBC site) With a quick Google search of images for the ha-ha, pictures of Homer Simpson popped up right there in the spread of garden pictures. You would have especially liked one of the pictures without old Homer.”

“Two horses stood talking to each other. One of the horses with an upset and angry face said to the other, ‘I’m not very happy with my hip replacement!’ His left, hind portion was a zebra’s leg!!! I wouldn’t want to be the veterinarian who had to visit for the post-op exam!”

I finished my educational lecture and said, “Now where are we? I’ve lost my bearings and still haven’t found their street.” Student Jim replied, “See, that’s what happens when you read and learn all of that useless information!

Ancient market in Airvault, France was very quiet on Monday.

Ancient market in Airvault, France was very quiet on Monday.

We found the terraced home on a quiet back street near the ha-ha and then continued on our merry way to explore the new region. The first town along the road was Airvault. We stopped and parked next to the market hall, which holds a market on Saturday mornings. The town has many timber-framed houses and narrow cobbled streets. The Thouet River runs past the edge of the town with a twelfth-century bridge. A story is told that an aristocratic lady fell into the river over 1000 years ago. When she was near to drowning, she prayed and made a promise to build a church if she was saved. This story is an old legend and could be fiction, but nonetheless a church was built and the town grew to have one of the largest Augustinian Abbeys in the Poitou region.

St. Loup-sur-Thouet, France

St. Loup-sur-Thouet, France

Our lunchtime stop was at St. Loup-sur-Thouet, the most picturesque village that we visited on our jaunt around the area. We found a small café where truck drivers and other local people were enjoying lunch in the sunshine, and after a light lunch we set off to see the ancient town set alongside the Thouet River.IMG_3092 My camera had a workout with the many beautiful doorways, climbing roses, sweet grannies in the shade with their crochet work and narrow lanes to photograph.IMG_3103At the far side of the village we found the magnificent Chateau de St. Loup, and it was closed!! What a disappointment! Jim and I stood at the extravagantly grand entryway wishing we could go inside for a tour of the castle and the expansive grounds. I voiced my frustration, “I just wish that I could walk through and see the gardens and orangerie. They certainly have an impressive deterrent for unwanted visitors with the moat and the sharp protective ironwork.”

Could leave a lasting impression on an intruder!

Could leave a lasting impression on an intruder!

Jim replied, “They may need to string around some barbed wire instead of putting too much stock in the moat to protect them against outlaws because I read about a fellow who diverted a river fast as you could say ‘ME’NE, ME’NE, TE’KEL AND PAR’SIN. See! I read, and I’ve got smarts!

I rolled my eyes and quickly decided that was enough of that conversation. I walked away hoping we didn’t disturb the gentleman with the skinny legs in the paisley Bermuda shorts who was lounging by the pool. Jim put his arm around me and said, “I’m really sorry that you didn’t get to see the pretty garden. Who knows? Maybe you would have spotted a ha-ha.” Yeah, I think I already did!

I told Jim that I was looking forward to talking with Jean and asking about her beautiful shoes. She wears colorful shoes with very pretty designs such as lacing around the ankles, unlike anything I would ever wear. Jean is a former French teacher with a cheerful personality. Peter is intelligent and a very nice-looking fellow with his white hair and charming British accent. He probably doesn’t watch television shows about ugly fish. I brought this to Jim’s attention, hoping he would take the hint. Deep inside I knew it wouldn’t work, and he would probably just ruin Peter’s dapper image instead.

We entered their large living room and then on to the kitchen where the small range was working at full-capacity with every burner boiling, frying or simmering delicious food. Jean took me along to the courtyard garden with its high stone walls. I would love to have a medium-sized courtyard garden with room for outdoor dining among the vegetables and flowers. I would trade my huge labor-intensive yard any day. Even now, while I am writing Jim is mowing the lawn in the heat. He deserves many hugs and kisses for his long labor on hot days in the sun. And, I would do it pronto, but he’s awfully sweaty and smells to high heaven after riding rough-shod on the lawnmower!

We took our seats around the table to enjoy perfect steaks and delicious vegetables. Surprisingly, from out of nowhere a storm rolled into view. I do mean view because a large skylight was just above the table, and large windows were just across from the table. I tried to keep up with the conversation, but the roaring wind and crashing thunder distracted my thoughts. I shouldn’t have watched those weather shows with Jim, seeing tornadoes and earthquakes. Do earthquakes happen in France? Scenes of powerful storms tragically wiping away towns played through my head. I remembered the wide-open fields and imagined the strong winds raging across to ravage the little town. I read about a storm in France where rivers flooded and roads were destroyed. People drowned. Old buildings toppled over on the inhabitants. A horrible thought popped into my head:  “Oh, no, we might have to spend the night with Peter and Jean if the storm continues! They are not ready to see me without benefit of a toothbrush, hairbrush and makeup!”

Thankfully, the storm calmed, and we enjoyed melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cake and strawberries. My worries were over with Peter and Jean’s kind hospitality. We drove the long roads in the pitch black darkness with only patches of light here and there. This time we were thankful for the straight roads with no ha-ha moments to plunge us into a ravine!

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“Baking for Dummies” – by Debbie Ambrous

OREO CUPCAKES - I took the cupcakes to the family reunion in an old Coca-Cola tray from my mom's kitchen.

OREO CUPCAKES – I took the cupcakes to the family reunion on an old Coca-Cola tray that was Mom’s.   Thanks to Judy H. for the recipe!

Recipes for pies, cakes and breads with many steps and lengthy time in the kitchen for preparation were out of the question when Jim and I had a dinner party a few years ago in Florida. I had a few tried and true favorites that I put together, but I longed to strap on one of my French aprons and have fun with baking gourmet complex pastries. Zipping along to my current kitchen operations, I have whipped up some of the recipes from gourmet magazines and the cookbooks of experts.

Are you waiting to know the results? Well, a few were rather outstanding. But very often I would find that another accomplished cook gained praise from the group with a thrown-together creation of cake mix, a bottle of 7-Up and whatever can of fruit was on the shelf. People gobbled it up like the concoction was a prize-winner! So, why should I spend hours in the kitchen and $$$ for the ingredients when a no-brainer plan is a successful win-win? Oh, I still go the long way around only when I want my own fun of the process, but I’m rapidly gathering those “Baking for Dummies” recipes.

Anaïs greeted us with a smile each day, always helpful with our selections. I took the picture on our last day when she had no make-up or her usual jewelry and pretty hairstyle.  As you can see, she is lovely anyway.

Anaïs greeted us with a smile each day on our last visit to France in May, always helpful with our selections. I took the picture on our last day when she had no make-up or her usual jewelry and pretty hairstyle. As you can see, she is lovely anyway!  With wonderful bakeries (boulangeries) like L’Epi Gourmand in I’lle Bouchard, a cook never has to worry about dessert or bread!  (The link to L’Epi Gourmand is a French newspaper article.)

When I saw a recipe for Oreo Cupcakes on my former classmate Judy H’s Facebook page, I knew I would be using it for our family reunion. Now listen and read carefully.

Oreo Cupcakes
Take two Oreo cookies and slather peanut butter between them, and on top. NO! Don’t eat them! Put the cookie/peanut butter combinations in cupcake liners in a cupcake pan. I used a pan for twelve cupcakes. Then whip together the ingredients from a brownie packaged mix. Spoon the brownie mix over the Oreo cookies. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. That’s all there is to it. Thanks again to Judy H!

The Oreo Brownies aren’t quite as beautiful or tasty as the French pastries shown below, but they are not half-bad.  The taste is quite like a brownie with a huge hint of Reese’s pieces.

Which ones would you select?  I like the ones with strawberries or raspberries on top.

Which ones would you select? I like the pastries with strawberries or raspberries on top. (Photo taken in Chinon, France)

You will not find this one in the Dummies cookbook!

You will likely not find recipes for these beauties in the Dummies cookbook! (Photo taken in Chinon.)

Why didn’t I wear my French apron much sooner? I will explain. Perhaps you have felt my pain and know the scene without the need of Mapquest or my personal travelogue to take you there. Maybe you have been “beaten down” and robbed of some of life’s simple pleasure at times. Then, you will understand.

You will not find posters proclaiming love of eight-lane traffic with snarls, delays, accidents causing tension, anger and tiredness. I despised my daily commute of twenty miles each way to work and back, usually at early morning and at nightfall. French music helped lighten my mood during the slow crawl of tightly packed lines of traffic when vehicles crashed and big trucks towed the smashed wreckage so we could rev into top speed again. With each turn of the ignition to start another day there was the potential of being the one in a pileup with a damaged car, higher insurance rates or being a fatality. Honestly, I didn’t dwell on this eventuality very much. Otherwise, I would have been unable to turn the ignition each day to face the highway nightmare of drivers and their aggressive, crazed driving.

In my red Jeep, I would yell loudly, or mutter softly, since no one except God would hear me when I said: “This is no way to live!” I felt that precious hours were slipping away from me, and the traffic stress left me so tired I couldn’t function with a good quality of life. Work had my best hours, and the remainder was just that – only a remainder. I tried at times to make the best of the driving by listening to CD’s to stir my brain and spirit, but I often found this distracted my attention to the bumper-car-game around me. I begged and pleaded for an end to my agony with dreams of an escape to France with gardens to tend and baking in the kitchen. You know what they say. Be careful what you wish for!

My fast-track ticket to a slower life came in a different form, and a different location. My mother was suddenly suffering from dementia with many other problems. I moved into a slower lane in Alabama, not France. I’m thankful that I was able to be with my mom for almost a year before she died. (If you didn’t read about my lovely mom previously, perhaps you would like to CLICK here read an older post.) She hated for me to be on the road, even what I consider peaceful roads, despite my insistence that, “I’m OK, Mom!” She read through me then, like she always had.

That's Jim with our daily baguette.  We miss the wonderful bread and pastries.  We can eat Oreo Cupcakes for dessert, but there is no bread to compare to a good French baguette!

That’s Jim with our daily baguette in France. We miss the wonderful bread and pastries. We can eat Oreo Cupcakes for dessert now, but there is no bread to compare to a good French baguette!                        The boulangerie was redecorated in bright raspberry and lime green by two young women.  Marie-Cecile Deniau holds a technical trade certificate  (BTM) in pastry, and she bakes the wonderful bread, special cakes and pastries.  While the lovely Anais Guesnand greets guests with her pretty smile and kindness.  All of the delicious goods are homemade!

Mom and I had our wishes fulfilled concerning the nasty highways. My commute now is a smooth walk down the hallway from my bedroom to the office with no interference unless Jim cuts across on his way to the bathroom. As a consultant, I’m no longer at the keyboard as much, and I’m learning to live a life without my hands gripping a steering wheel each day.IMG_1748

I smell the roses lining the front walkway daily, lingering as long as I desire. I sit at my bistro table with a cup of tea in my hands, enjoying the shade, listening to the trickle of water in my fountain and rarely hearing a police car siren. I plot and plan my next trip to France, still listening to my French music. Or, a cookbook could be in hand with new recipes to try under the category of “Baking for Dummies”.

Could you share a slice of A French Opportunity with friends who may enjoy some dummy-proof baking?  I’m not guaranteeing dummy-proof reading since Jim stumbles on to the page occasionally.  Just kidding.  Jim is the chef extraordinaire in our kitchen.  Read the book “A French Opportunity” for more recipes including a chocolate chip recipe from my mom and a meringue cookie square recipe from Jim’s mother.  Thank you for visiting for more tastes of France with Alabama as the side-dish.