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

 

Not many April Showers

 

I rule!
Peaches presents a calming influence

Last week was far too nice to spend time inside writing on the computer! We had amazing, totally unseasonal weather, with temperatures at 30 C (86 F); something unheard of at this time of year. Apparently there was one of those weird currents from Africa that sometimes occur and we were the beneficiaries.

I’m not sure if that’s a totally good thing, though, as we can still have freezing temperatures between now and the end of May. Everything is in bloom, and if we get a frost, it will be bad for gardeners and farmers alike.

But it was hard not to enjoy it! Everyone was out and about. Unfortunately, the “everyone” included a snake that we ran into on one of our walks. I am assured that it was a harmless snake and not a viper, but I have to tell you that all snakes look alike as far as I’m concerned, and I’d rather not run across them at all if possible.

The dogs have been enjoying themselves massively. Peaches, in particular, has gotten to play like mad with her new friend Freya the adorable, who is a dead-ringer for our dear, departed Diva Maggie. Shmoo plays to the best of his ability, but is severely limited by the fact that I won’t let him off his leash. I know it drives him crazy, but it’s really his own fault, as he will simply take off into the field and start digging his way to China in his mad search to root out every last vole in the canton.

With the run-up to Easter, there are also lots of out-of-town visitors, which is always a pleasure. Nice for them to be able to enjoy this lovely weather, instead of having to confront drenching rain and cold temperatures.

Fingers crossed that it stays nice for a while longer yet.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Who’s the Fool?

What? Me worry?

not a fool

I swear I don’t remember an April Fool’s Day with as many corporate jokes as I’ve received this year. It’s insane!

And it wasn’t just U.S. companies getting into the act; I’ve had plenty from both France and the UK as well. Was someone handing out corporate Kool-Aid this year or something?

I don’t mind; it’s nice to see the worker bees having fun. It’s just a bit odd is all. I wonder if it’s not a sign that people are so stressed out by reality that they’ll do anything to have a laugh.

The sad thing for me, though, was that most of the gags were pretty lame. At least if you’re going to do it, get a writer!

Ciao for now.

Randy

‘Tis the Season to go Crazy!

Sometimes, you just can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t know how your banks handle online purchases, but our bank instituted a system a couple of years ago where for most stores, they send you an SMS with a code number. You have to type that code into a separate screen to verify your purchase. I understand it and appreciate the added security.

At least I DID. Last summer, for a variety of reasons, including that a slightly deranged person had my mobile number and was sending me kind of disturbed text messages, I canceled my old portable and got a new account with a new, unlisted phone number.

I knew that I needed to let my bank in on this, so went to their website where I duly typed in the new number for the two accounts where I have debit cards. I waited a week or so, then made an online purchase. Except I noticed that the SMS went to my old phone number.

I called the helpline, they explained that my bank had to change the number and diligently set the security clearance to allow me to use some other information as a temporary fix. I called my local branch, gave them the new number and was assured that it would go into my file.

A month or so later, I noticed that I was again getting an SMS to the wrong number. I again called the helpline and was told that the number had not been changed in their system. They reset the temporary fix and I called my bank again.

Two weeks ago I tried to make an online purchase and one of my debit cards was rejected. I checked and there was plenty of money in the account. I went into our local pharmacy and used it with no problem. I was able to get money from the ATM. The only thing I couldn’t do was make an online purchase.

I called the helpline again. They were less helpful. Because I had been using the temporary security for so long, it was no longer valid. No, they couldn’t change the mobile number, only my bank could do that. I called the bank, he looked and said it was changed but would send the info through again.

Now, here we are in the holiday season and I need to make purchases. Only I can’t use my credit card. I spent almost the entire day today calling various “helpless” lines to get it fixed. My banker yelled at me (and he’s an extremely nice man who I didn’t think COULD yell). JM yelled at the customer non-service rep, even though she was very nice and trying her best.

Finally, we went to the bank in Limoux and tried to sort it out while we were there. Both our branch manager and his second in command called the service desk. They were told to do something to a software that they didn’t even know existed! They STILL don’t know how to resolve the problem! All the computers at our bank show the right information; only the computer at the security center are wrong, because their software doesn’t communicate with the normal banking software and they don’t have the power to change it at their end.

My branch manager wanted me to cancel my debit cards and get new ones, except that I have direct debits for various things on those cards, and if we do that, it opens up a whole different can of worms.

I asked if I was the only person in the area who had ever changed her cell number; my branch manager didn’t think so, but had never run across this problem before.

I just love being a trend setter.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Alone

There have been very few times over the last 32 years that JM and I have not been together. This is one of them. He needed to go to Paris to help his parents and there is no way I can now go away and leave my mother.

I took him to the station in Carcassonne on Friday. It actually makes more sense to take the TGV through Montpellier than to fly from Toulouse. The whole voyage is about 5 1/2 hours, there is no security tsuris and you only need to arrive a few minutes ahead of the train. Plus, the drive to Carcassonne is much simpler for me than taking the autoroute to Blagnac. Even for the two of us to go to Paris (if we need to do so), it actually is less expensive to take the train than to drive.

I did a couple of errands, but had to rush home because I tried to call Mom and couldn’t get through. I was relatively sure that she was just having trouble using her phone, but I couldn’t be certain, so canceled half of what I had planned. This pretty much proved my point that I really can’t go away and leave her.

Luckily she was okay, although she had a bit of a crisis and now is really more confused than ever, so needs extra help. I had bought some Chinese takeaway, but was so worried about getting home that I didn’t store it well enough in the car and had quite a mess by the time I got home. Ah well, transporting food 45 kilometers is not without its risks.

My friend, Margaret, came to help me walk the dogs yesterday afternoon, but mostly I’ve been taking them myself. This has proved to be much easier than I feared. The extra training I’ve given Shmoo has really paid off, and he is MUCH better behaved around other dogs now. Peaches is perfect when she’s off leash, but even when we come across a dog while she is on leash, she has also improved. The best thing is that she’s really trustworthy off leash, and as soon as we get to the gardens she can roam so I only have to hold onto Shmoo.

I was mostly concerned about our first walk of the morning, because right now, it’s pitch dark at 7:00. There are benefits to that; such as the fact that on a clear morning you can see a billion stars. Particularly on Sundays, when no one else is up and about, there is dead silence except for the sound of the river, and it’s a rather magical time that I love. I have these little lights that I clip onto Peaches’ harness, so I can see her in the dark, and you can see her little red lights moving through the night, which must look pretty scary to the night creatures.

The worst thing, really, is that the house is so silent. I love quiet, but the presence of another person is very reassuring in a house of this size. I also don’t really feel like cooking just for me, so I haven’t exactly been eating balanced meals, which is bad. And, the dogs, Shmoo in particular, really miss their daddy. Our life is so regular and calm that we forget how small changes can stress the canines. Shmoo is so big that you wouldn’t think he is the big softie that he is; but he takes things much more to heart than most dogs I think.

I can’t really tell them that it will be all right and JM will be back soon. They don’t get the benefit of telephone and text messaging either. But I still think I have the better deal in all this than JM does; at least I am home and not in the hectic buzz of Paris, so I guess I can’t really complain.

Ciao for now,

Randy

Waiting

The past two days have been “waiting” days. You know the ones: a delivery is coming, a workman is coming, but you don’t know when and you’re not even 100% sure IF.

Yesterday I was waiting for two deliveries. One of them finally came much later than I expected, but the second one never showed up at all. I felt as if I’d wasted my entire day. I couldn’t really concentrate on much, because I kept waiting for the door bell to ring.

Since I work upstairs and the door is downstairs, when someone rings the bell it means I have to run with the dogs trying to push me down the staircase, then calm them down so I can open the door.  I am sure that the dogs know something is up, because they won’t settle either. And, because we didn’t know what time to expect someone at the door, we had to take the dogs for afternoon walks separately, something which disturbs the force.

At about 6:00, when the second of my deliveries hadn’t come, I figured the heck with it, and just locked up the shutters. I wanted to get comfortable and start making dinner without being interrupted.

That delivery finally came this morning, but they called this time to say they were coming and there was a good explanation about what had happened yesterday. Although that IS why God created cell phones…

Today, the electricians that we’ve been wanting to do work on Mom’s apartment were scheduled to come at 9 am. They in fact DID come at 9 am, which is really something of a miracle in my opinion. But they keep needing JM to go over and look at things or explain things to Mom or something or other. So, once again, we’re on tenterhooks, feeling unrelaxed.

It’s a silly thing to whine about I suppose, but it is an interference in a normally very routine oriented existence. And, there are other things I really need to do but feel that I can’t because I need to be here.

Now I’m waiting for the insurance company to process the paperwork on my poor little cell phone. More waiting! Enough already.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Time

We changed from daylight savings to standard time yesterday. I truly HATE changing from one system to the other. It’s like having jetlag without actually going anywhere. I’m not sure which is worse, losing the hour in spring and always feeling as if I’m running behind, or gaining the hour in fall and feeling that “stuff” should be happening, but it’s still too early.

Of course, the truly difficult thing about it is trying to explain it to the dogs! They just don’t get the concept and they are acting like the CGT (French union) ready to go out on strike.

Peaches wants me up and out of bed at 5 am! Sure, I tell her “Go back to bed,” which she does, but only for five minutes at a time, so I really don’t get any extra sleep.

In the afternoon, they want their dinner at 3:30, because to them, it’s 4:30! Today, I was in the kitchen, having just baked a cake. I was trying to unmold it and I felt a mighty wallop to my back; Shmoo had hit me! He wanted to eat and he wanted to eat NOW!!!

I finally compromised and fed them half an hour early. I’m hoping that I can get them onto the new schedule by tomorrow or the next day.

I think we all need to start a campaign right now to stop this nonsense once and for all. Let’s pick a time and stick with it!

Ciao for now,

Randy

The End of Civility?

An upsetting incident occurred last Sunday while we were walking the dogs. The weather was lovely and there were a number of people out in the gardens, including a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter, as well as several “mature” village residents sitting out and enjoying the sun.

We came to big field at the end of our route and turned to head for home. Peaches, as always, was off her leash and bouncing around on the path and exploring the field for creatures, while Shmoo was on his leash. Suddenly, we heard the sound of motorbikes coming from the sports stadium along the path.

A first motorbike appeared, saw us, slowed down, passed us and sped back up. It was fine. But a second motorbike was following him and this one didn’t bother to slow down at all. JM held up his hand to try to slow him, but the guy kept coming. I called Peaches to get her out of the path, but there wasn’t a lot of time. The second motorbike got so close to JM (who still had his hand outstretched) that JM actually touched him. This enraged the biker, who stopped, gave JM the finger, then drove away even faster than before. We were very concerned because the grouping of grandmother, daughter and granddaughter were up ahead on the path and there would have been no way the biker could see them and stop in time if they were in his way.

We were all shaken and Peaches was actually so terrified that we had to put her back on her leash so she wouldn’t try to run home on her own (it’s the place she feels the safest).

We were still debating what to do, if anything, when another incident shook us.

On Wednesday, friends were preparing to head back to their jobs in Mordor on Thursday. They decided to take advantage of the last good weather of the week to take an afternoon bike ride; the plan was to stop in to visit Mom at around 7 pm when they got back. JM was on the phone and we didn’t realize right away that there had been a call. We found a message saying they wouldn’t be back because one of them was in the hospital!

They had been biking home when a motorcycle (yet again) had passed them on the road. The guy was going fast and came so close to them that he nearly knocked them down. One of our friends yelled something (probably angrily) and they continued on their way.

About 10 minutes later, the motorcyclist returned from behind them and hit our friend  in the back with a massive wooden stick! It knocked him down, of course, and he was lying in the road almost passing out from the shock and pain. Luckily, two good Samaritans stopped and called the emergency services and the police.

The Gendarmes were extremely efficient and actually found someone who might have been the perpetrator, but since neither of them was able to identify him with 100% accuracy, I’m not sure what will happen.

They were lucky that nothing was broken, there wasn’t any internal bleeding or head injury, but it could have been much, much worse.

Other bikers have told us they thought that the cars passing them were being far more daring and dangerous than they had been at other times. None of us know if this is a pattern of general behavior change or if it’s just people feeling frustrated with the end of summer, fear of the future or just plain rudeness. At any rate, it is disturbing.

I used to tell JM to not gesture at cars that had cut us off on the freeway in L.A. because we never knew if they were armed. I would hate to see the fear of life in a city coming here to our rural paradise. We would all be the poorer for that…

Ciao for now,

Randy

Change can’t be stopped

Don’t you wish that it could sometimes? When life is going well and you are happy, don’t you wish there was a magic button you could push that would just freeze frame everything at that perfect moment?

Sadly, we can’t do that and we have to go with the flow, even when the flow isn’t something that we want.  I’ve been dealing with this a lot lately as JM and I have been managing our two sets of parents.

I wrote about Mom’s health issues and although she is doing better, it is clear to me that we aren’t going to go back to the way things were. We’ve made some changes that will hopefully be good ones. For example, I discovered that she hadn’t been taking her blood pressure medication for over a month. She insists that she had, but the pill boxes don’t lie. If there were six weeks worth of blood pressure pills where there should have been none, than clearly she wasn’t taking them.

We discovered this because at our doctor’s visit he put his foot down. She needed me to take over getting her pills ready and giving them to her. I had really not wanted to do that, because I felt she needed to have SOME sense of autonomy. But it was clear that in her current state it just wasn’t something she could handle. It took me a few days to come up with an argument I could present to her that wouldn’t be insulting. Finally, what worked was telling her how much JM WANTED to organize her pills because he loves organizing things. She accepted that and we took over.

As we were sorting things out we discovered that she not only had not been taking the BP meds, but she had been taking too much of something else (or else she was taking something entirely different that we haven’t identified). This could explain part of why she had been so unwell over the last month or so. She still insists she WAS taking that medication, but there is no way that can be true. That’s the cruelty of what is happening to her, and she is aware enough of herself to know it is happening.

Another problem she’s had has been getting up in the morning and suddenly feeling nauseated and bloated. Finally I tracked down what I believe is the cause of that: she gets up early and has orange juice and takes her pills then goes back to bed. I explained that taking that many pills on an empty stomach is making her sick. She insists that she’s always taken them that way, but I have convinced her that she needs to stop doing it. We’ll see.

JM’s parents are going through change as well. They have to leave their apartment in Paris after 40 years to move to Toulon. They are not only in denial as to what a move of this kind means, they don’t really want to go. So we have been helping, but now that Mom is in this new precarious health situation, that is more complicated. Our doctor doesn’t want me leaving her, and I can see that that would not be wise. No one else can really care for her the way that I can. So, another change will be JM having to go up to Paris on his own to help his folks. We hate being apart, but we have no choice.

Even in our village, things are changing. Our friend and plumber, Christian Drouin, told us this morning that he and his wife Nathalie are moving back to Normandy because of HIS aging parents. They are leaving business in the capable hands of their son, Vincent, but we’ll still miss them.

I try to embrace change and do when it is good. But I would like to leave all this bad change behind and, like an ostrich, bury my head in the sand of life.

Ciao for now,

Randy

We survived!

The dreaded fair left on Sunday evening and we all managed to survive, more or less. Frankly, given the rather hideous weather that prevailed most of the weekend, I can’t imagine that any of the carnies made much money.

Mom was really and truly miserable with the ride in front of her house. It blocked whatever light there was, but the worst was the horrible music interrupted every 15 minutes or so by a horn blowing “La Cucaracha!” Even Mom, who hates to complain, was complaining by Saturday night.

Still, it is time to move on. We’re safe until 2012, which is the next time it will be setting up on our side of the village. I hope to be able to negotiate to not have something quite so invasive in front of her house.

JM and I escaped on Sunday to go to the Fete du Pain in the village of Routiers in the Razes. That was an interesting experiment ins seeing what other villages do. First we realized that it’s a lot easier to get to Chalabre than some of the other villages. That mostly has to do with road size. The roads near Routier are a little wider than a tractor, which made for some interesting encounters while going there and back. Giant RVs do NOT make for friendly fellow travelers on roads of that size. There were a couple of times when I was worried that Beanie would wind up in a ditch as we moved over to the side to make room.

Routier is very attractive, but it is perched on a hill. I was so glad that we had not brought Mom with us, because I truly don’t believe she would have been able to make it from the parking lot up into the main town. I would imagine that long term residents there have very strong legs and lungs!

The event was quite well attended and we were lucky that we arrived during a portion of the afternoon where there was some sunshine. It was really not a great weekend for festivities, unfortunately. Still, it was nice to get out for a bit. I’m afraid that we didn’t really see much though, because it was very crowded and difficult to walk around. I guess we weren’t the only ones craving a bit of sunshine and fresh air.

And, that craving for sunshine remains only semi-fulfilled right now. Generally, after the weekend of Ascension, the weather turns warm and sunny. We had a beautiful day yesterday, but it hasn’t lasted. Today has been overcast, cool and windy with only brief periods of sun. I do hope we’re not going to have a summer like the one a couple of years ago where most of June and July were cold and rainy.

Please feel free, when it is broiling hot in July, to remind me of this as I sit here complaining about being too hot and wishing for the cooler days of fall!

Ciao for now.

Randy