(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

food.


so I was involved in a comment exchange on a blog I like reading ... Ask A Frenchman on a topic that often seems to surface there ... food.

I've noticed that there seem to be 3 camps that regularly comment on that blog. The expats living in France who enjoy deriding everything French (and why was it they live here again .... ?), the French who read out of curiousity and defend their culture vigorously, and the rest odd bits and bobs like me.

On the topic of food ... camp 1 seems to think the French have their heads up their asses and that their food is either a bore or a legend in its own mind. After all ... they (the French) screw up everything (which really consists of those things that aren't really even that french like barbecues and sheet cakes... lol).

camp 2 stridently believes that France is the cradle of cuisine and everything is better in France. even things like Mickey D's. end of discussion.

I believe that no culture understands and reveres food in quite the same way as the French. Sure, every culture has its 'cuisine' ... the history of why it eats what it eats ... methods of capitalizing upon the local products. But no other culture has made food... its cultivation, preparation and consumption, the science AND the art AND the fabric of life that France has.

And this to a certain degree is an Achilles heel of many of the French I know.

On this most recent blog exchange ... the topic was what is missed by American expats living in France. It was jokingly commented that it certainly couldn't be the cuisine. That American food is regrettable and there really is no 'there' there. The idea that American food could be missed was (and I quote - ha) "ludicrous".

Here is where camp 3 pipes up again. Because frankly I agree that there really is very little in the way of "American" cuisine in the context of French cuisine. This is of course using the context that the only 'real' Americans were the Native people living there and everyone else just arrived. bringing their food ideas with them. and hell since its only been a little over 200 years ... in comparison ... yadiyadiya.

And in fact I even mostly agree with this. But I also think no one plagiarizes the wide variety of cuisines out there better than Americans do. probably for the simple fact that we DIDN'T have our own. I'm probably referring more to restaurants and such as opposed to cooking at home ... which I think the French have beat hands down.

But what I do think about the context of food in France is that because there is such an amazing history and culture of French foods here ... that many French are missing out on the delicious flavors of the rest of the world. There exists an attitude that we created it, this is our history, our trademark ... nothing else would even come close ... so why bother?!

I've even seen the internal variations (Basque as an example) mocked a bit as not being 'true French'.

Many of the French I know would not want to even try (or be interested). Last year when I prepared my birthday dinner (Mexican ... but with a variety of tastes ... prawn ceviche, sauteed fish tacos, chicken enchilada casserole, beans and rice and guacamole) ... about half the table picked at the plates ... eating only the rice and guacamole really, because they were afraid it would be 'too spicy'. The other half, mostly the fellas, devoured it and had seconds.

I see many of my French friends assuming that other cuisines will be too 'spicy' and won't venture there.

And the restaurants here cater to that mindset. They have equated spicy with HOT and different and change the recipes (Chinese for another example) into unrecognizable versions. Spicy does NOT equal everything folks...Chinese, Indian, Mexican foods ... in their most authentic versions...are savory more than spicy ... and utilize unfamiliar spices and flavors that have been lumped into one bowl here.

So when you do find a supposed 'int'l' restaurant here, most often the sauces taste like they've come from a jar or can or packet. With lots of sugar and gelatin.

It's disappointing.

I expected that with the reverence for food and flavors, the French would be adventurous. Would display more interest in experiencing and experimenting with other foods.

I would love to be wrong. I would love for someone to clue me in to some examples to the contrary, even if they are in the bigger cities such as Paris, Bordeaux, Marseilles and the like.

Just no one from camp 1 please. because if you really believe that American food is "cuisine" and you jump to defend it and deride French food ... well, your judgement is automatically suspect!!!

(ps-okay ... I absolutely DO miss American breakfasts... they are easily replicated at home here but not the same as going to a warm inviting café and lingering a couple of hours with friends)...and bars with great cocktail menus .... but I'm sure those are found in Paris.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

sad and yet affirming news.

Yesterday I found out that a casual friend and former colleague, Cheryl Hoffman, passed away. Cheryl and I worked together up until the time I formed my corporate exit. She too had left work ... but for medical issues.

We were not close friends...but we did share the experience of being the only females in our corporate management reporting group ... and had some laughs as a consequence. Our styles were very different ... but some of our work-related experiences were the same ... facing the unique challenges affecting women in corporate america, striving for leadership positions. She was single and, like me, had a wild streak. She had a delicious laugh and an expressive twinkle in her eyes.

After I left and moved to France, out of the blue I received an email from Cheryl. Now, we weren't close enough to have stayed in contact after I left my employ. But she had contacted me (through my blog) and inquired if she could come visit. She had a friend who had ties in France and had planned an extended visit to Europe. I said sure ... after all, they were wanting a hotel ... not my ramshackle mess. Apparently, she had been following my progress and wanted to see what was up first hand.

Cheryl was battling cancer, and had won the first round. After her treatments ... she was on the mend and doing all she could to get the most out of life. I booked their hotel, they arrived and we spent a lovely September day together. We shared some laughs and told some old stories and drank some wine. Later, they splurged and ate at the Michelin star restaurant in town! we visited and toured Brantôme ... checked out the grottoes and little museum and other tiny sights my village had to offer. They got to see the Friday market and all its little antics.

We actually had some open moments ... probably more open than when we worked together. And she was so encouraging about my adventure. As crazy as it seems (the adventure, not her encouragement!)

They only spent the one evening and then went on for other adventures. I didn't hear much more from her this year, until in September when I reached out to last year's visitors for a hello.

Cheryl was in fine spirits, although she had faced a second round of treatments and such with her cancer reappearing. She was planning a round the world tour, told me her recovery was on track and commented upliftingly about my new life.

On December 22nd, she passed. I don't pretend to know all the details or to claim the loss of an intimate friend.

I do know, that but for life's crazy dice tosses ... her story and mine could have been switched.

I do know that it is possible that we both had already wasted too many years doing things that didn't provide succor to our souls and spirit.

I do know that Cheryl felt compelled to work longer than she should have ... solely to retain medical coverage, not only for her latest battle but for other issues that would have been considered 'pre-existing' and would have bankrupted her.

I do know that she made the most of these last years she had, packing in as much travel and dreaming as humanly possible when one is fighting for one's life.

I do know I can't change or regain the hours and days and weeks and years I may have wasted. For me, I choose to have no regrets. To celebrate the fact that I am on a new path. The path that was once a dream, but that I chose to make a reality.

I do know that all of these facts are lessons for me (and hopefully you too) and affirm the need for us to face our fears ... whether real or societally imposed ... and do everything we can to make this one life we are certain of the best it can be for us. The best we can dream of. The best we before only imagined. and we all need to do it now. today. this instant. A life of regrets is not the life we each deserve.

It doesn't take wealth or perfection or superhuman courage to live the best life you can. It just requires discovering (or admitting) what that best, most desired REAL life might be ... and then showing up every day to try ... to take that step to build the path that gets you as close to it as you can. for that day. and the next. and the next. tenacity. yep, it takes a touch of that.

I wish you peace and love and courage, Cheryl.

and I do know she wished that for me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

what I'm hoping for in 2010 ...

I've never been big on resolutions, especially for the New Year. I mean, I've always kind of just tried to do whatever it is I want to do or make a plan for something I want to achieve and then start trying to get to it somehow, whatever the time of year ... NY resolutions always seem so self-abusive somehow...

kind of, "these are all the things wrong with me and/or my life that I must change next year because I've been such a loser this year and gotten all f'd up ... ( e.g., I weigh too much, I drink too much, I don't do this or that right, or I do too much of that )".

so ... for all of you who still have a need for resolutions for yourselves, I have some for you: be kinder to yourself in 2010...dream more...give yourself more attagirls...let go of your regrets...ask yourself how can I versus telling yourself why you shouldn't...stick your tongue out at your fears or better yet, give them a hug (I discovered once I get really cozy with my fears, they really just aren't that scary ... ) ...dream even a little more, I know but its worth repeating (you'll be shocked at what dreaming can lead to ... !!) oh, and here's one ... stop being such a grown-up ALL the time! be silly! try smiling more (I do this even when I'm cranky...its funny how hard it is to stay cranky when your mouth is smiling!)

just love yourselves you beautiful, loveable people! more love never hurt anyone ...




Sunday, December 27, 2009

experimental

well my xmas season has been a bust on many fronts...xmas morning I thought i was going to laze about until someone rapa-tappa-tatted my front door loudly. it was my neighbor across the street, a man who works for Sogedo the water co. He was there to alert me to what appeared to be a water leak. the night before when walking back from xmas mass at the church...i noticed an inordinate amount of water dripping from my roof.... i chalked it up to the rain and went on in to bed....the next morning (xmas) my neighbor was there with his portable in hand to tell me I had a water leak. we gazed upward to observe my rain gutters still overflowing... and even more strange, overflowing with hot water..........he told me it was necessary to turn off my water...he even had Sogedo (the water company) on the phone telling them they didn't have to send someone to cut off the water. I then called JY, leaving a disjointed message. Keeping in mind that it seems lately every time I call JY it is for a home repair problem....I've had heating problems up the wazoo too.

so I had Christmas without water, had to skip the 2 invites I had because no water.... and then the heat is affected because of no water...my neighbor and friend Nicole asked me to go listen to music Friday after the shop closed....and offered a shower if I wanted it...I went to the music concert but begged off of the shower... why not see if I could make it till Sunday? lol

Sunday I bathed. the village celebrated. today JY arrived to inspect my various water and heating issues. He is in a foul mood because of his supposed poor xmas. what about my fucked up holiday??????????????? he needs a spanking. or a trip to the beach. he's a bitch in winter....god, these fucking french countryfolks and their winter doldrums. freakin' Perigordins...

nothing that a bottle of white and a little puff*puff can't medicate.

also. I recently decided to try and cook from my larder till it is depleted vs. shopping and overflowing.

this has resulted in:

poulet en cidre encore.
lamb curry.
pasta.
rice and tuna salad.
fish curry with zucchini.

and various accoutrements. I continue to rifle through my freezer and larder as opposed to shopping. I wanted to deplete my larder before shopping further. For some reason, having lots of stuff on my shelves equalled security ... but moving here I realized that so many folks shop day to day for foodstuffs....I want a balance.... well-stocked shelves that can get me through a short spell, but avoiding the American sickness of weekly shopping and *hoarding* vs. capitalizing on what we have to put forth delicious well-balanced meals.

tonight I had tuna and rice salad, crackers with goat cheese and white wine. slurp.

um maybe I'm kinda tipsy and that is why this post is jimbojambalayed?! lol.

also strangely noticed that today I went from 74th most popular blog in France to 96th.

wtf.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

oh yes its ladies night ... (soir des filles)

as mentioned, I managed to get myself re-invited to a girls' evening ... french girls, that is! ... in spite of my poor language skills and shocked expression at the snail gathering ... my neighbor Nicole included me and this time it was at Isabelle's apartment in Brantôme ... and there were only 4 of us.

I gladly accepted but confess that last night I almost begged off. I've been working hard every day and yesterday was no exception. Not to mention the snowy cold, standing 4 hours in my boutique with nary a visitor ... and a stone cold house (save my bedroom and bath). I was cranky and tired and anticipating a difficult time keeping up with the conversation. But I had already purchased my contribution and at about a quarter to eight, roused myself to begin changing clothes. no sooner had I done so then there was a rat-a-tat-tat at my door and there was Nicole. I 'desolée'd' all over myself as I struggled with my boots. I had about 4 layers on (knitted leggings over jeans and wool socks over cotton socks)... I couldn't get the damn things zipped up. I decided to forego the wool socks and achieved success. I had zero maquillage and a sour disposition to boot. I told Nicole I had a somewhat 'mauvaise humeur' today and she tut-tutted and told me a glass of wine could but help.

I threw on any old thing and let down my rat's nest (otherwise known as unwashed for over week hair that had been sand-dusted daily during my furniture project). I definitely have been looking my age this week, what with the fire starting, furniture sanding, and general harumphyness.

But I was excited to see this new friend's living quarters. As I stroll Brantôme regularly, I wonder what lurks behind those old sooty stone walls and often closed shutters. Isabelle lives just above my favorite butcher in town ... on the 3rd American floor, 2nd french. as we approach via the very old, very narrow side alley, Nicole points out the terrasse. I've eyed this flat with curiousity during my walks. I think to myself it looks as if she might not be there, the house looks dark as coal. We buzz and then Nicole steps back into the middle of the street. After a few minutes, the shutters and window opens and a smiling Isabelle leans out with a small box. She calls down key instructions and drops the box 3 floors down for us to catch. We let ourselves in to the lobby. It is clean and well-lit and could be any small Parisian entry...the staircase awaits and we ascend. Her apartment occupies the entire 3rd level, so the doorway is flush with the stair landing. It opens into a small entry way and then on into a hall.

Isabelle is a schoolteacher with 2 children (I believe!) and is divorced (also believe, some things I just try and go with the flow and await to be revealed as opposed to my natural American curiousity which would have me posing a thousand questions).

the apartment has been 'modernized'. I would guess this might have happened in the 70s. Everything is in good shape, the walls are papered with some sort of textured material with a fleck of blue and the trim is the same blue. lovely wood floors. 4 doors ( I later learn there are 3 bedrooms! 2 large and 1 smaller plus the w.c. and a bath. We follow the hall to another door and step down into a very large great room (living, dining, kitchen combo). There are vaulted ceilings (the REAL thing with huge original beams) one wall of stone where you can make out the outline of the original fireplace. the floors are tiled in red terra cotta affixed between broad wooden floor beams. She has a big leather couch and matching chairs (I exclaim about the difficulties there must have been in getting it in the apt), a huge armoire on one wall, a dining room table with seating for 6. the modern and well-equipped kitchen is open to the room ... kind of 'u' shaped but with a half wall and counter so the hostess can see her guests. The room is big and airy and lightly furnished ... some plants in a corner. She has cleverly used the old drawers from inside her armoire to create a coffee table ... there are 4 big drawers turned upside down to create a square. These drawers were made of solid wood and form a sturdy table. cool idea. noted!

The apartment was, on a whole, warm and cozy and inviting. The bedroom I saw was suprisingly huge! This flat is smack in the center of the village and I was told it was quite reasonable (by Nicole who is very frugal). The only drawback I could see was no garden or garage. But she has a huge wooden balcony with french doors leading out...I imagine in spring it is lovely to sit out there and look at the ancient roofline. It housed a table for four, various chairs, bikes etc and still roomy.

The table already has some apero items laid out ... little squares of caviar toast! nuts! etc. Nicole and I unload our sacks of goodies ... I've brought wine, paté de campagne, a little bag of goat cheese crisps, some olives & pickled goodies. Oh and some sliced chorizo (the meats are from said butcher above). Nicole has a huge green salad, some liver paté (she calls it mousse) and a bottle of Monbazillac. Isabelle has a large tart in process (tuna and tomato) and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Our 4th arrives just as we are (finally) uncorking the wine. Its Nathalie (the fast talking Belgian escargot lover that I had trouble keeping up with beore). She carries a dessert tart.

we all settle down around the table and begin nibbling! and drinking! I notice a bit guiltily that I've made it through my 1st glass rather quickly but accept a refill...I seemed to keep a slurp or 2 ahead of everyone for the evening.

Maybe because there were fewer people, maybe because my French is slowly progressing, maybe it was the wine ... but I had an easier time keeping up this time. Let's see ... here's a smattering of topics discussed by 4 women in France on a Friday night ...

~~the weather and a funny story about a truck who lost its load of pigs today
~~car problems of Isabelle and Nicole and resulting frustrations given cost and immobility
~~the weather's effect on health and well being...including our collective dry and brittle skin! lol, this year I'm on a second round of dryness and cracking on my fingers. I had chalked it up to my wimpiness. who knew everyone had these 'crevasses' and it also has to do with lack of humidity and dry air and freezing cold, etc.
~~on this note Isabelle retrieve a book she had on ancient remedies (a gift from Nicole) and funny anecdotes were exchanged about family cures and traditions. For example, Nicole swears by her grandmother's hemorrhoid treatment (lol, imagine me trying to verify I had understood the ailment) ... but anyway the treatment (I SWEAR!) was to put a 'pomme de terre à ton poche', that's right - a potato in your pocket will do it. There was much chuckling at my eyerolling, but Nicole insists! Then other homeopathic and preventive measures in light of the flu season were examined thoroughly.
~~various diet and eating practices were chatted about.
~~we ventured into a discussion about skiing and a few funny experiences with giving it a go.
~~a few recipes
~~quite a bit of discussion about being unemployed in France and the various bureaucracies encountered in dealing with it, looking for work, receiving compensation, etc.

well there was more but that's a good part of it. did you all notice that there was no mention of men? no discussing the fellows, relationships, the good bad or indifferent. JY laughingly once called a group of Perigourdines a pit of vipers (gossip and plotting and such....)... so there, take it back, mon monsieur! :P

Throughout the evening, someone would stop and inquire if I had understood, if I were tracking along with the conversation. I was happy to be able to confirm and repeat back a summary to demonstrate I was indeed following along. A few times I contributed a bit. It probably feels a little strange to them, as it does me, to have this person sitting there and saying very little. But I do feel I'll be able to engage more as time goes on, assuming I continue to mind my Ps&Qs so I can be invited again!

Around midnight, we gathered ourselves together and bid our adieus. Nathalie was kind enough to offer us a ride back. I quickly changed and crawled under the covers.

brrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Friday, December 18, 2009

friday drifts in...



like the snowflakes in the air. another week has passed. not extremely eventful my week, following our 3 day expo last week-end ... I kind of exhaled all day Monday.

while trying not to inhale too deeply as I began the task of refinishing a substantial piece of furniture that a customer purchased, but wanted redone. not long after starting I realize I have grossly undercharged for this service. There are repairs needed on the piece (undetected earlier) ... it is a lovely sideboard ... carved and from the 20s or 30s. to be had for a song in junk shops, this style is unappreciated by most French and regarded as dèclassé. Not old enough to be antique nor new enough to be stylish. It is handmade with initials worked into the wood veneer in a different shade of wood. It is brown wood ... with some relief carving on the doors. Oak, with a veneer top (part of the damage). It would go off like firecrackers in the states and for a very high price. Here it was marked at the equivalent of $150 (in my shop, not what I paid for it). It started higher and sat and sat so finally I lowered the price a bit. I thought of repainting it first but decided to wait and see what a client might think.

It must be thoroughly sanded, damage repaired (not major but time consuming) ... and then they have requested a 'pickling' technique. Slop on paint, wait a few minutes, wipe off. allow to dry. resand. 2 coats of varnish. It is about 4 ft long, 3 ft high, a foot or so deep, with shelves, a drawer, a door. all to be attended to.

I charged 50 euros. what on earth was I thinking?! lol. well, the couple bought 2 pieces of furniture and, depending on this one, is ruminating on a 3rd. very nice folks and who knows, they may have friends. who hopefully won't be expecting their own 50 euro refurbishing project! as this will be the first and last.
(almost completely sanded ... 1st step)

So far this week I have spent about 8-10 hours in and repairs. another 2 hours in paint application. I've yet to do the final hand-sanding and varnish. I've promised them the piece by the 20th.

le sigh.

so I've been working on it in the mornings, gobbling a lunch, hosing myself off and pinning up my wild nest of hair (washing only to return to sanding tomorrow? why no....) and skarpering off to the boutique. which is slow as molasses this week (so much for a busy week before Christmas ... oh wait, maybe that will be NEXT week?!) well, this is my learning year and based on it I will decide what will occur année prochaine.

normally I've been open a full day on Fridays. But today I awoke to a garden blanketed (yes Owen) in snow and instead donned boots and such, grabbed the camera and did a walk down to Brantôme to see my picture postcard village in snow. and also to see which hardy farmers would arrive, if any), for market day. I doubted a line of disappointed clients would be amassing outside the boutique gates.

I'll share some photos in a bit. suffice it to say, for now, that it Currier & Ives would be licking their figurative chops. The backdrop of the hills and trees delicately etched in white, our little island with a foot or so of white, the old architecture and rooftops resplendent in their new winter jackets.

Maybe half a dozen stands braved the cold. Let's see, we had the slipper vendor. The fishmonger. the saucisson man. the rabbit girls side by side the cheese girls, as usual. One larger veg distributor. One local farm with an abbreviated version of products (just his meats, chickens and rabbits...no veggies). The roasted chicken and potatoes people. A local fellow with his apples prettily laid out. The gentleman (an acquaintance of Jean-Yves') who sells little fish patés and smoked fishes that make nice apero accompaniments ... and he starts his aperos every Market day morning, bringing his glass across the aisle to the wine man. Lastly, my favorite stand ... a Brantômaise woman ... crusty exterior that was hard to break but who now greets me ... all her wares are grown in her home garden. Today she offered mache, knobby carrots, turnips, beetroot, leeks, purple potatoes, garlic, celeriac, some stalks of great looking kale. oh and some bits and bobs of duck parts. All fairly priced. I spent about 8 euros and got 10 carrots, an armful of kale, a big bag of mache, a dozen potatoes, 4 leeks, a duck carcass and a big portion of duck (thigh and leg).

(brave market vendors)

happy to buy such lovely items, fresh and local. She was happy to see me and threw in a big handful of herbs. gratuit.





(this is a glimpse at the Xmas trees throughout the village, each by a merchant's door ).








returned home and applied the paint finish (as described above), hand-rubbing in the stain. sanded a little but realized it needs to be more dry. heated up the last of my big pot of fish curry ... all market or garden derived ingredients except the rice. big glass of wine. nice hot soak in my little tub. pinned up my bird's nest hairdo again! fired up the coal stove and turned on the 2 convector heaters. installed myself next to one in front of my amazing atelier windows and am now visiting with you and watching the snowflakes descend. kind of fun as I have my own handmade snowflakes suspended in front of the window as part of my holiday decorations.

gipsy kings rocking away in the background. not a soul here yet ... but oh well.

on the agenda for this evening? ladies night with my french women friends ... potluck nibbles, wine, laughs and a free language lesson for me!

bon vendredi à tous!



(my house and shop, dusted with sugary snow!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

meet the new life, no resemblance to the old life ...

here's more on a theme I recently touched upon ...

new life ...

awaken with my own rhythm ... let the dogs out... (usually 7ish)...crawl back under covers for a while and look at the internets and stuff ... now that its winter, light a fire in the fireplace (radiator still not hooked up in my salle à vivre ... soon, soon.) If the shop will be open, start a fire in the little stove ... first paper and kindling, then bigger wood, then coal! hopefully these 2 fires light 1st time around but more often than not ... not!

most often, hop on bicycle and buy my pain au chocolat and baguette. make some espresso in my little italian pot and decide whether to snuggle some more or get properly dressed.

attend to the day's projects....which could be sanding furniture, painting furniture, driving around looking for old furniture to buy ... surfing etsy for interesting handmade items cheap enough for resell. blog for France shop, Berkeley Shop, or post FB updates for the same. find time and inspiration to blog here.

read the news (usually tried in French first). Depending on day of the week, attend a French conversation hour.

bathe and scrub the dust out of the orifices. dress myself in frippery and such ... great to have a reason! open the store, haul out and display signs outside. set up music, remerchandise, make signs and displays. meet and greet customers (usually in French).

if it is Friday ... meander down to the market and see if there's anything I can't live without. enjoy looking at everything and everyone. it is a weekly event for the townsfolk, visiting and catching up with each other as much as shopping. I find it a shame that some folks (both French and non-French) prefer the chain grocers and discount stores to the market ... claiming the market is 'so expensive'. With some comparison between stands you can find most things competitively priced, especially given the quality and knowledge of the source. It is SO important to support the market for all sorts of reasons. It is the livelihood of many local farmers. This is a positive impact on the planet and local economy. Small villages that have the good fortune to have a market need support to keep them going, especially in off-season months. And market towns attract tourism and keep a town alive ... essential for all of us who have the privilege of enjoying this lifestyle. I use the local grocer to buy things not found at the market and thus try to support the families working there as well ... I eat seasonally as much as possible, if I'm buying things not in season, there is a planetary price being paid for getting them here to me.

Stepping down from soapbox, I pause between 12 and 2pm and either cook a meal or mosey down to find a cheap one. I'm trying to cut back on this a bit in favor of frugality ... but our local restaurants need our winter support as well if they are to survive into spring and on. Lunch ALWAYS includes wine!

It is funny how many local people decry the lack of businesses and such and yet fail to support them.

In January I've enrolled in an upholstery course so that will be new on the agenda...I've found one artist's group (online) to subscribe to and am seeking other venues of similarly inclined people that I can meet in person vs. internet.

Evenings I am most often worn out and in winter's cold, loathe to go out much. But I do try 3 or 4 times a month to seek out a music happening and get myself there. I'm also lucky enough to now be included in a few social things ... such as my new circle of french women friends (yes, I somehow DID get a 2nd invite...even with my horrible French!) and I've now joined the English 'Bienvenue' circle of women who do a monthly restaurant lunch. Evenings never include television, per se, since I don't have it! That doesn't mean I don't watch movies (computer) or the occasional program fix via iTunes (The Office, Glee) or YouTube (old favorites like Seinfeld or ... gasp! .... ANTM or JudgeJudy .... can't deny every LAST drop of weirdo Americanism in me!).

I also try to scout out a day trip here and there (last one was Bordeaux) ... just to make sure I'm not taking my new life and surrounds for granted. France is one of the most beautiful and historically rich countries in Europe and deserves succor and appreciation.

week-ends might also include a long bicycle trip. a vide-grenier. gardening clean-up. interior home projects like painting and such. planting and tending the potager (in season ... next year bigger efforts in this regard) ... growing my own food or buying as close to the source as possible. better for me, better for my neighbor, better for the planet. part of my new life is trying to more of the right things ... even if they are a little more dear. it all evens out in the long run ( I save fuel by shopping close to home ... ).

if I'm being REALLY honest, I'd have to add I worry a bit more about money than in the old days. Future income that is ... and then I remind myself to 'feel my feet' (thanks Kathleen) ... all I've EVER had power over (of a sort) is the present...this day and making it all it can be. living your dream doesn't seem to pay much ... but I'm working on it.

50 pounds lighter.

old life ....

awaken to my own rhythm. Stay in bed as late as possible (depressed at the prospect of another office day) ... after all it is only a 10 minute commute. Put on the office uniform and trudge on in, driving through the Starbucks window on the way in. maybe dial-in to the first of endless 'conference calls' before I arrive. if it is winter, a good chance that it snowed or icy rained and I was up in the middle of the night on emergency weather phone calls ... (granted, the last year I let my management team suffer on my behalf). Examine reports, study performance indicators, conduct back to back to back meetings (or participate in them). help celebrate the high points, try to encourage and lead a team of great people (while feeling like a turncoat because I'd lost my inspiration, motivation, desire and mojo for such pursuits as operation center life) ... shield the team as much as possible from what was flowing downward from above ...

if I'm lucky enough to have a break in the middle of the day, buy a sandwich and chips from the vending machine. or get someone to bring me something from the cafeteria if I don't have a break. um ... wine? ha. nope but more than my share of diet sodas throughout the day.

surf France real estate sites while on conference calls and dream of an escape. is it just an illusion? confide in the handful of people I trust regarding my plight ... how can I face 15 years more of this before a retirement? why am I deferring my life until I am old? how much money ... houses ... things are enough and do I EVER even enjoy them? I have a seaside cabin that I visited maybe 3 times the first 2 years I owned it. I never even ventured to the upstairs of the house I lived in. Portland? cool city I'm told but I lack the inspiration and time to make it my own. Rather I spend my time working, depressed in bed, missing the bay area and dreaming of a life I've been to scared to attempt to form.

home around 7. usually swing by a to go spot for dinner. home. eat. bed. television. rinse, repeat. if not doing this locally, spending about 2 weeks per month flying to a different city. visiting operations centers. staying in hotel. eating poorly.

week-ends. a movie. shopping for and buying things I don't need. visit a friend. hire someone to do any project that needs doing and that I now most often do myself.

hell of a lot more steady income. selling your soul pays extremely well.

50 pounds heavier.

Monday, December 14, 2009

hello its me.

wow, past couple of weeks flew by with ups and downs and overs and outs.

I was preparing for and then hosting the first open house/reception at the boutique. We had an art exhibit with 3 artists and a Christmas sale (ongoing).

I am testing and learning and comparing how things work here vs U.S.

When we have our events at Mignonne, we send email and/or printed invites. We have a customer mailing/contact list to support this.

Here, no lists. no emails or printed invites. I made a flyer ... and posted it. Here in France every little village has at least one big bulletin board where event flyers are posted for the town folk to get the haps on what's going on in the area. You'll see village announcements (dinners, etc) and discotheque announcements and vide-greniers and all in between. People actually use these to find out what's on.

So after I laid out the flyer, figured out where a printing service was, drove there and got the flyers ... I spent a good day driving around with my posters and spray glue .... putting up my announcement. Also paid a neighbor's daughter to hand them out in town over a weekend (smaller version). You also visit all the local shops and ask them to post your flyer.

I got 3 websites to announce our week-end as well.

Wouldn't you know a cold snap would start the day before? Jean-Yves and I spend a Friday together and he installed a cast iron stove in the shop that burns coal or wood. It doesn't heat the shop entirely, but it is a hell of a lot better than with nothing. Although on our close to zero days, one still sees their breath in the store. sigh.

I also worked with the 3 artists ... this has been an experience too. Very hands-off about the whole gig and leaving it entirely up to me to publicize, to create displays ... and such. And then somewhat surprised if nothing sells! sigh again.

I made a big pot of mulled wine and baked some goodies. I ordered bits and bobs from Etsy to have some interesting handmade items as well.

And then Friday and Saturday and Sunday came. I did have more than the ordinary number of customers through. and more sales. so that is good. But nothing to write home about, necessarily. I have to take into account the wicked poor economy and how it is driving folks to guard their centimes.

what else is up? well, like I said ... a lovely day with my monsieur. also hit some vide greniers and had a lunch out Sunday that resulted in a viciously violent bout of food poisoning on Monday. I awoke in the wee-hours, struck by the plague. I finally had to cave in and just lay on the bathroom floor as waves of 'sickness' overtook me. After 5 hours or so, I realized that I was going to stop being "sick". I dragged myself into the shower to hose off. I stripped the bed. Wiped down the bathroom with bleach. Put on clean pj's. and crawled into my clean sheets, limp as a rag doll. stayed there for the duration. t'was horrible, mes amis. HORRI BLE.

Tuesday, I had a day trip to Bordeaux. Bordeaux is gorgeous. Like a little slice of Paris. Probably going back soon.

Today (Monday) I recuperated a tad from my 3-day event. I bought a Christmas tree for outside the shop. Here, all the villages have Christmas trees next to their entryways. Most are decorated with ribbon and such. I bought some flashy gold paper plates and tied them on like huge ornaments. I started work on a custom furniture piece I sold last week that included a new finish in the price. I'm pickling the piece. I wrapped all my little presents for my family and boxed them up and mailed them to the U.S. I mailed Riana her sister's book back (I will do a separate post on this book, you guys HAVE to read it). I drove to Thiviers to the bank and had coffee with mon monsieur.

I also went in to town this morning and had a coffee. It was quite funny, this little bar I go to ... no bigger than a minute. There were 3 cute old Frenchman around a table, loudly chatting and drinking wines, munching green olives. Another older woman with her glass of red, dog at her feet. A HUGE fat tabby curled up at the bar stool. Me with my petit café, nibbling my pain au chocolat out of the boulangerie bag where I just bought it and trying to read and comprehend Sud Ouest, our local newspaper. There was a big article marking the storms here 10 years ago, with lots of pictures. Continuing coverage of the national debate regarding what it means to be French. etcetera.

I'm mad because I bought 2 loto tickets (1st time here) and can't find them. What if I'm rich? zut.

Now that we are close to Christmas, I'll be opening daily although I think I'm just going to do afternoons.

Monday, November 30, 2009

these are the days of my life ...


so then, as fascinating as one petite expat's tales seem to be ... I shall continue to regale you ...

today, a typical week-day (although I confess there are many days I have to stop and concentrate on remembering what day it is ...). I awaken around 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. Not because of an alarm clock, but because that is when I awaken.

I don't rise immediately, I laze abed and regard the internets. with the time difference, mornings and nights are when I can connect stateside if needed.

usually by 8:30 or 9'ish I rouse myself and, if it is to be a solitary day, throw on jeans and a jacket ... grab my bike and head to the boulangerie for my pain au chocolat and demi-baguette. If it is a non-solitary day ... I'll do some level of maquillage and then head to the boulangerie.

I then make my coffee (italian espresso pot) ... a 30 second affair ... and watch Bruno dance at my heels while the coffee finishes. He knows if a morning bike ride occurred, there are bits of pain that await him...

I head back upstairs with coffee in hand (remember, this is that solitary day) and have another look at the 'puter. How the day unfolds is never certain but shall vary according to fate and my calendar! here's what happened today ...

After coffee, I went back downstairs and cleaned up the kitchen. I had 10:30 app't. In the meantime, I went out to the back garden and rummaged around for inspiration to make displays in the shop. Being frugal, I try to salvage first. I want some new and interesting displays for earrings and necklaces ... buying retail displays are expensive and not very interesting.

I gathered some old iron pieces, a meter of chicken wire ... and some other supplies from the shop (paints, stamps, shears) and organized my atelier (cough cough crappy former kitchen room now 1/2 junk room 1/2 work room) for further work. My 10:30 arrived to beg off and reschedule for tomorrow. I bid them farewell and decided to go down to the co-op and see if there were any cheap garden bits that could inspire me to transform them into wondrous displays. While driving there, I also decided to run over to the Controle Technique garage to get them to sign off on my papers (annual inspection which I had done and then had to get a few things fixed before receiving green light). I arrive to find he is closed Monday mornings (I'm sure I knew that) so headed over to the co-op.

A roll of new chicken wire was 12 euros, so I decided to stick with my original plan of cleaning up the old grody piece I found in the garden. A young man who worked there approached me hesitantly (I have the look of a foreigner!!!) and asked if I was "Anglaise". Nope, Americaine. Well, he wanted to invite me to an intercultural dinner next week and I figured what the hell so accepted. 14euros for a 'diner gastronomie' (anything involving canard is labelled such, ha). I then decided to spend the 12euros I saved on a copper bird feeder, a big bag of sunflower seeds and some greasy birdseed balls for my garden.

Hopped back in the car, ran over to the brico store for like inspiration, found none but bought a boxcutter since JY has made off with all of them.

Back to the house where I then got back to display making. Took an old frame, a used piece of styro I had, and used some plain, heavy-weight art paper to wrap the styro. Over that I put a piece of burlap. I cleaned and brushed a section of chicken wire, spray painted it white and wrapped THAT around the burlap covered section. Nailed all of this into the frame securely. Now I have an interesting display piece to hang earrings on. Yay me!

After finishing that, I heated up lunch (leftover veal paupiette, bit of purée and a mache salade). Looked at the clock and realized I had about an hour before my rendez-vous at the medecin (doctor) in Lisle. Decided to google directions, just in case. Also organized my various documents in the event I had to prove who I was, who my insurance mutuelle (top-up) carrier was, vaccination record, residence card, SIRET number ... (I like to be prepared...lol). Gathered my dossier, printed my directions and got on the road at 1:30 for my 2:00. Started stressing a bit as to if I allowed ample time. Cranked up the radio and the gas! ha.

I have recently received welcome into the French health system and as such, I need to select a doctor. I'm going to do a separate post on all of this for those readers interested in learning more about the process from someone who has stumbled her way through it. But suffice for now that I've had the good fortune to find an English speaking couple who are BOTH doctors, a 2 for 1 package of sorts!

Approached the shuttered-up village and parked in the centre place (plaza). Tiny town, figured I could find it. Walked up and down the main part ... hit up the bar and asked them. Yep, just 200 meters or so. Realized how bad I had to pee. in the rain. brrrr. backtracked and found the doctor's office.

door opened into a small waiting room, maybe 6-8 chairs in a tiny room with a little table in the center. On the table, a big package of surgical type masks for the taking (!). Bulletin board with a poster recommending food portion size and amounts from food groups (very familiar looking). Some support group info for cancer patients, people facing hospice. Some exercise groups. A rack of various health-related brochures. One other person is waiting here.

A door opens and Mrs. Medecin emerges and greets the other party. I wait another 15 minutes or so and then it is my turn.

I am so curious as to what is behind the door?! It opens onto a large and airy room, kind of pie-shaped. on one side is a fully-equipped examining area, with table and all the normal cabinetry and accoutrements. The other side accommodates a large desk and chairs, shelving, artwork, large window ... the doctor's office so to speak. I'm asked to sit and we look at each other for a minute...I'm trying to decide whether to speak French or English. She doesn't say anything. She's a youngish (30s) woman, obviously pregnant. Finally I just say, in English, that I'm trying to decide which language to speak. She says, in English, whichever I am more comfortable in. She has a British accent but I'm not certain what nationality she is. And I don't ask. I go on to explain I've just rec'd my carte d'assuré ... I have to select my 'medecin traitante' (primary doctor, so to speak), my neighbor and other friends recommended them so here I am.

I really have no health complaints other than my recently presenting trigger finger and the need for a new pair of eyeglasses. We discuss those 2 needs. She explains a bit more about the system... asks me about some of the normal female testing. I discover that I don't have to select a gyno, that in France once can use their GP. She tells me most French women use a gyno because they prefer a woman and most GPs are men. But I'm lucky in that with my package deal (Mr & Mrs Medecin) I can have her do it if I like. Which I do. I can already see I will like her, she is straightforward, matter-of-fact.

She tells me that many tests are automatically arranged in France based on preset norms. For example, I shall expect letters concerning mammography exams etc because they are considered necessary exams and are arranged for you. But she says, there are not a lot of these ... because the French health culture is different here and while preventive to a point, there are no mandated annual exams and few tests unless a health condition or symptom warrants it. We chat about my hand (I decide to wait until after January) ... and then she fills out my claim form (once I receive my plastic Carte Vitale, I won't need form, I'll just swipe my card and receive my reimbursement directly into my account.) She also fills out my selection form for the 'medecin traitante' and sends me on my way.

So, just imagine. A real, regular, everyday doctor. Private. Independent. their own little office. Seeing and caring for patients. Visiting in their home when needed. Spent a half hour with me and no exam was needed. Made the appointment last week. Can ring up anytime. My very own doctor. She didn't have to call anyone for approval on anything. fanfuckingtastic, my friends (americans in particular, can you even imagine???!!!) 22 euros. I have to mail a form for reimbursement but hey ... in the future, no.

I return home, brew another coffee and decide to sit down and fill out my forms. I get out the letter that accompanied my paper carte vitale (temporary) and decide to do a better translation of it. Upon doing this, I realize that the woman at Mati-Camons has requested my bank info along with the selection form. This is something else I just learned that, in my opinion, France has made more efficient. My insurance agent showed me this. You know how in the states if you want to get something either paid automatically or deposited automatically you have to give a voided check? and fill out a form? well here, along with the checks in your checkbook and the deposit slips there are some preprinted forms that you can just give out to the companies who want to set you up on autopay (Relevé d'identité bancaire). Very handy. Anyway, she had asked me for that and I hadn't really paid attention nor did I recognize the name of what she requested until reading it again, after my newfound knowledge from my insurance man. So, I organized the forms, made copies and wrote a cover letter (in French). Got that all printed out, in the envelopes, etc.

I decided to walk to the post office but before going decided I would also go to the perception and pay my tax d'habitation. I grabbed a copy of my lease for my recalcitrant tenant (another story) to prove that I had one and that HE should pay his portion (which is the norm ... tenants pay their own 'living' tax). I go to the post office and post my mail and then on to the tax office. She tells me I have to declare my unit in Perigueux first. So I go ahead and pay ALL of the tax and save that for another day. While there, I run into an English woman I kind of know ... she made a stab at running a brocante near me for about 4-6 weeks ... she asks about my coming Christmas fair and if she can bring some of her things to sell. So we arrange to meet prior, I give her my card and head back home.

I go out in the garden and install my bird feeders. Instantly, 4-6 birds appear and begin devouring sunflower seeds! smile. I get online and sort out some messages on Etsy. Pay for a few items. Write a blog post for Mignonne. Check some things on Craigslist and leboncoin. Read the news.

Decided to cook a quick meal. Made Jamie Oliver's terrific chicken breasts. Do you know these? literally 10 minutes to succulent deliciousness. Do try them, 'fast food' at its finest! Accompanied that with some of my homegrown carrots and a mache salad along with a glass of beaujolais.

After dinner, had a nice telephone visit with my daughter. she's just moved to a darling cottage, her life is going so well and I'm delighted for her. She works hard and is an inspiration.

Then decided to sit down and share a day in the life of this particular expat.

Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

cou cou


well, hello dave ...... and everyone ...

I've been suffering. from blogger's block. and loneliness. and winter malaise. and a bad case of the whines.

and I just couldn't seem to get myself to move the fingers to the keys.

I'm not out of the woods. but I've also been suffering from blogger's guilt. I mean, I love my dear little blog. and the few of you who seem to keep returning to hear me kvetch. or prattle.

when I go back and read the first year or so of my blog, it was much more regularly entertaining. not a rehash of my to do or got done list. so those of you who bear with me are especially dear, because you really aren't getting your money's worth lately, are you?

so let's see. I turned another year older this week! I ate a grilled cheese sandwich on Thanksgiving! I bought a 'mutuelle' policy that will even pay for 'thermal cures' and 'kine-massage'...basically a top-up insurance policy, including prescriptions, glasses and dental for 32€ a month! I have a crush on my insurance man, Mr. Saad. He's a quite handsome Algerian man, a former European footballer, semi-pro ... who has patiently explained all sorts of things French to me as pertains to insurance and the like (health, home, etc.). Of course, he will benefit too as I enroll in some of his programs ... he is a broker vs. agent for one firm, so that's a bit nicer, no? he brought me some lovely biscotti his wife made and next visit promises cheese.

what else. I attended an extremely cool blues concert on Wednesday at Les Toques in Perigueux. Les Toques is fast becoming a favorite hangout. It is a fairly quick 20 minutes or so from my house. It is a beer and wine bar, with good house wine and a broad selection of beers. There have been some missteps. Like the fact they insulted my good friends Amy and Eric, which makes me feel a bit traitorous about going (does it help or hurt that they have Eric's photo up on their myspace?). And the time I went to eat there and their filthy, lazy waitress made me not want to return (I was hopeful the last time I went, because she wasn't there ... but alas, this time she surfaced and seemed to quite drunkenly spend more time dancing with the guests than serving ... hmmmm, is she the owner's mate or something? ugh).

But I've been lonely and bored lately and this is a place I feel comfortable going alone (the proprietor is Irish, I believe, and always recognizes me and greets me warmly) and thus I've gone a few times recently and actually enjoyed two concerts, both blues. Last one was a French group ... but Weds was a treat with an American blues group. This group included an 80 year old bluesman named Tomcat and another fellow named Bob who has his own club in Phoenix called the Rhythm Room and looked like a 60s throwback with his mod styling and slicked-back hair. But this man could blow the harmonica like nobody's business. All I can say is that if this evening was any indication of the music to be found at his establishment, (and you live or are visiting Phoenix)...get there soon!

The club was packed with musicians, French, there to revel in some real down-home blues. I arrived hours early. The place was empty and I snagged a table right by the stage. I was treated to rehearsal and soundchecks, which was really like a little private concert. Tomcat was fucking amazing. 80 years young, dressed to kill, full of vim and vigor and flirtinglike there was no tomorrow .... (which in his case, maybe .... mais non!) what a hoot! not to mention the fact that he had this throaty, sexy voice and could play and sing his ass off. I stayed through their last set and got home around 1:00 a.m.

I also joined a 'ladies who lunch' group... a collection of 34 English women and (now me!) who enjoy a monthly lunch at local restaurants here and there in the area. I went for my first lunch on Thursday, at a Moroccan spot - tasty, and was entertained and amused at the scene. There were 23 or so in attendance at a long table, 12 and 12 facing. As the lunch and wine progressed, the group I was facing ... who had the couch and pillows side, were lounging about in groups of 2 and 3 ... chatting and visiting, reclining in front or behind each other ... it was like some sort of Roman holiday scene with ladies of a certain age in attendance. I joined to force myself out a bit, and I figured one day per month saturated with English speaking won't ruin all of my French. We'll see where this goes ... :P

I also attended a nice Art Expo night with my new friends Claude and Jean (French) ... it was at the chateau in Nontron and was quite lovely. There was a scene of performance art/poetry, sculpture and artworks and wine and hors d'oeuvres passed around. All very civilized and fun! It was here I discovered a tapisserie (upholstery course) teaching the old techniques for fateuils and such, and I've enrolled for January.

So you can see I've been making the effort to get out amongst them. In addition to these bits, Jean-Yves and I have spent a couple of our typically giggle-filled afternoons together. We've cooked lunch together, once at my place and afterwards we watched Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona together ... another lunch was at his place where he rustled up some of the biggest gambas I've seen in awhile.

But ... lately I've had these bouts of feeling like there's a sort of dark hole in my pond, where the water is swirling and swirling, trying to pull me downwards ... that dark hole has visited me before ... its a numb and lonely place that I don't want to visit ... the pull is steady and hard to avoid but thus far I've managed.

I'm tired of feeling alone and lonely. and that has nothing to do with France. Mostly it is fine. I'll be fine. I'm on the upbeat IRL ... hate complainers. but here with only my poor readers to suffer through the black moods I sometimes harbor, it is you kids ... you who pay the price. le sigh!

mais puis ,,,, je ne regrette rien!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

feeling pretty satisfied with myself.

I just opened my mail and now hold in my hands my carte d'assuré social. I am now officially covered for health services in France. Yes, I still will probably get a 'top up' policy ... but for the really big stuff (hospital stays, etc.) I am covered and can sleep a little easier.

I'm feeling a bit proud because I've cleared another hurdle and all on my lonesome. Not because I married someone who gave me all of their benefits but self-reliantly. And on the up and up.

I've achieved legal, long-term residency approval. I've started a legitimate business. and now, I have social services that I legally qualify for. I will pay into the system via my property and business tax contributions and will benefit accordingly.

KNOCK ON WOOD. (taps skull). because I'm suspicious like that.

All of this has occurred with effort and perseverance on my part. But it hasn't been a horror story. No one made me feel like I didn't deserve these things.

I have no official experience with the immigration process in the United States. But my impression is that a lot of effort is expended on trying to figure out why someone should not be allowed to be there, to participate in the system, etc.

That's kind of what I expected here, given my impressions of the U.S.

not at all the case.

Monday, November 9, 2009

as requested ... pictures ...

ok ... not too exciting camera photos but here they are.




a pickled table. curvy legs and all.





chinese dumplings ... (I'm sure Riana's would be prettier ... but hey, I'm a novice. And the taste was extraordinaire.)

à bientôt!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

sunday ...

when I'm stressed I do one of two things ... kick into overdrive or stay in bed for 3 days (oh wait ... that might be depressed...)

well today was a day of activity, all home based. got up and rode down to the boulangerie and got my chocolatine and my demi-baguette and (uh oh) 3 beignets (donut holes).

I have had chinese dumpling soup on my mind for a spell...alas, there is a dearth of chinese dumpling soup serving restaurants nearby ... so next I stopped at the boucherie and bought some ground pork.

pedalled home in the rain. then rummaged about in the garden and cut hazelnut bush branches (the feeders that spring up) because I want to use them to make some crafty things for the shop. Maybe some little tabletop twig xmas trees, some twig snowflakes, etc. also cut some branches with persimmons (? think so only smaller)

headed into my little atelier/workshop and decided to try 'pickling' a table. this basically involves careful sanding and cleaning, then you mix paint and water 50/50. brush the mixture on ... wait a spell ... wipe it off. let dry. resand if necessary. coat with varnish. finished a table.

then I sanded and stained this really cool old stand I bought at a Vide Grenier. It looks like a very tall stool, and has this kind of Celtic looking pattern cut into the bottom shelf. It will be a plant stand or hold a bust or piece of art. I decided to use a similar technique to the pickling, but less coverage using a geranium colored stain. the wood is mostly showing with hints of reddish tones.

after that I scrubbed the kitchen. made a fire. debated weather to tackle dumplings. went for it.

and I'm glad I did as they are scrumptious!!! wouldn't be found within a 100km radius...and then who knows if as good?! not that I'm bragging. but here's what I did as Chinese ingredients aren't exactly crowding the shelves!

Filling:

maybe half a cup of cooked chicken
half a pound or so of ground pork
1 minced carrot (my garden)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 minced very hot small red chile
1/2 yellow bell pepper, minced
1 knob very young ginger, peeled and minced
3 radishes, peeled and minced (from my garden)
1/2 head radicchio,chopped finely (no cabbage, worked beautifully; you can use cabbage or similar if you choose)
minced fresh cilantro (my garden)
minced fresh chives (my garden)
chili oil
sesame oil
chili powder
cumin powder
salt

just mix all of the above together.

wrappers (go on, try it. slow food is beautiful)

1 part flour to 1/2 part warm water (eg, 1 C flour to 1/2 C water, etc.) depending on how many you want to make ... I should have doubled this ratio as I have lots of filling and will make more wrappers tomorrow.

1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp oil

just put the salt oil and warm water together in a cup. put the flour in a bowl. begin to add water bit by bit and knead dough until you have a ball that just stays together, in fact look a bit dry. cover this with saran wrap and let it rest about 15 minutes.

then knead, roll it out and cut circles. I used a coffee mug to cut.

put a spoon of filling in the wrapper, fold and crimp the edges so you have little half moons.

Now, you can either fry these in a skillet with a bit of oil or boil them.

I boiled them in my homemade chicken stock. You bring the stock (or water) to a boil, put in the dumplings for 4-5 minutes. Take them out with a slotted spoon and dip them in cold water. Return to the stock pot for a minute or so.

then DEVOUR with whatever dipping sauce you conjure up. I had no soy sauce and was too hungry to create a sauce. I used Sriracha. slurp.

so that is what I've done with my day. it is 7:40 now .... time for a beer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

the many risks of living alone.


I am regularly provided insights into how I shall surrender my mortality.

Living alone is kind that way. in bits here and there, we are given glimpses ... us solitary residents. somehow, it feels like missus earth is feeding us crumbs to prepare us ... so when we are there, dying alone, we will be somewhat more prepared.

I'm a "six feet under" fan. you other gentle viewers will know that each episode commences with a scene of a death. one of their episodes which resonated with me is that of a woman ... I'd guess early 50s, who returns home alone to her small apartment, prepares her microwave-ready dinner, sits down alone at her dining table and proceeds to choke to death ... all alone. (this too reminds me of the helpfullness of a dear friend, who emailed me instructions on self-administration of the Heimlich Maneuver ... and how to self-provide CPR.)

in any event, nary a week passes where I do not experience some sort of near-death miss. whether it is a stairwell slip ... that I either recover from at the last moment ... or somehow less than gracefully manage to break my fall and experience the lesser of 2 evils ... deep and long lasting bruising vs. broken bones or neck.

some of my friends must harbor worries on my behalf...although they won't come clean and actually speak the fateful words, they regularly provide tips and techniques for calamity avoidance.

when my dear friends David and Kathleen were visiting last year, they assisted with the delivery of a huge truckload of logs for my fireplace. we stacked and stacked and then had the opportunity to build a fire on a chilly morning. It was apparent that the wood was still a bit damp and unsuitable for easy burning.

David graciously purchased a log splitter tool with a long handle and very heavy, very sharp head. It is nearly too heavy for me to hoist, but of course I tried...wobbily. David also split a large amount of logs for me, creating kindling pieces to aid in getting my fires going.

When JY observed me attempting to use this tool, a panicked expression filled his brow. "Kim-bear-lay! N'utilisez pas cet outil. c'est trop dangereux. si tu as besoin de bois pour se dédoubler, demandez-moi!!! Serieusement!!!". He was convinced I would cut off a foot.

Okay. fine, I decided this time he might be right. Winter and summer passed. Fall is here and I have the need of more kindling. I thought if I bought a hatchet.... Safer, right? I mean it is a tenth of the size of the splitter. I'm a camper. I can do it.

Well. Somehow I escaped hacking off my left hand. I was using it to steady a small log as I chopped with my right hand. A few misses of the mark, but I pressed on ... and with a stroke aimed, went left and the blade landed squarely between my forefinger and thumb. Not sure how, but it only broke the skin and caused a bleed as opposed to severing my thumb. Now, a few days later, I have a large triangular bruise and much soreness.

I've reflected in the meantime on this close call. A cut next to a large vein in my hand. Alone. of a cold morning. wondering if I'd have the presence of mind to suppress the bleeding, locate the emergency number, get me to a hospital or ambulance.

now wasn't the moment. but for many years now I've suspected a like moment will arise.

I guess there's more than the lack of regular sex to bemoan when one is single. morbidly single.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

in case you noticed ...

I added a paypal donation button in my sidebar. now ... as gauche as some of you might think this is, there IS a somewhat plausible explanation ... *cough cough*

A short while back I told you about a little booklet about my new hometown in France - Brantôme - and also not-so-subtly hinted that if anyone out there in readerland wanted their very own copy, they could purchase one from me and help the old 'no regrets' cause.

rather shockingly, a couple of you inquired. and as we pondered the easiest way to plunk down the 10€ plus shipping costs ... and determined that PayPal was the preferred method.

so, I decided to just add the shortcut to my blog in case anyone else is interested in the book ...

now some of you more cynical readers ( Randal ) might think I have ulterior motives and am planning to get rich off a pyramid scheme involving PayPal and my 12 regular readers.

damn it all to hell, you are smarter than you look.

So yeah. what? you lookin' at me? I did it. I put a donate button on my blog. go ahead. help me live to not regret another day. and if you want one of those books, include your mailing address.

Friday, October 23, 2009

not so trigger happy.


so I did some research and apparently I have acquired trigger finger. yep, in both of my so called 'ring' fingers ... so called cos it has been nearly 30 years since anyone put a ring on it. but I digress.

trigger finger is when one or more fingers 'locks' at the joint ... sort of stays in position and snaps or clicks when you try to straighten it. with some people, they cannot unlock it ... thankfully that hasn't happened. but to compound matters, on my left hand it is now apparently combined with more severe symptoms, maybe arthritis? just ask me, dr. kim ... as long as my 9 other digits can enter words in the google box, I'll give a diagnosis.

I should probably amble down to le medecin ... I've determined that a shot of cortisone might aid the situation. It is somewhat painful, particularly in the morning when I can barely bend my finger. Conversely....how often is a ring finger put into action? kind of reminds me of that old joke ...

man goes to a doctor and says, "Doc, it really hurts when I do this ... ".

Doc, "well then, don't do that ... !"

ba da bing, ba da boom.

the change in weather has also seemed to exacerbate it.

I've been holding out for receipt of my Carte Vitale (health card) which supposedly will ease the whole Doctor's visit process ... it should be coming any day ... or week ... now.

is this what aging feels like? pfffffffft.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

still trying to figure it all out. alfie.


a respite from the this happened today-garden-variety post. maybe the change in seasons makes us more contemplative ... dunno.

today I'm appreciating the flowers my monsieur, Jean-Yves, spontaneously bought me yesterday. and relishing our continued relationship ...

if anyone would have told me a couple of years ago that I would be living a french life, I would have scoffed. and yet here I am. and now that I am here, I am trying to determine just what this life should be ... or more about what it means and where it is headed. for while I am doing so much better at living in the moment, I also want to understand what the moments add up to.

I've got some new friends and a new, decrepit house. I am in love and yet still alone. I don't have to mount the corporate treadmill daily and yet am afraid if it returns to that. I live in a beautiful country, a beautiful region and am learning a beautiful new language. My health has improved with this move and despite my age. In so many ways, I feel better about myself than ever before. Some days I think I know where my compass points and others, not so sure.

I have launched new pursuits and am contemplating others. But I've sacrificed some perceived securities for these endeavors and am uncertain how the coming years will support me.

I find that most days I am the cheerleader. For me. for those I love. and for new friends. I've discovered that more things are the same than are different here. But those differences are huge and lean more towards my esprit de corps than in the U.S.

in some ways, my adventure is shared. in many ways, it is unveiled in solitude.

well. life is but the search. the longing for. the gnawing in our center that spurs us on towards the undiscovered.

just keep showing up, Kim ...

Monday, October 12, 2009

snail good!


had a fun week-end. friday, sat'day, sunday ... social outings neach day!

friday night I was invited to my neighbor's house (french) for a gal's night. It was me and four french women ... daunting, to say the least.

I still don't seem to have mastered etiquette for the various french affairs. this was more than aperitif ... and I was asked to bring wine. I picked a couple of bottles of red from my own stock ... and crossed my fingers. a couple of hours before the event, a knock at my door and neighbor's daughter inquired if I had any cheese I could bring as well. I searched the fridge and came up with some feta and some goat cheese with herbs.

later on I arrived with 2 more kinds of cheese I found, and my wine. my feta cubes were on offer with aperitif wine, so that seemed to be okay. my wine was quickly reviewed and put up on the shelf in favor of others ... I get the impression that everyone here knows more about the french wine than I ... and that I rarely hit upon the best match for the occasion.

the other guests began to arrive and the conversation began. one gal was belgian and I confess if I understood 10-15 percent of what she had to say that night, I am being generous. the first to arrive was also Perigordine ... and spoke rapid fire ... but I still understood more.

when any of them engaged me 1:1, I did better. but when you are in a setting like that, everyone is conversing. can I also say that much of the time they spoke at the same time! exhausting! ha, but at the same time good for me. I lasted until midnight and by then was just over it in terms of trying to keep up with what was being discussed. I started to zone out and so bid my adeus. When I returned home and let the dogs out, I could hear them all still laughing in the garden. over digestifs. more than anything, I was thankful to have been included ... :P

another entertaining fact about the evening occurred when we all went outside for a smoke on the terrasse. Nicole flipped the light on and there were probably about 8-12 snails slithering about. one of the guests oohed and ahhed and immediately began collecting them. she then asked for a torch (flashlight) and a container and proceeded to search further about the garden, delighted to be retrieving so many escargots! that's right, she filled up the equivalent of an ice cream container, snapped on the lid and put them aside to be taken home for 'cuisiner!' ...

won't see THAT in the good ol' you ess of ay!

(here's a link to preparation methods, if you have a bunch and are so inclined ...)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

trippy dippy.

(this is a drawing Nate did during our wanders 'round Bordeaux) ...

In addition to my cousin and daughter as visitors, I hosted a half-young couple ... Isabelle and Toby. Isabelle has been a best friend of my daughter since they were 5 years old. I have memories of them playing with My Little Ponies in our little 2 room apartment in the hinterlands of San Pablo, California. I remember going to dinner at her mom's house for my first encounter with phö ... delicious savory soup. Johnelle and "Izzy" have stayed close through the years, attending the same school until high school, working for Whole Foods and swapping tales and now, living in the same apartment building.

Isabelle is engaged to Toby, a very colorful character...he's a musician and sometimes victim of arrested development. He reminds me of a cross between Keith Richards and Steve Carrell's character "Michael" from The Office.

It was kind of funny, our day trip to Bordeaux. Between my cousin Nate's bohemian bearded artist look and Toby's glazed rocker dude appearance (complete with light make-up) ... accompanied by two beautiful young women ... we made quite the five-some strolling the passageways of old Bordeaux.

We set up camp at a cool bar/restaurant and were treated to a round of digestif after our big lunch and 2 bottles of wine. The host/bartender didn't quite know what to make of our group, but he had fun trying. I had visions of sightseeing and such, they had visions of drinking and such. Needless to say, I was outnumbered ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

surprise outing...number 1


so, Jean-Yves and I have had less time together since August ... he has been working on a project he took on (renovation) in Perigueux and I have been manning the store ... it hasn't been easy since his companionship is so agreeable and we have so much fun together on our various projects... I soldier on and try not to complain too much.

it was a treat when he arrived one morning recently and asked me to go to a home renovation fair being held in Perigueux. I had driven by it and wasn't sure exactly what was happening there, from the outside all that could be seen was a big slide and some tents ... was it a carnival? or ??

so, I hastily got my act together and jumped in the car ... we were off! I did my usual 15 minutes of continuous blah blah blah, catching him up (painfully) in french on various events. we wandered through the fair ... which was not very different from similar events you'll see in the US. Big halls with various vendors displaying the latest in paving, windows, siding, stone, solar and other heating, kitchen design etc etc etc and there were also garden displays and pools and camping cars and etc etc etc

consumerism and the push for the 'latest' improvement are insidiously making their way here...I hope the crise kills them in their tracks ...

we agreed we preferred a boat with hammocks to escape with.

from there we went in to Bourdeilles for a nice walk about and lunch. after lunch, unbeknownst to me Jean-Yves had spied a small sign for a secret garden. we followed the trail to a 'calabasas garden' ... which was a lovely spot filled with all sorts of exotic gourds ... small trails, interesting garden art and designs. we wandered around, oohing and ahhing and appreciating nature's beauty. afterwards, we entered the studio where the owner 'transformed' gourds into less than appealing chatchkas and sold them. There were various containers fashioned from gourds, with lids cut and flowers painted on. there were sugar and creamer bowls and pencil pots and lamps.

what appealed to us was the high shelf surrounding the ceiling, where untouched gourds were laid in different stages of drying ... awaiting their transformation fate. one in particular caught mon monsieur's eye. he caressed its shape and admired its spotted design ... where rains had played upon the skin and colored it.

we returned home, content with a day in each other's company. I do miss him so.

I returned a few days later and begged the owner to sell me that one special gourd. when I first arrived, he was pleased when I told him I came back to by a surprise for my companion. when I pointed up to the gourd he shook his head adamantly. Non, those were meant to be transformed. I could buy any of the after-gourds on display. I pouted and equally shook my head. non, mon copain aimer cette gourd, naturelle. we went back and forth a bit and then I made my regrets and turned to leave.

he relented and the pretty gourd was mine for a song. coincidentally, that same day, JY phoned to ask the name of the hamlet where the garden was. bussac. later on he learned it was that day I ventured off for his surprise.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

saw them in September ...


it was a month for visiting ... and juggling ... cousin nate arrived first. drove up to Angoulême to retrieve him ... he's an artist in a variety of genres (drawing, painting, comics, photography, web design) who lives in Chicago and has had a very interesting, mostly non-mainstream life. I feel like I've known him mostly as a kid, so this visit really provided the opportunity for me to get to know Nathan the man. He's over 30 now and a very cool, laid-back fellow. I've always admired his ability to blaze his own path ... and he has even served as somewhat of an inspiration to me. a little bit of a fear abater (hell, he has gone a non-traditional route and hasn't turned into a pillar of salt!!).

anyhoo, he and I had nearly a week together before Johnelle arrived. I don't think I was much of a hit in the entertainment department (not counting his 2nd night here, which I'll describe shortly) ... I didn't have a hits-packed list of sites and tours and visits to provide. But he seemed to enjoy just sitting in my garden, drawing ... or wandering down to the village to people watch and draw some more. We did venture off to Perigueux a couple of times, he patiently followed me around in my treasure hunts in charity shops ... and we stopped off at the Roman ruins which were judged most interesting and photo-worthy.

another day we drove south ... I hoped we'd have lunch in Tremolat, a little hamlet with a good restaurant that was, naturally (!), closed. just about the time we discovered this fact we also discovered I was low on gas. now Nathan, if he was here, would interject that I had stated that rather optimistically. fact was, it was an impossibility that the car continued to run as it had been on red for some time. I however will interject that the gas light was not yet illuminated so it wasn't on fumes yet, just dribbles. to complicate matters, along with many shops and restaurants ... apparently fuel stations also close on Mondays. we were in territory where there is MAYBE one fuel station in a village ... and the next village may be 20 kms away, so if the one you wanted was closed you MAY have an issue.

this of course was our scenario. I accosted an unsuspecting victim in the village who patiently pointed me to the fuel station. I told him it was closed and I had an urgent situation. He asked me if the fuel light was on (!). No? okay, you just might make it to Lalinde, a slightly larger village with 2 or more stations. Nate was no longer chuckling at my laissez-faire attitude as we wound around tiny roads in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere but cow country.

We found Lalinde. We found the first fuel station, closed. We inquired, again, about where the hypermarché was. Not TOO far, we found it and fuel. And then we ventured into the hypermarché to profit from their air conditioning and to stock up on beer. and a bottle of whisky for good measure. See Nate, I told you the gas light wasn't on yet! After that, we passed a brocante that I recognized as the very first brocante I ever visited when in France. I had to back up and go there. I found some good stuff and so did nate. but he didn't want to spend the 4 or 5 euros on the cool old mags he found there. heh heh. he didn't need more 'stuff'. of course, later he had massive regrets. I'ma gonna try and get back down there this week or next and pick some up for him. in spite of himself!

okay. nate's 2nd night here, I over imbibed. I confess. I hadn't eaten anything but a bowl of warmed up rice all day. it was a Friday night and Jean Yves stopped by with a friend, to do a few 'honey-do' items on the shop. Those were wrapped up by 7:30 and we decided to have an apero. ha. we'd all already had a beer (or 2). We brought out the rum and had rum and lime cocktails. the music got cranked up. I had the pleasure of dancing with all of them at one point or another, sometimes at the same time!

all I know is that by 9pm they were leaving, an entire bottle of rum was missing and the room was starting to spin. later in the week Nathan told me that he heard me snoring in the bathroom.

that's as much as I'll divulge about that fateful night. I guess I'm not the only one who saw a new side of their cousin during September!

(the pic is me & nate bein' silly in the store)

more on visitors from america ... next time...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

medic alert.


I had an injury today at the Brico Depot. I was pulling out a tube of mastick from the display and 2 others dive bombed the top of my foot. It was only about a 4 foot drop, but it was shocking how much it hurt. It hit the bare skin, causing a huge bruise and 2 cuts which immediately began bleeding.

I was in the slightest shock and surprise at first ... but then hobbled over to the welcome desk to ask for a band-aid. The very nice young woman there proceeded to grab a first aid kit and then guide me to a chair. She applied antiseptic and then a big patch of gauze was taped to my foot.

What can I say ? I have delicate feet.

I continued on about my shopping, which was really a feeble attempt at distraction from the fact that Johnelle left this morning.

We rose at 4:30 a.m. (arrggghhh!) ... well actually, I awoke at about 2:40 and failed to return to sleep because I was anxious about whether the alarm in my phone would work. Fortunate indeed because as I examined the setting in the dark, I realized that I hadn't selected which day I wanted it to go off. So we wouldn't have had an alarm. After that, I was convinced that there were other oversights and was unable to return to sleep.

We got on the road at about 5:15, heading for her 6:37 train at the Gare d'Angoulême. I've been back and forth there now so much this month ... I could almost autopilot it.

We arrived at about 6:15 a.m., leaving just enough time to get the ticket and haul the big ass suitcases up and down 2 flights of stairs!

I made my way back, sleepily, and crawled back into bed for a few hours. I then got up, again, sad ... and made my way into Perigueux for my Wednesday furniture hunt... and to Brico Depot for some paint and such.

I made a pitstop at Jean-Yves' work site ... but his client was there, so I couldn't very well cry on his shoulder. I kept my sunglasses on, we exchanged a few words as he leaned out the window ... and then I left.

After Brico Depot, I came home and climbed back into bed.

I'm going to have a good old fashioned wallow tonight and then ... tomorrow is another day.

I blame it on the mastick. damn mastick. damn you to hell.

( yeah I know there's catching up to do...I'm on it ... entertain yourselves with the new photos I've uploaded in the meanwhile )

Saturday, September 26, 2009

in case you're interested ...


this whole life transformation thing isn't cheap ... when you pull up stakes, transport yourself to another country and try and live a dream ... sans income ... it adds up!

well, I've spent many posts here waxing poetic regarding my new life, my new village, etcetera etcetera ... and now that I've launched my boutique, I've come upon a sweet little booklet highlighting the real scoop on my new home of choice ... Brantôme.

If you'd like to support my adventure ever so slightly, and receive something in exchange... (the book described below) ... drop me a comment or an email via the blogger contact info here and I'll send you a book. It is on offer in my store for only 10 euros ... I'm set up on PayPal so that would make it simple. Ten euros plus shipping and its all yours! Don't make me resort to one of those donation buttons ... cause I will if I must! (lol).

The new book is on offer in our new shop, The Bohemians. It is called "Brantome ... Ancient, Mystical, Sacred" is co-authored by Angela Clarke and Didier Bouillet. It is 32 pages, with highlights of the best features of our village.

The book focuses on the history of sacred sites in Brantôme ... from the first inhabitants of 4000 BC until today. It includes lovely photographs and serves as a pretty memento of the important aspects of this picturesque village.

Angela is a British author who lives near Brantôme. She recently completed her first novel, 2012 The Symphony. Didier owns a shop in Brantôme, "L'Arbre du Voyageur' and has lived all over the world before settling near Perigueux.