Friday, July 09, 2021

Joys and Sorrows

 This week has been full of joys and sorrows. This week alone could mimic a lifetime of ups and downs. 

On Wednesday, we learned that Earl's older brother, Art, had died. We learned  less than a week before that he was sick but they weren't sure what was going on. "You may want to come home," his wife Shelley texted Earl. Then he was out of the hospital. Then back in. Tuesday night they texted. They had a diagnosis - histoplasmosis, a fungal disease that comes from bird or bat droppings. At least they could treat him. 

A family photo from 2006, Art giving his daughter Amy rabbit ears. 

The next morning, we got the call that he had died in the hospital that night. The fungus takes a toll on the heart and his had been weakened by a heart attack in his 40s. We were shocked to lose him and felt helpless, unable to hug his wife or daughter or son. 

At Grace's wedding. Art is in the pink shirt. 

Since I've known him, Art has been a fairly quiet, no-nonsense guy. He says it like it is. He had a lifelong love of Harley Davidson motorcycles and a core group of friends in the U.S. and Canada, which is where he met his wife. Earl has long admired his stoic brother for standing up for his principals. Art worked as an electrician and always did the job right, helping out friends and family when we needed it. He raised two amazing kids who both have advanced degrees. We're stunned that he's gone.


Another sorrow, that pales in comparison, is the loss of our cat Louis. We last saw him Sunday morning. I was preparing to teach so I let him out the balcony doors. He does a kind of parcours to jump from the wall to the post, back to a lower wall and onto the sidewalk. He gets wet cat food every morning and evening, and never misses a meal, so I expected he would be in the garden whenever Earl ventured down and opened the door. Louis's an outdoor cat, but continues to spend a lot of time indoors, coming and going at will. 

Louis came home with scratches on his nose one day. 

After I finished teaching, we got ready to go to the market in Esperaza, and I asked Earl if he'd fed Louis. He said no that Louis hadn't come back. That's not like Louis, so I started to worry. He always come back for food. 

We had dinner with friends Sunday evening and after dinner we went walking around Quillan in search of Louis. We called and clucked. We showed pictures of Louis to French people who shrugged mostly. 

Louis on the perch that Earl created for him. 

I posted on Facebook in Quillan. I paid to have his picture shared on Pet Alert in our region of France. We put up posters around town. The baker's wife took down the poster in the window that warned people to wear masks and replaced it with the poster of missing Louis. 

My friend Sue checked with the vets around town and farther. 

Louis is neutered and chipped. If anyone finds him, they have our phone number. He isn't a rare breed, so I doubt anyone has stolen him. 

Everyone has been incredibly helpful, telling us they might have seen Louis here or there. We always go in search of Louis. We looked in trash cans; we walked the train tracks. We call him when walking in the mountains far from home in hopes of finding him. 

Last night, we were at a town festival when our friend Enzo said he'd seen a cat that looked just like Louis near another friend's house above town. We drove in the dark to the area and called for Louis. Earl walked up the hill; I walked down the hill. A cat came trotting around the corner toward me in the dark. His face was white with gray, just like Louis, but he was long-haired instead of short haired. He came to me and let me pet him. But he wasn't Louis. 

People say don't give up hope. They tell me stories of cats that disappeared and came back a week later, a month later. 

It seems silly to be so sad about a cat, but when it rains, I picture him somewhere outside afraid, maybe hurt, unable to come home. Because I'm sure if he could come home, he would. 

Come home, Louis! 

But this week has been full of joy as well. On Tuesday, we picked up Tucker and his friend Nathan at the Perpignan train station. 

Earl, Tucker and Nathan all wore white shirts on Tuesday. 

They've instantly become part of the Quillan social fabric, watching the semi-finals of the Euro soccer tournament, singing songs with the English and swimming in the pools of young Belgian women with vacation homes here. 

Watching the Italy-Spain game at the Glacier. 

We aren't doing a lot of sightseeing, but as long as they're happy, we're happy. 

Then yesterday Grace, Jack and three of their friends arrived, flying from Dublin to Carcassonne. We needed two cars to pick them all up, and luckily my friend Derrick volunteered to chauffeur some of them back to Quillan. It's so great to have Grace and Jack back in France. I hope it feels like home to them. 

And for us we're thrilled to get to meet some of the friends they've made in Dublin this year during the year of grad school.

Last night our friends Lou and Steve bravely invited all 9 of us to their house for dinner. We made quite a train walking up there carrying wine, more wine, hamburgers and chicken to barbecue, pasta salad and cake. When you bring 9 people for dinner, you have to divide and conquer. 

Our crew without Steve and Lou

After a delicious dinner and much wine, we played a game called Hammerschlagen, which has become a tradition at Steve and Lou's house. It has to do with hitting a nail with one blow each turn and the first person plus the last person to drive their nails into the tree stump lose. It's definitely a dangerous game.

Nathan, in a sweatshirt borrowed from our friend Kris, takes aim. 
Grace takes aim as Tucker watches. 

After dinner, we wandered down to the town square for some music. We didn't stay long because Grace and her friends were tired from getting to the airport at 4 a.m., and then our friend Enzo said he might have seen Louis so we set off to search for him. 

Somehow, we ended up with a picture on the town Facebook page anyway. 

And Saturday, the Tour de France is ending in Quillan. We're all excited to see the caravan, the riders and enjoy the festivities. 

My heart is filled with joy to have two of my kids in town, just getting to hang out with them. But I'm sad for Earl and Art's wife Shelley and his two kids. And, of course, we're sad not to have Louis here to share in the family time.  

Sunday, July 04, 2021

House Update

 In less than a week, we will have nine people staying in our little house in the south of France. Yep, it's going to be close quarters, but we're trying to make sure everything is as comfortable as possible. The only guest from outside France we've had come to stay with us was Tucker who arrived in October 2019 when the house was still a construction area. And Grace and Jack who stayed for five months last year during Covid as we continued to work on the house. 

Now, most of the rooms are not just livable, but comfortable. 

The kitchen has been our favorite room since it was initially finished. We gather here with guests most of the time, the scene of much delicious food and camaraderie. One thing that changes in the kitchen is the artwork as it gets updated based on items we find in France or in the States. 

Our homey kitchen
From the other corner, looking into the living room, with Louis Catorze featured in the center

The living room is getting more comfortable with two leather couches, a bookshelf, and the television attached to the wall now. 

View from beyond the stair case. Louis again!

Our downstairs half bath, that's what we call a bathroom that has a toilet and sink, but no shower or bathtub, is completed. There's no getting around the electrical box in there, but it looks 100 percent better than it did now that it has shiny gray and white tiles on the floor, a corner sink and a niche for decorative items. 

Don't put on too much weight to fit in this toilet!

The tiny sink and the table with hand towels. The electrical box in the way. 

The bedrooms and guest bathroom have been finished for quite awhile, but they both were missing artwork. As we moved art around in the kitchen, we relegated some items to the upstairs bedrooms. We also found some French-type art in the Troc in Carcassonne. One painting reminded me of the book Madeline "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines...”
The guest bedroom ready for our guests, now with artwork. 

The guest bathroom from the vantage point of the shower!

Looking the opposite direction. That's not Louis rolled up by the shower, that's a rug. 
Our bedroom with French doors that lead to the office

The office where I teach and the French doors that lead out to the terrace. 
The terrace is perfect for breakfast for two. 

With the artwork hung in the bedrooms, Earl spent a few days cleaning the room at the end of the house that we call the cozy room. It ended up with a lot of the construction debris, myriad paint cans, tools, copper pipe, frames for dry wall and one unused radiator. He emptied it out and we plan to put a curtain over the fireplace so the things we're storing inside won't be so obvious.  

The cozy room has a futon, but it also houses our washer, dryer and water heater. 

So two bedrooms and a futon, that's 2, 4, 6 places to sleep, a double mattress on the floor in the office, there's 8 and someone can sleep on the infinitely comfortable couch in the living room. 

The stays only overlap by three nights as Tucker and a friend arrive July 6 and leave July 11. Grace, Jack and friends arrive July 8 and leave in shifts in the coming weeks. But they'll all be here for the Tour de France as it ends in Quillan on July 10. 

I try not to picture people uncomfortable sleeping on mattresses on the floor, but instead think of us gathered in the garden around the table with raucous conversation as we introduce our kids and their friends to our life in France. 

The garden
The gladiolas are blooming in coral, orange, purple and white. 
The wisteria has begun its second bloom

I must remember to breath and enjoy it all. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

A Weekend in Spain

 We journeyed to Roses, Spain along the Mediterranean for a three-day weekend. (That sounds so posh, doesn't it? Just running off to Spain for the weekend.)

A sunrise picture on my run

The trip started as a comedy of errors. We planned to leave around 8:45 a.m. Derrick, Earl and I have all had our vaccinations so we didn't need a Covid test to get back into France after the weekend. Kris, who turned 36 on Friday, hadn't had his vaccinations yet, so he needed a test. However, when he got to the lab at 8 a.m., the lab wasn't starting Covid tests until 9:30. We settled in our garden (we live near the lab) for coffee and tea, and some birthday chocolates for Kris. He  had been scheduled last minute to get his first Covid vaccine (which the British call a jab, and the French call a pique) between 9-9:30. Since the office is south of us, the schedule was perfect to get a Covid test then drive south for the vaccine and continue on to Spain. They considered driving down for the vaccine, then back to Quillan for the test. I contacted our always helpful doctor Cat Harrison and she said Kris could arrive later, so we didn't have to drive back and forth.

I went with Kris to get his Covid test. It's an awful birthday present and he dreaded it so much, but he only needed me to help him fill out his paperwork. Then we were off, stopping in Axat for his vaccine. He came out several minutes later with blood all over the arm of his shirt. None of us could figure out why he bled so much. 

But we put it behind us and drove toward Spain. It's only two hours away from our home in Quillan. We skirted past the big Pyrenees mountains that still have a smidgen of snow on them and crossed into Spain. No one stopped us or asked to see our Covid vaccine proof. 

Our first stop in Roses, along the Mediterranean, was for lunch. We had reservations for 1:30 and were a bit late once we parked and checked into the hotel. Derrick had surprised Kris with some old friends of his father's. Nicole and Dave used to have a place in Roses and Kris remembered vacations there with his father, who died this past year. So when we showed up for lunch, Dave and Nicole were waiting. 

The lunch was a harbinger of the weekend to come, because most of it was spent sitting at a table eating. 

My iPhone put together a video of my pictures, and you can see that food figures prominently. 


We probably spent six hours a day at meals - three hours at lunch, three hours at dinner. 

I did have a swim in the sea, and even though it was the end of June, the water was cold and took my breath when I first dived in. 

We had a brief swim in the pool as well. 

And one of the highlights for me was an early morning run along the shorefront to the jetty and then I returned to the hotel along the beach. 

On the Saturday of our visit, Spain allowed people to take off masks when they are outside. So that was nice, to be able to ramble along the streets without a mask. 

Friends Jo and Matthew traveled to Spain on Saturday and we went to dinner with them that evening before returning to the hotel for some music and dancing. We loved watching the older ladies dancing by themselves or in pairs to the DJ's music. 

We returned home via CadaquĆ©s, which is a village along the Med that looks similar to Greek villages with whitewashed buildings and blue shutters. It's a very quaint place where we enjoyed another lunch, maybe only two hours. 

The bougainvillea growing on the buildings was amazing. 

Although officers were standing along the toll booths, they didn't stop our car and ask for our proof of vaccine. So Kris' covid test went unchecked. He was negative, anyway. 
Having breathed in plenty of sea air, we returned to Quillan. 

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