Posts filed under ‘Neither Here nor There…’

That most wonderful time of the year…

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration here a few weeks ago: a nice mix of French and American friends. There was a lot of food, all of the usual menu items for Thanksgiving (except cornbread! I couldn’t find any cornmeal this year). But! We were treated to not just one but two different kinds of homemade (!) pumpkin pie. And we had both cranberries, thanks to our friend Rosanna who snatches them up whenever she sees them, and freezes them. And we tried airelles also, as a cranberry substitute before we knew Rosanna had the cranberries. Both a success! This being France, we also had escargots during the apéro, and a cheese course after the meal, during which we were treated to some very special cheeses brought by my son’s French friend.

This year we instituted a new way of “giving thanks,” suggested by our friends Darcy and Roger, who shared a family tradition of theirs. Before the meal, as we were enjoying our aperitifs, each person was invited to write down what they were grateful for and place it in a vase. Then, at a certain point in the evening–after the main meal and before dessert–we went around the table and each person drew out one of the pieces of paper and read it aloud.

This was a wonderful way to make sure not to miss the whole point of Thanksgiving–giving thanks! without that awkwardness and putting people on the spot that can occur sometimes in other ways of doing so. It was really fun to see what everyone had written and although some of the slips of paper were not credited, we were able in all cases to guess who the author was. There were some funny juxtapositions: one slip said “I hope you like the cheese I brought,” and the next one gave thanks for a meal with “not too much cheese.” That brought a big laugh!

The final note was the perfect one to end the exercise, and le mot juste went to our good friend Rosanna, who covered it all by saying “Merci, la vie!”

There was also a lot of live music–banjo and guitar and trumpet. I even picked up my flute for the first time in years and tried to sidle into some of the jamming, rusty as I am…

The following weekend I was excited to be invited to a very cool Christmas party in Paris–this one given for patrons and guests of The Earful Tower podcast, creation of the wonderful Oliver Gee and his lovely wife Lina Nordin Gee. If you don’t know about The Earful Tower, you need to know! Oliver, who is Australian, and Lina, who is Swedish, are just brimming over with creative good energy and they have drawn a wonderful community of interesting, nice people around them. And their podcast is the best! Oliver and Lina really get into exploring each and every corner of marvelous Paris–their enthusiasm is infectious and the videography is superb. Check it out!

The party was held at the beautiful Cercle Suedois/Cercle Norvégien on the rue de Rivoli. There was live music, there was fun and games, a lot of lively conversation–and a delicious buffet of warm and cold treats, served in a room decorated with extraordinarily beautiful Nordic landscape paintings by Odile Fontaimpe.

I’ve worked with Oliver on all four of his books–the last three are a collaborative endeavor of this dynamic couple, a series of children’s books featuring Parisian animals (so far a crocodile, a liger, and a giraffe). Oliver writes the text and they are beautifully, charmingly illustrated by Lina. In each case, we have had fun talking over some of those last-minute decisions that go into every work of literature. Oliver even had me on his show once, to talk about my work as an editor.

Next week my kids will be heading home and it will be so nice to have them here for Christmas. As I write this morning, a light sprinkling of snow is covering everything, imparting that quiet winter beauty so dear to my heart. Of course, as the temperature drops, life becomes harder for those who are not lucky enough to have warm, cozy homes to be in and plenty of food. As you count your own blessings, try to remember to spare a thought for those struggling, whether in Ukraine or Africa, or right next door, and figure out what you can do to help. There are so many ways, and each of us can do something.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You. Her memoir, A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France, will be published in early 2023.

December 15, 2022 at 9:25 am 2 comments

Bands & Birthdays & Bouchées à la Reine, OhMy!

My singer/songwriter son Sam (aka Samjo). Photo by Diane de Vignemont.

What a fun month this has been! Never mind all the highlights, I’ll share just a few of them today.

I got to go to Paris twice in one week this month–and in my mind nothing is much more wonderful than that, other than maybe spending the whole week, or whole month, there.

The first trip was a one-day trip to celebrate my friend Adrian’s 70th (!) birthday, along with a packed house of her friends and fans, at her monthly Après-Midi meet-up. Here’s a picture of me with Adrian (center) and Cara Black (left). Cara is the author of the bestselling Aimée LeDuc series of mysteries set in Paris–and now also the author of two books with an American sharpshooter heroine named Kate Rees, who is helping to fight bad guys in Europe during World War II.

I was up nice and early to catch a train from Vendeuvre-sur-Barse to Paris, a very pleasant, less-than-two-hour ride. I met Adrian for lunch at the Café de la Mairie in the Marais, where she has held this monthly event for more than 20 years. Then, after lunch, she kept us all entertained (and feeling young!) with her stories of ups and downs (and ups and downs again!) during her 28 years in Paris. Someone asked her toward the end of the session what the one thing is that she regrets the most, the one thing she would have done differently if she could have. She thought about that for a moment, then gave an answer that was worthy both of her favorite inspirational writer, Eckhart Tolle, and Edith Piaf. (“I don’t really regret anything,” she said.) 🙂

After the event it was time for me to begin the trip back to Champagne. I regretted having to leave so soon as I strolled through the Square du Temple, which was filled with children playing, young and old people alike enjoying a lovely warm, sunny afternoon. But I needed to catch my train, and so I walked back to Place de la République, where I took the Metro to Gare de l’Est.

I love taking trains in France, I really never get enough of it, and this time was no different. I enjoyed the ride back, looking out the window at recently tilled fields, graceful windmills sweeping their giant arms against the sky, as the sun set.

By the time I got to Vendeuvre again it was dark. It was a full moon that night, and as the moon rose against the horizon, the fields I drove through between Vendeuvre and Essoyes were bathed in moonlight: it looked almost as if they were covered in frost, but I knew it was too warm for that.

Just a few days later it was time to return to Paris so that I could see (and listen to) my son Sam (aka Samjo, pictured above) warm up the crowd with his lovely, lyrical songs before performing with Solomon Pico at Les Disquaires. They had packed the house and were rockin’ the crowd that night, what fun!

One week later a friend and I were invited to join friends formerly of Essoyes, who are now living a couple of hours away from here in the Pays d’Othe. The drive there was lovely, and when we arrived we were treated to a “real French meal” prepared by our friend Pascale. The entrée she had prepared for us was so beautiful I had to take a picture of it. (This concoction is apparently called a bouchée à la Reine, and it was every bit as good as it looks.)

Next Tuesday is Toussaint, and today the excitement is mounting in Essoyes, you can feel it everywhere. Toussaint is a major holiday in France in which the dead are remembered and honored, their graves groomed and decorated by their families, and everyone gathers for long, drawn-out, wonderful, delicious meals. Already you can feel the bustle and stir before such a holiday (kind of like Thanksgiving in the US). People are coming and going, preparations are being made, pots of chrysanthemums are being sold in the stores and carried about in the streets, to decorate the graves of loved ones. And although the custom of children dressing in Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating is fairly new in France, it is already a much loved tradition in Essoyes. (The children don’t go door to door from house to house, but they do visit all the shops in town, and the mairie, and hold out their little plastic pumpkins, or bags, hoping for treats.)

There will be more to come later: for now here’s wishing you a safe, happy Halloween. Keep wearing masks!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

October 28, 2022 at 3:47 pm Leave a comment

The Story of a Dream Come True…

A man and his roulotte: almost finished at last!

This is the story of a beautiful little gypsy caravan that an American artist bought and lived in on the banks of the Marne River outside of Paris for several years in the late 1970s.

Much of the story you can learn here, through the artist’s own words and pictures. (You should look around the rest of his website also: his work is awesome!)

The link above brings the story through last summer (2021). This summer has been very exciting around here because this summer the dream of restoring the roulotte (that is the French word for it)–a dream that has taken the artist 15 years to complete–came true. The roulotte is now more beautiful than ever, and is positioned in our garden; and the artist, who is also a musician enamored of gypsy jazz guitar–is my nearest neighbor.

Our son is a musician too–a singer/songwriter who also plays pretty much any instrument he decides to pick up. One night in August he played his songs for a very intimate audience–just his immediate family–thus bringing the lovely music that filled the roulotte once upon a time by his dad, and who-knows-who before that back within her wonderfully acoustic walls. That was a very special occasion.

Now that the roulotte is ready to be truly enjoyed in the way it should be once again, I’m looking forward to hearing much more music coming from within, and to having that music shared with others as well. Stay tuned for more of the story!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the US and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You and will soon publish her next book, A Long Way from Iowa, a literary memoir.

October 3, 2022 at 1:00 pm 1 comment

Beautiful Italia, and then back home

On TrenItalia, in Tuscany. Masks required!

This is the summer when people really began to travel again, and I was lucky to be able to do so also. There was that fun trip to London in May that I wrote about here. Then in June I participated in a Meet the Authors event in Nice, where I had the opportunity to tell people about my book Demystifying the French. And–super conveniently–I was also invited to join a friend for a few days in a beautiful Tuscan villa she had rented. When her family couldn’t be there for as much time as they had planned, she decided to invite some of her friends to enjoy this beautiful place with her. And I was one of the lucky ones, especially lucky since starting from Nice I was already halfway there.

Although traveling by air was recommended by several friends, that didn’t make sense to me. The closest I would have been able to get by air was Florence, which was still quite a distance from my destination. And since I always prefer travel by rail in any case–and since the scientists of the world are telling us we all need to stop flying as much as possible–I made the trip by train. It was fairly long–I got on the train in Ventimiglia, just over the Italian border, at about 6:30 in the morning and arrived in Sinalunga, where my friend had come to pick me up, at about 4:30 in the afternoon. So–it was quite a few hours on the train–and I enjoyed them all. (I always do.) And it was FAR less expensive than traveling by air and being harassed and interrupted all along the way. Much more peaceful time to read, and write, and look out the window, and think…and see Italy, close up!

This was the farthest I had been into Italy–about 50 miles south of Florence, in the heart of Tuscany. And what a beautiful part of the world! Warm, friendly people, a lyrical, beautiful language, stunningly beautiful landscapes and architecture, wonderful food. (For example, for me the discovery of a new favorite cheese (pecorino). And the chance to spend some relaxed, leisurely time with a good friend. What’s not to like in all of that?

We did some touring of the little Tuscan hill towns, including Pienza, where we had a lovely lunch one day (pictured above). Another day we had a hair-raising drive through a tiny little town the name of which I do not remember; but I will never forget trying to tamp down the anxiety I felt as my friend negotiated a series of hairpin turns in her rented Jeep, on a very steep slope on a very narrow street that we hoped (as we went around each blind turn) was a one-way. (I was very impressed that she was able to keep her cool. I had enough trouble keeping my cool being the passenger.) We also developed a favorite local trattoria near the villa where we began to get to know the staff, and the menu, and feel like regulars.

Then it was time to head home to Champagne. I had purchased an Air France ticket to return from Florence, thinking my friend would be going there to meet her next round of guests, but lo and behold, in the end my preference for train travel won out again. The night before my trip, the airline cancelled my flight and proposed that instead I should fly to Paris from Bologna–which was quite a bit farther away from where I was staying–and that I would have to get there earlier than my original travel time.

I said “no thanks” and requested a refund instead. I am hoping the airline will see fit to refund my money since the substitution they offered was in no way acceptable. Not only would I have had to travel farther to get to the airport and get there earlier, but I would have had to change planes in Amsterdam, of all places. Not even close to “on the way.” (As it turned out, ultimately the flight I declined as a substitute was delayed to the point where I would also have had to stay overnight in Amsterdam. 😦 !)

So I opted instead to take the train from Florence to Paris. This was a delightful nine-hour ride through beautiful Alpine country in both Italy and France. I will fight hard to get the refund that I have coming to me, and maybe even look into the possibility of getting compensation for a bungled flight because of EU rules protecting consumers from such nonsense. But the truth is that even if I don’t succeed I will be glad I decided to spend nine peaceful hours on a train than twice as many hours being aggravated in a series of chaotic airport scenes in unfamiliar airports, and then either sleeping in an airport or having to negotiate spending a night in an airport hotel in a city I had no interest in being in (at that time) (!)

Anyway enough of the complaining part of this post. Well, almost.

I finally had my turn with Covid immediately on my return to France. But I can’t really complain about that: I was thrice vaccinated, so my case was mild; I was in a very nice place to recover, and a place where it is very easy to self-isolate.

My place of self-isolation

Now I’m fine, the isolation is over, and much of the rest of the summer remains. As the new French Minister of Health advised us all last week, I will be wearing my mask more frequently again, even though it is not yet obligatory. Apparently Italy has that right, and France does not (yet).

Stay well everyone. The virus is still here–but by now we’ve all learned a lot about how to try to avoid getting it. So let’s do it!

And enjoy your summer, wherever you are.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

July 8, 2022 at 2:51 pm 1 comment

A Green Start to the New Year

January and February are, for me at least, an ideal time for hibernation and quiet contemplation. Which is probably also the reason that now that the happy, but somewhat chaotic period of celebrating the holidays is well over, I find that I don’t really want to write about any of that anymore. But I guess I could share a few pictures. We did have a very nice Christmas!

One of the best things about Christmas and New Years 2021 for me, aside from having both of my sons here for a few days, was the fact that this was our first “green” Christmas.

I have always loved having a freshly cut Christmas tree every year. Balsam was always our favorite because of the wonderful scent it brings into the home, and the fact that its rather sparse branches leave plenty of room for ornaments to be optimally displayed. But this year–partly because we had to have 32 (!) spruce trees in our yard cut down last summer (victims of an insect that has been devastating this particular species all over Europe)–and partly because of our growing awareness of just how badly we all need to safeguard our trees here on planet Earth, it just didn’t seem quite right to buy a dead tree this year.

We have a lot of replanting to do, and so we decided, why not start now?

Initially we had planned to bring the little live tree we bought inside, decorate it, and then plant it after Christmas. But once we had it sitting outside where it could benefit from the sunlight and rain, we didn’t have the heart to do that. It was clear that our little tree was going to be happiest outside: and so we left it there for a few days near the bird feeder, until one of my sons was able to find just the right spot, and the time to plant it. And so before the old year was gone, thanks to Sam, we had a new tree planted. It was a good feeling!

It has a long way to go to catch up with the “big guys,” but our little tree is doing quite well and we are very happy with our decision.

And so, after an unusually long silence, I am peeking out of my wintry hibernation to send everyone a belated, but very sincere wish for a green, happy, healthy, and productive 2022. Keep those masks on, and keep smiling underneath them. Spring will be here soon!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, A Long Way from Iowa: A Literary Memoir.

February 6, 2022 at 2:27 pm 2 comments

Softly falling snow…

…brings joy, brings comfort, blankets the earth, softening all sounds…

There is more to report from my perch here in France, but much of it is upsetting, or at least uncertain and unsettling. The pandemic continues. Doctors, nurses, scientists, and elected officials, as well as the general population are all trying to deal with a difficult and worrisome situation. It’s not clear when we’ll be able to breathe a sign of relief. Not yet.

But yesterday, it snowed. In Paris people were out sledding, skiing, and generally rejoicing in the snow. (Snow brings out childlike wonder and joy in almost everyone, doesn’t it?)

Here in Essoyes the snow started in the afternoon and continued into the night, softly covering everything. And it was still here this morning.

So for today, I’m going to just let this lovely sight stay here. Along with the words that always come back to me when a lovely, thick snow is falling.

Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves…

Has anyone ever written more beautifully about snow than James Joyce did in this passage? I don’t think so.

Stay safe, stay well everyone. Prenez soin de vous…

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

January 17, 2021 at 7:36 pm 2 comments


No further comment needed.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

November 9, 2020 at 10:59 am 1 comment

How to Write a Fair (and Helpful) Book Review on Amazon (or anywhere)

One of the most helpful things readers can do to help writers (and publishers, and everyone else who creates and produces books) is to write reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, and elsewhere. And it is so easy to do!

Continue Reading October 6, 2020 at 12:01 pm 4 comments

Déconfinement continued…

I could start by saying I’ve found it hard to know what to say about anything recently. The words of the poet W. B. Yeats come frequently to my mind about “the center not holding…” It does feel like the world as we have known it is coming apart at the seams, which is unsettling…

Continue Reading June 25, 2020 at 9:33 am 1 comment

Minneapolis, City of Lakes…and Police Brutality

Minneapolis, Minnesota. My hometown.

I am from a city in Minnesota called Minneapolis.

It is a place that, until recently, was not very well known outside of the United States, and even, to some degree, within the United States.

Minneapolis is a beautiful city of lakes and parks. It is a city that is rich in cultural activities and the arts. It is very cold there in the winter, and the winter is long. And it is my beloved hometown. That is how I have always thought of it, until now.

But now everyone in the world knows that Minneapolis is also the place where last week a horrific act of murder was committed, by a police officer, as three other police officers stood by and did nothing, or actively aided and abetted the murderer.

And that the outrage over that murder–combined with the cumulative weight of so many many many terrible murders before it–has rocked our nation and spread a cry of fury, anguish, and vigorous protest around the world.

It’s about time.

I am filled with both grief and shame over the treatment of this man, George Floyd. I grieve for his family, and for the families of so many other African Americans, and others, who have suffered for not just decades but centuries from this horrific kind of hatred, this unspeakable, unfathomable, unforgivable violence.

I don’t, and can’t, understand it. It sickens me. And I don’t really know what to say about it except that this murder–captured on camera so that anyone who can bear to watch can see it–does seem to perhaps be the last straw.

I hope it is.

Yesterday I saw a news clip of George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter, whose mother has not yet told her exactly what happened to him. All she knows is that her father is gone, that he died “because he couldn’t breathe,” and that huge crowds of people are calling out his name. “My Daddy changed the world,” this innocent child has said. It is heartbreaking.

Will his unnecessary, terrible death change the world?

Right now, nothing is certain, and things are not good in the not-very-United States of America. In many cities, the police are acting out violently, out of control. The president is completely incompetent (to say the least). The Republican leadership (still, unbelievably) stands by and does nothing.

It’s hard not to despair.

But that is not a choice. It’s not a choice.

Americans tend to feel that “failure is not an option.” But when it comes to humane treatment of our black brothers and sisters, the truth is, we’ve been failing for far too long. Failing, and failing, and failing again.

Our president promised to bring “winning” back to our nation. Somehow I don’t think he defines winning in the same way I do.

But I trust–and fervently hope–that we can start winning the only game that counts.

That we can find a way to love, and support, and help each other through this terrible terrible mess we’re in.

Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

June 4, 2020 at 5:52 pm 1 comment

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