Saturday, October 8, 2016

Back from a Birthday Week

We got home, yesterday, from a short week in England. It was C's birthday and we arrived just in time for the big family celebration with everyone. This time we took the Eurostar. For the two of us, managing to reserve enough time in advance, we managed to get reasonably priced tickets that made the journey less expensive than going by car. When we go by car, we have to take into consideration not only the tunnel fee, but also the toll on the French autoroute and the gas. When we go by Eurostar, we have to consider not only the Eurostar fare, but also the fare up to Northampton. All in all, the Eurostar is more comfortable. We took a big suitcase this time because there were birthday gifts on the TO route and an accessory for one of the knitting machines on the RETURN route. Next time, if we take the train, we'll do everything possible to fit into our "overhead" cases to share the lugging. In any case, we got to Duston in time for lunch.
For a first birthday, a kid has no idea of what's going on. For a second birthday, they start getting the idea, but the ideal birthday, I think, is the third. C was so, so, so happy it was her birthday and was so excited to be the star of the day she couldn't keep still. She had helped her Mommy make the cake and it was the "Best Ever Chocolate Cake" from the AAWE recipe book that we all swear is absolutely the best ever. It was decorated with Smarties and raspberries and blueberries. (As usual, I only share photos with family and if I forgot to add you to the sharing, then email or phone me and I will.) It was very, very good. So was the whole lunch, but really for a birthday, it's all about the cake.
Cake was followed by opening presents, which took a bit of time as the cousins' gifts were very small in size and each individually wrapped. C is a very meticulous girl and tries very hard to open gifts carefully so as not to tear the paper. The London family had to leave almost immediately after the gifts were all opened and so did Daddy, who was off to a conference.
Monday, once everyone had gone to school, day care, and work, we got on a bus and went to the city center. Building around Northampton is booming; Duston seems to have a new housing estate under construction each time we go. This does not seem to affect downtown Northampton. The empty shops are still mostly empty or turned into charity shops; there are several pound shops. Paul needed a new sweater, which we found at the Edinburgh Woolen Mill shop, and I found what I needed at M&S, but nothing else caught our eye, not even for lunch, so we picked up some sandwiches and headed back. We got on a bus that I knew would get us back home, but I had no idea it would take us on such a long route. We discovered how big Duston, at least New Duston, is.
The next day, we ventured down the Main Road to a coffee and lunch place that features lots of "homemade" items on the menu. I wish I knew where "home" was. It was all microwave-reheated. The next couple of days, we were happy getting lunch from the Co-op. I could have fished around in the fridge and freezer at home for lunch, but really didn't feel like it.
So, that's it. Home in Nogent, now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Back in the Swing of Things

Ah, September! I think I mentioned all the things that are due in September: taxes, registrations, and so on. Well, we're now in full swing. I've been to the newly refurbished American Library and renewed my membership and the family membership for L's kids and I've taken C to the "Toddler Time", which is the new name for the "Lap-sit". The work at the library was almost finished two weeks ago and I hope it is done the next time. They've moved the circulation desk, again. Where it used to be, there's now a wide staircase leading to the basement, where they've created a reading room and study area. They've opened up book space down there, too. They've moved more books up to the mezzanine, also, and put in an elevator that goes to both the basement and the mezzanine. The big reading room had been soundproofed and there are electrical outlets all over the place for laptops. The children's library has not changed. There are no DVDs anymore. Not for adults, not for kids. Even though they were donations, it seems that the library was not allowed to lend them out without paying some fee or tax.
I'm typing on the new computer. I'm still a bit frustrated as I cannot seem to access my external hard drive. Every time I get the prompt to enter my password, and I do that, it does not recognize it, so it won't let me in. I can still get to it online, so I'm downloading to this computer, which has lots of space, still, and if I have to reformat the external drive and lose what's on it, I will and then start over. It's frustrating. Another program is giving me a hard time. I use Quicken and and loaded it up to this computer. I recovered the old files. It keeps asking me to register, but gets stuck in the process -- maybe because it's already registered from the time I bought it. In any case, I finally found the trick to stop the registration prompts, but when I want to download the account info from the banks, it still asks me to sign in with my Intuit password -- another hoop to jump through. This new computer comes with MS Office, of course, but I got hooked on Open Office and now need to decide whether I want to continue with that, but have to choose between Libre Office and Apache Open Office, which have diverged since Open Office, itself, was discontinued.
With the new computer, I picked up a new printer. No matter how much I cleaned the rollers of the old one, I couldn't get the paper feed to feed the paper properly.
I'm taking watercolor painting this year, not oil painting. Since the watercolor class will involve lots of drawing, too, it's the only class I signed up for. There's was a first session where we did not touch any water or color, just drawing. I bought some, but not all the stuff on the list of materials -- it's going to be an expensive class, I think. I missed last week, which seems to be a repeat of the previous session, so I didn't miss much. Several of my "buddies" from the drawing class are there, but we are all a bit disconcerted. There's the same set-up in the room and an invitation to draw it again, from a different angle, for an hour. Then, we get to the color, but the talk is all theory. I get that we must set aside white space, but I'd like some help determining, on my drawing, what that space should be. Then, we are told to create three grays: dominant yellow, dominant red, dominant blue. Fine. I know how to do that, but some in the class do not know what he's talking about. I know how to put oil on canvas and gouache on paper, but I feel intimidated with watercolor. How much water? Wet paper? Dry paper? If wet, how much? What about colors running into one another? What if you color a space you intended to leave white, but forgot? One friend in the class has now left, for good. She got her check back. She's an experienced watercolor painter who does lots of landscape painting in workshops during the summer. She showed us her paintings from the summer. She did a workshop in the Gers, not really far from where we were. The bastides were very similar. She did not like the imposed drawing of a subject with no interest -- neither did several of us, including me. She did not like the approach of the teacher. She left. I'll miss her. I'm sticking it out, at least for now, because I really want to tackle the medium.
There's a group on Facebook, Americans in France, with lots of people fairly newly arrived in the country. They have the usual administrative headaches that any immigrant has. In addition, they want to make friends. It seems to be a major concern, making friends. Well, the average person on the street, in the shops, or behind the window in an administrative office is not looking for a new friend. It doesn't make them unfriendly or rude, but the judgment of many in the group is that the French are snobs and standoffish. The complaints are commented on with more complaints feeding even more comments. I think they feel they should be welcomed with open arms, that somehow they are not just immigrants like any other immigrants. They wonder, after 16 years in France, why they should have a French drivers license and not renew their state license. (The argument that by getting their state license renewed, they are, in fact, declaring residency in the state and opening themselves up to local and state taxes, doesn't seem fair to them. They want the state license and not have jury duty or state and local taxes.) Why should they have to comply with the rule that states you need to present a clean record for your permanent residence papers? Why should they have to have their papers translated by court-certified translators? I think I'll take a break.

Friday, September 9, 2016

C'est la rentrée

That's French for "Back to school" but it's more than just back to school; it's also back to work or whatever else your life includes. For me, it's back to the monthly AARO lunches. Even if they never stop over the summer, there's still a feeling of starting a new year. In fact, the renewal notices will be going out soon for membership dues. It's back to board meetings.
It's back to taxes. I have sent in the 3rd quarter of US taxes and the final notifications for the French taxes for 2015 are in, telling us what is still due, or not. There's also the ISF payment for 2016 due on Sept. 15. Add in the registrations for painting or whatever other activity starts in September (and that's anything you can think of), September has got to be the worst month of the year. We fill up the savings account just so we can empty it in September!
I did try to keep the printer going so that would be an expense for next month, but I gave up. There are good videos of how to fix it, but nothing worked. I checked for hidden paper jams. I cleaned all the rollers. It just won't pick up the paper any more and hand feeding it wasn't working out too well, as it would mangle several sheets before finally printing one. And the computer wasn't taking any updating because the disk C was saturated after the move to Windows 10. Another September expense.
I haven't signed up for any gym classes. I am continuing with the painting/drawing; this year I'll do watercolor. I won't be going quite as much as in the past years because I think I've got too many commitments on my calendar. I want to spend more time knitting, actually. I still have to wear the wrist brace, though, and that's not helping with the drawing, painting, or knitting. In fact, I'm wearing it to work on this nice new computer. If I don't, then handling the mouse or the pad makes the wrist hurt again. I don't have to wear it constantly, just when I'm doing something repetitive, like this.
The American Library activities have started up. S didn't want to go to Story Hour on Wednesday, so we went to the Jardin des Plantes to the Museum of Natural History, the comparative anatomy and paleontology building, because he wanted to see dinosaurs. It was a bit of a surprise to see that the rooms were filled with skeletons, but he was duly impressed with them. On the ground floor, the comparative anatomy, we compared the skeleton of a race horse with a Percheron work horse and a zebra. There were all sorts of different animals, including a few really gigantic whales. Upstairs, in the Paleontology room, he saw how big a tyrannosaurus rex was. There's also a mammouth among the other animals. Thursday, C went with me to the library for what used to be called the lapsit, but is now called "Toddler Time". Today, I (more or less) finished installing the new computer. For some mysterious reason, I can't connect to my external drive, but I'll save that headache for another day.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Very Full Month

View of Najac from the VVF
A week after my last post, I fell. We almost had to replace the mailbox, which is in the lower part of our gate, but Paul managed to pound it back into shape. I more or less plunged into it as I tripped on a flagstone! My glasses flew off after cutting my eyebrow; One of the lenses got scratched and had to be replaced and my brow needed 6 stitches. I sprained my wrist, but that was not officially diagnosed until 2 weeks later when I was wondering why it was feeling worse instead of better. I had scratched up knees and a big bruise that is still a bit tender.
I couldn't knit! Hand knitting was out because it does require a bit of wrist flexibility and machine knitting was out because pushing the carriage with my right hand hurt and even when I used my left, there are manipulations that require using my right.
Just before that, however, I won an ebay auction for a Brother 950 machine and a compatible ribber! In order to save a bit, I had it delivered to C's house and they brought it down in their car in mid-August. I have now set up the machine (just yesterday, in fact) and will work a bit on it if the room doesn't get too hot. We're expecting the temperature to get up to 37°C today. That's 98.6°F!
At the end of July, C flew into Paris with Au. She spent one night with us and then went off to a friend's birthday party and went straight back to England from there. Au stayed two weeks with us -- first time visit all on her own!
The next day, it was back to the airport to pick up K & S, on their way from Italy to Israel. We didn't really get to spend much time with them -- a shame, but the weekend plans were set: a day at
Start of the festivities at Disneyland
Disneyland Paris with the Parisian cousins, uncle and aunts, to start off. She also spent a night with the Parisian cousins and went to the aquarium with them. S. came home with us after that and spent the next night, here, with Au.  We did some high culture, too: the Musée d'Orsay and the Studio Blue Sky art exhibit; animated film art from the first pencil sketches to the finished product -- very interesting and there's some really beautiful artwork. Paul took her to the top of the Arc de Triomphe one day when I had a meeting in Paris. The second week, we stayed more at home and she helped me knit. By this time I had a brace on my wrist to prevent awkward movements. She was the motor, pushing the carriage back and forth and I was the manipulator, creating the cables. She knit herself a scarf and the two of us collaborated for the cardigan and hat. We also watched some of the Olympics. It's a shame the gymnastics were on so late, here in France. She loves gymnastics and swimming. We had a nice picnic lunch with A in the Parc Floral and Au had a nice day out - aunt and niece - in Paris. We also had a visit to see the
A full moon over Ginals
On the second Friday of her stay, we left for Najac. We arrived at E & G's in Ginals fairly early in the afternoon for a nice visit with them before heading to the hotel in Najac. They then joined us at the hotel, later, for dinner. It's become a tradition. The menu at the hotel Le Belle Rive is somewhat of a tradition, too; it doesn't change. It's still a very nice, friendly, inexpensive hotel, and it has a swimming pool and a tennis court.
Saturday, we visited Najac. First, we got the little treasure hunt booklet from the tourist office for A and then set off. We covered the whole town from the market place to the church at the other end -- down hill, up hill, down hill, up hill...., a visit to the potter for the stages of pottery making, investigating the bakery for the story of "fouace", finding the architectural elements of midieval buildings....  We did not go all the way up to the fortress. (You can read about last year's visit.) We had lunch on the way back to the tourist office and then, after Au collected her treasure, we went back to E's to wait for the rest of the Northampton family to arrive! The kittens (also mentioned in last year's posts) have grown and are very friendly. They still follow E and G around everywhere if it's close to meal time, but are very independent, otherwise. The wet, wet spring has given way to an extremely dry summer and the vegetable garden has suffered a bit, but there are still plenty of tomatoes.
The family arrived and after a short hello, we accompanied them to the VVF (Village Vacance Familiales) for their check-in, which took more than an hour. They were sent to the very last bungalow down the very steep hill. All the activities are at the top.
We had a picnic lunch at the bungalow on Sunday. It's very near the viewpoint -- a spectacular view of Najac and the setting off point for some hikes to Najac and to the St. Blaise bridge. If you believe the hiking times posted, it would take about as much time to hike over to Najac as to go up the hill to the parking lot to get the car to drive there. Same for the bridge! We stayed in Najac while we waited for the Parisian family to arrive. They had a bit of a mishap on arrival. They had parked the car temporarily while they went off to find the "gite" they had rented. Going back to the car to drive it up to the gite, it wouldn't start. It was parked at such an angle that the gas wasn't making it to the engine. What is nice about family vacations is that we were there. The gite owner lent L a couple of 5-liter recipients and Paul drove him to the gas station for more gas. In the mean time, G unloaded the car and dragged everything up the steep hill to the gite, which is right across from the church. I stayed with the kids so she could absent herself to do this. It took quite a few trips! On filling up, however, the car still wouldn't start. The gite owner got out his car and towed L's car to a flatter position, where is finally started. When he went back to the gas station to fill up, he didn't need to put in much gas. It wasn't empty when this happened, just parked at a really bad angle! The British family was already at E and G's (all my in-law children's names begin with G!) for our big family barbecue dinner, so we set off with the Parisians as soon as we could. All the Lebelle cousins together! Lots of fun with the kittens and just the freedom to run around. The evening ended with a beautiful sunset and a full moon.
St. Blaise bridge, 13th century
The next day, we picnicked at the St. Blaise bridge. Paul and I walked over from the hotel, a little over a mile along the river. We got there very early and staked out a table. I sat on the riverbank and tried to draw the bridge. There were canoe-ers out for the day; a couple of them stopped to jump into the river from the bridge. They really had to know where it was deep enough, because the river is not at all deep these days. The British family arrived. Ch sat in the same spot I had occupied and in just a few minutes had a much more reasonable drawing! We started our picnic and A arrived. She had left Paris on Saturday and spent the night a few hours from us. This made it a big family vacation. We had all our kids and grandkids more or less with us. In fact, on Monday, L & G invited us all to their gite for a full family barbecue. On Thursday, we all, minus one, visited Cordes-sur-Ciel and Albi (last year's visit). Friday, another full family barbecue lunch before A set off for Paris.  Saturday, L and G, et al, went off to the beach for the second week of their vacation and we went with the British family to St.-Cirq-Lapopie and PechMerle in the afternoon. We didn't visit the cave this year, we stayed outside with the little one while the others visited. Sunday, another picnic at the bungalow and later in the day we went to E and G's to say good-bye. We left Najac early on Monday morning.
As usual, no family pics in the blog. I've sent the links to family members.