Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Passe-moi du pain, s'il te plait.

If Food is a religion in France, then Bread is a church.

Bread is the most consumed staple food in France.  It is present at every meal, and it takes your cultural and culinary experiences to new heights.

The most recognizable form of French bread is the baguette, which is long and narrow, between 2-3' in length and 3-5" in thickness.  Actual French law dictates that the baguette de tradition française should contain only combinations of wheat flour, water, yeast and common salt.

In addition to the baguette, you find a slimmer version called a ficelle (string), and a wider version called a flûte.  There are round loaves called boules (which is "ball" in French) and rugby ball shaped loaves called bâtard (literally "bastard").  The list goes on from there, to include bread in the form of a ring, braided breads, and various other artisan breads.  And of course, let's not forget the coissants.  Flaky, light, buttery...and my favorite kind: croissant d'amande.

Breakfast in France often consists of baguette from the night before, sliced lengthwise and spread with butter and jam.  The tartine is then dipped in a frothy bowl of café au lait or chocolat.  For most French people, dipping day-old bread in a hot beverage is the only acceptable way to eat it.  For lunch and dinner, however, fresh-baked bread is a must.

Every morning, French people visit (usually on foot) their neighborhood boulangerie.  Enough bread is purchased for the main meals of the day, and for breakfast the next morning.  Buying bread was one of my favorite daily adventures when I lived in France.  The boulanger knew all his customers by name.  Locals took their time, chatting with him and each other, with no sense of urgency to move on to the next task of the day.  I felt embraced by the French on those outings!

In the United States, we serve our bread with butter.  Not so in France.  Instead of an accompaniment, bread is used as an utensil.  You tear a piece of your morsel and hold it in your free hand, using it to push food onto the prongs of your fork and sop up the silky sauces.  And you may not see this in restaurants, but at my in-laws' house you can tell when everyone is finished eating:  every plate has been wiped clean, every drop of sauce consumed along with the bread.

Throughout the day, people stop into the boulangerie for a cup of coffee and a light snack.

Many boulangeries are also patisseries -- where French pastries are sold.

My absolute favorites are the tartes de flan.  To die for!

And, 'cause I mentioned them earlier: Coissant d'amande -- YUM!

[For more of these amazing photos: Source and Source]

Leave me a comment and earn one entry in my Vive la France! Contest.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Potty Talk

When Culture Shock and Toilets Go Hand-in-Hand...

When I was a little girl, I cried if I had to go number two in a public restroom.  My mother would say, "Everybody has to 'go'; it's perfectly natural.  Even the pope poops."  I never found that comforting.  I'd end up holding it, preferring the comfort and privacy of home, a sentiment that stayed with me until I became a world traveler.  Since we all have to "go" (even the pope) every day, my earliest culture shock was faced in foreign bathrooms.

By the time I experienced French toilets, I'd been baptized by fire in Central Africa.  Nothing shocked me anymore about bathroom amenities.  I'd learned to do my business wherever I was directed, in whatever deplorable conditions I found when I got there.  You see for two years, I lived in a mud brick house with no running water.  And I used a pit latrine:

This is not my latrine -- in fact, this one is nicer than mine was!  Thank you to Peace Corps/Gambia volunteer Ian Haight for this picture.

Basically, you uncover the hole cut out of the cement floor, straddle it and squat, hoping everything lands in the three-meter (nine-feet) deep pit below.

Suffice it to say, I developed strong thigh muscles in the course of two years.  Unfortunately, my physical strength was superior to my language skills, and when I did arrive in France,  the first thing I learned was an important lesson in French vocabulary.

When you use your handy English/French dictionary to translate "Where is the bathroom?" literally into French, it becomes, "Où est la salle de bain?"  If you ask this in a French person's home, she will look perplexed but point the way.  You will find yourself in a small tiled room with a bathtub, possibly a shower, and a sink.  But no potty.

The correct way to ask for the bathroom in French is, "Où sont les toilettes?"  Or, "Où est le W.C.?"  The French think it's dirty to have a toilet in the same room where they bathe.  Makes sense...I guess.

Most modern French homes have what we'd consider "normal" toilets, as in the sort you sit upon and flush with the pull of a lever.  However, public toilets are another story.

Many restaurants, museums, and tourist sites, specifically in older buildings (which covers well over half the buildings in modern France), have Turkish toilets.  The first time an American lays eyes on one of these toilets, they generally loose the urge to "go."  After pit latrines in Africa, however, they seemed like modern conveniences to me:

Photo Source

The most important thing to remember about these toilets is to step back when you flush.  The mechanism is not visible in this photo, but connected to the pipe at the back of the toilet is an overhead tank.  You pull the cord to flush, sending water down the pipe and out the plastic flap at its base.  Often, the water pressure is surprisingly high, as is the risk of your legs and feet being splashed with diluted pee-pee.

Many large cities such as Paris and Marseilles have public toilets on their sidewalks.  Unlike American Port-a-Potties or Johnny-on-the-Spots, these free-standing stalls are self-contained bathrooms, complete with flush toilet and sink.

Photo Source
Photo Source

The cost to enter these public toilets is minimum, although I don't know exactly how much.  Four years ago, payment was under one euro.

The nice thing about these toilets is once you exit and the door clicks shut, it automatically self-sanitizes the interior.  The process takes a minute or two, so there is a wait if you're next in line.  But the inside will be clean-smelling and sanitized, albeit a bit wet.

Unfortunately, public restrooms are not plentiful on a grand scale.  When outside the big cities or driving the highways, the only way to get some relief is usually hauling up your skirt behind a bush on the side of the road.  Don't worry, it's a normal occurrence in France.  Even the pope does it when he's there...

Je vous souhaite une bonne journée! 

Leave me a comment and earn one entry in my Vive la France! Contest.
Click here for full contest details.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Á Votre Santé!

I've always been impressed by the average Frenchman's vast knowledge of French wines.  The names of wine producers, varieties of grapes, and which years were "good years" are as easily recited in France by the most common country folk, as Americans rattle off the names of their state's professional sports teams, what type of sport each plays (football, baseball, hockey, etc.), and their most celebrated championship years.  In the five years I lived in France, some of this knowledge was shared with me.  Here's an introduction to four of my favorite wines:

Different categories of French wine are named after the region from where they are produced.  Bordeaux wines, for example, are produced from grapes grown in the Bordeaux region near the Atlantic coast.  Champagne is produced in the Champagne region.  Did you know that a wine producer cannot call his product "champagne" if the grapes aren't grown in France's Champagne region?  They have to call it "sparkling white wine," even if the same variety of grape is used, but in another country.

Bordeaux wines are my personal favorites.  They are rich, full-bodied, and often feel "spicy" to the tongue.  More specifically, I love wines from the Médoc, Haute-Médoc, and Pomerol regions.

The Bordeaux region is divided into three subdivisions by the Gironde estuary and its tributaries, the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.  The blend of grapes, oceanic climate, and soil (blend of gravel, sand stone and clay) are vital to the success of Bordeaux wines.

The most celebrated of Bordeaux chateaux is (arguably) Chateau Margaux.  The grand cru of Chateau Margaux 1945 is considered by many as "the best wine of the century."  A quick Internet search today found bottles for sale ranging from $2500 - $3800 USD per bottle (source).  And the Chateau's website hails the 1900 vintage as one of the greatest wines they have ever tasted.  I found one bottle online retailing for $10,000!  (source). 

I lived for a short time in the Bourgogne Region of France, where wine we call Burgundy is produced.  In Bourgogne, "immense attention is paid to the area of origin, and in which of the region's 400 types of soil a wine's grapes are grown. As opposed to Bordeaux, where classifications are producer-driven and awarded to individual chateaux, Burgundy classifications are geographically-focused. A specific vineyard or region will bear a given classification, regardless of the wine's producer. This focus is reflected on the wine's labels where appellations are most prominent and producer's names often appear at the bottom in much smaller text." (Source)

Along the Rhône River, another wine region of France flourishes.  (See "Vallée du Rhône on the map of wine regions, above.)  In this rocky terrain grows grapes for the Côtes du Rhône wines.  (*waves* Hi Simon!) This region is subdivided into the Northern Rhône and Southern Rhône.  Of the southern region, my personal favorite is wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The stones (galets, or "pebbles") surrounding the vines retain heat during the day and release it at night, which can have an effect of hastening the ripening of grapes. The stones can also serve as a protective layer to help retain moisture in the soil during the dry summer months. (Source)

Every November, France waits with impatience for the introduction of the year's Beaujolais Nouveau.  Unlike most French wines that are aged for a number of years before they are sold, Beaujolais Nouveau is a purple-pink, lightweight wine intended for immediate consumption and should not be kept for longer than one year.  The method of production yields very little tannin, (the astringency from tannin causes a dry and puckery feeling in the mouth following the consumption of red wine), allowing a somewhat fruity characteristic to dominate the taste.  And, every vintage uses a different, new blend of grapes, so there is considerable hype surrounding the release of the new Beaujolais and its potential success.

"You can really smell the red fruits."
"Well I hope so.  You stuck your nose right in it!"

In case it hasn't become obvious, I prefer to drink red wines.  In addition to the wines I've mentioned and the many reds I didn't, France does produce several fine white wines, for those who enjoy it -- or who are offended by pairing red wine and fish (I'm not :D)  The main categories of French white wines are:

Chardonnay (Bourgogne Region)
Pinot Gris (Alsace Region.  Btw, Pinot Gris is the same grape in France as Pinot Grigio in Italy.)
Sauvignon Blanc (Bordeaux Region)
Voignier (Vallée du Rhône)
Riesling (Alsace Region)
Others (Including: Gewurztraminer, Marsanne/Roussanne, Semillon, Muscat)

Phew!  There's more than you ever wanted to know about French wines, right?  I'll leave you with this story:  Christian and I bought one bottle of Chateau Margaux vintage 1998 and one bottle vintage 2000 -- the years our children were born.  The bottles are quietly aging in a corner of la cave, or root cellar, at my in-laws' house.  We plan to open them at our children's weddings, to toast the beginnings of Cody's and Sidney's new lives.

A Votre Santé!

Leave me a comment and earn one entry in my Vive la France! Contest.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

~ French Market ~

Photo of market day in Aix en Provence (source)

Open-air markets are colorful Saturday morning events that spring up across France every weekend.  Local growers and village artisans converge as the sun rises on la place in the center of town.  They erect a city of bright canvas umbrellas to shade their tables covered with succulent fruits, crisp vegetables, fragrant cheeses, dried meats, fresh-cut flowers, and artwork ranging from sculpted wood to lace curtains and everything imaginable in-between.  A French market is the liveliest slice of heaven you'll find here on earth.

 The photo on the left is the only picture on this post I actually took myself.  This is the market in Cusset, the village where my in-laws live three kilometers outside Vichy.  Like many smaller communities that can't support a weekly market, this market is every first Saturday of the month.  It is a town event throughout the year, and even when the weather is very cold in winter, everyone turns out for a stroll around the market, to chat with neighbors and vendors, and to stock up la cave, or root cellar, with dried saucisson, vegetables, and wine. 
 The most wonderful aspect of the market is its jovial ambiance.  I never get the feeling there is serious competition between vendors, but they all seem to enjoy the game of shouting humorous slogans to attract the attention of passersby, hoping to make them laugh; and, if those appreciating the vendor's humor should wind up buying a bagful of vine-ripe tomatoes in the process, so be it.  And the most entertaining vendors invariably have the longest lines of customers.
The market is one of the best places to pick up souvenirs to bring back to the States.  The prices are reasonable for tablecloths depicting regional patterns and images, or beautifully crafted bowls and salad utensils carved from the wood of walnut and olive trees.  The quilter in me goes a bit crazy, picking up yards and yards of provincial French fabrics for a fraction of what they cost back home.

So if you're ever in France, be sure to visit a market on Saturday.  And if your travels keep you in Paris, you can find neighborhood markets on any day of the week.  I promise, it will be one of the highlights of your trip!

Leave me a comment and earn one entry in my Vive la France! Contest.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bon Appetit!

Eating is a sacred pastime in France.  For real.  And with good reason:  French cuisine is indisputably, (as far as the French are concerned), the most delicious food on the planet.

My mother-in-law is a phenomenal cook, and I thrived under her tutelage in the early years of my marriage.  One of the things she taught me was always, always use fresh ingredients.  Here's a pic of Cody and Sidney helping her in her garden, where she goes each day with basket in hand to harvest the vegetables and herbs she'll use in her dishes that day:

 And this bottom pic is Sidney bringing in a basket of potatoes she and her grandfather had just pulled out of the earth.  Thirty minutes after this picture was taken, we were eating the most delicious French fries ever!

The French eat their meals in courses, which is a difficult custom to adapt to when you are used to eating family-style, American meals.  In fact, the first few meals I took in France were painful because I thought the first course WAS the meal.  I ate my fill.  And then another plate of food came out.  So I dug in...and then another was served...  My future in-laws were thrilled that I appreciated their food so much, and I didn't dare decline another serving.  I've since learned that you take just a spoonful of food at each course, so that by the end you have eaten the equivalent of a normal plateful of food.  Trust me though, I put on ten pounds before I had the whole thing figured out.

 The first course, called l'entrée is typically light fare, for example a plate of charcuterie: slices of cooked or cured jambon (ham), saucissons (dried sausage), and paté; or quiche, or soup (in the winter) or sliced cantaloupe drizzled with port wine (in the summer).  And wine, bien sûr.

The second course is la pièce de résistance, or the main dish.  It is meat (or chicken or fish), often served in the sauce it was cooked in and vegetables.  Many traditional French recipes are cooked "peasant-style," with all the ingredients in a large pot or dutch oven.  This is my favorite way to cook.  The key is the sear the meat in the pot to help it retain its flavorful juices, then remove the meat and déglasse the pan with white wine, scraping up the browned bits of meat stuck to the bottom.  Add the vegetables, herbs and stock, and let the pot cook over low heat for several hours.  There is simply no way to attain the depth of flavor the French have mastered without slow cooking!

The third course sometimes opens with a fresh, leafy green salad, but not always.  Whether or not salad is served, the cheese plate always goes around.  The French love their stinky cheese!  I was once at a dinner party with twenty people at one table.  Luckily, I was on my third glass of wine at the time.  The cheese was so pungent, I literally tried not to breathe through my nose.  My table neighbors couldn't stop raving, putting their noses as close to the plate as they could and inhaling deeply.  My nose wrinkles from the memory!

The dessert course is my favorite!  Although I'm a die-hard chocoholic, the fruit concoctions in France are fantastic.  My mother-in-law bakes a clarfoutis that is out of this world.  She starts out behind the garden, picking cherries off the tree.  Leaving the pits in, she dumps the rinsed cherries into a buttered baking dish and pours a homemade cake batter on top.  (She tried to teach me this recipe, but didn't know the exact measurements.  "Add some sugar..."  "How much sugar?"  "Oh, I don't know, a bowlful."  What?)

Last is the coffee course.  This was perhaps the hardest adjustment I've have to make over there.  I want my coffee with my dessert!  Oddly, the French don't believe the two go together.  It's the only issue I take with them -- Snaps to Americans for our dessert-and-coffee- combo genius!

Man, this post is making me hungry.... Hope I don't gain fifty pounds on vacation...!

Bon appétit! 

Leave me a comment to earn one entry in my Vive la France! Contest.
Click here for full details.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vive la France Contest

It's contest time!!

Between June 18th and July 12th, I will be in the beautiful country of France, and I want to share my experiences with all of you!  My blogger friends have become so dear to me -- and staying connected with you makes my life richer.  I've been too busy this week, in preparing for the trip, to visit most of your blogs -- but I have found a way to make it up to you.  Contest!!

Here's how it will work:

I will be scouring the markets and village artisan shops while on vacation, searching for the perfect gift, something that goes beyond "souvenir" -- something that reflects France or the French culture.  That, my dearies, will be the prize to win!

I've prepared nine blog posts that are scheduled to auto-post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday that I'm away.  The posts are fun glimpses into life in France and my experiences while I lived there.  I know you'll enjoy them!

Entering the contest is easy-peesy!  All you have to do is be a follower and leave me comments.  You will receive one entry for each post you comment on between today and the last auto-post, scheduled on July 9th.  In other words, if you comment today AND on each of the nine scheduled posts, you will accumulate a total of 10 entries!

Wanna add 5 entries to your name?  Link this post in a blog or your sidebar to help me advertise, and I'll throw your name in the pot 5 extra times!  (Be sure to let me know in one of your comments, so I don't miss it :D)

Contest ends at midnight (EST) the day I return, on July 12th.  Winner will be announced on July 14th!

I'll miss you all, and I can't wait to get caught up by reading and commenting on your blogs when I return.

A bientôt!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Banishing the Ego

I'm an advocate of the daily writing practice.  Each new sentence we write teaches us more about the art of language and its ability to transfer imagery from our minds to the imaginations of our readers.  Every paragraph is a lesson in connecting ideas to build a story.  Learning the craft is a never-ending, day-by-day endeavor.

Sometimes I show up, only to find my muse has taken the day off.  Those days are frustrating.  Still, I write on.

I've noticed something interesting during this journey.  The times I try to write something brilliant are the times I fail the most miserably.  It's almost as if the pressure I put on myself stifles my creativity.

It comes down to ego.

When I break it down in my mind, I realize my love for writing comes from the soul, but the desire to succeed with my writing is driven by the ego.  When you want something too much, it becomes an energy-sucking enterprise.  A kill-joy.  An abomination.

But how do you stoke the fires of self-motivation necessary to write every day, to push yourself and improve in your craft, without inviting the ego to the party?

For me, it takes constant self-surveillance.  My internal dialog includes a pep talk playing on an endless loop, reminding me to indulge in the art form, enjoy the daily process, write what I'd want to read.  It's okay that not every sentence is a masterpiece.

And sometimes, when I dismiss the ego, when I dive into the creative pool of my mind simply to enjoy its soothing waters, I tap into magic.

Do you find it challenging to strike a balance between pushing yourself and needing to succeed?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Juicy Words

I love juicy words.  That's how the language arts teachers at my kids' school describe high-impact words, the verbs and modifiers that lift your writing from mediocre to extraordinary.

I'm reading a book by Kenneth J. Harvey called The Town That Forgot How to Breathe.  Harvey is a juicy writer.  His instincts are sharp, and he chooses words that carry a lot of bang for their buck, and which sound good in the company of the other words in their sentence -- and yet, his writing is never self-indulgent verbiage.

For example, from the chapter I read last night:

"The shark rose high in the air as the crane swiveled toward the huge grey plastic container that lay on the back of a flatbed ...Gulls followed faithfully above the suspended shark, gliding weightlessly, as if attached by guide wires."

Swiveled is an action verb of distinct movement, easily invoking the intended imagery.  Instead of "truck," Harvey said flatbed, again guiding us to specific mental pictures.  And notice the alliteration in the second sentence:  gulls/gliding/guide; followed/faithfully; suspended/shark.  The [s] sound is further reinforced with consonance: gulls/weightlessly/as/wires.  And assonance enhanced the lyrical sound of the sentence with gull/above;  faithfully/weightlessly, and gliding/guide/wire.

The more experienced writer I become, the more I think with juicy words during the first draft.  However, it's not until the revision stage that I truly turn on the juice, searching out the lushest vocabulary with the highest impact and the poetic devices that will make my words sing.

Do you notice juicy words and poetic devices when you read?  Are you conscious about incorporating them when you write?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In Ten, Nine...

I leave for France in nine days, and counting.  I'm going to share a slice of my vacation adventures with you!

On June 17, the day before I leave, I will announce a contest for One Significant Moment at a Time followers, old and new.  The prize?  Something cool I pick up in France!  I'll be on the lookout for interesting, regional souvenirs, things that represent la France but which are impossible to buy here in the States.  Both my State-side and international follower-friends are eligible to win.  Be sure to check in on the 17th for full details!

I haven't written a word for my WiP in a couple weeks.  However, I have printed all the chapters and organized them in a ring binder, along with a copy of the outline and blank pages for notes.  After a little break from the project, I'll have fresh eyes when I read it over on the plane.  I won't be editing, but brainstorming ideas on how to make the story stronger and outlining future chapters.

My daily writing has taken on the form of entries for a two-week long creative writing contest at  The contest is called "15 For 15" and runs from June 3rd to June 17th (finishes up just in time for my trip!).  Each day for fifteen days the contest judge posts a photo prompt.  Contestants are challenged to write off-the-cuff for exactly fifteen minutes, producing a flash fiction piece, vignette, poem, song, letter, article, etc. based on the image.

Timed writing is a wonderful way to stretch my writing muscles, and believe me, fifteen minutes is not long when you're trying to get a cohesive piece of work finished. Once I've posted my daily entry, I love reading all the entries by the other contestants.  It's fascinating how many interesting and creative directions writers take with the identical prompt.  (Should you be interested, here is a link to my collection of entries.)

My writing goals have also included preparing a series of blog entries that I'll schedule to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while I'm away.  Each post looks at a facet of French culture and discusses the most jarring differences with American life, which caused me culture shock when I lived there.  I'm having a blast writing them, and I hope you'll enjoy reading them.  And -- they will play into the contest I'm announcing on the 17th!

How have you been tweaking your writing schedule to adjust to summer vacation plans?  Have you packed your journal yet? :D

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Flower by Any Name

We spent Sunday afternoon at the State Botanical Gardens in Athens, GA. It's a magical place and one of our favorite destinations when we want to kick back and relax.  The structure pictured here houses the tropical plants exhibit.  Surrounding it are winding paths through artistically designed gardens, some Japanese in theme, others fragrant with herbs or seasonal flowers.

As beautiful as the carefully planned gardens around the main building are, I still prefer the controlled chaos of the nature trails.  There are five miles of hiking trails that traverse forests, fields, and along one stretch, skirts the shore of the Middle Oconee River.  If those trails could talk, they'd tell you how much we laugh together on our spirited walks.

Yesterday, though, the sky threatened pop-up storm showers.  We packed a picnic, deciding that if it rained we'd eat lunch out and picnic at home for dinner. Gotta be flexible!

The rain held off for our meal, and afterwards we spread out a blanket under a tree, on the lawns of green space below the Tropical Conservatory.  Hubby had brought a book, which he used for a pillow as he stretched out for a nap.  The kids kicked off their sandals and explored the stream bed and flowers.  And I, of course, had my journal in hand.

I love making lists of plant names.  There seems to be a poem in every designation.  Here are a few I jotted down:

Pignut Hickory
Goat's Beard
Wake Robin
Foam Flower
Maiden Hair Tree
Paw Paw
Sea Holly
Cherry Queen Sage
Blue-eyed Grass
Bee Balm
Seaside Goldenrod
Snowcap Spiderwort

Are character names swirling around your head, too?  Ideas for stories and fodder for poetry abound in the botanical gardens.  Next time you visit one, be sure to have your journal with you!

Happy Monday!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Wading Along a Flooded Memory Lane

I'm supposed to be getting ready for our trip.  There are a lot of things to think about when you prepare to leave the country for three weeks.  Wardrobes and shoes need to be appraised, bills need to be scheduled for payment, camera and video memory sticks need to be purchased, airline guidelines need to be reviewed so we don't arrive at the airport and learn we have too many, too heavy bags.

But, I'm a procrastinator.

I do a little something each day, so I can hold my head high in the evening when hubby asks what I accomplished.  Yesterday though, when the kids wanted to spend time with me doing "something NOT boring," I decided to embark on  a project that's been long overdue -- and admittedly one I don't have time for right now.

For the fourteen years hubby and I have been married, we've taken photographs to archive our lives together.  Everyone does, right?  Our problem is we've always printed out the photos from film (until two years ago when we scored our first digital camera), enjoyed flipping through the pictures for a week or so, and then tossed the envelop into a royal blue footlocker that once served as a coffee table when we were newly weds, and now occupies a stretch of wall in my writing studio.  It barely closes.

The kids and I started in Target, where we optimistically purchased two photo binders holding a total of 600 pictures.  By late afternoon, it was clear to us that we'd need to make a return trip.

We looked through hundreds and hundreds of pictures, laughing at forgotten memories, oohing and ahhing over the glossy images of the kids' baby years, telling and retelling the stories of our lives.

Each photo is one significant moment in time.  Oh, the stories.

The pic at the top of this post was taken one month after Sidney was born.  She's snuggled in the carrier strapped to my chest.  Cody was a month shy of two years old.  We spent that day roaming the ruins of the chateau, dating from the 10th century, of Foix, which is a wonderful little city in the department of Ariège.  At the time, we lived outside Toulouse, and Foix was just a forty-five minute drive away.  It is considered the gateway to the beautiful Pyrenées Mountains, the natural southern border between France and Spain.  (Learn more about Foix HERE.)

This is a beautiful photo of Foix (thanks, Source).  In the photo of us, above, we were making our way down the cobblestoned path from the chateau to the city below.

Now that we have a digital camera, we're terrible about printing out pictures.  But once I have all these memories stored in their binders, I'm turning my sights on the memory sticks and computer hard drive.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like to hold books of photos in my hands, in a comfy chair looking out a sunny window, with a cup of fresh brewed coffee.  Memory lane loses some of its charm when I'm staring at a computer screen.

What about you?  Do you print photos or prefer storing them online?  Glass protected paper photo or digital frame?  Paper of plastic?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Used Books verses New -- A Dilemma?

I happened into a used bookstore recently.  Across the threshold, I stepped away from sun-baked concrete and automobile exhaust, and into a cool world of aged dust and nostalgia.  Bookshelves ran along the perimeter walls from carpeted floor to stamped tin ceiling, and free-standing shelves created narrow aisles from the plate glass windows to the stockroom, presumably at the back.  A glance at my watch assured me I had time before the sitter would need relief, and into the shelves I wandered.

I left the store with only three purchases: a literary fiction novel, a romance novel, and a compilation of strange ghost-hunting cases.  I paid $6.70 (TOTAL!) plus tax.  The very next day, I read a post by Vicky Rocho at Rambles & Randomness in which she discussed secondhand book sales and their impact on authors and publishers.

She got me thinking.  Is it wrong to buy used books?  Should I spend my money on full price new books, thus supporting the publishing industry I so badly want to be a part of?  Just how much does the secondhand book business cut into profit margins for authors and publishers?

So I did a little investigating.

The newest of the books I bought that day was The Mistress, by Phillipe Tapon.  On the back cover is the publisher's price of $12.95.  A yellow price sticker next to it displayed the bookstore's selling price of $3.50.

The Mistress is not a recent book.  Its copyright date is 1999.  At, you can only purchase the digital, MP3 book for $14.95.  The story was the same at, with audio cassette and CD available starting at $39.95.   At, there are 15 new, traditional book copies available, starting at $1.90 and 76 used copies, starting at $.01.

I don't know if Barnes and Noble or Borders would be able to order the paperback of The Mistress, but next time I'm in their stores I'll ask.  In any case, I don't think my purchase of this book has hurt Mr. Tapon or Penguin Books.  But what about if I'd bought a newer title, one still available on chain bookstore shelves?

I found an interesting New York Times article entitled, "Reading Between the Lines of Used Book Sales."  It ran July 28, 2005, so may be somewhat dated now.  However, author Hal R. Varian made the argument that, economically speaking, the secondhand book business did not significantly impact publishing industry sales.  His article explored and its new and used book sales statistics, and often waded into economic waters I couldn't easily follow.  In the end, though, he says, "...there are two distinct types of buyers: some purchase only new books, while others are quite happy to buy used books. As a result, the used market does not have a big impact in terms of lost sales in the new market."  He goes on to say, "Moreover, the presence of lower-priced books on the Amazon Web site, Mr. Bezos [the chief executive of, at the time] has noted, may lead customers to 'visit our site more frequently, which in turn leads to higher sales of new books.'"  (Read the whole article HERE.)

What do you think?  In an age where the traditional paper book is facing the possibility of extinction evolution, does buying used books feel wrong to you?  Should we be supporting the publishing houses, or building our libraries before the good stuff goes away?  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Literary Nod

I wrote a Tuesday Teaser post a while back, highlighting an excerpt from a creative nonfiction story about my brief kidnapping by Central African rebels.  The story has been entered in a contest since the end of January.  I would link the excerpt here, but I removed it from the post because judging was still underway.

I learned yesterday that In the Face of Danger received an Honorable Mention in the 29th New Millennium Writings Contests, which had a deadline of January 31, 2010.


Edited and published by Don Williams, here's how the literary magazine introduces itself on its website:  Welcome to New Millennium Writings, a journal filled with vibrant imagery, word-craft and pure story-telling talent. NMW is a Winner of a Golden Press Card Award for Excellence.

And here are some accolades by industry insiders:

“I found this to be one of the most powerful literary experiences I've ever had. For anyone who gives a whit about writing or the human condition,New Millennium Writings should be required reading.” —Kane S. Latranz, Alibi

“Fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that will feed your soul.”—New Pages

“Best Reading for Spring, 2010.”—The Montserrat Review

“The works of the best new authors in fiction, non-fiction and poetry are stunningly presented in each volume.”—Direct Communications

“Highly recommended. NMW is one of our favorite journals.”—Winning Writers

New Millennium Writings has published regularly since 1996, in both the online format and in literary magazine-style bound "book," but in the past years their issues have gone down from biannual to one issue per year.  The first place award winners from the two contests this year will be published in the 2011 issue due out this winter, as well as some honorable mentions.

In the most recent issue, No. 19 (the cover graces this post), only three Nonfiction stories were published.
Going back to issue No. 18 (2008-9), there were six Nonfiction stories published.

Keep your fingers crossed that In the Face of Danger will be published in issue No. 20, coming in Winter 2011!

It's good to feel encouraged; this nod has certainly stoked my fires again.
What's fanned your writing flames lately?