The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Tuesday 31 December 2019

My word for 2020!

Gosh it's foggy out there today! This morning, instead of doing my usual "slob around in my jimjams while having breakfast and reading the news until about 10.30", I decided to get up and get moving as I wanted to stop in at the Mairie in our village before they closed at noon. So I bounded out of bed like the decoy hare in the starter trap at the dog races, jumped into the shower and drove the short distance to the Mairie. The young woman there is very nice and she remembered doing me an attestation sometime ago to the effect that I have lived in the village since April 1990, but I told her with Brexit looming I suspect "they" would want a more recent attestation. I also asked her if she could do the same for my son, to prove that he had lived in the village from birth (1992) until October 2015, when he moved in with Jen. She said she will have them both ready for me if I want to stop by next week. Other than that, I'm not sure what is acceptable to the French authorities as proof of over five years of residence, given that we haven't needed permits to live in France for many years - and Jordan has never needed one! Yearly tax declarations I suppose, but I suspect an attestation from the Mairie will be easier!

As I was on my way out I saw a group of around 30 young men in hiking gear with huge backpacks, so I reckon they were heading up the mountain at the back of my house to camp/watch the fireworks. I reckon it would probably be a 4-5 hour hike up there but good luck to 'em in this miserable weather! Still, a bit of fog is a million times preferable to the horrendous bushfires in Australia at the moment! I see today that 4,000 people are trapped on a beach just waiting for the orders to "jump into the ocean" if the fires get any closer! God I hope it doesn't come to that and that Australia (in particular) and California can get a good dousing by some of the rain we've been having here, and that in Europe the rain will dry up long enough for some of the flooding to recede. I can't even begin to think how exhausted the wonderful emergency services must be!

After the Mairie I decided to head on down to Cluses, about 30 minutes away, as I will be starting my next round of once-a-month patchwork lessons and the lady asked us to stop by and choose the supplies we will need for our next project before our first lesson on Tuesday evening. Since it's new year's eve the shop was quiet so I got her all to myself, helping me pick out binding for the baby quilt I'm making, as well as advice on making a tote bag Jen would like me to make for her! This lady has wonderful taste (thankfully, as she's in the business) and I just find it so confusing picking out coordinating fabrics and so on. I guess you've either got it or you haven't and I definitely haven't - hence I'm so glad of her help! I was also explaining to her the difficulty I had had trying to quilt my baby quilt so she showed me a proper quilting foot for my machine and it does make a helluva difference. I was also asking her about quilting motifs on borders and she showed me where I had been going wrong there - but I think I'll leave buying that equipment for later. I'm a very slow learner as far as quilting is concerned, so I reckon a few months before buying the next round of accessories for my machine won't hurt. I had a bit of an "ouch" moment when I realized how much I'd spent but in the end I reckon it's one of my few hobbies and I generally budget for this kind of stuff so I'm good with it really!

When I was in the grocery store the other day I picked up one of those freebie magazines that tells you what's going on in the local area. For some reason I looked at my horoscope (I never read that rubbish), but this one said "as a Libran you need to get outside more into the fresh air"! Ha, so I was right the other day then! Actually I also managed to get a walk in yesterday too, up behind the houses where I met the farmer in February. And while it's still not easy going uphill it's nowhere near as difficult as I used to find it, although coming back down through the fields I found the going a bit slippery so I think I'll take my walking stick next time!

I also spent maybe a half hour the other night going through all the blogs on my favourites bar and deleting as many as I could. Some bloggers have stopped blogging. Some I found interesting and "wanted to read them from the beginning" but never got around to it. For some my taste has just changed, so I think it's good to clean it all up a bit as I wasn't reading them anyway. Just hope I didn't delete any of my real favourites by accident! And talking of blogs, I happened to look at the stats for my blog on Christmas eve (which is something I never do), and I saw that I had 99,998 hits on my blog! I suppose two things spring to mind. How was I going to get two more hits to get to the magic 100,000 mark? And I can't even begin to fathom that people actually read my blog! I started it because I wanted to write down my stories for my boys and never really expected anyone else to read it, but wow! Now if I can just get two more people to read it between now and midnight!!!!!

Then on Saturday I used my phone app to submit about €600 worth of medical bills to my insurance provider. Once my 300 Swiss franc annual deductible is met I'm reimbursed 90% of most of the remaining costs, so it was quite a shock when my phone "pinged" 24 hours later indicating that they had already reimbursed me and the money was in my bank account! Talk about efficient! I told my former mother-in-law about this the other night when I was chatting with her and she couldn't believe how easy and efficient it was - no quibbling, no hassle! And I have to admit she's right. I pay 174 Swiss francs a month (that's about $174) towards my premium and get 90% reimbursement of pretty much everything after the 300 Swiss franc deductible is met! And the coverage is excellent. Believe me, I know how lucky I am!

As I mentioned previously, one of my aims this year is to try out at least one new recipe a week. Well I tried out one which called for slow roasted pork with a garlic and sugar coating - and god it was awful! I managed to save the pork of course but that dressing was just yuck! Anyway, one of my big things lately is to find new ways to cook aubergine (eggplant). Not because I particularly like it but because I find aubergine "challenging"! I mean, what do you do to make something that looks like a big black rubbery goose egg taste good (apart from the ubiquitous eggplant parmesan)? Well, as I've been taking my books back downstairs to my bookcase I've made a point of flicking through at least one cookbook a night to see if I should keep it or donate it. Then last night I found a Sicilian recipe for aubergine salad, and since I have all the ingredients I'm going to give it a try later!

I'm also making a point of reading in bed for around 30 minutes before I go to sleep and last night, from inside the book I was reading, I pulled out three stapled A4 pages on which I had been making pension estimates and mortgage pay-off calculations since 2014 (I guess I was already that desperate to retire even then)! It made quite fun reading actually because even though I was paranoid in case I had missed something, my calculations worked out bang on and I even ended up retiring two years earlier than I thought possible. To think that I'd finally "done it" made re-reading those pages so satisfying!

So, back to my word for 2020. I was giving this some thought and again the words "eggplant" and "challenging" sprung to mind. So there you have it. My word for the year: "EGGPLANT"! As you can see, I'm not that deep!

Anyway, I'm staying in tonight. Don't want to be out in the fog or on the roads with the crazies, so I'll wish you all a safe and happy new year's eve and all the best for 2020!

Sunday 29 December 2019

Getting started early!

I'm not very good at making new year's resolutions - I always feel they are counterproductive, because by the time I've fallen off the "resolution wagon" around 18 January it's kinda disheartening to think I've "got to wait a whole year to start again" (mad, I know), so I just don't bother making them, well not on 1 January anyway! That being said, the new-ish year is always a pretty good time to start thinking about what you might like to change in your life I guess. So with this in mind I've already started Dry January (the day after Christmas actually). Not that I was a complete lush over Christmas anyway - I learned that lesson a long time ago - you can't pull off Christmas and everything that entails and dump a bottle of wine down your throat! So I decided the day after Christmas was as good a day as any to start as I don't plan on doing anything on new year's eve anyway! We'll see how it goes, but even if I don't make it the full month, I don't have to wait a year to try again do I!

On top of that, I want to get back to walking as this is ideal walking weather as far as I'm concerned. For quite some time I've had a low grade headache just "hanging around" fairly constantly. I put that down to the pretty non-stop rain we've had for about a month and not really being able to get out in the fresh air. So today, after exhausting every excuse and delaying tactic I could find to not just get my walking gear on and head out the door, at 2.30 p.m. I realized I finally had to "just do it", because otherwise it starts getting dark around 4 p.m. and there are very few street lights around here. So I set off up the mountainside on a route I used to know fairly well but was amazed to see how built up it now is. Oh it's all very pretty because the houses are built on the slopes and look to be fairly expensive I would think, all the more so since the CEVA (the new trans-frontier express train) has now started running from our local town direct into Geneva, so I imagine prices are going to sky-rocket, if they haven't already - I wouldn't know! In fact, my friend took the train in to Geneva the first weekend it started running (14 December) and she said it was fabulous. I suppose hanging on for that train could have been a good enough excuse to do the two extra years at work that I had originally planned to do but nah, I'm good! Anyway, once I realized I wasn't totally sure where I needed to head off into the woodland further up because it had all changed so much, I decided to just turn back and head home the way I came as, like I said, I didn't want to get caught out in the dark as the sun was starting to go down. The temperature was only 3° but that's fine for walking and guess what? My headache has gone (fresh air really is the only solution). Well it might be that, or it is being totally masked by the lack of feeling in my ears and nose! Either way, I'll take it! But at least I got off my backside, even if the circumstances weren't ideal, and got in a 45 minute walk and 4,000 steps!

Which reminds me, many years ago my friend was working very long hours on a work project so one evening I suggested to my ex that we went over to her house and walked her two labs into the village just to give them some run time. Now my ex used to wear cowboy boots all the time, but as he was very slim they looked pretty good on him. Cowboy boots are not, however, particularly well suited to the snow (ya think?) so I told him that I would take the younger, female dog and he could take the older, male dog as he was just too strong for me. So we put the leashes on the dogs and headed out the door, but the dogs, having been cooped up all day, shot off like crazy in the vague direction of the village. I was able to control my dog, but the older dog yanked on his leash and my ex and his cowboy boots shot off in the snow looking like he was water skiing! It was so funny I almost peed myself! He, however, didn't find it in the least bit funny, but walking along the village road today bought that image back as clear as a bell! I never asked him to walk the dogs with me again though! Happy days!

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Just lovely!

Everything went just beautifully for Christmas day. I had spent a good few hours prepping food the day before but way too many hours wrapping presents also. Damn, I usually get that done when I buy them but this year I was not as organized on that score. Oh well, that'll teach me!

While I was finishing the final prep it was one of those "It's a Wonderful Life" moments, where everyone is beautifully dressed, dinner is almost ready and a beautifully made up Donna Reed just has to put the fairy on top of the Christmas tree before Jimmy Stewart dashes in to hold her in his arms (yeah, like those moments just happen by magic). Anyway, I was blasting music when I ended up putting on The Skater's Waltz at full blast. I just love this piece. I remember it being played at the winter Olympics at Lillehammer for every victory lap and was particularly moved when Dan Jansen finally won his olympic gold! Anyway, I was blasting this happily in the kitchen when my kids arrived, unbeknownst to me because the music was so loud. There is nothing to spoil the emotion of the moment quite like when your son, the plumber, leaps into the living room attempting to show his ballet prowess with all the innate grace of a ... well, a plumber! I don't know where I got my love of classical music from. I was definitely a cuckoo as I grew up in a working class home in Birmingham but fell in love with Chopin (watching Frederic March play him was when I knew I wanted to learn the piano), Edith Piaf (was when I fell in love with French) and Strauss (going to a concert on 9 January). It was definitely never played at home so I'm completely flummoxed as to where I got that love from. Needless to say my sons don't share my passion but ... just wait till I get grandkids, I'll show 'em!

God I think André Rieu is sexy! He makes classical music fun! There is nothing quite as sexy as an intelligent, talented man. Who cares what they look like or how old they are, but Rieu has that smile too! In fact, I've just been looking up his concert tours for 2020 and see that he has concerts in Maastricht (normal, he's Dutch), Birmingham (my home town) and Zurich in 2020 so that's on for definite!

Anyway, I got together with the kids for an apéro while we opened our gifts and I think I really hit it on the head this year. In Colmar I had seen "puzzles" so I bought one each for the kids and I swear we didn't need to speak for the next hour! It's difficult to describe the different things I bought but picture interlinking metal chains that you have to separate, or wooden blocks that have a sequence to open them. I knew Jen would like that but I wasn't sure about the others but no, they all kept picking them up and whinging that they couldn't figure them out. But the real pièce de résistance was when they unwrapped the books I had got each couple called Very British Problems Abroad!

This must have been a definite hit with André because he didn't put the bloody thing down. He kept roaring laughing and reading out excerpts from the book. Lily actually came in to the kitchen to congratulate me for getting my son to read a book for the first time ever! I told her I know! I sensed that "this one wasn't a reader" when I was in the maternity hospital and didn't really want to take him home with me 'cos I think I'd got the wrong one but they made me take him home with me anyway! One that he actually read out to us: "Never feeling more annoyed than when you've just put out a fresh bin bag before leaving for a fortnight abroad and then SOMEONE eats a banana"! You either get it or you don't. We roared laughing. In fact, we spent the entire afternoon laughing because last year I had bought them "Mad Libs" but they had never used them until today at my place (where they scribbled all over mine)! When I asked why they hadn't used them Lily explained that really you have to be a bunch of people who all speak English (never thought of that - duh), and she's right. Jen doesn't speak English but she was off in a trance trying to untangle some of the puzzles that I had bought but it was so nice to see my boys roaring laughing together - now I can see they inherited my sense of humour.

Lily is Swiss and they are not known for their sense of  humour, but she is the exception that proves the rule (thankfully - I couldn't take a dour puss as a daughter-in-law), and she showed me a speech by the Swiss President (whose original language is Swiss German but was speaking in French) about how we "all need to laugh, because laughing does us good", all the while looking like one of the stuffed penguins on the balcony of the Kremlin! It was meant to be inspirational but it was like watching Nightmare at the Rue Morgue! By god it was funny! Thank god my son married a non-stereotypical Swiss (as are her family, I'm delighted to say)!

Oddly enough it was Lily who asked if we could watch the Queen's speech!! I told her it wasn't even on my radar but if we did we all had to stand to attention - so that's what we did!  It was sweet, and while I remember watching the Queen's speech as a kid I also remember my mom telling me that "in the day", you not only wore your Sunday best but you also stood when she was speaking!

Watching the Queen's speech - I should have made him take his cap off!
 And guess what, after so many days of rain, the sun finally made an appearance. We usually get snow but I'll take the sunshine if we can't have snow just for this one day!

So I hope you had a lovely Christmas wherever you are, be it quiet or full to the rafters with great company. All the best from a very happy expat Brit!

Monday 23 December 2019

Not so organized!

How can you get to have the whole year "off" and have one of the least-organized Christmases ever? Beats me! Actually it's not quite as bad as it sounds because present-wise at least, I've been picking up things throughout the year as and when, but food-wise I seem to have left it the latest I have ever done and I've no idea why! I figured last week I should start giving Christmas lunch some thought and since I hate "having" to cook specific things just because it's a specific holiday, I decided that I would make a pork roast as the main dish. I always make potato gratin though because (a) the kids and I love it and (b) I've finally perfected the recipe to my liking after so many years (or as Steve said "eehh lass ya can cook", when he ate it last time he was over! RIP Steve my ol' mate)! But I only ended up going shopping for it this morning and there was virtually no pork left! Silly bugger! So I ended up picking up a capon and we will now have a fairly traditional lunch after all (gratin notwithstanding)! I must have been exhausted last night because I went to bed at 11 p.m. in an effort to instil better sleep habits into myself (although I didn't fall asleep until 1 a.m.) but when I woke up this morning it was 10.40 a.m.!!! I can't believe it! So that kinda threw my "early morning shopping trip" out the window. Since I also wanted to go to the recycling centre and nothing here is open all day like in the UK or the US, I decided to head out at 2 p.m. when they reopened and then head off to the supermarket (again, no late-night shopping or Sunday opening here for the most part)! That turned out to be a pretty good decision because while the store was busy it wasn't heaving when I got there! I bumped into a friend though and she told me that in the morning you could barely breath, and as I was leaving people were queuing up for parking spaces as the car park was absolutely full and that I've never seen before! But now I know why I usually get my Christmas organized ahead of time!

I've decided on two different desserts I want to make, so I'm looking forward to getting my final present-wrapping done tomorrow and then spending the day cooking. I have to say though that I do sometimes get fed up having to look up French substitutes for stuff I need, particularly for baking, when I can't find the UK or regular international products! Condensed milk and evaporated milk are a good example, both of which are called "lait condensé" over here, but evaporated is unsweetened. I suppose some might ask why I don't just use French recipes but (and I'm hesitant to say this) French baking just doesn't do it for me. I find it rather dull, unless it's croissants and bread of course! So yep, I'm looking forward to spending time pottering in the kitchen tomorrow, although I suppose there's always the risk that one of my new-to-me desserts ends up a complete failure if I've picked up the wrong lait condensé!

While I was having my "lie in" this morning (ha, ha more like comatose I would say), I thought I heard voices in my back garden, something which should never happen as I back on to fields and no-one has any reason being anywhere near my garden. Well I guess Agatha Christie I ain't because my neighbour sent me a message shortly after I got up to say that she hoped I didn't mind but her husband and the other neighbour's husband had gone in to my basement and taken my vacuum/aspirator as their basement was flooded! We have had non-stop rain for about 40 days (time to think about building the next arc I think) and neighbour A told neighbour B that my vacuum really sucked up the water well and also that I always left both front and back garage doors unlocked. This might seem weird but I have always told them to just go ahead if they need anything, and in any case neighbour B has had a key to my place for years (as I have for theirs). I suppose I should just be glad they didn't come traipsing upstairs to ask - my snoring would surely have alerted them that I was still in bed! Actually I shut all my shutters every night so that's probably what really gave them the clue I suppose! Still, no harm done!

I've mentioned before that the area where I live is called les Champs de Chant, or "fields of song", not because of birdsong but because we have loads of underground springs coming down from the mountains that "sing" on the way down! While parts of my garden have, on occasion, been very waterlogged, I have never been flooded thankfully, probably due to the fact that a fair-sized drain was put into my garden when the houses were built. Then three years ago we laid piping to further channel the main spring at the back of our houses down to the drains on the village road. What we think happened next door is that the "village drain" has backed up and since they have a small drain cover in their basement, the overflow started backing up into their basement, but luckily it is spring water rather than sewage! Apparently they have ankle-deep water in the basement that isn't going anywhere real soon!

My friend left for England on Friday, so with that in mind I went over to her house to check on it, but the one area she had a small drip flow problem in the basement had only led to about 10 inches of water dripping into the large bucket she keeps under it. So I emptied that and then went and checked inside her house, but thankfully all is well. In the context of the awful flooding France (and the rest of Europe) has been getting it's hardly serious, but still unpleasant and a worry!

And finally, as I was driving home from the shops I saw a sign announcing that la Bénite Fontaine (the church of the blessed fountain) is celebrating its 400th anniversary this month and inviting people to stop in. This is one of my favourite walks and where I pick up spring water to take home, but I had no idea it was 400 years old! I've been inside it before even though I'm not Catholic, but I think once the Christmas celebrations are over I will make a point of stopping in again as it's one of my favourite little churches!

La Bénite Fontaine
(I've no idea how old this photo is or where to attribute it, sorry!)

The spring water source in the grounds
As I'm not sure if I'll get to post again before the new year, I wish you all a merry Christmas and health, wealth and happiness for 2020! Anna

Saturday 21 December 2019

Back in the land of the living!

If a year of retirement has taught me anything I guess it's that I really need to learn to pace myself a bit better! This past week I've been so tired but it's not surprising I guess really is it, what with the work I got done on the house, four different outings over four week-ends and of course the run up to Christmas! When it all gets too much for me I just basically do bugger all, don't even turn on the computer (hence I haven't been commenting on your blogs) and veg for a few days to get some "oomph" back. So yep I probably need to learn to pace myself a bit better. A year's retirement has confirmed to me that I absolutely love it, although if I'm honest I do miss the company of my work colleagues occasionally. It's quite something else to live totally on your own and then not have your colleagues to chat to, but for the most part I'm ok with it. That being said, this near constant rain we've had for the past month would get anyone down, and that's saying something for a Brit! I haven't found the TV to be a problem in retirement - I'm definitely not sitting glued to it - but I do have it on as a bit of background "noise" sometimes in the evening. I guess the real problem is the computer. Man, I can stay on this thing all day sometimes so that's definitely something I want to knock on the head in the new year! I have gotten back into reading and also cook every couple of days so I'm glad about that, but I have to admit I do miss having someone to cook for on occasion! Never happy am I?

I mentioned previously that we had an overnight trip up to the Christmas market in Colmar (Alsace) last weekend and again it was very good, although the trip up there was horrendous! The wind and rain just roared all the way up but the odd thing is as soon as we got off the bus the rain stopped and the sun came out! Every single time, it was weird! It also wasn't particularly cold given that it's December so it really did work out well for us. We had a late brunch on the way up there (I guess the driver has to stop every so many hours), about four hours to wander round Colmar, and then on to dinner at our hotel - choucroûte garnie (sauerkraut with all the trimmings). I'm not a great fan of sauerkraut but once a year I can enjoy it, especially with that wonderful Alsace white wine!!! But it was a long day so I think we were all glad to hit the sack that night!

I love this architecture (Tudor?) as it reminds me of the little country villages back home and oh was everywhere just so pretty (the mulled wine went down pretty well too as we were walking around)!

"Little Venice", Colmar

The next day we were up in time for breakfast before heading out to the village of Ribeauvillé, which was probably the prettiest on our trip, but not as big as Colmar! I almost made a complete pillock of myself at breakfast though as I picked up a hard boiled egg and some bread but just as I got back to my table I realized they had had boiling water right next to the eggs for you to "boil your own". I'm just glad I didn't crack raw egg all over my neighbour!!

A real guy - the "peasants" were apparently "revolting" that day!

Not a great picture but the stork is the symbol of Alsace - and look where that 
one made her nest - right on top of the church steeple!

As I say, I think Ribeauvillé was probably the most beautiful of the villages but Riquewihr had the best crafts, so we put a few dents in the bank card yet again, but I really don't mind when it is such pretty stuff!

After Riquewihr the driver decided to give Kaysersberg a miss in favour of our planned trip to a winery! This was interesting, all the more so when they came round with five different wines for us to sample!!!! It was funny though because on our trip to Cinque Terre earlier in the year we met an older lady and her daughter, and they were on this trip also. Now the daughter had what appeared to be quite severe Down's Syndrome and was, I would think, quite a bit older than she actually looked. Hard work for mom but I can only applaud her there. I tried chatting to the daughter a few times and asked her what she had bought but there really wasn't much conversation to be had. Well, at the winery the daughter picked up her glass and went "head-to-head" with every sample before the mother realized! To be honest it was only a smidgeon at the bottom of each glass but she was knocking them back like they were going out of fashion. Mom jumped up and took the glass off her but even she had to laugh at the big smile on her daughter's face after that little escapade!

After that we headed back home - our last trip of the year. Next year I think we are looking at Amsterdam and the tulip fields in May but nothing much else right now, apart from our "ubiquitous" annual trip to Turin market, probably around May or June time.

I'm not sure if I'll get time to post between now and Christmas, so if not I hope you all have a lovely time with your loved ones and I'll look forward to catching up with all the gossip in the new year! Merry Christmas!

Friday 13 December 2019

I must be mad!

So old "Blowjob" got his landslide victory in the UK elections! God help us all! I'm not really surprised, more disappointed of course, but I will be curious to see him lie and bluster his way out of everything now he has to actually deliver on all the hot air he's been spewing! Some people see the massive victory for the Conservatives as a second vote for Brexit, but I don't see it that way to be honest. I think everyone is just sick to death of living and breathing Brexit that they want it done one way or the other! I know I am - and I want to stay in the EU! But I just think que sera at this point! It's funny really because my nephew is a staunch Labour supporter, has worked in the Labour Party archives in Manchester for years and is very politically minded. Always has been, and is very knowledgeable (and pretty interesting to talk to, just like his dad, my brother). But he was telling me before the election that this time, for the first time ever, he was going to destroy his vote because as much as he hates the Conservatives there was no way he was going to vote for Corbyn. Condamnation indeed! And the biggest "laugh" (so far - I suspect more Trumpesque behaviour will be forthcoming from ol' Bojo) was that in his victory speech he declared he was "humbled" by his victory! Ha, ha, that's a good one. Bojo may be many things but humble will never be one of them. But, on a practical level, I suspect he was the only candidate with the kind of personality (full of BS and bluster) capable of holding his own with the likes of Trump and Macron. I guess only time will tell but either way, hopefully, I'll soon be French and can stop thinking about what a bloody cock-up it all is!

In other news, I watched a documentary the other night on the Sally Challen murder case and I have to say it was a rather strange experience. In 2010, after many, many years of bullying and routine humiliation, Sally Challen beat her husband to death with a hammer and was sentenced to 18 years for murder. In 2015 "coercive control" became a crime in the UK and her legal team used that new law to ask for her to be allowed to appeal and her case reviewed with a view to having her conviction reduced from murder to one of manslaughter on the grounds of her husband's coercive control. By all accounts, for pretty much the entire duration of their marriage, her husband was a cheat, a bully, abusive, occasionally violent and had raped her on several occasions. While both her sons stood by her only one felt able to be interviewed on camera and it was he who campaigned vigorously for her release, aided by Justice for Women. Earlier this year the charge against her was indeed reduced to manslaughter and she was subsequently released after spending over 10 years in prison. This documentary told her story from the start of their relationship to her subsequent release from prison. Rightly or wrongly I have a lot of sympathy for women (and men) in this situation, having been married to a violent man, and I know how easily a person can be pushed over the edge with the constant drip, drip, drip of abuse and walking on eggshells, but sadly, for me, I found Sally to be a rather unsympathetic person. She seemed almost zombie-like (maybe she was on medication, I don't know), but while I still think it was the right decision to release her, I found it harder to warm to her, and yet felt so much sympathy for her son who had fought so hard on her behalf. Strange!

Sally Challen
In slightly less depressing news, I finally got my Christmas tree put up this week, after getting most of my downstairs back to normal. I hate putting the tree up but I'm always glad when it's done as it brings so much "sparkle" to the house.

Then yesterday I was invited to a friend's house for an early Christmas lunch between former colleagues. J is a wonderful cook and she and her husband are fabulous hosts and I really had a lovely time. Of course since we had all worked together for years we had so much to talk about and had a really good laugh. She even got hold of Christmas crackers with paper hats and silly jokes in them - the cornier the better. "What do you call a hen that can count her own eggs?" "A mathemachicken"! I tell you, after a few drinks that joke was hilarious!

The gods were also kind to me and I managed to make it all the way back from her place in record time, despite it being rush hour and their house being about 60 km away on the other side of the lake!

Tomorrow my friend and I are off on our final trip of the year to the Christmas market in Colmar. It is one of the biggest and best known markets in France and is supposed to be beautiful. It's not an area I know too well, although I have spent time in nearby Strasburg, so I'm looking forward to it, all the more so since we are staying over night. So despite another early morning start we don't have to trek all the way there and back in one day! Photos to follow I suspect!

And finally, I do my Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon yoga class with a lady called Sylvie, who I like very much. On Tuesday afternoon the "Présidente" of the yoga club said that they and the hiking group were organizing a snow-shoeing outing up in the mountains behind my house in the new year and that anyone interested in going was to let her know by early January so that they could book the restaurant up on the plâteau. So Sylvie came over and asked me to go!!! I've never been snow-shoeing in my life, I tried cross country skiing once and hated it, I'm totally unfit, and despite all of these ladies being older than me guess who will most likely end up being "tail-end Charlie"! But Sylvie virtually begged me to go with her "as it would be such fun" (yeah, right). But stupid old me is actually thinking about it! I know I need to get some kind of aerobic exercise going and signing up for this would give me 6-8 weeks to do something about my abysmal fitness level but …. Damn, I must be mad for even considering it!

Tuesday 10 December 2019

This and that!

Saturday night we had our latest board game evening at Jordan and Jen's house and as always it was a very nice get together! As usual we took way too much food but … what can I say … it was all very good! I made "confetti rollups", brownies and bara brith. Bara brith is Welsh for "mottled bread" and since I knew Jen likes that kind of spicy flavour I decided to make it for her, even though I'm not overly fond of it myself. My mom used to serve it with butter but I took cream cheese (any excuse for extra calories I guess), and as there was some left over Jen took it to work - and now the nurses at her work have asked for the recipe! It seems kinda funny to me to think that nurses in a French psychiatric hospital will now shortly be making Welsh bara brith! We also did a secret santa and I received an "escape room" game that we may be able to use at our next evening. I'll have to check out how to play it but it does look fun. We decided that we might try to have our evenings "themed" in future, and since the next one is on 8 February I'm thinking carnaval might be a good theme, so I'll start looking out for an outfit, just in case.

I didn't get home until 1.30 a.m. and I was pretty tired next day, so it's just as well our next day trip didn't set off until 1 p.m. on the day after! They are happening thick and fast at the moment but there's not much we can do about that as so many of the trips we selected are "Christmas-related". This trip on the Sunday was back to Lyon for the Festival of Lights. We got there about 4 p.m. and had a few hours to just have a wander before setting off on a short boat trip along the river Saône.

On the boat we were all given a map of Lyon with around 30 different "points of interest" highlighted, so my friend and I shot off to "point 1" way up the hill in the old town, and what a bloody trek that was, although luckily it wasn't particularly cold and the rain held off. Or held off, that is, until we got to the top of the old town and then it started, just in time to make our run back down to the river(s) over the cobbled stones quite a hair-raising gallop! But we had to keep going as we realized we were running late to meet up with the group for dinner - you haven't seen anything until you've seen two tubby middle-aged women trying to speed down cobbled stone walkways to make it in time for dinner! Again, the food was very simple but very good. As we were eating I kept glancing at the older man next to me thinking "I know him from somewhere" but couldn't place him. Eventually a blond lady said "hallo Anna, how are you, and are you still doing patchwork"? and I realized that she was in the patchwork club I used to go to on a Monday night when I was still working, but had stopped when they decided they no longer wanted to open up the clubhouse in the evenings. The white-haired gent, as it turned out, was the husband of the lady President of the club, Colette, only she hadn't been able to come on the trip as they had a quilting exhibition going on at the same time! Then, the husband of the blond lady was saying how he wished he could speak English as he spent so much time at Company XX in Geneva ... and my friend and I both burst out laughing as that is where we used to work! We had a colleague who had a terrible accident about five years ago and is now quadriplegic, but was determined to come back to work and now comes in one day a week. He obviously needs support and the gent at our table was his regular assistant on his work days and also, I believe, in his personal life for his basic physical needs! It's a small world isn't it!

Once it fell dark the different light displays were indeed amazing, but I have to admit it was all a bit much with the heaving crowds. In the city centre the police had it well organized, keeping people pretty much obliged to follow one-way foot traffic in order to avoid a crush situation, but it does get very wearing in the end, so after a couple of hours we just went to a bar for a drink and to wait it out! There were loads of young people on the side streets selling mulled wine or hot chocolate and it was all very good natured. Lyon really is a vibrant city and yet again it was a pleasure to visit, crowds or no crowds! (A couple of the photos below are google images because I obviously couldn't get high up enough to shoot some of them!)

When I checked my phone on the way back I had clocked up over 14,000 steps in just one afternoon/evening so it's no wonder I felt tired, all the more so since we again got home at 1.30 a.m.! Think I'm too old for this stuff, especially as I had early morning yoga the next day! But I made it!

On a totally different subject I see the latest series of "I'm a celebrity get me out of here" has just finished! I actually had a shot at watching 10 minutes of it the other week but I felt like I needed to wash my eyes out with bleach even after just such a short time! Dear god alive, what won't some people do for money!!!! I've never seen such crap in my life - well all of the reality shows to be honest - urrghh, I'm so glad that's over until the next time and I don't have to hear or read about it in the media for a while, even though I obviously voted with my TV remote and didn't watch it for more than those 10 minutes! What crap TV!

And finally, my neighbour came round the other day all of a "tither" as they had received a notification from ENEDIS (probably the largest electricity company in France) informing them that their (external) electric meters will shortly be replaced with "Linky" meters, and they are all up in arms! Supposedly the Linky meters are "not good for people who are hyper sensitive to electrical waves" (or something like that). Seems it's been on the TV for a while but since I don't have French TV I'd never heard about it. But if my meter belongs to ENEDIS and I have no legal say in the matter, I say just get on with it, do what you have to. I mean, the bloody thing is outside anyway! I believe, although I'm not certain, that the new meters can be checked remotely and so will no longer require a meter reader to go house to house! My neighbour was all up in arms because "do you want ENEDIS to know all about your electricity consumption"? Say what? As long as ENEDIS don't think my electricity consumption is indicative of the fact that I might have a cannabis farm in my basement I really couldn't care less what they know about me! So I said, "you've got a mobile phone haven't you?" To which she replied of course, so "why are you worried about an external electricity meter when you hold that thing to your ear half the day"? And she couldn't answer me. I happen to think the world of this neighbour but oh the French do seem to like to get their knickers in a bunch sometimes! 

Sunday 8 December 2019

A new friend!

Yesterday, as arranged, I met up with Ginette, the lady I got chatting to at the market a few weeks ago, and we decided to go have lunch in town. She's obviously very thorough because she'd phoned five different restaurants to find out what their set menu was - I always just rock up and go from there - but we ended up at a very nice restaurant built into the walls of the old medieval town of La Roche. I had been there many years ago with my ex and while the food was good it was a bit "fancy" for me. I like something less fussy than "battered courgette flowers", so somehow I ended up never going back. Apparently it has changed hands several times since and I have to admit the latest owner seems to have gotten it just right! Very good food, not enormous portions (that grosses me out) and very reasonably priced! He had a young trainee working with him who, we found out later, was only 14, and at one point we could hear the owner giving him hell in the back kitchen! "Do you call that clean, you've got to move faster, there's loads to be done"! I think we all felt kinda bad for the young lad actually and as we left we asked him to go easy on him as "we were all young once". But the guy said, quite rightly I guess, that "our" generation grew up having to work for a living - real work - and he just couldn't get his head around how so many young people today were allowed to just skate along and do bugger all, and then "call mommy" if things didn't work out for them! He's absolutely right, but I have to admit that while I had to work for everything I wanted because we were a large family with not much money, I/we allowed our kids to "just skate" quite a bit and I'm not sure that was doing them any favours! That being said, my kids are both hard working and respectful so I guess we did something right. It's odd because Jordan went into plumbing later than most kids because he had done a commercial course beforehand, and I remember him telling me that some of the younger lads in his class needed a good kick up the backside - they were lazy, occasionally disrespectful and were always on the verge of "calling mommy" if they didn't like the way they were spoken to! This wasn't the majority of them of course, as I remember at the awards ceremony how respectful the kids were to their teachers, but some of them even got on Jordan's nerves for being "precious little snowflakes"! Studying plumbing? Seriously?

After lunch Ginette suggested we go for a walk around the park at the back of the château as it was such a lovely day - my favourite kind of weather actually - crispy cold but with bright sunshine - and would you believe in the 30 years I've lived here I've never been to that park. It was lovely! So we had a wander and she showed me a path through the woods that would bring me out nearer my home, although I'm not totally sure I would go walking in the woods on my own, to be honest! But we sat in the sun and had a good old chinwag, and she turned out to be a very nice lady!

Looking towards my house from town
She was married briefly many years ago (he cheated on her so she divorced him), and has had a couple of partners since, the latest lasting three years, but she was explaining to me that she wants to get out of the relationship. They don't live together but she said he is lazy, demeaning, mean with his money and lies constantly. Sounds like a real catch huh! They met at the dance club they both go to and she said while it's great to have a dance partner she is fed up of him and worried about how to get out of the relationship. Like me she's not interested in ever living with someone again and sadly, it seems, so many men of her age (she's 72) end up looking for a nurse, and possibly a purse, in their later years while, in my experience, the women value their independence. And I agree with her absolutely in not wanting to take that on! You put the effort in for your spouse and your kids because you take the bad times with the good, but to take on that kind of "hassle" in later years for someone you're not even that fond of sounds like more of a "lead swimsuit" situation to me! It's amazing though how some people just open up I find. Maybe she just needed somebody to talk to, I don't know, but she pretty much ended up telling me her life's story. I don't mind in the slightest but some people might find it weird I guess!

After our walk she suggested we go check out the local library, and again, I've never been to it in the 30 years I've lived here! That's not surprising though really as I'm used to a huge library in Birmingham, where I'm from, so these little local libraries don't really do it for me. Plus everything is in French and while I read in French, by choice I will always read in English. On top of that I must have at least 150 books sitting looking at me waiting to be read right now - no kidding - so I really don't have much use for this library. But, what a stunning place it is!

View looking towards the Mont Blanc chain from inside the reading room

Anyway, we said we'd meet up again when we're both free and the weather cooperates as she seems to know some good walking routes round here, so I shall look forward to that!

In other news, on Thursday they called a national strike in France to protest against the pension reforms Macron is trying to introduce. I know, I know, they're always on bloody strike - that's why I never use Air France and never fly through Paris if I can help it! It's that bad! I don't really understand the ins and outs of it all as I don't have French television (I will never be that masochistic), but my neighbour was explaining a bit about it to me on the way to yoga the other day and I understand the situation a little better now at least. She was saying that one of the things Macron is trying to change is the pension de reversion, or the surviving spouse's pension. Under the current system, if my neighbour's husband dies she would get just over 50% of his pension (I can't remember the exact figure), which would give her €1,400/month as a widow. It's not much to live on round here but she said she could probably just about make it as their house is paid off. Under Macron's new scheme that would go out the window, to be replaced across the board with a widow's pension of €1,000/month - and there's no way she could manage on that! And I agree, that would be more than tight in this region, even without having to pay a mortgage! This is over-simplifying the subject but basically Macron's plans would involve people working longer for lower pensions. The current situation is, of course, unsustainable (as it is everywhere), but from what I hear Macron is going about it completely the wrong way and, as my neighbour says, what would a former investment banker know about struggling on a tiny pension? Nothing right! I don't know how the issue will be resolved but one thing I know for sure is that my son who works in France as a plumber shouldn't count on living on just the state pension when he reaches retirement age. Just like in the UK, it isn't a viable wage. For him/them, I think the way to go is to buy a small property, do it up and rent it out for additional income. Round here, given the proximity to Geneva, you will never lose out going into the property market. But it's tough out there - and again I'm so eternally grateful to have a decent pension and excellent health insurance. Frankly, the alternative doesn't bear thinking about!

Sunday 1 December 2019

Viva Italia!

I knew it would only take a couple of decent nights' sleep for me to get the ol' mojo back and it seems it's true. I was so tired last week, what with all the home improvement stuff, but I know myself well enough to know that just slowing down for a couple of days will really get the energy levels back up. It's a pity I wasn't able to do that when I was working though because, as most working mothers know, there is rarely any "free" time when you have kids, a job and a home to run. Now though, that has all changed and I really am starting to realize that I can do bugger all if I want to. Not that I want to do "bugger all" very often, but yep, that's now always a possibility, I'm glad to say!

I'm slowly restoring the downstairs to its new "norm" and sorting stuff to take to the charity shop, hopefully sometime this week. Already it feels easier to breath, even though there is still a lot to be done. The basement can wait till later but that will also have to get sorted at some point too. Still, when you have visitors you don't all sit in the basement do you, so it is, at least, a horror I can hide!

Anyway, on Saturday we had the latest of our jaunts to Italy, this time to an outlet village near Turin. We again went with GAL Voyages as we have been very happy with them every time. That being said, it meant getting up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to be ready for the "off" at 6 a.m. I knew there would be a lot of interest in this trip - "shopping", you see - so it was no surprise that they had laid on four buses and each one was full, so over 200 people! We made good time, hitting the Italian border an hour later, and positively waltzing down the Aosta valley with virtually no traffic! It was amazing - the snow held off and Italy seemed to have closed up shop for the day! Once through the valley we always stop for breakfast - a quick 30 minute potty stop and a chance to grab a coffee and croissant - and by 10.30 we were pulling into the parking lot of the outlet village, where ours were the only buses there! There were obviously cars in the parking lot but I was really quite amazed at how empty the place was, bearing in mind this was the weekend of "Black Friday"! There is such a push to introduce Black Friday into Europe and while some places are following like sheep, in my experience many people just can't be arsed, and that certainly seemed to be true of this mall! It was a Saturday morning and I would say it wasn't even as busy as an English high street on a Monday morning! In fact, when my friend and I stopped at the information centre for a map they asked us which travel company we had used because they were obviously keen to encourage more visitors! (I did a quick calculation in my head and if everyone on our buses spent an average of just €200 like we did, our French contingent alone would have spent €40,000 in one day - but many people will have spent more of course! And again - and I always do this - put that into the context of Brexit and the effect reintroducing borders will have on the French markets if/when the Brits can no longer shop freely just across the border in France!). Anyway, back to the plot! The thing is, most of the shops here were all designer and high end fashion shops and there was, indeed, a queue to get in to the Michael Kors shop, not because it was full but because they were only letting a few people in at a time. Other than that, it was extremely uncrowded and pleasant. What's more the sun was shining and the temperature was warm enough to leave our coats behind - now that in itself was heaven after what seems like non-stop rain for the last month!

As I said, it was pretty much high end fashion, although with the Black Friday sales on, so a three inch handkerchief that passed as a skirt went from €350 to maybe €200!! Oh I'll take two then shall I! Anyway we had a wander but the clothes shops were rather lost on us because (a) neither of us are in to "that snobby stuff", (b) we didn't even like most of it, but (c) even if we were, neither of us exactly have the figure for it - and that must be the understatement of the year! I swear most of that stuff was created using a stick of spaghetti as a pattern! In any case, even when I did have a good figure I always looked at that kind of money as "another holiday" rather than a €300 handbag. Some people can and do carry it off well but that was never me. But do you remember my colleague berating me recently about how it was all right for me being able to retire as I was a higher grade than she was (despite the fact that she had over 30 years in the pension fund to my 20), and then telling me in the next breath that she goes down to Italy every weekend during spring and summer to go clothes shopping! Not that she has the figure for Italian clothes either - she's much bigger than I am - but she spends all her money (and then some, I imagine) on clothes. She's what I would call a "blousy blond" (except she's not blond) and spends a ton on make-up, hair products and clothes (or "on with a trowel and off with a blow torch, as my dad would have said) so no wonder she has no money and "can't retire"! Still, each to his/her own in that respect I guess, but don't come complaining to me that you can't retire please!

Anyway, just beyond the designer clothes shops we came to the Lindt chocolate shop and bugger me if you didn't hear a collective orgasm as people walked into that shop! Just the smell of the place was divine and the set-up fabulous. The interesting thing is I counted 28 different flavours of Lindor chocolate balls and yet in Switzerland, the home of Lindt, I have only ever seen three! Go figure! So I bought a few ready-packed bags of mixed chocolates to give as presents, then set about picking out my favourites as I want to scatter them on my dining table at Christmas, they look so pretty!

Turin Outlet Village

On an only slightly related note, I remember many years ago - maybe around 1981 - my mom was taken seriously ill with pleurisy and ended up in hospital. I was living in Switzerland already and couldn't do much from my end except phone every night to see how she was doing. Lindor chocolate balls were not available in England then so I bought a huge box of them and mailed them to her. She said afterwards that she got the equivalent of private treatment on the NHS as the doctors and nurses kept buzzing round her bed to see if she "needed anything"!!

Around 12.30 we stopped and went to a restaurant for lunch. We weren't particularly hungry so I just had a beautiful salad with tuna, mozzarella and so on. Their menus were in Italian, English and French (and everyone spoke at least Italian and English), but it tickled me to see on the English menu that my salad consisted of "fresh tuna salad with tomatoes and a buffalo"! Little things please little minds I guess! But since I was indeed being good and not having any wine I decided to have desert and ended up eating the most delicious meringue glacé I have ever eaten in my life! Seriously! It had chewy meringue on the outside with solid ice cream on the inside and a little jug of hot chocolate sauce to add to the decadence! Honestly, I would have licked my plate if no-one was around!

My friend had the tiramisu and also said it was the best she had ever eaten! When the waitress came to take our plates (with me desperately hoping I didn't have chocolate sauce and icing sugar on my nose), I told her how wonderful it was, so she pointed out the young chef who had made it and I gave him the thumbs up! I've been scouring the internet today for something that might resemble it as I think I might give it a try sometime soon! When we paid we left a generous tip (although tipping over here is not even mandatory), and as we went to leave the girl at the cash register shouted out "mancia" (tip) and all the wait staff shouted back "mancia". Seems that's what they do when someone leaves a good tip! We just laughed and thanked them for a lovely meal!

I managed to choose a couple of nice things for my sons for Christmas and a good quality pair of winter boots for myself - fur lined and with 4 wheel drive tracks on the soles in anticipation of the snow! Ha, and to think I used to wear short skirts and high heels! They were on sale and they were giving an additional 30% for the second pair, so since my friend also bought a pair we put them together and got an extra €20 off, which we split, thus both getting a pair of excellent quality boots each at a very good discount!

I have to say that there is a certain joie de vivre about Italy. Of course it's not all pink clouds and kittens but they do seem to have a lust for life that I find very appealing. Certainly anything relating to food and drink always has flair and since we are all born and we're all gonna die sometime, I think it's lovely to make the bit in the middle as full of joy as possible!

We headed back towards France at 4 p.m. and stopped again at a service station just before the Mont Blanc tunnel in order for people to use the bathrooms and get a coffee and so on. But get this, there then ensued a veritable stampede of our fellow travellers heading for the cigarette section and while we were supposed to be back on the bus in 40 minutes we ended up leaving late because people were still waiting to pay! I have no idea how much cheaper cigarettes are in Italy than in France, but I have to say I'm just so glad I don't smoke as I would have hated to be caught up in that stampede just to buy a few cancer sticks!

With yesterday turning into a really long day, I was glad of a lie-in this morning, but when my friend told me that she was going up to a craft fair at Passy (to support our yoga teacher who was selling hand-made jewellery there) I said I would go with her, despite the renewed rain and mist. But this little fair was also very good - better than I expected actually. I picked up a dream catcher (I've always wanted one), some maple syrup, a Christmas tree ornament, hand-made Christmas cards and bought a pair of earrings from my yoga teacher. There were a few men and women dressed in traditional costume too. On the way out we bought locally-produced goat's cheese and again, it was just fabulous! (As you can see, one of my main interests seems to be food so it's maybe no wonder I can't fit into Italian designer clothes is it)! But tomorrow I'll be back on track with my various classes. Even having missed yoga for only one week, I am really looking forward to it!

They almost look Amish don't they. And you can just begin to see 
the snow line out the window behind them!