Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas à la française

Lionel and I spent a wonderful Christmas with his parents at our house. We ate far too much, exchanged gifts, spent time just relaxing rather than working on the house, Skyped with my family and just all around enjoyed the holidays as best we could despite the bad weather that arrived for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
 
Following true French tradition, most of our Christmas celebration revolved around the food.  On Christmas Eve we enjoyed an incredible meal of lobster, goose, stuffing, chestnuts, cepes and black forest bûche.  Then on Christmas Day we whipped up another huge meal of foie gras, smoked duck, roast boar, chestnuts, green beans and a mango, passion fruit and vanilla ice cream bûche.  And naturally we made it through quite a few different bottles of wine and champagne.  It was all quite delicious (Rasteau especially enjoyed the feast) and now I feel Iike I need to stop eating for at least a month to make up for it!
 
our Christmas table
 
Rasteau checking out the lobster in anxious anticipation of the meal to come
 
Goose, stuffing, chestnuts, cepes and a delightful bottle of red...yum!
 
black forest bûche
 
foie gras and an incredible Jurançon
 
Roast boar, chestnuts and green beans with another delightful red
 
Rasteau was also quite spoiled for Christmas.  Not only did he enjoy lobster, goose, foie gras (he's so French!), boar and some cream but he also received one hell of a gift:
 
Rasteau was one spoiled little kitty this year!
 
And as predicted, he hasn't been particularly interested in his new arbre à chat since we put it together and sat his butt down on it.  Hopefully that will change but he generally does like to be difficult!
 
Hope everyone else had a great Christmas with family and friends!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Joyeux Noël

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Finally in the mood pour les fêtes

I have finally managed to kick the cold that has kept me out of commission for nearly three weeks and my improved health seems to have brought with it an improved holiday spirit.  This weekend I finally had the chance to actually enjoy the Christmas season and to get caught up on all the things I just haven't had the energy to do.

I made sugar cookies, just like I would do with my mom and brother when I was a kid
 
I also made a loaf of gingerbread
 
I found a poinsettia while we were out shopping yesterday
 
And we finished all our Christmas shopping and got the gifts wrapped and under the tree
 
 I also, for the first time this year, didn't feel like I was forcing myself through Christmas.  I'm quite happy I finally have the energy to enjoy the holidays since this is one of my favorite times of the year.   I plan to make the most of the few days that remain this holiday season!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Crazy cat lady

I just might be turning into a crazy cat lady; my life seems to practically revolve around cats lately!  Now that Lionel has a job and I'm home all day alone, albeit working, my only company is Rasteau.  And his only "slave" is me.  I can tell that he feels the loss of his "daddy" and so he constantly turns to me for everything he wants, be it to have a door opened so he can go out or come in, to be brushed, for a treat, to show off his kills, for a distraction, for a "conversation" or for attention, love and cuddles.  And if he feels like he is being ignored (usually because I'm too busy with work or on the phone with the office or a client) he certainly has found the best way to make his presence known and to announce the fact that he wants something.

If Rasteau feels like I'm not paying enough attention to him, or if he has any desire that isn't met, he makes sure to come upstairs into my office and sit his butt down right in front of my computer to make sure I haven't forgotten his furry little presence.

And if that isn't enough, he lays right down on my papers and computer, refusing to move until he gets what he wants.
 
And one time, when he saw that I was busy with work and all his attempts still weren't getting the desired reaction, he planted himself right on my arm while I was using the mouse

He just doesn't seem to understand that someone has to work in order to pay for all his croquettes and pâté!  Instead he thinks I can be there to respond to his every wish and desire immediately since his "daddy" is no longer available to be a full-time slave.

Now, if turning into my cat's servant isn't enough to qualify me as a crazy cat lady, we also seem to have "adopted" a neighborhood cat.  She has always come into the yard and she and Rasteau sometimes played together or got in little fights, but a few weeks ago she showed up at the back window and cried for hours.  We felt bad for her because she was cold and skinny so we gave her some food and some love and we were done for.  Now she comes by at least twice a day for meals and every time I open the door she attempts to run in the house, sometimes succeeding. 

At first Rasteau seemed quite unhappy about the arrangement, but he has since realized that he has enough food to share.  He's accepted it so well that now when he's outside the two of them seem to enjoy playing together just fine and they never fight anymore.  And yesterday they worked together to bring me plenty of gifts.  In just one day I was the not-so-thrilled recipient of a pile of feathers and wings (courtesy of her), a partial lizard (courtesy of Rasteau) and a mouse head (not sure who left me that gory gift).

Rasteau protecting his territory while the other cat stares at me through the window in hopes of getting into the house or at least getting a treat
 
 
waiting for her breakfast this morning
 
My biggest fear is that all the random cats in the neighborhood are going to start coming by thinking we are a free buffet!  But I just feel so bad for her (we don't know if she has a home or not), especially when I see her out in the cold or the rain, that I can't help but at least give her something to eat and a few cuddles.  One night, when it was particularly damp and cold, we even let her sleep cuddled up on some blankets in the garage. 
 

after spending a few days keeping a close eye on all the happenings in his yard, Rasteau has finally calmed down and accepted the situation and is returning to normal life which includes relaxing/sleeping in his cabane

I'm pretty sure that at this point my life is almost entirely ruled by cats, and if that doesn't make me a crazy cat lady, I don't know what does!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Noël

I'm finally starting to feel a tiny bit better, though I'm still far from being completely over this sickness.  As my health slowly improves I'm getting more and more into the Christmas mood (about time!). As such, I have not only managed to finally get gifts sent off to my family in the US, but I have also finally managed to finish decorating the house!

 
 
Now hopefully by this weekend I'll be fully recovered and able to enjoy what is left of this holiday season!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Time is flying

I cannot believe that the first week of December is over! I feel like time is flying by so fast that I can barely keep up. I just realized I never posted about Thanksgiving dinner, but at the same time it feels weird to be talking about Thanksgiving with Christmas just around the corner.

Nevertheless I'm going to do it, but very briefly!  Thanksgiving dinner this year went off without a hitch.  I didn't burn anything and there were no major complications. There were also tons of leftovers to be enjoyed for days afterwards as I made enough food for at least ten people but we were only four. So, what was on the menu?  Butternut squash soup, turkey (of course), green bean casserole, mashed sweet potatoes, honey glazed carrots, homemade stuffing (made it in the crockpot this year!), pumpkin pie and pecan pie.

 
 
Now that the first week of December is over I'm trying to get to work on Christmas.  It kind of hit me this past week that if I'm going to get gifts in the mail for my family, I have to get moving!  So, I've spent the week trying to figure out ideas for gifts and shopping as best I can.  I also set a deadline of this weekend for getting a Christmas tree and getting the house decorated. 
 
What is making everything much more complicated is that I've been really sick all week, and rather than getting better I just seem to be getting worse.  I woke up yesterday morning and literally felt like I had been hit repeatedly by a bus.  Getting through the work day was hell and I finished up all the medicine in the house before the day was even half over.  I finally managed to convince Lionel to run to the pharmacy for me last night when he got home from work (!) and he came back with a bag full of different medicines to help with all my varying symptoms.
 
Today has been much the same, but I pumped myself full of medicine this afternoon and Lionel and I went out quickly to pick out a tree.  That little errand pretty much wore me out for the day, so I'm hoping to have the energy to decorate tomorrow.  I also will have to get gifts wrapped and packed up in a box to be shipped on Monday. 
 
Whew...I just don't know where the days are going and I cannot believe there are only two and a half weeks left till Christmas!  Thanksgiving being so late in November this year really threw me off track for the Christmas season.  I hope that everyone else is faring better than I am for the holidays this year!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey Day

Though I'm not in the US to celebrate Thanksgiving with family this year, Lionel and I are still having Thanksgiving dinner tonight with friends.  And I'm hoping to get a little Skype time in with my family while I finish cooking. 

I feel like we have a lot to be thankful for this year - we both now have jobs, we are finally getting settled into our new life in Bordeaux, we are in good health and so are our friends and family - things couldn't be better. 

I hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving and I'll be back soon with pictures of our Thanksgiving feast (assuming I don't burn anything)!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Anniversaries

Lionel and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on Friday and to mark the occasion we decided to take a little trip.  So I took Thursday and Friday off work and we spent four days exploring Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon.  Our original plan was just to do "les sites Cathares," but in the end we threw some other places in as well to mix it up a bit.

We had a great time and really enjoyed every place we visited, though the trip would have been even better if the weather had cooperated a bit more.  We went from rain and snow in the Midi-Pyrénées to 120 kilometer an hour winds in Languedoc-Roussillon with barely any sun or blue skies, despite the weather forecast prior to leaving.  And this past weekend it certainly felt like winter decided to make it's appearance in France!  Regardless, we decided to make the most of it and though we were prevented from doing some of what we had planned because of the weather (for example the road to the Château de Monségur was closed because of snow so we not only couldn't visit the château, but we also couldn't even get a view of it because of all the snow), we still had an incredible time and are already planning to go back and explore some more in the spring/summer.

Medieval city of Mirepoix

Foix and the Château de Foix above the city

View over Foix from the château.  Lionel is grinning like crazy because he was so happy to be in Foix.  He lived there for 4 years as a kid and hasn't been back in 25 years.  He really enjoyed seeing the city again and showing me where he used to live, play and go to school.

The ruins of the Château de Peyrepertuse perched high on a mountain

A view of the Château de Quéribus

Les Gorges de Galamus

Collioure, an adorable town on the Mediterranean

visiting Collioure

Collioure

Collioure

An étang near Peyriac-de-Mer

Flamingos!  I was incredibly excited to see tons of flamingos in their natural habitat in the étangs along the Mediterranean coast in Languedoc-Roussillon

Another étang along the coast

more flamingos!

view over the Mediterranean from Cap Leucate

Carcassonne

Carcassonne

Hiking up to the Châteaux de Lastours, four châteaux situated on the same mountaintop

An overlook onto the Châteaux de Lastours

the four Châteaux de Lastours
 
Then yesterday was our "anniversaire de rencontre" as Lionel likes to put it...8 years since we met one fateful night at a bar in Paris!  It's easy for us to remember the date since it's only four days after our wedding anniversary.
 
We also got some great news over the weekend.  While we were visiting Collioure on Friday Lionel's phone rang and when he answered it was a job offer after an interview he had last Wednesday!  So Friday night we spent the night in Perpignan and went out to celebrate not only our anniversary but also Lionel's new job!  He starts on Monday and I'm so happy for him! I know he's extremely relieved to finally have found something and he's really looking forward to starting work.  Looks like things really are falling into place!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Afterwork in English

As the weather starts to turn cold and our renovations are slowing down until the spring (unfortunately for my desire to have a clean and functional bathroom...but at least we have a toilet again!), I've been working on motivating myself to try to get out of the house and meet some new people.  I have a lot more free time now that we are taking a bit of a break with the major renovations and my in-laws aren't always here.  All of this free time is making me realize just how badly I need to meet some more people and make some friends here in Bordeaux.  After a long day of work cooped up in the house I just want to get out, see people and do things and Lionel is quite the homebody.  So, despite nearly three weeks of constant rain, last Tuesday I forced myself out of the house. 

I've been a member of meetup.com since living in Paris, originally using it as a feeble attempt at networking when I was unemployed.  But in the end I found a few groups I really enjoyed and I would attend their meetups whenever possible.  Then, when Lionel and I moved to Ohio, we used it to find other French speakers in the Cincinnati area.  So, now that I'm in a brand new city where I know almost no one, I thought it would be the perfect way to meet some new people.  And that is how I found myself at Bu Bar à Vins in downtown Bordeaux last Tuesday for the Afterwork in English.

Afterwork in English is a group for people who want to have the opportunity to speak English here in Bordeaux and they meet once a month at a wine bar in the center of town.  There are some native speakers who are expats or students here in Bordeaux and a lot of non-native speakers (mostly French) who want the opportunity to practice their English.  Most of the non-native speakers seem to have spent some time living in Anglophone countries and now that they are back in France they don't want to lose their English.

At first I was a little nervous because sometimes I can be a bit shy when meeting new people and I find that as I get older I am becoming more and more awkward with polite conversation and new social interactions (I'm not really sure why but this could probably be the topic of an entire blog post).  I even almost changed my mind about going at the last minute but then I told myself I shouldn't be ridiculous and I should just get out there and meet some new people.  I am very happy I listened to my more reasonable side!  As soon as I arrived I started chatting with two French girls who spoke English very well and the next thing I knew it was almost midnight on a Tuesday night and definitely time to head home!

About 40 people showed up for English conversation, wine and a few activities including a quiz in English.  Unfortunately our team didn't win, but we actually did surprisingly well.  Not only did I have a lot of fun but I also really liked the location.  Bu Bar à Vins is a small and modern wine bar in the center of Bordeaux and they have a great wine selection, good food and reasonable prices.  Overall I really enjoyed the Afterwork in English meetup and I definitely plan to go again next month!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Everyday excitement à la maison

Not much has been going on chez moi recently...or at least nothing particularly interesting or exciting.  The weather has been absolutely miserable for the past few weeks with rain every day.  As a result we've spent a lot of time just relaxing at home, not feeling particularly motivated to brave the nasty weather.

However, two weekends ago we were so desperate to get out of the house that we decided to just go for a drive for a few hours to explore.  We figured that if the rain let up for a little bit we could always stop somewhere and go for a walk, and well, if not then at least we could see something other than the inside of our house.  So we jumped into the car, decided to follow La Garonne south and just started driving.  Along the way we made all kinds of discoveries from beautiful churches and chateaux in all states of repair to some cute little towns and cités médiévales.  The rain even let up a bit at one point so we were able to get out of the car to explore.

the ruins of the Château de Rauzan
 
La Réole
 
the cité médiévale de Saint-Macaire
 
Saint-Macaire
 
Saint-Macaire
 
Langon
 
a church surrounded by vineyards near Langoiran
 
Then yesterday Rasteau decided to go on his own little adventure when there was a break in the rain.  Apparently he didn't learn his lesson last time and he thought it would be fun to visit our roof and the neighbor's roof again.

Rasteau peering down over the edge of the neighbor's roof
 
A little Rasteau, king of the neighborhood, perched on the neighbor's roof and surveying his realm from the highest point he could reach
 
Heading off to investigate a different part of the roof and to check out the view on the other side
 
And finally, because this just wouldn't be my blog without some kind of disaster happening in my house, we are currently without toilet and shower.  I've been roughing it for two days now and there is no end in site.  It all started early last week when we noticed that our toilet wasn't working normally.  As the problem got worse I finally said to Lionel that it had to be clogged.  So I sent him off to the store to buy a plunger and didn't think anymore about it figuring the problem would be solved as soon as he got home.  Of course, it wasn't.  The plunger didn't do a damn thing to help and in the end seemed to make the situation worse because suddenly used toilet water started slowly leaking out of the pipe and onto my bathroom floor.  We tried every trick in the book and on the internet to unclog a toilet.  I even sent Lionel to the hardware store to buy a snake.  The situation didn't get any better and the water continued to leak.  Finally we gave in and called my father-in-law because he at least has some plumbing experience.
 
My father-in-law came last Thursday and tried everything he could think of and it still wasn't working.  So finally he removed the sewage pipe behind the toilet (let's not even talk about the extremely disgusting mess that was all over my bathroom floor at this point) and managed to get it unclogged.  He then put everything back together, we tested it out and it seemed to be working.  I was thrilled to have a functioning toilet again, though none of us understood how it managed to get so clogged in the first place.  My father-in-law went home and then Friday morning we noticed that the toilet was acting very strange again.  That's when I knew I was in for trouble.  At first we tried to ignore it, but finally on Tuesday we realized we were in deep shit (pardon the pun) and called my in-laws again.  Clearly the problem wasn't just a clog, it was something much bigger than that.
 
Lionel's dad came early yesterday morning with the parts and tools necessary to redo all the plumbing to the water closet.  My morning started off with the sound of jackhammering at 8 a.m. as he and Lionel had to remove a chunk of the cement path next to the house to access the pipes outside and remove the cement foundations under the bathroom to access the pipes inside the house.  In the process, for some reason unknown to me, the pipe that the shower and bathroom sink drain into was also removed.  So, since yesterday morning I have been without a shower, bathroom sink and toilet.  And then, surprise, surprise, my father-in-law had an out-of-town meeting today, so he left last night and isn't coming back to continue the work until tomorrow.  Just prolonging the 19th-century-chamber-pot torture for me!
 
Now, naturally, because nothing gets discussed in this family, I don't know what the plan is for the next few days.  In my mind I figure that since the concrete to the pipes and sewer system is already all torn up, half the plumbing in the house is removed, the toilet is sitting in the garage and the bathroom is currently non-functioning, this would be the perfect time to just make a final decision on how we want to proceed with the bathroom and water closet renovations and just get it done.  I can suffer the chamber-pot toilet and glove-and-bucket-of-soapy-water shower process a little longer if the end result is going to be a fully renovated bathroom.  But, from what I understand, my father-in-law has every intention of just fixing this little toilet issue, redoing the shower drain so it connects directly to the toilet's sewage pipe (very poorly thought out in my opinion because if he really follows through with this plan we will have the pleasure of enjoying the smells of the toilet all the way upstairs in the bathroom), reinstalling the same old toilet (which could, for all we know, be what was causing the problem in the first place), pouring new concrete, leaving a hole in our WC floor and calling it a day.  And then, a few months from now he would like to install a new toilet in the WC at which time we would finally tear up the old linoleum floor and install the new floor.  Then, early next year as well, we would proceed with the bathroom renovations. In theory (if he agrees to do them correctly, which unfortunately isn't a guarantee) this would require us to tear up all the newly poured concrete to access the pipes again so we could redo the bathroom plumbing.
 
Now this seems absolutely stupid to me.  As much as I would kill to be able to use a real toilet and wash my hair right now, if we are already half way there, why not just get it all done now?  Especially for the WC.  I just don't understand why you would reinstall the old toilet if you have every intention of replacing it with a new one in a few months.  Just go and buy a new toilet and install that one now.  And finish the floor at the same time rather than leaving us with a ripped apart disaster for a few months before tearing out the toilet again and redoing it all.  It's not like I particularly want to have to repeat the chamber pot experience in a few months!  Oh well, it's not like I have any control over it anyway.  Tomorrow I will hopefully find out what exactly the plan is and I fully expect to be frustrated and disappointed.
 
Lionel working on tearing up the concrete
 
The current state of our WC