“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.


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.


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!

“Quirky and Odd” – by Debbie Ambrous

November, 2016Quirky photo opportunities and odd stories are always on my list when we travel through towns and villages.  I hit the jackpot in Taninges, a small town in the heart of the Giffre valley on the Route des Grandes Alpes north of Cluses, France.  Traveling from Samoëns, at the edge of Taninges, Jim and I found one of the most unusual brocantes we have ever experienced.  Old cable cars lined the rear of the property and the warehouse interior was crammed with oddities and quirky objects with a capital “Q”. Do you need an antique bicycle, a Royal Butterbean jar or a sign for Pile Wonder? What about mounted heads of antelope, water buffalo, boar or pheasant, enough to claim you went on safari?  It’s all there including a creepy-looking, huge ceramic Snow White.

The photos should tell the story, but a visit there could leave your head spinning.

We traveled through Taninges on our way to other areas of interest with frequent stops at their nice, modern grocery on the west side of town.  But the turn at the center of town to the north with a curving, narrow road had the next point of interest for me.  The tourism office information said I should look for the Sainte-Anne chapel and hear the merry tinkling of the 40 bells of the carillon, but there was no mention of Batman on top of a cable car When our car swept along the winding road with the village houses and church below, we were amazed to see the sunlight gleaming on the superhero, protector of Gotham City – Batman!  Taninges has its own Dark Knight, caped crusader at the northern side of town on a red polka-dot cable car.  I wonder if Adam West knew about this.  I grabbed quick shots through the car window and then returned later on foot.  You must thank me for trekking up the hill with no sidewalk!  I stood by the guardrail shooting photos as motorcycles roared uphill. Jim, my famous good guy, stood safely by the barn on the other side waiting to rescue Cat Woman from any danger.  Yeah, you can see that, can’t you?  Signs pointed to the Chartreuse de Mélan. In 1285, Beatrix de Faucigny chose Mélan to found the convent that would house her tomb and that of her son.  She gave the property to a community of Carthusian nuns.  For 500 years the nuns maintained Mélan, but after the turmoil of the Revolution it was turned into a school which continued under other directors until 1806.  In 1923 it became an orphanage which was destroyed by fire in 1967.  The remaining buildings are the church in Gothic style and the adjoining cloisters built in 1530.

The two buildings are strikingly severe with no ornamental carving.  However, the contemporary art fills the surrounding park with quirkiness and oddity, refreshing and uplifting for any traveler. 

I was amused to see the statue with the outstretched hands seeming to greet visitors with a big “Hi” despite the indignity of being cleaned when I was there.

Instantly, I remembered the French movie Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont (The African Doctor) which we watched a few days earlier (movie is available on Netflix, sub-titled in English).  The giant friendly hand of the statue reminded me of the gracious doctor’s wife.  The Congolese doctor, Seyolo Zantoko, had turned down the opportunity to be the physician to the President in his own country.  He wanted to avoid corruption and consequently moved his family to a small French village.   Dr. Zantoko’s wife Anne and the children struggle in the rural village which is lacking the excitement of city life, far from their Paris expectations.  Anne reaches out to the locals with a big smile and friendly greetings and they gape and laugh at her like she has three heads and say in French what translates to “Holy Kamoley” in the sub-titles on our television screen.  Afterward, she rushes around saying “Holy Kamoley” in greetings to everyone, but they continue to stare at her like she just landed from another planet .  The movie was good entertainment and it had some excellent lessons in it as well.  You will feel compassion especially for their children.

The bench built for giants had an even more expansive view, and the skaters reminded us to go easy on the French pastries!More red polka-dots were on display on the street just past the bicyclist with a begonia sweater.  Totally quirky stuff popped up around every corner, but past all of this was a cemetery without entertaining objects.  I was near to tears when I saw an elderly gentleman walking from one grave site to another, no doubt remembering his friends and family.  We found one grave marker for the family Ambroise, which we believe is the name in part of Jim’s ancestry.


Taninges is worth a visit for more than the grocery store.  I hope you have an opportunity to find its charm and interesting culture.

However, we never found a way to use the telephone in the center of town.  Let us know if you find any other quirkiness when you visit.



Keep your hand outstretched in friendliness with a big “Hole Kamoley” or a better greeting wherever you go.  You never know what quirky experiences you may have!

I enjoy hearing from you! Thanks for your comments.  Perhaps you travel with me like Ava does in the morning before her reality begins.  I loved your descriptive message, Ava!

You can read more about France in the book “A French Opportunity” during your warm summer days.  Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check it out.

“Our Street” – by Debbie Ambrous

October, 2016Our street is an atmospheric lane assigned a road number with no acknowledgement that I have any attachment, much less any claim to mention that it is our street – mine and Jim’s.  I do not need legal papers prepared in triplicate, signed and witnessed to mark this street as mine to share with you and especially, my partner in life, Jim.  The community of homes, people and surrounding vista of fields and mountains still remains as a memory, a road that Jim and I can travel anytime when we say, “Do you remember the ancient wooden wagon by the barn on our street?”  Maybe the street will change in coming years, but I hope not too much. Before I take too many right and left turns, or stops at junctions on our street I will explain the location for you.  If you have read earlier blog stories, you will know about the stunning and comfortable barn remodel called La Ruche in Samoëns, France, where Jim and I spent an idyllic autumn.  We explored the area each day, seeing Mont Blanc, waterfalls and lakes.  No matter how exquisite the scenery on our daily jaunts, we felt happy to return to our street for a walk after dinner, or perhaps we started our day with a meander to see what was happening.  What would we see that we missed on our last walk?  The weather cast a different light on the barns, fields and mountains with misty haze on some mornings and then golden rays in the late afternoon.  Each day had its own special magic.Diamond-shaped pieces of wood framed windows and the balcony of one house.  My daddy, who owned a cabinet business in Alabama, would have appreciated the simplicity of the decoration. He built cornices with scallops and curves for windows when they were popular.  I still have a faded green cornice with a unique design cut into the wooden edges at the window with lace curtains from France in my laundry room.  Styles come and go so fast, but the wooden houses on the street we claimed as ours are standing firm in tradition with watering troughs in the front yard embellished with dates from the 1800’s.  Now, that isn’t something you can pick up at Ikea. A rusty, crumpled sign advertised Formica.  Do you remember when colorful kitchen counter tops everywhere had Formica?  Another style gone away in favor of granite and other new products, but the sign reminds me of my childhood when Daddy had sheets of the material in his shop and samples on chains for ladies to select.  Would they go wild with orange, or classy with fake marble?  I built a Roman amphitheater, using fake marble Formica samples for an eighth-grade class assignment.  Now, after you stop laughing at my grandiose creation, try to imagine it assembled on a piece of plywood, built in tiers with an open field for the gladiators.  You must admit that a small town girl who can build a classic Roman structure from Formica is likely to succeed and go places!  Jim wasn’t in my school class and he didn’t know anything about my contribution to the fall of Rome when he married me, but he says it sure explains a lot about me now.When we walked along our street from La Ruche we kept seeing new places for firewood storage under the long, sloping eaves and other ingenious storage solutions.  We were looking high under the eaves one day and saw an old motorcycle stored with the firewood. 

Benches were near the front door at almost every house, built sturdy to last a long time in the weather.  They looked heavy, probably weighing much more than I do.  No smart comments out there!  I didn’t see a one that I disliked, and I kept wishing with each artisan’s bench that I could take hand-crafted woodwork home with me.

Gardens with the autumn crop of vegetables growing in dark, loamy soil attracted me as much as a candy store. Onions, garlic and zucchini fresh from the garden would be packed with nutrition and delicious.  I wanted to get my hands in the soil to dig and plant.  The flowers trailing from window boxes and arranged along stairways reminded me of my window boxes and flower pots on my Alabama steps, so many that my guests can hardly find a place to climb to my doorway. Hearts were everywhere: cutouts of hearts in the timber framing of houses, hearts carved in barn doors, woven straw hearts, hearts on window curtains and painted red hearts on watering cans. 

How could this not bring a smile to the face of even the toughest character?  Red apples bobbing on trees and the trickle of fountains along the street added to the peacefulness.  We saw more tractors parked near the front door than BMW’s.  Bicycles zipped along the lane with families riding along together.  A gray-headed lady whizzed past and I felt like shouting an encouraging: “Go Granny, Go!” 


Roosters, hens, sheep and cows warily kept an eye on us when we said our greetings in English.  Jim had some advice for the cows when he spread a tasty picnic lunch in the sunshine on a lovely day at La Ruche.  The aroma of our delicious food was quickly overtaken by the odor of cow patties drifting our way from the fields.  We stayed at the table as long as we could and hoped the wine would overpower our senses and drown the disgusting odor, but nothing could conquer the stench of the cow’s revenge for my daily photography.  When we stacked our picnic goodies and went through the sliding glass door, Jim had a final word for the cattle: “I’m buying a Sam’s Club-sized package of Imodium for you cows, and then we can have our picnic!

Another couple down the street from us had a lovely picnic spread at their front door when we passed along on our walk.  On the return, I noticed that she was napping on a lounge chair.  Another peaceful memory that I claim for our street

I hope you enjoyed the short stroll with us.  You can visit and claim the peaceful lane for your street.  Just CLICK to Alps Accommodations where they are ever so helpful!!

I have another truly delicious recommendation for you.  We were recently in Columbus, Georgia and found a French bakery that is to die for!!

You will think you went through the front door of a Georgia brick business building and landed in France.  Just below the Eiffel Tower you will find wonderful, flaky croissants and other scrumptious pastries, fresh and perfect.  Did I mention the coffee?  Oh, just get in your car and get on over to My Boulánge, 111 12th Street, Suite 101, Columbus, GA 31901 !!  Special thanks to the owner, Bruno Rizzo, for a beautiful beginning for our morning with pastries and coffee that I wish I could taste every day!

You can read more about travel in France in the book “A French Opportunity”  (Kindle or paper back) during your warm summer days.  Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check it out.  Thank you for taking the time to come around to visit us.  I love to see your comments!

All recommendations are unsolicited with no payment received for my glowing reports.  All photos are the property of Debbie Ambrous.

“Europe in Florida” – by Debbie Ambrous

May, 2017All things French usually appears on this blog page with only an occasional foray into various themes and subjects.  I believe you will agree that Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is an enchanting, extravagant estate which could grace the shores of the Mediterranean and easily seem part of all things French.  Let’s take a peek inside and outside, but first, allow me to share a little background.

A few weeks ago husband Jim and I took the long way around Florida starting on the east coast and traveling down to Coconut Grove, Florida, our old neighborhood where we enjoyed living for fourteen years among the tropical foliage with peacocks squawking in the trees and strutting down the streets like they owned the neighborhood.   The architecture of the homes varied from small cottages to jaw-dropping gorgeous mansions, with styles ranging from Tudor to Mediterranean.  I loved the walks, bike rides and my personal nest in a wicker chair on the balcony surrounded by brilliant orchids and shaded by a massive flamboyant tree.  I miss my tree house perch and all that flowed around it, the sweet friends that we met and the Cuban food we learned to enjoy with them.  But that was far from the only cuisine we enjoyed since every type food imaginable is there to sample, including a favorite French restaurant, Le Bouchon, which has been described as “Paris in the Palms.”

We drove the streets of our old neighborhood and we found the beautiful homes and the lush gardens remained much the same, but to our disappointment we saw one of the most beautiful, a historic home had been razed to the ground, scraping the beautiful flowers that I admired so many times into a dead, brown heap.  We learned later that a multiplex will be built there, likely modern cube-like construction like several other homes that we saw, painted stark white.  I don’t disapprove of modern construction, but it would be a shame for this unique neighborhood to lose its ambiance.  I knew in advance that where we had lived was being remodeled; I hope for betterment and not any further spoiling of this special place.

Now, I will hush with my complaints and go on with my Europe in Florida theme to share the palatial home and gardens that was only a bike ride from my tree house perch in Coconut Grove.  We escorted friends and family as their personal tour guides many times.  Thanks to our lovely friends Alan and Cathi, we attended a special, lavish gala in the evening, with Vizcaya glittering at its best.  I don’t remember the circumstances but our attendance was a last-minute affair.  I was still working on my makeup and adjusting my long, flouncy organza skirt and silky top, both in midnight black, as Jim drove there and parked.  Nonetheless, I felt like a princess for the evening in the moonlight, strolling where real movie stars, billionaires, the Pope and Presidents stepped with their expensive, designer shoes.

Our visit was in the heat this time in mid-May, wearing cotton casual and in my case a sunhat for an exploration of the dream home and gardens brought to life by the industrialist, James Deering.  Deering enlisted 1,000 workers in 1914 to create this 70-plus room mansion and gardens.  Deering along with his design partner Paul Chalfin scoured Europe for furnishings, antiques and paintings. Gilded panels, carved mantels and fresco ceilings from Tuscany and France appear in the rooms, amazing visitors at every turn.

The Tea Room has sleek marble floors, reflecting a rainbow of light, beaming through stained glass doors, but on the day I visited a group of school students sat on the floor listening to the teacher.  So, I didn’t see the rainbow of color on the marble floors, but I hoped the students absorbed appreciation of what they were privileged to tour and would develop an outlook for conserving beauty like this in the Grove.

I loved all of it from the Breakfast Room with Chinese ceramics and Neapolitan seascapes on the walls to the kitchen with brilliant copper pans.  If you visit, be sure to see the small room with glass cabinets filled with French china.  I have a few pieces, but nothing like this stunning collection.

I must agree with other writers about the mansion and gardens who have said that any trip to Vizcaya would be incomplete without a tour of its Edenic grounds.  Since we visited in the mid-day heat, we searched for shady areas in the gardens.  The Formal Gardens are not unlike Versailles with the mesmerizing, geometric patterns, lush mazes and classical statues, but the unique features of Vizcaya shine through with tropical surroundings of palms, rare orchids and Cuban limestone.

There is a hint of the Miami skyline from the water’s edge and at the highest elevation of the garden.  You will not forget that you are in Florida! 

We found another reminder of Florida in the creeping, crawling, big, ugly kind.  A large iguana was sunning at water’s edge, marking its territory as tourists clicked their cameras at the celebrity of the hour.

My favorite section in the garden is The David A. Klein Orchidarium where rows of vibrant Vandas and rare Cymbidiums dangle overhead.  Wind whipped the blooms when we were there, so it was difficult to get my photography accomplished without blurry images.  I saw people reaching and holding the blooms.  I am proud to say that I did not touch the orchids anymore than I touched the iguana!!We had lunch in the café on the grounds in a cozy setting.  We had Mahi-mahi with fries, and I couldn’t resist a Cuban coconut pastry.  Just for old times’ sake!  Such wonderful memories!

James Deering officially took residence in 1916 with an elaborate ceremony complete with gondolas, cannons and Deering’s friends dressed in Italian peasant costumes.  It is easy to envision this scene at the waterfront, minus the iguana, with gondolas bobbing in the bay and laughing guests celebrating in a grand style.  Deering lived there during the winter months until his death in 1925.  His stay and visit at Vizcaya was too short.  What a remarkable legacy he left behind!I hope you enjoyed our visit to Europe in Florida.  As you can imagine, there is a wealth of history to delve into if you so desire to search further on your own.  I have only tip-toed over the high spots.

Thank you for coming along with us.  Next time I should return to all things French, like usual, unless something special happens!  Take care and I do hope you are enjoying your summer.  I love hearing from you.  Just jot a line below to leave a comment on this story and share your thoughts along with other readers.

You can read more about Coconut Grove and France in the book “A French Opportunity” during your warm summer days maybe in a personal nest like the retreat I had in Florida.


Perhaps you would like to CLICK over to check out the book partially composed on this very balcony!