Monday, July 28, 2008

La Sarthe Settings

Not much to say on this one, again I can only let the pictures speak for themselves.... I could not throw in a comment or two!!...I may on occasion in life have called myself...errr...ahem...anal-retentive...but, let it be known that I consider this a positive!! It calls order into my life, in certain areas, whilst others are left to their chaos.

As my earlier post this month may have subtly indicated (did I also mention subtlety is
not one of my strong points?) there isn't much order going on here at La Maison M-J, and so I am left to search out that organization in other aspects of life. Our evening walks provide just this.
The landscape everywhere here in the Sarthe (our region of residence--many of you may relate this geographically to another french region...Normandy...that most people have heard of...lesson of the day complete!) satisfies my appreciation of symmetry. Even an act as simple as getting on your knees can change an entire perspective, as the 2000+ pictures on my camera can attest to! The lines where colours meet change at every corner, and as the summer passes, at every agricultural development. The rolling hills here are gentle, with flat spaces intermingled to just further our sense of 'ahhhh'....we just love it, one of the many reasons we fell for this little known area--known in France as the most forested section of the country.
And so, we take advantage of the long summer evenings to explore the many footpaths the commune has installed through the farms, forests and land. Freya now asks for these walks, literally fussing at the door if the hour gets too late, reminding us...helloooo....there are miles of mole hills to be dug before she sleeps...miles of mole hills before she sleeps....(did Robert Frost have a dog?).

20 minute jaunts turn into 2-hr walks and we are oblivious to all but the fantastic panoramas and discoveries these walks bring us. On yesterday's walk we saw an owl & a deer (both within inches), the treasure in T's hand, and several abandoned farm houses...this morning as the sun rose and we drove to the train station...a fox in the middle of a cornfield...I just cease to be amazed at the sheer nearness of so many amazing features of life here...and wish more people could experience what nature intended....come visit!!

So, now I shall weave my way through the many bugs that apparently think nature created the Imac light screen to call them inside the house, (screens people, sustenance of bug-free life!...I know not this luxury....akkkkk) and head to bed, blissful...QUIET bed.....appreciated always after our Paris pause this past weekend.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I want a Fatboy....and so does Freya!

I have a lot of boys.

Cabana-boy, Grill-boy, Lover-boy, Poptart-boy, Make-me-feel-better-boy, Massage-boy, Sailing-boy, Dork-boy....the list in fact would fill an entire blog in and of itself :o) What I do not have is a Fatboy.

I stumbled upon this in the longstrasse (walking street) in the Netherlands while we were visiting our friends/family the M-G's in June. The Fatboy. I fell instantly in love and rushed in to see how much he would put me back...cost in the end was not the issue, transport was...I know it was wrong of me, he was so big....
Now you're all wondering, who is this Fatboy leading me into temptation from all my other boys?......


Ok, so the gig is up....but the lust is not. I enquire desperately among any of you out there (as my test run was but for a few fleeting minutes) is the Fatboy? Anyone out there love their Fatboy (not the pudgy family member either--we know you love them!) The description says, fits three adults comfortably....of course, we are only looking for 2 adults and one small lazy dog....err....or visitors, if they can successfully kick us out--Ha! This is exactly what our life, our yard, many parts of it...under the willow tree, by the pond, by the creek, in the field...ahhhhh....needs for our family naps. Naps that are obligatory after all the work we are doing...tsk, tsk....I mean, it is scientific proof that a 30-minute nap is the equivalent of several hours of evening sleep, rejuvenating the body and T & I are merely following the scientists advice-after all, who Doesn't need a rejuvenated mind these days?!! And quite honestly, this is the first real hammock solution for me....ropey, hammock butt/leg/arm tattoos are just not me....I shall leave tattoos to Tattoo-boy :)

Feel the need to know more about Fatboy?...check out their website (& I don't normally push websites, but I grew up in a beanbag, as did my Jr.(Freya's Heavenly Dogmother and my childhood dog), and there are many happy memories there!) so it's all good--bring a little Fatboy into your life! English...(doesn't help me here in France, but see our minimal choices here: as I continue to do research that will keep me from lugging a Fatboy home on my back from NL....

In fact, Freya was so jealous of her Mamma's lusted infidelity, she too fell for a Fatboy. Here is the object of her lazy lust, and here I refer to the doggy Fatboy, not the white pooch...sooooo not her type, she likes her boys big and sheperd-like! T & I are merely discussing the better colour for pink or camo? We went for the practical grey when discussing our Fatboy...

So, as priorities dictate our lives these days, I must continue to daydream how Fatboy and I will get together some day in the the meantime the M-J family takes some time out at our place in Paris to attend to life there. We are going to be making our first official purchase for the house--outdoor dining furniture!! As the last several dining occasions have shown us, a cobbled together weebly-wobbly table and VERY uncomfortable balcony chairs of old do not make for an agreeable dining experience in our fabulous yard. And as the weather promotes almost exclusive dining alfresco at La Maison M-J this is a true priority! When you visit, I believe you'll thank us for having our priorities in order....then again, as you lie on the hard ground, watching the clouds swim by in the blue sky, with ants and other buggerati crawling on you, perhaps you will curse us for not ditching the dining and getting Fatboy to join the M-J family tout-de-suite!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Thorn amongst Honey & Roses

Lest I mistakenly leave you all sitting in your respective abodes thinking we are living a life of honey and roses....let me correct you.

To cushion the blow, of the merry vision I am destroying, let me begin by saying that as we sit on the white bench outside (pictured left), when the wind wafts from the right we catch the rich scent of roses....and as it wafts from the left we catch the sweet scent of honeysuckle...ahhhh....but then the thorn.

Here I welcome you to my pain. My kitchen has always been my kingdom. When nothing else is organized in life, the kitchen is. Our visitors know the sauce cabinet (yes, I had an entire cabinet just for all my sauces, and I am proud of this fact! A Saucetarian must have her tools of worship :o) ), the spice cabinet, the bakers rack packed beyond capacity with the yummies picked up, to try later, on our travels. All my various bric-a-brac for cooking in it's proper place. But me, in the center of it all, only having to turn this way and that while in the storm of culinary creation, knowing where and what I needed was a mere step away. All reduced via our recent move to this:
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

I can accept this 'vie rustique' (rustic life) because the light at the end of the tunnel is that once the dust settles after our many projects in 18mo-2yrs, I will have my kitchen kingdom again--only better, dreamier, tastier. As I peruse the magazines for renovation, visit the home shows, kitchen displays, see the array of top of the line pots (I'm a grown up now, time to upgrade from the pots I've been using!) fondle the german, japanese & danish....knives (dirty minded readers!)....I must catch the drool before it drops, reducing my public dignity to nothing. So, I pretend we are on a really cool camping trip, and I just happen to have a couple of my favourite kitchen utensils (did I mention my small collection of knives are stuck to a magnet on the wall? akkkk!) and it is perfectly natural for flies to come and go through the windows as I handle food (no, the frenchies have never heard of SCREENS!!)...but on the plus side, Freya can tear in with muddy paws and tongue panting and no cry of indignation escapes my lips, because quite honestly, I don't have to care--we're camping!!

On that rustic theme let me introduce you to the luxury/not of our downstairs bathroom. Luxury because we have one upstairs AND downstairs (not usual in a 300yr old French holiday/country home), Not because the door only opens as far as you can see in the photo, the toilet sits at an angle in the room and the seat can't attach properly, so every time I sit down I swear I am going to fall in--which I'm sure I did at some point in my toddlerhood, otherwise why would I have the vague notion of what that feels like?? The decor is...well, I won't go there because in camping land it just doesn't matter....but it is a great place to rinse out the vacuum cleaner, wash our wellies (boots), water the plants and store our beverages (stay really cool!). In the future, when walls are knocked down and the room extended, we will have a retro-cool beton (glossy cement) bathroom/laundry room up to the task of keeping the M-J family clean and orderly.

Hodge-podge living demands creativity sometimes, and we refuse to be beaten down by the lack of facilities. See here our solution to not being able to set up the built in oven furniture--we may be camping, but I WILL have an oven folks, raw quiche is just not that tasty! So, the oven is turned to face the kitchen, solidly, yet unattractively installed atop the dryer, and the dryer camps out under the stairs--again let me thank the appliance gods for the invention of the condensation dryer...otherwise the one appliance I had to choose to live with (aurevoir my lovely dishwasher...waaahhhh), the washing machine--only plumbing for one solitary thing--would have left us with crispy jeans & towels, and clothes strewn through the trees in the garden to dry!! Dishwashing is done by hand, in loads, and we strengthen our marital bond with discussions over towel drying dishes :)

The rest of our life is packed in stacks of boxes (I'm still selectively unpacking the nightmare of four days we spent packing) that we built sub-walls with around various rooms. Thank goodness they are white...brightens the house without the need for repainting (snicker, snicker)...and will remain so to reduce any packing trauma we will have to endure in the coming year of our life as we finish the Grange project, move to it, and start on the house project and move back again when that is complete. The goal is to live with the basics, still have a semblance of a 'home' (used very loosely) as it will be a long winter and when we're stuck inside (we hope Santa brings us a BIG tv for Christmas) we don't really want to be camping anymore--"Aunty Em, Aunty Em....where am I?"--but, for the time being, when even a glimmer of despair rears it's ugly head in this paradise land of ours--I merely walk to the front door, take a deep breath of our clean country air, drink in the panorama of beauty (see pic) and all is right in the world, even the thorns.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Moment out of Now....

Ok, so in the midst of trying to catch everyone up with the last 8 wks here at La Maison, I have to take a commercial break and share some of Now. Because now is amazing...more amazing then May or June you ask, which I may have hinted were great in a few conversations, and I shall have to reply--Oui. Just a couple quick snapshots, nothing special--ok, I lied, it's special, and I think T may be tired of every phrase coming out of my mouth ending with an exclamation point--but what's a girl to do, I (heart) our home!! (Brief sidebar: T may not be exclaiming, but there are an awwwful lot of deep, contented sighs escaping his mouth at every turn...)

First, let's discuss the weather. Sunny, but not too hot. Breezy, but not too much wind. Big puffy clouds floating by, but not black rain. For a hottie like myself (and here I refer strictly to my always higher then normal body temp--Merci Papa!--not any narcissistic
tendencies) I believe I have found nirvana. I'll get back to you on that perfection after winter, but for now....Check out that sky behind us on a recent exploration with visiting friends to a local, private chateau (and what you see in the photo on the right is their..pffft....guest house!)
Freya would like to pass on her two paws' worth as well: Every morning she wakes us up licking and loving, gone is the post-lick cuddle and snooze, replaced with pacing at the bedroom door and an ever so pitiful, dramatic sigh with a slight whine at the end begging us to begin the day tout-de-suite. Once she reaches the front door, the most god-awful sound erupts from her mouth--to the Freya-unknowns it might sound like we were torturing her, ripping out toenails one by one. When in fact it is her sheer excitement to get that door open and explode out into her Blissworld. One day maybe I'll get enough sleep and remember to record her so everyone can relate to our new audio wake-up...akkkk! It's all worth it when she comes bounding up to your lap smelling like warm grass and a bit of fresh dirt, tail wagging top speed, gives you a round of Freyping (you have to live it to love it!) and then leaps off to other adventures...a quick thank you we can never repay.

Which brings us to our simple daily pleasures which to others are a rote of daily living. This weekend some friends came by for lunch (tomato & mozzarella on homemade flaky crust mini-pizzettes, with a pesto sauce & herbes de provence sprinkled on top, grilled pork chops straight from the farm,
white wine & a tarte-tatin with thick creme fraiche also from the region--and yes, it tasted as good as it sounds!) and just before they arrived I zipped to the back of the house and put this little flower arrangement together for the Paris this little 'rien' would have cost 15E! (I think that might just qualify as a Martha Stewart moment!) One night, neither T nor I had the desire for dinner, so instead a quick Brie-en-croute (brie baked in a crust)
with a zip of jalapeno paste inside and a chilled Chablis sufficed to satisfy the appetite as we said goodbye to the day...(I in fact took a photo of the meal for my cousin Eric, a little long distance reminiscing for him ;) )

Life here just brings such a sense of calm and well-being into our lives. We haven't even looked at a TV in months, as a matter of fact, don't have one here (yet), and by the time the sun sets at 10:30PM and we drag ourselves inside, we are all ready for bed. So, I hope your nows are as zen as ours...I shall return to the regularly schedule catch-up (as our internet bouncing allows)....I leave you with a couple of other photos from our chateau visit.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Since our arrival here at La Maison M-J life has been about discovery.

One might think it was just the mundane discoveries of life in a new milieu--where to shop, eat, buy gas etc....but Madame Nature has intervened to give us a smart smack in the arse as to what life is truly all about! :) 

Here you see what we discovered just outside the kitchen window in a hydrangea bush (pictures of that in bloom for a later flower power blog entry!) as the source of a chorus of peeping we had been wondering about.

So beautiful to watch life beginning and getting ready for the heady summer to come.

My heart has been touched by Freya's gentleness here--those of you who know our little 'terrorier' know what a crazed maniac she can be, but here as she began her redecorating work...also known as 'chasse de taupe' (mole chasing) she would uncover a baby mole blindly making his escape from the savage beast (aka F), but did she kill or maim the little guy as her instinct might command? No, she would take him ever so gently in her mouth and come to us or wag her tail we, or more aptly, me, would have the pleasure of soothing him, and getting a baby pet-by before releasing him into his hole.  I guess having a little bird for a big brother taught her the lesson of overriding nature! 

Life here has given us a taste of youth again and I for one am reveling in it.  Now for the presumptuous of my readers who assume, knowing my gourmet tendencies, that I refer to a food taste--you would be...WRONG.  Instead, I refer to the sheer joy of discovery that kids have when seeing something for the first time.  What we as adults see as a wondrous enlightenment, or growth of knowledge in a little person who truly sees something for what it is.  

Here, it's the joy of discovering what fruit is growing on the two little trees in our 'potager' (garden for vegetables, fruits, herbs etc.) the case of the photo, our suspicions are that we will be making apricot jam this fall as opposed to the hoped for peach crop the previous owners claimed--my question is--who after ten years of eating it mistakes an apricot for a peach? Either way, it will happily cover our toast!

There's just a giddy elation that overcomes me as I see yet something else that is 'new' to me on either a walk with Freya (quickly becoming a morning, noon & evening habit) down our lane, or touring the property, or just sitting and watching the sun set.  Don't even get me started on the amazing show the sun puts on for us in the morning as she rises (yes Mom & Dad-J shocking as it is, T & I have been up early enough to see the sun rise on several occasions!!), or the evenings as she an example of around 10:30pm, as I stand at the head of our 'champ' (the field the farmer has rights to, but which I ignore and Freya has deemed--the dig zone--!) It's a feeling difficult to explain but which I can only relate to what I vaguely remember feeling when I was vive la jeunesse (long live youth) and I can't wait for all the other discoveries to come!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Independence Day!!

17 May 2008

Hip Hip Hurra!! 

For us, being a tri-cultural family (Norwegian, American & French), we get the added bonus of celebrating three independence holidays every year--though, to be honest as our collection of American friends has waned in Paris, and the bbq parties have stopped, the 4th of July easily goes by unnoticed, but never forgotten--living abroad we have learned to truly appreciate and not take for granted the freedoms that come with that blue passport.  For those of you that don't have every country's day memorized, here is your global education for the day.  France's is the 14th of July (we had a great Bastille Day this year), America's is the 4th of July (I have to assume there are international citizens reading this now based on my map!) & Norway's is the 17th of May, so this year it was especially memorable as it was the day....that yes....we became official French home owners!! woo hoo!  Independence from our landlord from hell in Paris (another story to follow one day when I have caught up on the plethora of belated posts rolling around in my head!), independence from noise and independence for the M-J family to create their own home.

It hasn't been a journey without bumps, some the big kind that you have to slow waaaay down for, of this I can assure you.  After we arrived home from St. Lucia we basically hit the ground running and didn't stop until, well, now.  In between we had a visit from my Aunt G & Uncle M from Norway, who also insisted a visit to the house-to-be (all this strong arming!) and I just know another visit is in the future just so my Onkel M can play with one of his dirt movers!! Jeg vet deg Onkel M!! ;-)   Along the way, administrative snafus ensued--in fact, days before we signed the l'Acte de Vente (Act of Selling-official purchase document where you become the legal owner--40+pages) we still didn't know if it was going to end well! Nothing like high stress to bring us to the culmination of home ownership!

The morning of, we arose in Paris at some ungodly hour--thank god for American coffee travel mugs!--drove the two hours and arrived, as the morning dew was departing, at la maison.  We had a 9:30 a.m. appointment with the notaire for all the reading, check writing and signing, so had to do the house walk-thru, meet Jean-Pierre the farmer (not his real name--see earlier entry for land mooch description) who was only an evil entity in my mind, but now had a face to go with...ha ha...and go through any last minute instructions etc on the various ancient minutiae located on the property.

At the appointed hour we bundled into our respective cars--with the owners getting a bit feclempt as 20 years of memories were ending, but don't feel too sorry for them, they're off to their new house built on a Greek island to live out retirement.  At least we know our money is in a sunny destination--opa!--and drove off to the notaire.  The next several hours were spent going through the entire document--and yes, again my name had to be corrected & added!!...seriously, is this so hard? Oui, for the French.  And the paternal dominance in legal documents here is something that I have learned at times to ignore, but in this case stood firm much to the chagrin of our notaire. The tediousness of the moment was broken when A) we finally got to see how much the owners paid for the property 20 years ago...and didn't cry! (b/c we still got a good deal) and B) found it terribly cool to see the documented owners through it's 300 year history (a plus to living in an old land!) and know that we too were now becoming a small part of future history!!

The meeting ended with a round of hand shaking and Mercis.  The now previous owners literally ran off with certified bank check in hand to the bank.  We stood in the parking lot, the sun shining, keys in a plastic grocery bag contemplating the actual conclusion to months of dreaming, visits, agonizing administrative protocol and sheer speculation. The house....was....OURS!! Unfortunately, a strict rule in France, and especially here in la France profonde, is that when lunch is over, it is o-v-e-r.  You may as well go and gnaw on some tree bark and drink from the canal as you are getting nothing to eat. So at this late hour in the afternoon, our stomachs rumbling non-stop, we celebrated our entry into true French residence....yep....dining at the only open facility for kilometers....the one and only chic dining establishment known fondly on this side of the pond as.....Chez McDo!! (McDonalds for those of you stateside) There is a certain amusing irony in that...which was not lost on us as we sat out in the sun slurping down shakes.

Following our gourmet meal we tore back to the house and proceeded to tour La Maison M-J as it shall now be known.  For the rest of the world our little corner of paradise is locally known as La Maison Neuve (The New (300yr old) House).  Before you all rush off to Google that, let me remark, that is a name given to a hundred other properties here, kind of like Smith in the U.S. Giving directions is going to be fun, so I am currently coming up with a creative garden decor on the main road for our sign to make it stand out!

So, the photo you see on top is the happy M-J family on the day, all four of us (one of whom was trembling with sheer doggy glee the entire time), as we managed to capture with the camera on a timer, precariously angled on a rock, our rock, on our grass, on our lane as we stood before our house feeling our happiness escalate every minute that passed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

M.I.A. ...and then some!

We have been in a P.O.M. (Prisoner of Moving) camp for the last four months, and oh how I wish we had indeed still been in St. Lucia, drinking our blue drinks, as so many of you humourously commented in mails to me--might I point out here that You were the only ones laughing... :-|  

T & I have crawled through the trenches of preparing for a move, discovered that six years of living in that apartment, and my world-renowned skill for packing inordinate amounts of things into one suitcase apparently spilled over into our 117 sq.meter apartment...shelves people, they can triple your space!!...all translated into lots and lots of stuff.  I even sold furniture and appliances prior to the move!! 

We painfully discovered all these extra things we didn't know we had so much of when we packed them ourselves for four days, with an unmovable deadline hanging over our heads, with a grand total of (and I DO NOT exaggerate here) four'ish hours of sleep, mostly taken by T who was turning green with fatigue.  I am supernaturally able to turn into some kind of robot-like human--too bad this only happens in times of sheer stressful terror.  One night he thought I had gone AWOL from Camp Packalot because I never made it to bed for the 'nap' and he couldn't find me in the battlefied...until he happened into the master bath, called my name and I popped up from my 15 minute snooze in the bathtub in a state of freakish awareness....cold porcelain can be very calming I must say.

In the end, one day of movers turned into two--a team of four men turned into six--and one medium sized truck and 3 containers turned into a grand camion (big truck) and 5 containers...and I believe I may truly, have, for the first time in their moving careers, actually surprised a professional crew of movers at how much stuff two little people, a small dog & bird can actually pack into an apartment! 

I could tell you many horrid stories those four days unfolded, but it ended with me & Freya walking through the only home she has ever known, realizing all of 'home' was gone, as home is where we all are together, us handing over the key to the legal officer who did our checkout, dragging one god-awful final load to the car, driving down to the studio, treading zombie like up to the apartment.....and collapsing onto the bed for a 14-hour nap until the next day.  Never has sleep been so blissfully warranted, desired or appreciated.

War teaches you something--any war--and that is that the soldiers around you better be someone you can count on no matter what.  T & I seem to fall into these hideous situations and always come out a team.  That statue you see in the picture was from an anniversary--already I can't remember exactly which one--it's from Norway, pewter with Norwegian stone carving the two out of one.  I know it struck a cord for me b/c we'll always be those college sweethearts--me with my ponytail, T holding my the middle of all the moving mess, a constant.