“Choo-Choo” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_4858Prominent among the important gems of instruction to Jim, with a bullet-point alongside, was this statement: “If ever I’m lingering at death’s door and you want me to live a little longer, put a camera in my hands. That will jolt me to life better than any heart defibrillator.” I came to this conclusion when I regained my energy with camera in hand after a dermatology surgery (removal of pre-cancer cells) on my shoulder in Birmingham, Alabama. Shortly after the procedure, I ate cheese crackers chased by grape juice, not the grown-up drink of fermented grape juice. For the long drive home, sleep in the front passenger side of the Jeep was a good possibility.IMG_4846-1But somewhere near the thirty- mile mark, I saw a sign for the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum and asked Jim to take the exit so we could see the old railroad cars.IMG_4852 Surprised at the surge of stamina, I was excited to see the beautiful faded colors of the old engines, cabooses and passenger cars. IMG_4864-1The museum was closed when we were there, and the rides on the trains are not scheduled until warmer weather. I have an appointment again in Birmingham in April, so that should be a winner combination to ride the rail and see the white dogwood flowers and fresh green leaves. IMG_4877IMG_4894Yes, that camera nourished my body and brought me back to life with plans for the future and bright colors to fill my dreams as I slept for the remainder of the journey home.

Our little town of Opp, Alabama has an interesting history based on the railroads. The following is an excerpt from the town’s website:

The City of Opp is named after Henry Opp, a lawyer of German descent who worked for the L & N Railroad. Opp lived and practiced law in Andalusia, Alabama in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and also served as Mayor of Andalusia from 1899 to 1906. In 1901, the Central of Georgia Railroad tried to prevent the L & N Railroad from surveying a right-of-way into Covington County; however, Mr. Opp successfully defended the L & N’s case in court, thereby enabling the railroad to complete the survey and ultimately establish the railroad line which now passes through the City of Opp.

The railroad forked, with one arm traveling south and the other continuing east. Because this provided a good “turning around” place for trains, and because it was already inhabited to a small degree, a little town was laid out on the site with the encouragement of the railroad. In appreciation to Mr. Henry Opp for being directly responsible for the railroad’s existence through the area, the L & N encouraged the people to name the town after Mr. Opp.”

Continuing with the railroad theme, Jim and I watched a Masterpiece Classic movie titled “The Railroad Children” from Netflix on Friday night. IMG_4860-1The children’s father was accused and jailed although he was innocent of the crime. A railroad tycoon came to his rescue and he was released. The moderator stated after the film that the railroad barons were often ruthless and used exploitative practices to accumulate their wealth. He said the film was more fantasy than reality. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the story and wish there were more people as kind-hearted as the rich gentleman who helped the sweet children have their daddy returned to them.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the trains and have your own imagination and energy fueled for a future visit or further exploration of the history of trains. IMG_4891We have traveled on trains in France, Japan, Majorca, England and Canada. I hope there are more rail adventures in the future, especially if they could include our grandson Daniel who loves trains! I almost forgot to mention our train rides at Disney. Daniel’s train adventures began at Disneyland. Who knows where he will ride on the rails in the future? I would enjoy hearing about your train rides, or any history of the railroads that you could contribute. Comments from readers add to the story and join us together as a community. Thank you for adding your comments!

Since I have not shared much of France for you in this story, I have added more pictures of France on the (CLICK) France Pictures and Storytelling page. I hope you enjoy the France page.

Ya’ll come back for more adventures whether they are on a train, or just walking in the backyard! Take care, you are tremendously special people! Thank you.

“Surprise Parade” – by Debbie Ambrous

French horn in a French parade - Chinon, France

French horn in a French parade – Chinon, France

Coffee, croissants and a crunchy baguette with butter are only a memory of beautiful France now that we are settled into our Alabama routine.

Jim entered the room that I claim as my office this afternoon to tell me: “I’m going over to help Jeremy (his buddy) with a project he’s working on. Aha! I see that you have written some words on the blank page. Now, all you have to do is finish it.” Easy for him to say! I had stared out the window, walked to another window to watch the birds and still no words except the first sentence above were on the blank page. Thoughts were fluttering like the bluebirds at my fountain and drifting like the brown, dried leaves on the lawn with no order, or inspiration. The buttery croissants and hot coffee would be warmth for the soul and my cold fingers, but they are not on my desk on this cold day with sunshine licking the chocolate-brown bark on the tall trunks of the pine trees.

Jim is out of the house now. “Come on fingers, do your thing.” It is time to touch the keys quickly now that I have a purpose and a story to tell about beautiful Chinon, France on the Vienne River with its historic buildings and the Chateau Chinon crowning the city, high above the action of a bustling market.IMG_3123May 7, 2014: We had our fill of coffee and croissants and left our cozy rental house on a beautiful day in May to shop at the open-air market. Sweet strawberries, crunchy carrots, bright red tomatoes and a few potatoes went into our shopping bag. Our needs were purchased and the list was checked, but that did not stop us from sniffing the spices and scented soaps, or looking at all of the other vegetables and live poultry. IMG_2360Market day had attracted a large crowd on this sunny day in Chinon. IMG_2367I noticed people were gathering along the street and policemen were directing traffic away from the main thoroughfare. What was happening? We looked for a place to stand for a better view. A group of Red Cross (Croix-Rouge) members in their bright orange uniforms were waiting under the tall sycamore trees, laughing and talking. One young man in the crowd caught my eye immediately. He was very cute with dark hair and brown eyes, easily young enough to be my grandson; but as they say, he was easy on the eyes. (It is easier to write this since Jim is out of the house and won’t make any silly jokes about me eyeing the sexy-looking, young Frenchman.) I aimed my camera to capture a picture of him for the young ladies in my reading audience, looking after their interest, nothing personal you know. I wished they would assemble in a straight line for a photo, but that didn’t happen. We realized a parade was forming since the band members were gathering.

What a nice surprise! I check the tourism offices and on-line for fairs, concerts and other special events when we travel. Some of the smallest villages have unusual fairs that are such great fun. People-watching alone is worth the trip. We were once driving to another village and suddenly the road was blocked with carnival rides for children with no way around to continue our journey. We parked, enjoyed the laughter of the children and had to turn around to drive several miles out of the way to get to our destination. Can you imagine blocking the main road into town for a carnival in your hometown?

We walked further into town past the boulangeries and a lovely square filled with flowers for sale. I bought a colorful pot of flowers as a gift for the hostess of a luncheon marked on our calendar for the following week. (CLICK to read “Rabbit Stew” if you missed it.) IMG_3350After window shopping our way to the main square, we saw the parade coming around the corner for the grand finale with trumpets blaring. When the Red Cross members wound their way along the line into position in front of me, I noticed the cute young man was grinning and the lady beside him was laughing at their inside joke. I could imagine the conversation between them as she told him: “Look, that old lady with the camera has a thing for you! She fancies your cute form for sure.

Focus is on another handsome Frenchman.  Undoubtedly, the lady and young man following are enjoying a joke on me.

Focus is on another handsome Frenchman. Undoubtedly, the lady and young man following are enjoying a joke on me.

I would have approached the group earlier except the assembled crowd along the street was rather quiet, and there wasn’t enough time for communication. I need to carry some business cards printed in French as an introduction. Next time…

Family members who seemed to span four generations marched past as honored members of the parade. IMG_2377-1 Important functions may occur in the center of the city, but notice that text messages must be checked. Life is the same everywhere now with our social media. I selected the photo of the ensemble for the topic of “Street Photography” in a photography challenge. (CLICK here if you are interested in joining the challenge, look under the “About” tab for the details. I know that many in the reading audience are excellent photographers, so you may enjoy joining the group.) I had a difficult time deciding which photo to submit. I asked for Jim’s opinion and we decided on the family in the parade. The pride of the young daughter and the humor of the gentleman checking his text messages caught our attention. We may have erred in our judgment and selected the photo based on our emotions from the happy experience in France. (I used an older photo since I was still recovering from eye surgery. I will submit new photos for future submissions according to the guidelines.)

We had a fun day in Chinon with the bonus parade, a shopping bag filled with goodies and a camera loaded with memories. The parade was over.

I closed out my computer. Jim opened the kitchen door and called out, “Honey, I’m home! How’s the story coming? Do you have another sentence on the page?” I deflated his funny jab: “With you out of my hair, I finished the story in no time flat. In fact, I wrote a draft of a first chapter for a romance novel.” He didn’t believe me, but I continued: “Yep, the story begins with a beautiful woman on a travel photography assignment in France who falls in love with a rich, handsome Croix-Rouge humanitarian.” Jim’s jaw dropped for a minute, but he recovered and said: “I already know the second chapter storyline. Aged wannabe photographer slips and falls in horse manure. Poor, but intelligent, Alabama redneck rescues mature maiden in the muck.”

You see what I have to put up with?!!

Ya’ll come back! Thank you for visiting and a special thank you to those who wrote such kind comments on last week’s blog about my surgery. I received phone calls, cards, e-mails and Facebook entries of encouragement. I was touched by your generous compassion! I’m much, much better!

Shown below are some of the photos that I considered for the Photo Challenge. Which one do you prefer?

I always enjoy seeing your comments!




CLICK the photo for a larger image:

“Debbie’s Malady” – by Debbie Ambrous

Soft focus photos of France are shown to represent my predicament of hazy eyesight.  I hope you enjoy and understand.

Soft focus photos of France are shown to represent my predicament of hazy eyesight. I hope you enjoy and understand.

Bertha’s rheumatism is acting up again. Mae’s very pitiful with her painful pleurisy. Clarence has lumbago and can’t hoe the garden today.” Mama’s elderly friends and relatives sat around with Granny to talk ailments and remedies while I listened in the corner in total boredom. I had no idea what lumbago, pleurisy and rheumatism were, but I thought the ladies had odd bulges and bumps under their pastel lace-trimmed blouses as evidence of strange ailments. Why couldn’t they talk with me about the cute boy at school who smiled at me, or my new flowery flock with the tiny bows at the neckline? A juicy bit of gossip to whisper to my friends would have been greater fun than creepy illnesses.IMG_2379It’s my turn now to talk the details of my malady similar to the old ladies in my past, except I’ve widened the circle to include the world of the web. Why spill your woes to a handful of people when you can complain to a larger audience? Webster defines malady as a disease, disorder or sickness. Malady is misused and slightly abused in my story since I’m leading you off to an operating room for a spot of surgery and recovery. I simply liked the sound of malady in comparison to surgery, not as brutal or blunt, slightly more lady-like.IMG_2518Very early in the morning of December 19th, Jim drove the red Jeep to the eye surgery center in Dothan, Alabama, where I voluntarily admitted myself for surgery on my eyelids. Now, I know you’re thinking that I’m going all Kardashian here, but wipe that expensive and frivolous notion away with an airbrush. I declined the Cosmetic Surgery Menu and settled on the insurance-paid procedure, hoping to rid myself of feeling like a groundhog seeing its shadow. With all of this settled, Jim and I approached the modern brick building with a mansard roof-line reminiscent of Paris. Inside, the beautiful, rather luxurious lounge had high ceilings, and the rooms were filled with antique-reproduction furniture and paintings. A polite, attractive lady greeted us and gave Jim a pager to alert us when they were ready to take me away. Jim accidentally kept the pager. Hint: You might be a redneck if you think you can page the doctor from home!IMG_2390Soon enough, I was nervously walking down the corridor in the spa-like atmosphere, but no Jacuzzi, manicure or massage waited for me. Pretty young nurses in brightly colored pants and shirts rushed around in their neon-hued Sketchers with long hair tucked into blue bonnets. Long gone are the crisply starched, white uniforms and caps from my mother-in-law’s hospital days. Next on the agenda, I found myself reclining on the table in the operating theater with constant reminders to keep my eyes closed. The nurses took my hearing aids away, and with this disadvantage I repeated what I thought I had heard: “Did you say raise my hand?” A quick reply came: “No, raise your chin!” I thought the man’s voice sounded like Jeff Foxworthy, but I kept this opinion to myself, thinking this wasn’t the time to say my good doctor sounded like a fella who fell off a turnip truck. Nope, I didn’t want to wake up looking like I had been beaten with the ugly stick. Hold that thought!IMG_4008Sitting on the edge of the bed in recovery with Jim at my side, the nurse was explaining post-op procedures and saying I would have the white circles around my eyes for several days. A couple of days along, the skin on my face felt like it had been worked over with a belt sander, or a sandblaster. Before the procedure, when the doctor offered to answer any questions, I foolishly only asked when I could go back to work. I didn’t know to ask about the raccoon eyes with big white circles, or the reptile-like shedding of skin from my face. I believe they read my thoughts on the operating table, or I talked in my sleep, because I got a whopper of a dose of the ugly stick!

I slumped down in the front seat of the Jeep with my sunglasses holding cold patches in place on my eyes on the return from the eye center. With only one stop at Krispy Kreme as a reward for my good behavior, Jim drove for an hour to our home and refuge. Then the saga of the malady ensued! I eased myself on to the sofa with my head propped up with pillows and asked Jim to bring a package of frozen peas for my eyes since that was suggested in the post-op info.

Jim told me: “I think you should lie flat and get rid of those pillows.” I didn’t like his idea, but by now I had heard enough orders that I just numbly did what he said. I heard a rustle of paper, and then footsteps rapidly pounded the floor, followed by Jim’s voice saying: “Never mind! The instructions say to keep your head elevated even when you sleep. And, I got the frozen peas for your eyes.” Through the narrow slits of my eyes, I saw a quart-size frozen block of peas coming toward my face.

I gathered strength hidden away and powered by Krispy Kreme to explain in clear terms: “The chunk of frozen peas, big as a brick, won’t work! What do you expect me to do, balance it on my nose like a trained seal? And, these are good peas! We can’t waste our good peas.
Good peas?! What are you talking about?
Good garden-grown peas to eat with warm cornbread and fresh tomatoes! Bring a small package of plain store-bought peas.

After the third try, I was settled into a pattern. Tiny, commercially-grown, frozen peas settled into place on my pitiful eyes, like saucepans with a gauze-lining so they wouldn’t stick while defrosting and simmering. Overheating with a hot flash I had re-fried beans!IMG_2588Sticky business was on the after-surgery orders. Jim applied stuff to my eyelids about three times daily. The ointment dribbled into my eyes, inhibiting my vision. Everything was blurry, like living in a Monet world. But as a word of warning, if you follow in my footsteps, don’t look into a magnifying mirror like I did accidentally the day after surgery! A shocking Picasso image appeared in the mirror! Yes, the ugly stick did a walloping on me. I overheard Jim on the phone saying that I looked like Exhibit A for an assault and battery case. It wasn’t bad enough to convert to a frozen pea-lovin’ vegetarian, I had to endure threats of my Picasso bluish-purple image being posted on Facebook by my ever-lovin’ husband.

View from my Alabama Recovery Bedroom

View from my Alabama Recovery Bedroom

Within a few hours of our arrival home I had a call from a different doctor, the dermatologist I had visited a week earlier. I included a reminder about skin cancer in my last blog before I started the saga of the current malady. She had good news and bad. The good news was the two biopsies she performed were benign. However, I must return for a bit more surgery on the shoulder area, the bad news. Not fun, but when it is done, I’m all clear. Concentrate on shopping in Birmingham instead of the ordeal. Back to the frozen peas and attentive Jim, he truly should have followed his mother into the medical field. I’m so squeamish, but nothing seems to bother him. Jim’s mother was known for her very authoritative manner in the hospital, and everywhere else for that matter. On the other hand, she was a very compassionate, caring nurse, fulfilling the highest standards. I won’t draw any unfavorable comparisons to Jim since I still need nursing duties now and the future from him.

Nurse Jim took care of the skin areas, frozen eye duty and application of ointment. I would call him Dr. Jim, but it’s more fun to jerk his chain a little with the description of nurse. One afternoon he brought more band-aids than what was needed for the daily change on the biopsies. I spouted a question, “Why do you have the extra band-aid?” Quickly, before he replied and beat me to it, I said, “For my mouth?” I tried to tell him that I could at least take care of my knee if not the back side of my shoulder. His smarty words were, “Yeah, with your eyesight you might get the Preparation H instead of the Bacitracin.”

We muddled through it all just fine, in fairly good humor. There was one day when we had a completely strange conversation with Jim talking about the eye pad which I confused with I-pad; apparently my brain was in a fuzzy Monet world with my hazy vision.
If you have endured this far into my poor-pitiful-me-wallow-fest, I do thank you for your kindness. Presently, I am seeing better, and surely I will survive for another day, and another malady.

I would like to extend a special thank you to the caring, compassionate staff at Eye Center South, Dothan, Alabama. Thanks to Dr. Richard Bryant, Dr. Urisona, Kenya, Kayla, Brooke, Belinda, Patrick, Tara, Cindy, Anne and Lauren for your expertise and kindness!
The professional staff did a wonderful job, but I reserve the best commendation for Nurse Jim!IMG_1228

I apologize for not replying to some of your nice comments last week, but I’m sure you know why I couldn’t now. Have you experienced this procedure? Or, did you play the role of caring for the wounded like Nurse Jim? I would truly enjoy seeing your comments below.
Thank you! Ya’ll come back now! Could you recommend the website on Facebook or to a friend or relative who may enjoy this Southern lady’s take on France mixed with Alabama? More travel next time instead of misery around the house.