December 23, 2007

Boite a savon

Race Day

Today was the race, and we did OK. There were 7 teams of three and various levels of parental involvement. I think we won the popular vote. We came in third on overall time and we won our first dual and lost our second.
For me the look on Oscar's face made it all worth the tens of hours that went into it.

The team was strong and motivated. Victor and Matthew pushed Oscar with great determination and speed.
Oscar managed the "backward" steering with great aplomb.

There was perhaps a design problem and our front bumper turned out to be more a hazard than a safety. In the second dual race we got caught up in the feet of the opponent and into the wall twice. But we limped across the finish line to great applause.

Wait till next year!

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December 20, 2007

Christmas Spirit

The local favorite restaurant is hosting a holiday meal tomorrow night. It is a fundraiser for Oscar's class at school and the kids are doing the cooking and serving! I spent today helping them prep, ten kids in the kitchen making Buche de Noels (yule logs) and turkey stuffed pastries, smoking a salmon for the appetizer and mixing up the house aperitif of wine and cherry syrup with kirsch and sugar, a "Griotte".

Meanwhile the 20 or so who will be "serving" the meal, were prepping the dining rooms and asking questions like "what's the big fork for? and why does everyone need a napkin? I expect the food to be good under the watchful eye of a very talented chef, but I'm afraid that if the food ever arrives at the table, it will be cold or upside down, or dropped in my lap at least. 20 9 and 10 year olds?!?

Oscar has come home glowing after the past two (half) days of cooking. Proud of his new found abilities in the kitchen,
like pealing potatoes and making soup in a 22 litre batch!

Meanwhile continued progress on the Tour de Martel. The painting is done with the exception of the areas that got messed up, and the moniker on the sides. The steering is waiting for an OxyAcetylene torch to make a crucial bend and the bike breaks cum soap box freinage are almost complete!
(Did you realize, I didn't, that you can double click on any of the photos
and they open up full screen!)
For something personal and funny from us:
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December 13, 2007

Boite a Savon

Box of Soap
in English

We are making steady progress, and due the comments I have gotten, there seems to be a
level of curiosity.

We connected the box and the chassis yesterday
Team mate Victor and his Dad will weld up the steering system tomorrow
Team mate Pierre and Oscar hope to start painting on Sunday
We have learned we are number 5
And the official name is the
Tour de Martel
A pun on the race being a circuit of Martel, Martel being the "village of 7 tours (towers)"
And of course the form of the Eiffel Tower.

The Race is on December 23rd
Think of Oscar, Victor and Pierre!
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December 9, 2007

Top Ten

I wish I had a top ten list to share, I suppose it could get me a job writing for the Late Show, but no I'm talking about receiving lists. This is the time of year that the postman rings twice and then slides the lists through the slot hidden in our stone facade. The letters that come squozen inside of greeting cards, photos attached, recalling for us a wonderful life somewhere else.

Now if you haven't sent one of these Year in Review summaries, your excused and we will get or information elsewhere, but if you have then thanks, it sure beats bloggin'.

That said, I'm not going to go there, our top ten list will have to be distilled from the notes preceding this one.
Suffice it to say it's been grand!

France is getting into the spirit. It seems that every town with a boulanger has a decoration budget with more euros than baguettes.

The round-abouts are tricked out and every main street is lit with light sets on every street lamp. They all match, sometimes they blink, they usually twist and curl like a treble clef and they usually start before you can see the center of town and end well after. A drive across a distance takes you through a series of towns and the competition becomes apparent.
Martel has just upgraded. We have 1 new
round-about, six new blocks of main street and bright treble-clefish things with tiny LED's giving our town a sparkle not unlike the magic in a woman's makeup that We are supposed to think is more inside than out. It works on the street lamps almost as well.

All the small towns as well have Christmas Fetes. We have missed the neighbooring village's due to rainy weather, but are greatly anticipating our own fete here in Martel. Two years ago Oscar and I made a simple soap box car out of stroller wheels and some thick carton. He rode it up and down our street in the center of town until it fell apart. The locals took notice and inaugurated a Soap-Box Derby. We were in the US last year and missed it, but this year we intend to bring home the gold for Team America! Actually it's only American in concept. The team is dad, Oscar and two of his friends, french friends. The name of the car is the Tour de Martel and it's in the shape of a supine Eiffel tower. I wanted to name if it Freedom Flies, but the "humor" was lost on Oscar and most of the Senate as well. So that's Christmas here, a car race around the center of our town, a market selling gifts alongside the truffles and fois gras, and Oscar's class selling homemade confitures to subsidize a class trip (probably to a duck farm!).

We will stay close to home, enjoying these simple pleasures, perhaps a few nights in Bordeaux just to remind ourselves that we are in fact city mice. We have a Christmas tree up and ornamented just this evening, Oscar has already wrapped something and placed it under the tree, I think with the idea of priming the pump, hoping the pile will grow quickly, so he can spend the next few weeks rattling the boxes and musing of Christmas day.

Otherwise, there is slow progress on our home. The master bathroom is 99% complete (done).

Next project is uncertain, a few bits of insulating to finish and then perhaps the new door on the street, or a skylight in the attic first.

And in conclusion tonight, Pat was right, she's been patient, but now I do need glasses. I was certain I was going to slip by reading menus long into the night as well as all the fine print that accompanies old age. But no! Anyway...I can still see the keyborad!

Enjoy the season!

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November 13, 2007


Part One of Marseille
(photos I couldn't figure out how to post below)

The beach reminded us of San Francisco beaches;
People swimming and others wearing parkas!

We rented bikes and spent the days riding up and down the coast.
These Bikes are great, they are free rentals paid for by the ad revenue from all the civic
bus shelter ads and kiosks. They are well maintained and available for pick up and drop off all over the city.
This is a new phenomenon in French cities, available in Paris, Lyon, and half a dozen others. A city planner's dream.

Back home, we went to tour a pre-history site 20 minutes away. Several amazing Dolmens and a cave where
they have discovered the remains of hundreds of wooly mammoths. They call it the oldest butcher shop of mankind(?)

And back in the kitchen we tried our first real meal on the kitchen BBQ. Funny photo, nothing is straight, in fact the grill behind
sets down into a level position once the coals are ready, and the photographer too!
We grilled Oysters with a recipe from Drago's in New Orleans, and then French pork chops. It was a great success,
despite the panicked look from the french girl in the photo, a bit of smoke, a bit of smell from the charcoal lighter,
then voila!
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Life's a beach

School's out. So we loaded up the bags and hopped a train to Marseille.
5 hours and a lifetime away. It was 15 degrees warmer, and like a different France.
Marseille is perhaps like Oakland, a real melting pot of the world. It seemed that every shape and size of human
co-exists there in relative harmony, unlike the homogeneous sud-ouest of our Martel, there is a wonderlful mix of cultures
all working off of each other and creating a vibrant city. I'm not certain that, had we started there, we might have stayed there.
But it was autumn, and the beaches were warm and the food was good, so perhaps it's an unfair conclusion.
We remain pleased as punch with out little town.

We spent most of our 5 days around the old parts of town, but did take a boat trip out to tour the
calenques (fiords) along the coast east of Marseille.

Just far enough out to sea to remind us why we prefer the land. The landscape was other-worldly,
it was hard to believe we were 5 hours from home.

The beaches were all rocky, but the sun was warm. We made it into the crystal clear water up to our knees but that
was only because it never occurred to us to bring bathing suits to the beach in November.
So we settled for rock sculptures instead.

Oscar's school schedule continues to delight us with 10 days off three times a year, well
worth the cost of a shortened summer. With so many destinations within easy travel distance
we are doing well at taking advantage of the opportunity. Next perhaps Spain only hours to the south.
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November 1, 2007

Slow Learners


Somehow we have lived in France for four years and yet last night was our first halloween here.
It seems that the occasion always coincides with the school vacation of Toussaint or All Saints Day,
And that usually finds us off exploring some corner of our adopted country. This year we stayed still.
We are still processing what we learned last night.

The preparation was great. Halloween is considered an "American Holiday". Like Americans, it is welcomed by many, and disregarded by some. But everyone is curious. The stores, which have a euro to make, happily sell crappy costumes, glow in the dark "scream" masks a plenty, commando fare, melting latex faces and the occasional politician. They sell candy, make-up, devil horns and flashlights. They don't carve pumpkins. They know about it, and a few efforts are made, but like good corn they don't have a variety of pumpkin which is really empty enough to carve well. And pumpkin is a food here. Carving up a pupmkin and putting it out on the curb, would be a waste, something akin to bobbing for apples or maybe driving an SUV. So, as Americans we decided to waste some food and teach some French kids just how to do it too. Our first was a classic jagged edged mouth jack-o-lantern, the second was a very modern, power tool assist, work of modern pumpkin art. Very successful!

The strange part came next, the art of the "trick or treat".
First, the French use shutters, so you can't even tell if people are home or not.
Second, easily a third of the population has never heard of Haloween.
Then a third didn't follow the invitation of the grocery stores to stock up on candy.
Then the kids don't have a handy catch-phrase like our "trick or treat?" They just blurt out in frustration "bon-bons"
People in there earnest efforts found things to give the kids. Oscar almost got an i-pod from one confused household. Friends handed out candied Ginger, bags of potato chips, oriental party mix, and the pharmacist gave bags of throat lozengers!
We had the norm, plus we took advantage of the innocence of an untainted occasion and also had home baked chocolate chip cookies.
It was a cold night and our fellow Martelaise would take there time in answering the door, thinking "surely that wasn't a knock at the door on the 31st of October!?" Eventually someone would turn on a light, open the door and ask what was up? Once they were reminded why there were a handfull of kids dressed up as ugly creatures (candy!) they usually rallied. Once a confused doctor said he'd run out to his car, because he had some candy there. Everyone was pleasant and came around and the kids were wonderfully appreciative and solicitous, after all, it's free candy and it's new, so there is no sense of entitlement. Wait till next year!

Next Year???? I suppose if we can manage to be in town again then we might need to have a party and be a bit more proactive in sharing the wisdom of this "American Holiday". We have a unique opportunity to shape the meaning of the occasion.
Costume contest?
Pumpkin contest?
Haunted House?
Scary music???
If they won't come to us (and only a couple dozen ever rang the bell) then perhaps we will bring it to them and get a few more Martel kids to dunk their heads in a tub of cold water on a cold night to grab an apple when there is tons of better candy around.
But they love it!

Halloween is right on the edge now. We are, for the most part, on good behaviour here, the idea of roaming the village and surprising people by asking for food is strange. So we, as parents, stood far behind, well disguised as a large green bird, and made certain that enough merci's were offered and that no-one got left behind or scared by barking dogs. Halloween is slow in coming here, it doesn't make much sense to the French, but we're doing our best to translate!
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October 28, 2007



1. felt through others
2. one part of the body doing what the other ought
3. arrival of winter

I kind of made up the last one.
It’s like a virtual winter, it’s still October, but it’s dark and cold.

This morning marks the end of the season perhaps, a season that has been replete of guests. Our calendar forward is empty of highlights and we can settle down, warmed by the shadows and footprints of friends.

There’s really nothing ‘vicarious’ about it. It’s as first hand as it gets, more of ‘pleasure brought by others’. And while that is nothing so extraordinary, it is for us as it defines the background. Sort of making us see the faces that define the vase.

Our lives here are certainly something on there own, but given context, witness, time, maybe even some different purpose by the presence of others.

We have put small photos of our house here and there, ‘before’ shots, pasted to the door frames and walls in the position they were taken 2 years ago. The idea is to give context. If the tree falls without a witness does it make a sound? Somehow that’s going on here, we need the witness to what we have done for us to understand it.

Defined by others…hmmmm?…’s starting to sound like a psychological disorder. I think that we just like to share and to stay connected.

Having guests is great. It gets us to the ‘fisherman’s wharf’s’ of France, those places you never go without guests, only to be surprised by how fun it is to eat chowder out of a sourdough loaf. This region is so full of things to see and do that we’ll never find the bottom of the list. Sharing this with friends is wonderful but perhaps the most sublime is the moments of sharing old friends with new friends. We see the similarities, the continuity of the friends we make and the friends we keep. We often draw the parallels, ‘someone would really like someone’, or ‘really acts like that person’, or ‘looks just like soandso’. Kind of like everything has changed and stayed the same at the same time.

Same soup, different flavor.

The flavors here are autumnal, crisp and deliberate. Full of strong contrasts and wonderful light. I have always thought how extraordinary autumn is everywhere in the world. It’s the best time to be away and the best time to be home, the quick time between winters and summers, full of promise and memories, new friends and old, bright reds and gold. We’re happy to be here. Living our lives vicariously through you, and essentially right here!


I just figured out how to upload photos directly from Picasa to Blogger, so a bit of catch-up.

Joshua and (Dan's Sister) Sarah's wedding in New Orleans!

Gayle and Conley's visit to us and our visit to the Gouffre de La Fage

POD at the wedding

Our new hand sink in the Salle de Bain Cut from a stone with a natural hollow
Single foot pedal on the floor below
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September 13, 2007

New Tricks

Old dog!
So what else is new? I rented an accordeon today. I guess I got tired of telling Oscar he should strap one on and with the help of Pat calling my bluff, I signed up for accordeon classes and one thing led to another and now I have a 40 pound accordeon strapped where my laptop oughta be. It's been a dream I didn't know I was having, first to learn an instrument, second that it should have an impossible number of buttons on it. First class next month, till then I'm supposed to get used to the feel (or immense weight) of it. New Trick!

Oscar on the other hand is sticking to his featherlight Yamaha classic 3/4 guitar. This will be his second year and either we are pretty convincing as parents, or he is finding some sort of pleasure in it. All I know is that whenever you ask an accomplished musician when they started playing they reply with single digits! In fact I suppose that goes for most accomplishments of any sort, athletes, artists, actors, and that's just the A list! What does that leave us for options in our old age??? Oscar could become an architect.... a chef.... a builder of cardboard homes (bad image there)....His latest is that he wants to be a "food critic"! I'm serious, this is a kid that limits his list of edibles to a few dozen things, half of which are various pasta shapes! He is actually scared of vegetables and fruits, no berries, no tropical fruits, nothing near to an onion....But I'm getting carried away, it's a battle that we feel needs to be fought soon as what patterns aren't set are quickly being set. We have started a new campaign, and it actually showed some progress tonight, he ate new food at dinner (meat loaf, don't laugh it was good!), he even tried a bite of green tomato. So voila another new trick! He even came home from school with a note about his improved behavior!! Another new trick!

So just when everything seems to stay the same, things change, left becomes gauche, and right becomes droite, unless it's droite then it's straight, not right, and all the while it sounds the same as the word for finger, so I avoid pointing anywhere but left with my finger lest I get confused. There are obviously some tricks I have yet to master.

Oscar may indeed become a food critic someday, more from watching his parents obsess over 5 euro bottles of wine, and taste testing creme fraiche, than an inate curiosity of the edible enviornment...but whatever gets you to passion, right!?

We are settling in to the off-season, getting geared up and into projects around the house. We think that if we play our cards right this project can keep us busy for another year before we need to worry about what to do next. Oscar is settled in at school, volleyball clubs and choral groups are reconvening after a summer hibernation, and the air is crisp, warning us of what is to come. Still summer!

September 6, 2007


Just an image to remind you what we look like on a good day.

August 26, 2007

Open Season

Whew! We’re not sure what just happened….

Today was Pat’s birthday, I’m not saying which one, but it was pretty nifty.

I’d like to say it started with breakfast in bed, and ten-lords-a-leaping, but we’ve been celebrating for about a week, since Dan’s birthday (he’s sorta-sore), and there was our town yard sale going on, So Daniel went shopping and Pat followed a couple of hours later. Oscar too, he was the only one with a purpose, as he was selling! Old books and toys, he did sell more than he bought, but it was close. Anyhow, back to the story, the town yard sale dragged on all day, then at 5:30 there was the “rue Droite fete”. I’m still unclear on why, but it was picking a date, the 1950’s, and showcasing what was happening on rue Droite. Which houses were which stores and where the artisans ateliers were. It included a small play with the Mayor, the mailman and 3 others, and it then a wine party in our courtyard. We are still unclear why, but as our courtyard is in the middle of the block, and is a large open space adjacent to the street, we were asked to provide the space. Then we thought we would sieze the opportunity to show off the house to neighbors and friends who hadn’t yet seen it. Where everything started to go right was as we invited folks up and into the house (one by one) everyone else followed in what became a steady stream of familiar faces and enough strangers to make me hide the silver! Probably 100 people came through our house! It became an extension of the block party and the yard sale! It was a wonderful moment.

One must take a moment to understand the French….. maybe more….. one doesn’t invite another into their house in this manner, the concept of an “open house” is unknown, and never without a direct invitation and never past the first room or two. Now here we had 100 french people, and a not a few Belgian tourists wandering about. Dan was working the first floor, and Pat was on the second, Oscar was in his tree house, and it really was exhilarating for us. We got enough “chapeau”’s to motivate us through at least the winter. The Mayor was here, the vice mayor, the farmers and the Boulanger, the guy who makes false teeth, the news agent, the priest (who still thinks Dan IS jesus) and his mother. The real estate agents, the marriage counselors, our doctor, artists and even a few friends. It was spontaneous and culture clashing, we weren’t breaking rules because they are the unwritten rules of French society, we were mixing and matching and surprising everyone.

August 21, 2007

The winter of our discontent...

The winter of our discontent…
Made glorious summer... in some readings our winter was such and our summer again, but in all ways therein lies no complaint. Trying to live up to the traditions of our adopted homeland, we have taken a “pause” for the month of August, conveniently marked by our birthdays, Martel’s town fete and the Rue Droite fete (along our street). Summer has indeed been made glorious. While our winter was labeled one of discontentedness, it was far from. There was work to do, but it was a great fortune to have such an assignment. So many people came through our “project” incredulously, warning us of how much work still remained and offering solutions as to where we might live this summer since completion seemed too far off. Mais voila, here we are, comfortable, contented, made glorious. It’s been hard work, but what an opportunity! I’m not sure that William Shakespeare ever made it to Martel, but King Richard the Lionheart did. If it had been a summer like this one, then the story may have been different. It has been a perfect summer for moving and re-establishing our patterns in a new house, as it has been cold and stormy. It has made the point that a house is shelter first and the rest is gravy. It has been easy to be inside and seldom too hot to be moving boxes, and climbing stairs. The tourists are complaining, the river has been raging, and the markets have been bustling, restaurants are full and the town around us talks about lighting fires and turning on the heat in August for the first time in 60 years! We have been moving furniture, rearranging kitchen drawers, and socializing on a grand scale. Somehow this is the summer that we have discovered a new circle of Martelaise, a group of Parisiens who summer here and move from one house to the next dining and wineing, like some French bohemian version of a Fitzgerald novel. Interesting people, speaking several languages, and surprisingly talking to us! We have had the opportunity to visit some real homes, steeped in history with real art and real furniture, very impressive! While our home is old and new again, these other homes, in families for generations, drip with the emotions of old Europe, they feel the ages and have attics replete with lives and history, again, very impressive and making us feel our age, like America itself, thoroughly new at all of this! It’s almost as if we are “playing house” in comparison, with art on cardboard and furniture from Goodwill! But that’s certainly OK too. Marking our arrival into the new house we held a birthday fete last weekend that would have pleased Bacchus! A sit-down dinner for 20, a flow of English and French conversation and food! Food found perfect from weeks of testing and tweaking, wine and champagne poured from magnums that seemed bottomless, and a musical soundtrack that quietly played in the background as the hours past. We always felt that this house would fill nicely, and it did. If we can find a way to have a party like that without all the prep, then we might do it more often. Perhaps we need to introduce the high concept of “pot-luck” into the French culture. For now we will be contented with leftover chocolate mousse and melon gazpacho. In what must be a sign of good luck, our house was visited by a colony of bats. We returned home one evening to find bats par tout! Oscar sounded the alarm as they started to fly circles above his under-the-covers head, with a scream: “there’s a bird in my room” and then two more started running the length of the hallway and then at least a dozen in the guest room, creating a Hitchcockian scene. They came in for unknown reasons and then were thwarted from exiting by the gauzy curtains. When the windows were opened, they quickly found their way out, leaving behind nothing but a strange memory and a Chinese blessing of good luck on the house!

School starts up again next week (fifth grade!) and our glorious pause should curb and we will return to the tasks at hand. We have left behind enough large projects that I suspect we will stay busy for another year. Big things like opening the stone arch to the street and recreating the entry from the Middle Ages. Small things like finishing plaster walls in the bedrooms and hallways. Fun things like adding a skylight into the attic, and dull works like re-pointing the stones in the guest room. Challenges like the room sized shower pan in the master bathroom, and mindless choices like replacing the handrails on the stairway landing. Daunting tasks like finishing the electrical panel to divining a means for announcing a visitor at the street far and away below, something other than a pile of pebbles and a sign instructing them to launch the pebbles at the window over and above…

But again, we are pleased for the opportunity, it’s good work and we feel lucky to have it, the days are still impossibly long, and it might feel like summer for another two months and perhaps we’ll have ripe tomatoes by Thanksgiving!

Our guest room has a candle perpetually burning!

August 6, 2007

A day at the Movies

I had such fun making the panoramic photo of the Kitchen, only to be asked for movies!! So without cleaning or calling for extras I spun around a few rooms to share the moment.

Video of the Salon:

Video of the Kitchen:

Video of your room:

I must say I feel so 21st century to be uploading to youtube. After watching every clip of Eddie Izzard, then Cirque du Soleil's Wheel of Death from Ka, and various moments from the Daily show, it's humbling to put a video of your wife on line. What an amazing way to while away the days!!!

My first thought on posting the videos was guarded, I wanted to save the surprise, wait for the moment.... but then.... I thought that we might entice a visit instead. It's strange, when we show the house to someone both Pat and I want to be a part of the tour, to watch the faces, to hear the expressions...the contrast to the gasps of horror on the faces of the tours we gave two years ago. Not too many people had seen the place before, which is important. I have selected a half dozen before photos and want to hang them in the positions they were taken, at the entrance to each room, to get the point across of what we have done. Six pictures must be worth 6000 words, right?

Come see for yourselves, or wait for the movie.

August 1, 2007

Welcome to our Kitchen

I finally figured out how to use the "panorama mode" on our new digicam, funny how it lets you repeat the subjects. Sorry the image is clipped off on the right side, but if you double click on the image, it will open it up large enough to see the details, details, details and you can even pan right and find Daniel. And to be fair...Pat is not that blurry in real life and Daniel hasn't lost his right arm, pictures can lie!

So here is the kitchen. We already miss the last one! We had such a rare opportunity there to convert the giant walk-in fireplace into a large cooking area, that anything would be too small in comparison. We did manage to bring the "no-back-burners" idea to this kitchen, and added a yet untested BBQ in the wall behind it (behind the righter Oscar). The wall behind Daniel was plastered and had the frames of two cabinets, we removed all that and discovered the brick arch and the walnut lintels. The sink is to the right of the center Pat and then there is a small table over by the cute french couple on the left. Directly next to them is the door to the yard and the town center beyond.

Tonight is August 1st, and a Wednesday, so there is a dance underway, a new set of tourists, all the regulars, a few locals and more accordion music than you could possibly enjoy (unless you fall into one of the aforementioned groups). We have as well started a vacation mode. Still working a few hours a day, unpacking and arranging our lives constantly, but in a different mindset. A friend came by for coffee and I felt unusually at ease, no drive to wrap it up and return to pressing matters, somehow the social work was the work, the pleasure in it had/has returned. Not that we hadn't been enjoying life as we plowed through it, but changing the page on the calendar has had a profound affect this month. I found myself gazing out the window today,,,twice! And it's quite the view from way up there on the third floor, with a full moon and clear skies...I feel like I can see you from here!

July 30, 2007

moving and shaking

Susan moving the stuff that didn't fit into the trailer, Oscar's guitar and magic mirror.

Oscar and Maxime "helping" with the move. Oscar and Lorraine at the tour de France, for some front of the race, there is a 45 minute caravan of cars and trucks throwing bizarre gifts at the crowds. Mostly keychains, and inflatable objects. They whizz by at 30 mph and if you look the other way, you could get hit by a sausage. I guess there was a promotional truck for the new Simpsons movie.

heavy sigh

Good morning RD2

The third morning waking up in the new house....everything is different.

I recall vividly, 2 years ago, near the beginning of our efforts here, having the opportunity to be inside this house at dawn. I was here to let in the concrete contractor who was here to pour our gypsum floors, and while I waited I walked slowly around the house until I came upon what was to become our bedroom window and the rising sun outside of it. I have been visualizing that sunrise for more than the two years we have already owned this home, and it was a sublime moment to see it this slippers!

I'm not sure this house is all that we thought it would be, or more? It is too early to tell...boxes everywhere, silverware in the wrong drawer, coffee on one side of the room and filters on the other...we have our work cut out for us. Yesterday we (Pat) finished cleaning out the corners of our last home and moving the dust down the street here. Tomorrow we sign the papers and give away the keys. Today we nest. So far gravity played the biggest role in where our stuff landed and now it's time to be more deliberate. It seems our life is occupied by too many chairs and too much art! rugs rolled and stuff stacked, missing mugs and boxed books! But these are good things. and perhaps if we wait long enough unpacking each box can have an aire of Christmas morning...? It's strange to work on a home for two years, to caress each wall into a smooth state and each stone into a unique reflection of time and then to apply one's life to the canvas. There are books to place on those waxed walnut shelves and paintings to hang in front of those 1000 year old stones and sacre blue, nails to drive into the venetian plaster walls to give home to lesser works of art! It will all sift out and we are very happy to have this chore in front of us; trying to take our time, putting the furniture on wheels until it finds it's own feng shui.

Meanwhile, Martel is in full summer swing, minus the heat. The french tourists are packing their bags and leave Paris tomorrow, the August holiday. We await them, hidden behind our doors, windows opened letting out our own blend of bad music and NPR podcasts. Oscar is enjoying the move, he is between "best friends" and is all ours. The first night in the house he put up a sign on his door that said the french equivalent of "keep out" "anyone over 9.5 years"...then as I left (after gaining permission to enter) he said "leave the door opened and come check on me after I fall asleep". A wonderful contradiction of (in)dependence.

We went to watch a stage of the Tour de France last week, crazy and fun. It's much easier to watch on TV, but now we feel we understand the spirit of it all a bit more wholly. Here is a link to a video capturing the 40 seconds of excitement as it passed:
Just to prove we were there.

So it is with a heavy sigh that we conclude "the shift", happy to be in our new home and overwhelmed by the task behind us.

July 13, 2007

Details Details Details

Details, details.... As some of the things get wrapped up I thought I would share the fruits of the labor. This is the kitchen, we are sad to be leaving behind our stove, so we are attempting to recreate it in the new house. The "4 front burner" approach. The brick arch is actually a functioning chimney that we uncovered. We plan to use the space for indoor barbecuing if the chimney draws adequately. The hardware inside the arch is the latest find at this seasons brocantes, it ought to have a rabbit hanging from one side and a sausage smoking on the other, but we will probably settle for a bag of shallots and well, probably a gnarly looking sausage. The oven will fill the empty space below the stove. What are those counters anyway? Who knows? For now we decided to go "temporary". In lieu of dropping thousands of Euros on granite, we are going to take our time and consider the options. Perhaps trying to fall upon a more creative solution....(Zinc? Copper? Silica and epoxy? cement tiles? shattered glass?) For the next year or so it will be this MDF board, 1.25" thick, with 5 coats of polyurethane. It has a nice warm feel to it but durable???? The brick arch in the back of the shelves will unfortunately be obscured by all the stuff that will reside there; it used to be the back of a large fireplace, long since lost to a remodel of the floor plan decades or centuries ago.
This is a view up the stairs from the front entry. The lower handrail was there and we had a cabinetmaker recreate the upper handrail to match it. The wall has been reworked into a pair of doors which house the washer and dryer on the landing, solving the question of whether the laundry room should be upstairs of downstairs? Notice the "mustache hinges" recuperated from doors at the other house, centuries old and they polished up beautifully. Adding windows to a stone house is difficult, and when the walls are two feet thick it's to be avoided. Both of our bathrooms use "borrowed light" from adjacent windows. This image is in the "house bath" and we reused some very old shutter hardware to create a means to secure the window in a partially open (or closed) position. If you are sitting on the toilet and look just the right way you get a narrow view of the setting sun over the center of Martel (but this requires good timing).
Old wood. We rescued two doors from the house and reused them in the master bedroom. When we stripped (and stripped, and stripped) the green paint (and brown, and grey) we found beautiful walnut doors underneath. Every pockmark adding to the antique charm...right?
More as it happens, I need to be careful not to lose you in the details... but if a house gets remodeled in the forest of France and no one is around to hear about it....has it even happened?? Your vicarious participation is paramount!!


July 8, 2007


Inch by Inch
Step by Step
Room by Room

That always takes me back to a three Stooges gig......but lately it's our life, not the stooges part, but our current pattern with the renovations.

Today was Sunday, still is in fact, and between the violent thunderclaps, boxes got packed and the new kitchen took a few more steps towards fulfillment. The gas grill got tuned, the counter edges cemented in to an aspect of finished, the last cabinet drawers slid into place (after some modifications to accommodate the imposing drain pipes). A Bathroom drain got mortared into place, a mail slot was excavated into the front stone wall so that our bills can find a home, some Cosmos were planted.

Every day is bringing some signs of completion. Every day it is even easier to imagine our lives in the spaces we've created. Every day we all get a bit more excited for the "next thing". Martel is full of tourists wondering what the noise is coming from our open windows, sometimes it's NPR podcasts, sometimes it's grinders and drills and sometimes it's the contented voices of POD trying out the spaces. There was a wedding today in the church outside our windows, we took up positions in the high windows and spied on the comings and goings. The bells celebrating the occasion so rancourously as to drown out even Willie Nelson on the stereo. No we turned him off for the event, but those bells are so loud, it was no competition to the dying art of a french wedding.

July 7, 2007


Here is Oscar and Tony dressed up for the Martel-Tequila festival. Martel and Tequila Mexico are "twinned" cities. So along with selling lame dixie cupped sized Margarita's (I'm going to take over the task next year) and smashing Pinatas in the town square, there was a staged attack on our tourist train!

Here is a picture of Martel with the kids end of school parade marching past our house. There is a tradition of lighting lanterns and crossing the town....

Someone asked me where the pictures of Pat were? It seems she is normally the one on the other side of the camera...