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

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

 

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

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

Toulon the Beautiful?

Place de la Liberté

From Chez Lofficier

Well, at least more beautiful than it used to be!

JM and I haven’t been back there for about six-year and we’ve noticed a major improvement in the way it looks downtown.

Of course, there are still places I would hesitate to walk at night, but that is true in any city. But, apart from that, the whole downtown area now is full of shops and restaurants where one wants to go. And, you can see ongoing upgrading of many of the remaining places.

The photo above is the Place de la Liberté in the center of town and the view is from my in-laws’ balcony, so you can see that they are right in the middle of the action. The whole plaza is surrounded by cafés with terraces and only a few minutes walk away are many more.

JM and I were thrilled to find an outstanding Indian restaurant halfway between the apartment and our hotel where we enjoyed a delicious lunch for less than twenty euros for the two of us. We would have gone back if we could have found time, but unfortunately most of the friends and relatives we had meals with were a bit too afraid to eat something so “foreign!”

20111009-170009.jpg

Toulon Harbor and big boat!

The harbor has always been spectacular. It is the largest natural harbor in Europe, I believe, and we always try to take one of the harbor tours while we’re there. We found it amazing to be shown all the military ships with a full rundown of their armaments. We thought that in the States these days, we would be arrested for taking the kinds of photos we were encouraged to take in Toulon.

So, while the parent situation is stressful and we were worried about the dogs, we did wind up having time for a few fun activities. Next report on our trip to Bandol.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Radio Silence

 

 

 

 

 

All Aboard!

 

I was quiet last week, because we were going to Toulon on Monday, and I didn’t want to announce to the world that Chateau Shmoo was going to be empty for several days. I know I share pretty much my whole life here, but I’m also not stupid and realize that some things are better not announced in advance.

We had invited some friends for lunch on Saturday, and I woke up with a  bit of a sore throat, which didn’t seem too bad. However, by the time we came back from walking the dogs, the side of my face has swelled up. making me resemble a dysfunctional chipmunk! Why is it that these things always happen on weekends or holidays? Going to the ER was out, as the people who were coming live near Toulouse and were already en route.

I decided to run to the pharmacy to see if they could give me something. To the best of what we could determine, I seemed to have an infected salivary gland. Luckily, our pharmacist is a sweetie, and gave me six days worth of antibiotics without a prescription.

Unfortunately, this meant that I was not the greatest company at lunch, and, I couldn’t actually eat. I think I’ve hosted better meals from a social point of view.

Sunday there were no disasters, so we left to take the dogs to the kennel we had found on Monday morning, hoping for the best. The place we had chosen, near Cepie, seemed fine when we checked it out. We had more reservations once we were actually there with the dogs. First, the lady who runs it had a cat in her house. My dogs love to chase cats, so that seemed like a shaky thing to start with. Second, Peaches was terrified of all the other dogs, and spent most of the time standing in front of me with the patented Dracula Face; daring anyone to approach either of us!

Shmoo took off running, thinking this looked pretty cool. To keep the dogs from following us, we put them in the house and left, hoping it would be all right.

We got to Carcassonne 20 minutes later and got a phone call from the kennel. Shmoo had jumped the electrified fence around the swimming pool in an effort to escape. We had told her about Steve McShmoo, but I guess people never believe you until they see it for themselves. She had caught him, but now JM and I were in a panic. We couldn’t stand the thought of anything happening to the dogs, so I decided I would not go to Toulon, and would go back to pick them up. I started to unpack all my carefully packed stuff from our suitcase and put it in a tote bag.

I called the kennel to tell her, but she reassured me; told me that now that she understood the situation she wouldn’t leave Shmoo alone where he could escape. JM and I spent ten minutes or so going round in circles, and finally we decided we would chance it and leave things as they were, so I called back to say we were going to go.

By that time, we were mentally and emotionally exhausted, and the train hadn’t even arrived in the station! Still, sometimes you just have to go on blind faith that things will work out for the best.

Once we were in the train, there was no going back. I decided to put the best face I could on things and try to have fun. Or at least to not be miserable.

Our train from Carcassonne took us to Montpellier, where we changed for the train to Toulon. I love French trains. They are comfortable and clean. It was a little over four hours from here to Toulon, and it cost us less than taking the car would have if you factored in the cost of gasoline, tolls and parking in Toulon. Parking in Carcassonne was 6€ a day, half or less than parking downtown Toulon. And, there is the added factor that it is way more relaxing. I could read, eat, go to the toilets without stopping at a service station, or even sleep if the desire took me.

And, once in Toulon, our hotel was directly across from the station and a three-minute walk to JM’s parents place. So it would have been hard to get simpler than that. The train station is also the  hub for all the buses that go anywhere in the Toulon region, so even to go outside of town was not a problem for us, and was also ridiculously cheap. It cost us 2€ to go to Bandol, several towns away along the coast.

That part was really a no-brainer, at least. Okay. Time for a break. More to come a bit later.

 

Ciao for now.

Randy

 

 

Possum Kingdom Soars

West Chalabre

Montgolfier Brothers invade the Possum Kingdom

 

I know I’ve mentioned, ad nauseum, how much I love the fall. This is one of the reasons why.

Suddenly, at the end of summer, there are all sorts of regional events that are way more fun to attend with smaller crowds and cooler temperatures. A case in point, this hot air balloon that was set up on the Champ LeGrand, also known as the school playing field, yesterday and this morning.

It went up last night in the dark, and was all lit up, then, this morning, it went up in daylight. Unfortunately, it was only for tethered flights, not very high off the ground. I didn’t want to go up in the dark, because I thought if I did it, I would like to see the town in daylight. Unfortunately, it was set up very early, and by the time we got there, it was just being deflated. But I still got that wonderful photo, so all was not lost.

Also this weekend was the Fete de la Noisette, where one of the highlights was the world championship of hazelnut spitting. You don’t see that everyday (and probably don’t want to, if I’m honest).

Mid-October will bring the Apple Festival in Mirepoix and the week after, the County Agricultural fair in Espezel. Both of these are just an invitation to overeat and spend money, and I look forward to them with delight each year.

Also, with the more comfortable temperatures, all of our neighbors spend lots of time outside, so we are all always visiting with each other, joking, chatting and generally enjoying life. And, since our friend, R, sits outside to smoke, he brings one more friendly face into the mix, as well as his wonderful dog, Vickie the Border Collie. We are now thinking of making it a rule that the only dog you can have if you live in our neighborhood is a Border Collie, although I don’t think that will be universally acceptable…

This, to me, is what it means to live in a village; frankly, you can’t beat it with a stick.

Ciao for now.

Randy