Sunday, August 31, 2008

It's always hard to say goodbye.

A little less Sunshine in our lives....

Everyone and every thing has a light it shines on our lives....yesterday, a big light left ours, one that has shone brightly each and every day for 15+ little Delfia has died.

He was but a little blue fluff of a bird when I received him as a birthday present from my roommate back in September of 1993 (thanks again Jen for the most amazing, loving that just kept on giving!). As a matter of fact, we thought He was a She at first and Delfina was her name--a norwegian derivative of dolphin as he was all blue and I was a Marine Biology student....time went by...she turned into a He (the sex on a baby parakeet isn't obvious until they mature) and Delfina became Delphia which became Delfia....I left Marine Bio and went on to English/French as my majors...and Delfia matured to an amazing amalgamation of blue, green and bright yellow.

Delfia was always aware of what a beautiful, handsome little bird he was...sometimes telling his mirror self aaaall about what a handsome devil he was looking at...sometimes telling us from whatever was his chosen perch, and always, even in his most unwell days, preening and keeping up appearances. I remember one time in Wilmington, when I took him into a pet store, for one of only two wing clippings he received as a babe, a lady offering me money to use him as a stud as his colourings were apparently quite rare and unique...I had to respond that he was stud enough with our remote control and thumbnails--which he apparently thought to be his girlfriends and had numerous amorous...uh...encounters with!! His 'dates' with these ladies and romantic culminations were one of the early things that had us crying with laughter. He eventually grew out of puberty and settled into life as our little shoulder buddy, travelling all over whatever home we lived in with us, always curious about what we were up to, and just wanting to be with us, his flock.He lived his life flying free in our homes, only reposing to his cage for a nap or at night for bed. This is one of the reasons we're sure he lived a good, long life--plenty of exercise and entertainment all the day long....some entertainments were purely for the sake of irritating mom & should we happen to accidentally leave some paper on the table or out and then leave him alone, inevitably later you would find those tell-tale little chews all around the outside edges--I think one or two of our bosses over the years wondered at the excuse of 'but the bird nibbled the report, I swear!' and newspapers were his favourite snack. Ah little gourmet...another reason he prospered to old age...ate whatever we ate, always politely eating only on the edge of your plate and always cleaning up the crumbs of whatever you gave baby was not a messy bird! His favourites--and I do not exaggerate as many of you were witness to over the years--salmon, potato chips, rice, any meat, carrots & lettuce, and broccoli heads that always gave him bad breath--phew--fruit of any kind, especially when he stayed with Aunt Cindy and she catered to him with a plate of delicacies! OJ out of the glass, drinking like a gentleman, but the orange bits were what he was really after. Spaghetti sauce was top of the sauce list...and the many accidental dives into the cereal bowl because he just couldn't wait for you to give him his share--always eliciting a howl from me. One knew to always save the last bit of yoghurt in the cup, as he could put away a spoonful....moving to France made him a true frenchie as baguette became a permanent staple in his cage, the harder the better!

I didn't read a book about parakeets until almost two years after he arrived in my life--and that was at 2a.m. in a Walmart one night when I was bored...and it turned out that his life was completely wrong according to the experts. 1) Birds like quiet, calm atmospheres and regular schedules--2) they should be put to bed when the sun sets--3) they should eat a balanced bird diet. OOPS. Life in college meant he stayed up late for all night paper writing sessions, listened to blaring music while I cleaned the house or did aerobics or just hung out, was the center of attention for parties. He travelled in the car, sun roof open, radio-him & me singing along, with seat belt fastened for Spring Break trips, weekends away and went to fetch the mail on my shoulder in our apartment complex. But what do the experts know? He grew up with me and I certainly didn't come with a book :)

Everywhere life took us, he came along. Multiple moves in the U.S., our first house that we built, and when we moved to France there was no question of him not coming....a small delay while we did time in quarantine crazy UK and then he came over in Business class (nothing but style for my little man!) to France when we settled in. He loved our apartment on Raynouard with his mirrors everywhere, parties, visitors and beautiful view. Dr. Blanche led to a calmer existence, though he was still the center of dinner parties and he loved his kitchen faucet, buffet box (an old xmas stocking shiny box that came out one year, he adopted and it became permanent decor!), napping on our laptops & leaving 'presents' for us to find later, and letting all the neighbours know when I was coming home--you could hear his call for blocks if you listened--better then a watch dog any day :) He travelled to more countries then some
people (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg) and I always received smiles from the Parisians (a rarity let me tell you) when he accompanied me on buses, the metro or trains to various holidays. And I know there is more then one stranger out there who passed us on the road and then slowed back down to have a second look at the bird driving the car (his favourite spot on road trips was on the steering wheel or the headrest of the driver) and pointed excitedly, much to our amusement.

He was a little fighter, surviving various injuries and serious illnesses over the years, most would have killed an ordinary bird, but not my D--vet after vet commented on his extraordinary age: first at 3, then 5, 10 and now at 15. He was always a character, squawking loudly when someone poked their finger in his cage--his domain! He used to ride my dog Jr. (my beloved standard poodle who died at 17 in '99) up and down the stairs in our house, share her dinner and clean the hair in her paws....I know he missed her when she died....and then along came Freya three years ago--a little terrier bred to chase anything on the move. The little old guy took a little longer to accept her into his 'flock', but when he did it was just so sweet, cleaning her long hairs and zooming into the kitchen at even a hint of canned dog food--another gourmet favourite. And she in return came running whenever he screeched in indignation at being held--was something wrong with her big brother D? Not once has Freya ever malevolently looked at Delfia, she always gave him his space on the floor and at her dish--animals know, of this I have no doubt--family is family, no matter what their race. Nap time in the M-J household meant everyone on the bed passed out, Delfia included, laying completely flat on our chests until we moved. Madonna was one of his favourite singers, he sang loudly and clearly when her tunes played....I will forever remember this when Madge plays now.

Most of all, in the plethora of pleasurable things this little creature brought into our lives, was the laughter, companionship and love he provided not just us--his family--but to all the people who bird-sat for us over the years and visited. I cannot tell you the number of times people asked me if I could train a bird for them like Delfia--not possible I replied, he just is the way he is because of a full life. He was 'so cool' in the words of many a child--one Spring Break he made my 'nephew' Andrew in Florida THE cool kid in class because he brought a bird in for show/tell that would sit on the kids' shoulders--and many people had never seen a bird up close or had them sit on their shoulder, or heard the many songs, chirps & sounds he made, until they met the Big D. He has turned non-animal people into animal lovers--Denise & Scott can attest to that :) He was a Top Gun flier--glass windows, ceiling fans--nothing phased him....and he loved nothing more then to strafe those who were scared of birds--we smiled secretly at his prowess. He could drop and glide and on the rare occasion he did go outside the house/apartment, he always returned to us--which amazed everyone--'why doesn't he fly away?' we were often asked, and the reply--'well, if you had a kingdom and people attending to your every whim, would you leave?'.....

And now that he has left us, the immense quiet that surrounds us is deafening. I sit at my computer now and no reassuring peeps, twitters or dingles of bells comfort me in the background, getting up in the morning and going to bed will be hard as he was always the first/last thing I thought of and cared for every day. There are many habits I'm programmed to perform, for him, that will stop me in my tracks I'm sure, and as the tears well I must force myself to stop them. People underestimate the power of love animals bring into our lives, but I for one will be eternally grateful for every moment I was granted with this amazing, smart, happy, character filled little bird. As he lay in my hand yesterday, and I brushed his out of place feathers back--I knew he would be irritated to not be perfectly groomed as we laid him to rest--I felt so painfully the huge hole in my heart opened up by his death, but know that as time passes the memories of the happiness he brought to our lives will partially fill that hole--but a little part of me is gone with him, and this is life. It is a small price to pay for so much joy. We picked a sunny part of the yard, that my future kitchen will look out upon, to bury him--along with his favourite bells, cuddle buddy and toys...and in the spring I will plant one of those blooming yellow trees to remind me of my little sunshine.But for now, I want to deeply thank all of you that helped us care for him over the years, asked about him, loved him or were a part of his life, you helped make him the wacky, goofy, loving part of our family that he was.

I leave you now with a somewhat repeated, but meaningful quote from Alfred Tennyson:
"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Just across the channel-->

The Eurostar terminal moved from my old, familiar Waterloo to the new St. Pancras station in London. Pulling in was visually pleasant, I loved the light pouring in the glass roof, the bright colours.... and I was almost not upset at leaving what I had always known at Waterloo...until I needed a loo (WC)! As usual, someone was slacking in the design department and the restrooms that had always been in the pre-exit arrivals area...were gone! I became reacquainted with my fellow Londoners while waiting in line for 20mins out in the main hall....wonderful.

I next made my way to the tube to head to my hotel....and again, why is it that in an international train terminal they have so many stairs? I realize they're cheaper then escalators, but I'm getting old and as my luggage donkey was lounging in the Sarthe a girl is forced to lug her many rain outfits up/down/up/ get the picture...and I don't glisten folks, I sweat! After paying the extortionist tube fare to get to my destination (did our salaries jump 30%?)....I happily offloaded my things and quickly set out into the city to do what I do best in London....people watch and atmosphere soak!! I don't mean to sound so negative, I absolutely adore London, thus why I love to get away there.

It provides me entertainment people watching....that's not to say that people watching in France isn't interesting or fun, but for some reason it's not entertaining. I love to listen and look at the variety in London. Take this for example (see photo on the right), I had such a chuckle at M&S that I had to take a's juvenile yes, but I can't even imagine some cheeky french jokester hiking the boxers up to geek levels on a mannequin in a store in Paris....chuckle chuckle. Or, sometimes the brit formality just makes me smile....again, I was walking down a neighbourhood street near my hotel and saw this polite way to say...pick up your dog's France it's just a sign with a line through it of a hunched over dog pooping with a turd coming out the bum ....

So, I happily munched creative food (yes, France is my mecca of gourmet, but a change of pace and creativity is nice), drank my cider, ate a salt & vinegar crisp or two...had scones, jam & cream (even the fast food version is unbelievably delicious)....even enjoyed a glimmer or two of sun--are the weatherpeople right in any country? I wandered through Selfridge's food hall I came upon the 'American' isle and thought to myself as I viewed the symetrically pleasing rows..."good God, is this really what they think is American food?"....I ate Fluff and peanut butter sandwiches one summer when I was ten, but don't know a single other person who has it in their pantry...and ok, I'll give you the pancake mix/syrup & popcorn...but otherwise we are apparently a nation of ridiculous sugar consumption....with some beans & weaners thrown in (has anyone ever seen weiners in a jar in the U.S.?) for salt....ah well, we all have our stereotypes!

I rounded out my London sojourn with a meeting of my friends Nika & Brett's little chub of love--baby S--born last Halloween (is she going to have cool parties or what?) and finally got my wish to pinch those adorably rosy cheeks in person :)...and her Grandmother N is great company! Moving on to Haslemere to visit my friend Janet in her oh, so UK surroundings I finally ate my obligatory fish 'n chips at a fantastic Mr. Fox from above the fireplace--> (see what I mean about humour?)...we zipped around in her sporty Audi (I won't show you my face as the passenger....just kidding J!) to visit the beautiful West Dean estates & gardens (see scenery photo on left) and grilled out hubby caught trout on the terrace...all in all a very civilized journey.

A tired L arrived home after travelling all day...the train to a tube to train to a metro to a train home was a bit much, but worth the change in scenery, humour and seeing friends....already planning a return trip, this time with T--there are musicals to be seen and showtunes to be sung! Cheerio! (that's me and my tasty fancy drink at a great thai restaurant Janet & I went to in and spicy baby...and delicious!)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gone to see the Queen....

Ok, maybe Buckingham doesn't know who I am and isn't letting me in...BUT, I am a Queen (of M-J land) so I will have to let that carry me!...and yes, this is a round-a-bout way of saying I am in London for the week!

Mamma has taken a small vacation to the land of scones & cider (yum!) and is catching up with friends, seeing a baby born since my trip last year--whose cheeks I am dying to pinch!...and immersing myself in a little Anglo culture and bad weather--what does one wear for rain, rain, thunder & rain, and more rain?

T is working from home this week and re-bonding with his little 'girl', reveling in la maison and the tranquility it has to offer from his usual hectic travel schedule. Lest any of you think me cruel, let it be noted I left him well stocked on meal ideas, list of snacks and a fridge full of supplies! (& if he is a good boy, there may be stale Krispy Kreme doughnuts in his future--and he is doing a happy dance at that news, of this I can assure you!)

Meanwhile, I will have to add some pics here upon my return (Gaaasp, what? a post with no photos? I knooooow!), but it's gray, windy & rainy and I don't think anyone really wants to see pictures of my window shopping exploits....but oh what fun. I love to watch people here, eavesdrop on conversations at the table next to me...sip a cool cider, OR our new favourite beverage for summer--Pimms--hard to explain, but let me just say...I'll have another!

It's hard to believe there's such a different world just across the channel, it amazes me every time I return, and so fun to visit. But it also serves as a reminder at why we love living in France, because there you can live it's so...bustling? I'll ponder a better one...but it's late, I'm on the hotel's free pc (loving that!) and I'm dreaming of sleep in my comfy bed with no bugs buzzing me awake sporadically through the night...ahhh....vacation!!

So, I'll be back to posting the French Vie this weekend...until then....Cheerio! (& no, no one but the old folks says that anymore, but I was a kid who watched Benny Hill!--google it, 80's British humour at it's best!)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Time Flies...

One of the benefits to moving.....and as that rather painful experience is still fresh in our minds, I look for the, as I was saying, one of the benefits, is that you gain a determination, as you are packing box, after box, after damnable box, to quit saving so much, to go through your collection of things and get rid of stuff. My current rule is: If I didn't use it in the last 6yrs (the time in our most recent apartment) then WHY do I still have it? Adios.

In the food category (this includes basically anything to do with cooking, baking, snacking, tasting, get the picture) I have many things. I am making a concerted effort to use something in every meal from my vast, slowly aging collection, thus reducing the need to move it yet again in the next couple of moves we have slated over the next 1-2 years (house-grange-house, possible storage unit thrown in).I bring you now to the beverage portion of our built up, moved stash. Unlike many people here in France we don't have a massive collection of wine, but for us it is a sizable collection. Years of dinner parties, parties and wine gifts, and not enough nights of us drinking (shocking I know--you should see our liquor bar!), plus the years of Foire du Vin (autumn wine clearance sales), & the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Indépendants (Independant Vintners Salon) that we go to almost every year to get our favourites...well, all this leads to many bottles of wine. In an effort to reduce our stash we're trying not to buy anything new as we celebrate wonderful summer days and tasty meals with a glass of this or that. (Exception being the Rosé we buy and drink chilled, this is not a wine ever worth saving--we learned that lesson early in our French life!) All this celebrating is kind of like reaching in a hat and pulling out a surprise--let me explain. There is no order to the boxes of wine stacked in our atelier--cool, dark room in the Grange (the barn). This is a result of T & a muslim packing guy (he wasn't allowed to touch the bottles) working in our old cave the last day of our 4-day packing marathon--remember from an earlier entry, we did not sleep through most of those days--so zombie T just grabbed & packed, the guy closed the boxes and into the truck they went, no labels, nothing. So we reach in and pull out ....something! Occasionally we recognize a treasure and it goes back in, and then we get something we have no idea about, can't find anything on the internet about it, and so, into the fridge it goes (in this case, as it was a white)....and later we taste.

So, with this lovely bottle you see pictured, our first taste created a rather quizzical look on our faces, weird....not bad, just weird. And then my eyes wandered up to the year label (see right) AAAAKKK! eeeegads....a '92? quick math in my head...what? we are drinking a 16yr old wine? You mean....uh...omg...seriously? A wine that's as old as kids driving today?....but, but...'92 wasn't that long ago....and there across the table with a smug look on his face, my T (here I'd like to point out he IS 11 months and 1 week older then me) with the totally unacceptable remark of...well, yes, you are that old...and so is this wine from '92. Oh my, how time doth fly.....the wine grew on T...but based on the flavour I think it was probably one of those good ones that was past it's premium drinking moment...but that's the fun of trying, why let them just sit there and pile up? --we won't, and neither will any of our visitors, of that I'm sure--Papa, when did you say you wanted to come? ;o)

So, I must learn to accept the passage of time (it's not that hard, I know, just every once and a while something pops up that makes me see it like a neon sign), but we couldn't have picked a better country to do it in, and a better house to see 2008 + go by.....and as the saying goes, "sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses".....and I do, boy oh boy, do I!

The front right corner of our house has the most beautiful pink roses--I don't know their names, and they're not the most odiferous of our roses--but they're just gorgeous. I took some pictures this afternoon of the second crop coming out, and share them with you to the left and down below. We do have others that aren't nearly as pretty, but have the most heavenly scent of, we really have the best of both worlds.

And now, in camping land, dinner is served--homemade spaghetti sauce with peppers from the garden, that's been simmering in the slow cooker all day, and garlic bread....accompanied with tonight's surprise pick--a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon...we'll see how it goes!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anyone have a Big Bad Wolf?

So, today I made my first, official, I'm a Country Girl now, purchase.

I originally went into the local hardware/farm equipment/misc store to buy a shovel--yes, you might be thinking to yourself that this qualifies as a country purchase, but no, I know people who live in the city, suburbs, on boats for that matter, who have shovels, so it doesn't count. As Freya & I were wandering the isles, gazing appreciatively in the fishing isle at the live bait (yes, I fished and loved it as a child!), looking questioningly at the animal killing isle (mouse, rat & mole trap/poisons) and I, drooling down the jam making isle (yes, an entire isle)--and hoping that sometime in my near future I make a friend who is a jammin' expert because I know all of nothing about it...other then that I don't like fruit chunks in my jam...., and Freya sniffing her way down the dog food isle hoping against hope that a morsel of food escaped the confines of a bag, to be found by her....I rounded a corner heading for the garden section only to see.....
a 'panier aux fruits rouges' fruit basket...such a cute, little, useful basket! If I put on my red-hooded windbreaker and skip around the champ I might just BE a fairy tale...ha ha ha. And no, the fruit did not come with it....that is the result of Freya & I's evening walk around the property to collect today's ripe goods...and put into use my day's purchase! (and in case any of you were wondering, I did buy the shovel, but it is no where as cute as my fruit collecting basket!) The little plums you see on the left are Mirabelles--also known as a Cherry Plum and they are sweet & delicious....I just discovered we had them yesterday as I waited for Freya to dig yet another taupe hill over by the cow pasture...and shazam, my wandering eye spotted a fruit-like object hanging in the tree above me...I promptly picked it & plopped it into my mouth...delicious!

So, now our daily rounds will include the gazillion blackberries ripening all around us and mirabelles! I had a tarte au mirabelles once....any other suggestions out there for using them? Thank god for Google is all I can say. And my handy new panier....skip skip...This is my fruit guard dog...pfft...more like she's pretending to sleep and when I turn my back she'll pick out the best, she loves black berries??....yes, only my gourmet pup :)

Now, it's been a hot day here, and I must go enjoy my refreshing lemon-lime beverage with sprig of fresh mint you see in the basket (another abundant greenery at la maison M-J...siiiighhh.....)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Love is in the air!

I took this picture and couldn't resist the title for the post...I mean, they.make.a.heart! Let me also comment on the length of dragonfly love...I saw them out by the creek, watched in amazement as they 'hooked up'--can I just comment here that they FLEW like that!...Note to self: not coming back in next life as female dragonfly--she had to fly upside down while he was holding her head!....I then had time to run inside, grab the camera, come back, find the setting for macro and lay down in the grass to take the picture....what's that phrase? 'you love me looooong time'??...hahahaha.

Ah the bliss of nature....back to your regularly scheduled National Geographic program ;)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fruit of the Earth's Loins

If that doesn't draw you into a blog entry, I don't know what will!

Today's entry is dedicated to one of my best friends over at Scargosun who inspired me to do this entry with her new dedication to 'locavore' living. Originally it started out as a comment on her blog, but then I thought, wow, that's a bit rude to take up the whole comment section, and so this entry was born...So, the photo you see above is our 'potager', or what you might know as a vegetable garden. If you look closely at the picture you'll see what is currently our garden, the small fenced in area with plants and weed-free dirt. Then, in the background, past the tree all the way to the fence posts in the far left is what the previous owner used as his potager. As we acquired La Maison a bit late in the planting season, and I can't spend the entire day a slave to greenery, we started small this season with 6 zucchini plants (yes, we LOVE the Z) and a mini orange paprika plant we picked up in the Netherlands.

Now I'm no green thumb, anyone who has ever housesat for us knows I tell them, don't worry about the plants, they're hardy, they can go months without water and always come back!! Read: no plant in my home stays unless it can thrive on occasional, remembered waterings. So, over the years I have pottered on our Parisian balconies mostly with tomatoes (we were always south facing) to fairly reasonable & tasty results. So this new foray into ultimate green was a trite overwhelming, thus the small beginnings.

However....I am pleased to report & prove via photographic displays evidenced here (see left and right)....that our land is fertile baby! and the fruit is coming forth....that and my very concerted effort to water on a regular basis from the conveniently located stream (just off the right of the potager photo above).

A little lesson I learned a few years back about zucchini sex (uh, this is a pg-13 rated blog, details are available on google) has Z's sprouting at an alarming rate. The one you see above, just for an edible point of reference is about the length of my forearm from wrist to elbow, and not even ready for picking (& grilling!)! The yellow flowers Z blooms are gorgeous, aesthetically pleasing me as well as tasty--and a tidbit of info, the flower on right is female....Last night we had a fabulous Thai dish and as the mini-paprikas (seen in the macro photo above) were piling up, I sliced and diced 5 of them in there...and can only say a chorus of 'Yums' was the happy result.

There have even been a few, free surprises in the potager. A couple hardy strawberries from last year popped up again (for you garden virgins, strawberry plants are perennial but sensitive to cold--why most people replant them every year), and I discovered their tell-tale leaves in an earlier weeding effort in May, so cleared a small halo of open space for them, watered them and now and then, as I survey the garden, am treated with a oh-so-sweet succulent berry for my efforts. Next year I'll see if we can't get a proper jam--oh, who am I kidding, they'll never make it to a jam jar--a proper strawberry treat row.

The two small trees (you may only see one, as the second is just behind) in the photo of the potager are theoretically peach trees, though my suspicion is that they are apricots based on their current size, and I check them every week to see if they're ready. They have remained stone hard, but fun to fondle...did I say pg-13?...ha ha....and I can't wait to see how they taste. In the back of our property we have a small orchard with pear & apple trees, but I'll save those fruity tales for another entry :)

Last but not least in our little potager, we have what I like to call my Martha Stewart plants. The ones that, in a normal housing situation, would be great to have around for dinner parties, but in my experience, quickly dried and died in their store bought pots....thus leaving me to just stick to the spice cabinet. And here I am talking about our spice friends. 'Ciboulette'-chives, 'Romarin'-rosemary & 'Thym'-thyme. My tastebuds have been titillated beyond belief by the joy of adding these fresh spices to dishes coming out of my...camping kitchen. For example, my Parisian restaurant dining days were for a moment forgotten when, with my first official visitor (Hi Janet!), I took a fresh fish, gutted it, cleaned it, slapped some fresh rosemary branches & sliced lemon inside and sizzled it on the grill for about 20 minutes....and voila...a tastalicious meal with unbelievable flavour. This just wouldn't have been the same with dried spices. My ciboulette plant has led to oh so prrretty presentations of stuff because I had the ability to just scissor some chives before the plate went out....or to just add it to some sour cream for the potatoes....ahhhh, such culinary bliss.

And so, it is with further discovery joy that T & I continue our education of vegetables that are in season, eat them by the barrel and wait to see what the next seasonal lesson is. Don't be afraid to try your own potager, or even a little window box with spices--stick them in the dirt, water & voila... The quality of the country vegetables, especially our own, is ruining us, and I hope that more of you out there experiment with farmer's markets, bio veggies or whatever it is you can find, because, truly the results are worth it.

So, Bon Appetit & Bonne Continuation....Maybe next year this will be me?.....maybe not!!....