Friday, October 29, 2010

laundry and Lucon

I have laundry problems this week.
(Keep your snarky comments about how I have other problems to yourself!)
Our washing machine stopped working over a week ago.
I needed to make an trip to the laundromat. You know, to the HyperU, where we rented our car. One stop shopping. Baguettes, groceries, rental cars and laundry. You might not like the name, but the HyperU is there for me. I am even getting past the tacky building.
The owners brought us a new washing machine on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, I tried to use the machine. Nothing. Just a buzzing sound. What fun. What to do, what to do. I decide to impose on our British expat neighbors. When I pop over to their house, Gillian is making sheperd's pie (could they be any more British?) and Hugh is repainting. Hugh agrees to come look at the machine.
He looks at it for about 2 minutes before he sees that the water was not turned back on. Phew. Problem solved. (I am pretty certain this will make my dad laugh at me)
I am able to do one load of laundry. ONE LOAD!
Why? Because it is raining outside and I only have room in the basement to hang one load.
This morning, Friday morning, I am giddy because the first load is dry. Hooray. Some dancing.
I can do another load of laundry.
Two loads in one week! Wow.

So this afternoon, I need to get out of the house and not think about laundry.
Mom and I take the kids to a nearby town, Lucon. I really want to see the cathedral.
We drive 30 minutes and voila, we are in Lucon.
A quick trip to the tourist office for a map and a recommendation to visit a public garden. Then we visit the cathedral. Beautiful. Pictures will only help you visualize it. It is even better in person.

Richelieu was the Bishop here before becoming the chief minister to King Louis XIII in 1624. He is considered the world's first prime minister. He transformed France into a strong centralized state . . . . Wait, am I losing you? WAKE UP!
How about this, Cardinal Richelieu is the bad guy in the Three Musketeers movie. Now you know who he is. I don't even need to tell you anymore blah blah stuff.

By the way France, what is up with all these short doors? We see them all over. Your doors are either really talllllll or really short. The short doors crack us up.
Short door.

Tall door.

After we left the cathedral we walked over to a garden in Lucon. Lovely. Tranquil. I even forgot about the laundry.
I think the kids also enjoyed the garden. Then again they always seem to be up for running around outside.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I will admit that I didn't really get the idea of Futuroscope. Is it an amusement park? A Theatre? What is it?
At the beginning of the school vacation I asked Katie to help me with the planning. She loved the idea. She looked through the brochures we had and her top choice was Futuroscope. (I am not sure I would have put it so high on my list.) So off we went on Monday to Futuroscope. I took us about an hour 10 minutes to get there on the toll road. Not too bad.

I have to give Katie the credit for such a fun fun day.
Futuroscope is hard to describe. It has lots of interesting architectural buildings with 3D and 4D movies. And some rides. And an evening light and water show. And a magic show. And this robotic ride that the kids thought was fabulous. More about that later. I don't even think we saw half of the attractions so I can't even explain the rest.
Futuroscope is perfect for preteens and teens. Not so great for little kids. Ellie did have fun, but not nearly as much fun as Katie and Gabi.
Ok, the robotic arm ride. It is called Dances with Robots. Picture a giant robot arm. Picture 2 people sitting in the hand of the robot arm. Then the music starts. Then the robot arm starts swinging all over. Upside down, sideways and all around. I would have lost my lunch if I had gone on this ride. Katie went on it 3 times. Joey just made the height requirement. (Actually he didn't, the person measuring him told him to stand a lot taller if he wanted to go - he really wanted to go so he somehow stood several inches taller!)
What you are looking at in the picture below are 2 people on the ride with their feet in the air.

Another favorite was the Arthur 4D ride. You watched a 3D movie while sitting in this contraption thing that moved around. You got puffs of wind and squirts of water. The kids loved it. We had to go back and do the ride again.

Lots of smiles and lots of laughter.

The kids can't wait to go back.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Abbaye de Maillezais

This abbey dates back to 1003. Benedictine Monks started it. Now you know more history than my kids wanted to know.

ME: Hey kids, there is a really old abbey, let's go look at it.
KIDS: Later mom, we want to run up and down this steep hill 10 times.

Finally got the kids to go check out the abbey.
Oh, wait, first they have to climb around on these statues. Not really sure if they were supposed to climb on them but . . .

Ok, now we can get around to seeing the ruins of the old abbey.

Ellie dancing her way through France.

More pictures from our Sunday afternoon at the abbey.

This abbey is 10-15 minutes from our house. We just found it.
Apparently there is another abbey nearby. More to do. . .

Friday, October 22, 2010

Parthenay and old chateau

Some days are laundry and grocery shopping.
Some days are glorious.
Last Thursday was one of those glorious days.
Mom and I drove an hour away to a town called Parthenay. A town with old churches, a 13th century castle and town walls still in existence. This town was on one of the main routes to Santiago de Compostela. It had timbered houses from the medieval period. We walked through one church with a history going back to the 11th century. Hard to really comprehend something that old.
Below is a picture of where we had lunch.

We left Parthenay with plenty of time to pick the kids up from school. As we were driving back along the country roads we saw a sign for a chateau in a town called Coulonges-sur-l'Autize. We decided to stop and just get some information so we could return at a later date. We saw a sign for a tourist office but the door was locked. (Tourist offices are usually very helpful here with information and free maps) We also saw a sign for the mayor's office directing us the back of the building. So we wandered around to the back and went in the building. Two men were standing there talking. We asked if the Chateau was open. They replied, in French, that the Chateau was closed until May. Then one man starts telling us the history of the room where we were standing. He points to the ceiling and starts describing the ceiling. He asks if we can understand his French. We could. He then starts telling us the history of the Chateau. More lights are turned on so we can see better. Then we move to the next room. More history is explained. We didn't even know that we were standing in the heart of the chateau. The enormous fireplace should have given it away.
Before we know it we are getting a tour of what remains of the chateau. At one time it was a large important chateau. It has quite a history. During the French Revolution, tribunals were held at this chateau. At these tribunals, decisions were made about who would get beheaded.
We walked upstairs to see the upper rooms. The doors were locked. We heard some women talking. They were local women who volunteer their time to sew period costumes for display in the chateau. They had keys to the locked rooms and they let us in. They also joined us. They showed us the period costumes they had already made. They also showed us a drawing of what the chateau looked like before part of it was destroyed. There was quite a group of us walking around this old chateau.
It was about this time that I realized that if we didn't leave quickly we would be late picking up the kids from school. We said merci beaucoup and left.
I raced back to the school on the country roads and flew around the roundabouts. I was 3 minutes late to pick the kids up. Phew.
What wonderful people to share their local chateau with us. They shared their pride of history with us and we appreciated it.
The chateau is still being restored and we got to see rooms that were still under construction. Those rooms were as interesting as the rooms that have been restored. It gave me a good view of the time and energy that goes into restoring these old chateaux.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The strike isn't really affecting us too much. Then again, I am not trying to go on a train or plane right now.
We see lots of news about it. The only visible sign is the long line at the gas station.
What is the strike about, you ask? Well, the minimum retirement age in France is currently age 60. (To retire with full benefits you must wait until age 65.) The government is proposing to raise each of those by 2 years. So minimum benefits will be availabe at age 62 (to get full benefits you will have to wait until 67.) The increase in retirement age is being debated in the Senate this week.
Lots of students are out protesting. Next week is school vacation. I wonder if the students will continue to protest on their school vacation?
I am also getting the feeling that they really don't like Sarkozy. Or maybe it is just the media that doesn't like him.
Our British expat neighbors spent their day yesterday looking for gas for their cars. They were very distressed about it. In fact, we had planned on going to a nearby market (20 minutes away) with them. They didn't want to go because they wanted to find gas. They came over later in the morning for coffee. They were able to find gas, they just had to wait in long lines. Their cars are filled with gas and they are ready to bunker down at home.
Our little diesel car has 3/4 tank of gas. We aren't very worried about it. It really doesn't use much gas.
Next week, when the kids are off school, we were planning on driving around and doing some touristy things. I was considering driving up to one of the big chateau in the Loire Valley. Now we will just wait and see. We might have to stay closer to the house.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't be judgmental.

Put your judgment aside.

I took the kids to McDonald's here.

There is one fast food place here. One fast food place for miles around. It is McDonald's. I think it is a novelty here. My kids spotted it the minute we got here.

No Subway. No carryout pizza. No other fast food. No food to pick up as you drive around in your car. (I have never seen a French person eating in their car. The idea probably horrifies them.)

So back to the kids. I took them the first day we got our car. I had promised them dinner out and I promised them McDonalds. So I just combined the two.

I have to say, I didn't feel like I was in France for a moment.
We have gotten that out of the way. Now we can move on.

To continue reading you still need to keep an open mind.

I was at the grocery store and I wanted a quick and easy dinner. Just throw something on the table type dinner. I saw a fajita kit and I bought it. The kids love tacos and fajitas at home.

Guess what? Old El Paso makes a different fajita kit here than in the US!! Apparently Mexican food is different here.

In my French fajita kit were 3 things:

-8 flour tortillas
-sauce packet of thick red sauce to mix in with chicken
-packet of seasonings to flavor the creme fraiche (there is no sour cream here)

The box suggested that I buy chicken, lettuce, tomato and creme fraiche. Ummm, what about cheese. Cheddar cheese? Fajitas definately need cheese. So I started looking for cheese. I found the package of cheese pictured above. It was the only thing resembling cheddar that I could find. (And noooo I don't really know what I was doing looking for cheddar cheese in France. Goodness, I said no judgment!)

So I made the fajitas. You know what. They weren't bad. Everyone ate their dinner.

Except the cheese was terrible. Sort of like Kraft singles. Bleh. The kids wouldn't eat the cheese. So if the French think that is what American cheddar tasted like, well they won't have a very good impression. At all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fête de la Vendage

A nearby town was having a Fête de la Vendage on Sunday.
It means party of the wine harvest or feast of the vintage. Something like that. You get the idea.

At the same time they were having a vide grenier (literally means empty attic). Antiques mixed in with household crap, umm, I mean precious stuff.

These two events combined drew lots of people.

Of course, there was lunch. I had a grilled sausage on a baguette. You picked what you wanted to go on your baguette. Some of the kids got bacon on their baguette.

Here is a picture of lunch.

Below is a picture of the vide grenier. It went down several streets. It took us quite a while to walk through all of the streets.

They also brought out a wine press. They were pouring stuff into water bottles. Wine? Grape juice? We got a sample and it tasted very sweet. We bought a water bottle full for 2 Euros. We are pretty sure it is grape juice.

Below are some pictures of the wine press. I love the tractor that brought the wine press to the middle of town.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

roasting chestnuts, eating walnuts and picking bay leaves

We have been gathering chestuts from the yard. This 200 year old yard amazes me.

We have 2 kind of chestnuts in our yard. Thanks to google, I learned that one kind is edible but the other kind is not.

Above are the horse chestnuts. They are not recommended for eating. They are used for medicinal purposes. They are all over our front yard. I just leave them. The kids have used them to throw at each other.

In the picture below Joey is holding the chestnuts for eating and roasting. These are in the back of our yard, near the abandoned chicken coop. (I think it is a chicken coop, maybe it is a pigeonnier). They are covered with a really prickly thing. We just pick up the chestnuts that have fallen out of the prickly thing. Yes, prickly thing is the technical term.

I saw chestnuts for sale at the market. Don't ever remember being at a market and thinking, "I don't need to buy that, I have lots of them in my backyard."
Below is another picture of chestnuts. In the middle are chestnuts we collected on a frisbee. (We just happened to find the frisbee in the yard. We don't have a chestnut collecting basket!) On the far right are some of the chestnuts I roasted.

So what have I done with the chestnuts? So far I have added them to stuffing for roasted chicken. If you have any other ideas, let me know! I have lots and lots of chestnuts.

I can't forget about the walnuts. I collected a bunch from the yard today. Lots of them are still on the ground inside the black casing. I left those alone. I just picked up the ones that had come loose from the black stuff. Black stuff is another technical term.

Tonight when I was cooking dinner I had a glass of red wine with some walnuts. Very nice.

For desssert we had walnuts with cheese purchased from the market today. The cheese was neufchâtel. Delicious.

We also have a bay leaf tree. It is quite large and healthy.

I think I want a bay leaf tree back in Michigan. I will have to look into it. Does anyone have one?
Below is a picture of Joey and Ellie in front of the bay leaf tree by the carriage house.

Here is a better picture. Seriously, look at all these bay leaves!

Friday, October 8, 2010

fabric sale

French fabric on sale? Where?

Let me back up. The owners of the house stopped by to change some light bulbs (yes, we are wimps) and do some pool maintenance. The wife dropped the husband off to do the work and she sped off to a fabric store that was having a sale. Ummm, where?? When she got back she told us exactly how to get there. Good thing - because it is a fabric store next to some factories. We never would have even known it was there.
So mom and I set out to find the fabric store. After a few roundabouts, we found it. It was true, quality French fabric on sale. Lots of fun shopping.

I have some fabric to carry home! I keep reminding Rod that at least it isn't fragile.

And no, I don't know where I am going use any of it yet. But I will put it to good use. I just love it.

Look at those scissors!

The first 3 rolls of fabric behind the scissors are mine, just waiting to be cut.

Sometimes unexpected things are more fun than you could have imagined.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Any idea what this is in the backyard?

Any ideas why this small pool was put in? It is too small for a swimming pool.

Our best guess was that it was used for a fountain. But then the steps didn't make sense.

Fortunately the owners solved the mystery for us. At the end of the 19th century, the owner at the time was an eye doctor. He loved eating eel so much that he put in an eel pond. The owners think the steps were put it so the eye doctor could walk down the steps with a net and catch a fresh eel for dinner.

The french even have a name for it: anguillere.
Eel pond.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

no sports

My kids are not in any activities. It is too early. They are still learning the language. (Ok, that is my excuse)

Joey, my sports fanatic, get lots and lots of recess time at school. I think he plays soccer for hours each day at school.

We are never racing off to baseball practice, dance class or swim team. (I didn't even mention the all consuming hockey team.)

I can't believe how peaceful my life is.

Friday, October 1, 2010

La Foire aux Vins

Wine Fair!

Both of the big grocery stores in town have cleared out the school supplies to make room for the wine fair.

Both stores put out a circular detailing the wine. One is 80 pages, the other is 86 pages. Just about wine. The picture above is from the Leclerc catalog. Mind you this is a grocery store, not some fancy schmancy vineyard.

Next to each wine, they list the temperature you should serve the wine at, the years you should drink the wine, how many bottles they have of each wine and what foods are best to pair with each wine.

I had picked up several bottles of wine. I didn't really look at the catalog until after I got back from the store. One of the bottles I bought isn't good until 2015. That had not even occured to me when I was buying the wine. (I am pretty sure that I am embarassing my brother by saying all this!) I am going to have Rod take that bottle home the next time he visits. He is pretty good at packing wine. It will be fun to open the bottle in a few years.

They have 11 catagories of food to consider:

charcuterie (sausages)
foie gras (yes, this has its own category!)
fruits de mer (fruits of the sea)
poisson (fish)
viandes rouges (red meat)
grillades (grilled food)
viandes blanches (white meat)
gibiers (game)
fromages (cheese)
and desserts

Phew. A lot to consider. I had no idea.

And there is even more information. For some of the vineyards, they also highlight the location, climate, number of hectares and type of dirt.

On an unrelated note, look at how they post prices. They use a comma where we use a decimal point. 12,90 instead of 12.90. Yeah, that has confused Katie and Gabi in math.