Monday, January 22, 2018

The Sun'll Come Out...

I just wanted to touch base with everyone after your outpouring of support.

I know that some people might keep their doubts and fears a secret, but that has never been my stance. I lay it all on the line, so if I'm doubting my dream life, you're going to know about it.
I had a tough night, up coughing, but I got a lot of sleep in between.
A morning walk with the dogs in the mist, just grateful it wasn't raining.
After I worked on my online class, we went to the Super U, which is a WalMart-style grocery store. The only thing it doesn't have is a pharmacy.
After buying our groceries, we realized that neither of the two gas stations in town have diesel gas. We're going to have to take a trip before too long to fill up with gas.
We stopped in town and the bakery was closed for lunch, as was the pharmacy, so I didn't get any medicine, but Earl did find a few doses of Theraflu in his suitcase, so I can take that tonight.
Earl was napping this afternoon because he is getting sick again, after successfully beating this cold during our first housesit. So when the sun came out this afternoon and he was sleeping, I put the dogs on their leashes and we walked about 45 minutes in the sunshine.
It makes a difference.

Cognac vines dormant in the winter sun.
We're catching up on Netflix series, like The Crown and Grace and Frankie and last night we watched the movie The Way with Martin Sheen since Earl will be walking part of the El Camino de Santiago in June with Maurice, the husband of fellow-blogger Linda Mathieu at Frenchless in France. See how blogging can connect people?
Thanks again to everyone for your support and concern." I ain't gonna quit. I got nowhere else to go!"

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Floundering Dreams

What  happens if you plan your life around a dream and then it doesn't live up to the expectations?

Well, I've had a rough start to my dream. We've only been here in France seventeen days, and if I hadn't made commitments to people and pets, I would be tempted to catch our scheduled plane home on January 25.
We bought round-trip flights because it was cheaper, with no intention of take the flight home. We're in the middle of a housesit, taking care of two dogs and two cats in a lockkeeper's house in the Charente, France.

I can picture taking a train to Paris and checking in at the airport with my one bag (I've stowed the other at a friend's house). I would march through the airport and then curl up in the tiny airplane seat, coughing desolately into my inner elbow. When the plane landed in Florida, I'd rent a car and drive straight to my parents' house, dragging myself to the lounge chairs by the pool where I would lie down and sleep, letting the sun beat onto me and dry out the hacking cough that continues to plague me. I'm sure that Tupi would climb onto my lap at some point. That fantasy has replaced my lifelong dream of living in France.
The golf course near my parents' house
Of course, a cold can't last forever, and it's a good thing that I made commitments so I couldn't go running back to my parents' house at the first sign of difficulty.
Those first few days of our trip when we landed in Paris were lovely, walks and runs, lovely meals, wine and cheese tasting, a day spent wandering at the Louvre. 

Then the stress of the train trip to our first housesit. We were traveling with four suitcases and two carryon bags. That's a lot to maneuver.
Our first housesit was a disaster.
My gag reflex still kicks in when I think of it. The only clean place in the house was the upstairs section where we slept. Unfortunately, there was no heat in that section, which probably added to the cold that I fell prey to ten days ago.

I don't get sick very often. If I do, I go for a run to slough it off. This one has resisted. I've never had bronchitis, but I guess that's what I've had as the air crackled through my chest. I must have looked atrocious because people are saying how much better I look now.

One of the reasons I love France is the food, and this illness has affected my tastebuds and my appetite. For about five days, I wasn't hungry.
I Facetimed with my parents last week and my mom said I looked like I'd lost weight. I may have, but not as much as I should have since I've totally given up food.
I drink coffee, another one of my favorite things in France, and it all tastes burnt. I left a glass of red wine setting on the counter because it tasted too strong.

On Thursday, my appetite returned. To celebrate and treat Delana our hostess, we went out to eat at a little restaurant on Cours Mirabeau. Delana and I shared foie gras on toasted triangles of sweet bread while Earl started with a pumpkin soup. Then I ordered duck along with delicious mashed potatoes. I could only manage a few bites of each, but at least something tasted good. I poured the rest of my wine into Earl's glass.

On another night, we might have ordered a dessert to share or lingered over coffee, but I had hit a wall. My husband and my friend were both considerate and asked for a doggy bag (apparently this is required in France now) for my meal, and the check. We staggered home and I fell into bed again.
Friday we travelled to arrive at our next housesit. If the place was disgusting, we were prepared to turn away. This housesit is scheduled for three weeks and we would not put up with sub conditions again.
I won't bore you with the details of the trip, the twists and turns on tiny roads rather than freeways that took us 9 hours to get here (a six hour trip), but when we arrived, we felt a relief.

Caroline, the homeowner, directed me to the "loo" and I saw the pristine floor, smelled the crispness of the wood-burning stove but no hint of dog urine or cat litter boxes. Thank, God.
They had prepared a meal of pasta and Bolognaise sauce along with red wine.
Afterwards, we climbed a centuries' old wooden staircase to the bedroom with vaulted ceiling and the attached bathroom. Radiators in the bedroom could keep it warm, although the warmth from the wood stove below helped heat it as well.

The dogs are new adoptees, but they're well behaved and don't pull on the leash during our twice daily walks. 

I'm still not enjoying coffee or wine the way I should, but I did relish a ham and butter sandwich that Earl made for lunch yesterday, and ate up the leftover Bolognaise sauce for dinner.

I'm still sniffing and coughing and perhaps dreaming of returning home to see my kids, my parents and the sun, but I have to be realistic. The weather at home in Ohio has been awful -- snow and more snow and below zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures.
I sold my house. I packed up or gave away all my belongings. There's no point trying to go back to a life that will be totally different. I need to give it a year.
Then, if I want to return to the U.S., find a full-time job with insurance to support me and Earl, we'll still have that money tucked away ready to invest in a house.
So I guess that's the real message. If you embark on a dream, make sure you have seared the ties behind you so that it isn't too easy to simply turn around and pick up the reins of the previous life. Cause if I turned around now, I'd never know what might have been in my France dream.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Pastis Dinner

We're staying with our friend Delana in Aix en Provence, having traveled from northwestern France, through the middle of the country to southeastern France, in a path that could be described as an ornamental sash across the chest of the country.
The Central Massif through a dirty window
I was sick the day we arrived, and I have continued to cough, stuffy nose, lack of energy. I made sure to avoid all contact with Delana -- no kisses hello. I sat in an isolation chair and avoided touching things, wiping off the door handles when I left the room.
On Monday night, Earl and I made dinner -- potato soup and rosemary garlic pork loin. Yes, I washed my hands several times and was careful to avoid touching my face.
On Tuesday morning, I noticed a container of Airborne -- that supplement full of vitamins to help prevent colds. Oh, no! I thought. What if I get Delana sick.
Then Earl started coughing again. Was he getting the same illness a second time?
So I emailed her while she was at work, asking if Earl and I should find another place to stay for the next three nights.
She responded that it was too late; she could already feel it coming on. She was coming home from work early to get some rest.
We had all planned to go out to dinner, but that was off the table now.
In the afternoon, while Earl lay down to rest in hopes of warding off more illness, I went for a walk to the beautiful Cours Mirabeau, about 10 minutes from here.
The sun shone on one side of the street in the late afternoon.
As I was out walking, I decided to buy some pastis.
Pastis is a specialty in this part of France. It has an anise flavor -- licorice. When Earl was sick first, he would drink pastis as an aperitif at our lunches out. He said it cleared up his sinuses. So I figured we'd have some to see if it helped.
When Delana came home, Earl and I had already started on a glass of pastis and were already feeling better.
The alcohol is clear when poured into a glass and then if you add water, it turns cloudy.

Delana joined us and soon one glass turned to two. She poured some peanuts in a bowl and we sliced some bread to eat with camembert. She put some cream cheese on crackers and added chili confit -- that should help with the sinuses too.
"You may be onto something here," she admitted. "Before I came home, my shoulders hurt, my head hurt. Now I feel pretty good."
So I looked up the medicinal uses of anise -- turns out, there are quite a few. It's antimicrobial, inhibiting bacteria. It has antiviral effects. It's an anti-inflammatory, just like advil but more enjoyable to take, and so it can relieve pain. And another effect, these are only the ones that benefit people with colds, I haven't touched on the digestion or sex drive benefits, is soothing bronchial irritation.
Toasting our good fortune to fall onto a cold remedy, Delana pulled out a bottle of artisinal pastis and we sampled them to see which smelled stronger or made us feel better.

The three of us sat in her living room sharing stories -- stories about sailing over the Christmas holidays in the Gulf of Mexico and more sailing to come, this time in Belize! (Okay, her stories are dashing and romantic while mine are a bit more midwestern about kids and cats.) We drank pastis until close to 10 when we decided another good remedy would be sleep, so we tottered off to bed.
I'm not sure I feel better this morning, but last night's Pastis Dinner was well worth it, and if someone had filmed our conversation, it would have been comparable to Babette's Feast, even though the food was sparse and the drinks were plentiful. The conversation was filled with laughs.
For a moment, I could settle down into this new life, put down all the figurative baggage I've been carrying, and just enjoy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Only 12 Days?

Is it possible that we've only been in France for 12 days? We arrived on January 4 and today is the 16th so that  must be true. So much has happened though.
Early this morning I got a call from Grace missing us and in tears. Lots of this is hard.
It probably would be easier if I weren't still sick.
This morning, I thought I felt better. I even considered trying a short run -- remember that I often use runs to ward off illness. I thought it might clear the rest of the cold from my body. But, I reconsidered and instead suggested to Earl that we walk to Cezanne's atelier, his art studio, and then on up the hill for his view of Mont Sainte-Victoire, hopefully in time for the sunrise, which was scheduled for 8:07 according to my weather app.
As we walked, the equivalent of 37 stories up the hill, my body let me know this was a mistake. My energy waned and I really just wanted to go back to bed.
Plus, the sky was overcast and we couldn't see the mountain.

I saw it in May when I went running in Aix. This is the same vantage point as above but with sunshine and clear skies.

 We could wait for the sky to clear, Earl suggested, but the sweat that had built up under my shirt was starting to make my shirt stick to me, and I didn't want to sit still in the 44 degree weather. We started walking down the hill, and the rain began to fall. We stopped under a bus stop and looked at the routes and the cost. We could take a bus most of the way back. The routes suggested that it would be half an hour before a bus showed up, so we started walking again. Of course, the bus passed us a few minutes later. But the walk home was much easier than the 37 floors up.
Still, my energy was sapped probably for the day.
I slipped into a bath, which felt heavenly in the steamy bathroom, but when I stood up to get out, I remembered how draining baths can be. Then I really wanted to go lie down.
I'm sitting on the couch now with the sunshine and blue sky peeking through the garden and a well-behaved cat sleeping next to me.
At least I'm at a place where I can relax. I'm warm enough and there's plenty of sleep time available. I should heal quick enough if I stop overdoing it.

I knew things would look up eventually.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Meeting the Locals -- Brits

I woke up this morning, 4:45 a.m. to the whining of the dog who sleeps in his cage because he chews things when he's bored. I lay there for a minute in the dark and cold listening to his whines and his toenails scraping against the slick bottom of his kennel.
With my eyes open, I felt in the back of my throat a thick congestion. I cleared my throat but it returned immediately. I coughed and again the congestion returned. I closed my eyes. If only I could get up, go somewhere for a cup of hot tea or some decaf coffee, curl up with a book.
My nose picked up the scent from the floor below, wet dog, urine, and cat food. There was no place to go. Tears pricked at my eyes as Earl stirred.
"That's Marty," he said referring to the dog noise that continued.
"We'll take care of whatever mess he makes in the morning," I said, hoping I could go back to sleep.
"I'll check on him," Earl said between coughs.
I should have protested. He has been sick and is still coughing, but I let him shuffle out of bed, pull on shoes and climb down the spiral staircase to the dog kennel.
I heard him calling the dog outside after a bit. "Marty!" And then he whistled the dog whistle and I heard the door close firmly. A few minutes later, he climbed the stairs and climbed back into bed.
"He shit in his cage," Earl said. He had dragged the cushion out and replaced it with a worn dog bed in the living room. "Then he vomited outside."
A few minutes of silence followed.
"I left our breakfast pastries downstairs," he said. He'd placed the bags on a wine box on top of the counter. When we went downstairs, the bags and the pastries were scattered on the floor. There'd be no breakfast for us.
We dozed off and on, and when Marty began whining again at 7, I got up with him. He leaped over the Dutch door to race outside and relieve himself again.
But -- imagine the screeching of a record player needle. I need to stop the focus on the negative and share the positive.
The sun came out yesterday, lighting the sky and the fields.

We did some laundry and then went for a two and a half hour walk with Marty, following a path that wove through fields.
I wondered if we were in Ireland or France since the fields shone bright green in January.

We returned to the farm and I spent a few minutes with the mule.
Filou has been rolling in the mud. 
Then we prepared for dinner at some new friends' house. We met John and Kate (not plus 8) when John came to measure for a new fence at the farm. He is British and so is Kate. Kate married a Frenchman and moved to France. John brought his family to France because the property was so inexpensive. Both of them have since divorced and found each other. They showed up at the farm the other day and we drank an entire bottle of wine together while we talked in the middle of the afternoon.
They invited us to dinner, so we went.
What a relief to walk into their charming apartment with its red tomette tiles and silver chandelier. Kate admitted that they had spent the day cleaning since we were coming over and I protested that they hadn't need to do that, but it was such a relief from the filthy place we were staying. They had cleaned the couch that day and Kate worried that it might still be a bit damp, so we sat around the table, admiring John's sword collection on the wall and the Lord of the Rings figures arranged beneath. He even had a Smaug the Dragon wine aerator that he attached to the red wine, which we finished before moving on to the rose.
Kate had made pork pies for starters. Little pies cut into pieces stuffed with pork. Excellent.
For the main course, she made a pork roast stuffed with cheese in a delicious gravy and roast potatoes.
We promised to bring a dessert but were a bit disappointed in the pear tart we picked up at the patisserie. Next time we'll have to go earlier to find something chocolate.
We talked for a good three hours before we decided to make our way back to the animals. And, well, you know what happened overnight.
We knew some times in France would be difficult. I hope this is the hard part and that soon things are more tolerable.
Still, we're in France. We have all the time in the world to explore old villages
This is the village of Montmorillon -- allegedly the village of writers and bookmakers,
but it had no cafes where we could work and drink coffee. What do writers do in Montmorillon? 
 and sit at cafe tables wishing there was WiFi so we could work there.
Thanks for following along. Soon, I'll be in a place where I can write more and respond to your blogs rather than trying to escape a dirty house.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

France Profonde

So, we are still in the countryside -- for four days so far -only four more nights to go, or as we’ve come to call it, the liberation. We leave for the train station on Sunday morning, and you might get the impression that I'm eager to leave. It's true.
The animals are very sweet, but like animals everywhere, they need a lot of care.

Marty tears apart his bed when we put him in his cage, which we do whenever we leave and overnight. Last night two of the cats were fighting for dominance, and pour Hopi, who was a rescue dog just a few weeks ago, refuses to let anyone walk behind her. She's so nervous it just breaks my heart. She seemed mush more self assured before her owners left her with us. She probably didn't need another change.
The older dog Tinker is sweet and ratty. After we go for a walk, he always has some sort of twigs embedded in the gray hair of his legs and I have to pull it out. Marty is rambunctious. I've run with him some, but at the beginning of our walks, he's jerking my shoulder and pulling the leash out of my hand.
I thought things would improve after the cleaner arrived and spent two hours cleaning the main room -- the kitchen, dining room, living room. 

Now, I'm not sure what would make the room feel clean enough to eat in.
I have made coffee and drank that, but I haven't been able to bring myself to eat anything. So we go out for big lunches and let those tide us over for the entire day. So, yes, we have become typical retirees, eating one meal per day.
But those meals!
Yesterday we drove to Chauvingy, where there are five castles, many of them destroyed. 

They're from medieval times, or as I said to Earl, built by middle aged peoples. It was raining some, but we walked around to look at the ruins.
"I would not want to live down hill from that," Earl said, pointing out the stones that jut toward the sky.
Most places, like the artisans studios, were closed since it was a Tuesday in January. But we managed to find a creperie where we had lunch. We began with drinks (aperitifs). I had a Kir traditional, which is cassis syrup and white wine. Earl has pastis, which is licorice flavored alcohol. It comes out clear, but when you add water it turns a milky color. He's been fighting allergies (wonder why) so the alcohol really cleared him out.
We both ordered crepes.  I had ham, cheese and egg crepe.
We followed that with a green salad with vinaigrette and then a dessert. I got the "cafe gourmand" which is a sampler of desserts along with a cup of espresso. 

This one had a folded crepe, a scoop of raspberry sorbet then two little cups of hot fudge sauce with whipped cream (chantilly) and another of salted caramel sauce with whipped cream on top.
One of my issues with the dirty house is that I'm not drinking enough water. I don't even want to drink out of the glasses from the cabinet, so this morning, we just walked, showered and headed out of town to find lunch and then a cafe to work on our computers.
When talking to my friend Sheila earlier, I had told her the closest Starbucks was 56 miles away from us. Sheila and I usually walked and stopped at Starbucks.
Earl and I thought we would drive to a Starbucks, but we decided that would be too far, so we headed to Poitiers instead, about 40 kilometers away. The sun has come out for a bit.

Since we hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch, we headed to a restaurant.
Most French restaurants have a "Formule midi" or "Prix fixe" menu. For this one, we paid 13.50 Euros for a starter and a main course.
I had cauliflower soup. Earl had puff pastry with chorizo sausage pieces in the middle.
My main course was a thick piece of ham in a honey sauce along with au gratin potatoes. Earl had steak and fries.

Add to that our aperitifs -- pastis for him and kir traditional for me -- and a small pitcher of wine, plus a tea at the end of the meal and a cafe goumande for me. I feel certain I would have paid $70 or more for a meal like that in the U.S. Our total bill was 43.30 Euros.

Poitiers has a large cathedral, Notre Dame where there's a market. And it has some real history, like a Roman wall next to a Medieval tower.
And this building definitely looks like it was made by middle-aged people (lol).

We met some friends of the owners of our home. They're British too and they came tooling along the long lane as we set out to walk the dogs. They convinced us to return to the house where we shared a bottle of wine and talked about the animals and the living conditions. They've invited us to their house for dinner, so that should be a welcome escape.
At night, it gets dark here sooner than at home. We feel a bit trapped with all the animals, doing the nightly feeding and walks. We've been watching The Crown on Netflix until bedtime. Then we put all the animals to bed and go up the staircase to the cold second floor where we climb into bed. We're sleeping later and later. I hope it's not depression because of the living conditions.
Earl is coughing more and more and I'm not sure if its allergies or will turn into bronchitis as his illnesses frequently do. We better be careful or we’ll be going full La Bohème. 
Only four more days and we're headed to Aix en Provence where we hope to see the sun, I expect to get a manicure that will remove all the farm life from under my fingernails.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Still Dreaming of France -- Housesitting in France

Thank you for joining this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. (That's what I'm doing, although you may not envy me today)

It's here. Our first housesit.
For our trip, we have scheduled three housesits, two in France and one in England.
The first one is only a week long, which seems kind of a  pain, to travel there, schlepping along our numerous suitcases, getting from the train station to the house, getting to know the pets, unpacking... Until we got here, and then I thought, thank goodness that it's only a week.
This was the first housesit we applied for and were picked for. Maybe we should have realized upon reading the sheer number of animals that the condition of the house might be a bit questionable.
First, it's a farm. There's always going to be more dirt and more bugs at a farm.

I feel a bit like Eva Gabor on Green Acres as I watch Earl carry hay for the donkey and the mule, 

and I swat away gnats (fruit flies) that land on my bread. The gnats are here for the overripe bananas. Earl and I feed the bananas to the chickens in hopes the gnats will disappear.
And I'm just as happy that I didn't eat the bread because the only jam is orange marmalade. After Earl puts some on his bread and eats it, he discovers mold in the jar. I'm gagging and that's without even looking at the fly strip that hangs in the middle of the kitchen dotted with hundreds of black fly bodies.
Anyway, with three dogs and five cats, a house is definitely not going to be pristine. 

When we signed up, the house had two dogs and five cats, but they added a rescue dog a few weeks ago after a puppy mill was discovered. Hopi, pronounced Hoppy, had been bred twice a year every year of her life, so she deserves a break .

The animals are sweet, except for Mango the cat who continues to jump on the table while we are trying to eat. 
This is Mango by the cooktop -- he really spreads out. 
He knocked over Earl's tea this morning and we are trying to convince him to stay off the table, but if we yell at him, the rescue dog cringes in fear.
The owners of the farm came to pick us up at the train station. Barbara is probably in her late 60s or early 70s. She has white hair with streaks of blue and red. She's a pilot and hot air balloon operator too. She and her husband Chris moved from the UK to France in 1991 when he retired. He's 82 and in fragile health. They're both nice people, devoted to their pets.
There's an upstairs section of the house with a door to keep all the pets out. That's where we are sleeping. It's clean, except for some dead flies along the wall, but it's chilly because there is no heat. Of course, that works well for me when I have hot flashes.
Our suitcases are up there too to avoid extra dog and cat hair, along with any urine that might be sprayed that way.
They've had extra rainy weather here, with the temperatures in the 50s and 40s, so we had a muddy walk this morning with all the dogs.
It was still misty when we started our walk, but the sun came out eventually. 
The countryside is beautiful and we plan to visit a nearby village today, perhaps for lunch and definitely to buy some jam, butter and bread.
A cleaning woman is scheduled to come by this afternoon. I imagine she can make a dent in the animal debris, but anyone who agrees to share a house with eight animals should expect a little pet hair.

The Sun'll Come Out...

I just wanted to touch base with everyone after your outpouring of support. Thanks. I know that some people might keep their doubts and f...