About Debbie Ambrous

Debbie is from Opp, Alabama, a unique town that was the setting for her childhood dreams of traveling. Aboard the front porch swing, she imagined she was traveling on a train to the Wild West and thought she was ready to rides horses on the wide-open prairie. Her first travel adventures were underway on "The Opp Express Train". Later a young man, Jim, asked her to marry him as they swayed on the front porch swing, and he took her away on a 1957 Chevy, not the romantic train. Debbie's home has been Florida most of her life along with Jim, who she claims is "directionally" challenged but still finds the important things in life plus most of the places on the map, given enough time. They have three children and a beautiful granddaughter. Debbie began her studies at Enterprise Junior College to become a schoolteacher. She received honors and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Detours sent her in another direction. For several years she has worked for a major Construction/Development company in various capacities. Debbie thoroughly enjoys travel with France at the top of her destination list. Photography and gardening are special interests along with baking especially when blackberries, peaches and blueberries are in season. She says: "Writing has always been either a joy or a pain, depending upon which day you ask about it. I knew I wanted to write from the moment my high school English teacher praised me and posted on the bulletin board an essay I had written on the subject of "Simplicity". I'm fond of travel storytelling, sprinkled with humor, a few tears and lined with my southern speaking habit that is stuck in my brain with super glue mixed with Brer Rabbit Molasses.”

“The Big Reveal” – by Debbie Ambrous

May 21, 2018 to May 22,2018of the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

Are you ready? The big door with glass panels was open with sunlight brightly dancing on the pristine white tile floor, a brilliant promise of a lovely beginning in the rental house I had chosen.  Would it live up to the reviews? Other renters said it was: “Very stylish and cozy; well equipped kitchen; beautiful house; very well decorated; like a hotel suite”.  True to another reviewer’s comment, we were greeted warmly by the owner, Phillipe, who opened the downstairs of his home Au Faubourg Saint Honoré which has been in his family for several generations.

First inside the door was the all-important French kitchen, decorated in crisp clean white with black accents with modern appliances and a large porcelain white sink.  From the farmhouse style sink I could see the massive tree with its branches shading the garden with pathways edging the flowerbeds.  A big sink with a gorgeous view is an important part of the house to me.

Multi-color feathers printed on the wallpaper kept the room colorful and playful.  A bouquet of white and pink peonies on an antique buffet was heart-warming since peonies are my favorite flower, next to roses.  My eyes must have been as large as the blossoms as they darted from one part of the room to another, taking in the whimsical touches and the practical.

My gushing, excited comments would have been suitable for any television program, and Phillipe seemed very happy with the praise as I admired the massive antique armoire, an elegant black marble fireplace and the comfortable large bed in the master bedroom.  He didn’t know that I had lots of expertise for the big reveal after hours of watching the popular television show Fixer Upper.  Woo-hoo and tears of excitement would have been the televised version, but I kept myself under control, almost.

The popular sliding barn-door found in many remodeled and new houses was installed to separate the bath area from the bedroom. A nice, long shelf with space for my make-up and jewelry was positioned with a comfy seat plus a magnifying mirror.  Lighting automatically turned on when we entered the bathroom area and switched off when we left, a huge help at night so I did not need to fumble for the switch. 

A huge shower with glass door enclosure, more storage and a full-length mirror were in a light and airy room with another tall window.  The toilet was in a separate room with another lavatory and storage, which is very practical when the beloved husband is showering and the pretty wife needs urgently to go!  Take my word, I’ve been there!

The second bedroom had two beds with turquoise and gold decoration, perfect for children with a desk, beanbag and books.  Since we didn’t have children along for our trip, we used the room to store our luggage and my purchases from vide-grenier sales. Crossing the hallway with its beautifully patterned, original tiles, we entered the salon which is almost as large as some individual apartments!  Another decorative black marble fireplace is a stunning feature in the room with a plush, sapphire blue sofa which converts to bedding for more guests.  Now you are wondering why we did not ask you to join us.  Maybe next time, if you’re good!  The decoration is a mix of modern with antiques including hot pink accents and Asian art, guaranteeing no boredom. Au Faubourg Saint Honoré’s crowning glory is the magnificent garden. I am not exaggerating.  Phillipe should win awards for his achievement.

Along the pathways I found new discoveries, something new blooming each day with raspberries, strawberries and other fruit ripening on plants and trees.  A huge vegetable garden, like something lifted from my dreams, was there for me to enrich and enliven my senses each day with the fragrance of new, green vegetables in rich soil.  My big reveal reached its pinnacle point – you know that time in the show when the program switches to a commercial!  The moment before the commercial happened at the far edge of the garden, by the swing set, when I imagined my whole family in this setting, including my mamma and daddy.  Both of my parents, several years ago deceased, were raised on farms and they never lost that attachment.  Although, daddy said he would happily never see the backside of a mule again after plowing fields in his younger days.  I chuckled at the thought of those words.

Dinner was probably ready, so it was time to leave my Secret Garden, my favorite part of the big reveal of the day.  A cool, comfortable breeze swept into the windows when Jim and I gave thanks for our home and garden stay in Arnay-le-Duc.  If you are planning a stay, then be sure to CLICK over to Air B&B’s listing of Au Faubourg Saint Honoré .  The photos on the Air B&B site are professional, so you can see for yourself the comfortable, beautiful home in an atmospheric town.

One of the most majestic points nearby is the medieval village of Chateauneuf en Auxois situated on high on a hilltop overlooking the plains and the Burgundy canal.  This is one of France’s most beautiful villages with a fairytale turreted castle, like the ones in my childhood storybooks and like I imagined when I heard stories read by my teachers in elementary school.  But this chateau, dating from the twelfth century, is real with extensive renovation including a visitor’s information center with workshops for children and summer events.  The castle’s history includes tragedy, poisoning and many twists and turns.  No history book recitation for today, instead we will just have fun and see the beautiful village.

We were late leaving the house for our chateau adventure and the countryside was so enticing with wildflowers by the road and low-hanging clouds creating a dreamy invitation to stop and soak it up. Contented cows, suitable for a French milk carton, were resting by the fence line with nary a thought of tourists hopping from cars to point cameras in their direction. Jim did a U-turn on the narrow road so I could grab a cow photo, like I would never see another cow, not taking into account that thousands of the white four-legged creatures were lazily munching their way over hill and dale on any given day.  Jim positioned the Volvo alongside the peaceful scene and I approached quietly, but those cows turned on me with evil stares, not contented, but contrary and cantankerous.

They wouldn’t arrange themselves neat and orderly with relaxed expressions according to my directions.  Instead, the lumpy cattle splattered with muck, needing a walk-thru cow-wash, huddled and tried to hide behind the fence posts.  I thought about giving them a lesson about the ostrich hiding its head in the ground, but they didn’t seem interested.  Maybe it was the language difference?!

What was I doing, hanging out with obstinate cows when a humongous chateau was waiting for me high on a hill?  We had our first glimpse of it and had to stop and take the first photo of many to come.  Smelling the cow manure and feeling the lure of pastoral scenes had delayed our short drive to the chateau.  In other words, we were traveling like usual with diversions when we feel like it.  Our form of stops wouldn’t be listed in a travel guide, but they are memorable and fun to us.  Not traveling true to a timetable, we missed the morning visitation of the chateau.  No worries.  Lunch at the Auberge du Marronier and watching a school group noisily and colorfully going uphill was our consolation.  Walking off the calories after a delicious lunch in the cool air, high on the hill, we found logs sculpted into pigs and deer for seating around a table.  No, I’m not kidding.  We saw a vivid, yellow Bic car.  A spy cat followed Jim at a discreet distance, tracking his every move.

Roses in many colors caught my attention at windows and stone walls, creating a big reveal of what I would see in gardens in the coming days.  It is easy to imagine what a prosperous village this once was when you see the houses with pediments and stair turrets. The sun was bearing down when the chateau opened for us, with ancient doors beckoning our tired feet to the cool interior.  Views from the massive windows and doors to the green valley and winding waterway were magnificent, fit for royalty but served to peasants for an entrance fee.  Only a hint of lavish furnishings graces the massive rooms.  One lowly reminder of the primitive life for royalty of the medieval time remains – an indoor privy.

Outside in the hot sun, I hugged the shady edges until I remembered that I was carrying an umbrella and I popped it open for instant semi-shade.  Walking in the vast courtyard under my pink umbrella like a Victorian lady, except for my skinny, blue, denim jeans, I locked eyes with a lovely Japanese lady who smiled in approval of my umbrella.  Do you know who invented the umbrella?  Over 4,000 years ago, umbrellas were invented according to evidence found in Egypt, Greece, Assyria and China.  The Chinese first did a water-proof version.  Umbrellas are also called sunshades, parasol, brolly, parapluie (French), and bumbershoot.

With all of that information under my hat, I strolled with my pink parasol to my next Big Reveal!

Normally the next blog story would appear on August 12th, but Jim and I will be on a short trip on the Alabama and Georgia roads.  Look for me again on AUGUST 19th!    Y’all come back to see the gardens of Chateau Commarin, more of the Burgundy Canal and as usual we will dilly and dally long the way.  I promised and delivered for this week: a chateau, unruly cows and a spy cat!  Thanks for coming around to visit.

Have you ever checked out the France-storytelling and pictures page of this website?  This page has been updated to match the current story, featuring some the “left-over” photos which I was unable to include. CLICK to see France-storytelling and pictures page if you would like …

You can read more about France, including more about Burgundy.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.  Please feel free to share this website with others. See upper-right corner of the page to enter your e-mail for notification when each blog story is posted if you do not currently receive a message.

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“The Fog is Lifting” – by Debbie Ambrous

May 21, 2018 (Monday – National Holiday) of the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

Fog billowed and swept densely across the horizon, covering like a plush, down comforter, layering a dreamy landscape over the ordinary roads and buildings.  Framed by the huge glass window in the new Ibis hotel in Sens, France, a scene of hazy, ethereal beauty greeted me while I waited for Jim to shower.  Instead of peaceful meditation and incredible photo opportunities, I thought about crashes on the highway with poor visibility.  I hoped the blinding fog would lift after breakfast.

Now, there’s a good thought – breakfast!  Our first real breakfast in France for this trip!  Warm, flaky croissants and crunchy baguettes with Normandy butter.  Hot coffee!  The fog was lifting.  The view was clear and fine.  Jetlag had disappeared, replaced by smiles and optimism.  What a gorgeous day!  The first day of vacation is always the best when all of the excitement is ahead, a ribbon-wrapped package waiting to be opened.  It’s all out there just waiting to be found and explored: narrow cobblestoned lanes with climbing roses and honeysuckle fragrance at the blue-shuttered windows; tawny-colored cats at the kitchen doorway; children walking to school; an elderly gentleman wearing a beret and buttoned cardigan with a baguette in his hand and laundry fluttering in the breeze under the warm sun.  Yes, it was all there waiting for me, now that the fog had lifted.  Perhaps your first day is different, but for me and that husband of mine, we had some fine adventures ahead, starting with a vide-grenier.

Vide-grenier basically means empty out the attic, and you can expect everything that implies with goods spread everywhere from professionally arranged stalls to odds and ends scattered on blankets on the ground, or a car hood.  People come from all of the homes in town and from miles around, so it is smart to be there early enough to find a parking place.  We were not early enough to easily find a parking place, but we were not discouraged.  Our optimism on the first day of vacation was burning brightly.  The prize parking lot areas were full, but Jim skillfully drove around to the other side of town near the river and found what we considered a gem of parking place since it was peaceful and in the shade.  Jim is not a novice at the wheel!We walked along the riverbank of the Yonne, enjoying the brilliant reflections of the buildings under the blue skies.  Pleasure boats and barges were tied-up along the calm waters, some with bicycles secured on top, ready to ride the pathways by the river, or into town.  We would see many scenes like this in the days to come.  Cruising rivers is probably not my way of life, but climbing aboard for a week or more occasionally with someone capable at the helm would be enjoyable. If this interests you at all, you should read: “Just Imagine: A New Life on an Old Boat” by Michelle Caffrey. CLICK on the book’s name to connect to my page of books and items for sale where I can make a few pennies, or if you prefer just look for it (in paperback or Kindle) on the Amazon page.  Michelle and her husband, both Americans, quit their jobs when they were in their fifties, sold everything and bought a 1906 Dutch barge and started a B&B of a different kind – Barge and Breakfast!  She tells her tales with a wonderful sense of humor, reminding me at times of the way Jim and I travel, but I must admit that she is much braver than I am.  I believe you will love the book.  See, I direct you to books other than mine!Jim coaxed me away from the water, saying I couldn’t have a cute houseboat and if I wanted any of Granny’s attic treasures I needed to get a move on because we needed to hit the roads soon.  He knew the right words to get my legs in motion.  Yet, it would be fun to be Michelle Caffrey for a week on a leisurely river, stopping at the cutest villages and riding bikes under the towering shade trees that line many stretches of the Burgundy canals.  I would want my friends and family along with me!

The fun around the bend was seemingly endless displays of old stuff and new to be examined and possibly an irresistible treasure to be purchased. 

People-watching is almost as much fun, unless I am seriously searching and then I have eyes only on the tables and ground.  I wasn’t quite ready for my serious shopping since the car was full of luggage and I just didn’t feel settled yet.  But what’s the harm in looking?

Something could grab my attention, and it did.  A small framed print of a child with a toy would be perfect on the wall of my guest bedroom, next to the framed, embroidered linen piece from Germany with a young lady on a boat. 

 

 

 

 

My embroidered maiden on a rowboat was on a table at a flea market in a field in 1989 before she graced the wall in my French Alabama cottage.

Michelle Caffrey mentioned in her book that the comedian George Carlin once said, “Home is where the stuff is.”  For sure, that is the truth.  I kept my new purchases of stuff to a minimum, saving room in the suitcase for future days.   The Sens vide-grenier was a super-size sale though because we discovered that almost all of the tree-lined streets had tables wedged together with a super-abundance of goods.  Parisians may travel here for a bargain or two.  My adorable vintage framed print of the child from another era was four euros.We maneuvered our shopping to a manageable circle and walked the street with the ancient buildings to the square.  This particular Monday was a national holiday – Whit Monday – Lundi de Pentecôte.  People were off from work, businesses were closed with all of France on vacation with us.  Compared to the day before when we walked the square, there was a department store of people unloaded under the tents with shoppers enjoying their day off.

I grabbed a few photos from the entry of the quiet cathedral.  Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse under the incredibly high arches.  Perhaps they were visiting the famous mouse at Disneyland Paris (an hour away), or the golden arches of McDonalds down the road.

Can you guess what is inside the nineteenth-century beautiful brick building, just a short walk from the cathedral?  I promised last week that I would present a masterpiece of produce better than any Whole Foods.

Well, this is it!!  You will hardly believe your eyes, considering the fortunate people have this covered market as a regular shopping area!  We wanted to fill our bags, but unloading our luggage and settling into the rental house would be quite enough without wilting lettuce and smelly cheese.  I couldn’t resist a basket of strawberries though.  We walked along a narrow lane past windows with wooden shutters, decorated with hearts, carved by an artisan, a sweet farewell to Sens after the fog lifted.

Jim joined the French drivers on holiday driving in the mad frenzy of the superhighway.  We stuck to the roads with our destination in mind except for a short stop at one of the exits to fuel and food.  This area was clean compared to yesterday’s stop, but the main attraction for me was a field of wind turbines spread across the horizon.  We counted twelve, and there were probably more.   Jim went to buy sandwiches, and I rushed anxiously with my camera to capture photos of the wind turbines, like a modern-day Ms. Don Quixote rushing to tilt a few turbines on her camera.  If Quixote thought his windmills were huge, he should see these monsters!!   A high fence was ruining my aim, but fearless and undaunted I spied a sturdy picnic table and climbed on top of it with my Canon aimed on high!  I came down from my high, so to speak, with a grin from ear to ear.  A fellow was watching me from his position leaning on his car, and he gave me a thumbs-up and laughed at my victory dance.I don’t believe that I took any other photos of the wind turbines, but believe me we saw dozens and dozens of them in action and being built during our trip!  A Reuters article, dated January 18, 2018 stated: “The French government on Thursday announced a ten-point plan which will simplify administrative procedures and accelerate the development of wind power projects in order to double its installed generation capacity by 2023.  The government said the proposed reforms will cut in half the average time it takes for wind power projects to be completed and connected to the French electricity grid.

The hi-light of the day was reaching our beautiful rental home in Arnay-le-Duc.  I looked at the photos of our selected home on the website many times and showed the pictures of the house to friends.  Yet, you never know for certainty if the house is everything as shown until you are there and see it for yourself.  A flood of relief swept over me as I saw the large house with green shutters, and the stone steps with a collection of many flower pots lining the sides, just like my own steps at home where I have little remaining space to step to the door.  Red roses swept above the door and across the stone walls of the house.  That was only the beginning.  Yes, indeed, the fog had lifted for M. et Mme Ambrous!

Y’all come back next time to see inside the house and around the garden.  And, WOW, what a garden!  A chateau, cows and cats are also on the agenda.  Thanks for coming around to visit.

You can read more about France, including more about barging in France.

Please feel free to share this website with others. 

All photography is the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Dusty Keys” – by Debbie Ambrous

May 19 & 20, 2018 (Saturday & Sunday) of the Burgundy, France Journal

Published normalement (normally) bi-weekly on Sunday

A dusty keyboard is waiting for my fingers to weave new stories and just simply function once again.  Almost daily our friends and family have asked, “Are you going back to France?”  Ever tactful, they didn’t say: “When are you going to write a story again??”  Well, maybe a few nudged me in that direction.  Thanks to all of the family of readers who have supported me with their kind words and interest.  My trembling fingers are finding their way on the dusty keys and gathering strength after their inactivity and after another energy-sapping reason.  I am gradually recovering from an illness with flu-like symptoms of initial high fever and then a pro-longed, severe cough.  Husband Jim had it first and then I was sick one day later.  Our illness began about four days after we returned from France.  Now some would blame the sickness on France, but where can anyone travel, or stay at home for that matter and be free from exposure to disease?  On the first day of our joint illness, I called a mini-summit of the Ambrous Health Board and asked Jim among other questions, “Do you think we have ebola?”  He answered without reservation, “No, I think I have escargot.”  I knew right away there was nothing wrong with his brain.  It was working like usual.

Writing in journal-type format, I hope to share our experiences in the Burgundy region of France in a diary-like format with the events from each day.  Previously, I have written blog stories focusing on certain castles, towns, celebrations etc.  With this explanation out of the way, I will begin the story-telling of the Burgundy journey.

We had been in New York with our friends Jeremy and Heather for a few days, enjoying their plush bed while they slept on the sofa.  (Thanks again for your sweet hospitality!!) On the rainy, cool day of May 19th I was ready early in the day and Jeremy teased me about my eagerness to leave and fly to France.  He was right since my enthusiasm was building with the thoughts that we would be in France the very next day!  After quick hugs and a teary-eyed farewell to our friends at the airport terminal we were on our way to walk many long corridors and sit long hours to reach our destination.  How can you endure the annoyance, tiredness and general lack of creature comforts?  Keeping focus on the enjoyment that lies ahead, almost like a personal movie drowning out the ilk around might just do the trick.  Otherwise, resort to an in-flight movie and a big bag of M&M’s.For the flight over to Paris we had reserved window seats with Jim in the row behind me, allowing each of us room to cocoon against the wall for more potential of sleep during the long flight.  I heard Jim settling in behind me with a mother and daughter returning to Paris, their home-town.  Now, how about claiming the City of Lights as your personal stomping ground?  The ladies were laughing at Jim’s Alabama humor, comfortable with him after chatting in the airport departure lounge.   On my row of three seats there was an empty seat between me and the comfortably, but stylishly dressed young lady in the aisle seat.  I spend more time planning my airport departure clothing than any other outfit, hoping to feel like I’m lounging at home by the television, but not look like a wrinkled, old sweat suit.  I wore a pair of black, light-weight knit Michael Kors pants (outlet store bargain) with no metal zipper and a heavier weight navy blue sweater over a cotton shirt with my vintage blue Vera scarf, inherited from my mother-in-law.  I broke the ice and introduced myself to the seatmate that would accompany me on the flight, the first leg of my journey to France.  She surprised me by saying she was from Birmingham, Alabama, which wouldn’t have been surprising if this was a connecting flight in New York, joining an originating flight in Alabama, but that was not the case.  So, by coincidence I sat with a lady with a common thread.  She indicated that we could share the seat between us for more lounge area and personal items.  I liked her already.  She was on a business trip to Russia, a much larger venture than mine!  We weren’t as chatty and lively with laughter compared to Jim and his ladies behind me, but we shared our space together in companionable silence, thankfully, sleeping for part of the flight.We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport around 5:00 AM, Sunday, May 20th.  But according to our previous time zone we felt it was 11:00 PM, Saturday, May 19th.   My short nap helped and I felt fine.  While we were waiting for passengers up the aisle to gather their belongings, I decided I would go ahead and get my carry-on suitcase from the overhead bin.  Usually, this is Jim’s chore but I like to pull my own weight when I can.  I reached for the case and started bringing it down, not realizing that Jim had packed this case with the laptop and both of our cameras including other equipment.  In other words, it was HEAVY!  Usually, when I bring down a case from the overhead bin I carry the weight to seat-level and then to the floor.  But this was in a space with no seats directly below, so I was taking the weight beyond my ability.  Suddenly, I had sharp pain in my wrist, and I knew I had to allow the case to drop or risk serious injury.  Someone offered to help at this point, but it was too late.  There was no damage to items in the case since the drop was very close to the floor, but the pain in my wrist was another matter.  I had insurance coverage, but thoughts of finding medical care and what would happen if I had to wear a cast and all of those thoughts rushed through my mind.  The pain continued for awhile and then there was a numb-feeling that spread through the area.  I wasn’t sure whether that was good or bad, but it helped for the moment.  I knew that Jim would scold me for attempting this task by myself, so I ignored him while I pushed the suitcase up the aisle.  He was distracted enough with gathering the other luggage at the carousel at the lower floor and finding our way through the airport to the Avis counter.  So I missed my scolding narrowly.

Jim waited at the Avis Preferred counter forever despite his elite status.  A lady ahead of us had a large family or group with her and she was renting a van.  I didn’t know what was happening, but there seemed no end to her questions including repeated returning to the counter, jumping ahead of Jim to insert herself in front of the Avis employee who had remained polite, but finally was losing patience.  Jim eventually had his paperwork completed, and I learned that the Avis computer system was down, so they were doing everything in written format with communication a big problem.  I already knew that a railway strike was causing trouble in France and realized that many people could be switching to rental cars.  I was thankful that our paperwork was in order.  Our car was a Volvo, a first-time rental of this type vehicle for us.  I didn’t like the side windows that seemed too narrow for maximum sight-seeing, but considering the situation at the counter Jim didn’t think it would be wise to try for an upgrade.  We had GPS with this car but another vehicle might not have it.  We were not paying the extra for capability of programming the GPS, but it still showed our location and much more helpful information.  I am the navigator, telling Jim almost every twist and turn of our trip, and I prefer old-style with my trusty Michelin atlas in my lap.  I do refer to the GPS and the Google map on Jim’s tablet at times, especially within cities when I am searching for a location and need street names etc. We were traveling south from the airport on a route that was previously shown to us by the owner of Ferme de Vert Saine Père, a wonderful B&B on a farm.  We have stayed with them several times previously on our return home. (The photo collage below shows photos from the farm from one of our visits years ago. The way to the airport was still marked on my atlas and I knew it was peaceful, a road through fields, wide-open green spaces and clumps of woods, much easier on the nerves compared to the super highways.  We stuck with our more peaceful road the D471 as far as we could until we ventured on to the A5 with Jim ramping up his driving style to the fast lane.  He seemed right at home, as he should with his experience of driving French-styleMaybe the peaceful road was more for my acclimation, not his.  It was somewhere near this time that I reminded Jim, “I don’t know if you want me to say this or not, but it is around 1:00 AM according to our body clock’s current time.”  Jim punched in his reply like a punching into work on a time clock, “No, I don’t need reminding.  Do you want me to fall asleep at the wheel?”  We decided to stop at one of the convenient roadside off-ramps with good facilities, at least they always have been.  We decided on soft drinks and a sub to share which we ate at a small table near the window.  I noticed that the floor was unclean with crumbs and bits of litter, the windows smudged and streaked and a general unkempt appearance.  I went to the ladies’ room and found that the toilets had no seats or lids!    Now, who would steal a toilet seat?  Maybe the less I know about this is for the best.  We were awake, not falling asleep in the sunshine.  We had accomplished our mission for this pit stop, so it was back on the road for us.

Our destination was the city of Sens, where I had reserved a new, contemporary-styled Ibis hotel room for one night, hoping we could check in early to shower and catch a nap.  Jim loved the name of the city, saying we would be “living in sins” for the day.  Sens may appear like sins in English, but it is actually pronounced more like sawns, at least to our ears anyway.  There are also cities named Senlis in France.  I think we shouldn’t arrange any reservations in sinless – we need not apply!  We reached the hotel and it was as modern as I had hoped.  The young lady at the counter quickly located our reservation and sharply told us that we could not check into our room until noon.  Actually, we were very happy since we expected much later.  So much for dampening our spirits, and even better she was gone when we returned later, replaced by a friendly employee.

We went to explore Sens which sits on the banks of the Yonne at the edge of Champagne.  Leafy boulevards trace the line of the old city walls and the cathedral sits at the medieval heart.

(Some who know me personally may puzzle at my interest in a cathedral since it isn’t my religion, but the architecture of the buildings can be of great interest plus the history associated with it.  I believe you will see what I mean as you read and see for yourself.)

The cathedral built in the 12th century from 1130 onward is the first gothic cathedral built in France and acted as a role model for others in France and elsewhere in Europe.  The transepts, added in the 16th century are in the later flamboyant gothic style and also have impressive entrances.  Magnificent stained glass windows which date from the 13th-19th century are impressive in the light.  We didn’t tour the Bishop’s Palace next to the cathedral, but I have read that the dungeons have walls covered in graffiti by prisoners from the medieval period.

Sens was a major ecclesiastical centre, welcoming St Bernard, Pope Alexander III and Thomas à Becket.  Louis IX was married in the cathedral in 1234. The Archbishop of Sens held sway over northern France leading the Gothic revolution.  Sens lost its primacy in 1622 when Paris became an archbishopric.

Moving along to the modern day, if you are there at the right time you will be stunned at nightfall when a magnificent, hi-tech, twenty-minute light show brings 850 years of history to life.  Imagine standing in the square with the brilliant lights on the towering cathedral and surrounding ancient buildings!  (June 28th to Sept 13 on Friday, Saturday and public holidays)  Sounds like Disney, but Cinderella probably won’t slide from the top of the cathedral, twinkling fairy dust.

We missed another wonderful feature of the city.  Le Parc du Moulin à Tan has been awarded the designation of “remarkable garden” with 10 hectares by the river offering tropical plants, a wild area and a rose garden!  I would have loved a long stroll in the rose garden, but not after hours in a plane and tension on A5!We didn’t miss the ancient carvings on the medieval half-timbered buildings and we stumbled around the Place Victor Hugo, trying to decide if we should take a seat in the colorful, captivating surroundings.  This oh-so-French setting was what we endured an ocean crossing to enjoy.  Scenes like this were in that personal movie that kept pushing me forward, building my endurance for the trip.  Yet, we had to admit that our eyelids were too heavy to sit in the warmth of the sun and the lull of the soft breeze even for die-hard French enthusiasts like us.  We went to our Volvo and stopped at a McDonald’s, with dirty floors and sticky seats, just like home, but we knew what to expect and it was served quickly.  French fries would fortify us until we could get a real meal after 40 winks, or more, at our clean, modern Ibis.

Yes, that is my pretty pedicure with new color, for me anyway, that I had before our departure. 

The comforter felt heavenly as we drifted off to sleep.  I reminded Jim that I saw an advertisement for a vide-grenier in town for the next day.  I think he only answered with snoring, or was that fake snoring?

My fingers are limbered-up now and maybe the juices are flowing. My confidence isn’t very strong after leaving the keys idle for months.  Do you like the journal style?  I know that much of this is just a jet lag story, much of the tedium of travel, but I do promise more fun ahead now that the dust is clearing.  Y’all come back!

Next time we will see the vide-grenier in Sens, explore inside a giant brick covered market with goods better than any “Whole Foods” and travel to our rental holiday home in Arnay-le-Duc, France!

You can read more about France including the history of Ferme de Vert Saine Père, at Crisenoy, France.  Just click over to purchase your copy of “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.

 

“Cornbread Festival” – by Debbie Ambrous

November 18, 2017 – Cornbread was promised, and cornbread it will be!  No croissants, beignets or baguettes will be served.  Our calendar was marked for the Homegrown Cornbread Festival at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama in Troy, Alabama. (Check at www.pioneer-museum.org for more information.) Nothing was stopping us from this fun festival. Let the guitar-picking and knee-slapping begin!

Free samples of cornbread were offered on long tables in the museum, and the newly-crowned Little Miss Cornbread was there to pose for me, still a bit bashful with her titled attention.  Jim and I sampled enough cornbread to keep our appetite under control until later.  Sausage was smoking in a log smokehouse, and Jim finagled his way into getting samples while I only had pictures, a face-full of smoke and smudged sunglasses from poking my head into the smokehouse. Down the hill, we found two fellows presenting authentic woodworking craftsmanship.  Turned table legs were on display, and the two men, an older and a younger, were working vigorously with wood shavings scattering on the floor.  Wood shavings, sawdust and the noise of sanding and saws were part of my upbringing since my dad’s cabinet shop was next to our house.  Dad’s cabinets and other woodwork are still in many homes and businesses in my hometown.  My brother continues the tradition with the business my dad started.  The heavy wooden doors with old paint remnants caught my attention while the colorful memories drifted through my mind like the smoke billowing from the chimney up the hill.Hot pink shoes with a matching shirt boasting “Simply Southern” set the mood in the log cabin with the chimney smoke where cornbread was cooking on a black, cast iron stove.  We sampled the fresh from the frying pan cornbread, paying attention to the cook’s warning that it was hot, hot!  Folks gathered inside in front of the fireplace, sitting at a picnic table, and I thought I remembered the same smell inside old farmhouses I visited with my parents when I was little.  Or, maybe my mind was tricking me.  Either way, it was a pleasant sensation.

Outside, in the yard, children climbed trees and ran around like children should.  Jim and I, just big children, climbed aboard for a mule and wagon ride.  The mules plodded their way down the path, through the old covered bridge – Poole’s Bridge – which was brought to this location in addition to the other old timbered buildings donated for the outdoor museum.  Thousands of old covered bridges, timber tunnels, once spanned streams and rivers.  Only a dozen remain in Alabama and fewer than 900 in the United States.  The covers once served to protect the floors and provided shelter for weary travelers from bad weather.  The Poole Bridge features the Town or lattice truss which was developed by Connecticut architect Ithel Town in 1820.Our wagon was raided by a youngster with a painted face when we made our return trip up the hill. Then, we strolled around to see the craft displays of items for sale. (Yes, that’s Jim in the group.)  A lovely lady in pioneer dress and bare feet was seated under a tree, working on pretty hair ornaments.  She could have just stepped into our day from the past, except she had a pretty pedicure with lovely, painted toenails and a smart phone in her sewing basket.

Our friendly lady with the flashing eyes is Nancy Conklin and you can find her work on Etsy – Alilla Bazaar.  Be sure to check her handiwork since it is simply beautiful!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim and I were amazed at the museum which was filled with everything from dugout canoes to quilt displays.  Entire rooms were arranged with antique furniture. The bedroom with the Bible on the nightstand and a picture of the lovely lady who once read it touched my heart. Carriages and farm equipment filled a large room with a cat sleeping in one of the carriages.  We definitely plan to return since there was so much to see that we couldn’t do it justice in one day.

The Adams General Store is last, the dessert of this story The case of empty bottles on the front porch reminded me of a time when I could get a few pennies in my pocket for returned bottles.  Think about that next time you see discarded aluminum soda cans littering the roadside.  I believe we could call the old general store an early Walmart without the excess and ugly exterior.  I say such a weird thing because the general store had such a vast amount of stuff for sale inside.  The small building we visited had shoes, hats, cloth for sewing, cosmetics, gloves, Jack’s cookies in a jar, BC power for headaches, Philip’s Magnesia for you know what, cough syrup, salt, cheese, coffee, onions, mule collars and chicken feed.  It seemed that half the shelves were covered with tobacco products like Prince Albert in a can, rolling papers and Red Rooster snuff with no health warnings yet.  No surprise that they sold caskets with one on display in the rear of the store!  The front corner of the store was the Post Office.  That is only the beginning.  However, folks didn’t go home with plastic bags crammed full of goods in the rear of their SUV’s back in the day.

Jim was extra nice on our outing which seemed like a mini-vacation.  He was almost too nice since I don’t have any quotes for you on this blog story.  I inquired on the ride home, “You didn’t say or do anything outlandish, or even funny, that I can write for my story.”  Long quiet spell with rumination under the suede hat until he said, “A fellow can’t just produce genius on command, too much pressure!” 

I leave you with that thought, hoping it doesn’t spoil your lunch, or whatever you are doing.  I will share two cornbread recipes for you to enjoy.  One is from my Aunt Margaret (deceased) who was married to my daddy’s brother.

The other is from my sweet friend Phyllis, who is such a good cook and unfortunately has this awful flu presently.  I hope she is feeling better very soon!!

Enjoy the recipes and come again for more of France next time from this Alabama gal who loves her native state and France as well.

AUNT MARGARET’S JALAPENO CORNBREAD

1-1/2 cups self-rising corn meal mix

1 carton 8-oz. sour cream

1 medium Jalapeno pepper

1 medium bell pepper

1 cup grated cheese

1 small can of creamed corn

Chop the Jalapeno pepper (removing the small seeds, since seeds and membrane are hot) and chop the bell pepper.  Mix all ingredients together.  Spread into a 10-inch cast iron frying pan, or you could use an oblong baking dish.  Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.

CORNBREAD BY PHYLLIS

2 cups medium grind corn meal

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. soda

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

1 cup water

Mix all ingredients together.  Shape into two oval pones with hands and place in deep, greased iron skillet, adding enough oil about ½ inch for frying.  Cook on top of stove, flipping over pancake style until done.   Or, you can bake in the oven with less fat, oil the cast iron pan and bake the pones at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  (Phyllis, forgive me if Jim has taken liberty with your recipe!)

“Last Day” – by Debbie Ambrous

November, 2016 – The last day of vacation comes too fast with thoughts of the work and problems waiting at home creeping into the last day’s fun activities.  Much too soon the packed suitcases are out the door and on their way without the excitement when they left home with fresh, clean clothing inside.  Dirty socks are mixed with souvenirs, and the pretty scarves are tangled with hairbrushes.  The washing machine begs for mercy after its vacation when load after load is shoved inside.  The days’ of unopened mail is a joy to behold with bills for the restful, fun vacation reaching the mailbox for a welcome to the real world.   But isn’t it always great to be home?

I have been dragging my heels on the blog stories recently, possibly because I knew that I had to write the last day story of our French Alps adventure.  If our original schedule had worked then Jim and I would have returned to France in 2017 for another autumn adventure with more stories filed away somewhere in my brain for a new series of blog stories.  However, that didn’t happen since Jim was experiencing pain with his back, not an acceptable traveling companion.  He is better and at least he says it is manageable.  We are looking ahead, planning for a future trip tentatively in May.

Now I am forcing myself to face that last day in France since I have hopes of warm days ahead once again in the beautiful villages, so I will get on with it and write about our last day.  We had a plan in place so we wouldn’t waste this last precious time.  A leisurely breakfast at the table was first with the wood burner heating the room since we had a heavy frost that morning.  Parting with the glowing embers in the comfortable house was difficult, but the enticement of new adventures pried us from the breakfast table.  Bundled into our coats and scarves, we traveled to Sixt-fer-a-Cheval to walk in the chilly air and view in total awe the circle of mountains at the end of the road.  Icy-etched leaves were like jeweled ornaments on the ground at the forest’s edge below the towering mountains.

Waterfalls plummeted from high above, and the spray froze on the rock face.  Jet trails crisscrossed the sky as a reminder that we would soon travel and leave our own vapor trails.  After we had soaked-up as much of the beauty as possible to hold in memory until another time, we drove along the road past the homes with gingerbread trim, the barns with chickens in pens and sheep in the fields.  Frost was melting and dripping crystal-like droplets.  Children squealed and raced their bikes, and played ball in the narrow lanes.  Snow was forecast in a couple of days, so a couple gathered the last of the vegetables at one of the houses.  Gathering these snippets of life in the gardens and on the porches, I enjoyed dreaming what it would be like if I lived here in a mountain chalet.  Flowers were still blooming in places, but many of the pots were emptied, or brought inside until warm days returned.  Winter was knocking at the door, sounding a reminder of the last days of autumn.

A picnic near the magnificent waterfall, Cascade du Rouget, was next on our last day agenda.  A baguette, sausage, potato chips and a pastry were packed and waiting until we found the perfect spot, a Sound of Music field on the hillside fit for a Julie Andrews musical rendition.  We found our version of Ms. Andrews’ field, complete with cow patties, not too far past the waterfall along the winding road.  We considered a picnic spread upon a blanket on the ground, but the cold and damp wasn’t as inviting as the leather seats in the car, so we settled in for an American version of an alpine picnic without ants, frostbite, or the aroma of fresh manure.

Did you notice the potato chips in the menu lineup?  Yes, we found junk food with French labeling in the grocery store.  We felt compelled to try it, purely for investigative reporting, not that we missed Ruffles with ridges or Cheetos from home.  It was surely our duty to inspect and give an account of our findings.  Being honest, ever truthful, I must say that you will be happy that you were not standing nearby for an on-the-spot report after we consumed the Bacon Fumé chips.  Altoids may have met their match with the aftertaste, but the bacon-flavored, dreadful breath is nothing compared to the goat cheese potato chips.  We indulged in these flavorful munchies one memorable evening while watching French television.  A word of caution, just don’t do it!  Say, NO!  Reflux of goat cheese at midnight is not a romantic event for you and your significant other. 

We wandered around the village of Sixt for one last time, enjoying the architecture of the ancient houses with the gurgle of the fountain in the center of the square, this time without an umbrella required.  I heard the chime of the bells ringing the hour and knew it was late, time to return to our rental house for the last night.  When we reached the house Jim rushed inside to get his wallet which he had forgotten when we left earlier in the morning.  We were going to the grocery store for a few items, NOT potato chips!

While I was sitting in the car in the dark with the car’s headlights on the wall of wood from an old barn, I felt happy and grateful for meeting new people and finding special places each day of our journey.  Starting with La Ruche, which means bee hive, we had a home which nourished us with comfort each day and the people who made it possible were like an extended family.  The happiness we had experienced, the kindness of the people we had met and the sadness of leaving the wonderful place we had lived for a short time weighed heavily on my emotions when I sat silently in the darkness.

Jim took longer than I expected.   I evidently had time for my imagination to wander.  The lights of the car illuminated the dark knots in the wood and I gradually spotted the outline of animals on the wall in a random almost connect-the-dots sort of way.  I excitedly pointed them out to Jim when he returned, “Look there’s a fox and that’s a sheep on the right.”  He glanced at my animal menagerie, and then he looked in the opposite direction for traffic as he backed the car away from the house.  I couldn’t see his face, but I know an eye-roll when it happens – even in the dark!

I took this opportunity to get some evening photos in Samoëns while Jim was at the small grocery store.

What do you do on the last day of holidays, or vacation? What are your plans for the coming year? I’m always happy to hear from you.

Well, here we are with the last day in France over and long gone.  The last day of this year is only hours away. I still don’t like last days very much, but I do intend to make the best of them!

Thanks ever so much for traveling with us!!  COLD weather is here in many areas, so be very careful!  Ya’ll come back in 2018!!  A festival in Alabama is coming up next on the blog page.  I still have more of France coming as well.

“I’m Late” – by Debbie Ambrous

November, 2016 – Samoëns, France – The digital clock in the kitchen said I was running late,yet I still needed to finish with the laundry and make the bed.  Jim said we would totally miss the big vide grenier sale that I was anxious to plunder for goodies to buy for my Alabama-French home.  Our wonderful rental house in Samoëns had a dryer, but I thought it only made sense to dry the laundry on a rack in front of the large expanse of glass, allowing the sun to radiate its energy.  See if you can guess who arranged the jeans on the right side of the rack.  It certainly wasn’t me, so I narrowed it down for you. Earlier, I saw another reminder of lateness in the form of a sundial on the wall of a building on the square in Samoëns.  I did not have an inkling of the warning about lateness from the words in Latin above the sundial, built in 1844 and restored in 1988.  The wording “Qua Hora Non Putatis Filius Hominis Veniet” is a reference to the words at Luke 12:40, rendered in modern English as: “You also, keep ready, because at an hour that you do not think likely, the Son of man is coming.”   Considering the importance of the wording, you would think it would be shown above the sundial in French, or some easily understood language.  I had to consult the computer for the meaning.

Jim wasn’t speaking in Latin when he reminded me to quit messing with my make-up, “Don’t blame me if all of the pretty junk you want to buy is gone.  You know that people get there early.”

“No wonder you’re late.  Why this watch is exactly two days slow!” – Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland

We made it to our destination, a big field with tables set up to sell everything from genuine antiques to faded tee-shirts.  Kitchen sinks and second-hand bras were sold on neighboring tables.

I know because a lady suggested lacey push-up models to me while the gentleman beside her was plying Jim with the value of stainless steel sinks.  No one is actually pushy.  The atmosphere is fun and good-natured.  I was grabbing a photo of old dolls and the sales lady positioned her real face among the doll faces, creating a much more interesting shot.  I found two pepper mills I thought I couldn’t live without and managed to bring down the price a small amount.  A large wooden antique chest was on the ground at my feet and I discovered that the vendor was putting his sales money inside.  With a grin on my face, I offered him twenty euro for the chest, including the contents inside, of course.  He quickly realized my joke and laughed heartily at my offer.  He and Jim continued with more nonsense while I explored.  I found enough new/old stuff to take home and had a wonderful time.  Now, when I review the photos I see items I should have bought.  Maybe next time…

Part of the fun for some of the sales is finding interesting things along the roads on the way to the site.  For instance, we passed through one village with a beautiful old bridge and Mont Diablo looming above. A marker on the main road nearby showed a photo of Henri Cornet, a French cyclist who won the 1904 Tour de France.  He is the youngest winner, winning just before his twentieth birthday.  On the sign you will see the wording “Le Rigolo” or “the joker” for his sense of fun.  Sounds like he could race with Jim!

We continue to race around our roads in Alabama for now with plans to return to France at the soonest opportunity.  Tomorrow, we plan to be in Troy, Alabama for a festival.  I will have my camera and hope to share photos and perhaps a story later.  Thanks for coming around for this short story with a reminder to watch the time because it is passing swiftly.

“Imagination in the Garden” – by Debbie Ambrous

October, 2016 – Walk through the ornate, gold-encrusted garden gates free of charge, and stroll the pathway in peaceful delight under the canopy of towering, sturdy alpine trees with massive trunks. 

Such pleasure seems like a fairy tale, especially with no price tag attached, no parting with euros, or inserting a card for later charges in the mail.  Yet it is true, not imagined.  One can enter La Jaÿsinia botanic garden daily, with no parting of currency, except there is no entry when snow is on the ground.  The closed sign then is meant to protect you from bodily injury and the fragile plants growing beneath the snow.  An image of the winter gardens seems sweeter to me as I imagine the tiny plants under the snow waiting to peek through in the spring, gracious snowdrops and vivid yellow daffodils.Husband Jim and I followed the pathway that zig-zagged its way up the mountainside; we walked across bridges with moss-covered railings and stopped awestruck by the rushing waterfalls.  The brochure wording said: “While you’re looking at the flowerbeds in La Jaÿsinia, you don’t notice that you’re actually climbing the mountainside, until you spot the beautiful view over the village.”  I kindly disagree since my feet and calves did notice that I was climbing up a mountain In fact, I hinted heavily that I should get a ride on the garden tractor.  Like any garden, much work is involved.  Pruning and mowing was underway when we huffed and puffed from one stop to admire vistas to the next stop with a nicely situated bench.  Jim was thankful that for once he wasn’t the one with the hedge trimmers.

La Jaÿsinia’s story continues to read like a fairy tale.  On July 1, 1838, a little girl named Marie-Louise Jaÿ was born in Samoëns, France into a large, working-class family.  She left her hometown at the young age of 15 to seek success in the big city of Paris.  She met and married Ernest Cognacq.  They opened France’s first department store, La Samaritaine, in 1870.  Marie-Louise and Ernest, who remained childless, were immediately successful and amassed a huge fortune.  Marie-Louise did not forget her roots!  She and her husband set up a foundation to fund La Jaÿsinia and other projects. The garden was designed by Jules Allemand for the very spot where the young girl, Marie-Louise, grazed her goats before she found wealth in Paris.

It is the only botanic garden of its kind in the Alps, containing 5000 varieties of mountain flowers from 5 continents.  Research continues with a seed exchange network with more than 800 members world-wide.   The garden covers 3.7 hectares (9 acres) on steeply-sloping terrain.  The idyllic garden is truly a haven of tranquility, an escape from tedium or stress.  The narrow path winds up to the ruins of the 12th century Tornalta castle and a 13th century chapel. The views are more panoramic with each step of the way. A young mother passed us on the way down, pushing a baby in a stroller.  The young lady in a neon-green jacket exchanged groans with me about the climb, but we agreed that the workout was good for us in the fresh air in the glorious garden. 

We soon caught up with a grandmother moving slower and keeping a close eye on her young energetic grandson while he darted here and there like a scampering, baby deer.  The gray-haired grandmother was carrying a paper plate loaded with his bounty of special leaves and nuts found on the ground, each one a special keepsake in his eyes.  We exchanged smiles and knowing looks about the ways of little boys.

I asked Jim, “Do you remember when Chet was around that age?  He had an imaginary friend named Candy, a tiny little girl, blonde with a perfect flip-up 70’s hairstyle, or so he described her to us?”  Jim laughed and replied, “Of course, I remember.  She was so little that she could fit inside my shirt pocket.  Once we went for a walk up the hill in front of our house, hand-in-hand with Chet, and at the crest of the hill he started crying that we had forgotten Candy.   We had to turn around and go back to get her.  At least, I had to go back.  You stood with Chet and waited until I returned as hero of the day with Candy safely snuggled inside my pocket.  Knowing Chet, I wouldn’t be surprised if he occasionally still has that perky little blonde in his pocket when he walks around town.

Jim and I went along the street downtown for drinks and a snack after our “mountaineering” with a bit of window-shopping along the pretty streets.  While we were relaxing I suggested to Jim, “Chet got his big imagination from you.  The figment of imagination didn’t fall too far from the master imaginer.  I seem to remember that you had an imaginary playmate named Jimmy.  Seems like you could have come up with another name other than your own since you had such a huge imagination!  I must admit that you had a humdinger of an ending for the little, skinny Jimmy though!”  Jim grinned and took a long swallow of his drink.  With an innocent, full-of-nonsense look on his face, he said, “What?  You mean jumping off a chicken house is a big ending?”   Quick on reply, I said: “Yes, jumping off a chicken house and smashing his head on the ground to his final death is a whopper of an ending!

We strolled on down the street and along the road toward our rental house.  Our shadows were long in the late afternoon when we passed a road alongside the rushing mountain stream.   Jim wasn’t all talked-out yet about our heritage of imagination.  He had to get the last dig at me.

Walking along with the sun warming our aching backsides, he said, “Now tell me again about the cute fellow that you dreamed about marrying.  What was his name? Huh?”  Hiding my big smile, I answered, “You know his name was Jim.  Can you believe it?  My imaginary dream-boat, handsome, rich husband was Jim.  I played paper dolls with my cousins and neighbor playmates in our family camper trailer parked behind the house, only taking breaks for black cherry Kool-Aid and cookies.  Each time I played, my cute husband was Jim.  Then, I ended up with YOU!”  Insisting on asking another question, Jim said, “Whatever happened to your made-up Mr. Moneybags, Cute-stuff Jim?  Did he jump off the Paper Doll Mansion when he saw me coming?”  Not interested in this silly conversation anymore, I pointed to a sign with a person’s middle name of Bastard. 

“See, there’s another person named Bastard.  I told you that Bastard is a normal, ordinary French name, like the owner who renovated the Chateau de Hautefort in the Dordogne region of France.  In fact, one of the streets is named such.  I said the “B” name in a speech about my book to an upper-class group in Alabama, and jaws dropped while they looked at me like I had lost my mind.  You would have thought I had stepped in a smelly, cow-patty from the way their noses went out of joint!”  Trying to get support from my loyal husband for the mistake I had clearly made, I asked, “What do you think of that?”  After a moment of wheels turning in his rusty, but imaginative mind, he said, “I think taking a vow of silence might be the best course now since I don’t want my middle name changed to one with the initial “B” at this late date in the course of our marriage.”

Language is an odd thing with words meaning one thing when spoken in one language, but something altogether different in another.  I hope my words are harmonious for all and any imagination ignited is enjoyable.  Did you have imaginary playmates when you were little? Did you ever wish you could swallow the words you uttered like my predicament? I always enjoy seeing your stories and messages in the comment box shown below.    Have a beautiful day! Come again to see us.  Thanks to all of you!!

You can read more about the Chateau de Hautefort which has an unusual, bittersweet story of destruction and survival in the book “A French Opportunity” by clicking over to purchase in paperback or Kindle.

“Alpine Balm” – by Debbie Ambrous

A whirlwind tour of vertigo kept me from the keyboard since the slightest movement of my head set the room into the whirling motion of a Cuisinart blender.  Medication finally conquered the inner ear infection, but the unsettling news of hurricanes, floods and earthquakes shook my inner system each day as these catastrophes were reported.  Returning to my simple blog after my last story has not been easy since composing a story of travel seemed insignificant in the face of such pain and upheaval.

Then, I saw among my photos of France from the alpine region the words on a sign by a mountain stream that struck a chord of peace and calm for me.  The sign showed the name: Balme Dessous.  Yes, that’s what I need, a restorative balm for my body and mind.  The dictionary definition of balm is “a fragrant ointment, or preparation used to heal or soothe the skin.”  As I looked at the photo, I remembered the rushing clear water almost aquamarine in color, sparkling fresh and clean and polishing the ebony stones like creations of artwork strewn on the riverbank.

A chapel, or possibly a mountain refuge, was on the opposite bank among the trees with their shimmering gold autumn leaves forming a backdrop like a stage curtain for the dramatic, surging river waters.  Green moss cloaked the trunks in a camouflage pattern, and the woodsy fragrance filled my lungs, soothing like a balm preparation.For the moments when I lingered in the memories from the photo I did feel a sense of well-being, a comfort for some of my personal problems and a resurgence of hope for the many with serious conditions not healed by an ointment, or reflections on a photo.  Yet, there are times when a simple distraction is a coping method, a balm until the real cure arrives.  With those thoughts in mind, I decided that I could write and share photos of peaceful scenes where we can place ourselves safely hidden from harm for at least a short time.

“To Hope” by John Keats

When by my solitary hearth I sit,
And hateful thoughts enwrap my soul in gloom;
When no fair dreams before my “mind’s eye” flit,
And the bare heath of life presents no bloom;
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed,
And wave thy silver pinions o’er my head…

O let me think it is not quite in vain
To sigh out sonnets to the midnight air!
Sweet Hope, ethereal balm upon me shed

The history of Balme Dessous is lost for me at the moment.  I searched among my snippets of saved brochures and scanned my travel guidebook to no avail, so for now I hope you will settle on the best I can give about the idyllic place which was a distraction on our way to Sixt-fer-a-Cheval.  Jim and I find out of the way places which are often more charming than our original destination, the ones with the hordes of people filling the streets.  Sixt was not a congested tourist town when we were there, but it is classified as one of Le Plus Beaux Villages of France. You can’t go wrong with a place that Clint Eastwood selected to be secluded away.  The French film director and producer, Gilles Legrand, shot his first two movies in Sixt.  No one on the streets would be impressed with two small-town Alabama residents moseying around their classified village.  We couldn’t even get lost on the few streets on each side of the river! The small hamlets that lined the road leading to the impressive waterfall Cascade du Rouget, especially Salvagny, were our main agenda.  I was taken by the pastoral beauty of the homes, both ancient and new, with cows and sheep in verdant green fields.  Pocket gardens with vegetables and fruit (raspberries-my favorite), so beautiful that one could expect a balm of nutrition from their bounty.

Jim and I left the car by the road, and we strolled like Hansel and Gretel (if you overlook gray hair and a few extra pounds) past the picture-book scenes.  Ancient watering troughs with dates from the 1800’s were along the narrow roads by the clusters of homes with geraniums cascading down to greet us like red streamers along a parade route.

Some of the houses were named to fit the alpine theme, but then we found one named La Mexicaine

Ah, how wonderful!  A Mexican settled there to enjoy the balm of the French Alps.  My heart has a special place for Mexico and the lovely people who welcomed us there in our travels, not to ever forget the many friends we have met since and hope to meet in the future.

They are in our thoughts and prayers as they try to put their lives together again after the major earthquakes.Our day of meandering along the narrow roads was one with low-hanging clouds, but a brilliant blue sky was overhead.  After enjoying the pieces out of this perfect little place, we moved on to the road leading to the Cirque de Sixt-Fer-A-Cheval which is named for the shape of the natural amphitheater, which looks like a horseshoe.  Waterfalls spill from the soaring mountains, and the site draws 500,000 people each year!  The first time we visited the weather was cloudy, overcast and raining at times.  We were the only ones there!  Not one person joined us as we enjoyed the beauty.  While it was an awesome experience in the stillness, having the wide open massive amphitheater to yodel or eat potato chips without sharing, we were anxious to see it without a rain shower faucet following our every slushy step. 

The mountains were a humbling experience and the simple beauty of the old farm buildings along the entry road including a chicken-run was just right for us Alabama folk.We made one good-bye stop in Sixt, hoping to meet up with a film director or a young lady film starlet to match Jim’s short-list of wishes.  Oh, I almost forgot!  Bob Marley was at my side, poking his nose into gardens and sniffing at the aromas drifting from restaurants.  Let me explain.  Jim’s hat was continually drooping and slouching down the back of his head like he had a mass of dreadlocks hidden under the wool

Being a helpful wife and wanting his appearance to be less unkempt, I kept adjusting his hat until I finally gave up and called him “Bob” for the remainder of the time.  Bob kept bumbling at the edge of the road and I caught his profile as proof.   A stroll with Bob without an umbrella was a nice way to remember the town.  The bell tower sounded the chime for the noon hour, an almost sacred occasion in France.  It was time to leave.  I slowly walked to the car knowing I had only a few more days in France.

Now almost a year since those lovely days I only have a few more stories to share from the October/November 2016 visit.  I thought we would return to France this autumn, but we may sit this one out on our garden bench.  But we will plot and plan.  Stay with us and see what happens.  Thank you!

If you are sitting on bench of indecision and would like a nudge to a bucolic vacation, check out Alps Accommodations by clicking here.  La Ruche is our favorite!  You will not be disappointed by their service, the beautiful homes or the location.  Of course you know that location, location, location is all-important.  If you would prefer something the Dordogne in SW France, click to see the beautiful homes here at Le Peyruzel.  You can’t do better.  I know, I have tried others.  If you are longing for the Loire, a very sweet place can be found here.  Click to link for my story, a very true description of the beautiful home.  Clean, preciously beautiful and comfortable!  Wait, now, don’t book when I want to go!

Why not add A French Opportunity to your bookshelf? 

“The Other Geneva” – by Debbie Ambrous

Since the big 50th wedding anniversary announcement people have asked me, “What did you do on your  Golden Anniversary?” I am almost embarrassed to admit the simplicity of our special day when they gush on with flowery words saying it is an amazing achievement and a precious gift, just like gold.   Aww shucks!!  I’m grinning and blushing.  No gold, diamonds, or flowers, were exchanged on the momentous day, but for those folks who are waiting to hear the latest hot spot for celebrations, here is the next trendy place to be: Geneva!  No, I’m not talking about Geneva, Switzerland, with its expansive lake and snow-capped mountains.  That is yesterday’s news, been there, done that.  (Read “On Geneva” by clicking here.)  The town of the moment with notable, celeb visitors is Geneva, Alabama, the other Geneva!

Before you book your flights, or fill your gas tanks to drive on down, let me explain where it is.  Since our hometown of Opp, Alabama, is center of the world for us now, we will start from there.  The capitol of Alabama is Montgomery, which is one hundred miles north of Opp, give or take a few rolls of the tape measure.  Allow for stops along the way to aim your camera for shots of old barns in the fields with cows and bulls growing strong on the hay which you may see in giant rolls in the pastures, seeming like a big breakfast of champions for the livestock. Allow plenty of time to see Opp, the City of Opportunity, and then head on south along highway 52 toward Kinston, and you will be on the 50th Anniversary Trail, named for Jim and Debbie Ambrous.

You might be a redneck if you had to remove a toothpick for the wedding pictures.” – Jeff Foxworthy

An old frame house shaded by massive pecan trees with wide fields spreading behind the fading homestead is alongside the road before the Kinston city limits.  I remember when people lived inside the cobwebbed doors and windows and sat on the front porch.  The lady of the house probably swept the porch clean each day and grew begonias in flower pots and petunias at the front steps.  Now the floor boards are molding and rotting away.  I love old houses.  This one has caught my eye many times when we rushed past without time for a photo opportunity, but on our 50th I knew that Jim would be in an agreeable mood to stop for me.  His good nature didn’t include joining me to traipse around in the July heat.  No, he stayed cool and comfy with the AC blasting in the Jeep and music vibrating his outlook by the country road.  The grass was recently cut with that newly mown smell, and a gray-haired lady was mowing her front yard across the road at a steady pace with not even a glance in my direction.  I carefully looked around for dogs and snakes, a smart idea in old places like this where they could lie in wait to bite my leg off.  I aimed for a shot with my camera from the front and it was fairly adequate picture, but I thought the view from the side would be best.  The grass mowing had been fast and furious with most of the grass uncut and lying sideways on the ground.  I couldn’t see clear enough, so I moved very cautiously in that direction.  Suddenly, I saw a thick rattlesnake moving in the grass!  I could see only the mid-section, thick as a hose on a fire truck, moving in my direction.  I didn’t wait to meet the business-end of the snake before I was leaping airborne with my feet only touching the ground two or three times before I reached the Jeep, out of breath from screaming, “SNAAAAKE!!  The little, old lady across the street kept on her merry way and never looked my way.  Jim’s cool music vibe kept my snake scream outside, so he didn’t know why I was flapping my arms and imitating Usain Bolt.

I’m not sure he believed me until a few days later when we saw a rattlesnake just like the one that scared the living daylights out of me, same size and edition with same markings and speed.  Speaking of speed, Jim was surprised that his wife of 50 years could move that fast!

Snake pit stops are not required if you visit.  There are less scary attractions.  We drove on through Kinston, allowing my nerves to settle before we stopped in Samson.  A friend mentioned sometime ago that the hardware store had an amusing sign advertising armadillo traps; except, the sign wording was: ARMY DILLER TRAPS.  I love to find old, rusty signs or funny signs like that.  However, it seems that I missed this one.  We wandered around the corner and found an old, rusty water tower that seemed to have “50” fading in the rust on the tank.  Look closely at the photo and tell me if you see it.

While I aimed my camera I mentioned to Jim that I felt calmer since I was shooting photos in town, safe from the snakes.  He didn’t help at all when he said, “What makes you think a snake couldn’t be curled up at the bottom of the rusty legs of the tower?”  I found my way to the Jeep, exercising my newly acquired Usain Bolt sprint.

Shortly before our final landing in Geneva, Alabama, the other Geneva, we made a stop-over at an old service station with an original, colorful sign.  Once again I was in the heat unattended by Jim, who kept cool as a watermelon on ice, watching me strut around the big pickups fueling at the pumps.

I found my shots of the sign and an old non-functioning Coca-Cola machine with a rusty chair entwined with weeds by its side.  I thought I was cool and clear to move on out to the Jeep, but a fellow called “Hey” for me to halt for a minute.  Jim motioned that I needed to turn around for the meet and greet.  Talking with folks like this can add interesting history, humor and understanding of local and distant culture.  Except, on this day I didn’t want to linger too long.  The nice fellow told me that his dad installed the gas station sign when he was a kid back in the fifties, and he had been offered top dollar for it.

I was questioned about where I was from, which always happens around here whether you are paying the electricity bill or buying butterbeans, it’s always essential for folks to know where you grew up, went to school and all about your family background.  He was very surprised when I said I was from Opp, likely expecting some out-of-state tourist.  The not-bad-looking fellow gave me a big grin which lit up his ruggedly handsome face, and he said, “If you’re from Opp, how come I never met you?”  I heard Jim rev’ing the Jeep’s engine.

 

Finally, we reached the other Geneva with the antique store I wanted to browse.  Downtown Geneva Antiques, 708 E. Magnolia Street, Geneva, Alabama  I found a doll like one I had when I was very young.  Plastic wasn’t around then.  We knew nothing about electronics and the future plugged-in world.  Jim found a Roy Rogers guitar and told me that his Uncle Andy bought a bright yellow guitar for him in Dean’s Pharmacy in Opp.  The image of him as a little boy with his blonde hair and green eyes filled with happiness for his new guitar was priceless.  Hope you don’t mind if I share a few, cute old photos of Jim, his sister Virginia and his dad.  I couldn’t resist the barefoot cowboy!

My only purchase for the day was a tiny cream pitcher with a golden wheat design, but the store is just brimming full of good buys!  The dinnerware was a grocery store promotion years ago.  Mama probably had the entire set.  I remember setting the table with the white plates with the autumn, golden wheat design.  That is what I love about antique stores, the memories that surface when I see stuff that I had totally forgotten.  I know I am not alone on those thoughts.  Have you bought something on impulse because it brought back poignant memories?I passed up several photo opportunities when we drove through the old town including one of a unique sign.  The sign was for a night spot called Someplace Else, and the wording said the favorite place for entertainment was Someplace Else.  Oh, I understand that feeling completely when I wish I could transport myself out of here at times.  I’m not saying that I don’t love my hometown because I do, but there are times when I wish I could be in the mountains, at the beach or traveling in France!!  Someplace Else!!

Jim and I finished our day at the restaurant Santa Fe Cattle Company in Enterprise, Alabama.  I know it isn’t a typical place for a golden anniversary, but it worked for us with hopes for a celebration in the future someplace else!  The nice staff brought cake and ice cream as a surprise and gathered to sing, not happy anniversary, but instead they sang loudly a big YEE HAW!!

We hope you enjoyed our day of reminiscence, and the trip to the other Geneva.  France is waiting for next time.  Jim and I thank you ever so much for your messages, e-mails and cards for our 50th anniversary! 

I hope I didn’t make too many mistakes in this story since I am recovering from a bit of surgery to my right eye.  That is also the reason it has been longer since my last post.  I hope everything is fine with you and thank you again for traveling along with us!

“Happy 50th Anniversary” – by Debbie Ambrous

Today is our 50th wedding anniversary!  Yes, I admit that Jim and I are that old, well Jim is anyway.  Since he will be reading this, I must confess that I am two months older than he is.  I needed those two months to catch up to speed, put up with him and stay cool and collected with Jim as husband in this fifty-year marriage.   We are very happy, but we have had more than our share of troubles, grief, sadness, worries, pain and anxiety!  Patience, a sense of humor, commitment, hope and solid faith kept us together!   Words cannot express the thanks due to family and friends for their help and love.

Now that you know that we are not perfect, I will go on with the story.  You say I am repeating the obvious??!  With the big 50 approaching, I searched for someplace in the mountains, or by the ocean, that didn’t require a ton of money and wouldn’t be crawling with people.  I was getting nowhere in total exasperation with my anniversary travel search, and I whined to Jim:  “Why did we ever get married in July?”  In bewilderment he said, “I don’t know but if it was a bad idea, it must have been mine!”  Jim apparently subscribes to the theory that it is usually best to confess the truth right away.  His mom did a great job!

(Photo left of the words on the reverse of his graduation photo which Jim gave to me in high school.)

 

 

 

Moms and Dads are not fully appreciated by their children until much, much later.  Our middle daughter sent a Hallmark card with very true sentiments:

Children seldom understand the trials their parent’s face, the dreams deferred, or sacrifices made until one day when they are grown with grown-up choices, too, and realize the debt they can’t repay.”

As for Jim and I, we would only hope for strong children following a path of truth and integrity.  (The photos in the collage are quite old, but full of memories.)Now, about that beautiful, peaceful place for our anniversary, I never found the place!  So, we are saving for another cooler, less crowded and less expensive time.  We did find a fun place to visit this week in Birmingham after a doctor visit – the zoo!  Doesn’t that sound like an ideal place for us?  No, they didn’t chase after us with a butterfly net, thinking we were escaping when we rushed to the car.  But here is a surprise, since we arrived at the end of the day our senior rate was only half of the normal priceI don’t know what we will be doing today on our anniversary, but we will try to find fun even though we can’t fly to Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles or Montreal.  The story below is a re-post of the second story shown on the French Opportunity website, another “Anniversary” story.  The pictures were somehow lost, so I have added a few.  This month is an anniversary for my blog.  I have now written and posted stories and photographs for FIVE YEARS!  The first story was posted on July 18, 2012.

July 24, 2012 – Sleeping later than usual on Sunday, I found Chef Jim in the kitchen with a hot griddle cooking Belgian waffles.  Butter, Nutella and Bonne Maman raspberry preserves, all favorites of mine, were already on the table along with a folded piece of paper beside my plate.  When we were seated for our superb breakfast with hot coffee on the table, I opened the paper and saw it was a “Happy Anniversary” note he had created with different fonts and colors.

I gushed over his note and artwork, and Jim said: “I was worried that you would think it looked more like a graffiti ransom note and expect it to say, ‘Here’s Jim’s right toe.  Leave all you got by the creek bank if you ever want your Chef back.’”  I promised him that it would be worth it to have his cooking.  I noticed a P.S. on the paper: “It isn’t easy to find a card in this little town of Opp unless it’s your birthday, or you’re feeling sickly or recently died.”  Then I knew why I had the artwork/graffiti paper by my plate instead of the usual Hallmark anniversary greeting.

As if this wasn’t enough for a lady on her anniversary, Jim had promised to tag along for some antiquing in Florala, a short drive down the road south from Opp.  I was on a mission to get blue Mason canning jars for my good friend Elizabeth.  We drove on down in our red Jeep with our air conditioner blasting on our hot anniversary day to: Warehouse Market Mall, 23380 Fifth Avenue, Florala, Alabama

An old washtub planted with yellow flowers welcomed us at the doorway, and homemade birdhouses swung on a post.  A gourd birdhouse painted with blue flowers had the most curb appeal. The storefront seems small, but once inside the displays just go on forever. Bored husbands and children can wait in a seating area and play checkers.

Anniversary present suggestion for Chef Jim:  Honey for my Belgian waffles and buttered biscuits.

I knew the display I wanted, so I moved quickly to the shelves of blue canning jars, some with lids and some without their lids that rusted away, or were lost long ago. I found four with lids for Elizabeth, my friend in Florida, and I called to report the happy news to her right away.

Cobalt blue Milk of Magnesia glass bottles were shining under the shop lights on another shelf along with tiny bright blue Vicks jars.  Yesterday’s medicine bottles are today’s designer accessories.  I thought Elizabeth would like the dark blue bottles, and I was considering some for myself when Jim read my mind and said: “Are you really going to buy Milk of Magnesia bottles?”“I think the bright blue will be pretty on the secretary in the bedroom with the blue toile curtains, I explained.”   I wonder, do they have Milk of Magnesia in France?

 

Jim threatened, “Wait till your mama hears that you paid $5.00 for a Milk of Magnesia bottle!”        “Now, just a minute here!  My mama is not hearing anything about this!  Besides, she would only be puzzled as to why I paid $5.00 for an empty Milk of Magnesia bottle.” 

Thanks for joining us!  We love y’all!