Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's Their Vacation, Too

The Place aux Herbes in Uzes, France, is a shady oasis, a ring of restaurants, a lively gathering place, and a gracious town center. Every time I look at the photo of its fountain, my blood pressure drops.

I'd like to tell you more about my family's trip to Uzes, but my daughters have asked that I not blog about the city. Why? They want it to remain our little secret and are afraid it will be overrun with tourists. (Yes, they know they qualified as tourists there.)

Because my girls asked nicely, I won't write about Uzes. The two weeks, Hubs and I spent with our adult daughters in France reminded me of something I used to know but had forgotten: it's their vacation, too.

Parents of toddlers through teens chose locales and plan activities that entertain and educate their kids--while tiring them out. But as our children turn into adults and begin to share our interests, it's easy to forget that a few shared interests don't make our offspring clones of us.

Or so the Pont du Gard taught me.

The Pont du Gard is a bridge/aqueduct built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. It's part of a thirty-mile aqueduct system that delivered water from Uzes to Nimes for roughly 600 years. Two thousand years ago! (That explanation point tells you all you need to know about my reaction to the Pont du Gard.)

Near the bridge, Hubs and I went one way, and the girls went another after we agreed to meet in two hours.

Hubs and I walked over the Pont du Gard, looked up at it from the river and climbed a small hill to look down at it. Later, in the site's museum, we marveled at displays that showed how the Romans tunneled through hills, quarried and transported local stone and set it into place, using almost no mortar. Pulleys, cranes, and treadmills showed what everyday work at the site would have been like. At the replica of a quarry, a "pick, pick, pick" sound brought the scene to life. Reader, I spent more than an hour in the first century AD.

"This is one of the best museums I've ever seen," said Hubs. Too quickly, it was time to meet the girls, so we dragged ourselves from displays of gurgling water.

Outside, the girls waved. As they approached, one of them held out something wrapped in paper. "This crepe's filled with Nutella.

Did the girls get to the museum? No. They'd checked out the gift shop and had enjoyed every minute of their coffee-and-dessert break.

I started to tell them what a jewel they'd missed but stopped. They're responsible adults with demanding jobs and little down time. Who am I to say they didn't use their hours at the aqueduct well?

As Hubs put it, "Let them eat crepes."

Monday, May 28, 2012


Today is Memorial Day, the day when we honor those men and women who fought and died for our country.  I honor and thank them with all my heart. Without their sacrifices, we wouldn’t enjoy the freedom  and security we do in the United States.

The Memorial Day weekend also marks the beginning of summer. In Houston summer isn’t anticipated with the same enthusiasm it is in say Pennsylvania or Seattle. The gorgeous spring temperatures have already risen to the 90s where they’ll rise and remain until September, October, or even November.  Here in the city the heat and humidity can only be endured, but this weekend my husband and I were lucky to escape to a world we often forget exists—Texas lake life.

Friends invited us to visit their house on Lake Placid on the Guadeloupe River near Seguin. We jumped at the chance to get out of town if only overnight.  Steve had a client meeting Saturday morning so we loaded up the car in the early afternoon, plugged my iPhone into the auxiliary jack in the car and joined the traffic heading west on I-10.

Three hours later we arrived at a tree-shaded  retreat on the banks of a quiet lake. Our hosts welcomed us with an icy adult beverage before firing up their ski boat for a tour of the lake. In bathing suits, sun screen and hats we eventually found a spot among other small boats, dropped anchor and floated in the surprisingly comfortable water for a while. As dusk approached, neighbors hailed us to come to shore at their family compound for a crawfish boil. It was a lovely gathering of parents, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, dogs and neighbors’ dogs. Spicy crawfish, shrimp, corn, potatoes were piled onto a newspaper-covered table and we ate until our stomachs were full and our fingers and lips burned with the hot seasoning. A short boat ride took us back to our friends’ house where we visited for a while before one by one heading off to bed.

After a leisurely breakfast, a little work (yes, they’re talking to Steve about designing a new house so this was partially a business trip), relaxing on the boathouse deck in the shade of huge one pecan trees, we once again changed into bathing suits for a couple hours floating on the lake before heading back to Houston. The casual atmosphere, easy conversation and beautiful scenery was a different world from our busy city life and in 24 hours we felt like we’d had a real vacation.

Even the drive home became a mini-adventure when we detoured to the tiny town of Luling for barbeque.  We ate brisket and sausage at a picnic table on the sidwalk while watching the late Sunday afternoon comings and goings of the locals. On I-10 traffic was light, wild black-eyed Susans blanketed the fields, and the sky went on forever in all directions as it does in the vast flat plains of the Texas countryside, reminding me why I made this place my home.

What did you do this weekend? Are you celebrating summer or mourning the end of spring?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Holiday Links for Writers

This weekend, we salute those who have served their country. We may squeeze in time for a swim, a hike, and a cook-out, but the only links we look forward to have to do with golf or bratwurst. In other words, advice for authors isn't on your holiday agenda, so I'll keep my list of links for writers short and watermelon-sweet.

Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD is a writer's favorite, but when did you last crack it? Yeah, I can't remember, either. Not to worry, writer Leeana Tankersley offers us a list of ten things she's learned from Lamott.

Barbara (Samuel) O'Neal says a central question begs to be answered at the core of our story. "All of us have those central questions in our work. Someone said that we write to answer that question, whatever it is."

Every holiday weekend needs a shot of writer Chuck Wendig, the Tabasco on our scrambled eggs. Here, he weighs in on ways writers earn their audiences.

Finally, writer Marcy Kennedy wants us to think about what we fear most: failure—or success?

Enjoy the long weekend!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Roger Rosenblatt began a recent article in the New York Times with an anecdote about going to speak to his granddaughter’s class and being introduced like this: “This is my grandfather, Boppo. He lives in the basement and does nothing.” Actually he and his wife live in on the lower level of his son-in-law’s house and he’s a writer.
 As a writer still working toward publication, I find it comforting that even seasoned authors are still viewed by family and friends as only vaguely employed. Even harried romance writer friends writing on short-deadline contracts for multiple lines still get called on to volunteer at their children’s school, their church, the neighborhood because they’re seen as housewives with lots of free time. 
In the article Rosenblatt talks about the quirks of most writers—how we live in a world of our own making with imaginary people which can be very hard on family life. Naturally we’re often distracted and immersed in our own realities, or rather the heads and lives of the characters we create. We delight in finding worse case scenarios to challenge our heroines and torture out heroes because we understand that conflict and tension are what make a story exciting.
 Romance writers have the added mission to weave a satisfying love story and in the process we become our heroines and fall in love with our heroes. To tell their story we need to live it scene by scene with every action, thought, speech going down on the page. I’ve heard Susan Elizabeth Phillips say, “Some days I just take dictation.” Those are the days writing is a joy. They’re also the days re-entry into self and real life is the most disorienting. And that’s when it helps if your spouse and family understand that coming out of the zone is like awakening from a deep, vivid dream. Or nightmare. 
My husband has never read any of my work and yet he’s become a brilliant brainstorming partner. Over many conversations, he’s gotten to know my characters and the world they live in. He’s cooked dinner for my writer friends and sat quietly absorbing our concerns, ideas, frustrations and victories. He’s learned not to take my distracted conversations as disinterest in him or to have his feelings hurt by my affection for my deeply flawed, larger-than-life alpha-heroes. And he buys a good Bordeaux to ease the sting of rejection or celebrate a victory. Yeah, we writers are an odd lot, misunderstood by friends, family and strangers we meet. Like Roger Rosenblatt, I’m happy with this writing life and wouldn’t choose any other. Okay, maybe I’d switch places with Angelina Jolie. Just for a little while.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

All My Friends Are Talking about Leaving*

A couple of nights ago, I went to a going-away party. Friends are off to live the adventure they'd postponed for work and family responsibilities. They'll build a house by the sea, hike, canoe, and weave themselves into the fabric of a new community. I wish them well.

And miss them like hell although they won't leave town for two weeks.

Another friend lost a job locally and found a better one almost 600 miles away. Email keeps us together. In a way. After a fashion.

What am I saying? It's not the same.

Friends have left for job transfers, suburban school systems, and retirement. You'd think I'd have gotten used to saying good-bye.

But no. It gets harder, not easier. In college, it was easy to corral potential friends into a study group. As a new mother, it was a cinch to start a playgroup for toddlers/gab session for moms. Later, co-workers became friends because we had a lot in common--and our jobs ate into our non-working hours, making it tough to balance family life, never mind outside friendships.

Goodbyes have made me reluctant to befriend someone new. There's a woman at my exercise place who's snarky about issues and nice about people. That's a combination I like, but I haven't mustered the energy to invite her for dinner. What if she's allergic to cats? What if Hubs and her significant other have zero in common? What if? What if?

Over the next few days, I'll remind myself I haven't lost the friends preparing to leave town; I've gained a reason to visit the Outer Banks.

Will I believe it?

Not a chance.

*Thanks to The Head and The Heart for the title

Friday, May 18, 2012


Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco, died yesterday. The five-time Grammy winner rose to superstardom in the 1970s and 1980s but my husband still has her greatest hits on his iPhone. So do I.

Who can listen to HOT STUFF, LAST DANCE  or HARD OF THE MONEY without wanting to move? Her music always lifts my spirits and makes me want to get up and dance. There’s a scene in the 1997 movie, THE FULL MONTY, that is so brilliant because it captures the way her music makes people feel.

Disco was the perfect era for Donna Summer’s big voice and dynamic presence. Not many female vocalists could sing a duet with Barbra Streisand and hold her own (Steve insists Donna outshines Babs on “No More Tears.”). Reports say she was working on a new album. I hope so. She was one of a kind who will always have a place in my playlists!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Snoozes, You Loses in Uzes

Uzes, a city of roughly 8,500 in southern France, boasts cobbled streets, medieval towers, and a cathedral destroyed and rebuilt twice—a victim of religious wars. Uzes also hosts a twice-a-week open air market that attracts locals and visitors from as far as Avignon and Arles.

It drew me like a fly to cheese.

I thought I knew what to expect of market day thanks to the Market Day in Nice post on Patricia Sands' blog. Her post even included a video and a soundtrack.

Nevertheless, market day in Uzes overwhelmed me with its bounty: dozens of types of goat cheese, a variety of olive oils, olives, jams, breads, fish, sausages, not to mention fresh fruits and vegetables. I walked, sniffed, and stared at the sensory banquet around me.

Lunch that day consisted of hearty bread, saucisson, goat cheese, olives, and fruit. It tasted of heaven.

I miss the market in Uzes, so tell me, do you have a favorite open-air market stateside? Where is it and what do you buy?

Monday, May 14, 2012


When we went to see THE AVENGERS Saturday afternoon my expectations were modest. In spite of breaking the all time first weekend earnings record, this is a super-hero flick based on comic book characters. And yet, Joss Whedon’s script and direction made it hold together and work on many levels beyond Thor’s impressive physique, and that’s why people flocked to it. 
Like most super-hero stories, the villain, Thor’s adopted demi-god brother Loki, is clearly the bad guy through and through. He wants to enslave and rule the Earth with the help of some truly hideous aliens—information we get before the initial titles. 
The good guys, called up by the head of a pseudo-government agency, don’t hit it off which is one of the more clever humanizing aspects of the story and what sets it apart from other extreme action films like TRANSFORMERS. In their first encounter Ironman and Thor fight over capturing Loki and in the process level a lot of terrain. As the threat to Earth intensifies, the superheroes begin to bond—well, at least cooperate—and the action ramps up. And the special effects are marvelous! 
If you haven’t seen the original films of IRONMAN, THOR and CAPTAIN  AMERICA, you’ll miss a lot of the more amusing references and conflicts. The younger characters—Thor, Captain America and Natasha—are all good, but it’s Robert Downey Jr.’s irreverent, egotistical, brilliant Tony Stark aka Ironman who makes this movie work. Besides being a wonderful actor, RDJ has the screen presence to give the team depth and maturity as well as drive. Without him, the two handsome Chrises—Hemsworth and Evans—wouldn’t have risen above the comic book characters as effectively as they did. Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo rounded out the super-team with their usual skill and everyone pitched in the big battle.
This movie is what a blockbuster is supposed to be. So rent the prequels if you haven’t seen them, then treat yourself to a very entertaining 143 minutes of action. Check out the trailer:

Have you seen THE AVENGERS? What did you think? Have you seen any other good films lately?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tourists Do the Darndest Things

The tourist who has his nose in a guidebook instead of enjoying the sights around him is a cliche. In truth, some of us lose touch with reality long before we board that plane or train.

In the days leading up to my family's recent trip to France, I had plenty of work to do. Nevertheless, I convinced myself that weeding and putting down 76 cubic feet of mulch would persuade potential burglars someone was home—and likely to emerge with a roaring leaf-blower if anyone messed with the locks. (Update: No one broke into the house while we were gone. Was mulch the major deterrent? Hard to know for sure.)

If I acted like a tourist at home, you know I stood out in France. Like many others, I caught jump-in-front-of-monument disease—a virus that spurs visitors to leap into the air when posing for pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Notre Dame.

At home, it's rare that all my family members are seated and ready to go at the beginning of a meal, so it's pointless for us to raise our glasses in a toast, especially one glass is bound to be empty while another is so full it will slosh out its contents if lifted. In France, at every meal except breakfast, we toasted our luck in being together in a breathtaking country. Some onlookers probably considered us goofy. Other might have thought us easily pleased. No matter. We were together and in France—reasons enough to celebrate.

What about you? Ever do something nutty in the name of home security? What's the most touristy thing you've ever done?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Maurice Sendak, R.I.P.

Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of one of my favorite children's books, Where the Wild Things Are,  died Tuesday. He was 83. 
There was a wonderful piece on him on NPR this week which included excerpts from interviews with him over many years. He said he had a terrible childhood and didn’t believe in making children think the world was a safe beautiful place. And yet he created monsters that all of us could relate to, monsters and weird beasts we could make peace with and co-exist with, just like the children in his books. To quote the movie trailer:
            Inside each of us is Fear.
Inside each of us is Adventure.
Inside each of us is a Wild Thing.

R.I.P. Maurice Sendak. You gave so many generations of children permission to believe in their imaginations.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dessert? Mais Oui!

I'm proud to introduce an artistic, culinary, and cultural advance I encountered during a recent trip to France.

If you expect me to unveil the location of a recently discovered sculpture by Rodin or the definitive connection between red wine consumption and heart health, you'll be disappointed, but only briefly.

I've got something better. C'est vrai. I offer you le café gourmand, a coffee/dessert combination favored by even the most waist-conscious Parisiennes. Here's the blueprint: a cup of espresso plus a trio or quartet of teeny-tiny desserts—mere tastes.

The petite size of the desserts wipes out the guilt factor and minimizes risk. If you dislike the morsel of cake, there's a mini-macaron to sample—and a Lilliputian scoop of ice cream and/or a dollop of mousse au chocolat.

I first learned about le cafe gourmand via STUFF PARISIANS LIKE, a tongue-in-cheek book by sommelier-turned-wine-expert/entrepreneur Olivier Magny. Here's how Magny describes the after-dinner treat: "The trick of le café gourmand is that though it is minimum sin, it is maximum indulgence. You have it all. Coffee and dessert. And multiple desserts to top it off. Restaurateurs with le café gourmand become the Parisian’s partners in crime: flattering his social sense of guilt, while stroking discretely his shameful gourmandise."

The dessert is perfect for sharing, and I sampled it time and time again. My daughters, however, are its true connoisseurs.

Isn't it time the U.S. joined the movement? I've heard of dessert shooters—desserts in shot glasses, but where's the coffee? Allons, enfants, let's make le café gourmand popular here, too. 
Tell, me, what's your favorite full-sized dessert. Could you be happy with just a bite or two? Does the prospect of sampling three or four favorites fill you with guilt or joy?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hmmm. Zanzibar, Troy or Timbuktu this summer?

 I recently read an interesting article on one of my favorite websites,, called 10 Places of Myth and Legend. Although some of these walk the credibility line, I loved the concept of the piece. It begins like this: 
Even though we can get to the other side of the world in less than a day, there are still places that resist becoming everyday. Over the centuries they have accumulated tall stories like Manhattan accumulates tall buildings. So pack your compass, reading glasses and imagination for a journey to sites of myth and legend. Here are ten places that are caught in the imagination more tightly than on any map.
So what are these mythical places we can hop a plane, boat, Landrover or camel and visit? Here are some the article listed:
Zanzibar, a place right out of 1001 Arabian Nights that entered 1940’s pop-culture with the Crosby/Hope/Lamour movie, Road to Zanzibar 
Valley of the Kings, the ancient site along the Nile where the tombs of those famous pharaohs Ramses and Tut were carved into the hills. Also a popular shore tour with photo ops on all those modern Nile cruises 
Troy,  famous for Helen of, a huge wooden horse and more recently a man-candy movie starring a mostly unclothed Brad Pitt
Karakorum,Mongolia, the 13th century capital of Genghis Khan’s empire. If you’re thinking of a quick summer vacation-- there’s no way to get there by air.
Carthage, home of Rome’s archenemy Hannibal and his army of elephants
Timbuktu, famous for being the end of the earth somewhere in the desert (Trivia note--the 1959 movie was filmed in Kanab, Utah, home of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary)  
Avalon,  of the King Arthur legend which also figures in the delightful and totally anachronistic  BBC’s series, MERLIN
Shambhala,Tibet, the real Shangri-la of James Hilton’s book,  Lost Horizon,  and the 1937 movie with Roland Coleman and Jane Wyatt

Are any of these destinations in your summer holidays plans? Are you vacationing someplace equally as interesting? If not, take heart and check out Lonely Planet’s list of 10 places that don’t exist (but should)  and plan your next voyage to Narnia or Middle Earth.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stereotype-Busting in Paris

I just returned home from a long-dreamed-of trip to France and will tell you more than you want to know about it. For starters, though, I must puncture a stereotype.

The French are supposed to be aloof, disdainful of tourists, and unwilling to dampen their popped collars with sweat by helping clueless visitors. If those stereotypes are true, how do you explain the following?

We arrived in Paris on a rainy Tuesday evening and headed for a nearby café. At the end of our meal, Hubs paid the bill and fumbled to leave a tip. Our charming, red-headed server wagged her index finger. "En France, non," she said.

I struggled to buy a carnet of ten Metro tickets from a machine with my debit card, but it was rejected with the phrase "carte muette." In other words, the card didn't speak to the machine. Hubs tried his credit card and got the same response. My daughters fished in their wallets for the twelve euros needed for the machine, Alas, we didn't have enough coins for a carnet of ten tickets. Enter a Frenchman on his way to work and short on time. He offered to give us four Metro tickets. (Each one is worth roughly $1.25.) We thanked him profusely but said we couldn't accept such a gift. He then offered to buy us the carnet with his credit card if we paid him back with cash. Ah bon?! The Frenchman, named Alex, used his card, handed us the Metro tickets, accepted the equivalent cash, and told us his sister now lived in Nashville. "We must help one another," he said before dashing down the Metro station's steps to catch his train.

Travel writer Rick Steves touts the cheap thrill of sightseeing in Paris via bus #69, a public bus that travels from a stop not far from the Eiffel Tower to arrondissement 20, passing a bucket load of important monuments and sights. I insisted we take the bus. Hubs and daughters didn't see the point, but went along with me. We boarded some distance from the bus's start, but there were seats free at the back, and Hubs and I headed for them. My daughters, who were balancing shopping bags from H&M (wherever in the world they find themselves, they make a beeline for H&M), preferred to stand in the middle of the bus for what they thought would be a short ride. The journey turned out to be long, twisty, with many stops. The girls eventually got seats but gave them up repeatedly as older women boarded with bulging grocery bags.

Daughters directed a couple of murderous glares at me, but I ignored them as well as Hubs' squirming. What can I say? Bus #69 represented the kind of slice-of-life sight-seeing I like best. If my family couldn't appreciate it, tant pis.

We disembarked at the end of the line, walked through a neighborhood park, and then Hubs and daughters went off together in search of a café. I strolled to a bus stop where I consulted the route map. Evilly, I considered putting us on an even longer bus route back into the center of the city, but as I plotted, an older woman came up beside me and offered to help me find my way. I told her I wasn't lost, just confused, and pointed to my family now halfway down the block. We exchanged a handful of sentences before I realized she had understood the source of my confusion and was standing with me in solidarity—mother beside mother.

Now tell me: what stereotypes have you punctured in your travels?