Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Foiled Travel Plans

Is it just us or are travel plans always complicated?
We had planned to go back to the States for Christmas and stay for Grace's wedding in January.
Grace and Jack just got some engagement photos back. 
At first, we thought we'd go back to the States in the middle of December. Then, I realized we wouldn't have a full week at Mom and Dad's in Florida, so I suggested we move the date earlier.
Now we're set, flying to Orlando on December 9th and staying with my parents, in the warm Florida weather for a week before heading to Ohio.
I purchased our train tickets more than a month ago and settled down to enjoy November and the first week of December in our French home.
Last week, Annamarie, an older French woman, began warning us of the upcoming strikes. She used the word "méchant" which I had always thought of as "naughty," but it apparently can mean wicked and nasty. The strike could last for a month, she predicted. Trucks that deliver food and fuel won't be able to get through!
"Close your drapes and blinds before you leave for your trip," she cautioned an English friend who was flying to England for a week. "You may not be able to get back for more than a month."
I had seen the notification that there would be a strike on December 5th. Then Toulouse warned of strikes on December 7th and 8th.
Our train to Paris was scheduled for December 8th so we could fly out the next day to Orlando. I got a little nervous, but no one else seemed alarmed.
Earl and I considered trying to fly to Paris if the trains might not run. But the big lines usually run -- the TGV.
Monday night at French lessons, I asked the teacher, who agreed that we might not be able to get to Paris.
"Should we fly?" I asked.
"Maybe the planes won't fly," she said.
"We could rent a car and drive!"
"But the truckers and the farmers often block the highways so you would need to take back roads. Then, you are in Paris. A bigger crowd means even more trouble!" she said, warning us of the black bloc protesters who throw projectiles at cars and cause mayhem at protests.
Plus, she added, you may not be able to get to Carcassonne airport to rent a car. The gilet jaune (yellow vests) will block the roundabout so you can't get through to the airport.
As Earl and I walked home from class, we decided to look for a backup plan after our guests went home for the evening. We had some friends over for apero -- drinks and nibbles.
But during our friends' visit, Earl received a text saying our train on Sunday had been cancelled.
Now we had no hope of a train ride to Paris. If the trains weren't running, would the planes be flying?
I talked to the airline to see if we could move our tickets up before the strikes began on Thursday.
We could. Icelandair was very accommodating, even waiving the $250 change fee, but we would still need to pay $545 for the extra price per ticket. Gulp. That was a bit pricey, plus we'd still need to catch a plane from here to Paris.
I called our credit card company to see if they could help with the extra costs or allow me to cancel the tickets and buy new ones.
The poor young woman with the southern accent sounded distraught for me as she searched and found a warning about disrupted travel in France. In the end, she could only help if the flight is cancelled on Monday.
Finally, I seized on the idea of renting a car on Friday and racing for Paris before the weekend strikes. It's possible that the strikes that begin on Thursday will rollick into the weekend, including Friday, but so far, no one is talking about Friday.
I have to teach until 2 p.m. Then we're getting a ride from our friend Jules up to Carcassonne -- an hour away. I have reserved a rental car and we'll have to figure out a way to bypass the gilet jaune to get to the Carcassonne airport.
Once we have our rental car, we'll drive toward Paris, about a 7-hour drive from Carcassonne. We'll pray for no highway closures and should reach our hotel near the Paris airport before midnight.
We chose to stay near the airport in case the trains or taxis aren't running from downtown Paris when it is time to get our flight.
It might not be the best time we've had in Paris, no runs along the Seine
Last January we spent a few days in Paris and it snowed. 
 or meals at the restaurants along Rue Mouffetarde or  Avenue des Ecoles

but hopefully we'll be ready and our flight will leave on Monday.
If not -- we'll be foiled again.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving in France

It feels weird to wake up in bed on Thanksgiving morning and not jump up to get busy cooking.
Things are so different here. I'm making sweet potatoes with whiskey, along with apple pie. We're eating at 3 at a friend's house, so my day stretches out relatively free.
We met a friend for coffee, ordering a second round since I didn't have to rush back to teach online.
The strange thing is that I know if I need to buy last minute ingredients, I can. It's only a holiday to us Americans. No one else is taking the day off.
In the States, I might send Earl out to the 7/11 in search of ingredients I forgot. Here, the groceries are all open and ready to serve.
At the market on Wednesday (our town has a market on Wednesday and Saturday), I was thinking about some of the things I enjoy about living in France.
I picked out vegetables at the vegetable seller and she threw in a free lemon. I moved on to the stall that sells eggs and potatoes. I told her I wanted six eggs that were a day old. My choices are 1-day old, two-days old or older. The price depends on how fresh the eggs are.
She places each egg in a carton. Many of them still have chicken poo on them. She says the 1-day-old eggs are too strong for her. But I used them last night in brownies and they tasted delicious. I never thought about the strength of the taste of eggs.
We went for a drink last night with our friends Jules and Jack. I ordered an amaretto coffee and it arrived with a mountain of whipped cream on top.
As the evening grew later, Jules and I walked over to the butcher, who is open until after 7.
She ordered some ground beef for chili. The butcher cuts off a slab of meat and runs it through the grinder.
After he puts the meat or the chops or the turkey on butcher paper, he always presents it, saying "Voilà, voilà!"
I love that he says it as he serves each customer.
Last Friday, we went to a bar for fish and chips. Every other week, the fish and chips truck parks near the bar. They deliver fish and chips to our table as we drink wine from the bar. It's a win-win for both.
The Georges DuBeouf "beaujolais nouveau" had come out, so vendors were selling it in the restaurant. I believe the four of us, with various other English-speaking friends bought three bottles.
Many mornings, I'm tempted to lie in bed rather than getting up and running. I'm not nearly as dedicated to it as I was back in the States. But when I do go out, I'm always happy that I spent time in the morning, enjoying the mountains and sometimes the sunrise.
Sometimes I run out to the local lake. It's a busy road, so if it's still dark,
I run on the sidewalk in this direction, confident cars will be passing. 
 My running friends get a different picture most mornings, so they can soak in the scenery as well.
I'm not writing on my blog as often, but, overall, life is fulfilling and our friends are abundant.
So today, on Thanksgiving, even though we are far from our children and my parents, Earl's sister and brother, along with the nieces and nephews, we're thankful for the new life we've found and the people at home who still love us when we journey back.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Coming Together

Hope springs eternal...
And slowly, like the progress of an glacier inching across the plains of America thousands of years ago, our house is getting closer to becoming a home.
The soon-to-be kitchen
Today, the electrician put in the lights and connected the dedicated plugs for the refrigerator, dishwater and stove. Earl is hard at work in the picture above deciphering the directions from Ikea.

The table will be cleared off and centered under the light eventually. 
Earl chose the light fixture to go over the table. It has Edison bulbs which are a bit hard to photograph.

These light fixtures will eventually shine on the upper cabinets and the counter top below. 
The other night, after painting two mist coats of pain on the drywall then two base coats of matte paint followed by a coat of satin, Earl decided to tackle a small cabinet. We've never purchased Ikea before so had not idea how to begin, but eventually, we (mostly Earl) figured it out. I would wander through the room to hold something in place and say something like "I think this is backward."
Starting with the smallest cabinet
This lower cabinet had three drawers, but it took awhile to figure out each drawer face came in its own box.
We haven't put the hardware on yet. We chose stainless steel drawer pulls and knobs for the cabinets, but now I'm considering switching to crystal. I would just need to convince Earl.
The completed cabinet standing on the newly tiled floor. 
It took a bit of figuring before Earl looked at the picture to see that the large drawer is in the middle, the middle-sized drawer at the bottom. Seems counter intuitive.
The gas is not hooked up to the stovetop yet, but the over is electric, so I can roast some vegetables and barbecue some pork chops in the oven. It's almost like a real, home-cooked meal in our new house.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the house, lights have sprung up in formally dark places.
The kitchen had a fluorescent light that wouldn't flicker on anymore.
Earl removed it and replaced it with this fixture.

We still need to encase the wires, as the French do, but at least we have light in what has served as our kitchen while we've been redoing the new kitchen.
Earl put up this light on Saturday while I was in Perpignan with a friend. I dropped some groceries off at the house Saturday evening, working by the light of my cell phone, before I went to meet Earl.
He asked if I had stopped by the house. I told him I had. He asked how I liked the new light.
What new light? I asked.
I hadn't thought to try the light switch because the light had never worked. It's quite bright when turned on.
He also replaced the bare bulb hanging in the stairwell.

This was a look I was anxious to get rid of. 
I found two light sconces at the Troc in Carcassonne for 8 euros each. I later saw them at Brico Depot (think Home Depot) for 19.99 euros each, so I got a bargain.

Not the best picture, but you get the idea. 
So parts of our house are getting to feel downright civilized. Before you know it, we'll be hosting people in our kitchen while we figure out what to do with the living room.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Camping at Home

We're now living in our new home. No more housesits. No more weekend escapes. We're in the midst of lots of dust and unconnected stoves.
The builders are making some real progress.
What started out as a utility room with a fuel oil boiler and water heater

has had the floor raised to the same level as the next room. It has new tile, a frame, dry wall, electric outlets for the kitchen and plumbing ready to connect.
Lots of insulation
There's currently a man downstairs mudding the drywall to give it a smooth finish.
He has finished the ceiling and will return tomorrow for the walls. 
Once it's dry, we mist it (half paint/half water) let that dry and paint it.
Then we can put together our kitchen.
This is currently our kitchen.
Our friend Derrick drove his van to Toulouse with us to pick up the kitchen 
The water heater has been moved to the former kitchen 
Safely out of the main traffic areas. 
and we'll put the washing machine underneath it and build a wall around it to make a cupboard.
All the other appliances are in the former kitchen. Even as I type, we're waiting for the dishwasher to be delivered.
I have a stove and can connect the oven with an extension cord. We have a microwave plugged in so can use that.
We've had a tea station since the English builders came so they don't go through withdrawal. But I hadn't been able to make coffee because I have one of those Moka pots that goes on the stovetop.
The friends we housesat for dropped by a press pot so I could make my own coffee this morning.

Coffee, hot water and wait 5 minutes. 
It's nice to not have to buy coffee at the bakery, where I felt the baker's wife was judging me. I had told her in my best mangled French that we had bought a house but didn't have a stove so I had to come buy coffee.
"Well, that's one solution," she replied, also in French and with a tilt of her head. She does not get us Americans.

Dinner is a bit tricky in our camping out house. Last night, I decided we could warm up soup in the microwave.
The French have a soup called velouté, which is vegetables pureed, sometimes with cream fraiche added. It's the same consistency as tomato soup but yummier.
So all I needed was some bread for us to eat with our soup. But the main bakery is closed on Mondays. I wasn't sure what time the auxiliary bakery closed so I decided to head into town to search for bread, figuring the small store or the tabac, which also sells bread, would be bound to have a baguette or something close to a baguette. Both of them were sold out! Everyone in town wanted bread on this rainy night.
We ate the soup sans bread and retired from the plastic covered sofas and the stack of boxes in the living room, 
Kind of a disaster area. Definitely not comfortable for a few more weeks. 
to our bedroom. That means walking up the stairs, past the bare bulb that hangs there to our bedroom, which has a headboard, a bed and one side table. The room hasn't been painted or "decorated" as the Brits say. I started on one wall and decided the color was too dark. 
The dark green was the color I tried, but it looked much lighter in the patch I tested.
For now, we're living with the mint green. 
Now I have to make a new choice. I find myself surprisingly dispassionate about what color the rooms will be painted. 
Tonight we're springing for a pizza and salad. Tomorrow night friends have invited us over. So we'll get through this camping period, and no one should worry that we aren't eating enough!
Now back to grading and teaching -- any excuse to avoid working on the house. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Bike and Wine Tour

Today we set off in the dark morning with just a sliver of moon lighting the way, crossing the mountains and coming down again into the Corbières valley, a region famous for wine making in this part of France. 
It was a bike ride and wine tasting. 
The short ride was 76 kilometers, about 47 miles, with 4 wine tastings and lunch included.

Our friend Steve is  practically a professional biker and his wife Lou also rides well on her nice bike. 

Earl and I have heavier bikes called hybrids. We like them but felt the drag of them today. 

Our first stop, about 8 miles in looked like a visiting circus with all the multi-colored bicycle gear. 

The wine looked nice and I had flashbacks to the Beaujolais Nouveau we would snap up at Trader Joe’s in November but the wine did not live up to my expectations. 
We hopped on our bikes for 25 more kilometers

 to Lagrasse where we stopped for a snack, ham and butter on baguettes, soft drinks or wine.
Back on the bikes to Terre d’expressions for more wine. This one was called Premeur, still a new wine. 

Our last gasp of a ride before arriving for lunch, 12 kilometers. 
We’d ridden 61 kilometers, when we sat down for lunch, noodles with pork, meatballs and sausages. 

Plus more wine. 

The wine tasted better each time, but maybe that just came from tiredness. 
We had cheese and dessert at the end. 

All of this for 12 euros and a little sweat equity. 
It was a beautiful day and we both needed a break from working — Earl on the house and me teaching. 
Now we’re sitting in the sun while Lou and Steve cycle the 15 kilometers back to the car. They’ll pick us up and we only feel slightly decadent choosing not to ride the final 15 k.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Renovation in France

Our life
This picture of Earl and me standing in our reno zone house pretty much sums up my life, except I look way too happy.
We’ve had some small accomplishments. 
Thanks to our friend Jules, the floor in one room is tiled. 
Don't you love the electrical wires hanging in the middle of this picture?

A few special tiles which some people are still complaining about.
We have a working bathroom with a new sink and toilet in the upstairs. 
I have a place to teach and Internet. 
The bedroom is unpainted but the bed is put together. 
And yesterday we received our bed from Amazon and got it out together.
Earl has done a lot of tearing up. Hopefully now we’re at the building back stage. 
Watch for updates as swiftly as a builder renovates... JK. 
I’ll try to post more frequently than that. 

Saturday, October 05, 2019

France Life

My friend Delana messaged me on Facebook and said she could wander over to my blog to catch up on our home renovation, and I thought, uh oh.
I didn’t blog at all in September as we hurried from Columbus to Florida to France. Then after we arrived, it’s been breakneck speed working on the house, teaching every afternoon, squeezing in drinks and dinners with friends we missed over the summer. 
We’ve been house sitting in France for 3 weeks while we work on our new house. But today, although it’s far from ready, we moved all of our French belongings into our home. And we drove to Perpignan. 

The weather is always gorgeous in Perpignan “le centre du monde” or the center of the universe as Dali called one of his paintings set in Perpignan. 
Now we’re on the train to Barcelona to meet Tucker at the airport, so all work must stop while we live in the renovation zone. 
What has happened in our house? The linoleum was pulled up in the kitchen to reveal gorgeous tiles. We’re still working to make them look their best. When they’re wet, the color is deep and beautiful. 
I painted this room which used to be the kitchen.

We’re calling it the cozy room because it has a giant fireplace and a door that cnl close it off from the rest of the house. I plan to put a pullout couch in here in case we need an extra, extra bed some time. 
I also painted the back of the cupboard to match the chair rail. The bottom of the cabinet will need a new wall before it’s painted. 
We have a refrigerator, a stove, a washing machine and microwave. You not the refrigerator is hooked up as we await a floor, electricity, plumbing and cabinets in the new kitchen before we can fully unpack.
Earl tore out part of the wall between our living room and what will be our kitchen. There were electrics there and now they dangle in the middle of the doorway. 

The former utility room has been water-proofed, the floor raised and now our friend Jules, plus Earl have been working on tiling it. 

We’ve purchased a blue leather couch and a stately chair. We received a green floral love seat. But our living room, the salad n, is full of boxes of tile and mortar. 
Upstairs, Earl tore out a closet and part of the wall between the two bedrooms so we can eventually put another bathroom there. 
Jules painted the guest bedroom, in anticipation of Tucker’s arrival,  then I followed up with a second coat. It looks very blue, but once the room has more furniture it shouldn’t be so overwhelming. 

We bought this bed with drawers underneath for 30 euros on a Facebook post. 
In the master bathroom, our builder Kris and Earl installeda sink with three drawers underneath for storage. Then just yesterday, Kris added a toilet so we don’t have to go downstairs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. 
Friends have been so generous, offering meals, places to stay, tools, advice and help with the renovation.
I can’t list them all because I’d be sure to leave some out, but the list of people who will be sharing our hospitality once our house is finished is quite long. And we’re so grateful.
A rainbow as I drove from a trip to the home improvement store. 

Foiled Travel Plans

Is it just us or are travel plans always complicated? We had planned to go back to the States for Christmas and stay for Grace's weddin...