Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You Know You're Living in France....

...when the bread knife is the most used utensil in your kitchen.
...when your 'fridge is always stocked with lardons and creme fraiche.
...when your hairdresser's name is Sandrine, and she makes house calls.
...when your insurance information and
your vehicle registration are posted on your car's windshield.
...when you have a carte de fidelite from the local supermarket dangling from your key ring!


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Surprise!

Had I known the true nature of the invitation to Jane and Yves' house for lunch on Friday, I would have definitely taken along my camera. As it was, I had no idea of the surprise in store for me and left my camera sitting on the kitchen table. (The first rule of being a photographer is to ALWAYS take your camera...duh!) So, you'll have to be content with last spring's photo of Jane and Yves taken when Laury and I visited them. In honor of American Thanksgiving, Jane put together a yummy traditional Thanksgiving lunch for Jean and I! Our meal started with Jane's signature garlic soup and was followed by roast turkey breast and legs, a potato-cauliflower gratin, roasted sweet potatoes, English bread gravy, regular gravy and a jar of cranberry sauce contributed by Jean. In typical French fashion, the next course was cheese and bread. Jane baked a real pumpkin pie for dessert...real as in not made with canned pumpkin, but with real pumpkin that she cooked and blended for the filling. Wine, a warm fire, good conversation and good friends made the afternoon complete. I couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving in France! And true to my goal of 'melanged magic'....our meal was truly a melange of French, English, and American foods and traditions.

I did confess to Jane and Jean, tho, that I felt a trifle guilty celebrating our American holiday with them. After all, those thankful English pilgrims eventually became those contrary American revolutionists just a few generations later putting an end to England's rule of her colonies. Oh well...there were no hard feelings evident at lunch!

Friday, November 25, 2011

What I'm Grateful For

While you were enjoying turkey dinner with all the trimmings yesterday, I made the trek to Toulouse to obtain the residence sticker for my passport. This goes with my long-term visa and identifies me now as a temporary resident of France. Yay, me! This is acutally a collage of the sticker...didn't think I wanted all my official 'numbers' out there on the 'net. I had read that this part of the process was almost a non-event, but I was still anxious about not only the visit itself, but also finding the office. Indeed, finding the OFII building was tricky even with good directions from Google. I've found that if I take a wrong turn or miss an exit here, it's difficult to turn around and re-trace my route. Too many years living in the flat Midwest, I guess, where everything is laid out in a nice grid ...nothing is organized like that here, so I try to get it right the first time and not have to struggle with angled streets, impossible-to-find alternate routes, confusing round-a-bouts, etc.

Once I found the office, though, the process couldn't have been easier. Everyone was very nice, it went quickly, and before I knew it, I had my sticker and was out the door! The dogs were happy that I returned home only a half hour late to serve them their dinner. I was happy...and grateful...to have this last big thing checked off on my 'move to France' to-do list.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Week at a Glance

This is kind of my week at a glance. From the right...Tuesday found me in Cajarc mailing the signed insurance contract for my car along with the yearly premium. I also bought stamps at La Poste. The black folder contains all the paperwork for my car along with the manual for its radio/CD player. You see, the radio requires a code to activate it, and of course, I don't have the code. So, papers in hand I went back to the garage where I bought the car and managed to find enough French to ask if they had the code. Stephane worked magic on the Internet, found it, and even programmed it into my radio.

Wednesday...I'll take the Maeve Binchy book back up to the library and see if they have anything else in English I might like to read. The English shelf only has about 10 books, and I've already read half of them! I also made a trip back to Cajarc this morning to retrieve the radio manual that I left at the garage yesterday. Does anyone know how to say 'Duh!' in French??

Thursday...while you're eating turkey dinner with friends and family, I'll be in Toulouse for my visa appointment with the Office of Immigration. Seems really funny to have an appointment scheduled on Thanksgiving day. Hopefully, I'll be able to find this place. The blue folder contains all my visa paperwork and also a folder I call my "proof that I exist" folder. In France, every official transaction from opening a bank account to registering your car to getting your visa requires that you prove you exist! While they want to see your passport or your carte d'identite if you're French, les fontionaires also want proof that you exist in the real world. This requires that you show them a rent receipt, a purchase contract for your house, your electric bill or your phone bill. I keep all this together in a folder, so I can take it with me when I do anything official.  If you're a homeless person, does this mean you don't exist in France? Kind of makes you think, huh?

Friday...if I have the energy after living in French all week, I may make something 'turkey' just because. I've never seen turkey on a restaurant menu, but it's quite popular in France and there is lots on offer at the grocery store. Not whole birds, tho. Mostly rolled breast meat to roast and legs. I think a nice roast with shallots and maybe a potato/cauliflower gratin? Not exactly a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, but as close as I'll come this year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Clementines


I fell in love with clementines last winter.Somehow they taste so much sweeter here in France than I remember from the States. They're such a healthy, easy snack; I buy them by the bag-full. So you can imagine how distressed I was to see the ones from the bag I bought last week starting to spoil right before my very eyes. I probably lost almost a third of the bag before I decided to see if there was some way to make jam from the good ones left. Christine Ferber to the rescue! You'll remember that I sent over a few favorite cookbooks this summer in preparation for my move here to France. Madame Ferber's book, Mes Confitures, is one that made the trip. She's the queen of French jams and jellies, and sure enough she had two different recipes for clementines. She uses her own homemade apple jelly instead of store-bought pectin. Not something I wanted to do, so I called my friend, Jean, who makes excellent jam.



I asked her where she buys her pectin and was surprised to learn that she never uses pectin! She thought there would be enough natural pectin in the lemons that are added to make the jam set. To be sure, she suggested buying 'confisuc,' special French sugar with a gelling agent especially for making jam. I decided to give it a go, as my Brit friends say. Now, my cookbook says to remove all the white part of the clementines. I hope you're not offended, but that just didn't happen. How in the world do you get all that off those tiny segments? I boiled the fruit, sliced lemons, sugar and a bit of cinnamon together and then let the mixture rest overnight in the 'fridge. My kitchen smelled heavenly-all cinnamon-y and citrus-y.








This morning I drained all the liquid from the fruit and brought it to a boil again. It boiled until it started to set; then I added the fruit back and cooked it a bit longer. I ended up with these three jars plus and a slightly larger one. While I would have liked a bit more firmness, the jam set up fairly well. And the taste is yummy...kind of a cross between marmalade and Christmas. I'm happy that most of my clementines didn't go to waster. Next time I must remember to check the bag to see if it carries a 'sell by' date!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's That Time of Year Again

Time for the celebration of this year's wine harvest! I treated myself to a bottle of the very young, very raw beaujolais. Yes..it's more about the party and definitely less about the taste of the wine!
And it's that time of year for the fire department's annual calendar distribution/ fund-raising visit. Unlike last year when I was so very puzzled over why I had two fire fighters knocking on my door, this year I knew exactly what they wanted.  My donation ended up being twice what the bottle of beaujolais cost me, but was so much more worth it. Who doesn't appreciate two cute, young firemen at your door who wish you a bon weekend as they leave? I figure since Laury is gone, my donation should cover both of us!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Have Wheels!

I feel kind of like a teenager...the first time Dad gave me the car keys to my very own car. (Can you believe it was a 1963 Nash Rambler? OMG!) I am now the proud owner of my very own French car...a 2006 Clio. It's a diesel, 5-speed manual transmission and has AC. Not a luxury car, but very utilitarian for errands and a bit of exploring. The back seats lie flat, so I'll have plenty of room for Lucie and groceries and luggage when I have visitors. Diesel is cheaper than regular gas here in France, it gives better mileage, and a diesel engine lasts longer, so I think this was a good choice. Although I bought it on Nov.4th, I only took possession this morning. The garage where I bought it changed out several things, checked everything over and cleaned it up nicely. Waiting for it to be ready was good lesson in learning patience--very important when one lives in France as nothing gets accomplished quickly here.

There are still some loose ends to tie up...finalizing insurance, getting to the Prefecture in Villefranche to have it registered and buying the obligatory green reflective vest and triangle placards that every car in France is required to have visible in the car (not in the trunk!). But already I feel as if my world has opened up a bit. I can run into town for groceries when I want, and I'm really looking forward to loading up Lucie, getting out my Michelin map and wandering around the countryside.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mort pour France

Yesterday during the 11th hour, people all over France took time out to commemorate lives lost for their country during WWI, WW II, and the Algerian War. Even my tiny village had a commemoration event. We began gathering in front of the church at 11:45am, about 40 of us in all, villagers and ex-pats. Christiane read a short piece while everyone listened solemnly. Three children then laid a wreath of flowers at the foot of the war dead memorial. Madame Gentou, the mayor, spoke a brief prayer and then began slowly reading each name. After each, the crowd intoned 'mort pour France,' Died for France. War and the toll it takes on life is not an abstract idea here; it is very personal. War was fought right here during WWII with the French Resistance being very active against the occupying Germans. Right across the river from where I sit and high on the causse, Belgian prisoners of war were executed. Had I been sitting here at my computer that day with my windows open, I might have even heard the shots. Each person lost from this little village left a huge whole in the lives of all. Each was someone's son, a husband, a beloved brother, a good neighbor. It's not a bad thing to set aside time to remember that war impacts real people and to pray that it never happens again.
Denis Mingau...mort pour France
Victor Vales...mort pour France
Victorien Florac...mort pour France
Gaston Pachim...mort pour France
Gaston Costes...mort pour France
Jacques Crabie...mort pour France

Friday, November 11, 2011

It's Tricky

Being a good neighbor gets a bit tricky some days. I like to walk the dogs in the morning. On weekdays that means we go between 8:30am-9:00am. Most of my neighbors are up or on their way to work by then, so the cacaphony of barking dogs that we set off isn't much of a bother to them. On holidays and weekends, however, it gets trickier. Everyone sleeps in; no one wants to hear dogs barking, so we have to alter our normal route that circles the village. When we reach Christiane's house, we have to make a decision. If we go right up the road past the church, we can go as far as the Mairie...no dogs to disturb...but then we have to turn around. If we go left, we can walk the cemetery road past Patrick and Josiane's house. No dogs this far either.
Lots of rabbits, tho. Thank goodness, they don't bark!

After a very short walk on the main village road, we can cut down this gravel track. It always makes me a bit nervous if I see smoke curling from Madame's chimney. Has she let her little yapping dogs out for the day? We'll soon find out; even this far away, they'll sense Dali and Lucie and start barking!

How far we can walk down this road depends upon whether or not Monsieur's donkeys are out. Braying donkeys are almost as bad as barking dogs! It's so much easier when we can just do our nornal 'around the block' walk. And in case you're wondering...I have no control over those baying hunting hounds on the other side of the river. They are not baying at us!

It's almost 8:30am...time to walk the dogs. Now let's see: it's Friday, but it's a holiday, so....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happiness is...

4 GREEN DOTS!
I called France Telecom on Oct. 3rd to have my phone/internet service started. I've had all the equipment...Livebox, cables, filters, secret passwords, etc. for weeks. Heck, I've even had a bill. All for service that I haven't had....until this afternoon. It's a long story. Evidently there were issues because my friends who I rent this house from are still using the number that they had when they lived here. It's complicated, and I'm not sure I'd get it even if I understood French. Then France Telecom insisted they had hooked me up, however I still only had flashing red lights everywhere. No one quite knew what the problem was. But the bottom line is a guy came today, climbed the pole in front of the house, did something to the exterior line that took less than 3 minutes, and voila...I have connectivity! Thank goodness for Laury's wireless during this past month and a big 'merci beaucoup!' to Patrick who continued to nag them in French while I nagged them in English!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Post For My Male Readers...

No, not topless sunbathing on France's beaches! Equipment....as in big boy building toys.
I've been fascinated with big equipment since my living-on-the-farm days. Probably because I had my own tractor to drive then...never mind that it was mine to drive because I couldn't figure out how drive any of our other, bigger ones. Anyway...I see lots of tractors here in my village. There are farm fields interspersed with houses everywhere. This field is right across the street from the mairie. But tractors aren't what fascinate me. These babies are....
I have no idea what these things do except this last one..
It lifts huge slabs of rock!
Pretty cool, huh?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Checking Writing 101

When I contemplated my move to France, I knew there would be many, many things to learn about living in another country. I expected the really big things....like learning the language and becoming proficient in French manners. You know..the manners that dictate you ALWAYS say 'bonjour' when you enter a shop and ALWAYS say 'au revoir, merci' when you leave. Big things like becoming familiar with traffic and directional signs and wading through the bureaucracy to have utilities turned on. What I didn't expect were the little things that seem so simple in the States, yet seem to trip me up here. Little things like remembering to weigh and tag my own produce at the grocery store and always coming prepared with a euro coin in my pocket to release the grocery cart for use. Little things like writing a check!
 I've probably written out hundreds of checks in my life. My dad was a banker; I know how to write checks...I thought! When I looked at my CA checks yesterday to write one as a deposit for my car, I felt like I needed a check writing 101 class. For starters, the written amount comes first, then you write in who the check is made out to. There's not only a place for the date, but also you have to fill in the location where you wrote the check. And trying to figure out how to write French numbers in words?? Let me tell you...it took both Jean and I to do it, and then it still wasn't correct. Thank goodness for the nice woman behind the counter. With her help, I finally got it done. I'm sure she spent the rest of the day shaking her head in amazement at my inability to do this simple, little thing!

Oh, did I mention I bought a car? You'll hear the rest of that story next week.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Unsettled

The weather here has been a bit unsettled the past couple of weeks. It's been very warm, chilly, foggy, windy and rainy. The last few days the wind has been very strong and warm. Must have been leading up to the storm event last evening that brought loud, rolling thunder, lightning and heavy rain to the Lot River valley. At least, it's not snow. I've had emails from friends in Colorado who report two heavy, significant snowfalls already. My goal is to never have to deal with heavy snow again!

One plus to the unsettled weather here was this big, beautiful rainbow that spanned the sky over Saujac. It's reflection in the Lot was equally as lovely.




Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Toussaint

Yesterday was Toussaint. It's an important French holiday. Everything was closed to enable people to visit the cemteries and honor their ancestors. Despite a steady light rain, several cars made their way to our village cemetery for family members to place flowers on the graves. This morning I captured some images of their offerings,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloween isn't a big deal here in France, but it sure is with my favorite kids! Couldn't resist sharing a bit of Grandma's pride and joy with you.