The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Monday, 26 October 2015

This and that

These past few weeks have just been absolutely glorious.  Hardly any rain (even though it is the season for it) but beautiful sunshine and glorious autumn colours.  Every time I drive past the village sign I think "now I must stop someday and get a picture of that" - you know, the mountains with all the leaves changing, and before I realize it I have driven out the other side of the village.  Oh well, I will get around to it someday, I guess.

This weekend was lovely.  I am a rugby fan so got to watch a great game on Saturday (New Zealand/South Africa) and then again on Sunday (Australia/Argentina), and while I didn't have a preference for who won, both times the game could have been won in the last minutes by the "underdog" - in this case South Africa and Argentina.  That makes for a really thrilling match, I can tell you.

On Sunday I went with a friend to an exhibition of "hand-made creations" and even though I say it every time, I really am stunned at just how much talent there is out there. Of course there is all the usual beautiful jewelry, leather work, art work, needlework and so on, but one young man really impressed me with his wonderful woodwork.  And when I say "young" I mean maybe early 20s. Such talent.  What really caught my eye was a beautiful coffee table that he had made principally out of old skis!!!  Very unusual indeed. Of course, given the amount of work and skill involved it was also pretty expensive.  Naturally I don't begrudge this at all because I cannot even begin to imagine how much time, skill and effort went into it - but a bit outside my price range all the same. But take a look at a lovely rocking chair and set of stools he had made.

It's the kind of stuff that really does look good here in the mountains in a lovely wooden chalet (complete with log fire?).  If you are interested, he has a web site too.

After that we headed out to a place called Sallanches where they were having their traditional foire froide (that is incredibly difficult for us anglo-saxons to say!) - or "cold fair".  They had the usual vide-greniers (car boots), craft stalls, local food market, plus cattle fair and small fun fair.  Lovely! I bought three different local cheeses, some Lebanese spices that are often difficult to get hold of here, and a lovely warm jacket.  I already have a very heavy jacket for the winter, but frankly unless I am going to be climbing Annapurna anytime soon (which I highly doubt) I find it too heavy as I prefer to wear less clothing underneath and have a warmer outer jacket.  I'm very pleased with that I can tell you.

So what else is there?  Oh yes, this last Friday I made my first "extra" payment on my mortgage. Yipee.  Well "yippee" - that was a helluva lot of money to be going out of my bank account in one go, but I'm sure you know what I mean.  Under the terms of my mortgage the minimum additional payment I can make is 10% of the total initial amount of the mortgage.  As you can imagine, that takes some saving up for, but it was so nice to see my outstanding mortgage go down by the corresponding amount.  Now I just have to keep plodding away at it for a while longer, I suppose. Depending on how it works out, I'm pretty sure I can have it paid off in four years, which will mean paying off a 17-year mortgage in just seven, so I am well pleased with that I can tell you, and that's a great thought after going through a divorce at a later age.

Other than that, the kids get the key to their apartment on Monday (2nd November) so I imagine we will be spending the next few week-ends moving them in to their own little "nest" - and very pleased I am for them too.  So I really will be a (very happy) empty nester.  Lovely.

OH spent a few days working in China, arriving back on Saturday night, so hopefully I will get to see him this week too.  Absence really does make the heart grow fonder!  And I am off to my patchwork club tonight - only the second time I have been to this club - and a really nice, friendly bunch they are too.  We get just as much chin-wagging done as patchworking, so you can see I am a happy bunny at the moment.  So on that note,  will love you and leave you and wish you all a "bonne semaine".  Cheers.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


Well it looks like it is finally going to happen - my son and his girlfriend are moving out. They put in a dossier for a small apartment in a place called La Vallée Verte and it has been accepted. They sign tomorrow and can pick up the keys on 2 November.  So while they will take their time moving out, they will shortly be in their own place and for the first time in over 30 years, I will only have myself to think about! And I am delighted!!!

Now the truth of course is that I have enjoyed having them at home, but there comes a time when they need to be out on their own and have a place of their own.  I remember how I flew out to Switzerland when I was 21 and got my first place.  I slept on the floor with a small lamp for what seemed like ages until I got enough money to buy my own stuff.  But you know what, I loved it (and I was obviously a lot younger).  The kids, on the other hand, have all my ex' stuff that he left behind when he went back to the States, so to say they have a flying start would probably be an understatement.  And even better, my basement (currently full of my ex' stuff) will shortly no longer look like this:

The kids have got themselves a small 1-bedroomed apartment in a lovely little village near Habere Poche/Peillonex.

I did wonder if they would like to move closer to town but neither of them do. My son was adamant that having grown up in the countryside he wanted to stay in the countryside. His girlfriend felt pretty much the same and since it is still close to work for both of them it shouldn't be a problem. It is, however, at 800 metres altitude and since they are predicting snow this weekend at 800 metres it's probably time to get the snow tyres on, but - what the heck - we do that every year anyway, as I live at 700 metres myself.

I am really excited for them.  And guess what, I am REALLY excited for me to be totally footloose and fancy free after all these years.  Geez, if I don't look in the mirror I could be 21 again!  In reality I suspect I will see quite a bit of my son anyway (they are only moving 15 minutes away), as I don't see him making himself dinner when his girlfriend is on the late shift, so I'm not complaining, but for the day-to-day living I'll be FREEEEEEEEEE........

And what an exciting thought that is!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Do not try this at home!

My oldest sister is eight years older than me, so was a teenager in the swinging '60s and '70s. Mini-skirts were all the rage and M was very fashionable.  I mean, it's only to be expected of a young girl earning her first salary while still living at home. She was always right up to the minute fashion-wise.

As a family we got on well with our neighbours, so one day, as my sister was going out for the evening wearing yet another new outfit N, the husband from next door, decided to follow her down the road pointing out to everyone that she was wearing her new clothes. She was really embarrassed and furious with him so decided to get her own back.

She was quite the joker and working in central Birmingham she had access to several joke shops in the city centre. So she bought some trick soap and climbed over the neighbours' fence (with his wife's blessing) and put the trick soap in the soap dish in their bathroom.  Now N had really short hair - he always kept it more or less crew cut - so didn't really bother with shampoo so much as just run a bar of soap over his head while showering. Problem was, the trick soap had blue ink in it and the more N slathered on the soap the faster his hair and face turned completely blue!

As you can image, the women were all roaring laughing, including N's wife, despite the fact that they were supposed to be going out later that evening.  This all took place at the beginning of November and since 5 November is Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night it was one of the few nights of the year where people would have had fireworks in their homes ready for the Bonfire Night celebrations.

So N leaped over the garden fence yelling for my sister.  She took off running as she could see by the look on his face that he was furious.  He caught her up at the top of the path near a lamp post and somehow managed to tie her to it with the rope that he had grabbed for the purpose.  Then, in an act of total madness, he ran into his house and got some fireworks (bangers we called them), put them down by her feet and lit them!  Total madness I know. Anything could have happened and she could have been hurt but I guess you have to remember that this was about 45 years ago and in all honestly the bangers probably weren't that great shakes - more of a slow fizzle and pop but nevertheless .....  Anyway, what happened happened. N died some years ago and my sister laughs about it to this day but I guess that taught her a lesson not to mess with N.

Monday, 5 October 2015

There's just so much talent around - I'm hoping it's contagious!

I have always been drawn to crafts like sewing, patchwork, etc., especially when I see some of the amazing things people create.  Trouble is, I have never been particularly "crafty" or artistic.  It's just like I love salsa music but still dance like I have two left feet - even after a year of lessons.  No rhythm you see.  Still, one of the benefits of getting older (for me at least) is that I don't actually care what I look like when I'm dancing, although it's probably pretty rough on other people's eyes, I have to admit!

Many years ago, as a singleton, I took sewing lessons in Geneva, and while I was the youngest by about - oh 50 years - I really enjoyed my evenings spent learning to sew (a little) with these older ladies.  I found it very therapeutic.  Even when I married and moved to the States, after leaving Washington, D.C. and having a baby, I still found time to take a sewing class one night a week.  The problem with that was, you know how very occasionally you meet someone who feels like he/she was just made to be your lifelong best friend - admittedly not very often - well the sewing teacher turned out to be just that.  J was lovely and I felt like I had known her all my life.  We used to yack so much that in the end I never really did learn how to sew, but man did my jaws ache at the end of each lesson.

Then J moved to Florida with her new husband and we moved back to Switzerland, and even though we lost touch, we have skyped a couple of times (with a 20-odd year gap in between times) and it always turns out just like old times.  In fact, J skyped me one Saturday while she was at the hairdresser's and from not having seen her in over 20 years, she pops up on my screen complete with aluminium wraps in her hair while waiting for the colour to take, and neither of us batted an eyelid.

Anyway, I digress.  Last year I spotted a flyer for a sewing class taking place in a local village on Monday evenings from 8-10 pm.  This was exactly what I was looking for because although Geneva has all this to offer it is usually about four times the price and means trekking back into Geneva in the evenings.  That gets old very quickly I can tell you, especially in the winter.  Moreover, while I love Geneva and everything it has to offer, many friendships can only be transitory at best because people move on, are transferred with their jobs etc. - it's the nature of the beast.  And since I am almost certainly planning to stay here in France when I retire - even though this area is expensive - I want the majority of my social life to revolve around France and not the international community in Geneva.

So I went along to this sewing class on the first Monday and it proved to be lovely.  The classes are actually free, except that they ask for an annual contribution of €40 to put towards buying material and supplies etc.  People bring in whatever they want to make and the two or three volunteer teachers help whenever people need help.  The local commune gives us the use of the room for free (my only complaint would be that it feels like a sauna most of the time - but the others don't seem to notice it - must be my English blood).  The only proviso is that the sewing ladies agree to participate in the village carnival which takes place in March (bloody stupid time of year for a carnival if you ask me - but I digress).  The women decide what they want to dress up as and the fabric is again provided free of charge by the commune.  One year they went dressed up as colourful Caribbean women, something like this:

But what did they decide to do last year - get this - sweets/candies/bonbons!  I kid you not.  Well I knew I wasn't going to have as much time as the others to make my costume as I was going to Cuba for two weeks at the beginning of March, but I ended up going dressed as an M & M (something like the picture below - sorry I don't have any pictures - thank God!).

Bearing in mind I had flown back from Cuba on the Wednesday (34 degrees and beautiful) and then had to traipse round the local villages in the pouring rain and freezing cold dressed as an M & M four days later I showed, I thought, what must be the epitome of dedication!  I leave to your imagination what we all looked like, given that most of the ladies are even older than me, but what good sports they all are.

Over the course of the year I was supposed to be making a dress but I bought the wrong sized pattern, bought the right sized pattern, put on weight and didn't like the dress anyway so didn't actually finish it, but in any case, what a lovely time I had over the course of the year, getting more yacking done than sewing of course (can you begin to see a pattern (pun intended) here).  At the end of the year in July, one of the ladies invited us all over to "her place" for an apéro - "her place" being a wholesale wine and beer outlet that she and her family run.  (It's not what you know but who you know that's important - obviously).  After the apéro we went up to a place called the Plateau de Solaison to have lunch in one of the four restaurants up there and it was lovely.  This was also paid for out of the €40 annual contribution, so you can see what a great little class this is.

Plateau de Solaison

At the same time I thought I would treat myself to a new sewing machine, my old one being over 35 years old and second-hand even when I bought it all those years ago (but still running sweet as a nut). The lady who sold my new machine to me told me it was "the Michael Schumacher" of the sewing world and indeed it does seem to have everything except GPS, although I fear I might need a PhD to figure it all out.  I mean, it is a "self-threader" - it only took me about six months to get that down pat!  This lady also gives patchwork lessons once a month so I jumped at that - once a month, in all honesty, being enough to allow some time during the week to get ahead.  Her husband also services and repairs sewing machines in their "Aladdin's cave" of a shop. To be honest, there just aren't the same number of outlets for crafts/patchworking as there are in the UK (or the States!!!) so you jump at everything you find here.

First year she had us make a sampler in order to give us the basics of patchworking, appliqué etc. The course starts again tomorrow and while four of the ladies want to make a bag, I want to make a kit to carry my supplies.  We'll see what that turns out like in due course, I suppose.

On top of that, I had spotted an advert for a patchwork and craft exhibition taking place this weekend in a small village about 15 minutes from me so I went along expecting to spend 15 minutes there at most.  Well, I was stunned. Considering it is such a small village, the quilters' club (which includes one very artistic man) produced such beautiful work and made us feel so welcome that we stayed over an hour-and-a-half.  I was taking photos saying "oh this one's my favourite", "no sorry, this one's my favourite" - and in the end couldn't decide. Everything was just so beautiful - judge for yourself (sorry if a few of the photos are a bit blurred).

Actually I think this might be my favourite - a "friendship" quilt - each piece made by a different "friend"

Well this small quilters' club meets twice during the weekday afternoons (no good for me) but once a week on a Monday night so I have signed up.  Again only €35 for the year and (so I'm told) it's a sew-a-bit, chat-a-bit kind of club (just my kind of club then) where the ladies chose what they want to make and everyone offers guidance and assistance freely.  I can't believe I have been lucky enough to find this club just down the road from me.  If I were in the UK I would probably know where to find these things but here in France it is not so obvious (to me at least) to locate these groups - but I'm so glad I kept looking. Unfortunately, being on a Monday night, it clashes with my sewing class so I think I will end up doing one week sewing, one week quilting.  Well, that's the plan anyway, but who knows.

But you know, I think I'm really going to have to re-think this "working full-time business" - I mean, it is seriously interfering with my social life!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Sad news

When my kids were growing up there were always loads of other kids to hang around with.  Just a little further out of the village were two houses that were a little bit "rough". We were pretty sure they were dealing some form of illegal drugs out of the one - you know the kind - no visible sign of income but loads of big cars.  Not sure, but I think the police were well aware of this place.

In the house next door were another family, and my kids were friendly with one of their sons - Jean-Michel.  Jean-Michel was a skinny little devil and I always had the feeling that he hung around with kids younger than himself (principally my oldest son's age group) in order to feel like he was "the big guy".  Still, he wasn't a bad lad, maybe a bit rough around the edges.  I'm not sure where the dad was - if indeed he was around - but mom seemed like a pretty decent lady.

As time went by and our kids grew up we pretty much lost track of Jean-Michel. Occasionally you would see him on his scooter with this blooming great big dog sitting between his legs on the footrest of the scooter.  It was pretty comical to see (if probably rather dangerous).

Anyway, about 3 years ago, Jean-Michel simply disappeared into thin air - or so it would seem - along with his dogs.  Nobody had any news of him or had any idea why he might have left or where he had gone to.

Every morning I glance through the local Geneva newspaper, which also runs stories on the surrounding French area.  They had a short article last week where a hunter had stumbled across human remains in the mountains above a place called Cluses.  Well, my son came home last night and told me that the remains had been found to be those of Jean-Michel!!!  I still can't believe it! From what they can gather he had taken his dogs off walking up in the mountains and must have fallen. The area where he was found was pretty inaccessible and despite numerous searches he had never been spotted, nor have his dogs been found.

How terribly sad to think that he has lain out in the mountains for these past three years. At least his mom can now give him a decent burial - but it breaks my heart to think about it.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Who says the art of romance is dead!

Last Thursday (24th September) was my 57th birthday. I got an sms from my oldest son who was at a wedding in Portugal and my younger son and his girlfriend surprised me with a lovely pair of earrings, a beautiful artisanal scarf and a lovely bouquet of flowers. Aren't they pretty!

Then I got a message from OH suggesting that he take me to dinner.  Again a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  I mean, I really was spoilt.

We discussed where we should go for dinner and I suggested a Canadian restaurant that had just opened up in town and which was getting pretty good reviews, to the point where you needed a reservation as they were generally pretty full.  So I googled them to get their phone number and on checking out Tripadvisor the reviews were indeed pretty good but there was more than one mention of slow service (probably because they are just starting up and trying to keep staff overheads low, I would think).  When I pointed this out to OH he said to forget it as he wouldn't be putting up with slow service.  I knew what would happen, he would get all snitty if he was not happy with the service and the evening would be ruined.  So rather than try this place (I can always go another time with a girlfriend who has more patience than OH) I mentioned another of my favourite places and again OH wasn't sure so - rather sarcastically I thought - he said "what about going to Stan's"!!!

Well Stan is a Nigerian friend of mine who has opened a "bijou" little place in the village.  In fact, in our village there was only one restaurant - no shops, no taxi rank, no bus stop even - nothing, nada, zilch - until Stan came along.  The existing restaurant in the village is very good but was not open on this particular evening.

Stan is married to a French woman and our kids became firm friends when their family moved here.  Stan saw a need in the village and somehow or other managed to persuade the village council to let him rent a small piece of land and put up a couple of portacabin-style huts to house a little shop.  Part of the hut is indeed a small shop for basic necessities and the rest is given over to "haute cuisine".  Well not really "haute cuisine", more like plastic plates and a few non-chipped glasses.  But you know what, the place is working out.  It fills a need in the village to have a place where local people can get together for a chinwag and a glass of wine while putting the world to rights under Stan's eagle eye.

Now Stan doesn't exactly move with the speed of a leopard or the grace of a gazelle.  More of a slow, steady plod and squelch.  In fact I'm not sure if it is his knees or his shoes but something makes a squelching sound with every step he takes (actually it's more of a loud farting sound but I am trying to keep this blog classy!).  "Anna, what do you want with your fries?" (please imagine this said with a strong Nigerian accent).  "Mustard please Stan" (this would be me - with a strong Brummie accent).  Squelch, squelch, squelch.  "C, what do you want with your fries?" (Nigerian accent again). "Mayonnaise please Stan" (OH - Dutch accent this time - are you keeping up - you will be tested later).  Squelch, squelch, squelch (not quite sure why he couldn't get the mustard and the mayo at the same time but I digress).  In any case, he has a simple menu (pizza, moules/frites, salad, burgers, etc.) and a friendly welcome so he is popular among the locals - I mean, some of the farmers just drive up on their tractors to buy a baguette and have a beer.  Another impressive thing is that the local kids actually respect and like Stan too - none of them would ever dream of giving him any trouble!

Anyhoo (and moving seamlessly on), we decided that instead of going to some fancy-schmancy place in town we would go to Stan's so OH and Stan could put the world to rights, OH having travelled extensively in Nigeria for his work.  I ordered something Stan bills as "nico-frites" - which is basically a plate of fries with melted reblochon cheese on top.  Uuummmm!  OH said he didn't want anything.  Turned out that he knew I wouldn't finish what I had ordered which would leave him to finish the rest.  So all in all, my romantic, no-expense-spared birthday night out cost OH €13 for one plate of nico-frites and a couple of glasses of wine.  Don't tell me we don't know how to live!  But you know what, we both agreed we had had a lovely time.  Back home in time to watch the rugby, a good movie and a lovely evening all round.

Next day a friend called to invite me out to lunch for my birthday.  When I explained to her that D and I had planned to go to a couple of vide-greniers (car boots - to all intents and purposes) she asked if she could come along.  We went to a first vide-grenier in a place called Scientrier.  Well actually they call it a "vogue" which is basically a funfair and car boot, where you get the added pleasure of watching little kids with candy floss in hand get chased around the fun fair by a swarm of wasps!

I picked up a nice glass bottle and my friend, indeed treated me to a birthday lunch.  Another plate of fries but this time with a grilled sausage and mustard.  Ahh this is the life.  Then on to another car boot at a place called Nangy.  This was much bigger and quite the treasure trove.  I could have spent a small fortune (well one or two more euros) if I had been let loose.  As it was, for the grand total of €4, I did, indeed, pick up a few gems.


I realized afterwards that the big jar is actually a rumtopf - a jar to make rum punch in - the ingredients are shown on the outside - you simply add rum and sugar cane!  I shall have to give that a try!

As I turned 57 on my birthday I am technically eligible for early retirement but since I had to take out a mortgage to buy my ex out of the house I won't be able to take advantage of this just yet.  Another 4-5 years I'm thinking.  In the meantime, I feel thoroughly spoilt, all those pretty presents for my birthday and one-and-a-half plates of chips all to myself.  Bliss indeed!

Wow - my first follower!

Well my goodness, I am happy to welcome Jennywren as my first follower.  What a nice surprise.  I honestly never thought anyone would be that interested in my ramblings but it is so nice to hear that someone can actually make sense of them.  So cheers Jennywren!

I would join you for a glass of champagne but it's a little early for me....... oh who the hell am I kidding.  So cheers again.  Anna