Monday, December 10, 2018

Our New Winner!

Announcing the final winner of The Writers Toolbox Flash Fiction contest. Congratulations to Mary Pauer!!! 
She will receive a gift copy of The Writers Toolbox


 

Here's her lovely story, below, based on the prompt:
 
"Farming, it's sexy business."

I ride a John Deere 6420 – one of the few women who do. The rear tire and fender are higher than I am tall.  
I grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, known for big hair, thick eyeliner, and black mascara. Snapping your chewing gum was optional.
Now I ask myself why I am living on a farm. I love the immensity of the land, the feel of my feet sinking in soil, the aroma of rain. I love messing with the tractor’s gearshift and the power take-off, which urges the implements to do what they do.
            Augers, bush hogs, box graters, rakes. Now, roll the sounds of crowfoot packer in your mouth and look behind the tractor as I lap the land contouring a pattern as precise as a quilt.
Other people drive, we farmer-women ride.
And we wear cut-offs and cowboy boots and mow the fields while gulls chase down the furrows.
And we push back potato-chip rolled straw hats, and wear Oakley sunglasses and Carhart jackets.
When I need a part, I drive, (not ride) up the road a piece to the John Deere store, and talk to my mechanic, knowledge glowing from my lips. I mention the crowfoot packer because I love the poetry, and its dust prints looking as if I’d danced a conga line in my stiletto heels.
Farming - you work in a man’s field yet you are of the earth, planting and harvesting, sowing and reaping, riding your sexy John Deere green.   
--  Congratulations to Mary Pauer!!!!
 This is our last flash fiction contest for the year, but please know you can always buy a copy of The Writers Toolbox on line.  It makes for a great holiday gift for anyone who likes to write or tells stories or does improv!  
 

Monday, November 12, 2018

And the winner is....

Announcing the first winner of The Writers Toolbox Flash Fiction contest. Congratulations to Kim Dicico!!! 
She will receive a gift copy of The Writers Toolbox


Here's this week's prompt for the flash fiction contest.  Write a 250 word
story based on this sentence:  
 
"She was skating on thin ice, that's all I can say." 
 
Please email your flash fiction entry to me at Jamie@JamieCatCallan.com  by Saturday, November 17th at midnight.  And have fun!
I will announce the winner on Sunday or Monday.


And now, here's Kim's flash fiction based on the prompt: The way Herb defrosted the refrigerator: 

(Untitled by Kim Dicico)
My neighbor, Nora, sat in my kitchen complaining for the seventh time about how her husband, Herb, was defrosting his 1947 Kelvinator refrigerator again. That powder-blue eyesore in his “man cave” had doubled their electric bill and rattled ceaselessly every night. “But it keeps my Pepsi so cold!” Heʼd whine.
“You need to unload that fridge,” I said, “and Herb. Heʼs done nothing but waste money on toys and get-rich schemes since being laid off.” I poured us fresh coffee.
Nora stirred in another scoop of sweetener, “My father said I shouldʼve found a sugar daddy, not a husband. He was right.”
I nodded my agreement. “You can divorce him.”
“Thereʼd be alimony. Heʼs cheaper to keep.”
I handed her another cupcake. “Have you though about poison?” I smiled. “Sure,” Nora laughed, “but how do I go about it?”
“Do you think heʼd like these cupcakes?” I asked.
“If they were frosted with chocolate.”
“Heʼs still smoking, right?”
“Yeah, why?”
“Youʼll see.”
I broke open ten cigarettes from my pack then dumped the tobacco and a cup of water into a pot to boil. Twenty minutes later l mixed that strained slurry in with coca, milk, and sugar.
“Give him these tonight.” I presented her with two cupcakes filled and iced with my special chocolate frosting. “Throw the plate in my trashcan on your way out. And you must go out. You wonʼt want to witness what happens.”
Her eyes welled with unshed tears. “Thank you, Abbey.”

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Writers Toolbox Annual Flash Fiction Contest!

Announcing my annual flash fiction contest!!! 
Write 250 words (maximum) using this prompt from The Writers Toolbox

Send your entry to me at JamieCatCallan.com no later than midnight on 
Friday, November 9, 2018
for a chance to win a gift copy of my little creation, 
The Writers Toolbox!
I will announce the winner on Sunday, November 11, 2108
 and give you a new prompt and chance at winning. 
Good luck and have fun!!!! 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Meet a French Artist

Truth is, I'm not much of an artist, but I loved drawing and painting as a child and thanks to my local Sketchbook Club, I've taken up the pen (and pencil and paintbrush!) once again.

And so, it made sense that while I made my annual pilgrimage to France a few weeks ago, I would take a class with Edwige Mitterrand who teaches classes called "Meet a French Artist."

I visited Edwige in her spectacular studio in the Montmartre right by the famous Moulin Rouge with the red windmills.  Just walking into her studio, I felt inspired.  She works in an 18th century building with a dramatically high ceiling, filled with light.  It originally belonged to the famous French orientalist painter, Jean-Léon Gérome.  Here's his famous 1890 painting, "Pygmalion and Galatea".

Just knowing this famous painter lived here, makes you feel inspired!  Edwige herself is a joy to meet.  Honestly, I could have spent my time just listening to her tell amazing stories of her life in Paris and Normandy, her childhood, her family, her love of art.  I could have just spent my time looking at her beautiful paintings of Parisian life.  They're so enchanting!

Still, she got me painting!  (I have never used acrylics--only pencil pen and the occasional water color) but Edwige just gets you going.  There's no time to second guess or get scared you're doing this wrong. 

You just go!  You paint.

And voila, you have a little painting.  I do believe I could not think of a better souvenir to bring home from Paris.  And I'm not just talking about the little painting, but the entire experience.  So enchanting!

If you'd like to take a class with Edwige (which I highly recommend) you can find her on her website, Meet a French Artist.  She teaches private and group lessons in two locations in Paris and at her beautiful country home in Normandy. 

And if you'd like, you can email me and I will make introductions.  Au revoir, for now!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Flowers Before the Frost

Here on La Belle Farm, we're expecting our first frost any day now and so Dr. Thompson said I could cut down all the flowers left in our garden.  

Aren't they pretty?!
Pretty and poignant.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Chronogram's Article on La Belle Farm

The Valatie Farmhouse of Jamie Cat Callan 

(Originally published in February 2018)

A writer, a gentleman farmer, and their 19th-century farmhouse in Valatie

  Jamie Cat Callan and Bill Thompson on their Valatie farm. The 19th-century federalist house features the original clapboard siding, and gabled roof with cornices. The original brick chimney and plain window surrounds are also classic features of the period. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Jamie Cat Callan and Bill Thompson on their Valatie farm. The 19th-century federalist house features the original clapboard siding, and gabled roof with cornices. The original brick chimney and plain window surrounds are also classic features of the period.
Parisian Charm School author Jamie Cat Callan has cultivated charm in a historic home: a Valatie farmhouse.

There's a certain storyline that goes like this: A big city heroine, with a fast-paced career filled with wealth and success, feels her life has lost its charm. So she chucks it all away, and, in an attempt to recapture simplicity, pursues happiness in some bucolic, Old World setting. In some stories, the protagonist finds herself in Tuscany, in others on a Greek island, and in many it's a tiny French village where she goes to reclaim her joie de vivre. Whatever the setting, there's always a lovely old farmhouse, rich with history but often in need of restoration; there's a garden that needs tending; and there's a historic village where life is slow and the locals may be quirky, but always have something to teach. Somewhere in the course of the story the hero slows down. Somewhere along the way of restoring the old farmhouse, rediscovering the earth, and lingering over good meals shared with new friends, the hero gives up her endless pursuit of happiness, and pauses long enough to savor the moment.
The twist on this tale, for author Jamie Cat Callan and her husband Dr. Bill Thompson, was that the life of simple pleasures and the lovely, old farmhouse in the historic village with lots of character wasn't found abroad, but right in the Hudson Valley hamlet of Valatie. It wasn't just a garden that needed tending, but also an orchard, hay fields, and a barn. And instead of escaping to the Old World, they discovered some of the Old World's secrets and brought them back to the States—to share with friends, readers, and now neighbors who stop by their booth at the Valatie farmers' market.
click to enlarge 

American Sweethearts

Both Connecticut natives, Callan and Thompson left the countryside years ago to pursue their respective career paths. Thompson began as a musician and music store owner and then became a geologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. Callan, a graduate of Bard College, has enjoyed a successful writing and teaching career for over 35 years. She started out in Manhattan writing "color stories" for the ad world and then published her first young adult novel, Over the Hill at 14 (1982). It was a success she could build on, and, after publishing two more young adult novels, she made her way to Hollywood, where she worked as a script reader for Paramount Pictures and then became an assistant to Meg Ryan during the actress's reign as "America's Sweetheart." ("She is actually adorable and very, very kind," Callan reveals.)
It was the Northridge earthquake that sent Callan and her daughter back to the firmer shores of New England, where she began a job teaching creative writing at Fairfield University in Connecticut. (It's also where she met Thompson—a romantic tale featured in a 2006 New York Times "Modern Love" column.) The relocation also spurred a deeper investigation into Callan's French heritage—particularly the feminine side of French culture and specifically the story—and style—of her French grandmother. "For a long time, I was very much an American and I was out of balance," Callan explains. "I would do everything to extreme—buy more stuff than I needed because it was cheap. I wanted more and more and more and it had to be fast, but it was never quite enough." Callan went searching for a simpler, more meaningful way of life. This quest led her to her grandmother's homeland, France where she returned on multiple occasions, exploring villages and cities and interviewing French women from all walks of life recording their take on French culture and social history.
  Callan has written four books exploring and explaining French secrets for happiness. “We’ve lost the idea of charm in America. I think we could be a bit more old-fashioned and think about ‘What is polite?’ and ‘What is charming?’ when we interact. The well-received series has been translated into multiple languages. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • Callan has written four books exploring and explaining French secrets for happiness. “We’ve lost the idea of charm in America. I think we could be a bit more old-fashioned and think about ‘What is polite?’ and ‘What is charming?’ when we interact. The well-received series has been translated into multiple languages. 

French Kisses

She found herself in the 11th-century French village of Auvillar, in the south of Bordeaux, where she was granted a month-long residency. The slower pace of Auvillar and the time to immerse herself in small town French life revealed an important value that Callan believes we in America have lost as a culture: savoring simple, ordinary moments. "We have this pursuit of happiness," Callan explains, "But the French don't have that. Why does someone have to go chase after happiness? It's right there in front of you." This revelation, and the friendships she'd made over her many travels, lead to the first in Callan's series of best-selling books exploring the French life-style, French Women Don't Sleep Alone (2009). It was so successful she went on to write three more books, the most recent—Parisian Charm School—was published in December. It's her deepest dive into French philosophy and culture yet. "I feel like I got to the core—it's really about knowing who you are, and that begins with reading and appreciation for the intellect, then being aware of the world you live in," Callan explains.

After the series' success, Callan decided to stop just writing about the Francophile philosophy of happiness and actually live it, here in the States. Thompson was all in—they both wanted a return to the simpler country lifestyle they'd enjoyed as children in Connecticut, but the Connecticut they'd loved as children had become too suburban. They began searching the wider East Coast for a rustic farmhouse with some land, but both were attracted to the Hudson Valley, which Callan knew well from her days at Bard. They loved the area's bucolic landscape and its strong ties to arts and culture. They came across the farm in Valatie in 2015. Like many charming farmhouses, the home had a long, rich history. The Federalist-style main house first appeared in public records in 1856, but the couple suspects the property actually dates back to the 1820s. Once part of the much larger estate, the 50 acres include barns, a hay loft, corn crib, a granary, and a smoke house, as well as a Greek Revival carriage house across the road. At one time the 3,200-square-foot home had even been split for two families, with an extra kitchen added in the rear, southeast wing of the house. The farm's most recent incarnation was as the center of a large homeschooling consortium with small classes and learning spaces throughout the house and barns. "We could feel the joy when we walked in," recalls Callan. "The floors quivered."
  A high back chair is a favorite of the couple’s two cats. After teaching writing for over thirty years, Callan published The Writer’s Toolkit. “Our personality comes out in the pen,” she explains. “The right word or the right phrase can bring order to the chaos.” - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • A high back chair is a favorite of the couple’s two cats. After teaching writing for over thirty years, Callan published The Writer’s Toolkit. “Our personality comes out in the pen,” she explains. “The right word or the right phrase can bring order to the chaos.”

La Belle Farm

Although the farmhouse was romantic and rambling, it didn't need too much restoration. The three-bedroom, three-bath home had been well preserved by previous owners. Eight foot ceilings throughout the house featured ornate crown molding and wainscoted walls. It also retained the original wide-plank heart pine floors, which stretch through both stories. "The floors are really what made us fall in love with the place," says Callan. "You can't get floors like this anymore."
Downstairs, the original entrance leads to a long hallway with doors on either side; one leads to a cheery parlor and the other to a formal dining room, both with working fireplaces. However, the couple and their guests more often enter the home through the kitchen door—it's become the heart of their newly cultivated farm-to-table lives. Updated in the 1980s, the space includes a large, V-shaped island and the appropriate accoutrement for a modern chef. Another fireplace, this one closed, is hung with drying garlic and herbs. At the back of the house, a covered porch was converted into a solarium and the former second kitchen is now Callan's office, filled with books, a long desk, and notes, as well as prototypes for her upcoming projects.
Upstairs, the master bedroom includes a fireplace and an en suite bathroom. The two additional bedrooms are saved for guests, with one room especially outfitted for the couple's grandchildren. It's also an homage to Callan's French grandmother, who worked in the family vaudeville act, playing music and sewing costumes. A rack of colorful clothing hangs along one wall, and Callan converted her grandmother's original sewing table into a desk for her grandchildren.
  The home’s living room features an original working fireplace with an ornately carved mantle. The room’s paneled walls and detailed crown molding add further appeal. “The house has a lot of charm but no level surfaces,” says Thompson. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The home’s living room features an original working fireplace with an ornately carved mantle. The room’s paneled walls and detailed crown molding add further appeal. “The house has a lot of charm but no level surfaces,” says Thompson.
It's the surrounding 50 acres of gardens, orchards, and fields that have really given both Callan and Thompson the chance at that life of simple happiness espoused in her books. "It's the classic New England, three barn set-up," explains Thompson, describing the large red barns at the edge of the property where the couple keep chickens and turkeys and have an adjacent fenced garden for vegetables and herbs. As a "gentleman farmer," Thompson has enjoyed working with the seasons and says the slow process of nurturing seedlings has reconnected him with the cycles of nature. He begins with planting seeds in early spring in the solarium and then hardens the seedlings right outside on the porch. By summer, the garden is in full bloom and the couple sell part of their harvest at the Valatie farmers market on Saturdays. (Thompson also ferments his own hard cider from their apple orchards.)
However, plenty of the farm's bounty is set aside for Callan and Thompson to enjoy themselves or share with friends. This, more than anything, Callan discovered, is the crucial ingredient for a life well-lived. "There's an old French saying," she explains, "'The sweetest happiness is the one that we share.'"
  “It’s a wonderful kitchen for entertaining,” explains Callan. “Bill is an amazing cook and it’s enjoyable to watch him when he cooks, he’s a little theatrical.” - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • “It’s a wonderful kitchen for entertaining,” explains Callan. “Bill is an amazing cook and it’s enjoyable to watch him when he cooks, he’s a little theatrical.”
  The property’s three red barns are the center of the farm’s operations. The couple keep turkeys and chickens and grow a variety of herbs and vegetables as well as fruit in an adjacent orchard. “You are more attached to your food if it’s coming from your own efforts,” Thompson explains. “You really appreciate it. You can’t gobble anything down because you know how much work went into it.” - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The property’s three red barns are the center of the farm’s operations. The couple keep turkeys and chickens and grow a variety of herbs and vegetables as well as fruit in an adjacent orchard. “You are more attached to your food if it’s coming from your own efforts,” Thompson explains. “You really appreciate it. You can’t gobble anything down because you know how much work went into it.”
  The home’s decor is influenced by Callan’s time in France. Paint by number pictures of Parisian street scenes line one wall. - DEBORAH DEGRAFFENREID
  • Deborah DeGraffenreid
  • The home’s decor is influenced by Callan’s time in France. Paint by number pictures of Parisian street scenes line one wall.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Pumpkin Season on La Belle Farm!

Bonjour from La Belle Farm!

It's autumn now, I'm back from Paris, and I thought you'd like to see the La Belle Farm  "drying room".  This is where Dr. Thompson keeps our pumpkins, squash and onions after the last harvest.  Drying them will make them last longer, weeks and even months beyond the harvest season.  Although, this is not quite the end of the harvest season.  We still have a few lovely greens, a bit of kale and definitely eggplants. 

However, the nights and even the days are growing cooler and it's been raining for the last few days here in Columbia Country,  and so, there's a definite sense of winter closing in.  We've already spent an evening by the fireplace and we are dreaming of Thanksgiving and pumpkin pies, and yes, fresh turkey. 

But, I am jumping ahead of myself.  For now--for this moment in time, I want to simply offer you my this photograph of our pumpkins.  I love how they stand so still, so proud, even though they are rather  small as pumpkins go.   (This is because small pumpkins make the best cooking pumpkins!)  This brings me to this idea--joie de vivre isn't about size or quantity, but it's about appreciating and caring for what's right in front of you.  It's about taking the time to notice and embrace the small pleasures of life.  I try to tell myself this everyday, but it's not always easy.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, dear friends, in the comments section below.  

And please do follow me on Instagram for more lovely photos from our life on La Belle Farm.   

https://www.instagram.com/jamiecatcallan/?hl=en

 Merci beaucoup!