Thursday
Aug142014

Life in Burgundy--Days Five through Nine

Here's my summary of Days One through Four.

Our exchange family had left us a brochure listing about twenty châteaux in Southern Burgundy, and as we looked at the map, we realized that they were all within an hour's drive of our house. It was hard to choose which one to visit first, but we finally decided to visit Cormatin on Day Five, which is fifteen minutes north of Cluny Abbey (much more on that later).

We had a few minutes to explore the immaculately kept formal gardens (and the moat!) before our guided tour started. The hedge maze was intricate enough that Hope had a hard time finding her way out once the bell rang for our tour. Our tour guide was a young intern with a very entertaining speaking style; the little kids followed along with a binder that contained an English transcription. The 17th-century structure is in very good condition, and the chambers of the Marquis and Marquise--decorated with gold leaf and lapis lazuli--are stunning.

After our tour, we had some ice cream in the former orangery and made our way home.

Before our trip, we'd realized that the Tour de France would be passing close by Prissé on what would be Day Six of our visit, so Patrick and I made plans for him to take the three older kids to the village of Fleurie so that they could see the cyclists race by. We knew it would be a long, hot wait, so I decided to stay home with the younger two. Patrick and the teens got an excellent spot on the village thoroughfare and settled in to wait. 

First, the sponsor caravan came by and threw free stuff to the crowd. Patrick and the kids came home with snacks, drinks, frisbees, and other little toys in a little backpack they'd also scored. A couple of hours later, the cyclists came through--and Vincenzio Nibali, the guy with the famous yellow jersey that day, was the one who ended up winning the race. Viva Italia! 

In the meantime, I filmed Daniel and Anne giving a tour of our mini-château. It's sixteen minutes long, and it's hilarious (to us, anyway). You'll have to head over to Facebook to see it, since I can't seem to upload it here.

We also played ping pong in the cave and had a picnic under a mulberry tree on the lawn. Bliss.

Since Day Five was pretty mellow, we were up for adventure again on Day Six. First, we visited the abbey of Cluny, most of which was destroyed right after the French Revolution. (This was unusual; most of France's gorgeous architecture was preserved as part of the national patrimony despite the antagonism toward religion at the time.) What remains is impressive, and amazing virtual reality technology shows visitors what the massive churches must have been like in their heyday. Here's James walking through what was once the ambulatory of one of the churches; you can see remains of the pillars to his right:

Everyone loved everything about Cluny, and Patrick and I were excited, because we'd bought tickets to a concert to be held there the following week. We splurged on lunch at a restaurant, which was leisurely and delicious. Then, because it was so hot, we made for the Caves at Azé in the afternoon. The idea of a fresh, cool tour through a 50-degree grotto running alongside a subterreanean river sounded heavenly--and it was. 

Once again, our guide was fantastic--completely immersed in his source material. Prehistoric man lived in the caves, and many skeletons of bears, lions, and other creatures have been excavated from within. The geology, the history--it was all fascinating--and I was once again bursting with pride over my children. Patrick and I translated some of what our guide told us, but mostly, they patiently gleaned what they could from the fast-paced flood of French that washed over them--and then asked questions when it was appropriate. 

Every evening was wonderful--a home-cooked dinner; a twilight walk; some Buffy accompanied by chocolate--the routine was extremely satisfying. 

The next day was Saturday, and we went to Switzerland to see Patrick's family for the weekend. We met his cousin, Valérie, at her cute apartment, and then headed to downtown Lausanne to do some exploring. As lovely as Geneva is, I far prefer Lausanne, and would be quite content to live there. Perched on the edge of Lake Geneva, with the stately Alps rising above the other side, Lausanne is small enough to be comfy, but sophisticated enough to remind you that you're very happily in Europe. 

We visited the cathedral (including the awesome crypt, which we hadn't seen before), bought chocolate (of course), and found an issue of Vogue Italia for Hope. A friend of ours who is a model was featured in an extensive spread, so we bought it as a souvenir.

In the evening, we all went to the village of Servion, where Patrick's second cousin, Dany, lives with his family. I cannot convey to you how wonderful this evening was. Dany and Yolande are kind and hilarious and generous people. They made a traditional raclette dinner for us with all the scrumptious trimmings, and we ate and talked and laughed in the gorgeous Vaudois twilight for hours. Here's a photo of James and me, with the view from Dany's terrace in the background. Heaven.

Speaking of heaven, the next day (Day Eight), we went to church in Renens with Valérie, her awesome son, Nolan, and Patrick's Aunt Sylvia. What a fabulous ward, with dynamic youth, excellent lessons, and a comforting yet energizing Spirit. After a yummy lunch at Valérie's and a nice visit with Sylvia, we drove to Montreux (yes, we all sang the "Smoke on the Water" riff--several times) so that we could visit the Château de Chillon. I've been there before twice, but it doesn't get old. 

We explored the whole thing from dungeon (which boasts Lord Byron's graffiti) to tower. 

It was rainy, but the Alps rose majestically through the mist, and I could have looked out over the platinum water forever. 

The rain persisted the next day, but we were undaunted. First, we went to visit the Cailler chocolate factory near the village of Gruyères. (I was dying to take the kids to the castle at Gruyères as well, but I didn't want them to burn out on castles too early--plus, with the poor weather, it wouldn't have been at its best. Next time.)

The factory was packed, but we bought tickets for the tour and then lounged around watching the big spenders (those who paid 75 euros) make hand-molded chocolates in the glassed-in lab. (Again: next time, we'll fork out for the atelier du chocolat).

The tour was delightfully heavy on history and atmosphere, but I had hoped for more technique/technology. But at the end, we did get to see chocolates being made--and then, for the grand finale, the tasting room. In which we could stay as long as we liked and eat as much chocolate as we wanted. Shades of Wonka. Cailler makes our very favorite chocolate, Frigor, and let's just say that the Perkins family got its money's worth. Délicieux!

Nicely stuffed, we made our way back to Lausanne to visit the fantastic Olympic Museum. This was definitely the kids' favorite visit: loads of interactive displays, memorabilia, and videos of Olympic highlights--it's easy to spend fascinating hours there. I highly recommend it. 

By this time in our trip, Patrick had driven the autoroute to and from France twice, and while the autoroute is efficient, it's not necessarily the most scenic way to go. Patrick, as driver, wanted adventure, so we planned an alternate route back to Prissé. It was pouring rain a lot of the way--through Vallorbe, Pontarlier, and then skirting Lons-le-Saunier back down to Mâcon--and it took us about four hours (instead of two).

Now, I love a good road trip with Patrick at the wheel, but this was the one time our kids mutinied a bit, so we decided to stop for a splurge dinner in Tournus. Hope got adventurous and ordered a pizza with escargots--but I ended up eating most of them along with my hanger steak. Ah, the sacrifices I make for my children. But everyone was happy, and we got back to our lovely mini-château in time for an episode of Buffy

To be continued! Stay tuned for more châteaux, churches, cheese, and chocolat!

Wednesday
Jul162014

Life in Burgundy--Days One through Four

Good grief, this poor blog. I've never gone this long without updating it. Where did the time go?

Well, longtime readers of mine will know about my writing energy unit (WEU) concept. As a woman with six awesome kids and a foster daughter; a fabulous husband; a darling dog; and a demanding, five-day-per-week teaching gig during the school year, I find myself with only a very limited amount of time/WEUs to write every day. And those WEUs have been spent on fiction lately, to the detriment of this blog.

Since my last post, I've finished a middle grade contemporary fantasy (it's now being considered by an agent or two). I've written a romance novella that was included in this anthology that came out yesterday! And then there was that short story that will come out very soon as part of this anthology

I have another commissioned work of longish-form fiction that needs to be drafted by the end of the summer, but that's on hold at the moment. Why? Because I'm on vacation with the family in fabulous France. Southern Burgundy, to be specific--and we're having the time of our lives. 

The photo at the top of the post is what we see from our bedroom window. The view is even more fantastic than the house in which we're staying. Every time I walk into the room, the view captivates me, and as the light changes throughout the day, I notice new things to love. I'd have a hard time getting sick of that scenery, I can tell you.

We're doing another house exchange through HomeLink. Our first exchange was with a family from Neauphle-le-Château in 2009, and we spent a grand three weeks showing our kids around Paris and its environs. The year after, we exchanged with a family in Twickenham, England, and had a similarly memorable time.

But the next year, it was time for Christian to go to college--and the summer after that, we moved to California, and so on. Finally, this year, we felt ready to do another exchange. Our first choice was Italy, but nothing worked out there. For a while, it looked like Bath might be a possibility--but then, that fell through as well.

Then we got an exchange offer from a family in Burgundy, and things fell into place. We realized that from here, we could visit Patrick's extended family in Lausanne, Switzerland (we're headed there this weekend), and that we'd also get to see a gorgeous part of France that is less frequented by tourists. 

The one sad thing about our exchange is that Christian, our oldest, couldn't come with us. He's between his junior and senior years of college, and he scored a jaw-droppingly cool internship with Senator Reid in Washington, D.C. for the summer. He's having a great time, and it's the kind of opportunity that's life-changing--but I wish we could clone him, because we miss him very much.

The good/bad part of exchanging houses--at least, if you're a bit obsessive, like I am--is that it involves a considerable amount of deep cleaning beforehand. (Yes, it's a ton of work getting the place ready for the exchange family--but the flip side is that you come home to a house that's pretty darn clean. Thus my ambivalence.)

But clean we did, and pack (very lightly) we did--one large suitcase and three carry-on suitcases for the seven of us--and we were off. Day Zero: We flew via Air Canada (highly recommended: organized, drama-free, and prompt) through Montreal to Geneva. One of the few downsides to living in California is that it takes fourteen hours (including layovers) to get to Europe instead of just six or seven. But we survived. 

Day One: We barely fit all our luggage into our rented minivan (thus the need to pack very lightly) and headed west into France. We got to Prissé at about noon, a couple of hours ahead of my pessimistic schedule. Geneva's baggage handling and car rental systems were true to the legendary Swiss stereotype of efficiency! We met our exchange family's neighbor, who handed over the key to the place that would be our home for the next three weeks. 

We knew a little bit about the house before we arrived--that the oldest part of it was built in the 17th century, and that it has sixteen bedrooms and extensive grounds--but it wasn't until we arrived that we realized we'd really won the house exchange lottery. I'll do a separate post with photos of all the rooms and as much of the history as I've gleaned; it's pretty amazing. 

We had a delightful time exploring corridor after corridor on all four floors, both attics, and the extensive cave (basement), and then the kids each chose a bedroom and unpacked. Anne and Daniel decided to bunk together in a darling room in the north tower, and I don't blame them; all the hallways can be a tiny bit spooky, and it took us a while to orient ourselves. 

Patrick and I made a trip to the Super U, the local supermarché, to stock up on food and supplies for the next day (Sunday) as well as the day after (Bastille Day). We had a simple dinner of amazingly fresh and exquisite local food and called it a day. 

We didn't get much sleep the first night, but we did our best. Day Two: We'd planned to go to church, but ended up sleeping right through it and not really minding. We're on vacation, and we refuse to push ourselves.

We went into Mâcon in the afternoon and explored a bit in the light rain (which we all welcomed, having come from drought-stricken Los Angeles). That evening, we watched the World Cup Finals, and it was cool enough (with the big windows open) to have a comfy fire. 

Day Three: Since Monday was Bastille Day, a national holiday, we knew all the tourist sites would be closed--so we went to Switzerland! I've spent time in Lausanne, but had never been to Geneva before, so it was an adventure for all of us. We saw the iconic Jet d'Eau (and plenty of swans, geese, and ducks) on Lake Geneva and ate our lunch on Rousseau Island.

Then we walked up to the Cathedral of St. Pierre, then through charming streets and parks to the Reformation Wall, and back to a supermarket to stock up on chocolate. It may not sound like a lot, but it was quite a bit of walking, and we were still jet lagged. Why push it? We've got days and days left to our stay. 

Another evening in our lovely house; another wonderful dinner. I'll probably have to do a separate post about the food: the cheeses, the milk, the bread, the desserts. Delicious! After we cleaned up the kitchen, Patrick, James, and Hope went on a sunset bike ride; it's light out until about 9:30 this time of year, and we all want to make the most of the amazing countryside that surrounds us. 

Late evening routine: Patrick and I, remembering how we watched a couple of exciting seasons of Lost with our big boys on our London trip, wanted to find something similarly engaging to watch with James, Hope, and Tess in the evenings after putting the littles to bed. We decided on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and so far, it's been a hit. 

Day Four: Yesterday, we visited Brou Monastery in Bourg-en-Bresse. I'm going to run out of words that express extreme beauty very quickly. 

This gem of Flamboyant Gothic architecture was a joy to explore. The church itself was amazing, as was the unique, three-cloistered monastery. One of the best parts was having it all nearly to ourselves; there were only a few other visitors. I was very tempted to gather the kids in one of the small, side chapels so that we could sing something in harmony literally a capella, but I forebore, not wanting to cause a scene. Or have people leave money at our feet. Because they would, of course. :)

We ate our picnic lunch in the shade of a quince tree in the middle of the monastery's formal (but unfortunately somewhat overgrown) vegetable garden. Most of us were tempted to do some weed-pulling; the local volunteers must all be on vacation. 

Then we drove back through Mâcon and followed the signs to Solutré. It's one of two roches in the area, and archaeologists theorize that it was once a prehistoric hunting site. Early man would apparently drive herds of wild game off the cliff, then collect the bodies at the bottom. Today, Solutré rises above picturesque villages and hectare upon hectare of grape vines. Apparently, this area produces some of the finest wine grapes in the world. 

It was a strenuous but gorgeous walk to the top. Anne had hurt her foot earlier in the day, so had a bit of a challenge, but she made it both up and back. Once back at our car, we rewarded ourselves with Prince cookies and headed back to the house.

Patrick and I had thought about taking the kids to Lyon today, but this morning, we decided against it. We need to do some grocery shopping, and Patrick has a bit of work to do. We'll do something local and low-key this afternoon instead; there are literally a score of ancient châteaux within a few minutes' drive of the house. Stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday
Apr222014

The Weekend Getaway

This is our darling house. The guest house is around back.

As part of the Altered Perceptions IndieGoGo campaign, I've come up with a perk for a couple of big donors. It's outlined on the website, but I thought I'd give some more details here. 

Weekend Writing Retreat

A private, spacious, light-filled, air-conditioned guest house in sunny Pasadena will be all yours for a full three days and two nights. It includes a kitchenette with refrigerator (stocked with snacks and drinks of your choice), queen-sized bed, desk, full bath, Wi-Fi, cable/Blu-Ray, and a huge library of books and movies. The pool and hot tub are also available for your use.
Three gourmet meals* per day will be delivered to your door at times you schedule, selected from a menu similar to this: 
  • Homemade cinnamon rolls, yogurt parfaits, or French toast for breakfast
  • Panini, chicken salad, or charcuterie plate for lunch
  • Poached salmon, homemade ravioli, or homemade fried chicken for dinner
You are responsible for your own transportation (we'll work out the dates). Bring your laptop and your imagination.** We'll provide the rest!
 
* Here's the thing about the food. I've published a cookbook and taken a class at the Culinary Institute of America. I promise: the meals I provide will knock your socks off. But say you wanted to go out to lunch instead (on your own dime). Really good restaurants are within a few minutes of our house, like Din Tai Fung, named one of the World's Best Restaurants. 
** You don't have to be a writer to claim this perk. Instead, you could bring your significant other for a relaxing break. If you're a hiker, you should know that there are amazing hiking trails literally around the corner from us (and I can pack you a box lunch in that case). Take our boogie boards to the beach, 45 minutes away. Or go to Disneyland. Pasadena boasts great museums and amazing gardens. And, you know, there's L.A. Seriously: so much to do and see. You'll love it here.
Thursday
Apr172014

Altered Perceptions


Escaping Criticism, Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874

I've mentioned before that I have an anxiety/depressive disorder. I cope. A lot of the time, I'm fine. Most of the time, I can get through my days regardless. I'm very lucky.

But it's always there, like a scar that never really fades, and that once in a while swells up, gets ugly, and causes problems.

And maybe like attracts like, because I know a lot of people who struggle with mental illness in one form or another. Since you're reading this, you probably know someone who struggles, too. 

Which is why I'm thrilled to tell you about a new project I'm involved in. I was recently invited to contribute to Altered Perceptions, an anthology that SF giants Dan Wells and Brandon Sanderson are organizing to benefit writers with mental illness in general and the über-awesome Robison Wells in particular. 

The anthology will consist of:

Ally Condie, Foreword

Dan Wells, Introduction

Annette Lyon, An unpublished chapter from her retelling of the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala

Brandon Mull, Deleted scenes from Beyonders 2
Brandon Sanderson, Five completely rewritten chapters from The Way of Kings, in which Kaladin makes the opposite choice of what he makes in the published novel
Bree Despain, An alternate ending to The Lost Saint and an alternate beginning to the Shadow Prince
Brodi Ashton, The first chapter from her YA novel about an alien who has to rescue the boy she loves
Claudia Gray, A deleted scene from A Thousand Pieces of You
Dan Wells, The original John Cleaver free write
Erin Bowman, A deleted scene from Taken
Howard Tayler, A creative non-fiction story about life with mental illness
J Scott Savage, Three original chapters that led to writing Farworld
Jennifer Moore, A deleted scene from Becoming Lady Lockwood
Jessica Day George, A deleted scene from Princess of Glass, in which the main character plays poker with a witch
Josi Kilpack, The original opening scene to Tres Leches Cupcake
Kiersten White, An original short story set in a dystopian world
Larry Correia, A deleted fight scene from Swords of Exodus
Lauren Oliver, Two deleted scenes from Pandemonium, plus a hilarious scene about the plotting process
Luisa Perkins (ME!) A short story called  “Seeing Red," a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"
Mary Robinette Kowal, A deleted scene from Valor and Vanity 
Nancy Allen, Bonus scene from Beauty and the Clockwork Beast
Robison Wells, An epilogue to the Feedback and Variant duology
Sandra Tayler, Creative non-fiction, “Married To Depression”
Sara Zarr, A story featuring characters from one of Sara’s previously published novels
Sarah Eden, “Farewells” for Longing For Hope and Hope Springs
Seanan McGuire, The original opening for Discount Armageddon
Shannon Hale, "Ravenous," a previously unpublished scifi short story
SJ Kincaid, The original first chapter of Vortex, before it was entirely rewritten

 

Do you notice any familiar names? Like, at least NINE New York Times bestsellers? And a bunch of Hugo winners, yeah? These are amazing, generous, talented people, and I'm over the moon at the opportunity to have my work included with theirs--especially in support of such an excellent cause. 

This anthology will be seriously GOOD. I can't wait to get my copy! The IndieGoGo fundraiser will go live next Monday, so look for more information coming soon!

Tuesday
Mar112014

New Podcast!

Annette Lyon and I have started a new podcast devoted to making the grammar, usage, and mechanics of American English fun and understandable. Here's our first episode, and here's the blog!