SNOW!!

Yes, here it is only the last week of November and we had a light dusting of snow already! Granted, it only stuck to the cars and on things like grass and piles of leaves, but it was still snow!

It is also pretty cold outside; barely above freezing and we’re in the middle of the day. The oracle (Metéo France) predicts temperatures down below freezing tonight.

Now, whether this presages a colder than normal winter with more snow than JM and I have seen since our first year here I don’t know. The “sages” all say yes. However, I seem to recall that last winter we had a very cold early December, then things warmed up and dried up and January and February were much milder than normal. We didn’t complain, because that was when our dear Diva Maggie was in her final illness and we were taking her for walks every 2 to 3 hours, even in the middle of the night. Warm and mild was a good thing.

But, as odd as it is, without having to do that, I like the cold weather. It always feels more festive somehow. Perhaps it reminds me of childhood or something. I do remember a couple of Thanksgivings where we did have snow, although that was pretty unusual, even in the days before severe global warming.

One thing the cold weather does is make me want to cook; which is lucky because with Thanksgiving in only 2 more days, I do have a lot of that to do. I’ve gotten a good start on things, and will, as always, have way too much food so we’ll be eating leftovers for days and days. But that is ALSO a part of the festivities and Turkey Day leftovers are great on cold winter days.

If I don’t get a chance to come back and tell you all again before Thursday: Very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, whether you celebrate or not. It never hurts to be just a little thankful!

Ciao for now,

Randy

I Take Back My Last Blog

Yesterday, I wrote how it was going to be a mixed bag this Thanksgiving, balancing the gratitude with the worry.  Then, I read this article on MSNBC and changed my mind.

It appears that with the current economic crisis, our peers, who have worked hard to be able to retire at a reasonable age, are now looking forward to nothing but a life of neverending work. Their 401Ks have sunk into the earth and are worthless, leaving 50-somethings with no retirement nest eggs; nada.

I realized that JM and I are truly blessed. Strangely, the very thing that has kept us from ever really earning a lot of money, also has given us the life that most people strive to achieve after retirement! We have never thought we would actually “retire,” as the life of a writer mostly never changes. We will always do what we do for as long as we are able. And, it’s not as if that is a sacrifice, since we like what we do!

Yes, we have some (not much, but some) savings in IRAs that we will be able to tap into after age 65, but we have never really thought we would do much of that. Our lifestyle is such that the small amount of money that we do earn keeps us comfortable as long as we’re not extravagant. That means no travel, few meals out, careful consideration of purchases of over a couple of hundred euros, driving Beanie until she collapses into a puddle of goo, etc.  But so what? Between having Shmoo and my mother to care for, traveling is inconvenient anyway, and besides, we’ve both traveled a lot in our lives and don’t really feel all that tempted by it anymore.

As to buying a new car; why would we want to as long as the one that we have is working? The same for other purchases, unless something “goes” we don’t really feel the need to get anything new. Certainly clothes aren’t an issue; being a “fashionista” in the Possum Kingdom is not something I particularly care about.  I mean, how dressed up do I need to be to walk Shmoo Alexander in the mud?

Beyond traveling, what do most people want from retirement? Getting to do what they want everyday; we do that. Living in a place that appeals to them; got that one too. Having time for friends and family; that’s covered.

So, perhaps this means we’re already retired; in which case clearly our IRAs are not necessary for us to achieve this dream.  Sure, it will be nice to eventually have access to extra funds for emergencies, but I’m not going to worry about where the economy is taking them at the moment; what’s the point? I can’t change it and I can’t change them, so I might as well just be grateful and get on with my life.

I am, therefore, OFFICIALLY extremely thankful this Thanksgiving, and hope that all of my readers have things about which they, also, are grateful.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Thankful, but…

It’s hard to believe that next week is another Thanksgiving. Certainly, we DO have much for which to be thankful this year. Not apologizing for having elected the McCain/Palin ticket is certainly right up there for me!

However, as I look at the non-stop news reports of economic gloom, I can’t help but feel a little uneasy and perhaps less than 100% thankful because of what we know is to come.

It is wonderful to know that the New Year will see an Obama Presidency beginning in America. All of my French friends are delighted at this as well. But as I’ve said before, there is only so much that he and a new Democratic congress can do. The automakers continue their slide towards bankruptcy, and it’s not only in the U.S. European automakers are not doing a whole heckuva lot better.  After all, if you’re worried about putting meat on the table, you are certainly NOT in the market for a new vehicle! I know for a certainty that our Beanie will be with us for as many years as she can keep going safely and happily.

I just finished reading an article that says that if GM in the U.S. goes bankrupt, 2.5 million people will lose their jobs next year in the U.S.! I am positive that it will have a worldwide impact, since so much of the manufacturing and sourcing of materials is international.

Although it IS true that when we were buying our new computer there were an awful lot of people in the Carcassonne Darty, I don’t know how well that will translate into future sales as the economic figures continue to descend. It will be hard for most people to justify anything other than necessary purchases over the coming months.

We watched a British real estate programme the other night and the advisors were telling people to save, save and save! Wise words that JM and I have always tried to follow. Of course, the problem with that is if people don’t spend, then stores don’t sell and have to close, which means other people lose their jobs. It’s a nasty prospect.

So, do be thankful, but keep your options open for what’s to come.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Quiet time of year

I suppose it was inevitable that once the election excitement was over, there would be a bit of a lull setting in. That’s not to say that people here are not still talking about Obama, because they are. And, I have to admit that it truly amazes me, since I have a hard time believing that most people in America, especially small town America, would give 2 cents about an election in France!

Still, I think what’s on most peoples’ minds is the state of the economy and how it affects them.

Right now, though, I have to admit that you don’t get a feeling that people are NOT going shopping, for example. When we were going through the hassles of getting a new computer a few weeks ago, the DARTY where we purchased it was pretty packed and there were people walking out of the store with some impressive amounts of electronic goods.

One of the areas where the recession is being seriously felt is in real estate. It has apparently become massively difficult to get a bank loan. I think we JM and I had not gotten the loan to fix up Mom’s flat in the spring, that today we would not be approved at all. To be honest, we were amazed that we were approved when we DID get it!

From our point of view, the fact that the dollar has been stronger against the Euro has been a good thing. I think that this is more a reflection of the Euro being weak than it is of the Dollar being strong, but frankly I don’t care why it is happening as long as it IS happening!

I have to admit that I haven’t been keeping tabs on the Sterling to Euro rate, as that is probably more of a factor in how certain businesses in France will do as the various touristy times of year roll around. Will there still be as many British holiday makers at Christmas? Will the ski stations do well this year (there’s already quite a bit of snow in the mountains)? Will anyone be buying holiday properties?

Lots of questions, few answers.

Ciao for now.

Randy

A post-election world

So, what are we all going to obsess about now? It seems as if we’ve all been living on, “after the next election” for just about forever. Now we have to get used to the idea that “them” is “us.”

What are we going to do if we discover that all the dreams we’ve had of change turn out to not come true as fast, or as much, aw we had hoped?

I’m thrilled with our win of Wednesday, don’t get me wrong, but having Democrats in power doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all going to get everything that we want. The world is still in crisis. We’re still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan; the economy still sucks swamp water; many, many Americans are uninsured, unemployed and on the verge of losing their homes. Even Obama can’t fix it all overnight.

And, let’s not forget that even with a Democratic majority in congress, not ALL of those Democrats are progressive (or even mildly left of center) and won’t go for much of what the most progressive of the voters wants.

We need to keep our hope alive, bask in the glory of having done the right thing, and still be a little bit realistic about life in our new world. We must also be patient, try to make sure that our issues do not fall off the table and above all, not let the evil side of the Republican party take control of the news cycle and interfere with the work that lies ahead for all of us (even those of us who don’t live on U.S. soil).

Ciao for now.

Randy

“That One” Won!

Today my pride in being an American knows no bounds. I think most of us feel that way (at least all of us who voted Obama!) and it feels GOOD!

This was a moment I was never sure would happen, and in the eyes of the world, today we are once again a country that CAN.

Here in the Possum Kingdom, sleep was almost impossible. JM and I stayed up until midnight, but only slept fitfully until 3:30 am, when we gave up and went down to watch the results. As each new state was called for Obama, it became clear that THIS time we weren’t going to be disappointed. And, at 5 am Central European Time, when CNN declared Barack Obama as President-Elect, I was in tears.

Our friends the Clintons (no, not THOSE Clintons) and the Clemens came over for a celebration breakfast. All of us admitted that we had not been this happy and proud in years. To top it off, today is Owen Clinton’s birthday, so he got the best present EVER!

After they all left, we have had several of our neighbors drop by to congratulate us as well. This election has been closely followed in France, where Obama is a bit of a superstar. I know that everyone who saw his speech was blown away and there are great hopes for the future of America.

I’m exhausted, but it’s the good kind of exhausted. I can go to sleep tonight at peace that we are again on the right track in America.

Ciao for now. YES WE CAN!!!

Randy

A Pre-election outing

Since we have now designated ourselves as the “official” Chalabre Obama Victory headquarters, we decided we needed some supplies for our post-election breakfast. Today was another glorious fall day, so it was perfect to take a drive to buy some Blanquette de Limoux.

When we were in Espezel at the fair, we tasted some wonderful grape juice bottled by a vintner in Castelrang halfway between here and Limoux. We bought 3 bottles and drank them all, so thought we could buy a case or two and also sample his blanquette.

I’m not a huge drinker, but I love blanquette that is made in what is known as the “ancestrale” method. It is very low in alcohol (6%) and has a light, fruity taste. It’s generally all natural with no additives, which means you really know what you are getting when you drink it.

So, after lunch we called to make sure the vintner was there and set off. Even after all the driving back and forth to Carcassonne last week, I didn’t mind going again, because the views are just so breathtaking.  And, to be honest, we’re only talking a drive of about 10 miles each way, so it’s not that horrible.

The Rollands, who own the domaine, are lovely people and have been doing this for many, many years. I love knowing that the money we spent is going directly into his pocket and not into a big chain store somewhere.

There are more photos of our drive on the website. Looking at the scenery makes us happy, even when other things may not be so good.

Shmoo Alexander had come for the ride, and the Rollands most graciously invited him to get out of the car and run and play to his heart’s content. He is now sleeping soundly, dreaming of vines and sunshine. Maybe that will keep him warm during the cold months to come.

Ciao for now.

Randy

The downside of country living

We’ve had a few hiccups over the last few days, the first and most important one being a major problem with JM’s computer! We got up Wednesday morning and it had crashed. We knew it was getting a bit wonky, but were holding on to the hope that we could coax it a little longer. I think it did a software update during the night, and then wouldn’t come back on. We were able to get it running again after trying multiple times, but the signs were there: new computer ASAP.

I didn’t want to mail order in case of problems, so I ordered online from DARTY, a big electronics store that has a branch in Carcassonne, about a 45 minute drive away so we could go, pick it up and take it back for service if necessary.

The first problem was my fault: I thought that we should get the most powerful CPU we could afford, even if it was more than we currently really need, because when JM manipulates the book files he really needs memory, processing and graphics speed. PCs are in the process of changing to 62 bit from 32 bit  for more power, etc., so I got a Hewlett Packard with an amazing graphics card and loads of storage. What I didn’t realize was that most of our software is very old and a lot of it wouldn’t even LOAD onto the HP!  In particular, JM’s version of PhotoShop 4 (that he still uses!!)  wouldn’t load up!  That was a disaster, of course, so we had to go back to Carcassonne to exchange it for something less good!

We picked an Acer, which is what I have and have been happy with for the last year. We brought it home, I hooked it up and NO SIGNAL WAS REACHING THE MONITOR! I thought, okay, JM’s monitor is older, so maybe that’s the problem and brought up my monitor, which is also an Acer.  Nada.  Clearly, the video card had a problem.

So, BACK AGAIN to Carcassonne. I had found a Packard Bell that was very similar, if only slightly less powerful and suggested getting that, but JM wanted to stick with the same model so they gave us the display unit, which had never been used. I asked to test it and everyone said, “Oh, it’s just an anomaly, it will be fine.” Do I even have to tell you what happened when we got home? By then, I was practically in tears. I love living in the country, but when you have to do something like this, it can be exhausting. The road between here and Carcassonne is very windy and tough in some places and when you’re tired, it’s a difficult drive.

Yesterday was a holiday, so by all accounts the stores should have been closed. But, in some places like the shopping malls in Carcasssonne, it’s getting more like the U.S. everyday and all the big stores were open! Lucky for us, because we boogied outta here at 8:30 to be back at the Darty opening time (9:30).

This time, we had them hook up the computer to a monitor in their store and I have to admit I was nervous, because I thought that if it came up fine, I was going crazy. Luckily it was exactly the same and the store manager (a computer geek) came over and was totally cool about the whole thing. He explained that they get shipments of computers that come as a series, and clearly, the whole series had a problem with the graphics card.

We wound up with the Packard Bell I wanted the day before and tested one right there to see if it worked, which it did.

Now is the part where something good comes from something bad; because the manager was a big comic book fan and totally thrilled to meet actual comic book writers who had written things he knew! So we had a great chat and now have a friend there if anything goes wrong so the way will be a bit smoother. But, also, he gave us a little program that will turn the Vista operating system from French into English. Now this is cool, because although I’ve gotten used to working with it in French, JM didn’t want to have to do that and there are some things that are easier to find when you know what it’s called in English but not in French.

We came home, walked Shmoo Alexander, ate lunch, then I went up and started loading everything onto the new machine, and, relief, it all went smooth as silk, so life can get back to normal!!!

This is good, because JM was having withdrawal from not looking at all the political sites! His job today is to print out OBAMA 08 signs for us to put on the door and windows! We’re having a couple of American friends over for breakfast on Wednesday morning so that we can watch the returns and hold the official Chalabre Obama Victory party!!!

Ciao for now,

Randy