Tidying Auntie’s Things

The aunt of a friend died a while ago. Three decades ago, at least, so definitely a while. Relatives squabbled over whatever she left; think in terms of the scenes at Scrooge’s deathbed. What they didn’t take went into storage. Then into my garage. Now it is in the house, all of it.

This is the last of the fabric, waiting to have the yellowing and mustiness washed out of it. I looked at those boxes and figured, okay, I’m home for weeks. This stuff is in the way of my MPII project. Who knows, there might be something nice in there. Why not get it out of the garage? Now I have an answer.

This is why not. I don’t know what to do with all this. There are tablecloths with matching napkins, old lace, linen sheets, Auntie’s undies, unused bolt ends of fabric with the price tags still affixed — 2 francs per meter. Each item is actually quite nice, but there is so much of it. Every piece needs to have the mildew washed out and most should really be ironed.

I was delighted to pull out the first cotton nightgown. Now I have at least half a dozen and I’m thinking they are a little plain. Maybe some embroidery?

I know silk can be washed, but I’m not feeling that brave right now. Do I even feel brave enough to sew it? Maybe not. France is the land of good seamstresses. Maybe I should hand this to the experts.

After all, I have plenty of work right in front of me.

Another Money Pit Moment

So, when I bought the house, they basically threw in an acre of land and two barns, more or less the way nice bars give you snacks with your drinks. Those barns have been talking to me.

The other one will be the biggest two-car garage ever, that plus housing for four pairs of barn owls, should they ever choose to move in; I think last summer they nested in some loose hay on a mezzanine. It’s a big open space where there used to be a porcherie. It could be a terrific pop-up concert hall, gallery or cafe. It’s nice looking and has doors on its public side, so no need to invade my space or irritate the owls. Right now I’m happy that I can leave it the way it is.

This one is getting my attention. This one is shaping up to be Money Pit II, MPI being my happy home, of course.

Let’s start here, in the room above, the one with the oven. To save money, maybe, when they reroofed the barn, previous owners decided to destroy the chimney — not completely, just at the level of the roof. So if you light a fire, you’ll die of smoke inhalation. Plus, let’s face it, the whole installation needs help.

This little project went on the back burner and this room became storage. And then. I sold the rental house. The bar snack there was half an acre of land and all the furniture. The land can stay, but the furniture has to go.

I’m doing pretty well. I got it down to the dining room table and sideboard, which are too nice for the BonCoin bottom feeders, who are cheaper even than their Craigslist equivalents, but maybe not nice enough for a local auction house. In addition, I found a good guy to rebuild the chimneys on MPI, they having suffered years of brutal bullying by the ravens. Seriously, at this point those chimneys are swaying in the wind.

So, to avoid the pain of selling some decent furniture for almost nothing, and because the right contractor — maybe — will be on site anyway, the storage barn will soon be transformed into MPII. I’ve been running the numbers, so I know. Wiring, plumbing, refurbished chimney and um, did you notice that the floor is half dirt? Well, I found these gorgeous glazed terracotta tiles and the factory is less than an hour away! Don’t think about the price. You’ll just get depressed. And what could be nicer than a sweet little summer kitchen with a way cool pizza oven? Seriously, what?

Home for Now

It’s very quiet around here. Ambient noise is reduced to almost nothing, so if a bee buzzes by, it’s a big deal. I have the good luck to be healthy — I’ve been here a week, so I think I’m good to go — so of course I’m catching up on things. This is the underside of a yew tree in the front garden. I have cleared out the twiggy dead stuff, to make it safe to move around in the space. I see a haven from the heat waves, maybe.

We are finally furnishing the little apartment attached to the house. So, lots of unpacking and sorting. We’re not there, yet, by any means, but it feels good to at least have the clutter moved out. The space is starting to look habitable. Some pieces are a little tired, so livening them up is surely a next step. And, um, something on the walls, please, and while we’re at it replace the bargain basement lamps with something better, and and and… All in good time.

It’s a work in progress, as is the sorting of everything that came out of the space. Some of the clutter has waited five years, now, for me to decide what to do with it. I’m always looking for the next project. By the time I get through the learning curve, I’m bored and ready to move on. It is good that I have this enforced tidying time. I tell myself I’m making room for the next thing.

As you can see, I am improving my chess. I have a long way to go. A little knitting — someone’s birthday is coming up and said someone wants a sweater. A little reading. And maybe a little nap.

It can be a scary time right now. A lot of plans have gone awry. A lot of housebound kids are driving their parents absolutely nuts. And, of course, some folks are pretty sick. I hope you are in none of those categories, that for you, too, this is a good time to slow down, to catch up on whatever is in need of that. And give in to a few silly songs.

Jacques Report

I have become an accessory to murder. This is Jacques, digging madly, looking for mice, in a spot I pointed out to him. I guess he figures where there is one mouse, there could be a zillion of them.

He basically mashed the little guy to death, the way he mashes his squeak toys. Then he just moved on. Maybe he was disappointed that the guy didn’t squeak. Dunno, but I may have created a sociopath.

Look, he has just moved on, in search of another victim. My cute little dog, looking good in what is about to become his famous blue raincoat, is a serial killer. All my railing about cats has fallen on deaf ears. It’s not just the cats who weren’t listening.

Can I claim I just didn’t know, like a driver of a getaway car? Didn’t even know the little white dog, just seen him around a couple of times?Would I then have to admit I was just out planting poppy seeds? Yes, That kind of poppy seeds, so maybe I’m becoming a drug lord, too? Maybe I should say yes, we did those things, and I do fervently hope the poppies come up, but it’s not who we are. Would anyone believe any of that?

Oh, my. I guess the best I can hope for is that the owls will find the carcass, make a free meal of it.

Clearly Jacques doesn’t care, as long as he can keep going. But first, the mug shot.

Permaculture Report

Normally about this time of year I post a photo of daffodils. In California I had paperwhites, but regular daffodils always struggled. So it has been such a delight to see these guys popping up, all on their own.

I’m not over daffodils by any means. They come up every year, and still brighten these wet, gray days. So amazing. But I have moved on. I now have a kitchen garden.

I edged into it last year. I dug out old seeds and picked up whatever was on sale at the garden center. The stuff actually grew. So, what might happen if I got serious?

I ordered a worm farm, which has yet to arrive. To judge by the look of the guy above, that may prove to be completely unnecessary. I ordered fresh seeds, weird heirloom varieties, kindly delivered by an American friend who was fine with my small order turning into 30 seed packets. I signed up for Charles Dowding’s online gardening course and even got his written approval of my decision to cover the garden with permeable plastic sheeting. And, this is key, I got Julien to do the heavy lifting.

Granted, it’s not exactly permaculture. I can’t live on blue popcorn and orange eggplants. I still have to go to the market. My markets of choice feature locally grown food, but still. It’s fun and close enough for now, I think.

Julien is totally on board with the weird food, especially because he can collect the seeds. He took home everything that needed to be started in a container, so he can water and all as necessary.

And, I think tucked back in there behind the bricks, is a hedgehog, my little bug eater.

I am still such a city kid, but I think I’m going to enjoy this.

Guest from Afar

So this is home, this week, for a teenage boy who is staying with us.

A while ago I was talking to my French teacher, who also taught English to refugees. She had a lot to say about it, but her principal piece of advice was to always go through an organization.

Well. Some organizations are right out there in public. Others are more careful about their public presence. Eventually I found my way to one that finds homes, however temporary, for unaccompanied minor refugees. They also organize educational and legal services.

Our house guest is 16. He is polite and serious. He loves basketball so much that I have become a bit of a sports widow; he and the SO are binge watching everything the sports channels have to offer, with Jacques right at their sides. He draws extremely well and gets himself to his classes. He eats very little and asks for nothing.

So, maybe they gave us the poster child.

He has been waiting six months to be given asylum. Rejections are made for many flimsy excuses. Meantime, the French government expects him to live in the roadside camps that they keep raiding and destroying. If, at a hearing, he says he stayed in someone’s home, it creates problems with regard to his legal process. Thus the slightly underground nature of this whole thing.

We are going out of town next week, so he’ll move on. When we come back, we’ll host someone, no idea who. But to me, we have a moral imperative to take care of the children in our communities, even and maybe especially the refugee children. So I imagine we will do this for the foreseeable future. Sadly, refugees and the conditions that create them will not go away any time soon.

Jacques Report

Money player. So true. I’ll never get it out of my head now. Jacques is bored, doubtless wishing he were back spreading Christmas cheer. Or something. Today we went to a bookstore, where he chatted up a very nice young woman — licked her face, even, a total PDA. These French guys don’t waste time. Now, what, I don’t know. Waiting for Santa? The grandkids? More treats? Definitely more treats.
Fortunately my little treat hound can now delegate the thankless tasks. Meet Stan the stand-in. Does Stan mind silly costumes, funny hats, goofy props? No, not in the slightest, and he has no interest in treats. He may be a bit lacking in personality. However at holidays he will be indispensable.

Oh, wait, this is a holiday, or nearly so. Whichever one or ones work for you, go for it. Or them. Celebrate. See you next year.

Jacques Report

I was going to make this more of a Christmas post, but the weather is horrible and Jacques and I are bored.

My little Jacques Frost was going to play Jacques Brel this year. Santa suit? No effing way. Well, unless it’s really nice. He will be six on the 23rd, a well and truly grown dog, after all. Aye Marieke, he’s getting up there. So we put on his black turtleneck. I tried to get him all brushed and tidy. You can see how that went. Plus, really, another photo? He’ll do a lot of things for a treat, but he won’t do more than he has to; you’ll have to take my word for it that he’s looking very cool in his sweater, very scruffy wannabe bad boy. No interest in the gnomes: they don’t squeak and they are not edible.

He knew there would be treats in the end. Even better, he got a walk. Jacques actually knows the way to Pets Sweet Home, the local doggie candy store. He amazes me sometimes. We loaded up on future bribes. Jacques got in a little socializing. And that was the best part of our day.

If I don’t post again this year, merry whatever you celebrate. The best to you all.


So, I am accompanying again, this time to Porto. And yes, the port is very good, often a little lighter and less sweet than in other places, but so far not served with Stilton.
The city rises steeply from the Douro river. It doesn’t seem to have a plan, just narrow streets and chaos. Then suddenly a street will open into a park or plaza.
Just across from this park is a bookstore where JK Rowling would come to outline her Harry Potter novels. Apparently she lived in Porto with her first husband, who was Portuguese. She anglicized local place names for use in the novels. The bookstore has become a pilgrimage destination and even charges admission, though the money is refunded if you actually buy a book. Shakespeare and Co might want to adopt that practice.

Anyway, it’s a lovely city, albeit one that it would take some time to make sense of. I think that would be time well spent.