Tour de France 2012

Today was Tour de France day. For the third time since we’ve been here, the Tour has come through the Possum Kingdom.

It’s always a fun day, even if the actual cycling part only lasts for mere seconds.

But it’s not really about the cycling; it’s about the experience.

We started noticing that the population was growing several days ago. The camp ground looks completely packed for the first time since we’ve lived here. There were also large numbers of strangers (and their dogs) wandering around town.

This morning, by 10:00, people were already taking chairs down to the race zone. As soon as we heard the first loudspeakers, we went over to wait for the “swag” mobiles of the pre-race Caravan. Our friends Diane and Evan are here, and they’re excellent at catching the best swag as it flies through the air. We gathered a whole tote bag-full . When the caravan finished, I went home and made us a picnic lunch of meatloaf sandwiches, artisanal potato chips and homemade strawberry ice cream (my first batch but not my last). I took it all down to the race course and we ate it done there.

The whole village turns out, so it’s a social event as well as a race. I even gave some ice cream to a couple of neighbors (who later came by with eggs from their chickens). All-in-all a truly fun day. And, here is a link to the footage of the actual race; enjoy!

Ciao for now.

Randy

From an email

I got this from a cousin this morning and liked it so much I decided to share it, guess my old fartiness is showing! (Sorry about the weird formatting, but I’m feeling too lazy to remove the >s.

Subject: Fwd: GREEN!!!!!!!!SOOOO GOOD AND SOOOO TRUE

> At the cash register of the store, the young cashier
> suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own shopping
> bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.
>
> The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this
> green thing back in my earlier days.”
>
> The cashier responded, “That’s our problem today. Your
> generation did not care enough to save our environment for future
> generations. You didn’t have the green thing.”
>
> She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing
> in its day.
>
> Back then, we returned milk bottles, soft drink bottles and
> beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to
> be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same
> bottles over and over. So they really were recycling. We refilled
> writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the
> razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just
> because the blade got dull.
>
> But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.
>
> We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in
> every shop and office building. We walked to the grocery store and
> didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two
> blocks.
>
> But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.
>
> Back then, we washed the baby’s nappies because we didn’t
> have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy
> gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really
> did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down
> clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.
>
> But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing
> back in our day.
>
> Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV
> in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a
> handkerchief, not a screen the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
> In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have
> electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile
> item to send in the post, we used wrapped up old newspapers to cushion
> it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire
> up an engine and burn petrol just to cut the lawn. We used a push
> mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t
> need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on
> electricity.
>
> But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then.
>
> We drank water from a tap when we were thirsty instead of
> demanding a plastic bottle flown in from another country. We accepted
> that a lot of food was seasonal and didn’t expect that to be trucked
> in or flown thousands of air miles. We actually cooked food that
> didn’t come out of a packet, tin or plastic wrap and we could even
> wash our own vegetables and chop our own salad.
>
> But we didn’t have the green thing back then.
>
> Back then, city people took the tram or a bus, and kids rode
> their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mothers into
> a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an
> entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need
> a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000
> miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
>
> But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful
> we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back
> then?
>
> Please forward this on to another selfish old person who
> needs a lesson in conservation from a smart-ass young person.
>
> Remember:
>
> Don’t make old people mad. We don’t like being old in the
> first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off.
>

I’m Back!!!

Our loyal Greenie

Our loyal Greenie Beanie

Hi all! I’m back. Sorry for the long absence, but sometimes life just gets in the way of a good blog post. There are things that happen that just aren’t blog material, and other things that you just can’t write about. Between that and being generally taken up by the daily grind of life, I just haven’t been very good lately. I’m also trying to be a bit more present on FB, and I can’t do that, blog AND actually get any work done. I do  plan, however, to start trying to do more here.  (I think I’ve said that before, no?)

At any rate, we had to take Beanie in for her some new parts that had finally arrived. We needed a new door handle, something to do with suspension (no idea what and probably wouldn’t know what it was in English either!) a new water pump and new tires. We decided to go early and eat lunch at the Chinese all you can eat buffet (good deal for them with me, as I eat less than a full plate of food!) and then to pick up some books from our friend Philippe, who receives all the Black Coat Press and Riviere Blanche books. It’s a lot cheaper for them to go to Pamiers than to Chalabre, as weird as that sounds. Maybe because he’s closer to Toulouse.

On the way to Pamiers, we felt a jolt and heard a noise as if we’d run over something, but neither of us had actually seen anything on the road. We got to the restaurant and a man ran after us in the parking lot to tell us we had a flat. I definitely hadn’t felt a flat while I was driving, but damn if it wasn’t flat as a pancake. Maybe we’d run over a nail that fell out when I stopped? At any rate, we were about half-a-mile from the Toyota dealership, but about two miles from Philippe’s, so we had to tell him to put the books in a box outside for later  pick up, then I drove very slowly to the dealership. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I didn’t have much of a choice.
We were an hour early for our appointment and they weren’t open, so we walked around the shopping center until it was time to go back.
It turns out that the tire I punctured was one of the ones that was being replaced anyway, so at least I didn’t have to wind up buying four tires instead of two!
It took them four hours to do everything that needed doing, but to be fair, this is the first major work we’ve had to do on Beanie in over 10 years of having her.
After reaching the stage of ultimate boredom, JM started looking around the showroom and noticed that a new Yaris was actually under 10,000€ and decided to just talk to a sales person.
What a different experience from buying a car in the States! They are so low pressure. The nice young lady explained that, since we wanted an automatic, that wasn’t a deal we could get. But she worked up a price on that and also on the Verso-S, which is a little bigger (more dog friendly). Even with the automatic, the prices still came out to well below 20,000€, which seemed within the range of what we would be willing to spend on a new car.
Then, when I was asking about a test drive, she went to check something. It turned out they had just taken a return on a 6-month old Verso-S with an automatic. A couple was divorcing and the husband wanted to go down to a Yaris instead. It was the top of the line Verso-S, with all the bells and whistles and has about 9,000 miles on it. It’s white (not my favorite color), but she gave us a price that was less than for a new Verso-S with no options but the automatic.
She gave me the keys and told me to drive it; strangely, she thought it was odd that I wanted her to come with me! No, no, just drive it, she said.
It’s got some kind of variable transmission, so it doesn’t actually change gears the way I’m used to with an automatic. I could get used to it, I suppose.
Then, this is the amazing part. We said we needed to think about it and she said, “Of course!” Can you imagine an American car salesperson letting you out the door without a deal? Just wouldn’t happen. We told her we’d call back this morning.
But, after getting my newly fixed up Beanie, I realized I really love her. She just purrs when she drives. I didn’t love that other car. I think even for a good deal that  you should feel that you’re getting something better than what you have, and I just didn’t really feel that. Yes, it’s got all the modern gewgaws, but it’s not enough. I don’t want to empty our savings account and then feel regret.  So, no new car for now. I told JM that even though I’m a loyal Toyota fan, I wanted to be sure that a Toyota was what I wanted before we make the jump to a new vehicle. So, Beanie remains safely with us.
To top off the day; while we were sitting there I felt my throat going weird. I seem to have caught a cold and I have no idea where or when I came across someone who was sick. I haven’t had a cold in two years, so I’m bummed out.
Ciao for now.
Randy

Almost Spring in the Possum Kingdom!

Once a year, our bank manager asks us to come in for a meeting. Our guess is that his bosses insist he meets periodically with his clients and he has to write-up a report. He’s a nice man, and has always been very helpful to us when it counted, so we always say yes.

It is quite stunning out today; sunny and the temperature must be around 80 F. Limoux, where our bank is, is a town we quite like, so it’s not a burden to go there, except that the parking can be a bit tricky.
After the meeting, we decided to walk to a grooming store a bit farther away. The lady who owns it runs one of the kennels we want to check out. And, after that, we were walking back to the car when we noticed that a new restaurant had opened up on the Place de la Republique

Just opened last weekend

It was just before noon, and they were putting up their menu. They have what we call a “menu” here, which is a fixed price for a set number of courses. It was 13€ for two courses, either entrée and main course, or main course and dessert, and there were a lot of tempting dishes. They had just opened on Saturday, so are truly brand new.
We decided to try it. We had never gone out for my birthday last month, so this was a nice treat. They had trouble finding us a table, because they were already all booked up!
I had the salmon with chopped leeks in a lemon sauce:

Salmon with chopped leeks

And JM had lasagna.  There was a lemon cake with lemon whipped cream for dessert:

Lemon cake

The salmon and leek was outstanding. The cake was nice, but I have had (and made!!!) better. But that leek thing was something special.
This is me; I’m happy:

Me? American? Why do you ask?

JM is happy!

JM enjoying the day

 

Hope your day is as nice as ours was!

Ciao for now,

Randy

The Pyrenees on Tuesday

 

As most of you will know by now, most of Europe has been in the grip of a Siberian cold front. In France, this is the longest lasting cold spell of this intensity since 1996 or 1997 and,  no one was really prepared for it. Certainly WE were not prepared!

Here in the Possum Kingdom, some of our temperatures, including windchill, were down to -20 C during the night. And, for this California girl, that is COLD!!! It has been so cold that we have taken to using the car to get the dogs to a place where they can do their thing swiftly, then return to the relative warmth of their chauffeur driven chariot. And, they don’t complain!!!

In fact, since the snow over the weekend, we’ve HAD to walk them this way, because the salt and cold temperatures were so uncomfortable for them that they would suddenly just stop walking and hold a paw up in the air in confusion and discomfort. What’s a doggie-mom to do? I dug the car out and away we went.

Here at our little nest, our boiler has been going almost non-stop, and we keep the thermostat at 17 C, which is way below the local average. We even had to fill up on oil several weeks earlier than we usually do; but we couldn’t take the risk of running out, which is not only uncomfortable, but bad for the boiler as well.

On top of that we’ve been using our fireplace as both supplemental heat and emotional comfort. The dogs are thrilled and argue over who gets the best spot for napping:

Shmoo won this time!

I still remember how afraid our dear Diva Maggie McMiggins was of the fire. Clearly, neither of the current two canine residents share that concern.

But all is not warmth and happiness here. Our doorbell appears to have frozen and no longer works. I brought it inside, because people kept pressing it and assuming we weren’t home when we didn’t answer. It works fine inside, so I’m hoping once there’s a thaw it will be back to its chiming self.

Then, yesterday, I was in the midst of  doing laundry when the washer started flashing the error code that means something is blocked. I assumed it was the usual dog hair or occasional escaped sock problem. The unfortunate part is that to find out, you have to open the filter at the bottom of the machine, which pours water out all over the floor of the garage. Only this time, I did it and didn’t find any blockage. I looked more closely at the booklet and saw it could also be the drain causing the problem. When I went to check the drain, I realized that the water had frozen solidly inside it! No wonder it wasn’t going anywhere. So, I drained enough water to get my sheets out, then finished rinsing them in a basin in the sink, just like Grandma! Now, we just have to wait for the pipes to defrost.

And, just to be clear, this is a pipe that is INSIDE my house in the garage. Now, that is cold!

There have been several articles in the local paper about various disasters caused by this cold wave, including the probable devastation of most of the current vegetable crops and, truly sadly, hundreds of deaths of the Flamingos in Narbonne. The poor things are not built to cope with this kind of cold.

Good news is that the temperatures are starting to rise a bit. Right now it is +2 C, which is the warmest it has been in well over a week. We’re even supposed to have rain, as opposed to snow, sometime next week.

One thing  you’ve got to say; when winter decided to visit, it did it in a big way!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Looking forward to 2012

 

Sunrise in the Possum Kingdom

Morning walkies has compensations

 

So, here we are with January almost over and I  have been on radio silence. As always, it has less to do with desire and more to do with lack of time.

I was more than delighted to see the back of 2011, which has to go down as one of the worst years of my life. Of course, losing Mom had a lot to do with that, but it wasn’t the only thing. Somehow, it seemed to be a year filled with drama on the parental front (JM’s as well as mine), and there were many small, personal issues that left me with a general sense of being unhappy with life in general.

2012 has not begun great either, but I have high hopes that it will improve. I know that some of the lessons I learned in 2011 will stick with me: one of those lessons being that I am often way too trusting. I can see why our American openness can often be a handicap, but I am loathe to change too much.

At any rate, I see that I need to do some re-evaluating of life. I don’t think I will ever change from a glass half-full to a glass half-empty kind of person; that seems to be an attitude with which we’re born. However, I do think I will need to learn to check some of my enthusiasm and be slightly more cautious and suspicious before jumping into some types of decisions.

Sorry to be cryptic; but there are things one doesn’t really write in a blog. Especially if one is trying to be more cautious with their choices!

There are Possum Kingdom events to write about here, however. At Christmas, our friends Dave (also known as BD or Bikey Dave) and his charming wife Toni put on their second annual pantomime with a group of both French and British participants. It was great fun for all, and we surprised ourselves by not only enjoying it, but offering to become involved in their small repertory company to help them put on further  plays during the year. JM found a cute, one act French farce that we translated, and which will be performed sometime close to Easter. You can check outBD and Toni’s bike holidays at their website. Don’t forget that the Tour de France will, for an unprecedented second year in a row, be having a stage starting in Limoux!

I think that getting involved in more social events is really important for JM and I to help us get over the rather non-social attitude we had developed over the last couple of years with caring for Mom. It’s easy for that nesting instinct to kick in and keep you from doing outside activities. I know that will make us both feel happier.

We are also, in that spirit, starting a French conversation group for some of our English-speaking friends, to help them feel more comfortable integrating with the community at large. It should be both fun and helpful to all. For the moment, we’re holding it Saturday mornings at 10:00 here during the market. If it gets too large, then we’ll have to find a new location.

So on that more upbeat note:

Ciao for now,

Randy

 

Seasonal Aggravation

It’s the time of the year when I take the dogs in for vaccinations. I know that you all don’t vaccinate yearly, but I haven’t been able to get titers done and if I want our pet passports to remain valid for travel outside of France I need Rabies vaccines annually here. As to the other vaccines, I do need those if I kennel the dogs, so I do get them done.

I also wanted to get Peaches’ dew claws clipped so she doesn’t injure me when she paws at me (they’re like needles) and I had ordered the kit to test for MDR1 several months back, but hadn’t been able to get to the vet’s to get it done.

So, in the pouring rain, we loaded the dogs into the car and set off. First, we needed to go to the post office to send the documents for finally resolving my mother’s estate back to our attorney in L.A. After making an appointment with the consulate in Toulouse, we called the estate department of the investment company and discovered that our account manager could just sign off on the documents and we didn’t HAVE to get them all notarized! That saved us a more than 200 mile round trip and about $300 in fees we would have had to pay to have all the signatures notarized. But, wouldn’t you think the account manager would have known this?

Anyway, the post office here is also a bank and we had one of the nuns in front of us trying to do something complicated. It took forever. By the time I got back to the car, Peaches was whining and desperate. She does not like being in the car, and I guess waiting for us had made her anxious. She wanted to get out and pee. That would have been fine, but afterwards she was soaking wet and wouldn’t get into the back seat. That meant that JM couldn’t get into the car. I tried getting her out and opening the back door, but Shmoo then wanted to jump out. It took over 15 minutes to get everyone situated again.

By this time, we were having a bad feeling about the whole thing, but once you start you might as well go on.

Miraculously, we got to the vet’s with no puking from the peanut gallery. But, the vet had an emergency C-section that had come in right before we got there. So, we sat and waited, and waited and waited. Almost an hour later we got to see him.

Luckily, by that time, ours had mostly calmed down. Although they were a bit weirded out by all the puppy cries coming from the back room. Then a hunting dog came in with an injured leg. He looked at Peaches. That was bad. I thought Shmoo was going to leap across the room and attack him. He did NOT want that dog looking at his Peach!

At last, we got into the exam room. Although he was terrified, Shmoo did jump up on the exam table under his own power. He didn’t like it, but he did it. Unusually, he was trembling in terror. He never does that, and it’s odd.

Peaches was not going to get up there though, so we had to lift her up. She was very, very unhappy. She actually backed off of the table and was choking to death at one point! We had to struggle to get hold of her and keep her from falling on the floor.

When the vet shaved her leg to take blood for the DNA test, she bled all over the place and he had to bandage her leg. She was not a good patient.

Anyway, the cost for shots for both dogs, worming pills for next time I need to worm them (probably a month or so from now), the blood draw and exam, came to 91€, which I don’t think is bad at all. It would have cost at least twice that in L.A.

We got home with still no puking, so that was good. It was way past lunch time, I had a migraine and I was hungry, but the dogs really, really wanted to go out. So, I put JM’s lunch on the table and took them for their walk. Peaches waited till we were outside and THEN she threw up.

I want a nap.

20111221-190902.jpg

Okay, so I didn't have a picture of the actual cake

Cheating here; not Amish Friendship Bread!

 

Every year, most of France has events for the “Telethon,” which is similar, I think to the Labor Day telethon in the States. I assume there are televised events, but mostly I’m familiar with the local events that villages like ours put on. One of the things we do here is a bake sale on the Saturday market and for the last couple of years I’ve contributed a little something.

So, this year I gave them an Amish friendship bread. I dropped it off at the town hall yesterday, but I didn’t get over there until close to noon. A couple of the ladies who run the charity table started chasing me in the street. They wanted to know if that cake was mine. Slightly worried about why they wanted to know I admitted my culpability in the matter. They all wanted the recipe. Apparently, because it was a big cake, they decided to cut it into pieces to sell individually, and they had to taste it first. I don’t think any of it made it to the sale table! They all bought slices for themselves and one lady bought half of the cake to take home for her family.

I explained the concept and promised I’d give them some starter and translate the recipe.

Anyway, I was seriously flattered. There were other cakes on the table that hadn’t sold even one piece and this is France, after all. Food IS important here, and an American cake impressed everyone.

Now I guess I have to make some more starter, because I actually got tired of keeping mine alive, and how much cake can two people eat?

 

Ciao for now,

Randy

Occupy Court Colbert

Occupy Cours Colbert

 

The protestors are napping, as they dream of meals to come.

I’ve temporarily switched them to good quality canned food, as I needed the freezer space for the humans in the house (what a concept!) The good side of this is that it is a bit easier. The bad side is that if, like this week, I miscalculate when I should place my order, I wind up without any food for the canines.

Dawg forbid they should eat the stuff out of a bag. To be honest, they probably wouldn’t mind, but we would, as every time  I try to feed them dried food, there is an outbreak of deadly festulance that almost drives JM and me out of the house. Not to mention the diarrhea that makes Peaches, in particular, demand to be taken out for urgent  3 am walks; something I would truly rather not do.

So, when I looked and noticed that my order from Zooplus was not going to be delivered before Friday at the earliest, I went on a hunt to, quite literally, bring home the bacon! In fact, it turned out to be turkey. I went over to the Huit á 8 and discovered two turkey legs that had reached their sell by date. They were on special for 2€ a piece, making them even less expensive than canned food. I snatched them up and have them in the pressure cooker with a bunch of vegetables.

It made JM and I realize that our dogs probably take for granted the fact that they dine like kings and think that ALL dogs should live this way. We are going to puppy sit good-dog Vicky while her human slave is in the hospital having hip replacement surgery. Vicky eats kibble. Clearly, I cannot give her kibble while my dogs get turkey stew or similar. So, the question is: what will Vicky say when she goes back home? Already she sits outside our door half the time, staring intently at the door knob and willing it to open so that treats will fall directly into her waiting mouth.

I think the protests will be long and tough, and all I can do is hope that they don’t tell 1000 of their doggie friends about the delights that reside Chez Lofficier!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Hi All!

I know he went in that Post Office!

 

The time has, as always, flown by. I KNOW I owe you the rest of the description of our trip to Toulon, as well as an update on events here in the Possum Kingdom.  My only excuse is that we seem to be as busy as always these days.

We had a mostly glorious Fall, with days that were so breathtaking It was hard to sit inside and not enjoy them. I have always loved this season, as I have said ad-nauseum, and this year has made a supreme effort to reinforce that love by providing warm days, crisp nights and stunning weather.

Not to say that we haven’t had some evil storms. We were spared the worst of it here, but anyone following the news knows that other parts of the South of France have not been so lucky. There was massive flooding in many areas, and, sad to say, lives lost as well.

But, for some reason, we remain in our “privileged land,” and seem to miss the worst of it. Although, last weekend the Mighty Hers was almost to the top of its banks in some places and there was real concern about flooding.

Our biggest problem is that there is a sewage pipe down near the gardens that has a major problem. We found raw sewage pouring out into the field where the dogs like to romp, as well as flowing directly into the river. We were able to corral a couple of members of the town council and show them some video that I’d taken during the worst of it. They are supposed to be contacting the mysterious organization known as “Veolia,” which, while pretending to be our water company, also seems to have its tentacles in many other pies. I am starting to think it’s a cover for SMERSH…

I suppose none of this sounds very exciting, but if you add it to trips to the wonderful Espezel Fair, the Apple Festival in Mirepoix, the many, many days I have lost lately trying to resolve an internet connection problem (Oh, Orange, you are such a disappointment!!!) and the usual errands, tasks and duties which comprise life its own-self, time just flies by.

I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking lately. I have been trying to “get off” of convenience products as much as possible. But that means spending way more hours in the kitchen. Still, the end result is worth it. I have, for example, discovered a nifty way to pre-cook potatoes so that you can have your own bags of frozen hash browns and “instant” mashed potatoes at the drop of a hat! And, I’ve rediscovered that 80s stand-by, Amish Friendship Bread and Starter. I’d forgotten how delicious that stuff is!

I think of all of you, my friends and loyal readers. And will try to do better.

Ciao for now

Randy