Learning to Live Together

We’ve passed the one month mark since Mom came to live with us in France.  Overall it has been a positive thing.  Certainly she is looking healthier and happier these days.  She seems pleased to be living here and is working hard on relearning French, although she clearly has a long way to go.

The administrative side of things is chugging along.  As a part of her request for permanent residence status, she has to have a medical examination.  Mostly, I think this is to make sure people moving here don’t have TB or something of that nature.  We had received notice of an appointment in Carcassonne next week, but JM wrote to the appropriate office and they kindly have made the exception of allowing her to have her exam here in the village by our doctor.  This is perfect, because we wanted her to meet him anyway and now we can deal with both things at once.

The hardest part is that, as usual, nothing to do with real estate or renovation moves quickly. We are still waiting to sign the paperwork for the house and without it becoming officially ours, we can’t drop the dossier we need off at the ANAH to get the ball rolling on receiving the appropriate subsidies for doing the work.  As of now, I doubt we’ll be able to get any work started until March, which means no way will Mom be moving into her new abode until May or June at the earliest.

I think we will all need to learn to cope with a lot of togetherness!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Thankful

I am now sufficiently recovered from Thanksgiving to write about our first holiday with Mom.

In fact, we haven’t spent that many holidays en famille over recent years for various reasons.  When we were in L.A., JM and I usually hosted a Turkey Day feast for up to 15 friends, but over the last few years before our move, that had dwindled as folks had other things to do until we finally stopped.

I did make a Thanksgiving meal for us here, but it was just the two of us, so wasn’t that big a deal.  After all, how much food can two Possums eat?  And, there was always the problem of getting an actual turkey in November.  Generally fresh turkeys are not available until closer to Christmas.

This year, however, I was determined to make a truly festive holiday to welcome Mom to her new home.  I was able to order a turkey in advance from our wonderful butchers, the Antonios.  It was a farm raised, organic bird that was probably running around chatting to its friends the day before we got it (I don’t want to think about that too much).

First, I thought I would invite our friends Peter and Margaret to join us.  Then, it kind of just expanded as Thanksgiving tends to do, and we were joined by Cathy, Maggie-the-Human and Martin from Rivel and Hazel from Chalabre as well.

Knowing that I would have cooking whizzes Maggie and Margaret at the table inspired me.  I started cooking on Tuesday.  I knew that for our British and Scottish friends Thanksgiving was a new experience.  Many of our traditional foods are not that well known outside of the States, or if they are, they are prepared differently.  I have to admit that I did have to control myself, because I always have a tendency to want to make way too much food when feeding a large group.

I finally settled on the following: turkey (goes without saying), mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pineapple,  homemade cranberry sauce, corn pudding, oven-roasted butter beans, stuffing, gravy, apple cake with panna cotta and pumpkin pie. The delightful Maggie brought along some heavenly chocolate dipped figs.

Friends arrived between 5 and 6, and we finally sat down to eat at 6.  I decided to serve buffet style so that no one would feel they HAD to taste something they didn’t like.  I’m pleased to say that everyone liked the exotic things like the corn pudding, and even those who had never tasted pumpkin pie (and thought it looked suspicious) tasted it and enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, I’m now out of the canned pumpkin I brought back from the States.  I do not think that the fresh pumpkin one buys here in France is at all the same as the sugar pumpkins we use for pies in America.  They don’t have the richness of flavor nor the same texture, so it may be my last pumpkin pie for quite some time, unless I find someone coming for a visit who doesn’t mind putting a few cans in their luggage!

Everything was going exceedingly well; both conversation and wine were flowing nicely when suddenly, at 9 pm, the lights went out! I’m always worried that it’s us, but a quick peak outside confirmed that the whole village was dark. Luckily, I had a camping lantern downstairs because we need it when we go to check on things in the new house, which doesn’t have the electricity turned on yet.  I also found some candles, so the ambiance was cozy, but I could tell everyone was eager to get home to check on things so we broke the party up.

Dishes by candlelight was less atmospheric but necessary.  When we walked the dogs our mayor was doing the rounds with one of the municipal councilors, and we learned that a transformer had blown somewhere and the electric company was on the case.  It was a memorable end to a memorable evening.

I am thinking of seeing if someone wants to hold a larger Thanksgiving meal for the village next year.  It may not be French tradition, but it is a lot of fun and I don’t think you need to be traditional to find time to be thankful for the blessings of the previous seasons.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Frozen Possum

That’s certainly what we’re doing here in the Possum Kingdom.

I realized yesterday that I never wore my winter coat once last year and was quite comfortable most days just layering.  In fact, I don’t think I even needed most of my warmest winter sweaters either.  This year is a different story, however.  It has been cold, cold, cold here and all across France.  We were promised snow flurries yesterday, although they never manifested.

Poor Mom is having major cultural shock because of the weather.  We haven’t taken her around to see much because she finds it just too cold. It was in the 80s (F) when we left L.A.  I did try to warn her that even though she grew up on the East Coast and suffered through many a New York and Philadelphia winter, 30-years of life on the Left Coast would leave her unprepared.  I think she believes me now.

Still, we DID manage to lure her out to Mirepoix for a walk around the village and lunch at Le Commerce with our friends Cathy and her mother Kate from Rivel. Lunch at the Commerce is always a good excuse to go out, and today was no exception.  The food is good and plentiful, the service is warm, friendly and wonderful, and you always feel cozy and welcome as soon as you walk in the door. Definitely worth a little cold weather for that.

Mom doesn’t think she’ll ever eat again, but experience tells JM and me that she’ll be ready for a little something by supper time.

Meantime, JM and I have been trying to bundle ourselves up as much as possible when doing dog walking duty.  This morning it was -4(C), which feels pretty cold, although I know that some of you in places like Minnesota or Massachussets think that’s just a pleasant spring day. Even Maggie and Shmoo seem happy to get home from their walks when it’s like that.

On the other hand, I’d rather be out walking in the country in weather like this than doing it in Paris like my in-laws and friends.  On day three of the transport strikes, life there is a misery for all concerned. My 75-year-old MIL is walking 90 minutes to work and back everyday because there is maybe one subway train every 45 minutes, no taxis available and basic traffic gridlock in any case. It sounds decidedly unpleasant, and I think even diehard Parisian MIL is thinking that the Possum Kingdom is pretty much heaven on earth in comparison.

Ciao for now.

Randy

A Week With Mom

Last night made exactly one week since Mom arrived here in the Possum Kingdom.  I have to admit that both JM and I were very, very concerned about how it would all work out.  She had been very odd while we were helping her move, and we worried that she would not be able to cope once she was here.

What a difference a week makes.  Frankly, the difference was apparent less than 48 hours after we had arrived. A few good nights of sleep, healthy, regular meals, the removal of having to decide what to keep and what to toss away, not to mention no longer being alone have changed her back into the Mom I always knew.

I have to say that she impresses me; I don’t know many people of her age who would even attempt to do what she is doing. True, it’s not as if there was much choice, as it was either move here with us or move into some type of independent living facility in Hemet, which would have eaten up all her money and possibly left her with no place else to go after a few short years. Still, even with that, she has been courageous in the extreme.

I realize that much of the confused behavior we saw back in L.A. was due to sheer exhaustion coupled with grief and uncertainty. In the last 4 months her life was totally turned upside down. A younger person would have had trouble coping, let alone someone who is 84-years-old.

It is much less difficult integrating a third person into our lives than I had expected. We all get along with no problem, and except for the fact that only one of our rooms is set up as a real “bedroom,” which means JM and I are sleeping on a fold-out couch in our TV room, it’s not really complicated.  Cooking for 3 is not a lot more complicated than cooking for 2, other than the fact that anything that comes in a package comes in multiples of 2, so I always have either too much or not enough of something.

We were quite worried about the stairs, as Mom is not used to having to go up and down stairs and she’s also not super-stable on her feet.  But she manages fine and we’ve been good at keeping the dogs out of her way. I’ve told her to not try rushing downstairs if she hears the doorbell and most of the time the dogs are with me, so she’s not at real risk.  We did have to work something out to help her get in and out of the shower, as it is rather high off the floor in the bathroom, but we bought a tripod cane that she can use as a sort of handle, and that seems to make it easier.

The most impressive thing is how well she is doing learning French.  She spends hours up on her computer with her new Rosetta Stone software and is determined to become fluent.  I think she may actually achieve that goal sooner rather than later. She has met many of our friends and neighbors and can manage a small bit of “Hi, how are you”  conversation, so she’s off to a cracking start.

I feel a great sense of relief at how all this is working, and although it will be easier on all of us once her new house is ready for her to move into, we are not in a hurry for her to leave.

Ciao for now.

Randy

I can’t believe it’s over!

Sitting here on Sunday afternoon, I can’t believe that the long nightmare is over. I don’t think I ever want to set foot in another plane.

We got back to the Possum Kingdom on Thursday night and I actually felt like getting down on my knees and kissing the ground. I have clearly “integrated,” because this feels like home and L.A. just no longer does. Granted, this was a horrible trip if one takes into consideration the flight attendants’ strike, the long flight delays, the stomach flu, the moving, the fact that Mom was so stressed out she was not at all herself, etc. But, beyond that, I realized that the life we have built for ourselves here suits us perfectly now. We love the people, the food, the water, the air, the quirkiness of village life.

L.A. is just so big. I think the thing that struck JM and me the most was that we have lost the habit of being surrounded by people all the time. Even when you’re in your car in L.A. there are so many other people everywhere; you never feel at peace. I know that a lot of people make the move to the country and soon feel themselves bored and lonely. It clearly doesn’t suit everyone. But I don’t believe I could happily live in a big city anymore. Too much of everything for my taste.

I hope Mom is going to like the quiet here. So far, so good. But right now it’s all new and she’s still settling in and getting used to the idea that she’s not on her own anymore. I hope the fact that she can’t completely communicate with the other people in the village won’t make her too frustrated. She does want to relearn French, and I think she’s determined enough to do it that she’ll succeed.

For now, we’ll have so much to do to get her new life ready that she won’t have time to think about her old one or miss it. She has seen her new apartment-to-be and seems to like it, so that at least is a good sign. And, we haven’t killed each other yet. Another good thing. Lots to look forward to I suppose!

Ciao for now.

Randy