Archive for May, 2007

gone to the dogs

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Sometimes, day-long tours should be half-day tours. I don’t fault the women who organize the outings. But the last stop on today’s adventure was one I could have skipped. Maybe it was just me.

                        We started with a 45 minute drive up some winding, mountain roads. Which describes most of the roads here, I realize. That took us to a small, very picturesque village with an old mill turned museum.

                        Inside, we saw an old flour mill. It must be about 200 years old. Part of it still works, although they don’t use the flour it produces for anything other than chicken feed. We saw how the wheat is ground and how it is then sifted into different thicknesses of flour. There was also an even older mill… basically just two big huge rocks that almost grind together but instead grind the wheat in-between them.

                    The more interesting old mill to me was the walnut oil mill. Walnuts are a regional crop, I guess you’d call them. Way back when, people used to have one or two nights a year when everyone would get together and shell the nuts by smashing them with wooden mallets. Those good old days ended when they started smashing them to bits with a 100 kilogram stone. Now they just buy 25 kilo sacks of pre-shelled and ground walnuts. I was more intrigued by the giant press used to, well, press the oil out of the pieces of walnuts. It is huge. And it is attached to what looks rather like a massive hearth made up of three very, very large pieces of wood. Tree trunks, pretty much. Those were put there about 300 years ago by the Carthusian monks, who left it all behind when they had to flee the area. I guess no one said “hey, grab those giant logs” as they were running out the door.

                        The two mills are original to the building. When they converted the place into a museum, they brought in a forge. So we also got to see the guide pound a piece of iron into a sharp point. That was pretty much like the demonstrations you can see in Williamsburg, minus the period costumes.

                        On the way out, I did buy some of the walnut oil. Granted, I don’t even like walnuts, but it’s kinda neat to have it. I’ll try it on salad or something. I’m sure drizzled in small amounts it’s fine.

                        Lunch was at a restaurant that was described to me as an alpine ferme-auberge. Something like a farm tavern. The key word here is farm. I didn’t even think about it until we walked in, but a set-menu at a farm restaurant was something of a risk for me. Since farms in the Alps don’t seem to be big producers of things I eat: chicken, turkey, well that’s really it. It smelled good, which was even more troubling. That meant if I didn’t like it, I’d be extra disappointed. It came out…. lamb. I have been a good sport and tried lamb twice recently and just couldn’t eat it. I figured a third try couldn’t hurt. It was ok. Not as strong as the last times. I managed to eat half, taking very small bites. Dessert was pretty good, so that sorta made up for it.

                        For me, the day could have easily ended there. Although, I didn’t know that as we headed farther up the mountain, up a dirt road, to a sleigh dog center where the dogs are raised and trained. I expected to see, well, sleigh dogs running around and maybe, oh, I don’t know, pulling something. A sled, perhaps. As we drove up, the owner (who is also the musher) greeted us along with three German shepherds. These dogs looked a little on the lean side to me. And they smelled like they have never gotten a bath. Ever. One had stuff clumped in his fur. I don’t know what it was. But it added to his aroma. The musher led us up to where the sleigh dogs were. Two big pens, each with rows of dog houses with steep-pitched roofs. It kinda looked like the pen from the movie “Chicken Run.” So we stood among hoards of flies and stench listening to him talk about dogs and wolves for about 45 minutes. In French, naturally. He didn’t even have a sled around to show us. I wanted to ask just what the point of the sled dog is now, other than pure amusement, but I didn’t want to delay our departure. So I will just assume that there is little other purpose. I also refrained from asking if he had running water available to at least rinse the top layer of stank off the dogs.

                    Still, I had a good time. I wasn’t the person standing next to the German shepherd who threw up all over the place.

day in the park

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

                Finally, the sun came out. It warmed up enough to shed our jackets and even sport some short sleeves. (still not quite warm enough for shorts)

                Kaitlyn said “it’s a beautiful day.”

                So we went to the park.

                As we were walking through the grassy area with our Winnie the Pooh ball to kick around, an older gentleman sitting under some shade spoke to Kaitlyn. I think by his gesture that he wanted her to toss him the ball. We walked toward him and Kaitlyn played shy. He smiled and offered her two cookies he pulled out of a big economy size sack of vanilla wafer-type cookies. Stuff you’d expect a grandpa to have. She accepted his offer and even said “merci.” He offered me the “petit gateau.” I tried to politely decline but he couldn’t imagine a reason why I’d turn it down, so I eventually just gave in. I wanted to strike up a conversation… I figured old people love to talk and talk slow to begin with. But Kaitlyn saw some little girls rolling down a small hill from the tennis courts and she took off after them. So I had to take off, too.

                I wonder if that guy sits in the park every day when the weather is good. I imagine he does. I’ll have to go back.

I’m being stalked

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

                So, today I’m walking past one of the glass doors downstairs and I see a BIG ASS wasp there. I stopped and looked to make sure he was on the outside. (he was) Then I thought, what is he doing there? I quickly found my answer. He was sitting there because his BIG ASS nest is on the inside of the wooden shutter.

                It is like as fast as we find them and Bill sprays the nests, new ones appear. I think that is the fourth one to pop up around our house in the last two months. And I’m sure there are others we haven’t found.

                I’ve taken some flack for alleging that the wasps here are more interested and likely to come into my house than elsewhere. (I’ve never before had a wasp come into my apartment or house.) Now, can anyone tell me they’ve been STALKED by the little buggers like this?

                They are out to get me. I swear it.

this just isn’t right!

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

                Make note of the date: 29 MAY.

                This morning in town, I saw a car with a few inches of snow on it. As I stood talking to some other Mom’s outside the school, we could see our breath. And I couldn’t convince Kaitlyn not to wear a sundress. I had to fight with her just to put a t-shirt on underneath. Her teacher looked at me like I’m either cruel or stupid. I guess I was stupid not to put a sweater in her bag at least. (If she wears a sweater, she won’t wear a jacket and vice-versa. I thought the jacket was more crucial, given the drizzle) I told the teacher Kaitlyn is never cold. Which is true, except in the middle of the night when she climbs all over me for warmth. (like last night)

                Despite the cold and rain, the crew paving a new sidewalk and patio around the house arrived bright and early at 8:15 this morning. After eating her oatmeal, Kaitlyn pulled a little chair up to the big sliding glass door and sat to watch them work, like they were putting on a show just for her. She didn’t want to leave for school. I told her she can watch them all day tomorrow. (no school on Wednesday, of course)

Not very May-like

Monday, May 28th, 2007

                    It is the last few days of May.

                    The nearly constant rain is not letting up. Kaitlyn is fine with that; she gets to wear her Barbie rain boots and splash through the puddles. And she loves umbrellas, too.

                    We bought fans to help cool off the house (no a/c here), so now the temperatures are dropping. This evening, it was 10 degrees at the house. (that’s 50 Fahrenheit) And the mountain is again snow-capped. It’s so cold that our pool has steam coming off of it.

                    It’s just as well. We couldn’t use the pool even if it were warm enough outside. I apparently really goofed up on the directions the pool guys gave me. Ignoring the pool is not good pool maintenance. Because now it is green again. Bill gave it a shock treatment yesterday. It looked the same this morning. So he gave it another one. If it looks the same again tomorrow (and I’m sure the rain isn’t helping matters) I’ll call the pool guys back. I should have spent time in my French lesson today practicing. J’ai besoin d’aide. Ma picine est verte. I hope all our summer guests weren’t counting on warm summer days spent lounging in our pool. Well, at least the rain keeps the wasps inside their nests.

Road trip to some Caves

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

It’s a nutty idea, but we decided to actually get out and GO somewhere in our area today. Sightsee.

                        We chose les grottes de Choranche. Caves. (

                        It took just over an hour to get there. It’s open all year round, but we agreed that it wasn’t a drive you’d want to make in the middle of winter. The road leading to the caves was pretty steep (the sign said 15% grade) and pretty narrow.

                        We paid then made the 5 minute walk up to the entrance to the cave itself. After waiting for the guide, we joined the mob pushing its way through the door (a French line) and went on in.

                        It is something to see. You go in at the foot of a 300 meter cliff… so you’re instantly 300 meters underground. Luckily, we remembered to bring our jackets. And sweatshirts. The constant 10 degrees Celsius is chilly!

                        The ceiling is covered with thousands of stalactites hovering over big green pools. The path right along side had little to keep you from falling in (of course) and while the water didn’t look deep I was not in any mood to have Kaitlyn fall in. Or me, for that matter. We did have to argue with her about stepping all over the stalagmites.

                        After what seemed like an eternity of trying in vein to listen to the guide ramble on and on in French about these rocks dripping from overhead, he led us up some slippery stone steps to a room lit only with a few lights along the floor… the way a movie theater is lit once the film starts. Once we all packed into the room, those lights went out and it was completely black. Then music started and different select highlights were lit up. At the end, Bill and I both figured the whole room would light up so you could actually see it. Nope. On the website for the caves, they call this the thrilling climax. I’d call it their answer to the 3-d movie showing over at the Chartreuse distillery. During the, uh, show, Kaitlyn dropped her mimi. (giant pacifier she refuses to give up) It’s now become a permanent part of the display, since we couldn’t reach it.

                        The whole, apparently fact-filled tour lasted an hour. On the way out there is a sign reminding you “n’oubliez pas votre guide!” Don’t forget your guide! I thought it was a dumb place to put a sign reminding you to stick with your guide so you don’t get lost. It was a sign reminding you that the guide expects a tip. Bill figured it out. Although, given that he didn’t speak one word of English to us (he did to another group, to tell them not to take pictures of some disgusting little cave creatures in tanks), I don’t know that he earned it.

                        We decided to skip the trail outside the cave that went behind a waterfall. Kaitlyn was not really in any mood to listen and not knowing what kind of barrier (if any) would keep you from plunging off the cliff.

                        Instead, we told the GPS to take us home without getting on the toll roads. She led us on the most amazing route! We drove a road that literally hugged the edge of the mountain, with the gorge plunging farther than you could see off the other side of the road. A few places we drove under rocks hanging over the roadway. Just for “fun,” Bill made a u-turn so he could drive through a one-way tunnel that went right through the mountain. The whole thing was unlit. And only wide enough for one car. If you were crazy, you could stop right in the middle and turn your lights out and it would be completely dark… until the moment before you get hit when the headlights of another car appeared in your rear-view mirror. We didn’t stop.

                        I don’t know that I’d drive all the way back for another trip through the caves. The pictures probably will make it look spectacular. And it was great to see. But without having any idea what the guide was saying as he went on and on and on detracted from the experience.

                        But while we were there, I did pick up a tourism guide for the Isere region where we live. Sure, it’s all in French, but some of the pictures look amazing! We’ll have to check these places out in person….

Goodbye, city life!

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Sometimes I long for the beige of suburbia.

                        Today when the turtle’s owner dropped him off at the house, she said “boy, I forgot just how far up this road you live.” Yea, it is far up. Way far up. Once this winter when it snowed, the snow started right where our yard starts. We’re way up there.

                    And living surrounded by trees and wild (and a donkey) has some real drawbacks. Most of them have multiple legs.

                    I know that when a bee or wasp finds its way into the house, it’s by mistake. Right? Tonight, not one but two bees (or maybe one bee two times) went to one of our big sliding glass doors and just started banging its little head against it. Like it was knocking. Or hoping to bust through the glass. I don’t know what is in here that is so appealing. Unless they can actually smell fear and figure I’m an easy target when they’re bored with the whole pollen gathering thing. Kaitlyn things they are banging on the door asking for their honey back. (You can buy almost as many kinds of honey here as you can wine. And Bill likes to try them. So we do have quite the pile of honey jars in the kitchen.)

                        Then I’m sitting here at the table and I look outside to see a little brown mouse just sitting outside its hole under one of our lawn chairs. It’s just looking around, cleaning its face. Then it ran off… well, sorta skipped off… to do whatever mice do. Which hopefully isn’t find ways into the house. That problem should be taken care of next week when workers come and pave over the areas outside the house currently coated in a thin layer of gravel. Or it will move the problem.

                        Yes, living in France is an adventure. I just didn’t realize that it would be an episode out of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

pet sitting

Friday, May 25th, 2007

                This weekend we are pet sitting. For a turtle.

                    Kaitlyn was so excited to come home from school today and see her little house guest. She had collected some big blades of grass while at school and stuffed them into her backpack to give to him. I don’t know if the turtle is supposed to eat grass, but he did nibble on some. Kaitlyn wanted to give him his dinner, but I convinced her to wait and let him eat when we eat. Although his food smells like rotten fish and looks like bugs, so I don’t know that I want that container open around my food! (he’s in the kitchen)

                    Oh, the turtle’s name? Scape. As in es-cape. Because he had a tendency to try. I hope that’s a phenomenon that’s past.

Slingbox… pure genius!

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

When you ex-patriate, they should simply issue you a Slingbox. It’s sheer genius. With it, I can watch my brother’s television. Here.

                    Ok, so there is the matter of the 9 hour time difference.

                    Mostly, it works out fine. Kaitlyn gets to watch a little Noggin before dinner, which is the time that everyone is out of the house at work or school in California.

                    The other day when I had a migraine, I watched the Tonight Show in bed. Patrick was apparently doing the same thing at the same time. Cool!

                    Today, I sat down to catch up on some work and figured I’d watch a little tv while I was at it. At 12:30 here, no one should be watching tv there…. and no wonder. At 3:30am in Los Angeles there is NOTHING on any of the several hundred channels worth watching. I was really hoping for some HGTV. Instead, I settled for an old Tonight Show. Ah, I’m mostly listening anyway, so no big deal.

                    Then, all of a sudden, I hear the pop of the Tivo and its “now playing” menu comes on. Now I am watching my sister-in-law watch tv! I know it’s her because she gets up at some horrible time to go to work. I didn’t realize it was this horrible. I feel a little weird… like I’m spying on her. She doesn’t know that I’m watching. Maybe she’s going to watch something that she doesn’t want anyone to know she watches. Well, then she wouldn’t record it in the Tivo.

                    Now, I’m watching the Bachelor. Not a show I’ve ever watched. It’s like the last one with the girl gushing about how this is her last chance to let this dude know she totally is in love with him (honest, it’s him, not his helicopter or beach house in Hawaii). Then he goes on his “last date” with the “other” chick… and it goes away! Black! Nothing! I wait a few minutes, thinking maybe Julie has just paused it while she brushes her teeth or something. Sure, that doesn’t explain the black screen, but maybe Tivo has changed a setting or something. After a few minutes, I realize I’m just not getting the picture anymore. And now I can’t get it to reconnect. I must know which girl he chose! (and maybe I need to get my own Tivo for Patrick’s tv, too)


Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

                    Ok, this morning I did something I have sworn I’d never do. I did it as a surprise for Bill. I cut the grass.

                    I read an article yesterday in the ISE newsletter, written by an ISE on assignment in South America. While I couldn’t relate to her comment about having servants (I wish)… I was struck by her comments about learning to never say never. Things that you used to scoff at now you at least have to acknowledge as possibilities. Ok. Fine. I’ll… try…

                    It’s probably my fault that the grass was in such bad shape to begin with. I begged with Bill weeks ago not to buy a lawnmower. I don’t want the few hours we have together on weekends to be spent waiting for him to finish yard work. There are a lot of rules about when you can.. and cannot… fire up the lawnmower and weed trimmer. Not after 7 at night. Not too early on Saturdays. And probably not during the lunch two-hour. Not at all on Sundays. Not at all on holidays.

                    So I said I’d find someone to do the work for us. We’d pay. It would be worth it. Sounds like a great idea. Till I realized I’d have to do it in French. I did check the bulletin boards around town looking for someone looking for summer work. There are lots of crappy looking cars for sale. A few apartments for rent. A couple of babysitters. No lawn services. Not even a kid who’ll drag his dad’s lawnmower up the street for a few euors.

                    A couple of weeks ago, Bill broke down and bought a lawnmower. Then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. I started to think that instead of a lawnmower, Bill should have bought the parts to build an arc. Then company arrived. Then we went to Paris.

                    Last night, Bill came home early from work so he could cut the grass. While he was out there, it started to rain (again!). But he stayed out there, cutting the grass in the pouring rain. He finally quit and when the rain quit it was after 7.

                    This morning, I came home from taking Kaitlyn to school and figured that I could get just as good a workout behind the lawnmower as on the treadmill.

                    I probably  did a horrible job. I assumed that mowing the lawn is a lot like vacuuming. I wondered how you’re supposed to know the bag is full of clippings. On the vacuum, there’s a thingie that turns red. I kept staring at the lawnmower then finally realized it wasn’t even collecting the clippings… it was mulching the grass. Oh.

                    I decided that I am not going to be one of those people who cuts the grass so that there are neat lines or checkerboards or any pattern other than completely random in the freshly-cut grass.

                    Then came the hills. I tried to push the lawnmower up… that’s nearly impossible. I tried to drag it up behind me (not running) and that didn’t go anywhere, literally. On the lower part of the yard I tried pushing the lawnmower down the hills… that’s possible but not smart. And because of the rain last night the grass was wet and slippery. A couple of times I fell behind the lawnmower. The first time I held onto the mower. The second time I figured out to at least let go enough for the mower to turn off.

                    The biggest lesson: shoes. I ruined my last pair of keds. They were white this morning. Ok, dirty white but still, white. Now they are grass green. And they don’t sell them here! Doh!

                Oh, and I ran out of gas before I could finish. And I absolutely draw the line at messing around with the little gas can and risking spilling gas all over. I mean, I figured that I could release the safety and turn the mower off before losing a toe, but there’s no safety device on the gas can. So Bill still has to finish the job when he gets home!