Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We have SNOW tonight!!!
Lots of it!
It looks like the Haute Savoie has decided to give us a first year back in France to remember.
It started out as a heavy rain all day long, but as night fell, the temperature dropped and huge, fluffy flakes began to fall. The kids immediately put on their winter gear and trooped outside to play. They threw their first-ever snowballs and made their inaugural snowman, complete with traditional carrot nose.

Mal, in particular, is thrilled to bits, to put it mildly. As she put her wet mittens on the radiator to dry, she turned to me, her big blue eyes shining and said: "This is the best day of my life!! Except for the day I was born. That was really great, too."

I was a bit surprised. She remembers that?

Full of surprises, that child.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And here's Mal:

I just found this entertaining site that takes any portrait and matches the features with celebrity photos. Then you can make a nifty collage to show off your results. I couldn't resist showing off Al's.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yesterday, I did NOT plaster, stencil, paint, wax or do anything associated with home renovation. Instead, I went for a nice walk in the mountains.

It was lovely! It gave me that "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music" kind of feeling, though I did refrain from actually bursting into song.
Here are Mal, JP and Tya as we got ready to start our trek.

Here's Mal leading the way.

One of the main aims of our walk was mushroom hunting. Not that we are experts. In fact, we know NOTHING. But we have this nifty book that we always carry with us...

We found these really huge mushrooms, but decided they probably weren't edible. JP suggested trying them out on the cats, just to see, which did NOT amuse Mal AT ALL.

We picked some mushrooms off some dead trees that seemed to be pleurotes (a tasty variety), but I'll have to take them to the pharmacy tomorrow to have them checked. All the pharmacies around here have at least one pharmacist that is an expert at mushroom identification.

It's considered completely normal (and prudent) to go to the drugstore with your bag of mushrooms and get them sorted out.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I am very tired.

THIS is why:

Cristian the Romanian Handyman is working 11 hour days. Mine run towards +15 ....
We wouldn't have to work so hard if everything were going smoothly, but smooth is a distant dream these days.

Yesterday, we started putting wax on the 'decorative lime coating' in the living room After the first wall, I knew it was all wrong- there was way too much gray in the blue and it made me feel like I was shortly to be crushed to death in a crippled submarine at the bottom of the ocean.

And that's not how a person wants to feel in his or her own living room, is it?

So, I had to drive back to Leroy Merlin (the big DIY place in a nearby town) for the third time in as many days. I traded in the blue for an ochre color called "Pierre de France" (Stone of France). And my red stencil paint was exchanged for a light sienna shade.

Here's how it's looking:

I'm very pleased, but very, very tired.

And tomorrow promises to be another über-long day. I have to go back yet again to Leroy Merlin and exchange the baseboard paint I bought this morning. I had an entire coat of it applied and then realised that the color just wouldn't work with the Stone of France wall wax. It's so frustrating! If I could just get my act together, this would all be done in a jif.

Suffice it to say that I will not soon be hosting my own home decorating program on French TV.

And finally, some real news: Tya is back from Munich safe and sound, full of tales of adventure! I've been trying to persuade her that she has to write all about it in her blog, which hasn't seen any action since Africa. . .

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Great German Adventure seems to be coming along nicely.
At least, that's the official word from the school hotline dedicated to reassuring nervous persons such as myself. After punching through a series of menus and secret codes, the suffering parent gets to listen to a short message recorded by one of the accompanying teachers.
Yesterday's recording informed me that the bus got to Munich at about 8:30 am, after a long, rather uncomfortable all-night bus trip. After a quick breakfast in a café (Sorry. That would be Kaffeehaus) they got back on the bus and headed over to the famed BMW museum. (I will restrain myself from any further comments on the latter 'attraction'. You all know what I think).
The museum visit was followed by a picnic consisting of the sack lunches the kids had brought along from France. I am hoping it was not a sunny day, as a lunch that endures a long morning in a hot bus generally leads to food poisoning...

And as for the rest of us? Keeping busy, as usual. Especially me. Cristie the Romanian Handyman is back for an encore performance and the house is being transformed. And it needs it, as you can see from these photos. Warning: if you have a heart condition or are just particularly sensitive to scary home-improvement photos, please refrain from viewing the following material...

Not so bad, you are thinking?

Well, what about THIS? This wall is where the sewage from the septic tank leaked through. NOT for the faint-hearted.Here's yet another wall we're dealing with:

Wish us luck!

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's 9:45 pm here and Valentine will soon be boarding the bus to Munich! It's her class trip this year.
Gee! When I was 15, I was beyond thrilled by the occasional trip to Kansas City. That was a Big Deal.

Of course, in light of last week's discoveries regarding what those Germans are getting up to when they're not drinking beer, I'm not all THAT comfortable about her destination .
Why couldn't this year's trip be to Spain, the home of innocuous cooking programs?

But it's out of my hands. All I could do, after I made sure she had an alarm clock, slippers, snacks, toothpaste, her passport and sufficient clothing, was tell her : " If a man comes up to you and asks you if you'd like to make lots of money really quickly and easily, just say 'nein'. 'Kay?"

She just gave me that pitying "you're so weird" look that I seem to so often be the recipient of.

On the other hand, starring in German porn films was NOT on the list of planned activities that the school gave us.

So what items are on the schedule?

The BMW museum and Dachau concentration camp.

'The Ultimate Driving Machine' and 'Arbeit Macht Frei' .

An odd combination, to put it mildly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Klingons read my blog??!!
It's the World Wide Web, not the Inter Galatic Web, isn't it?
I'm so confused..."

All this went through my head this morning as I checked my blog stats that report on what other sites my readers are coming from and I came across this unfamiliar address that has been throwing lots of traffic my way:
And when I clicked on it, I read this:
Kaksikulttuurinen, mutta täysin länsimaalainen pari muutti Afrikkaan köyhään maahan ja asui siellä monia vuosia. Lapsiakin on. Nyt he tosin ovat jo muuttaneet takaisin Eurooppaan (jossa blogi saa jatkoa). Vaimo kirjoittaa perheen elämästä ja siitä, miten se kohtaa aivan erilaisen kulttuurin, joilloin perheestä tulee tavallaan kolmekultturinen.

Tosi mielenkiintoisia juttuja ja antavat näkökulmaa etenkin, jos suunnittelee muuttoa ulkomaille ja erilaisen kulttuurin keskelle tai jos kiinnostunut siitä, millaista afrikkalainen elämänmeno on. Sekä hyviä että huonoja puolia valoitetaan rehellisesti arki- ja juhlakokemusten kautta.

Kannattaa aloittaa vaikka sieltä blogin alkuajoilta

"I may not know much, but I know Klingon when I see it!", I thought to myself. And maybe in Next Generation everybody is all cozy and Best Friends Forever, but I remember back when they were the sworn enemies of the Federation. Curse them!

But of course, they are Finnish people, NOT Klingons. I figured that out from the little .fi at the end of the web address.
The Klingons use .ki, so they're pretty easy to confuse.

If it was Klingon, I'd probably have way better luck getting it translated. Babelfish doesn't even offer Finnish as an option. And when I finally found a site offering free Finnish to English, it gave me this:

Kaksikulttuurinen , only täysin länsimaalainen par migrate Africa köyhään maahan and asui there multiprocessing year. Lapsiakin is. Now they though ovat already muuttaneet back Europe ( where blogi may extension ). Wife print household elämästä and siitä , how it stricken clean otherwise culture joilloin perheestä tulee tavallaan kolmekultturinen. Ernest engrossing tale and allocating näkökulmaa especially , if suunnittelee migration abroad and otherwise culture in or if absorbed siitä millaista African elämänmeno is. Sekä much että wicked half-time valoitetaan squarely casual and juhlakokemusten via. Sponsor launch although there blogin alkuajoil

It didn't help much.

And though the phrases "ernest engrossing tale" and "squarely casual" are encouraging, "stricken clean" and "wicked half-time" have me worried.

Any Finnish speakers out there going to help me?

(Tuck? Are you reading this? Help!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This afternoon I had some "free" time that I could have spent blogging (or more likely doing laundry and stripping wallpaper).
Instead, I ended up helping out at our tiny village library.

"It's for the children" gets me every time.

"Library" is really too grand a name. It's just one small room on the ground floor of the old rectory near the village church. For years it was open to the public on Saturday mornings and a couple of times a week for the school. And it was all run by volunteers. These days, however, volunteers are hard to come by. Most people now have jobs that keep them busy.
So, the village library is no longer open on Saturdays and they are even hard-pressed to find people to keep it open one afternoon a week for the schoolchildren.

That's where I come in.

The woman who has been running the library has had a change of work schedule and can only come about once a month now. The twins' teacher told me this last week, looking all sad and wistful. "Such a shame, really, if the children can't go to the library. They so look forward to it. I don't suppose...?
And what could I say?
I would go against everything I stand for to be even indirectly implicated in something that would deprive children of books.
So, I said "Oui". Not that I was all that happy to go when the time came. I had a million things to do at home and was a bit peeved at the idea of spending two and a half hours at the library full of French books.
I was in no mood.

Grumbling incoherently, I climbed into the car, drove to the post office, mailed a box of cheese to a shepherd (long story) and then went to the library. The other volunteer was there waiting to show me what to do. Then she left.

And suddenly, there I was: Queen of the Village Library!
And of course, I loved it. The kids were adorable and I had great fun chatting with them about the books they were checking in and out.

I even used my long-dormant knowledge of the Dewey decimal system to help small children find the books they wanted. My favorite of the day was Luna, a funny little thing with huge eyes, even huger black-rimmed glasses and mad-scientist hair. She was very intense as she asked me "Madame, Do you have any books about God?"

I LOVED being the Library Lady and will definitely be spending more Thursdays there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A giant dish heaped high with a big serving of Trouble. That would be my new satellite dish.

When the Satellite Guy arrived on Wednesday, I was thrilled. After nine years in Africa with no TV channels to watch, soon we would have 20 - the free TNT channels on offer here in France. In most of the country, you can get them with a regular antenna. But here in the mountains, it's best to go with the satellite- so we were told by friends. So, I called up and made an appointment.

We had to wait for four weeks, but the Big Day finally arrived last Wednesday. Satellite Guy stuck one of those obnoxiously ubiquitous disks onto the side of our house, drilled a hole in the wall, strung a few wires across the living room and, as we say around here, voilà!- there were suddenly a multitude of free channels to enjoy!

When everything was hooked up, Satellite Guy took the new remote and patiently showed me the first 20 channels- There was Arte (lots of culture and good documentaries) and Gulli (a kids' channel).
Then he punched in a number. 544. There was CNN! In English!!
532. Sky News! In English!
How about 567? That's BBC World!
There were WAY more than 20 free channels!! There were hundreds!
Satellite Guy clicked past a few. Most seemed to be in Spanish, but even that seemed thrilling. Tya is taking Spanish at school! She could practise by watching tv! Satellite TV improves childrens' grades! Imagine that!

I wouldn't say I was euphoric at this point, but as my Brit pals might put it- I was pretty chuffed.

I wrote Satellite Guy a largish check, saw him out the door and then went off to make lunch. The kids were soon all home from school and after we ate, I announced that the TV was New and Improved. We then all trooped into the living room, where I proudly showed them how to turn on the decoder box and change the channels, just as Satellite Guy had shown me. They watched in awe as I clicked down the program list. It showed the current program on a little box in the right of the screen. Very High Tech for us folk recently arrived from Burkina!
I clicked past TF1, 2, 3, Canal+, 5, M6, Arte, Direct8, W9 and on down the list until I got to FranceO. After that, next on the list was Friends TV.

So JP says "What's Friends' TV?"
I said "I don't know".
And then I clicked "OK".
Suddenly all six of us: mom, dad, 15 year old daughter, 12 year old son and adorable 10 year old twins were all looking at a picture of a very buxom young lady. We could all tell she was extremely buxom because she had no shirt on.
And no pants, either.

Now, I have pretty good reflexes, honed by years of motherhood. As soon as I saw we had a sprawled naked strumpet on our hands,so to speak, I gave that remote a good, hard click. Which took us right to the next channel. Which featured yet another over-endowed, underclad blonde woman.
And the next click? Still more German porn.

Egads! hardly covered it!
What had I invited into my home?!

Further investigation (sans children!) revealed that channels 301 to 399 were almost all sites offering German porn. They each featured a photo of a naked young lady, cheesy background music and even cheesier voice-overs in German which no doubt invite the viewer to subscribe, amid all the panting and moaning.

The 400's seem to be mainly in Spanish. It mostly runs to cooking shows and soap operas. No Spanish porn on offer.

The 500's have several news channels in English. No English porn either.

I guess the German economy sustains itself by making quality cars and producing the majority of worlds' smut?

Right now I'm closely supervising TV time to prevent the kids from being scarred for life by an accidental click or an excess of curiosity. But early Wednesday, I'm having the satellite guy back to help me block the offending channels.

I originally thought we had about 300 free channels to watch. But as the vast majority of them are sleazy or Spanish, there are really only about 30. But that should be quite enough.

Then there's this:
TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it. ~Author Unknown, from New York Times, 1939

And everyone in these modern days says they're so very stressed and busy, busy, busy.

And how many people do you know that say they are "too busy" to read, but somehow have hours to spend watching television? I've certainly met many.

Maybe this TV thing wasn't such a great idea after all...

Friday, October 10, 2008

For quite some time, we were convinced that all of our belongings from Africa were at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Pirates! They sunk the container ship!" JP said, as though 21st century Blackbeards roam the seas looking for ratty container ships sailing out of Dakar.
I didn't exactly think it was pirates, but I knew something strange was going on. As you may remember, we packed up our belongings in Ouagadougou on July 5. We were told they would arrive in France around the 1st of September.

But September began and we still had absolutely no news of the 20 foot long metal box holding most of our worldly belongings.

At first I sent emails. Emails that nobody answered.
Then I started calling, which has been somewhat more productive. At least now we know that our stuff is NOT at the bottom of the ocean, but is instead sitting on a dock in Marseille. It got there on September 18 and shows no signs of moving farther north, towards our home in the Alps.

Without our furniture, we've sort of been camping out in our house for the last three months. For example, we don't have enough seating in the living room, so we have an old mattress to sit on. Trés chic.
And the twins are sleeping on a futon on the floor.

But one thing that's not in the container is a table. So, we bought one. Actually, we ordered it about two months ago from a local company that makes oak furniture. It finally came this morning and it's just lovely! It makes such a great change from eating off a white plastic garden table!!

Also, in these pics you get to see a bit more of the walls that I struggled over for so long.
I think it all fits so well together!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Great Septic Tank Disaster last week completely overshadowed any other concerns in my life. It even made me forget to share the final results of my "decorative lime coating" experiment in the dining room!
Here's a photo of the final stage: painting on a border. The stencil was supposed to be "new and improved": self-adhesive and made in easy to use three meter lengths. It sounded very practical, but in reality was a nightmare. It stuck to the ladder, itself, my hair, the cats...everything except the wall. I ended up having to cut it into meter-long sections and sticking it up with masking tape.

I think the end result was worth it. I'm SO happy with how it turned out. Even JP was impressed. "This looks great!" he said. "You should do it in the rest of the house!" I was flattered, but did feel a tad faint at the idea of spending another month or two struggling with the fancy plaster, especially when wallpaper goes up so easily and would be done in a jif.

Here's the view from the kitchen, through the hallway and into the living room. these are the next areas I'll be attacking. On Monday, I'll start hunting for wallpaper and then on the 18th of October, the old stuff is coming down and the new will go up.
Cristie the Romanian Handyman will be back to help, so it should get done pretty quickly.

The plants drying on the right are some lemon mint for tea. The sign over the door is a gift than an elderly neighbor carved for us.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

When people find out that we've moved to France from Burkina Faso, I frequently get this remark, or something very like: "Well, this must be a big change for you."
I guess it's one of those conversational space fillers, because I doubt they're really expecting me to say "No, actually France is just like West Africa. Except for the cheese. You guys have way more cheese here. But other than that, life is exactly the same. Yup. Amazing but true."

The reality is, that besides the fact that you breathe oxygen in both locations, life couldn't be more different, at every level.
Some examples, taken from daily life:
1. In Ouagadougou, most people don't have septic tanks. And even latrines are considered pretty fancy stuff. Most folks just find a corner, more or less secluded, and squat.
In contrast, here in France, the Septic Tank Inspector comes around and checks that everything drains where it should. One came to visit me today, in fact. His verdict? Spend money, much money because it's wrong, all wrong. And in the immortal words of the Terminator: "he'll be back".
2. Everything I own isn't covered with fine orange dust.
3. Burkina is full of black people. Rural France has none, as far as I can tell, unless they are out there hiding behind the cows.
4. I mention the cows because they are enormous here. They are like elephants with nose jobs and fuzzy jackets.
African cattle are lean to skeletal. They are the cow version of marathon runners. They look desperate, joyless and in need of a good meal.
And we musn't forget:
5. In Burkina we were never in any danger of freezing to death. This is in direct contrast to life in the French Alps in the autumn. There is already snow on the nearby hillsides and each night the temperature here at the house hovers around freezing.
To help stave off the cold, we ordered some firewood last weekend. We all had to work like mad to get it stacked up under shelter before the rain started up.
Note: in nine years in Ouagadougou, I never, ever had to haul and stack firewood.
Here's the Frogman and Tya, nearly done with moving the first half of the load.

This is the wood for the woodstove and had to be stacked up in the garage.
The immediate danger of freezing now neutralized, we've moved on to other tasks. One has been to scrape the moss off the roof tiles. This is yet another thing that we never, ever had to worry about in Ouagadougou. We occasionally paid someone to go up on the roof and brush off the dead leaves and cockroaches, but that was about it.

The garage needs to be cleaned out now that the Great Septic Tank Crisis has passed. And I haven't done anything in the yard in ages, despite promising Mal that we could plant some bulbs for the spring. So, this should be yet another busy, non-African week here in the Haute Savoie...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

My computer has been very, very ill. In fact, it's still not feeling all that great. If it was one of my kids, I'd give it herbal tea and cover it with a nice crocheted afghan, poor thing.

Due to unwise navigating and clicking on the part of my numerous offspring, my computer managed to pick up no less than 21 viruses. Things pretty much ground to a halt, as you may imagine;
I worked for hours yesterday and managed to clean out 20 of them, but there's still one left. It's the dreaded "zlob trojan' that hijacks your hompage and makes navigating almost impossible.

If I EVER meet the person that came up with this thing, I swear I will smack him upside the head. And if I have access to a firearm, I will also shoot him. Not fatally. Probably.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rescue arrived this morning at 8:30am in the form of two elderly French fellows in blue coveralls. (No more goat-bearded youths for me, thanks.) They deserve a round of applause, especially Gerard (seen here in the photo) . Friday is his day off, plus it's his birthday today! When I told him "thanks for coming" and then "Joyeux Anniversaire" he blushed bright red. I think he would have fainted if I'd gone with my idea of singing him the "Happy Birthday" song in English.

I stayed out in the garage to watch most of the septic tank empying operation. Maybe some people would have thought it smelled awful. I, however, having lived with an overflowing tank for nearly a week, thought it smelled distinctly perfumes of Araby-ish.

Sadly, this intervention doesn't mean we can rest easy about our sanitation situation. I was informed by my heros in blue that:
a. our septic tank is very old and is leaking into the ground (Eeeewww!)
b. it's way too small for a six person family,
c. by law, all these old installations have to be brought up to code by 2011
d. our village will pay a subvention of 50 to 60 percent of the costs of upgrading;
So, the news wasn't all bad.
When I went out to the garage to watch all the fun this morning, Clio-the cat-who-thinks-she's-a-dog followed me, as she always does when I venture out to hang the laundry and do other chores. Mr. Darcy took advantage of her absence and stole her favorite spot on top of the radiator.
Looks comfy, non?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Septic Tank news: We are still ankle-deep in foul liquids. The septic tank is supposed to be emptied tomorrow morning at 9am, but I'm not getting my hopes up. I'll believe it when I see it.

Medical news: Alexa's new cardiologist is very impressive and I'm hoping we can get some real help there. Once again this morning, she was pretty unwell and couldn't go to school., so help is sorely needed.
She'll get a holter monitor Saturday morning and spend 24 hours with that on, measuring her heart function. After that, we'll see about changing meds. The doc said her heart is still too small to try surgery again.

Political news: McCain is a complete psycho. Did you know that? Of course you did.
You won't vote for him, right?