Saturday, February 16, 2019

Spring once again

French Village Diaries signs of spring
Golden hazel catkins in the orchard
The change in the weather from winter to spring makes me very happy, so imagine my delight when this week all the signs of spring I eagerly look out for seem to have come at once. 

The wind and rain of last week have become frosty mornings that have given way to blue sky and warm sunshine, meaning wash load after wash load, day after day, have dried outside. This along with my super new washing machine, (who knew they had become so big, so fast and so quiet in the last 14 years) means I finally cleared the heap of non-essentials that have been festering in the laundry room since autumn. 

This week the goose, the ducks and the chickens have all started laying again, which for birds who are past their prime, (Brucie the goose will be ten this spring), is more than I could have expected at the first sign of warmer weather. Now I am flush with eggs once more, I’ve made my first quiche that I enjoyed with salad, on a little bistro table that I dusted off and set up outside the kitchen door.

The orchard is also coming to life; the hazel catkins are dangling like gold in the sun and the wild orchids are pushing through the grass. The first daffodils have ripe buds that will be in flower very soon and our resident Little Owls are busy (and noisy) day and night, preparing for the breeding season, I assume. Every trip out there reminds me of the work that needs tackling now the earth is warming up.

French Village Diaries signs of spring
From a dog walk
Whenever I am outside, in the garden, walking the dog or out on my bike, my eyes are drawn up to the sky and my ears are listening for unmistakable sound of the migrating cranes. Yesterday, although not close enough to photograph, I heard and then spotted my first V of birds heading north, a sure sign spring really will be here soon.

French Village Diaries signs of spring
Open skies on a bike ride
There is energy and new life to be felt everywhere making me feel more alive and that I must get out and enjoy it. I have now completed 300kms of my 2019kms cycling challenge, including 50kms this week out by myself. This might not seem like much, but to me it is a huge achievement. Not since 2014, when my epilepsy came back to kick me in the teeth, have I got on my bike without Adrian by my side (or rather somewhere out in front, but with me none the less). I’m not taking unnecessary risks, but I'm becoming bolder and refuse to let it beat me. 

French Village Diaries signs of spring cycling the canal de la Garonne Bordeaux to Toulouse
Planning - cycling the canal de la Garonne
We are also busy planning (and training for) the first of our 2019 adventures that will not only give me an overnight stop in Bordeaux, something I have wanted for a long time, but also another cycling touring holiday and at last, my first visit to the city of Toulouse. I can’t wait, but I do hope the weather will be kind to us as everything seems so much easier to cope with if served with a generous helping of sunshine.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Book review of The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

French Village Diaries book review The Lost Girls of Paris Pam Jenoff
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

As part of the TLC Tour, my review today is for The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, you can read an excerpt here.

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female secret agents during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, Grace Healey finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.

Based on the real-life female agents sent into Occupied France to assist the underground network in the sabotage of German supply lines, this is a complex work of fiction that follows the incredible stories of three women; the mysterious London based Eleanor Trigg, SOE agent Marie, and Grace, who stumbles upon a snippet of their lives and is determined to uncover the truth.

These three women, while all very different, were all strong characters who had faced loss and sadness in their pasts, that served to give them the grit and determination to rise up to the challenges the war presented. Fighting for the right to be heard in an all-male environment, the fear of being sent into the unknown, the comradery between the agents and the dreadful situations they found themselves in, plus the grief at their losses, all came through in the detailed descriptions in this book.

With the three storylines running simultaneously, there is always something left hanging as we switch back and forth from New York to London to Occupied France, and while this can cause confusion, I found it added to the suspense and kept my interest as the book unfolded. In places, I struggled with the plausibility of the plot and one too many convenient coincidences, but as the author reminded me at the end of the novel, it is a work of fiction and I did enjoy discovering the final piece of the jigsaw at the end. 

This book will appeal to those who enjoy historical novels set during The Occupation, where the female characters show their many strengths in face of adversity.
French Village Diaries book review The Lost Girls of Paris Pam Jenoff
Pam Jenoff

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Lazy Sunday in France, to work, or not to work?

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance
Farewell my friend
Life is all about balance, do I make the sensible choice or follow my heart, until sometimes, the decision is made for you. 

We awoke today with that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from seeing sunshine once more after a week of high winds and rain, but it left me with a dilemma. Should I crack on with the washing, in order to watch it billowing gently on the line as it dries, enjoying the fresh smell only line-dried laundry gives? Or, do we head out on the bikes?

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance
Penultimate resting place

Sadly, this time decision was made for me. My trusty friend, who has been my laundry buddy for fourteen and a half years, finally hung up her spin today. It is true that she has been in the final stages of heart failure for many a month, but we still achieved a good wash, even if it did involve quite a bit of input from me as I manually moved the programme through the cycle. However, today, there was no drum movement, all was still. It would have been a peaceful and dignified end, if the process of getting her down the stairs hadn’t been so brutal.

This week I foresee shopping trips and washing machine pros and cons spreadsheets, followed by much puffing and swearing as we attempt to manhandle a new laundry buddy up the stairs, and then no doubt lots of head scratching as I attempt to work out the new instructions.

For today, you’ll find me out on Katie the Tiny Tourer!
French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance
#KTTinyTourer #BromptoninFrance

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book review of Are We French Yet by Keith Van Sickle

French Village Diaries book review Are We French Yet Keith Van Sickle France Book Tours
Are We French Yet by Keith Van Sickle

Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures In Provence

(travel memoir) Release date: December 15, 2018 at Dresher Publishing ASIN: B07L6N3JK7 157 pages Author’s page | Goodreads  


Can Two Americans Really Become French? Val and Keith turned their lives upside down when they quit their jobs and moved to Provence. But they wondered: Can we fit in? And maybe become French ourselves? Follow their adventures as they slowly unlock the mysteries of France… – Is it true that French people are like coconuts? – Can you learn to argue like a French person? – What books have changed French lives? – Most important of all, how do you keep your soup from exploding? There’s more to becoming French than just learning the language. If you want the inside scoop on la belle France, you won’t want to miss this delightful book!


I enjoyed the first memoir from Keith, One Sip at a Time, and even mentioned in my review how it left me wanting more, so I was keen to step back into Keith and Val’s part-time Provençal life in Are We French Yet? 

Keith and Val are doers not just dreamers. They wanted to experience more than just regular holidays in France, so they changed their work life to give them the flexibility to spend three months each year in Provence. They wanted to ensure they learned French and had French friends, so they got out and found language partners, who over time became friends. This ‘we can do it’ attitude is to be commended. They now enjoy the richness that mixing regularly with French friends gives you, even when back at home in the US. They have learned about the culture, politics, food and more, often around a table, where leisurely meals with wine ensure their learning method is enjoyable too. But they are not afraid of hard work and even their method takes plenty of effort. They avidly read the French newspapers every day, put their all into their homework assignments and are not afraid to pick up a French novel in one hand and a dictionary in the other. There are many of us Anglophones living in France who could take a leaf out of their book.

In this second book Keith takes us with him on vineyard picnics, theatre soirees, medical appointments and more. Each little window on their French life is written with his obvious love of France, lots of humour and every now and then a little frustration at the French way too. I enjoyed this book, a bit more than the first, and I’m sure that memoir lovers of all things French will also love it and hopefully learn something too. From places to visit in Provence, food to try and top tips for learning French, this book has it all.

French Village Diaries book review Are We French Yet Keith Van Sickle France Book Tours
Keith Van Sickle


Keith Van Sickle is the author of the Amazon best-seller One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence. A lifelong traveler who got his first taste of overseas life as a university student in England, Keith later backpacked around the world on his own. But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland that made him fall in love with Europe. With his wife Val and their trusty dog Mica, he now splits his time between California and Provence, delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating. Find the author on Facebook and Twitter Visit his website Subscribe to his mailing list and get information about new releases.

Buy The Book On Amazon.Com or see below for links to Amazon UK



You can enter the global giveaway here or on any other book blogs participating in this tour. Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below

Enter here

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time! [just follow the directions on the entry-form]
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You can read my review of One Sip at a Time here and my France et Moi interview with Keith here.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Lazy Sunday in France, 2019 cycling challenge

French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles in France #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge
Katie the Tiny Tourer Brompton in France
Welcome to my first Lazy Sunday in France post for 2019. I still enjoy lazy days in France, but this year I have set myself a not-so-lazy challenge; to cycle 2019kms on Katie The Tiny Tourer, my new Brompton bicycle.
French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles in France #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge
Out and about with Delilah 
Our Brompton journey started with a practical commuting bike for Adrian when in the UK, but quickly became so much more. As well as commuting, he took ‘Delilah’ for coffee (and posted pics), he took her out at weekends (and posted pics) and he even shared hotel rooms with her (and sadly shared these pics too). I can’t say I blame him, as having hired a Brompton in UK over Christmas 2017, it was fun, comfortable and a bit quirky, just like me. While I am not the jealous sort, the time had come for me to have my own slice of the Brompton action. 
French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles in France #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge
Brompton bicycles in France
Why Brompton?
Here are the top five reasons I now prefer Brompton cycling to road bike cycling: 
1)   The Brompton is small and compact, a little like me, so it is a good fit for my small frame. 
2)   It is a comfortable ride, especially with the Brooks leather saddle, and despite the small wheels, the gearing and geometry is so good it isn’t more effort than the road bike with its big wheels and long stretch to the handlebars.
3)   The design. I may not be stylish, but I do like a well-designed object (which it is) and I also love the quirky, individuality you get with a Brompton. On a recent club ride in UK, with around 30 others, no two bikes were the same.
4)   Although an ideal commuting bike, the great luggage options mean the Brompton is good for cycle touring too. We have rear racks and front mounts, and bags of various sizes, giving us options for full tours as well as days out with a picnic.
5)   They certainly turn heads, especially when you are out with more than one, so we’ve already had plenty of admiring glances here in France.
French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles in France #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge
Daisy in London
Do you choose your Brompton or does your Brompton choose you?
Initially, I thought I was heading to the UK for Christmas, and to meet ‘Daisy’, a white Brompton S6R that Adrian had bought second hand in October. She wasn’t a surprise, but the two day break he planned for us between Christmas and New Year, certainly was. Day one saw us touring the Regents Canal from West London to the Thames at Limehouse, before overnighting in Greenwich, then following the Thames path back west, covering 90kms in total. We had a blast; the weather was great and being out on the bikes together was bliss, but although Adrian gets on well with the flat, sporty S type handlebars, for me the more traditional M type (that I had on my hired Brompton in 2017) was more comfortable.

Which is where ‘Katie the Tiny Tourer’ came in. Sitting on a shelf in a west London bike shop, our paths mysteriously crossed on day one of our London adventure. Fate definitely had a hand as she was a perfect, stylish colour combination, had the M type handlebars I knew I needed, a Brooks leather saddle and to top it off, a promotional price tag. In a moment of madness, we paid for her, carried on to Greenwich as planned and then returned to collect her the following day.
French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles in France #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge
Cycling the Marais Poitevin, Brompton bicycles in France
Adrian will continue to commute with Delilah in the UK but now also has Daisy to use when we are cycling together in France. This opens up the possibility for Brompton touring over here, especially as both Daisy and Katie have the additional luggage racks fitted, and Daisy came with a set of front and rear luggage. Everything seemed to be fitting into place perfectly, however, Daisy wasn’t very happy with Katie’s arrival. Having cycled over 3000kms in a year on Delilah and suffered no punctures, Adrian has now had to deal with 3 Daisy punctures in quick succession.

Then we then stumbled across this blog post here; a fun looks at what your choice of Brompton colour says about you, that I found to be spookily accurate. It would seem that Daisy and I were never meant to be together, as a white Brompton is for clean, neat people who are meticulous in their appearance and personality. I may strive for an orderly and uncluttered lifestyle, but it’s never going to happen. Katie is part Ivory, for honest and trustworthy people, who are good listeners, and part Tempest Blue for those of us with deep and brooding thoughts who spend a lot of time within our own minds. Well, what can I say except sometimes being inside my head is not the best place to be, but I do hope I am a good friend to those who need one.
French Village Diaries Brompton bicycles in France #KTTinyTourer 2019 cycling challenge
Katie the Tiny Tourer, Brompton in France
Back to my 2019 challenge
There is nothing quite like a good bike ride to clear your head and calm your mind, and with 2019 being the year of the Brexit, I know that this year I will need cycling to be my head-clearing focus. This led to the crazy idea of cycling 2019kms in 2019, which is quite a jump from the 700kms I cycled last year, gulp. While we would love to set off touring once more, a lot will depend on what happens in the murky world of politics, as planning anything with the uncertainty we are living with isn’t easy. To meet my target, being more bike focussed is certainly the way forward: if the weather is good – get out for a quick blast on the bike, if we need a few bits from the shops – take the bike.

One day back in France, however, and my great plan of fitness for 2019 was in jeopardy. Dodging the patchy fog, we took the bikes out to test my quick and easy 6kms village loop. Planned to ensure I’m never too far from home when cycling without Adrian, keeping to tarmac surfaces, rather than gravel paths, and easy to complete within 20 mins, I was hoping to do it at least five times a week. I just hadn’t planned on the mud. Every surface in and around the village is used by farmers in tractors as they drive from one field to another. The mud flicked up from the wheels onto the frame, blocked the gap between the tyre and the mud guards and splattered itself everywhere. Adrian doesn’t do muddy bikes, in fact he has far more lotions and sprays, plus applicators, cloths and buffing rags for bike cleaning than he does for personal care. He says if I’m out by myself I’ll need to learn to clean the mud from Katie’s delicate areas, to prevent damage and rust. Eek, I thought he’d have realised by now, after more than 20 years of marriage, a cleaning fairy I am not.

Luckily by stretching my legs just a little further, we now have an 18kms route, where I’m never more than 10kms from home, that can be done within an hour and is on much clearer roads. 18kms twice a week, for 52 weeks, sees me well on the way to my 2019kms cycling challenge. With a few kms under my belt before we even returned to France and a fair effort since getting home, I am delighted to report that I have already cycled 166kms, so only another 1853kms to go. 

This increased off-season cycling is already working its magic and I’m feeling much better than I usually would in January. This has resulted in the house having had a good clean, clear out and reorganise; so onwards and upwards Katie, together you and I can conquer anything.