Monday, December 31, 2012

Cruel Consequences of Russia's Adoption Ban

My two were style mavens from the moment they first set foot in this country

While the world has seen more than its share of horrors and outrages during this year, my heart ached particularly when the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed the law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans.  The level of cruelty behind this move is beyond understanding.  I speak from the perspective of one of those parents who gave her heart to two school-aged children she first met through a shaky video years ago showing a roomful of Russian children all trying to “out-cute” each other in order to win the golden ticket that would send them to forever families across the ocean.

I cry inside for the parents who have chosen their children but may never get to hold them.  I cry for all of the children who will never find families if the ban stays in place.  While the administrative paperwork and amount of money involved in international adoptions makes it seem like a business transaction, the creation of families happens in an instant.  Believe me, when you look at a video and choose your children, you are immediately as hopelessly in love with them as any parents are with their unborn baby after hearing  “you’re pregnant” from a doctor.  So to lose this child in the middle of the adoption procedure is as traumatic as a miscarriage.  Only this time it’s much worse because the children – who have no sense of the politics – are left to believe that they’re damaged goods or completely unlovable.

The new law is in retaliation for a recent law in the United States that banned those in Russia accused of human rights abuses from traveling to or owning assets in the U.S.   So 650,000 children remain in a holding pattern of foster homes and orphanages. About 120,000 are available for adoption.  A large percentage of those are special needs cases.  My husband and I were blessed that our two children didn’t come to us disabled, did not suffer from H.I.V., or have any known diseases, but they had an enormous number of special needs after living every minute of the first eight years of their lives in an institution.

Some people say that the ban is good because there are children in the U.S. who need homes.  Americans shouldn’t cross the ocean to find one to adopt, they say.  We should focus our attention on those here.  However, with so many children all over the globe who need families, we should all rejoice when any one of them finds a home.  The decision to adopt internationally (or adopt at all) is not made lightly, so those who choose this long, expensive, and difficult route shouldn’t be second-guessed any more than they should be considered saints.  They’re simply following their heart to where their longed-for children live.

Some in Russia say the ban is good because the country shouldn’t be giving away its children.  The truth of the matter is, though, that many countries don’t nurture an adoption culture.  Issues of poverty, rules of inheritance, cultural distinctions, religious laws and the like discourage families from embracing unrelated children as their own.  With this new blockade raised, I’m not sure what plan Russia has now for locating homes for the hundreds of thousands of children currently languishing in its institutions.  It currently has only about 18,000 families registered to adopt.

However, I do know what will happen to those children who fail to find a home before they age out of the system between 16 and 18 years old.  Generations to come will end up on the street without money, without support, with little education, with no one to love them.  Russia passed its new law in retaliation for our law against human rights abusers.  Unfortunately, the only ones who will actually suffer real consequences are the children waiting day after day for a mommy or daddy to take them home, wherever that home may be.  It’s just one more abusive blow to them. 

I can only imagine the agony of the American parents-in-waiting who are caught in the middle of this game of political one-upmanship.  I can’t bear to imagine where my beautiful children would be now if my husband and I hadn’t been able to bring them home 17 years ago.  While countries might wildly disagree on any number of issues, it just seems so basic to me that a universal and unwritten agreement would exist that you don’t hold children hostage for political gain.  Haven’t children in an orphanage already lost enough?  

Now everybody go hug your children – because you can.

I don’t often write overtly political blog posts.  Today I’m not sure what question to leave you with.  Perhaps you can talk to me in the comments box about children’s issues that occupy your mind and heart.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Recipe for Christmas Love and Sweet Memories

Grandma's strawberry cookies

The best thing about being down with the flu for two weeks is it gives you a new perspective on all the Christmas frenzy.  In other words, I had no energy to become obsessed with having a perfectly decorated tree with ornaments distributed absolutely symmetrically top to bottom and front to back.  No energy to fill the window boxes with evergreen cuttings and pine cones.  No energy to stay up all night baking every freakin’ Christmas cookie recipe from my mother and grandmother’s recipe boxes.

Truth be told, I’ve been known to be a bit of a shrew around this time of the year because I thought the holiday would not be perfect unless EVERYTHING was exactly as my mom had done it, and Grandma, and Granny.  Trying to be three people can be exhausting.  For a couple of decades I would bake for days and days to recreate all the family’s signature cookies during the week leading up to Christmas.  Then I’d end up throwing out half of them after New Year’s because nobody needed that many.

It took a lot of years and a lot of sleepless nights during Christmas week before I realized my mania was simply a way to bring to the celebration all those people I loved and missed so much.  Their traditions had defined the holiday for me.  Making six or seven different Christmas treats meant that my loved ones were with me through the season, even if it killed me.

So this weekend I’ll be making another batch of my Grandma’s strawberry cookies.  I know that strawberries don’t exactly scream “Christmas” to most people.  But our holiday meal wasn’t complete until she walked through the door with them.

In my youth I was more about butter cookies with icing and sprinkles or fudge, turning my nose up at Grandma’s Christmas offering.  After all, why would I want a “cookie” made from chopped dates if I could have oodles of butter and frosting and chocolate and every other thing with no nutritional value?  It wasn’t until my late teens that my taste buds matured enough to slap me upside the head over what I had been missing.

After I moved back to my hometown Grandma started threatening to give up cookie baking at Christmas because she couldn’t read the recipes or get to the store to do her own shopping for the ingredients.  Being 92 will do that for you.  What was worse than Grandma giving up baking, however, was the realization that I didn’t know how to make some of her signature sweets.

That Christmas I asked her to show me how to make her strawberry cookies.  She had first tasted them about 25 years before at a church meeting and pestered the woman who had brought them for the recipe.  Grandma had been making them ever since.  And now I would finally know.

We spent the afternoon in her little apartment watching The Price Is Right as we shaped the date concoction into the shape of strawberries.  Our fingers turned red from rolling them in the colored sugar and green from the tube of green icing that formed the leaves on the top.  I repeated the event for the next three years until she passed away.  And then I continued on because passing on this small skill felt as important as passing on any family photographs, jewelry or furniture.

So now I produce Grandma’s strawberry cookies, even if I have no time for the others.  And I only make a half recipe to make this labor-intensive endeavor a little easier on me.  After all, it’s really the care and love they served up during the season that is the most important thing to recreate.

Grandma Farrar’s Strawberry Cookies

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 cups Rice Krispies, slightly crushed
1 cup coarsely copped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
red decorating sugar
1 tube green icing, with leaf tip

In a heavy saucepan, combine dates, sugar, butter, and eggs.  Mix well and bring to a boil, stirring often to prevent scorching.

Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer 6-7 minutes, stirring often.

Remove from heat and stir in Rice Krispies, nuts, and vanilla.

Let mixture cool slightly.  Then shape small amounts into the shape of a strawberry (flatten one end of chunk and pinch the other end).  Roll in red sugar.  Finish by using the icing tube and tip to add one or two leaves of green icing to the large end of the cookie.

Stick in your favorite Christmas movie and call a companion over to help you shape and decorate them.  The memories make them taste all the sweeter.

When I read French Word A Day blogger Kristin Espinasse’s story about her obsession with re-creating the Christmas of her Arizona youth in her adult home in the south of France, I felt her crazed mania and longing for the familiar.  For her, it was about finding a tree exactly like her mother had lavished such care on each year.  For me it had been about cookie-baking.  After you read Kristin’s lively piece come back and tell us what’s one holiday tradition (Christmas or other) that you insist on although it drives you and everyone around you to the brink?  Why does it mean so much to you?  Share your obsession in the comments box.

In the wake of the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, 
I'm wishing peace on earth and goodwill toward all

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Rekindled Love Affair With Nancy Drew


I’m now home and recovering from jet lag.  It will be a peaceful Thanksgiving because the extended family here in town already celebrated the holiday.  Several have other commitments for other turkey dinners on Thursday.  So mostly I’ll be trying to catch up with my St. Louis life (think “laundry”) while the rest of the country chows down on pumpkin pie.

This week I’m guest blogging on the website of  Sherry Isaac, winner of the Alice Munro Short Story Award in 2009 for “The Forgetting” and writer of mystery and romance.  She’s asked a wide range of writers to share our memories of life with the girl detective.  I’m proud to be part of this series.
Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Russian Princess
Of the large library of books I had amassed growing up, there were only a few that stayed with me as I grew older. Of course I kept my Dr. Suess books. And then there was my Louisa May Alcott series, which showed young women with a spark of independence at a time I knew they really were only supposed to sit there and look pretty. Finally, there was my small collection of Nancy Drew mysteries.

I read them and imagined what it was like to be so confident and intelligent. Nancy was so self-sufficient and willing to place herself in the middle of the most dangerous situations. She never second-guessed herself or had to wonder who she could eat with in the lunchroom. She took on the world on her own terms.

I held on to those books. They sat at my dad’s house until he downsized to an apartment. I boxed them up and moved them from apartment to apartment to first house as my life advanced. One day, yes, one day I would have a little girl. . . .

(Read on here and share your own Nancy tales)

And on a side note, here’s my personal take on Black Friday Creep.  Support your local small business this holiday season and remember to take more family time than shopping time.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving memory or food?  Share it in the comments box then resume your eating.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

5 Reasons Why It's Not Crazy To Buy A Second Home In Another Country

I turned onto rue de la Liberté late one night and was stopped
by the installation and testing of the Christmas lights
that will illuminate this city during the holiday season

Now that my short-lived span of buyer’s remorse is over, instead of thinking of all the reasons why my husband and I shouldn’t have purchased this apartment in France, I’ve started to count the reasons why this is not such a crazy idea.  What do you think?

5. You can dip your toe in the world of those who’ve made the decision to go all in and move their life to foreign soil, like those who’ve fueled my France love -- Kristen Espinasse at French Word A Day or Lynn McBride at Southern Fried French.  It gives you an opportunity to see if the big leap is for you before you pull up roots and wave good-bye to your hometown in the rear-view mirror.

4. You get this strangely satisfying feeling when you realize you’ve earned the right to complain about changes in the bus routes right along with the locals because you pay taxes, too.

3. Yes, you could keep renting.  I’ve met people who return to the same part of France every year and always rent like we have.  But my husband and I really want to know we’ll have a comfortable bed, a kitchen with everything we need to cook the fabulous foods in the market, and (most importantly) a place to put all the things I want to buy at the monthly brocantes without having to ship them home.  This place has come to feel like home, so we’re just closing the circle.

2. After years of putting your head down and working hard to fulfill all adult/parent responsibilities, it’s OK to do something that seems a bit crazy but doesn’t put your physical or financial health at risk.  Maybe sooner rather than later we’ll realize that this has been “the best bad idea we’ve had” (any Argo fans out there?), but it’s not as permanent as misspelled matching tattoos in a prominent place on our anatomy.

1. You are a permanent part of this



and this (anybody for a little "Hotel California on a Saturday morning?)

Sometimes that's reason enough.

Do any of you own a second home or dream of owning a second home someplace outside of your own state or region?  What draws you to it?  Share your second home thoughts in the comments box.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10 Reasons Not To Buy A Second Home In Another Country

So tell me why it's not a good idea to have a second home
in a place where these surprises await you every day.

Now that all the papers have been signed, the radiators are kinda sorta finally producing heat, and I’ve bought a fire-engine red aspirateur (vacuum cleaner) for the place, those buyer’s remorse thoughts are snaking their way into the back of my brain.  What business in the-world-of-what’s-sane do my husband and I have buying a second home in a foreign country instead of, say, a condo in Lake of the Ozarks or on a Florida beach like most people I know?

It must be a side effect of staying up late to watch too many House Hunters International marathons (yeah, I know it’s fake, but mostly because they don’t ask the hard questions like “How did the plumbing work after you moved in?”).

So as I sit at my little writing desk with the morning sun washing through my 9-foot French windows, listening to my water heater hum loudly (just a minute, let me go turn on the faucet in the kitchen; that usually stops the noise – for about three minutes), let me give any of you considering something as crazy as this all the reasons you need to run the other way.

1.  You probably don’t speak the language very well.
Some of you may be international business titans who mastered the tongue of your new home through an immersion course in the Swiss Alps or somesuch place.  Most of us, however, don’t have that advantage.  And we really can’t demand that any native friends we have in that country move in with us in case we need someone to make a phone call or translate a bill that arrived in the mailbox.

2.  The heating/plumbing system is completely unfamiliar.
I’m not talking about all the different toilets one discovers as a world traveler.  Believe me, I would never buy a home in a country that had two platforms for the feet on either side of a hole in the ground (although that’s frequently the option in public restrooms in France, e.g., at highway rest stops.  Come on, France! Qu'est-ce qui se passe?).  I’m talking about knowing something is wrong with your heater and all you can do is stare at the box on the wall with all the strange levers, knobs, and gauges and wonder if you should dare touch them.  And you certainly can’t call the plumber (see reason #1).

3.  You may not have a ready supply of friends and family to haul new furniture up to your 3rd floor apartment.
I never understood Europe’s addiction to IKEA everything – beds, chairs, even complete kitchens – until I realized that it came packed in compact boxes that could easily be carried and dragged up winding staircases and through small, ancient doorways into 3rd floor apartments.  The best incentive to make new friends in a foreign country, is to have someone help you haul something home from a brocante (flea market or antique fair) that isn’t packed in an IKEA box (and for my non-European readers, that’s pronounced IK-e-a, not eye-KE-a).  I don’t have enough of those yet.

4.  Netflix streaming and Hulu don’t work across the ocean.
Don’t tell me that you would never waste your life in a foreign country watching TV.  If you have enough chilly, drizzly Sunday afternoons when nothing is open you’d do it. After a while, though, the novelty of trying to watch local programs in an attempt to improve your language (again, see reason #1) grows old.  And then you stumble upon a random episode of Law and Order!  But listening to tough New Yorker Jerry Orbach dubbed with a Maurice Chevalier voice makes you want to put a skewer through your ear canal.  And Joan Rivers’ Fashion Police seems to be your only option in English.  Sometimes you’re just dying to hear an uninterrupted stream of your own language.  So you thank the entertainment gods that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart does actually provide worldwide online access to each episode.

5.  No good Mexican food is available.
It’s an important matter to consider, even if this new apartment is in a food-and-wine capital of Europe.  Why would I want to live someplace, even if not on a permanent basis, that would mean no opportunity for extended periods of time to eat a burrito as big as my head and smothered in queso?  Missing out on that for a vacation is one thing; missing out on it for multiple weeks each year is a challenge up there with adjusting to pit toilets.

6.  If you want to justify the money you put into this home in a foreign country then you have to spend time there, which means not spending time going elsewhere in the world.
Point taken.  But then again, this new place could be a jumping off spot for visits to other countries and continents.  I can swing by my new place to pick up hiking boots (don’t have to use precious carry-on luggage space) and then hop a fast train to Switzerland, Germany, England, The Netherlands, or fly down south to Morocco.  I could get to them as easily as I could take a long weekend in Portland, OR if I need a serious food truck fix and hike in the mountains.  I now have a lifetime to visit them all instead of planning one huge Grand Tour in an unending series of planes and tour buses.

7.  You are not one of those people with a private jet to whisk you off to your foreign digs at the drop of a hat.  It’s 18 hours of grueling travel (and what travel isn’t grueling now?).
That’s true, but I can go whenever I want to now.  I don’t have to make “arrangements.”  No compromising on rental dates, no coordinating with tour groups, no sense of having to make the trip worth the expense and time.  If I want to go and there is a fare sale on, I pack my carry-on and go.  I don’t redecorate my home every two years, I don’t spend money on new cars (well, maybe once every ten years or so), most of my shopping is done at Home Depot and Target (or now their French equivalents of Monsieur Bricolage and le Carrefour).

8.  It’s hard enough taking care of the house you live in every day.  How do you keep up with one across the ocean?
Well, yeah.  Makes lots of sense.

9.  Taxes, taxes, and more taxes.
And in a foreign language and currency.  Yikes!  I think my husband and I should be committed before we can do more harm.

Pizza delivery vehicules in my neighborhood
I think I’m going to stop at 9 reasons.  Finish the list for me.  Give me a reason #10 in the comments box.  Tell us why buying a part-time home in a foreign country is the worst thing a person could ever do.  And then tell us where you’d buy yours after you ignore all the reasons why not. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Banquet of French Paperwork

11/8/12-french paperwork1
As soon as electricity contract is secured, I want this light fixture

Signing up for utilities in France seems to require more forms for proof of identity than signing up for the passport it took to get here.  Even buying a simple coffeemaker was no piece of éclair.

The French are fond of complicating everything.  Why fill out one form when five will do?  My language skills were no match for the onslaught of questions and information thrown at me by anyone I encountered in my attempt to get set up in this new French household.

First stop was all things technological.  Even before I signed the papers everyone said, “You must go today to get internet.  Hurry, hurry.  Do not wait.  You must make the call today.”  And so I waited until the next day.  Because there were a million options.  Not only were there half a dozen choices for internet companies, but there were also as many options for delivering television and landline telephone.  And a puzzle of choices inside choices.  To bundle or not to bundle?  Which “bouquet” (extra channels) to buy?  Who is best if I have a problem?  Which system even works in my neighborhood – let alone my building?

Finally, after endless research online, I threw up my hands and went with Orange, the company that had the most storefronts in town.  I figured if I had a problem, at least I could “talk” to someone face-to-face.  And I added the English-language package because it offered the TCM channel of movies (an addiction back home).

The first thing every service I wanted in Dijon asked for was my mobile number.  Apparently, that’s their favorite way to communicate with you.  But no place would accept my American number.  The clerk at the internet store would only write down the mobile number of the dear friend who had accompanied me.  (Apparently, Didier’s phone number will forever be connected to my account.  Hope I don’t do anything to ruin his credit rating.)  Then she wanted proof that I would be living in that apartment, because, you know, they have a huge problem with people taking the trouble to sign up for internet and television in places where they won’t be living (do the French do sarcasm?).

I don’t know about where you are, but at home if we want services we call the company and say, “Hey, I want services at this address” and they say “OK, when can we come set it up?”  But on that Saturday morning they wanted proof of my residence.  They wanted bank information (which, of course, I carry with me at all times -- not).  They needed my passport.  Thank heavens I had a copy of it stuffed in my wallet.  Then they wanted information about the person from whom I was buying the apartment.  You know, the regular stuff like her name, her phone number, the company with which she had service before.  Stuff we always carry around with us when trying to get cable TV service.

Thank heavens I had been carrying around that little slip of paper the previous owner had given me at the walk-through.  I had no idea what a vital link that would be to living like a non-tourist in France.

My French skills deserted me about two minutes into this transaction.  I just gave up and let dear Didier answer everything and work out compromises when I didn’t have the documents they demanded.  At least I had a local bankcard, which made our efficient-if-slightly-annoyed clerk happy.

Then she handed me THE BOXES.  Yes, while for the most mundane services like buying chocolate or a scarf I’m carried along on a customer support bed of meringue, for the more complicated business, the less service I get.  It would be completely up to me to install my internet/television/telephone services.  Reading the directions in French.  After they sent Didier a series of text messages with special codes over the course of the next ten days to two weeks!  Which he would then have to forward to me because he would be out of town.  Now I knew why everyone was urging me not to even eat or sleep before I signed up for internet if I wanted it before I left town.

And that was just the beginning.

Aggravations can be worth it when this is in your neighborhood
11/8/12-french paperwork2

It took three different clerks for me to buy a coffeemaker and DVD player at the Darty’s store (think Best Buy but with better uniforms and less efficient service).  When I finally tracked down a clerk to help me because only displays are on the shelves, he whipped out an old-school spiral assignment notepad from his back pocket and started taking notes about everything I wanted.  He faithfully recorded the shelf ticket information, tried to answer the questions about different options, and exhibited massive enthusiasm.  Then he escorted me to the first of three desks I would visit just to buy a coffeemaker and DVD player.

And so began the questions again.  Mobile phone number.  Yikes, no French number!  Quel désastre!  He sought the advice of his supervisor.  Darty’s always uses text messaging to send out reports about guarantees, respond to customer questions, etc.  What to do?  Finally, the supervisor made an executive decision that I could use my e-mail account instead of a phone number.  I won’t bore you with the rest of the filling out a large online form before I could hand anyone a bankcard.  But that was not the end of it.  This clerk was not even the one to take my money.  For that he escorted me to a counter where all they did was run my card and give me a form to take to another counter where I would have the pleasure of waiting to pick up the boxes my original clerk had sent a stock boy to fetch.

As for signing up for electricity and gas for my apartment?  Maybe more on that later.  It exhausts me even to think about it.  I’m still recovering from the process – and I didn’t even have to do the hard work.  Didier came to the rescue again and gave up his morning to sit on hold while I paced and rifled through my folder of paperwork finding him any document they were demanding.  My son just moved into a new apartment back home.  You know, all he did was make a phone call and say, “I moved into this apartment” and they said, “OK, name and address for the bill.”

But I guess all of this is the price one pays to have a place to live in France.

What kinds of adjustment pangs have you had to suffer over the years?  Tell us your most memorable one in the comments box.

While I'm not about filling bookshelves with wooden words instead of books,
I'm trying to take to heart this message left behind by the previous owner as I learn
the French way about business

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

View From A Voter Abroad -- Election Day 2012


And would some Power the small gift give us

To see ourselves as others see us!

It would from many a blunder free us,

And foolish notion:

What airs in dress and gait would leave us,

And even devotion!
(modern language translation of Robert Burn’s “To A Louse”)

When I came to France at the height of the crazy season for presidential elections, I actually thought that those annoying robocalls would get a lock on my cell phone and follow me across the ocean.  Certainly their e-mails to donate more money didn’t stop at our shoreline.

Many people I’ve encountered here have been very aware of our upcoming election, asking all the time who I think will win and if I’ve already voted (yes, absentee before I left).  In fact, they’re more aware than some people back home.  Author Sue Williams Silverman reported on her Facebook page that as late as this weekend she encountered a 30-year old at her beauty salon who not only hadn’t decided for whom she’d vote, she hadn’t even realized the election was Nov. 6.

The last time I was in France during autumn (2007), even the average taxi driver had an opinion about the upcoming 2008 election, and an even louder one about George Bush.  The French news programs have divided their reporting on this visit almost equally between French/European news and reports about Hurricane Sandy and the election, even though they are experiencing their own devastating flooding in the region of Calais in the northern part of their country.

This summer, as I reported, one acquaintance asked at dinner why Mitt Romney seemed to be so far ahead of Barack Obama in fundraising.  Have you ever tried to explain Super-PACs and "Corporations are people, too"?  That’s how attuned to the election those outside our country are.  To some extent, they feel they have a stake in it.  As goes America, so goes the rest of the world.

That’s one of the best benefits of travel.  We can step back from our neighborhood perspective and see our own country with fresh eyes.  Too often, I think we act like the high-born lady in Burns’ poem – feeling so secure and special while unaware that we’re carrying the same crawling vermin as every other person in that church on Sunday.  That’s a bit of the foundation on which the “ugly American” image rests.  We often give off the attitude that we’re the beginning and the end of world politics and culture without understanding how we’re seen by others or without bothering to understand what is going on in their country.

We can learn from other countries.  For example, let’s move to Sunday voting like in Europe.  Let’s have national ID cards recognized across state lines for all essentials like voting and cashing checks and be done with it.  Let’s develop uniform voting procedures (that’s been the hardest to explain, that each state – each county –  makes up its own rules for voting in presidential elections).

But most importantly, let’s remind everyone why we should be the model for democratic politics by getting out to vote, no matter how inconvenient.  If you think someone might not have a ride to the polls, give them a call and help out.  Be patient and cheerful while waiting with your neighbors.  Don’t forget some kind of ID because even if your county doesn’t require it, you never know if some pesky poll watcher let loose to gum up the wheels of democracy might try to make an issue of your identity.

I’ll be staying up late and getting up early to follow the results on my computer and my newly installed cable television.

And if your guy doesn’t win, find a way to move on and compromise on the most essential issues so that America can remain worthy of the attention the rest of the world gives us.


Talk to us in the comments box about your experience voting in America or elsewhere.  What do you think we do right in that area?  What have you seen in other places that you think we could adopt?  Why do you or don’t you choose to vote regularly?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Starting to Feel at Home in France

Bienvenue to my new place.  My French shopping cart makes it feel even more homey!

“No, I don’t want to have sex with you,” said the dark-haired American ingénue to her French male companion (yes, he’s French; it’s all about the scarf and the Converse sneakers) as they passed me in front of the Place Grangier post office.

Ah, oui, I’m back in France.

And I’m sitting in my French apartment that my husband, Brad, and I own lock, stock, and temperamental water heater.  Sorry to have left you hanging for well over a week.  Thanks for all the cheers and pep talks you left me in my last post.  Between my arrival and the final signing last Tuesday I was running a marathon of paperwork and preparations during the day and trying to understand French utility websites by night.  No time to post.  I’m currently sans internet in my French paradise.  Or much heat.

However, I’m now the proud owner of a French checkbook the size of my e-reader.  With my trés charmant banker in his trés chic suit, M. Masson, and the help of his young intern, Anaïs, who had taken English in high school (and who, by the way, looked like she had stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting with those tight ringlets past her shoulders, pale perfect skin, and a rose where the rest of us have lips) we managed to finish the business that Brad had started in the summer.  We had a wonderful time playing at pantomimes since my translator phone app didn’t seem to want to work deep inside those 17th century stone walls.  And he googled a lot.  The only real glitch was when M. Masson walked me outside to try my new debit card.  I stuck it in the ATM and everything came up French.  Oh woe!  When I stick my American card in, it recognizes its nationality and automatically gives me a screen in English.  C’est la vie.


This process involved a lot more people beyond dear M. Masson.  There is Charles, our agent.  His job, as I understand it, is simply to make contact with the owner, show up at some meetings, and be a go-between of some sort.  He reminds me of the actor Jean Dujardin.  He loves to laugh and the English phrase he knows best is “Theez ziz not a problem, Julie” for everything (even when I expressed concern my gas water heater was on the verge of blowing up).

There is the ancienne propriétiere, the seller.  I saw her so many times in this process that I started to feel like she was my second daughter.  She gave me a quick round of instructions on all appliances, but in that very French way where they talk very fast, pointing and pushing buttons and saying comme ça (like so) as if everything is immediately evident.  Clearly it wasn’t because I think I screwed up the water heater.  But at least she saved most of the how-to guides for the appliances (but not for the water heater) and she carefully wrote out all information I’d need to transfer all utilities into my name.  And she sold us the furniture and left some pans and dishes so I could eat right away.

The interpreter arrived late to the closing.  For her, English seemed to be a third language; perhaps she earned an A in her French high school class as her qualification for this job.  I listened intently in French, then if I didn’t get the gist of things I looked at her.  Clear as mud.

And the two notaires.  You know those annual day-long readings of James Joyce’s Ulysses?  That pretty much describes the job of the French notaires at a closing.  They’ve shipped reams of paperwork across the ocean to us.  Some for reference, some to sign and return the original.  They’re very serious about this paperwork.  At one point I caught my notaire, Leo D., looking intently at Brad’s power of attorney signature and even trying to scratch it with his fingernail to verify its authenticity because my husband had signed with a black pen.  I held my breath.  What would happen to the deal if I accidentally had packed the copy we made instead of the original?

The closing is about reading every single page of that pile aloud.  In a French monotone.  The notaire for the previous owner would periodically stop, look at me, and wait for me to say, “Je comprends.”  (Shhh.  Just between you and me, I wouldn’t say I understood perfectly, but I recognized most of the important words on the page. I think.)  Right from the get-go, though, a huge controversy ensued over some rule of French property law.  My notaire was waving something he had downloaded from the internet about Missouri divorce law and division of property.  The other notaire kept repeating the words “community” and “contract” amidst a flurry of French words.  And the interpreter, basically nodded toward that notaire and said, “What he said” in English.

No one in that room could make clear to me what I was supposed to say je comprends to.  Plus, they were reading from a paper I didn’t seem to have.  As I frantically searched all the papers I had brought with me the possible nightmare gripped my mind of the apartment deal ending before it began because I didn’t understand this one question.  Through no help of anyone there, I decided they were trying to review marriage and property law.  Unless there is a pre-nup all French property is split 50-50.  I think.  It’s not that way in my state (the paper Leo was waving) so they wanted to know if we have a pre-nup and if I understood French property law.  I told them “Notre voiture (car) ensemble Notre maison (house) ensemble.  Notre compte banque ensemble” and waved my French checkbook with both our names on it (and which Leo examined closely to verify, specifically pointing out “ou” – or – between our names, signifying either one of us could make the deal).  Yes, we own everything equally.  No contract because when we got married we had only two rotten cars and one over-active dog.  And we were teachers.  Not much to fight over.  I thought it was best at this point not to add a bit of side humor by saying that, on the other hand, I thought Brad owned our new car a bit more equally than I did since he drives it and it gets the empty spot in the garage at home.

After clearing up this point at the beginning, and an extensive rundown of French taxes in the middle, we ended with the reading of the history of our building (don’t ask).  It’s the same old rigamarole because we’re in an historic district.  Don’t change anything on the outside without permission.  Don’t hang your laundry out the window.  Don’t change anything or take down any walls on the inside without seeking permission from city hall.  Wait.  Roll back.  On that one everyone in the room looked at each other and laughed.  The consensus was no one ever tells city hall.

And with that, my husband and I became property owners in France.

Come back later and I’ll tell you about things in France seemingly more complicated than trying to buy an apartment.  And maybe my heater will be working properly by then.

One of my neighbors taking his afternoon sun in the window of his restaurant

If you could buy a second home, where would it be and why?  Share your dreams with us in the comments box.  And if I don’t respond to comments right away, I’m still waiting on that internet and will have to hit up the wi-fi at the McDonald’s on the other side of town.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Ultimate Travel Souvenir

How would you like to sip your morning coffee here? 
Or look out of these windows on to a French street below?


Let’s go back a bit.  Back to this summer in France.  I think it all started with one of those ultra-modern 1-cup coffee pod coffeemakers in the apartment we were renting.  I arrived in Dijon a couple weeks before my husband did.  This space age caffeine dispenser was the first thing I noticed in our kitchen and I knew immediately that this would not do for my coffee-obsessed husband.  He doesn’t drink much, but he’s quite particular about what he does ingest to fuel himself before his morning bike ride to work.

After consulting long-distance with him and visiting a French big-box store to report on available alternatives, he finally agreed to a French press pot.  Not ideal (the sediment, you know) but workable for his time in France.  I bought him one and he gratefully accepted it two weeks later when he got to town.  That pod machine sat ignored in its prime counter real estate for the rest of our stay.  And he needed that coffee bad after sleeping every night on a mattress that sloped to the south on one side and was barely long enough for him to stretch out.  Antique beds are good to look at but not meant for sleeping.

We lamented the fact that we would have to leave behind an expensive coffeemaker at the end of the summer.  We lamented the money spent on cheap plastic Tupperware-like containers I had to purchase and leave behind each time we came to Dijon.  We longed for better knives for dinner preparation, pans with lids that fit, and something larger than a dorm-sized refrigerator.  I wanted a bathroom at least as big as the distance between my fingertips.  During the summer’s rainy periods I dreamed of whiling away the afternoon in a proper reading chair.  I hated hauling heavy hiking boots between home and France.

We knew there were many more trips to this Burgundy town in our future.  So about 72 hours before I got on a plane for home, Brad and I began the process of looking for our own piece of French paradise.  We’re two academics.  We don’t do anything impulsively.  We usually research everything out the wazoo.  But we shrugged and said, “Well, it wouldn’t hurt to just look.  Then over the winter we could research and talk to English-speaking expats about how you buy property in France, all the financial implications, taxes, and paperwork so we’d be ready to consider it next summer.”

Then we walked into that second apartment on the list.  We were done for.  Light.  Soaring windows.  American-sized bathroom.  American-sized refrigerator.  Chandeliers.  Space.  A balcony illuminated by belle époque stained glass.

My American-sized bathroom and refrigerator

And that’s why I haven’t been blogging much.  Or on social media of any sort.  Or responding to e-mails.  Or coming up to breathe.

We’re buying an apartment in France.  The French love paperwork.  The French speak French.  I’m taking two language classes a week because it finally matters if I can pronounce anything correctly (when I need to talk to plumbers in the future).  We’re gathering documents.  I’m making long-distance phone calls to people who don’t speak English to verify that they were the ones -- and not some Nigerian prince -- who sent us the e-mail telling us to wire large amounts of money with lots of zeros to a special account.  I’m writing e-mails (in French) to our own personal French banker asking tons of questions, to which he always seems to reply (not in English, of course) some version of “There, there.  No need to worry.  We’ll talk about that when we meet on Friday.”

I’m trying not to panic about the fact that I read on a French-language news site that a transportation strike might start on Thursday, the day I touch down in Paris.  Alone.  Without Brad and his magic French language talents.

But when I’m suffocating under an avalanche of e-mails and searching for important information in a file box full of documents in French and their translated English versions, I pull up on my computer the picture of my balcony and imagine the morning sun as I sit there sipping my own cup of tea made in an American-sized mug and not an espresso cup.  And I think about putting Brad’s French coffee pot, which he packed up in August and left with a friend, on our counter.

Internet connection for this trip is so far an unknown commodity because I haven’t made arrangements to have it set up yet.  I should be able to post a couple of updates before I return home just before Thanksgiving.  Meanwhile, share with us in the comments box the most impulsive thing that you have done when traveling.  Or ever.  If you dare.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who's Falling For Autumn?


 Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree. -- Emily Bronte

Autumn is speeding by too quickly.  I’ve barely had a moment to stop and take in my favorite season because I’m in the midst of a rather giant project in my home life.  Next week I’ll tell you more about it (I need a big WATCH THIS SPACE sign).  For now, though, my glimpses of summer come only when walking the dog around the block or from the blogs of others who have had time to stop and smell the pumpkins.

So while you’re waiting to hear my story, take a look at a few different perspectives on October.

I’m going to start with a blog post of mine that I did in 2009.  While my spirit soars when the first tulips open in the spring, as an autumn baby I’ve always loved the season of falling leaves.  As someone who’s reached the autumn of my own life, I feel like I have even more in common with it.  You can read here about what I consider my own autumn color.

Annette Gendler is a writer, a writing instructor, and someone with an eye for great shots when she travels.  While at a writing conference in Kentucky she took a detour to the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, KY.  Her pictures show us how much art is in the simple details of their architecture.  Then she takes us outside to contemplate the grace of solid stone walls that have stood forever.  So take your own quick visit to a quiet part of Kentucky with Annette.

Tami Clayton has written a love note to autumn in words and pictures.  Do you have any more to add to her extensive thinking on why we should pay homage to it every year?  Do share.

Finally, gardening guru Margaret Roach is shooting for the goal of having color in the garden 365 days a year.  To help with that, she’s offering up 12 trees and shrubs for great fall color.  The color in her photographs makes me dream of a place that definitely looks nothing like my back yard.  I’m not giving up hope yet, though.

So over the weekend visit some of these blog posts in between planting your spring bulbs and leaf raking.  Then come back and tell us in the comments box something about your own memories of autumn.  And don’t forget to come back next week to hear why I’ve become just a ghost in real life and online.

My anemones "Windflower" make me smile well into frost season

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

5 October Holidays Way Better Than Halloween

The best part of that final bike ride is passing a Clydesdale at Grant's Farm in St. Louis

I have a confession to make.  I’m not a fan of Halloween.  Oh sure, it’s a license to eat candy corn until I fall into a diabetic coma.  However, that whole figuring-out-a-costume, carving-a-pumpkin – caring – thing has never put me into any kind of autumn holiday mood.

The contemporary transformation of Halloween into a competitive sport makes me want to run from the day even faster.  Orange lights weave in and out branches of trees, 10-foot tall blow-up pumpkins spring like mushrooms on lawns, and witches fly across yards on their brooms.  Two aisles at the supermarket are dedicated to October holiday paraphernalia.

Yet all I want to do on the evening of October 31 is turn off my porch light, close all my curtains, and watch television in a back corner of my house.  Halloween has never made my toes tingle with enthusiasm.  There’s no real reason.  It just doesn’t do it for me as a holiday.

Then again, I could think of a lot of other things that would be great ways to celebrate the season.  Here are a few new holidays I’d like to add to the calendar.

Planting Fall Pansies Day

The ground is still soft enough to dig, so we should all decorate our front gardens and steps with the brightest purple and yellow pansies that you can find.  This should stave off winter for another month.

Jump In a Pile of Leaves Day

With the rise of the leaf-blower culture there aren’t enough kids out there raking leaves for movie money.  I can’t remember the last time I walked down a street and saw a kid trying to bury herself in a pile of crisp brown oak leaves or trying to stuff a handful down the back of a sibling’s sweater.  We need a day in October or early November when we turn off the leaf blowers and pull out the rakes in memory of a time when life was simpler (and quieter).

Halloween is fairly new to France.  Kids in Dijon casually stroll from store to store
collecting treats - costume optional

Last Bike Ride of the Year Day

I admit I’m a fair-weather rider.  You’ll never see me out there in a face mask and all the special clothing my bike-riding husband wears to battle the icy winds, winter rain, and sleet that starts about the same time as Halloween.  That’s why people like me need a special day to pause and recognize that this is the last ride we’ll take until April (or March if it’s a mild winter).  We can pedal slowly down our favorite path, remembering the warmth of the sun on our back, the days when we could hit the road early or stay out after dinner because the light lasted forever.  Then we put our bikes away until the return of goldfinches at the bird feeder signal it’s time to pull it out in the spring.

Unpacking of Winter Sweaters Day

You’ll never catch me living someplace where winter temperatures climb much above 40º in winter.  You see, I’m addicted to sweaters.  How many?  Let’s just say a cedar hope chest so full the top doesn’t close fully.  Each year I begrudgingly give away one or two in anticipation of the new ones I know are coming in.  Winter sweaters can comfort you when the sun is low and you can’t muster enough energy to care what you’re wearing.  Or the deep jewel tones of ruby or lapis lazuli can brighten a gray day and scream “I’m not letting this weather get me down!”  Who doesn’t have a favorite Shetland wool or après ski or dress argyle sweater that they want to be buried in?  We need to celebrate all that our favorites mean to us.

First Pot of Chili of the Season Day

My hairdresser, Jill, reminded me of this most important day.  No matter how you like it – mild, vegetarian, spicier than a jar of Beyonce – that first pot marks a no-turning-back point in the seasons.  It’s a dense meal that warms from the inside out.  You’re never tempted to pull out that crockpot in the middle of August, are you?

When the days get short, though, and the autumn wind kicks up you long to sit in front of your TV holding a hot bowl of chili, perhaps dressed in you favorite comfy sweater still spotted with remnants of the leaves you jumped in.  Chili announces that you are settling in for the winter – a culinary solstice, if you will. So let’s mark the day when you accept the inevitable.

Now these are some of the holidays I could really get behind in October.  The best part of all of them is how extremely low-cal they are compared to the Big H.  What others would you suggest?  Please share them all in the comments box and let’s see what we can get started before we get to the bottom of our kids’ trick-or-treat stash.

What October is really about in Forest Park, St. Louis

ADDENDUM:  I only posted this a few hours ago but I see one big celebration I missed.  When enjoying Leah Singer's wonderful blog post on autumn, especially the Jewish Festival of Harvest -- Sukkot -- I realized that we ALL could celebrate the harvest.  Even the smallest backyard gardener is lamenting the last homegrown tomato of the year or the last cutting of daisies for a vase.  So I think we need to add a National Harvest Day to the calendar, too. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Amen To Love

Things are getting deep in here.  We’ve passed the first presidential debate and now both parties are getting as brutal as contestants on Survivor – Washington, D.C.  Before this whole thing is over, hundreds of millions of dollars will have been tossed blithely around as if we don’t have people going to bed hungry at night, or schools operating with outdated textbooks, or millions of people out of work because big companies – while increasing profits consistently – aren’t hiring.

Sometimes I just have to escape it all.  I’ve found the best refuge to be in my car driving errands every day.  The music of songwriter/singer Radney Foster soothes my soul and reminds me of what matters most in the long term.  I’ve had his songs on continuous loop as I drive.  He has the skill of all Nashville storytellers and the lyricism of a Robert Frost or Walt Whitman.  If you’re a Keith Urban fan, he’s the poet behind “Raining on Sunday.”

If you need a break from election year madness, take a few minutes to listen to someone who speaks from a clearer vision than those who make all the rules in this country.  Then go to the comments box and tell me what musical or other kind of escape to you try when the day’s news drives you crazy.

Angel Flight  

This was written as a tribute to Texas National Guardsmen who died during the Red River 44 mission in Iraq who died when their helicopter crashed.  The “Angel Flight” is the last flight that soldiers take when killed doing their duty.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Let's Celebrate Banned Books

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The Kansas City Public Library wears its book love on its sleeve (or street)

“Censorship is the enemy of truth – even more than a lie.  A lie can be exposed.  Censorship can prevent us from knowing the difference.” 
– journalist Bill Moyers

Which banned books are on your reading list?

Yes, it’s that time a year again.  The annual week-long celebration that reminds us how marvelous it is to live in a country where we are free to read whatever we want.  And reminds us that that freedom continues to be challenged every single year.

Banned Book Week launched in 1982 to demonstrate a rising number of challenges targeting schools, bookstores, and libraries.  The American Library Association reports that more than 11,000 books have been challenged in the past 30 years.  And those are just the demands to restrict that have received publicity.

When I look at the list of classics that have been continually under threat of censorship, as well as which books have made this dubious list each year for the past decade, I’m stumped by one particular reason that crops up often.  Of course, there are the prurient excuses, like language or sexual content or the presence of witches and vampires.  However, frequently “unsuited to age group” shows up as a reason.

How do “they” decide that?  Are young people like a Borg collective, of one mind?  Is every 10-year old at the same level of intellectual maturity?  How do “they” decide what each individual student is ready to read?

I remember every Saturday riding my bike to the library.  I would head to the children’s section in the basement to gather material for a report on agriculture in South America, then stop by the biography section for something on Luther Burbank or Benjamin Franklin, then I’d grab a novel from the fiction shelves.  After checking these out I’d head upstairs to the Young Adult room to breeze through Seventeen magazine, wishing I had perfect hair like all the models (over 40 years later it’s still a dream unfulfilled).  My final stop would then be the shelves in the balcony of the Adult Reading Room.

Up there I would grab half a dozen books about Jesse James and other outlaws.  Next, I’d tackle all the books about serial killers, master criminals, and other historical criminals.  It’s there I found Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  I’d check them out and be on my way (we won't waste time analyzing my obsession with these “true crime” books at such a young age).  Most likely they’d fall under the category of “unsuited to age group.”  But how did I suffer from my exposure to them?  Who had a right to decide that I shouldn’t read them?  Or that I shouldn’t sneak into my older sister’s room to read her copy of Bonnie and Clyde or The Godfather?

10/2/12-celebrate books2

The Harry Potter series seems to have taken up permanent residence on the list, but why is my beloved Once and Future King by T.H. White spared?  This story of King Arthur was filled with witches and magic and adultery and death.  It was a story of good vs. evil. My grandmother gave it to me for Christmas.  How was boy wizard’s scar different from the future king’s sword Excalibur?

To celebrate Banned Books Week, I’m going to head to the library this week to check out one of the many wonderful pieces of literature that are challenged the most.  If you want to do the same, you can find one on any of these lists:

Banned Books That Shaped America

Frequently Challenged Classics

Challenged Books Year-by-Year

And take a minute to read the reasons they made the list.  Some are a hoot.  For example, It's So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris was cited for sex education and sexual content.  Duuuuh.  There are no words for this kind of thinking!  Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed, that insightful book based on her journey through the indignity of a series of minimum wage jobs was tagged for being “political” and “inaccurate.”  Excuse me?  The beauty of our culture is that you are perfectly free to write your own politics-free book to correct all the inaccuracies you find in hers.  I’m sure she’d welcome that kind of challenge.

I leave you with a video of Bill Moyers, an Honorary Chair for this year’s event, talking about what the freedom to read means to him.  As always, he’s spot on, especially about the irony of trying to ban Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a book about what the world would be like if censorship were the order of the day.

What kind of control over age-appropriate literature would you propose?  What is your favorite banned book or what book (banned or not) did you feel compelled to read in secret?  Share your daring literary choices in the comments box.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Don't Get Caught Blogging Without A License

Free speech is found on many walls in France

Apparently, bloggers are not allowed to give free advice without a license.  At least not in North Carolina.  If I dare tell you what exercise has cured my lower back pain, or which juicing recipe gives me the most energy, or – I guess – what a parent should do about a mouthy teenager in the house, then I just might receive a “cease and desist” warning from some bureacrat in that state.  (So quick – if you’re a reader in N.C., dim your screen in case Big Brother is reading over your shoulder.)

Blogger Steve Cooksey has been writing about the wonders of the Paleo diet ever since he began following it to lose weight and reduce his diabetes risk.  In other words, he tried to eat like a caveman with a clean diet of mean and leafy green vegetables, i.e., a fairly gluten-free diet.  However, the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition, alerted by someone about this lone voice crying in the wilderness (uhm, Cooksey and about a million other blogs, newsletters, magazines, and books on the subject), concluded he was counseling without a license.  You can read columnist George Will’s detailed explanation of the issue here.

While they expect him to have a Ph.D or other certification in order to continue his blog, Cooksey has sued on behalf of his free speech rights.

In light of this frightening Internet development, I’ve had to think long and hard about what topics I should avoid so that I don’t come under attack by any government board in my own home state.

Advice about growing older

I’ve enjoyed talking about what I’ve learned as I travel through my midlife.  However, since I’m not a licensed gerontologist I’ll refrain from telling you how to improve your memory, exercise your body, or anything that might make you live longer or feel better.  Anything I’ve learned from all the midlife blogs or health reports I read while searching for that magic pill to combat old age I’ll keep to myself.  I’ll let them be the ones to pay the lawyer fees when someone comes to shut them down for counseling without proper credentials. 


I was about to write a post about fall gardening.  Whew, glad I saw the consequences of suggesting fall plants like the white anemone “Windflower” if you want something to fill a large space where nothing else will continue blooming until frost.  Because I don’t have a “Master Gardener” certificate or a degree in horticulture you might have filled your garden with plants just on my say-so and then, if I didn’t say “water regularly” in my post, suffered a tremendous loss – perhaps even been traumatized – when nothing popped out of the ground in the spring.


DISCLAIMER: I am not now nor ever have been a licensed family counselor or psychologist.  Therefore, if I say a single word about how I survived any parenting crisis, DO NOT take it as any suggestion that you should follow suit.  After all, every child is different so there is NEVER EVER any resemblance between what I experience as a parent and what you might experience so DO NOT LISTEN TO ME.  In fact, if you see that I’m writing about being a parent, shut down the internet immediately unless you are impelled to set rules for your own children that were influence by anything I might have said and then when your kid winds up living in your basement until he’s 33 playing retro-style PlayStation games all night long you try to sue me for giving faulty parenting advice – don’t say I didn’t warn you that I’m not a licensed child psychologist.

Book Reviews

Oh, wait.  This is something I could probably talk about because I spent many years as an undergraduate and graduate student in English departments writing about literature until I perfected the grand art of givingtheteacherwhatshewanted.  Even though I might eat raw squid before reading a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I can talk ad nauseum (because that’s what he does to me) about why he’s a great American author and why everybody else should read him.  I even have a few degrees thrown on a bookshelf somewhere to prove how many hours of my life had been devoted to learning this skill.

Just because you read tons and tons of books in your life doesn’t mean that you are in any way qualified to report on them.  I suspect next North Carolina will be going after Goodreads, demanding its member list to check for those reviewing without the requisite university training that I have.  So I guess it’s decided – this blog will change immediately to one strictly devoted to book reviews and pictures of France.  I think I’m safe with that.

I could try to create some blog posts about the constitutional right to free speech – especially about sharing recipes online (it’s not like he’s writing about how to cook meth, which I’m sure the Nutrition board could find somewhere online if it tried).  However, I might be required to prove I have a J.D. degree in constitutional law, so I’ll just shut up and leave it up to you.  Do you think this is really a matter of safety that bloggers show proof of expertise.  Or, do you think the Dietetics/Nutrition Board is trying to protect its turf?  What kind of restrictions (if any) should bloggers have?  Share your thoughts in the comments box.

On a related note:
I confine myself to myself

The cause is hidden

This summer I visited a chateau that’s the embodiment of the idea of free speech.  When Comte De Bussy-Rabutin displeased King Louis XIV for writing about many of the nefarious doings happening at court he was banished to his family property in the Burgundy region.  He was forbidden to publish any more books, so his home became his story.  He filled the wall with murals and sayings expounding on his life philosophies.  He also amassed a portrait collection of his many mistresses and other celebrities of his day.  On the frames he painted extensive editorial comments, none too complimentary, about them.  The king could not silence him as long as he lived.

Chateau de Bussy-Rabutin
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