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. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Summer Drawing to a Close

I was texting with my friend Sheila today and she asked, "How has your summer been?"
"Long and lonely," I responded.
Maybe lonely is an exaggeration since I've gotten to spend it with my charming husband, but it has been an eye opener for me, reminding me that I do need outside stimulation.
Still, there have been some high points.
We reunited with old friends who live in Connecticut, just two hours away.
I had an old phone number for Judi, but I tried it and sure enough! We got together for a short visit when Earl and I ventured to Ikea (my virgin Ikea trip). Then they came for an overnight and we went back there for the day.
Our visit to New Haven included a couple of museums 
We got the old gang back together. A few more gray hairs but still having fun. 
Mirrored art of the queen at the British Museum in New Haven. 

Yale took us right back to Europe. The buildings are impressive

A proper library! They should have filmed Harry Potter here. 
You know they're good friends when you can just pick up where you left off, maybe 15 years ago.
We relived a lot of good times. Their son and one of our sons were best friends. We had camping trips and long days by the pool when the kids were little.
And now we can look forward to their visit to France next year, but we'll keep in better touch. Already, they're consulting on our new house colors.
Enjoying coffee in front of a glass that reflected the town hall
We spent another day in Northampton. For my Quillan friends, I'll say that Northampton is the Esperaza of Massachusetts. It's filled with alternative people, like the guy who carried the sign warning people about the dangers of plastic. I couldn't help but feel he was preaching to the choir in this town of tie dye wearers. The education rate is high since it's a fulcrum of a number of colleges, including Smith College, but it seems to also have a high rate of homelessness and mental illness. Many people talking to themselves wander the streets there.
We found a book store, a Moroccan restaurant for lunch, a haircut for Earl and some coffee before we returned to the hinterlands.
Earl looking spiffy with his new haircut. He hadn't had one since we left France
Friday, we went down the river on our inner tubes again, feeling like professionals by this point as we avoided the dead spots where we've had to struggle to get back into the flow. For two hours we floated and enjoyed the beauty of the countryside, the cool water freshly released from a reservoir in the mountains.
We landed and put the inner tubes in the car, then climbed the stairs to a restaurant that overlooks the river.
This summer has been peaceful. If I lived in a hectic city and wanted to get away, I could not think of a better place to spend it.
Even with all the down time, I haven't gotten as much accomplished as I would like. But I have no excuses, except the lure of the lazy days. (Okay, I usually do teach every day for three or four hours in the morning and maybe an hour or two in the evening, but it still seems kind of lazy.)
Maybe that's the summer I needed.
Less than a month before we return to France and our new house. I'd better enjoy my lazy times while I can.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Getting Our Pet Fix

No matter where we housesit, we inevitably get attached to the pets.
We frequently bring up pets that we have cared for and laugh at the dachshund that wanted to attack swans twice his size

or the one-eyed English dachshund that disappeared into a badger hole, 

or the puppy that grabbed a frozen squirrel and ran away from us. 

It's no different here in the Berkshires where we're caring for a 15-year-old, arthritic yellow lab and two cats.
We were warned before we arrived that the dog, Jenny, is having trouble with incontinence. And that has proved to be true. Most mornings when I come downstairs to teach at 6 a.m., I have to clean up the floor where she has left her pet nuggets overnight. But that's part of pet ownership, isn't it?
The cats are quirky in that they follow us when we walk the dog.

We don't go on real roads, but we do walk along a dirt road sometimes, and if a car should come along, the cats are smart enough to disappear into the ferns and plants along the road. The problem is, they don't always come back out.
There have been plenty of times that Earl or I have had to go back searching for them, and there they are, hunkered down in the same spot where they jumped off the road, as if they couldn't possible find their way back.
One day last week, the pet's dinner time arrived and the cats were not milling around underfoot. I fed Jenny and asked Earl if he had seen the cats. They're indoor/outdoor cats. We lock them inside at night because there are so many predators that would like a tasty cat morsel.
We both tried to recall when we'd last seen the cats.
That morning, Earl and I had gone for a 5-mile walk, but Jenny hadn't come and the cats usually only followed when the dog was along.
Earl went onto the front porch and started calling for the cats (they do come when they're called sometimes).
Jenny ran to the front door to be let out. I opened the door and she raced past Earl and up a path into the woods, barking crazily. She barked and sniffed and ran a zigzagging path until we couldn't see her anymore but we could still hear her.
After a bit, she came into view still barking and running.
We couldn't believe the way she was moving. This is an arthritic dog that gets medicine every morning and evening. But we had been out of her meds for three days.
"I feel like I'm in an episode of Homeward Bound," I muttered to Earl.
He went in search of the cats, heading toward the grandparents' home down a different trail.
About 10 minutes later, as I stood on the front porch, I saw Kepler, the black cat come bounding down the same path that Jenny had gone up. He stopped and looked behind him in a paranoid sort of way. There came his sister Tanna after him down the hill.
They both came into the kitchen for food as if nothing had been amiss.
I could picture them up in the forest, lost, until they heard Jenny barking and searching for them. She led them home.
So, in a way, it was like the movie Homeward Bound, only the cats were lost because they just don't have a good sense of direction.
Not too long now, we'll be leaving behind these pets that we've grown attached to, but we know there'll be future pets to enjoy.

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 ...