My Grape Village

French Christmas Food & Wine Porn!

IMG_8893  Some Christmas french food & wine porn for this festive season from My Grape Village. Enjoy! 


The presents were quickly disposed of on Christmas morning. Charlotte and Camille ripped off the paper and squealed over their stuffy puppies and Polly Pockets. They ate a prodigious amount of papillottes and their enjoyment of the day didn’t seem to be at all affected by the torn wallpaper on the walls or the ugly floor tiles. The tree and the decorations and the fact that the Père Noël came during the night, drank all the ratafia, and ate the papillottes made it a perfect Christmas in their eyes. A big Christmas was fun, but a modest Christmas had its rewards too. Fewer gifts made us aware of what was important, and increased our appreciation of what we did have.

Stéphanie told us to be at her house by 11:30 for the apéritif. She would not hear of me bringing anything to contribute to the Christmas meal. When I asked Franck why she was turning down repeated offers of help he said that it was her pride as a hostess to do everything herself. I wondered briefly why I had never seemed to possess that particular brand of domestic pride.

Tom and Lola greeted us at the door, jumping up and down and telling us about the presents Père Noël had brought them. The most popular was Lola’s stand up microphone. The four cousins rushed upstairs to her bedroom try it out. By the time Thierry had poured us each a flute of mousseux the strains of very loud but out-of-tune voices floated down the stairs. We were the last ones to arrive, There was Steph and Thierry, Thierry’s parents, his aunt from Dijon, Franck’s parents and of course La Mémé, equipped with several exquisite shawls to stave off drafts despite the roaring fire. We caught up with Thierry’s parents and his aunt and Stéphanie passed around homemade gougères – crunchy on the outside and rich and airy on the inside - made with Mémé’s recipe.

Eventually Steph went back in the kitchen and André went to help her. I was shooed away. We were told to sit down at the table, stunningly decorated with tones of red and gold, and an abundance of freshly picked holly.

Steph handed out the plates, beginning with Thierry’s aunt and Mémé and then moved on down the line in order of age. On each plate were two artfully arranged slices of foie gras, two slices of toasted brioche, and a scoop of fig jam.

Thierry busied himself with filling our glasses with a dark yellow Sauternes, perfectly chilled.

We waited until Steph and André were seated at the table and then Stephanie said “Bon alors, Joyeux Noël et bon appetite!” I scraped some foie gras on a piece of toasted, buttery brioche, topped it with fig jam, then washed it down with the beautifully paired Sauternes. The foie gras was silky smooth of my tongue, enhanced by the sweet pops of the fig jam and the honeyed richness of the Sauternes. They mingled together to form a holy trinity of yum. The table fell silent for several minutes as everyone relished this first sublime bite of the holiday meal.

We talked about preparing the foie gras which Stephanie had done from scratch this year - well not completely from scratch - she hadn’t force fed a goose but she did bought a freshly fattened goose liver and prepared, deveined, marinated and cooked it herself.

“Do you like it Laura?” she asked. I knew I should feel guilty about the force-fed goose, but all I could think of was how it was so incredibly delicious.

C’est délicieux,” I answered. Why did nothing in Canada taste this satisfying? Why were flavors never quite so carefully and artfully matched? Here on my plate and in my glass was the perfect harmony of sweet and savory. The crunchy butteryness of the brioche and the syrupy fig jam highlighted the savory onctuousness of the foie gras. Individually all these things were delicious, but married together they were sublime. There wasn’t a lot of the food on the plate but because it was so perfect it was all that was needed.

We took a good hour nibbling away at the first course. The children came down and they all ate a full plate just like the adults, all except Lola who was turning out, much to the despair of Franck’s family of gourmets, to be a picky eater. I wasn’t sure if my kids realized if they were eating fattened goose liver or, if they did, whether they would even care.

Without me realizing exactly when or how, their eating habits had improved drastically since we moved here. They sat down to eat three proper meals a day and a snack when they got home from school around five o’clock. There were still a few things they didn’t like, spinach for Charlotte and brussel sprouts for Camille, but they would try more or less anything else, mainly because the kids around them had to try everything too. Also, I believe the fact that most things they tried actually tasted good inspired them to be adventurous.

Charlotte and Camille proclaimed that the foie gras was delicious and declared it one of their new favorite foods, then asked if they could go upstairs to play. The cousins disappeared again, and Steph and Thierry and André took their time doing the dishes from the first course while Steph periodically checked the oven.

Finally she removed what had been in there and the house was filled with an irresistible smell. It was a chapon - a rooster castrated at a young age filled with a chestnut and pork stuffing.

Stephanie served this with a side of chestnuts for anyone who wanted them. I had grown up in Canada seeing chestnuts cover the sidewalk every autumn but I had never tasted them before or, indeed, ever seen anybody eat them. It was in France that I first discovered them and realized how much I loved their earthy taste and texture. Stéphanie also served her bird with a reduced jus from the cooking. Thierry, meanwhile, had taken out several bottles of Hospices de Beaune wine and served one that was a Pommard premier cru.

He gave it to Franck to taste. Franck swirled it around in his glass, sniffed, and swashed it around his mouth and proclaimed it perfect. No one rushed on to anything else, and each plateful was just the perfect amount of flavors to savor without overwhelming the palate.

I thought back to our Christmas dinners in Canada. They were joyous affairs, but it was always such a race to get everything on the table at the same time; the turkey, the stuffing, the brussel sprouts, the scalloped potatoes, and the green beans. Everybody filled their plates and rushed to the table to eat before it got cold (which it inevitably did). The flavors were good, but there were too many of them at once, and the whole thing was over far too fast. Afterwards, everyone sat back with prodigious stomachaches and a kitchen full of dishes to clean.

The protracted nature and the small portions of meals in Burgundy meant that everything was properly savored. It forced everyone to slow down. Slowing down while eating, I realized now, was key to true appreciation and enjoyment of food. There were no distractions apart from the flowing conversation.

After the chapon came a trou normande in the form of a lime sorbet with strong alcohol poured over it. This was, according to French belief, the secret to digesting well and making more room in our stomachs for the cheese and dessert courses.

The fromage platter was massive, and included a truly pungent and perfectly oozing “Ami de Chambertin, a half round of Cîteaux, and a crumbly and salty Cantal sheep’s cheese amongst other offerings. Here too, the different textures and tastes of the cheeses riffed off each other creating an amazing taste experience. For the wine, Thierry served another Pommard from les Hospices that was groaning with ripe fruit flavours and structured tannins – absolutely the perfect foil to the cheeses.

Dessert came sometime after, along with a vin de paille from the Jura, a sweet intensely yellow wine that used half rotten grapes that had been aged on hay. Its richness complimented Mémé’s two “buches de Noël”, one mocha, one chocolate. Next came a praline kouglouf made by Franck’s father, served with the tiny china cups of strong espresso and bowls of papillottes and clémentine oranges.

As I was unpeeling my second orange the conversation ranged from wine to the best markets in the region. Thierry’s father, nicknamed “Le Cadou” so insistently that I had never learned his actual name, was a loyal attendee of the Friday morning market in Nuits-Saint-Georges where he went without fail to visit with friends and his favorite merchants and to buy whatever struck his fancy. Franck’s favorite market remained the Monday morning market in Louhans that featured veal’s brains and chilled white wine for the traditional pre-market breakfast. Mémé had always liked the market in the nearby town of Chagny. I argued for Beaune even though Franck’s family didn’t like the fact that it had seen an influx in tourists over the past decade during the summer months.

I glanced at my watch for the first time that day. “It’s ten o’clock at night!”

Indeed, darkness had fallen over the vineyards behind Steph and Thierry’s house a long time before, but somehow I didn’t have the impression of time passing. We had been at the table for almost twelve hours.

“A perfect Christmas Day,” Franck said, rubbing his stomach and reaching across the table to caress my palm.


What is the Ban Bourgignon?

I have had many people ask me about the traditional Burgundian drinking song "Le Ban Bourgignon" that I refer to frequently in My Grape Escape and My Grape Village. "What does it sound like?" / "When do you sing it?" / "How does everyone know the words?"

Sometimes a video is worth a thousand explanations, especially the one below. This was filmed in La Maison des Chaumes at the meal celebrating the baptism of our 13th century wine cellar under our apartment in Beaune. Oui, in Burgundy we baptize wine cellars just like newly born babes...but that is another post for another time!

That is Robert, who you will all become acquainted with in the upcoming My Grape Town, singing and you'll spot Franck at the end of the table holding baby Clementine, me appearing from the kitchen (in a white linen shirt, of course), my parents, Martial and Isabelle, Franck's parents and his aunts, Charlotte ("Marie" in My Grape Village, as two Charlottes were just too awkward for this here writer).

This captures pretty neatly the spirit of those long, raucous Burgundian meals that I love so much. Enjoy!


"Christmas in Burgundy" Contest

MagnyVillers There's nothing I love better than giving away time in Burgundy and allowing others to experience the magic of this special area of the world that I write about in My Grape Escape and My Grape Village for themselves. So, just in time for the giving season here are the rules for our newest contest!

Prize: One week at any one of our four vacation rentals in Burgundy, France (to choose / research / procrastinate / dream just go to our website

How to Enter: Just write and post a review of my latest book MY GRAPE VILLAGE on (it goes without saying that you have to read it first!). Click here to do so.

Dates: This contest will run from now until Christmas Day

Rules & Regs: The winner will be selected in a random draw. The week is redeemable at any one of our four Grape Rentals properties, subject only to availability. There are no date or time restrictions (so you can go to Burgundy at Christmas, Easter, Passover, the Summer Solstice, etc.). The lovely people who posted a review before this contest was announced will also, of course, be entered.

Bonne Chance tout le monde!


We Have a Gagnante!

58220_525159777504477_1251903873_n (1) Sorry this is a day late - things have been a little hairy for me trying to have the paperbacks of MY GRAPE VILLAGE and MY GRAPE ESCAPE shipped in time for me to bring them to the wonderful Surrey International Writers' Conference this weekend.

Now, however, I am happy to report that we have a WINNER in our draw for a free week at La Maison de la Vieille amongst all the people who signed up for my mailing list. It is (cue drumroll) Elizabeth Theobald!

The winner is automatically generated by some genius that lives in a specialized computer thingy I bought (it's like maaaaaaaaagic!) but I am thrilled to report that Elizabeth is part of my PSC family.

I met her and her lovely husband Kevin (the PSCer, like me) in Denver at the PSC conference this year. We bonded when Kevin and I yanked up our jeans and compared the scars on our legs (from the horrendous itching - a hallmark of PSC) and marveled at how we both looked like we had been mauled by the same werewolf. Kevin told me about how a young man from a youth group he led had offered to donate 65% of his liver to Kevin for a living donor liver transplant (by which time Elizabeth, Kevin, and I were all crying over the selflessness of Kevin's donor). Kevin's transplant happened two months ago. Last I heard Kevin is doing fantastic, which makes me very happy and hopeful indeed.

This prize couldn't be going out to two more deserving, delightful people, So Elizabeth, you have a free week at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne - our 16th century winemakers' cottage in Burgundy, France to use yourselves, gift, donate, or do whatever you want with!


P.S. A new contest will be coming very soon, so watch this page...

My Grape Village Paperback now available!

cover_my-grape-village Mes amis! I promised I would let everyone know when My Grape Village was released in paperback and c'est fait!  My advice is to order it directly off which provides the quickest delivery by a long shot. Just click here to order.

Also, our contest winner will be drawn and announced on Monday, so stay tuned...

Grape Titles!

I have had a lot of people ask me why the books in my Grape Series have similar titles. They do indeed: My Grape Year (currently writing)

My Grape Paris (to be written)

My Grape Escape (published)

My Grape Village (published)

My Grape Town (to be written)

My Grape Baby (to be written)

Interspersed between these will be a scattering of smaller memoirs (memoirellas?) such as My Grape Wedding, My Grape Cellar, My Grape Summer, etc.

For our French life, "grape" has always been highly emblematic. Our network of vacation rentals is called "Grape Rentals". I liked the play on the word "great" plus in my mind a grape evokes so many things that are profoundly Burgundian - the earth, tradition, the rhythm of the seasons, the combination of man and nature to create something truly sublime...

These titles came to me right away, whereas the title for my paranormal romance continues to elude me. The working title is "Silver Fish", pulled from the poem by early Canadian poet Isabella Valency Crawford that inspired my epic story idea over a decade ago.

The line goes "Love is like a silver fish, shy of line and shy of gaffing."

Unfortunately, I was informed very quickly by my fellow writers (who are, thank god, blunt when they need to be) that "silverfish" were also pestilential insects that called for reliable fumigaters. Not really an association I wanted for a paranormal romance. So....back to the drawing board, except that I'm still waiting for that lightning bolt of inspiration. If you have any ideas, please help me!

Anyway, back to The Grape Series. I realized after I had already decided on the "Grape" titles that one of the reasons having the almost-identical title repeated again and again was that it reminded me of my first love in the world of memoir writing:


Who else is with me on this one?

At Thanksgiving dinner this weekend when my sisters and I were gushing over the "Little House" series my brother-in-law Mark said, "Christ! I frickin' hated those goddamned books." Maybe there is a gender split here, but in any case I LOVED them. Also, I have never forgotten this section near the end of Little House in the Big Woods that struck me as a six-year-old when my mom read Suzanne and I the whole series one winter, and stays with me still. To me, it embodies the magic of memoir:

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, "What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?"

"They are the days of a long time ago, Laura," Pa said. "Go to sleep, now."

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa's fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, "This is now."

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

Paperback of MY GRAPE VILLAGE - sneak peek!

MGV Full cover Master Pink This feels disloyal but I have to admit it - I vastly prefer reading a paperback or hardcover book to a digital book. Kindles and Ipads are very practical when traveling, or in bed when your grumpy husband doesn't understand why you need to stay up so late because you are deeply engrossed in a story (!), but I look at a screen all day when working. The tactile experience of shifting to an actual book for me is pure pleasure.

Since publishing the Kindle version of MY GRAPE VILLAGE - you can also download the Kindle app for free on your Ipad and read it on there - if I can figure it out, anybody can! - two days ago, I have had many people ask when the paperback is due out.  Rebecca, my graphic designer, Paul, my formatter, and me are working very hard and the estimate is about October 15th.

Rebecca sent me this mock-up of the paperback cover yesterday and I got so excited I thought I'd share it with you. What do you think? I'd love to know.

The first review of MY GRAPE VILLAGE was posted last night (from a very speedy reader as the book does clock in at over 110,000 words). As always, reviews are HUGELY appreciated and make a massive difference for us authors. I am tres, tres curious to find out what you lovely people think of my story. This is the nerve-wracking part of putting my writing out there to share with the world. That, at least, never changes!

Here it is:

"5.0 out of 5 stars Just As Captivated With This Sequel October 8, 2014
By ina
Format:Kindle Edition
I loved Laura's first book "My Grape Escape" and found that I was just as captivated with this sequel. Like the first book, it is a lovely and entertaining read by an author who has a detailed eye for cultural differences and a gift for sharing it in her writing. You get drawn into the characters in their new situations and roles. Burgundy becomes your next travel destination. I read it in one sitting. Being relatively new to digital books, I found myself checking and hoping that I wasn't reaching the end soon. (The sign of a great book for me.)"

MY GRAPE VILLAGE is now available!

9 After eleven months of writing, coffee, rewriting, coffee, editing, coffee, more rewriting, more coffee, and still more endless editing MY GRAPE VILLAGE is available this morning on Kindle. The paperback will be out in the next two weeks.

Behold the blurb!

Five years after “My Grape Escape,” Laura and Franck are back in Burgundy to tackle their newest project, a derelict 16th century winemaker’s cottage located behind Franck’s family home. Not only is this a daunting rebuild from the ground up, Laura and Franck now have two preschoolers adjusting to the foreign customs of a French school. 

Navigating the different rules for raising children and managing a family in a small French village prove every bit as challenging for Laura as learning to drive a stick shift through narrow streets, or arguing with the Architect of French Monuments over permissible paint colors (spoiler alert: any color as long as it’s gray). Come along on this evocative and honest journey where love, coupled with good French food and local wine, pave the way to la belle vie.

I cannot wait to hear your feeback and I hope you have as much fun reading MY GRAPE VILLAGE as I had writing it. As always, I am forever grateful for your ongoing love and support (and your reviews on Amazon or Goodreads). Please shout out the joyous news to the rooftops (or, better yet, share it on social media) that book #2 in The Grape Series and the sequel to the Bestselling MY GRAPE ESCAPE has arrived.

I'm off to eat a square of chocolate to celebrate! Merci mes amis. Bisous to you all. xo



My Grape Escape Pilgrimage


This is so fun! Friends of friends read My Grape Escape recently and were inspired to make a pilgrimage to Magny-les-Villers and La Maison des Deux Clochers. Even better, they blogged about it! Read all about their adventures in Burgundy here. I love that they took our advice and lunched at our favorite local routier "L'Auberge du Guidon" in nearby Comblanchien and familiarized themselves not only with French truckers (and their moustaches) but huge communal bottles of wine and gargantuan "help yourself" cheese platters.

During their stay in Magny they ventured out to the epic Monday morning market in Louhans and blogged about it  (scene of our memorable day with Rene when we ended up going home with a freshly butchered poulet de bresse and a pile of dirt cheap Emile Henry kitchenware). That was when Rene reminded me to "never confuse what is urgent with what is truly important."

I hope you enjoy these two blog posts as much as I did. I wonder what trips My Grape Village will insipre?



The Grape Harvest at Domaine Buffet in Volnay

Check out these amazing photos of the 2014 Burgundy Grape Harvest... 1904273_10152736552426180_6415536610825861848_n

As I write this post, the grape harvest is happening all over Burgundy. My amazing friend Charlotte (who is also Clementine's godmother) is busy at work at the family Domaine in Volnay (Domaine Buffet) that is now managed by her husband Marc-Olivier. I hadn't met Charlotte yet in My Grape Escape - she was busy in Paris meeting her now winemaking husband.

Charlotte is a major character in the upcoming My Grape Village (although I had to change her name to "Marie" as having two Charlottes - her and my eldest daughter - was just too confusing for this here writer). We had several hilarious email exchanges where we competed to find the most hideous name for her - my favorite being "Fredigonde" I believe - but for the moment I have been calling her "Marie" in the manuscript as her friendship and that of my other French bestie Isabelle was truly one of the miracles of my years in France.

I will keep posting photos of the Grape Harvest at Domaine Buffet for the next few days...a huge merci to Jacqueline Hogue, another member of my beloved Buffet clan, for taking these phenomenal photos.


The vineyard above supplied the grapes in the first and last photos. These vines are Le clos de la Rougeotte, and the ancient and gnarled cherry tree to the right there is what gives this appellation of Volnay 1er cru such a unique cherry flavour. 

The fact that every section of vineyards in Burgundy creates unique tasting wine based on a myriad of such oddities is what makes Burgundy such hallowed grown for wine lovers.


According to Charlotte B. (or Marie, as you will be getting to know her, or Fredigonde if we decide to go that direction) the 2014 grapes are beautiful and luscious with very little rot. The only shame is that the yield will be low due to the disastrous hail storm when Franck was in France. Rest assured, there may not be a lot to go around but the wine that is going to be made from these grapes above is going to be delectable indeed.


Grape Harvest has begun!

The grape harvest in Burgundy has begun! Sue Boxell from "Burgundy on a Plate" wine tours sent this photo yesterday. 10661875_949176025108271_725547513571219349_o I'm currently finishing up one of my LAST round of edits for "My Grape Village" which will be published next month. I'm at that stage where I feel as one writer friend put it, as though somebody has locked me in a dark closet and is forcing me to smoke every single page of my manuscript without a break! The same day that Sue sent this photo I was editing this scene of Charlotte and Camille taking part in the harvest shortly after our move back to Burgundy. I thought you might enjoy the excerpt!


Hand in hand, with the girls skipping in front of us, casting up the ochre vineyard dust, we made our way over to the harvesters. They were a motley crew, dressed in filthy clothes, with T-shirts or shorts tied around their heads to protect them from sunstroke. I knew that some of them were probably doctors and lawyers or other well-heeled friends of the winemaker who came and did the harvest every year, picking side by side with backpacking teenagers and unemployed youth. Harvesting was the great equalizer and they would all be complaining about the heat of the beating sun and sore backs from kneeling down in the dirt all day long.

Unlabeled bottles of wine were being passed up and down the rows. Charlotte and Camille stood at the head of the row, wide-eyed and tiaras askew.  

“Do you want to try to harvest some grapes?” A man with an impressive girth and a pink t-shirt wrapped around his head came over and kneeled down beside the girls. He held out his wickedly sharp shears.

“Go ahead,” I said, while Franck began chatting with another bare-chested man wearing a fraying straw hat. Franck and he seemed to vaguely know each other. I watched as the pink T-shirt man took Camille and Charlotte half way down the row and showed them how to separate the grape bunches from one another and where to cut the grapes off the vine. They cut off several bunches each until the man’s bucket was full.  

He kept up a constant stream of chatter and the girls occasionally nodded yes or no and Charlotte even squeaked out an occasional oui. When he asked them if they were from Savigny the girls shook their heads and Charlotte whispered “Non. Nous sommes Canadiennes.”

“Canada!” he exclaimed, then stood up and shouted out to his fellow harvesters “We have little girls here that have come all the way from Canada to help us with the harvest. Everybody say bonjour to les petites canadiennes!”

Everyone shouted bonjour and Charlotte and Camille were immediately swept into the team of harvesters. My girls snipped off grapes, helped haul buckets to the tractor and then, when that was full, they were invited to ride on the tractor that was festooned with grape vines back to the village. 

Franck and I followed behind on foot through the vineyards.

“Did you know that guy you were talking too?” I asked.

“Vaguely. Turns out he’s a distant cousin, maybe second or third cousin. We couldn’t really figure it out.” This happened often since we arrived in Burgundy. Sometimes I wondered whether Franck wasn’t related in one way or another to most of the people here.

The tractor wove through the narrow streets and into the cuverie at a local winemaker’s family Domaine where the grapes were dumped out on the sorting table. We were all given a glass of freshly pressed grape juice to sip, although our new friend used imaginative miming to explain to the girls that they had to be careful not to drink too much or else they would get an explosive case of diarrhea.

About two hours later we all wandered out of the massive cuverie, Camille and Charlotte both wearing crowns of grape leaves and vines laid over their tiaras. They were smiling from ear to ear. 

"My Grape Village" Publication Update

village_door_by_annamarcella24-d5kdmzc Dearest amis. With my publication of my ebook Philosophy of Preschoolers a couple of days ago, I didn't want you to think I had been neglecting the sequel to My Grape Escape entitled My Grape Village. Pas du tout! 

Philosophy of Preschoolers has been hugely fun to put together during those weeks when I was waiting for one or another of the rounds of edits from My Grape Village to come back to me. Here is a great review that was posted today on that does a much better job of summing up this hard-to-describe chef d'oeuvre of the preschool brain than I can:

"I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started reading The Philosophy of Preschoolers, but what it turned out to be was a complete delight. Clem is a wildly imaginative five year old trying to make sense of the world, and Anna is her smart as a whip, practical three year old cousin. Mom chimes in occasionally, but basically it's a brilliant My Dinner with Andre, courtesy of Clem and Anna. I laughed aloud multiple times, once or twice wiping tears of laughter, too. Highly recommended!"

I just received the My Grape Village mansucript back from my beta-readers and am racing through this second to last round of edits. Lastly, I will need to do the copy edits but that generally goes quite fast. So if all goes well (fingers & toes crossed) My Grape Village should be available for purchase as both an ebook and a paperback at the beginning of October.

It is also turning out rather larger than My Grape EscapeMy Grape Village is clocking in at about 110,000 words whereas My Grape Escape was around 75,000. So, LOTS of new adventures in Burgundy contained between its covers!

I am teaching a workshop on self-publishing at the fantabulous Surrey International Writers' Conference at the end of October (in the company of Herself aka Diana Gabaldon *gasp*) as well as doing a Keynote speech on giving youself permission to be a writer (before it's too late) on the Sunday morning. I am determined to have My Grape Village all ready and published by then.

In the meantime this means you are still eligible to win a free week at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne if you go to my website and sign up for my mailing list before then. Tout le monde on my mailing list will be eligible for the draw.

Bonne chance, keep in touch, and rest assured I am constantly writing, editing, and publishing new things for my readers - truly the loveliest and most supportive people in l'univers.  I think you all deserve a big french bisous. *smack*

Favorite Memories of Camille in France

folded hands As of this morning "My Grape Escape" has 94 reviews on More reviews = more potential readers seeing my book. Merci BEAUCOUP! To thank you here is an excerpt from "My Grape Village" that recounts the moment when we knew Camille would be just fine at preschool in France despite the fact that for the first three months she did not utter a single word in either English or French.


Franck and I spent the entire afternoon on the cliffs of Bouilland, descending to real life just in time to have a strong black espresso under the tilleuls of the village café before going to pick up the girls from school. It was strange how there could be moments that were idyllic in the midst of the chaos and confusion of creating a new life here in France. When we had imagined only the ideal images before we moved here we were seeing just a sliver of the whole picture.

When we got to Saint Coeur, Franck went to Charlotte’s classroom while I made my way to Camille’s, dreading to see my traumatized little raven-haired girl.

I caught sight of Camille. She sat at the end of a row of children on a bench by the door of the classroom. Pensive, she clutched her bag of school slippers to take home for the weekend. My heart contracted with guilt. I heard Franck and Charlotte arrive behind me.

Camille’s teacher was helping a crying child do up her zipper and had her back turned. A blond headed boy who didn’t have a coveted spot on the bench squeezed himself between Camille and the next child on the bench. I gasped as the usurper, with a strategically placed elbow, shoved my daughter off the bench and sent her tumbling to the ground.

Before I could surge forward past the crowd of parents to pick Camille up off the floor, she sprung up and dusted off her denim jumper. She narrowed her hazel eyes with a look of calculated vengeance at the boy.  

She inserted herself beside him again so that he was teetering off the end of the bench.

The little boy began to whine to the teacher that Camille was pushing him. Camille took a cursory glance at her maitresse to ensure that she was still preoccupied with the crying child’s zipper dilemma. Safe in this knowledge, Camille pivoted herself slightly, raised one leg and gave the winging boy such a decisive kick in his ribs that he went airborne. 

By the time the maitresse turned to discover the why the little boy was sprawled, sniveling, on the floor Camille was sitting with her knees together and her hands folded in her lap - the perfect angel. 

I felt Franck’s hand on my shoulder. “I think Camille is going to be just fine,” he said.

Race to the Finish Contest Update


Bad News for you / Good News for Me: I have edited 84,000 of 88,000 words of "My Grape Village"

Good News for You / Bad News for me: I realize I need to write and insert about 5-10 more scenes to make the mansucript complete before handing it off to my editor on June 23rd.

So, if you haven't entered already, all you need to do to qualify to win a free week at La Maison de la Vieille Vigne - our restored winemaker's cottage that dates back to the 16th century is sign up for my mailing list by clicking here.

Rest assured, I hate spam as much as you do! I generally email out my blog posts, book reviews, and absurd things my girls can unsubscribe as soon as you start finding me tedious. I am simply not prolific enough to clutter up your in-box.

But as soon as "My Grape Village"is published, it will be too late to qualify!

The Naked Philosophy Lesson

Ernesto Pestalozza and disciples, by Roberto Fantuzzi, Rome - 02My yearly exam was not something I looked forward to any more than any other woman. Still, having to go through all of that in French and when I was not sure of exactly how things worked with one’s gynecologist in France…this added a whole new element of the unknown. Uncertainty was not always a bad thing, but it was not something I particularly wanted to experience at a gynecological appointment. For example, Franck’s mother had informed me the night before that gynecologists were not referred to as “docteur” in France, but as Monsieur or Madame. Voilà! There was one potential faux pas narrowly averted right there. How many more were lurking in the treacherous path between the receptionist and the stirrups?

Embarrassingly, I still hadn’t completely overcome my phobia of doctors, particularly foreign doctors. Franck’s family doctor (and now our family doctor) in Burgundy, Le Père Dupont, had gained my trust with his tatty espadrilles, prodigious smoking habit, and rotund belly. Michèle and Stéphanie warned me that their gynecologist, Monsieur Le Courbac, was a completely different genre of doctor. He was technically competent, they assured me, but possessed the approximate warmth of hoar frost.

By the time I was ensconced in Monsieur Le Courbac’s waiting room, thumbing through the vast selection of Paris Match and Madame Figaro magazines, my fight or flight response was in full bloom. Pounding heart, dizziness, burning face, nausea, a sense of impending doom –all of the usual suspects were present and accounted for.

A tall gentleman wearing an impeccable white jacket over a suit materialized in the waiting room. He announced a woman’s name. A thin and elegant sixty-ish year old woman in capri pants and Hermès scarf got up from a chair near mine and followed him.

I had almost finished a long article in Madame Figaro about Charlotte Gainsbourg and her alluring husband Yvan Attal when the doctor appeared once again and called for “Madame Germain.” My heart made a strange thump as I shot out of my chair to follow him.

He didn’t say so much as bonjour until he was seated behind his desk – a sleek structure of shining metal and glass. Even the chairs were clear plastic and très à la mode. I sat down in one. They were also uncomfortable for all but the smallest of skinny French derrières.

“What can I do for you Madame Germain?” he asked in a disinterested voice.

I noticed then that he was wearing a silk neck scarf, or foulard. There was something deeply disconcerting about finding that urbane article of male clothing on my gynecologist. Whereas Le Père Durand ‘s tatty espadrilles eliminated my fear, Monsieur Le Courbac’s foulard ramped up my heart rate. He watched me, waiting, with icy blue eyes.

“I just moved here from Canada a few months ago,” I stumbled over my French. “I didn’t have the chance to have my yearly physical before I left. My sister and mother-in-law are patients of yours, so I made an appointment.”

I realized belatedly that I had used the informal “tu” form instead of the “vous” which I imagined was de rigeur in conversations with one’s gynecologist. I always found myself slipping into “tu” without realizing it whenever I was under pressure. It was, after all, far easier to conjugate.

Monsieur Le Courbac narrowed his eyes at me for a few moments before opening what looked like an empty file on his desk with a plain piece of paper stuck inside. “Do you smoke Madame Germain?”


“How much do you weigh?”

Definitely more than his previous patient – I was certain of that - but I actually had no idea. “I’m not sure.”

“Any major health problems?” He made no eye contact and did not so much as crack a smile. I began to shiver...the hoar frost effect.



“Two daughters. Two and four years old. They were both born by C-section.”

His Mont Blanc pen stilled. “Why was that?”

“My first one was…” I struggled to come up with the French words for ‘coming out feet first’ and mangled my explanation. “The second was just…kind of….” My hands flapped in bizarre movements as I tried to convey my answer. “She was positioned in a diagonal fashion…she wasn’t coming out…she was…you know… stuck.” I realized belatedly that I had used “tu” again instead of “vous.

He raised a brow at me, then scribbled a few more things on his piece of paper. “Please go in the next room and remove your clothes.”

My face was on fire. I knew in an abstract way that a human body was just a human body, but hadn’t I already been humiliated enough for one day? Did I really have to take off all my clothes and get into a examination gown now? Maybe the French version would be more stylish and self-explanatory than the Canadian one. At every annual physical back home I would find myself sweating bullets over whether the ties were supposed to go at the back or the front.

I somehow managed to get myself up from the chair and walk into the next room, which was large and bare except for an examination table.

“You can remove your clothes in the cabine,” the doctor said, gesturing behind his head to a little room just off the main examination room. The cabine, I noticed immediately, appeared to be lacking a door or even a curtain. Luckily Monsieur Le Courbac was still sitting at his desk with his back turned.

Merci,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, as though it was an everyday occurrence for me to disrobe a few feet away from a disapproving man wearing a foulard.

I put down my purse on the floor and removed my jacket.  All I could see in the room was a wooden stool, a coat hook, and a digital scale. No gown. Now where would they hide the gowns in France? Was there some secret drawer or compartment that I was supposed to know about? Maybe you supposed to bring your own, like the bags at the grocery store.

Pardon,” I called out.  “I think you have forgotten to leave a gown for me.”

Monsieur de Courmac swiveled around in his chair and eyed my still-fully-clothed self. “There is no gown.” He swiveled back to his file.

No gown? How was I supposed to get from the changing cabine to the examination table? It looked like a long, lonely walk to take naked.

“Have you removed all of your clothes Madame Germain?” the doctor askeda few seconds later, impatience coloring his words.

"Non," I said.

“Please let me know when you do, and don’t go to the examination table right away. I need to weigh you first.”

I noticed a scale on the floor by my feet. So he was going to come in this tiny little room and weigh me once I was naked? “OK,"I said faintly, stripping off my clothes. A terrible thought occurred to me - what if I had understood him incorrectly and I wasn’t supposed to be completely naked at this juncture? That was the awful part about conducting your life in a second language - living in fear of misunderstanding some absolutely crucial piece of information

"I'm ready," I said, my voice barely a whisper.

When the doctor walked into the cabine, I was still debating whether to sit on the stool or remain standing. More importantly, where was I supposed to put my hands?

“Please stand on the scale Madame Germain,” the doctor said, making no eye contact, dieu merci. Part of me was very relieved at this, but the other part of me wished he would so I could get a clue of whether I was doing this right or mortifyingly wrong.

I stood up on the scale. He peered down at the number after it beeped and scribbled something on his piece of paper. He went into the exam room and sat on a little stool at the foot of the exam table.

“Please come to the exam table Madame Germain,” he said.

I took a tentative step into the exam room and then decided that I was fed up with feeling cowed and intimidated. I was naked anyway - how much more embarrasing could this get? People could only intimidate me if I let them, I reminded myself. Surely this rule applied, clothes or no clothes. I strode across the room and hopped up on the table.

“Please lie on your back,” he intoned and I lay down.

I quickly noticed that there was a cluster of comics and quotes taped on to the ceiling just above my head. It was, I thought, strangely considerate of Monsieur Le Courmac to supply strategically placed reading material for his patients.

Everything has been figured out, except how to live,” I read, a quote by Jean Paul Sartre and compared it to,“I may be no better, but at least I am different” attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The quotes were certainly effective distraction. Being naked somehow made them more touching and more profound. I never expected to brush up on my French philosophy at the gynecologist’s office.

“Interesting quotes,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “I choose them myself.”

This, for him I was learning, was a remarkably expansive answer. All of the doctors in Canada were gifted at making innocuous chit chat during a pelvic exam, talking about he weather, politics…anything expect what was actually going on. Monsieur Le Courbac clearly did not feel the onus of the conversation lay on his shoulders, yet maybe I could divine something about him from his choice of quotes. I contemplated a Pierre Deproges quote, “Culture is like jam – the less we have the more we spread it around.” Was this what Monsieur de Courbac thought of New World countries such as the United States and Canada? Well, maybe we did have less history and perhaps less culture, but at least we had gowns at the gynecologist’s office.

C’est fini Madame Germain,” the doctor pushed his stool away from the exam table. “You may go and put your clothes back on again.”

I walked tall back to the cabine but put my clothes back on with alacrity. I picked up my purse and went back to sit in one of the doctor’s uncomfortable chairs.

“Everything appears to be in order Madame Germain,” he said, neither reassuring me nor alarming me. “Come back and see me if you have any problems, or if not in one year’s time.”

“All right,” I said. “Merci.”

I watched as he wrote more things on my piece of paper, unsure of whether I had been dismissed or not.

He looked up at me after a few seconds. “You can leave now.”

I stood up. “I hope you have a good afternoon,” I said, trying to retain my dignity

It was only after I sped down the stairs and out into the crisp pre-winter air that I realized I had committed the cardinal sin of “tu-toie-ing” my gynecologist yet again.

My Grape Village - A Sneak Peek


I have begun editing My Grape Village, the sequel to My Grape Escape. Yowza!  Big Job. Still, I love delving into the mess of my rough draft  and seeing the story take shape.  Here is an excerpt:


“Are they going to survive?” I asked Franck.

I clutched the white metal gate as I watched our two daughters make their way through the preschool playground. I had never seen such a place of utter lawlessness.

Despite the larger than life statue of the Virgin Mary that loomed over the courtyard, French children were punching each other, taunting each other, and bullying each other while a cluster of three teachers stood well off to the side of the mayhem, chatting as they sipped coffee out of china espresso cups. I had learned about the French laissez-faire philosophy in Grade Eleven history class and here it was in action. It would have been entertaining to watch if not for the fact that Franck and I had just jettisoned our daughters into the deep end of it all.

Two and a half year old Camille in her yellow sundress and white sandals glanced back at us and furrowed her dark eyebrows. She lifted her shoulders and lowered her head as she marched straight to her classroom door. She made eye contact with no-one. I couldn’t take it, I just had to make sure she-

I began to open the gate, wincing as it made a screeching sound.

Non!  Non!  Non Madame Germain!” One of the teachers in the cluster shook her finger at me.  “No parents allowed in the courtyard during school hours!”

“How did she see me?” I turned to Franck. “She didn’t even turn around when that red haired kid was yelling for help when the other boy was beating him to a pulp.”

“They see what they want to see,” Franck said, putting his hand over mine and closing the gate. There was more metallic squealing and the teachers heads all snapped in our direction.

“I bet they don’t have the gate oiled on purpose,” I muttered.

I noticed Franck’s knuckles were looking rather white as well. “Allez,” he said. “We must leave them.”

I caught sight of four and a half year old Charlotte walking to her classroom, which was unluckily located at the far end of the schoolyard. Her blond hair was pulled up with two ladybug barrettes and she dragged the Barbapapa that we had bought her the day before. She smiled at a boy who was running in her direction. He shoved her as he ran by and knocked her cartable off kilter. Charlotte steadied herself and kept walking with that brave smile still plastered on her face.  A little girl with angelic blond braids stuck her tongue out at my daughter. Charlotte was blinking back tears by the time she reached the classroom door, even though she was still smiling. She saw us and gave us a small wave that was so courageous it made my heart feel like it was splitting in two.

Franck had to drag me back up the path and out the heavy wooden doors of the school that were promptly locked behind us.

Once we were in the parking lot I threw myself against his chest. “We’ve made a terrible mistake,” I mumbled in his T-shirt.

The girls weren’t even supposed to be going here to Sacred Heart in Beaune, they had been all signed up to attend the village schools in Magny-les-Villers and Villers-la-Faye. Three days ago a teacher friend of Franck’s had phoned to tell him they couldn’t take Camille – there were simply too many children in her year. We had been left scrambling to find a school for the girls so we could have some time to work. Franck had thought of Sacred Heart because it was where I had gone to school during my Rotary year in Burgundy. They luckily – or so I had thought at the time – had spots for both of our daughters. Now I knew why Sacrée Coeur wasn’t full like most other schools; this place was where Burgundian society put all the hardened future criminals.

Franck kissed the top of my head. “We just need to give it time Laura. We all have to adapt. I went to preschool in France and – régardez! – I’m still here.”

I stared at the now locked doors. “I can’t stand the thought of my girls locked in there with all of those horrible French children and the teachers who don’t care if they get kill-“

“We had good reasons for coming back to France,” Franck interrupted. “Not just for us, but for them.”

Maybe we did, but my daydreams of family outings to Beaune’s market, introducing the girls to pain au chocolat and escargots, and having them become completely bilingual in French had lost all meaning.

“I can’t remember why they were so compelling, can you?” I asked Franck.

Franck glanced at the closed doors and frowned. “Not at the moment, to be honest. I do know one thing though.”


“Stéphanie told me about a Judo class that Tom takes.  After we pick up the girls from school today we’re going straight there to sign them up.”

In Praise of Merdiques First Drafts

photo.JPG7Merdiques, or in English, "sh!tty" first drafts are the only way I get anything written at all. My fellow writers who by some manner of sorcery are able to produce polished or, even more incredible, publishable first drafts make me green with envy. Alas, I am not that kind of writer.

I am messy in writing just as I am in life - I paint messy, I parent messy, I pin up my hair messy...

I am one of those writers who, like Anne Lamott, author of the genius book "Bird by Bird" (which if you haven't read you should run out and buy right away) lives in fear of dying in a freak accident and having people discover my sh!tty first drafts. They would marvel over my vague words, pointless scenes, stilted dialogue, and blatant overwriting (see all those adjectives I just used?) and shrug their shoulders. "Wow. I guess she couldn't write after all."

I have tried to be a neater, more organized writer. The problem is that every time I attempt to be even margially coherent in my rough draft I end up swimming around in circles like a one-finned dolphin. I change and edit, then eliminate, then add again. I could never finish a rough draft that way, let alone a publishable draft.

Right now I am finishing up the rough draft to the sequel of My Grape Escape, called My Grape Village. I have produced almost 80,000 words of...well...frankly speaking, mostly crap.

Still, without that crap I would have nothing to mold. My rough drafts are the equivalent of throwing my clay on the potter's wheel.

There is a strange and perverse pleasure to be found in how epically bad my writing is in the first go-round. The sheer mess shines with a sort of transcendent beauty. To me, anyway.

Not so much when I sit down for the first re-write - at those times I feel like I am at the foot of Everest and The End of my book is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up there at the top. So far up there in the clouds that I can't even see The End. I want to be at the top already. It would be so nice to have my mansucript almost completed instead of requiring life-saving surgery. I do give it major surgery though because, for better of for worse, that is the only way I know how to write. The silver lining is that wading through the blood and guts I invariably make magical connections and dicoveries.

Merdiques first drafts are how I have produced every essay through high school and University, every blog post during the years we lived in France, and every single one of my manuscripts.

I decided around two years ago to stop trying to tidy up my innate messiness and to work with it instead. I gave myself permission to paint messy, coiff my hair messy, and especially write messy.

It is no coincidence that these past two years have been the most creatively prolific years of my life.  For me, messiness = creativity.