Carnavale in Chalabre

Every year, most of the local villages have their own, mini-Rio style Carnavale. This weekend was ours and we were lucky to have absolutely glorious weather. There have been some years where it has been way too cold for dancing in the streets. And, the first year that we were here it actually snowed (although to be fair, it was much earlier, in March).

No chance of snow this weekend though. The temps have been running in the 20s C/70s to 80s    F; the sun is shining and there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky.

The Saturday night part of the event is basically an excuse for making a lot of noise and getting blind drunk. Sunday is a bit more of a family affair, with the kids all dressing up, and a few floats going around the village, until the finale when the king of the Carnavale (Badaluc) is burned to a crisp.

I took some video, so you can all share in the fun.

Ciao for now!


The Evils that Bloom in the Spring

I wanted to write about how beautiful things are here right now. The greens seem greener than ever following all the snow of this winter. The sky is a gorgeous blue (possible aided by volcano ash!) that makes you wish you could keep the color in your heart forever.

But evil lurks in that luxuriant grass.

My Shmoo is a big, powerful, healthy boy who learned all he knows from the BCs in his life (the late Diva Maggie McMiggins and his new girl, Miz Peaches LaRoo). In the almost four years that he’s been a part of our family, the only time he was really ill was when he ate Maggie’s leather collar!

So, on Friday when he wasn’t acting himself, I knew something was wrong. Yesterday it was clear he wasn’t feeling well. He wouldn’t play with Peaches and he turned down his favorite dried chicken treats. Then, last night he felt warm to me and was panting a lot.

This morning I checked the color of his urine and it seemed dark to me, although not brown. But I still thought that there was a good chance that he had picked up canine piroplasmosis (canine babesiosis) so I called our vet who is a good man and will see you at ANY time there is an emergency.

Shmoo definitely had a fever and a blood smear showed that my suspicion was correct; it was definitely the dreaded piro.

I’m lucky I got him to the vet’s in time, as three injections later we were out the door and on the way to recovery. He still needs to take a diuretic for the next five days to protect his kidneys from damage, but the chances are strong that he’ll make a complete recovery.

This proves that not even careful tick protection can keep the little nasties totally at bay. There is a vaccine available. It has had mixed results, but I’m thinking that if I use that and continue the tick protection we’re upping our odds of keeping the dogs from getting this again. I know we can’t wrap them in a cocoon of protection, but sort of wish that I could!

My boy is resting comfortably now, and we are all grateful to modern medicine at the moment.

Ciao for now.



Our local GP is on vacation. I knew he was going on vacation, but thought he would be gone this week and next. Mom needed to get her prescriptions renewed, which entails a doctor’s visit once every three months, as there are no over the phone refills here. Our doc thinks, and I agree with him, that seeing your doctor four times a year when you’re on regular medication is not a burden.

However, having discovered that he was on vacation last week and this week, I realized that NEXT week, when Mom’s prescriptions run out, his office will be a zoo. My guess is there will be a minimum of a two-hour wait every morning next week, and there are no evening appointments until 7 pm or so. Since he always runs late, that means 8 or 9 pm, which is just too late for us.

So, since Mom doesn’t have any current problems, I figured we could go and see the replacement doctor.

There is a service that doctors can use, where mostly Baby Doctors (the ones just out of medical school) can work as little or as much as they want and take over for doctors who are going on holiday. It’s really a great system. They keep the same office hours, handle emergencies and are just there to take up the slack. What was interesting for me was knowing that there would be very few patients in the waiting room, as most people would rather wait for their regular doc to return.

As it turned out, there was an article in this morning’s newspaper about the fact that in the next few years, our department is going to have a major doctor crisis. The average age of doctor’s in the Aude is higher than in many other areas, so many of them are going to retire. Young doctors don’t want to set up rural practices, because they make less money, work harder and are farther away from the “big city.” It’s going to be a problem.

I was mentioning this to Mom in the car and somehow it turned into an anti-Obama health care rant. I’m not proud of myself, but I lost it. I mean, there I was, driving her to a doctor’s appointment where almost ALL of her care is covered 100% by French social security because of chronic illnesses, and she is complaining about health care reform in the U.S. On top of that, although we do have a supplemental policy here to cover the small portion of her bills that are not paid 100%,  the social security portion of her care is FREE this year, because her income was too low for her to be required to pay a premium.

When I started explaining all of this to her, she admitted that she didn’t really know what was in the U.S. Healthcare Reform package. So why was she against it? She has no idea, but FAUX says it’s bad, so it must be. By the time we got to the doctor’s office, she did actually admit that she didn’t want people like JM and me to die in the streets because we weren’t insured, and she did remember that her insurance company had denied her late husband’s chemo therapy as being unnecessary, then approved it AFTER he was dead.

I apologized for getting so worked up, but honestly, I couldn’t believe she would have the nerve to complain. I asked her if she liked her healthcare here and she admitted she loves it. I sure wish I could get her to think more often!

When we got to see the doctor, Mom’s blood pressure was pretty high. I had to explain to the doc that I thought that was my fault and told her why. Then we discussed the American situation a bit. As usual when I tell anyone here about the way things are in the States, they kind of stare at me in disbelief. I think I scared her, because she’s going to visit her sister in Canada next week and was worried about what would happen to her if she had a car accident or something. I reassured her that Canada was NOT the States, and she could rest easy.

It turned out to be a lot more interesting a visit than I had imagined.

Ciao for now,



Poor Iceland; it really hasn’t been their year.

One of the things I haven’t missed about living in Los Angeles is the ever-present worry about “the Big One.” I know that there are small earthquakes in our region, but they probably wouldn’t even be noticed on a typical California day.

So, instead, what do I have to worry about? Volcanic ash! To be honest, I doubt it will get to our area, or if it does, by the time it does, there won’t be much of it. But who thinks about that as a possible problem?

With air traffic in all of northern Europe affected, it has made us all realize that Mother Nature does not have much of a sense of humor. Imagine if the Iceland volcano continues to erupt, or even erupts to Krakatoa levels, what that could mean!

We so take for granted our modern existence that we forget how quickly everything could change. We know about global warming, but do we really FEEL what major climate changes will mean? Perhaps something like this will bring home to us the reality of life on Earth and help us to make important changes to fix things while we can. Even though this is not caused by us, we should really look at the things we HAVE caused and try to change our ways.

Are you all using your re-usable cloth bags when you shop? Do you recycle? Turn off excess electrical appliances? Use less plastic? I know you do; but maybe you can each convince one more of your friends that they should start doing these things as well.

Off my soapbox now.

Ciao for now.


It’s the insurance

That’s really the only reason I can think of that the dogs are trying to kill us.

It has been truly beautiful here today, so we went on our usual late morning walk to the gardens. We get to about the halfway point and unleash the hounds. The two of them just adore racing as fast as they can to the end of the “official” gardens and into the big open field at the end. Then, they start hunting for voles.

When we first got Peaches, she would come running back to wait for JM and me to get there and play frisbee with her. But she has since learned the joys of hole digging and is now as obsessed as big brother Shmoo.

They go way out into the middle of the field for their little excavating project, which we wouldn’t mind if they would come back to us. But they won’t. Peaches, who also had an amazing recall at first, now ignores us as much as Shmoo. Sure, they look up from “the operation” every now and again, but that’s it.

So, we have to go out and get them. Now that the weeds are growing, that is less easy than it was, because not only is the stuff up to our knees, but it hides the previously dug holes, so we have to be extraordinarily careful not to fall and break various body parts.

Still, we are usually able to get to them, give them treats and hook up their leashes so we can finish our walk. Not today though. No, today opened a whole new chapter in the experience.

I waded out to get them and they headed past me at high speed so Shmoo could go into the river. Nothing unusual in that as he loves a little wade before coming home. However, what was different was that instead of us being able to catch them afterward, they took off to an even farther field to boldly go where no dog had gone before.

JM refused to go out there after them, because it was getting pretty far away. He hoped they would realize we were gone and come back on their own. But they were clearly not interested in that, so I headed out to get them.

This other field is not only farther away, but it is twice the size of the usual field. Every time I would get close to them, they would run even farther! I did not find it at all amusing and would have just left them if it wasn’t that they were getting dangerously near to the road. If something had happened to them, I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself, so after them I went.

I was lucky that they clearly found a particularly exciting spot and got so caught up in their destruction that they stayed there and let me catch them. To be honest, I only caught Shmoo, because I knew Peaches would follow along, which he would not do if I dragged only her away.

By the time I got them, I had been chasing after them for at least 20 minutes and I was damned tired of the game. My legs feel like lead from walking in a way I don’t usually walk and I am tired and still a lot irritated. Of course, I can’t take the irritation out on them, because they won’t understand it, so I just have to stay irritated for a while longer.

When I got back to JM we were both not happy. The dogs have now lost their running privileges for the foreseeable future. I feel bad, because they really love to run, but I can’t go through this anxiety again. I can let them loose in a friend’s garden, but that really isn’t the same thing for them because there’s not enough room to really run. But, so be it. If they won’t listen, they can’t be trusted.

Ciao for now,


The Dog-Pig

Remember how, in the movie BABE, Babe was a “pig-dog?”  I’m afraid that Peaches is a “dog-pig!” If it stinks, if it’s gross, if it’s filthy, Peaches will eat it or roll in it. If she were a human girl she would be a tomboy. I have never seen a dog revel in being filthy and disgusting the way she does.

If you look at her and don’t know her, you think, “what a dainty creature;” but she is NOT. When she and Shmoo dig vole-holes she is covered in dirt and mud up to her elbows and her nose is completely covered in dirt. Even her mouth is full of dirt. But she trots home so proud of herself!

British friends are in town at the moment for their Easter holidays. Two days ago I stopped in for a visit, and David limped to the door on a crutch. I asked him what had happened and he told me he’d sliced through his knee while cutting some tile! He was very lucky that it wasn’t worse, but the ER doctor told him to come back today for a visit with the orthopedic specialist to make sure things were healing properly. I said I would drive him.

I thought I would take the dogs out for a walk before the hospital visit, so we took them up to the rail tracks, figuring that was more controlled than letting them run in their vole-field out by the gardens. WRONG! Peaches found a pile of some kind of animal poop and before I could stop her, she’d rolled right in it!

Now, usually when she tries to do that, I’m able to get her pulled up before she actually gets in it. Not today. She was covered in the stuff and I had no time to bathe her before leaving. The best I could do was put some Miracle Groom on a paper towel and clean up the worst of it before we went. We locked off the upper floors of the house so at least she couldn’t go onto the bed or a couch.

Luckily, she is very good about letting me bathe her. She doesn’t like it, but she accepts it. As soon as we got back, into the bath she went. Now I know she’s just waiting for her chance to go out and find something else vile to roll in…

Ciao for now,


No Excuse

I have been bad about posting, and for that there is no excuse other than that life seems to take control and I either have no time or energy left at the end of the day.

I had wanted to fill you in on another French medical experience.  Last week we finally had our appointment with the ophthalmologist in Toulouse. You may remember that this was supposed to have occurred in February, but when we got there, after getting up at an un-Godly hour of the morning, the doctor wasn’t in.

This time, I made an appointment with a different doctor who did consultations in the afternoon, figuring that it was way easier to deal with any problems when we were all fully awake and caffeinated.

We got to Toulouse in excellent time, it being the middle of the day and not rush hour. I managed to score the last parking place in the McDonald’s lot (I wonder if anyone actually eats there, or it’s all just people parking for the hospital?) and walked back to where I’d dropped off Mom and JM. By now, JM knew the drill at the hospital and got Mom checked in. But we were not the only ones there! After checking in at reception, you have to go to the eye clinic reception and check in with them. There were half-a-dozen people ahead of us and ONE poor, lonely secretary dealing with everyone.

The waiting room was packed, as were the corridors. I figured we’d have a long wait. But surprisingly, a nurse came to get us only a few minutes after we’d sat down. I was soon disillusioned, however, when she said we were going to another waiting room. And, there, we DID wait! We waited for over two hours! But there were people there who had already been sitting there for two hours and who got taken in AFTER us! To make matters worse, the lighting is very bad. At first I thought that was odd for an eye clinic, but then realized that if you’d had your eyes dilated, you probably didn’t really want bright overhead lights. If it wasn’t that, it was just typical bad French lighting.

And, as always in public buildings here, it was way too hot! Unlike in American hospitals where you’re always freezing, in French hospitals you feel as if you’re going to die from the heat. Layers are the only way to go.

At last one of the interns came to get us. He examined Mom’s eyes with me acting as interpreter. He kept looking at us, as if he wasn’t sure I was translating correctly, because the results were not what you would call outstanding. He was particularly shocked when I told him that Mom had already had cataract surgery several years ago, because he vision should have been much better following that.

But that is the reason we were there! The problem is not cataracts, but corneas.

We finally got to see the surgeon, and as I suspected, Mom’s eyes cannot be helped with something like laser surgery. She needs a cornea transplant. Now, I wasn’t sure that would even be considered for someone her age, but it was proposed immediately by the doctor. The waiting list is about six months long, but she would definitely get one cornea replaced.

I could see that Mom was stressed out though. She would have to be in the hospital for four days, and I wouldn’t be able to be with her all the time, so she’d be on her own a lot. Then she would need to put special drops in for a year and I know she would not be able to do that on her own, so we would have to get a nurse to do it; not that that’s a problem here. Finally, I was  seriously worried about the possibility of rejection; someone in the village has had THREE   transplants done and has rejected all of them. She is now worse off than she was before.

Still, on the way home, it was clear to both JM and me that she wasn’t a happy camper. She had walked back to the car with me and she barely made it, even though it was only about a five minute walk. She is fine as long as her life is calm and stress-free, but add anything unusual and she doesn’t deal with it well. We could hear her fidgeting in the back seat of the car, something she always does when she’s stressed. Finally, we told her she didn’t HAVE to go through with it if she didn’t want to. And she didn’t. She feels she can live with things the way they are now, and if it comes down to it, we can always buy her an even larger TV so she can see it better. It’s a lot less stressful than eye surgery.

By the time we got home, everyone was exhausted. We had left the house at 1:00 and got back at 9:00. You could say it was a wasted trip, but I don’t think it was. First, we now know that she CAN get a cornea transplant if, in the future, she wants to do that and her age is not something that will stand in the way. Second, we now know that that is the only thing that will help her condition. And third, Mom sees that JM and I are willing to do what is necessary to make sure her needs are met. So, the only thing we lost was a little bit of time.

Ciao for now.