Saturday, September 28, 2013

Grape Transformation

   The grapes are off the vines. I have been monitoring their growth and transformation for the past couple of months as we pass through a vineyard on one of our regular walks from the house. When we arrived in early July, the grapes were green. Slowly, they matured to a light purple then to a deep, luscious color that I could barely keep my hands off of. All of a sudden last week, I was awoken to tractors rattling in the dark. The pickers start early-like before 5:00 A.M. They work fast and seem to pick their way through the vineyard in half a day. On our way to school, we are often behind tractors pulling wagons full of their harvest, on the way to the cooperative for pressing. I don't know the process and really wish I could watch, but I am told this is not possible, unless I had a very good friend in the business. Maybe we will drop into the cooperative this weekend, just to poke around and see what we can see.
   Another bit of exciting news is that we got library cards! In America, we visit the library all of the time-at least once as week. The local library is great with a large kids area. Even if we can't read the books, it is fun to look at them, and libraries are always a nice place to relax, hang out and spend some time when the weather is gloomy. We are preparing for winter which also reminds me that we have to stock our woodpile as before long, I will have to figure out the most efficient fire building technique to keep our home warm. I anticipate this being a challenge.

The Transformation

Proud Owners Of French Library Cards

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ca Va Venir

   Our social life in France has been interesting. It probably seems like we are always partying as many of these blog posts have photos of us in the dark, around our table under the tree, strewn with platters of food and bottles. Yes, we have spent alot of time out there and the guests are largely from our "commune" where other visitors rent houses or live peacefully in the provincial countryside-like us, but for the long run.
   As you know, we came to this area with contacts and many of them have been kind enough to invite us over and we have actually made a few friends on our own. Most of them speak some English though. That certainly doesn't help our language skills, but it is comforting and EASY.
   Today, I facilitated a play date for my kids with some classmates after school. The mother is lovely and I look forward to getting to know her, but during the play date, she was preoccupied with something else, hence, I found myself alone with my kiddos plus 3 French children. The games are cache-cache (hide and seek) and touche-touche(tag)-Pretty universal games. But when I do not understand and ask the kids to talk slowly, they just speak louder....
   Nonetheless, it was great fun and I was happy to see 2 out of my 3 kids interacting, absorbing and slowly learning French. THe third kid is homeschooling, preteen and finding social outlets for her is very difficult. Once again, as for all of us, the language barrier is really hard, but for a girl being homeschooled that really needs some peers, it is debilitating. It would seem that young people in France tend to go home after school and study! The few young teens that I have met speak decent English. They start them young and by the time they are 12 or so, they can speak well enough to communicate. But, they seem quite inaccessible to us. I learned a new phrase and use is frequently- Ca va venir- translating- it will come.....
Heat of the Day in Entrecasteaux
Residential Passageways of Entrecasteaux
Playdate in the Chateau Garden

Monday, September 23, 2013

Un Bon Weekend

   It feels a bit like summer again in these parts. The nights are cool, I need a blanket, but I was wading in our pool this weekend, desperately trying to salvage the water for another couple of weeks. It is not the kind of pool we thing of, but a bassin- a dunking pool. Nonetheless, it provided endless hours of entertainment for the kids. But, there is no filtration system, it is emptied and refilled as necessary. Well, now it is green and gross. I worried that that water would not warm up again, hense my reluctance to drain and refill it, but Landlord suggested I try it. The days may very well be warm enough to make it worthwhile. Yippee! Maybe the summer is not over after all.
   We checked out yet another nearby village this weekend called Aups. My motive was to go to the market, but I can never tell that to Youngest Child as he hates the markets. It is way too much strolling, something he is not particularly good at. The markets are funny because among the artisanal cheeses, salamis, vegetables, fruits and handmade things, are tables of "stuff"- baseball caps, plastic trinkets, fake Gucci purses and plenty of other junk. There are also stands with nice clothes at affordable prices, which is otherwise hard to find. The kids love these tables strewn with toys which my answer to all of the pleading for purchases is always the same- no! Mean, mean Mom, I know.
   We bought some gorgeous chevres, tapenade, cherry tomatoes, and a baguette and headed off to the Lac de St. Croix for the afternoon. The water at this lake is turquoise blue- gorgeous. We had plenty of reading material, drawing supplies and snacks to sustain us for the remainder of the day, and to our delight, the water was perfectly agreeable. We were lucky to have an invitation to a friend's house for the evening to celebrate their recent marriage. Even though the kids(and I) are thrilled to be invited to someone's house, it is stressful and tiring to communicate. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful evening of good company, comparing countries an of course, food, and I so appreciate the wonderful people who include us!
   Believe it or not, we had another invitation for afternoon tea and cake on Sunday. We meandered back on this little lane, further and further through grapevines, goats and on and on, then came to an adorable house tucked into the hillside. It is the home of my best friend's father and his wife who welcomed us like family. Another family came and I was happy to see all of the kids playing together despite the lack of common language!
   I can't imagine what winter is like around here. Our days and evenings are exclusively outdoors, under a blue sky or the stars. I feel like every day brings us some adventure, bright experience or otherwise lovely feeling on this crazy sabbatical of ours.
Spices at the Aups Market

Salts and other Spices

Various Meat Options


Clear water of Lac de St. Crois


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Mistral- It Is Real

   We have all heard of the Mistral, the wind that blows relentlessly through the south of France. It is more typical in the winter and spring, but as we are finding, can blow any time of the year. Skies are blue,  the temperature is warm enough, but the wind howls. Windows clatter, doors shake, people's nerves are a bit on edge, in my household anyway. I was determined to eat outside last night, and we did, even though Middle Child's salad was blowing off of her plate.
   I have been trying for days to get pictures of the strange, thin, yet tall spruce trees that lean over in the wind, but with no luck. Just trust me, the wind is fierce. I am looking forward to what the weather man says should be a gorgeous, calm weekend. I wonder how I will feel in the dead of winter when the Mistral is said to last for a week, with a cold wind to boot?
Clearly, fall is coming.

The sun is lower in the sky, but we are trying to enjoy every meal possible at this table.

At the stable,  tradition calls for a cake to be brought to share after someone falls off their mount. Lucky kids, 2 tumbles happened last week-2 cakes to share.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Off to School They Go

   In my last post, I commented on how little it rains in my hometown in Colorado. As most of you probably know, Colorado is now under water. The images are astounding and quite unbelievable considering that less than 3 months ago, well over 100,000 acres burned in a massive wildfire in our area. I feel slightly guilty for not being present for either event.
   Nonetheless, our adventure in France continues. Youngest Child and Middle Child both finished up a long week of local school that consisted of 2 whole days. Let me back up slightly.
   Middle Child decided she wanted to go to school with her younger brother. I explained that if she started, she had to finish. I explained that she would be clueless for quite some time- there is no English spoken at the school. I explained that there would be a decent chance she would have to repeat the year upon returning to the USA. Off she went, nervous but enthusiastic to accompany her brother. Her first day was to be last Monday. We arrived and the director explained that the teacher was absent, it would be  a bad day for Molly to start. Tuesday, there was a planned strike- again- no teacher. They do not go to school on Wednesdays, so Thursday was her first day and she had a ball. The teacher was absent but, the substitute spoke a little English and gave my kids some things to do to occupy their time. Upon picking the kids up Friday after school, Middle Child had a new friend-she has no idea what this friend's name is, but they hold hands and skip around the playground singing songs. Youngest Child goes back and forth between his guy friends playing "football", playing with his sister and getting chased by lots of little girls. Perhaps they associate a cute American boy with Justin Bieber or whoever  is the current teeny bopper heartthrob. I could not ask for any more!!!!

Monday, September 9, 2013

After the Rain

It rains here less than in Durango. I do not know the average annual rainfall, but nothing has fallen out of the sky for many weeks.  We had a drenching storm the other day that makes everything look so fresh and crisp. The temperatures have cooled to the point that the kids haven't swam for days and I had to put on long pants and a sweater last night. I am not ready to accept the reality that summer may be over. It was a memorable couple of months for me.
Morning mist rising 
It cleared up just in time to dry the table for a Sunday lunch with more Belgian's
Middle Child picking wild fennel for the wooden horse Trevor made for her.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

You Don't Have to Travel Far

   This weekend we did some local touring and heading to a gorgeous town with a reputation of being one of the most beautiful villages in all of Provence. It is called Tourtour and is about 45 minutes from our place. It sits atop a hill, dominated by a church, offering sweeping views of the valleys below. Like many of the Medieval villages around here, Tourtour's meandering, narrow streets empty into the main square which is lined with buzzing cafes and attractive shops. The weekly market was winding down as we arrived, but we caught some merchants before they had packed up. I have a new friend who has a stand at various markets. She sells olives, tapenades and marinated things. She speaks English, but I bore her with my horrendous French anyway. She is nice enough to correct me and help when I am at a loss for words-which is every few sentences.
   Tourtour is clearly a high rent district, understandably. It was a fun day out, and we will return when we are in need of a lazy, wander around town.
   Meanwhile, in Cotignac this weekend, there was a local fete. For us that meant pizza night on the cours followed by a smashing bumper car session; lots of loud music, flashing lights and fireworks.
It was a good weekend again, all within a 30 km. radius of our house.
Friday night in Cotignac
It is a happening town
What kid can resist this???
Or this- Market in Tourtour
Nougat- a wonderful treat
Tourtour cour
Unique shops
Beautiful passageways 
The view as seen from Oldest Child's eyes
We never have to carry water bottles here. 
The whole village is this pretty.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Kitchen Has Been a Busy Place

   Produce in the south of France is plentiful and we have been sticking close to the home front so time has been on the kitchen side. We found this wonderful farm in Correns, a nearby village touted to be the organic town in the area. The farm is open a few days as week, for a few hours in the afternoon, to sell their goods. They had a dozen different kinds of tomatoes, various eggplants, beautiful peppers and much more. I know summer produce is going to start winding down one of these weeks as it does back home. We all mourn the loss of the flavors of summer and kick dirt about having to eat root vegetables and stews. So the more tomatoes, eggplant and basil we eat now, the better.
   I have told you about the figs- I stuffed some with goat cheese that I flavored with rosemary and a hefty dose of black pepper, wrapped them in prosciutto and grilled them until the cheese was oozing and the prosciutto a little crispy.
Goat Cheese Stuffed Figs

We bought these elongated, red tomatoes at the Correns farm. I do not know the name of them, but they looked perfect for stuffing which is what I did.  There was some leftover rice and haricots verts in the fridge so I used that with some parmesan, basil and olive oil to mound on top of the hollowed out tomato and baked them.

Stuffed Long tomatoes
And, I made my first ever Soupe au Pistou. This is the French version of Minstrone- a summer vegetable soup with the freshest possible ingredients. It had carrots, haricot vert, zucchini, little pasta and fresh shelling beans. The pistou is basil pesto, made in a mortar and pestle. French pesto is simply garlic, basil, olive oil and salt. Delicious- every drop if it.
Pistou in the making

Soupe au Pistou
We went hunting for blackberries last weekend, too. We hit a jackpot, brought them home and made a poundcake with chantilly cream and blackberry sauce. The kids spearheaded this project and did a fabulous job. My kitchen in Durango has every conceivable appliance and tool available. Here, the cake was made with a wooden spoon, the cream whipped by hand.

Blood Sweat and tear- but I got a bowlful

Elbow Grease

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My First Ever Monster Truck Show

   I have always wanted to go to a Monster truck show. It is the redneck in me. I can't help myself. During the busy summer months in rural France, all kinds of tent shows pass through the towns. Every week there is a circus, puppet show or other family entertainment. Last weekend, a friend said her son was going to this monster truck show and that sealed the deal- we were going. Summer is coming to an end. We won't be here next year for all of these activities- we had to go. Poor Oldest Child was sick, the show started pretty late, but I was determined.
  Off we went to the pretty town of Lorgues, about 30 minutes east of our place. It was a gorgeous sunset drive and we arrived plenty early to the dusty parking lot where the show was set to take place. Needless to say, it was in French and we had no idea what was going on, but I was in 7th heaven.
   I am so glad we went, and now I know, I don't need to do it again. I think the show was made up of overly confident, movie stunt men who drove little orange Mustangs around really fast, making a massive dust bowl. The stunt man laid on the roof of the car and was driven through a flaming fence, the stunt man stood on the hood of the car and was driven around really fast, the driver drove around on 2 wheels repetitively and was clearly very proud of his abilities...A Monster truck came out for the last 10 minutes of the show and it was, well, very big. It squashed a few cars and that was it. Homeward bound we were.
   On the way home we saw a giant wild boar which threw the kids into a tizzy. You could have ridden the thing, it was so big. We hear them nightly rustling in the bushes, but we rarely catch a glimpse of them. It was a good way to end our entertaining evening.
En Route to monster truck show, had to stop to capture the colors
Oh yeh, wish I had one of these

Gotta love the beautifully lit church in the background

Youngest Child cosy in the wheel of "Blue Thunder"

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Bientot, Good Friends

   My lovely Belgian friends left a week ago. While time goes quickly for me here in France, I sure do miss them. Not only are they great fun to be with, it was a relief for me to have some adult conversation and companionship.
   My children are my most favorite things in the world. I adore them-of course- I love being with them as much as possible, obviously, for otherwise I would not have been comfortable bringing them to a foreign country on my own for a year. But, as I try to explain to my kids, adults need adult company sometimes, just ask kids need other kids to be with. Oldest Child has had a hard time meeting peers. Today, she got a kitten. (Don't worry, I have been in contact with the airline and yes, the cat can come on the plane with her upon our return.)  Oldest Child is convinced that she doesn't need friends, her kitten is enough. Perhaps after another month or so, she will believe me that a human friend or two would be nice.
   As my French is really poor, making new friends is difficult. While I am eager to learn French, when an English speaking person comes along, I am drawn to them like a magnet, dying for more of a conversation than I can carry on in French. So, it is no wonder I was eager to hang out with the Belgian's but even more important is how well we get along. I have new life-long friends. And another country to travel too in the next 9 months. What could be better than that?

Kids Table
Another fine meal under our tree

Pasta Salad, because kid always eat this, Green Salad, because we eat this at least once a day, and Grilled Eggplant Gratin-yum
Fine Friends