Birthday Countdown

I’ll be turning 70 very, very soon. It’s the weirdest thing. I feel okay, no particular aches or health troubles. At 60 I thought yeah, just wait. I’m grateful to be able to tell you I’m still waiting. May it long continue.

So, long time no blog. Summer was a scorcher, lots of sneaking around with watering cans to help my newly planted trees survive the blistering heat. We had water restrictions, but the farmers watered so I did too, but carefully. Most things survived and now it’s raining, so I think they’ll be okay.

I think my owls died. After the heat waves, I didn’t hear them any more. I think a lot of animals died in this heat. When I watered, bees and lizards came out of nowhere. I let the birds have my grapes; they were likely among their few sources of liquid. I need to think about how to provide a constant water source for the birds. Next summer will likely be just as harsh. I should plan for it.

This summer, for the first time, I housed volunteers for the local music festival. Les Arts Florissants, baroque music in a beautiful garden, all quite elegant. But this year the foundation opened a new building, a glorified employee break area. My house guests, bless their partying souls, hung out there until well into the early morning. Obviously this new building was much needed. So I saw them at arrival, when I handed them a house key, and waved goodbye when they handed it back. My kind of house guests.

There was one exception, a late arrival, Montse Faura. She is the artistic director of a festival in Catalonia, so a bit older than my party boys and besides, she partied with William Christie. Unlike the guys, she got some sleep. Montse is adorable, my new best friend, probably everybody’s new best friend, a valuable skill if you spend a lot of time fundraising. She turned me on to the summer festivals down her way, in Catalonia. They are numerous and look amazing. Jordi Savall does one; I want to go. Here is a video about Montse’s company.

I bet you’re wondering what is in the jar. Well. A different friend, let’s call her Danica, that being her name, gets through her exhausting days on CBD. My days are not exhausting but so what, I’ve become a fan, too, thanks to her. The trouble is, that stuff is expensive. It shouldn’t be. Hemp is a weed, after all. But, supply and demand…. I decided there has to be a cheaper way.

So I got some CBD bud online and this guy, which cooks it all up, then infuses it. What you see is my first batch. Given the price of those tiny bottles of CBD oil, I figure my initial batch is worth about half what I paid for my new toy plus the basic ingredient. I think I’ll add some to my next vinaigrette.

You can take the girl out of California…..

Fasten your seats belts…..

Well, guys, there is work to be done. I’m afraid none of us will be enjoying it and it will certainly take longer than a bumpy night.

Any of you who have your own blog know that WordPress has gotten weird. Prices are up, service is down. I could stop blogging, but that would be no fun.

So I’m going to move everything from my current WordPress hosting to Go Daddy. The price is about the same, and all the services will be under one roof. Plus I can reach Go Daddy on the phone. At WordPress you send an email, then wait a day or so for an answer. I have been trying to resolve the issue that had my site offline until now. Waiting for the WordPress response, along with the price and service changes, convinced me that it was time to go.

That’s the news. Please be patient. Once it’s done, I’ll let you know how it went.

It makes me miss books.

Vacation While You Can

So many things to say. If you use a period-tracking app and you live in the wrong state, you might want to delete it. It could be used in evidence against you. And if you are in that demographic, maybe get a VPN. Plan C is fine, if no one can trace it to you. When my grandmother went for her abortion — it would be a full century ago, or near enough — she was raped by her doctor and of course didn’t dare report him. We’re headed right back there again, folks, and doesn’t a story like that make pills sound good. If you have kids with birth certificates and you think they too have a right to life, maybe get them them a kevlar vest — in school colors, why not. If you live in a state with coal-fired power plants, you might want to move; it’s about to get pretty smoky in your neighborhood. And if you can vote in the States, do so. It really is a big deal.

Let’s talk about something else. Jacques loves his new toy. It is less fun to watch him, now that he has figured out how to grasp his shark by the tail but it still squeaks and bounces in a satisfactorily erratic manner.

My new trees are doing well. We have had a long period of slow, soaking rain, for which they and I are grateful. I am already harvesting produce from my garden. And unlike Mitch McConnell, the olla is your friend. An olla is this terra cotta pot that you bury in the ground near the roots of, say, your tomato plants. From time to time you fill it up. The water oozes out into your plant roots. And hey presto, your olla-watered plants will be half again as big and bushy as your drip-watered plants. I think it uses no more water, as I refill it only when I am running the drip system. I’m a convert. I’m hoping for a big sale at the end of the season.

The season itself promises to be busy. I’m headed to a knitting retreat, of all things. The news being what it is, I can use the calming effects of a week of knitting. It will save me from overindulging in the CBD gummies. I’m looking forward to a parade of visiting friends and am making friends with people who actually live here. Kieron says he might just maybe finish my summer kitchen. I have been invited to give a presentation at an exhibition opening in August; more about that later. Maybe life isn’t so good right now but for the next few months, it’s going to seem just fine.

Resurrection of the Wild Wood

Block details:

Over in that far left corner, the faithful will recall that there was a tangle of bay laurels, brambles, diseased boxwood and who knows what all. The birds loved it. i did not. I was also fully fed up with muddy shoes and with picking brambles from Jacques’ hair. So I had the guys get rid of everything but the hazelnut trees — big bushes, really, given the way they had been pruned — and we started over.

The place is loaded with rocks, so they used some to build the walls you see. All the stonework was done with material found on site. We ripped out much of the awful weedy, rocky topsoil and replaced it with better stuff. We graveled the drive snd parking areas. Decomposed granite for the paths is almost unheard of here; I’m hoping that a guy who will be here in a couple of days can score some for me. He’s William Christie’s source. That’s how you know we’re getting old. We get excited about dirt. Our doctors make us take drugs.

It’s summer and construction ran late, too late to plant in the green-plastic-sheeted areas. I kept the hazelnuts. i have a few new trees, mostly Japanese maples, in the original Wild Wood area. I’ll put a few more in the far right quadrant. Then I’ll have to water everything like mad, as we’re headed into a heat wave.

Come autumn, I’ll go nuts with the ground cover. I’ll lift the plastic sheeting and plant more trees, probably regular maples. I’m looking at a variety called Autumn Blaze. They will grow high enough to shade my south-facing house, while the Japanese maples will stay somewhat shorter.

Notice something different with the barn on the right? I was so happy with the results of my chipping away at the worn-out crepi that I had the guys use the scaffolding they put up anyway, to fix the rain gutters, to finish the job. Then they slathered everything with new crepi, which they then knocked back a bit, to expose the stone. One day the money will appear to do the barn on the left, too, if I don’t just cover the walls with Boston Ivy.

This has been brutal for the birds. All the chipping and sandblasting drove the owls away. They are just now starting to come back and I think they are using at least a couple of the nesting boxes. I left a little sliver of the old Wild Wood, so the other birds are not entirely gone. It looks like they might be auditioning the new planting., now that things are settling down again. In autumn, when we pull up the plastic and put in the trees — it used to be just scruffy, gravelly dirt and weeds — the Wild Wood will be pretty tame, but it will be much bigger. The ground cover will be varied and, I hope, weed-free. They’ll be better off, but it’s going to take a while.

Jacques will miss the plastic. That looks like carpet to him. He can hang out there, nice and comfy, and watch the street traffic. And the burrs are already on their way out.

I’ll post about this again in October, when the new trees are in. The changes have completely changed the way the house looks. At first I thought it was a bit much, but once things have grown in, I think it will be fine.

They never stop talking

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a bad day. A dear friend is ill. His daughter — let’s call her qvnr, for Queen Victoria Meets Nurse Ratched — has declared that if he sees me — any woman, but in practice that basically means me — without chaperone, he will never see his grandchildren again. The man is dying. He is frightened and alone. Teenagers have lives, so he doesn’t see them much anyway. And the rest of the time? SOL, Pops. You can sit there in solitary and think about your impending doom.

Well. As part of his farewell tour, he organized a day of presentations and asked me to talk. As I listened and waited for my turn, I couldn’t help but wonder whether French people, at least the ones I seem to have fallen in with, ever stop talking. A key presenter arrived late and spent a good ten minutes explaining why. Then he explained again. Then we all started again, with Mr. Late frequently interrupting. And this seemed to be expected. Absolutely no-one seemed surprised or annoyed. Finally, my turn, but my introduction was so complete that it may have taken longer than my presentation, especially as it included about half of what I planned to say.

Of all things, at lunch a woman leaned toward me and said, “That was fascinating. Could you speak at an event in July?” Of course I said yes. Why not? When in rural France….

I couldn’t help but think of Christmas dinner, when they went around the table and asked, basically, what have you accomplished recently and what is coming up for the next year? And we were expected to have major life events to recount. One guy received a national award for his work in physics. Another was graduating from one of the more prestigious French universities. It went on like that. If I had declared that I had just winter-pruned my roses, it would have brought down the tone of the whole event. So I told them about a paper I had agreed to write. By next Christmas I’d better have made substantial progress on the thing, too.

It looks like people are expected to make public presentations and that they are expected to be involved in public life. I’m amazed at the number of people I meet who are adjunct mayors, or real mayors. The painter that invited me to speak also has gallery showings at her house. At the last one, the mayor came, not for social reasons; it was part of his job. It was a public event and a medium-sized deal. Jean-Yves was head of a Europe-wide professional association. In the States that’s a somewhat unusual thing. Here, no, folks just do it. And when the presentations are done, everyone goes for lunch/drinks/dinner and they talk some more.

So here I am, several years into my blog, writing at length about people who never stop talking. Maybe I’m going native. Really, all I want to do is shut out the noise and wrap my arms around my wonderful friend. I want him to know that although he is going where we can’t reach him, until then, he won’t be alone.

Do What You Can

If you are a right-thinking blog follower, you may have tried to access my refugee support page. It’s there, but the link is broken. No idea why.

The Ukrainiens have not yet reached Paris, so those links, which are to Paris-based groups, are not all that useful anyway. But the two million and counting, including over a hundred thousand unaccompanied minors, are going to go somewhere. The way things are shaping up, many will stay. During the months — years, if we’re talking about the kids — that they will need to sort out their lives, they’re going to need some help. As will the Afghans, etc. It’s a scary time, a dangerous world right now.

Everybody is saying give money and be sure to research your charity. Good advice, nothing I can add to that. But if you knit, consider the “Knitters for Ukraine” fund, which gives its money to the Red Cross. It was started by the Finnish magazine Laine, so it’s squeaky clean. Or even if you don’t knit, if you just like the anarchic weirdness of a bunch of folks banding together to knit Putin back to the Stone Age, go for it.

In fact in general, let’s face it, for the rest of our lives we will be dealing with refugees or worse, be refugees. To avoid compassion fatigue, we’re going to have to get creative about how we help. My thought is to choose one thing you already do or identify with — one action, one charity — and make doing it or donating to it a part of your life, now. Just normalize it.

It’s Getting Expensive, Here

Look what landed in my mailbox, yesterday. A guy in a fancy car personally dropped off this thick volume of real estate listings. A look at the enclosed card told me he drove from Nantes, a good hour away, to make the drop.

Your first thought is likely, what was the stylist thinking with that possibly naugahyde, definitely way-too-diamond-tuck sofa? Neither nauga nor Chesterfield should ever be put through that, then slammed against those tasteful gray-green walls and actual trees, just to emphasize the point that sickly chartreuse does not make it.

But the real question is, why did a high-end realtor drive so far? the answer, of course, is that if he sells one house down here, the drive will be worth it.

I bought here because the location and weather were decent and the price was rock-bottom. At the time, even after I had signed all the papers, the realtor mentioned that prices here were low, even compared to adjacent areas, and were sure to go up. Yeah right, I thought, I signed the papers. You can stop now.

But yeah, he was right. Prices were stable, then rose slowly. Then Paris became unaffordable with Bordeaux and Lyon not far behind. Ordinary mortals moved to close-in suburbs. That pushed up prices farther out. Then covid hit and finally, finally, the French caved in and allowed telecommuting. Prices are now going up all over the place. All these little villages with communal land are chopping it up and selling it in tiny parcels as fast as they can — and these days it’s pretty fast.

Mr. Realtor is hoping for my house because I fixed it up. Even at today’s prices I’d probably just break even. So no, it’s not for sale. And honestly, I think being able to sell without taking a loss is good for me, but on the whole, not so good.

I bought into an agricultural area. In the several years that I have been here I have seen the housing subdivisions grow along with the junky roadside businesses. The gravel easement outside my wall just became a sidewalk, a fancy one, with exposed aggregate, and it is well-traveled. I now live in a suburb.

The villages will soon run out of communal land to subdivide. That will put pressure on politicians to change zoning laws, to allow farmers to subdivide and sell their farms. All that talk about buying locally-grown produce, fields being good for the environment? That talk will go away. Folks will rail against Bolsonaro burning down the Amazon rain forest and never link his actions to their own habit of building over rich agricultural land. And the economic hazards of depending on outsiders to grow our food, the way we now depend on Russia for gas and China for nearly everything else? They will not come up for discussion.

The terrain is flat here, thus easy to develop. Easy money. Climate change projections show the sea level rising to almost across the street from me, but that’s a couple decades down the road. No developer plans to stay here that long.

Wind turbines are our only hope. At least I think so, as they need open land to work. Buildings screw up the wind patterns. Say what you like about the turbines being too heavily subsidized; I’ll probably agree with you. But the wind developers will fight against the land developers and they have the money to do so effectively.

This is a bit of an anxiety rant, I know, but I think there is good reason to be anxious.

That’s enough. No photo of Jacques this time, but he left me this, which I will now share with you.

And here are my Valentine’s Day roses, a few of them, which I am spreading all over the house, definitely not sharing. Thank you to the lovely man who sent them.

The Demise of the Wild Wood

I feel a bit guilty about this. Until yesterday I had this tangled stand of trees, bushes, raspberry vines, who knows what all, but the birds loved it and it was green. It was about the only thing that survived years of contractor depredations. Then I sold the rental house, which gave me a bit of money, even after taxes, to fix the front garden. So I had a little plan done, which I showed you a few posts back. And yesterday, Kieron started work.

Kieron and Eddy rebuilt this house. The two of them, with very little help, and they did a great job. So once I heard that Kieron was off on his own, I told him to put me on his calendar, which he did, and now he’s here. Julien is working with him and his brother in law will appear in a couple of weeks.

We marked the outlines of the new garden plan. It’s hard to see, but there is spray paint all over the grass. The grass is seasonal and barely covers a thick layer of gravel and construction debris. That won’t be missed. But as we worked out the plan we realized that if we wanted to properly back out of the garage (the gash in the wall will be enlarged and the appearance improved), the Wild Wood would have to go. And now is the time, as the birds are wintering in Spain.

So Julien fired up the chainsaw and went to work. The hazelnut trees will stay. Probably the stuff screening the street will stay, but we’ll see. bay laurels are death on walls, so we might have to take that out. At the end of the project I’ll probably plant some bushes around the hazelnuts. I’m not a big fan of grass and I want to do something for the birds.

And do you see the concrete truck off to the side there? The commune decided to give me a sidewalk. There is literally a sidewalk starting at one side of my street frontage and stopping at the other. That’s the whole project.

So my little country refuge is moving to the suburbs. Or maybe the suburbs are moving to it. My ratty front garden — a friend — yes, still a friend! — once said coming here was like stepping onto the set of “Withnail and I” — is getting tidied and organized. And this weekend, as I was preparing the house for Sunday lunch with friends, I realized that I could actually clean, not just stuff everything into a back room. Okay, some things went into a back room, but much less. At least Jacques is still himself.

Jacques Report

Remember Poodle with a Mohawk? Linda Barry? Never call him Fifi again? Hah. Poodles. It’s all about fashion for them. Westies take action. And Jacques has gone rogue.

It’s his new dog door. Reignoux finished buttoning up my house. It’s all bulletproof now, assuming I remember to lock it up. As part of their work, they designed a dog door, custom-made for Jacques. We drove out to their shop, where they measured him as carefully as would a Saville Row tailor. Chest height, shoulder height, head height, body width, they got it all. Then they designed a door to fit Jacques, of course, but also to suit the look of the door. It’s hard to see, but the knob on the left goes to a sliding metal panel. The vertical reflection on the right, halfway down, is a latch. When the panel covers the dog door, the latch pins the panel in place. Hey presto, nobody is getting in. And no nasty white plastic.

This is the thanks I get. Here the little delinquent is, on his grooming table in the utility room. He loves his door. I can’t keep him in. He runs out and barks, randomly, just for fun. Then he runs back in, probably hoping the neighbors will complain, so I can say “Jacques? Barking? no, see, he’s right here.” Yesterday he brought in a dead pigeon — dead for a while, so at least he’s not killing pigeons, yet. I guess he wanted to give it a decent burial, maybe in the sofa cushions. Fortunately he changed his mind and took it back out again. I have no clue where that pigeon is now. And today, look. Did he really need to roll in the mud? Is being clean all that painful?

I basically triage-cleaned him. Of his various dry shampoos, it turns out the mousse is better than the sprays. He’s sort of tan, now, which I hope won’t rub off on the furniture. I put some antiseptic and skin soother on that ear, so it’s a normal light pink. A little work on the nails and job done, he’s back in action. Not clean, exactly, but better. For now.

Merry, Happy Whatever

Here he is, fresh from the groomer, looking nothing like a guy who’d rather be digging up the rose bed. So sneaky.

It’s time to wish you all a happy whatever it is you celebrate. Celebrate something, please, it doesn’t matter what. Celebrate everything. Isn’t it time for Solstice ceremonies about now?

It has been a rough year. I don’t even want to think about it. But Jacques and I will be spending Christmas with Jean-Yves’ brother and his family. They demanded that I bring Jacques, he being basically the only critter that one can snuggle up to without fear of catching some dread disease. On my last visit there was a brief return of the bise but now — new wave, new variant — I suspect that’s over.

Home again, home again, for the new year and friends over for lunch. Will Jacques manage to stay bright white for that long? I doubt it.

I have a new project that will take up most of next year. I don’t want to jinx it, so I won’t say a word until and unless it becomes official. So we’ll see. And don’t worry. I won’t sell you anything or ask for a donation. It’s going to be fun, though, at least for me.

Well, two projects. I’m finally going to do something with the front garden. You’ll be seeing a lot of that.

So, 2022 looks better than 2021, at least from this vantage point. I intend to celebrate my way right through the end of this awful year. I’ll spend a few days pretending it has all been just fine. I hope you will, too.

Belle Ile

I just got an email from a friend, with photos of herself and friends at a Paris museum gala. I had to laugh. They looked so nice, all dressed up, and here I am trying to keep the mud out of my car and the ticks off Jacques.

Why, you may ask, why would I subject myself to this? Well, remember when I was so pleased to have passed the intermediate-level French exam? I got over it. Not long ago I actually gave a paper in French, did I mention that? But a friend had to edit it for me, Google French being not quite the same thing as real French. It was necessary, but a bit embarrassing. I’m a big kid now. I want to do my own editing.

So here I am, in my one-room, one-student classroom.

So here Jacques and I are, for two weeks, staying in the little cabin to the right of the not-much-bigger house, in that top photo. I figured, rightly, I think, that it would take two weeks to bring my French to a dead halt — my faking-it French is not all that bad — and then let me spend some time beating my head against the wall of my own ignorance. I am at the head-beating stage now. My goal is to get past it, get past the baby talk that I get by with and add in, you know, adverbs in the right place in the sentence, that kind of thing. French has these things called pronominal verbs, I think they are verbs, which I avoid like the plague. I need to get over that. Verb tenses other than basic past, present future? French has a ton of those. I need to figure out what they are and what to do with them. It’s a tall order. I’ll get there, but right now I’m mostly glad I didn’t sign up for three weeks.

Belle-ile is pretty, though, no question. Right now the weather is okay. And the teacher is good. Michel Denance: I can highly recommend him. He balances friendliness and professionalism quite well and he has patience to burn. Plus, bless his heart, he makes lunch every day. Another French thing I haven’t worked out is how they cook actual meals in those awful kitchens. If it weren’t for Michel I’d be eating some ghastly packaged food.

This picture is of a neighbor’s garden, Le Jardin de la Boulaye. She has five hectares, which she has cleared and organized. It’s stunning and open to the public by reservation for paid visits. One day I may go back and walk her replica Chartres labyrinth. I don’t have a photo of Sarah Bernhardt’s house. It is perfectly sited, protected from the wind but still right at the ocean. But the state owns it now and it is all cleaned up and ready for hordes of summer visitors. It’s conceptually very cool, but this garden is prettier.

I think Jacques would be happy to stay here and no question, it’s a lovely place. But at the end of my two weeks, I think I’ll be ready to go home.

Which Way is Costa Rica?

This is the image. My happy home, which it is, with a beautiful, landscaped garden, where I now have only gravel. But soon, maybe, depending…

I won’t even show you the reality. Reality may well suck up my landscape money. It came in the form of a notice from my utility company. They informed me that electricity prices would increase, which I knew. I thought maybe 5%, tops 10%. But no. For the next seven months my electric bill will go up 50%. Then will it go back down? Not from what I’ve seen so far. My money seems especially attractive to them.

I had been looking at solar panels anyway. Honestly, it was throwing the dice to see whether I would live long enough to see them pay for themselves. It could be time to run the numbers again.

Or, maybe just move to a warm climate. Granada is nice, as is Barcelona. Maybe Malta or Sicily? Or, I hear intriguing things about Costa Rica.

I’d hate to start over again. I have friends here, ones I didn’t know before I moved to France. My French has improved to the point that it is only half bad. Maybe I’ll just pay up. Ugh.