Monday, September 28, 2009

I Turn 41

Quelle horreur! I am now older than 40. Crap – how did that happen anyway? I feel more like 25 . . . at least most of the time.

It was a blissfully peaceful day. Honestly, I sat around knitting for hours. Ahhhhh! The kids let me sleep ‘til about 8:00, too. They woke me up with sweet (Iiterally) gifts: a beautiful purple orchid, candy from the little store up the street, and great bath soap (from Lush right here in Montpellier and soap from Provence).

The kids frolicked around outside for about 6 hours in the afternoon, literally. It’s great. There were four of them yesterday, and on Saturday, there were 8 children running around! In and out of the house ‘til I finally threw ‘em all outside. Then, they play in the church yard. They come home periodically, thirsty or hungry or needing to use the bathroom, then they are off again.

Who remembers life being like that when we were children?! I sure do! I love that it is safe enough in our tiny village for the kids to play outside. It’s so wonderful to have them run into the house yelling, “Can we please stay outside until the next time the church bell rings? Please?!”

The only drawback is that Max doesn’t eat enough now. He rushes through each meal as fast as possible so he can get back outside. We put an end to that today. No eating, no playing!

So, back to my birthday! Sophie brought us another delicious meal – homemade by her and her mom. The menu?

  • Entrée: Salad with toast with slightly melted fromage de cheval (goat cheese) and smoked duck (very finely sliced). This is one of my favorite salads in the world now, much like the one Sandra made us for Christmas Eve with the sautéed figs and les geziers.
  • Plat Principal: Beef bourguignon severed over fresh pasta. Utterly spectacular.

  • Le Dessert: Chocolate soufflé. Ohmigosh! We got to watch them rise and turn perfect in the oven, then we had the indescribably joy of eating them. Max said, “Sa c’est le meilleur dessert dans tout ma vie!” Translation? This is the best dessert of my whole life. He was not over exaggerating!

Sophie also gave me a great gift – a box of bath goodies from Sephora! I now have pineapple grenadine body lotion and bath bombs, almond musk bubble bath, and a sponge – all in the greatest pink packaging. They smell divine. I already have to guard the lotion from the kids because they love the smell, too.

Merci mille fois, Sophie! You are the greatest.

Thank you to everyone else who sent me birthday wishes, too. I appreciate it!

Love to all!!

Eva Turns 50 - and Becomes a Queen!

This is our friend Eva, who lives in Bouzigues. She is from Sweden, and she has lived in Bouzigues for several years. She owns the only little boutique in town, Maison Pitchiline.

September 26 was Eva’s 50th birthday! Bonne anniversaire, Eva.

Despite all of Eva’s heartfelt desires to NOT celebrate her birthday, Debbie and Martine threw a “Girl’s Night” (that title does not include the word party, right?!) to celebrate. About 12 of us from Bouzigues (French, American, English, etc.) arrived at Eva’s shop as she was closing Monday night. We were clad in sparkly crowns, and we each had our own blower – which we used rather loudly as we arrived at the shop. Debbie had a pink boa and a very large crown for Eva to wear.

Here's Debb defending herself from Eva's wrath! Just kidding.

We walked back to Debbie’s house along the port, with Eva trying to lag behind and get separated from the crowd. It didn’t work! We all arrived together at Debbie & Reed’s where Reed was ready to serve Cosmos to everyone – he was even dressed in black pants and white shirt like a waiter!

Debbie had seen to each and every detail! There were beautiful decorations everywhere, delicious looking hours d’oerves, and those pink Cosmos with pink sugar around the edge of the glasses (margarita style). It was really fun! In fact, I think that Eva had fun, too.

I mentioned "every detail", right? Well, this cute veggie plate said "Eva" before someone ate a few of the cherry tomatoes.

We all contributed to an iPod for Eva’s birthday gift. However, I really, really like Eva. She has been a great help to us in Bouzigues, so I wanted to give her a more personal gift as well.

Here she is wearing a shawl I knit. They are her colors and everything! She honestly seemed to love it. With hand-knit gifts, you can never be sure. (smile)

It turns out that Eva has an amazing background in the textile and fashion world, and she is an extraordinary knitter. Yay! She lives right across the street, and her shop is about 100 feet from my door, so I anticipate some knitting joy with her.

As we stood around talking about knitting, Eva told me that she grew up knitting because her mom is a knitter. Check out this adorable pair of itsy bitsy knit socks, which were knit by her mom. They are smaller than my thumb! Eva gave them too me. (Big smile!!)

Love to all!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Our New Bikes

Mike and I finally bought bikes here in France – VTT (velos touts terrains) bikes, which means French mountain bikes. They are both Specialized (that is pronounced Spechialeezed in France), and they are awesome! (Yes, we have to park 'em in the house.)

Our great friend Jean-Christophe went to the bike store in Sete with us, since he knows the owner. He is also the expert in all things sportive here in France. He helped us pick out the right bikes for riding here, and he got us a great discount.

Check mine out. It’s even girlie! How funny is that? It was a total fluke. Who would know that the best choice in a bike for me would also have cute pink bamboo accents. LOL And, boy am I glad I bought these new bike shorts in Santa Cruz.

This week, Mike and I have taken 4 rides so far (it’s Friday) to the top of a nearby mountain. Mike downloaded some way cool software for the iPhone (MotionX GPS) that tracks our route, altitude, speed, distance, time, etc. It is amazing!

So, this ride is roughly 12 miles, takes us about 1.5 hours, and is about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 for difficulty. The hardest part is the fact that the trails are all very, very rocky. It results in a lot of jarring (thank goodness those bikes have great shocks!!). There are also several places where it is either sandy or gravelly, which results in lots of traction and hard pedaling to avoid having your tires sucked to a grinding halt. The hills aren’t too steep (UCSC is steeper), but the rocks and stuff make it challenging in parts.

The views from the top of the mountain are incredible. The next non-windy day, I’ll bring my camera. This is a shot from Mike’s iPhone.

Today was especially special (or is that redundant?). Both on the way out of Bouzigues and the way back in, we saw the flamingos in flight. They are incredible. It is hard to capture their singularity in words . . . their shape is completely unique in the air, somewhat like a wave, and their colors are some of the most amazing I have ever seen. In fact, their colors are on par with the color of humpback whales beneath the water in Hawaii! Or, similarly, on par with the oriental poppies in bloom covering entire fields here last May. Sublime.

Here is a photo I downloaded from the Internet to give you an idea. However, today, we saw a flock of at least 50 flamingos landing in l’etang. Magical!

Love to all!

Personal Training in France

I’m happy to tell you that I get to practice my true calling while in France!

Jean-Louis said he wanted to start exercising, so he has been going to the Bouzigues gym with me and Mike on the weekends.

He is a model student – perfect form! That is pretty extraordinary considering I’m giving him instruction 100% in French. It’s a good thing he’s used to listening to me and my awful French.

It has been a lot of fun teaching him and knowing that I’m helping him get healthier. Yay!

Love to all!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Boycott Radisson Hotels!!!

Ohmigosh!! We just heard from our German attorney, who is handling our lawsuit against Radisson Blu in Bad Reichenhall, Germany - you know, the awful hotel where Josey was badly injured in the pool. It turns out that the hotel director who was so kind and understand was actually a bloody, f'ing liar!

He told us that they claimed all responsibility . . . that the pool pump had recently been replaced and had obviously malfunctioned . . . we are so sorry for your daughter's awful injuries . . . blah, blah, blah.

Now, the scumbag is claiming that it is not the hotel's responsibility at all. In fact, the insurance document that he gave us, which is naturally in German, states that they are NOT responsible. Of course, verbally he told us that is states that they are responsible.

I could just kick myself for not thinking to record our conversations with him at the time!!!

Can you tell how incredibly angry I am?

Grrrrrr. Signed, The Angry Mommy

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sophie - Our New Friend!

I am happy to tell you all about our new friend, Sophie.

We met Sophie briefly in August 2008, and I ran into her again at Carrefour (the enormous grocery, etc. store) in May 2009. She stopped me at Carrefour to ask for my help to attend an event in the US.

That's how I discovered what a warm, friendly, considerate person Sophie is. Yay, we made a new friend!!

Thank you, Sophie!!
The Billats are all very grateful that we've become friends.

Since last May, Sophie has introduced us to many unique things.
  • She brought us an amazing, truly "Bouzigues" meal before our summer vacation. I forget the name, but it was calamari cooked in a delicious red sauce, which is served over rice with garlic mayonnaise on the side. Ohmigosh! It was all homemade, and it was one of the best meals we have eaten in France. Amazing!
  • She brought us authentic Spanish goodies, handmade by her mother. Again, I forget the names, but they were somewhat like thin calzone-style pastries filled with veggies, spinach, cheese, etc. There was a dessert version, too, which was chocolate and cinnamon. Deeeelicious.
  • This week, she brought us genuine Spanish tapas (in the picture above). One version was broiled peppers, anchovies, and olive oil. The other version was tomatoes, ham, and cheese. With the tapas she brought a fig torte because she knows how much I love figs. How sweet is that? Again, it was all homemade and delicious.
  • Last weekend, she took us to a local farm where you can pick your own veggies: green beans, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, flowers, grapes, strawberries, figs, and a ton more!
  • She took the kids to their first French movie last June - Hannah Montana! It was dubbed in French, but the songs were in English. Sophie is absolutely terrific with kids. Our kids love her!
Please note that my descriptions above really don't do the meals justice! They were truly amazing.

Next weekend, to help me celebrate my birthday, she is going to take us to a village nearby where there are great things to see and beautiful scenery for walking/hiking. That will occupy our Saturday. On Sunday, she is going to make us another Bouzigaud meal - especially for me for my birthday!

One other thing I have to add about Sophie: she is a great French teacher! She uses a lot of words that we don't know (oh, like that's hard to do - ha ha!), and she can tell by our confused expressions when we don't understand. She always backs up and uses other words until we figure out what she's saying! It's terrific.

And . . . that trip she wanted my help with - the trip to the US? That's to attend the annual charity basketball game performed by the star of "One Tree Hill". It's an American TV show that is also broadcast in France. She loves it!! She wants to attend the 2010 game, so she can make a journey to America before she gets married. Her fiance does not like flying, so this is her only chance!

We are helping her do research and write a letter to the cast to try and get tickets to the game. However, if anyone has ideas of how to get her tickets to that game, please let us know! It's now my mission to make sure she gets there and has an absolutely terrific, unforgettable, magical adventure.

Love to all!!

Sunset from the Terrace

A photo extravaganza!

Love to all!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Summer Vacation - 2009

I feel like a child who has gone back to school, and my first assignment is to write five paragraphs describing my summer vacation. I can summarize it in a few sentences.

We had a great yet very busy time in Santa Cruz for 6 weeks. It was terrific to see our family and friends (those we were able to see!) and soak up some Santa Cruz sunshine (okay, and fog if I'm being completely honest).

Then, our planned 10-day vacation from Frankfurt, Germany to Bouzigues was absolute hell, thanks to a faulty pool motor in Bad Reichenhall, Germany.

For those of you only interested in the highlights. That was it. For those of you who are interested in details, read on . . .

Santa Cruz was great. We stayed with my parents for about a week in Ben Lomond. Thanks, Grom & Dude! During that week, we had a mini family July Birthday party, complete with Alex. It was great to see everyone who was there.

Here are Dianne (my aunt), Max, and Thomas (my nephew) playing in my parents' pool.

After Ben Lomond, we stayed in a rental in Santa Cruz, which was delightful. The owner, Trish, is an amazing gardener, and we felt like we were in our own personal Eden (without the serpent) for 3 weeks.

Here are some pictures of the kids picking flowers in the yard and Max climbing the rope ladder to the crow's nest . . .

And here are my friend Melissa's children, James and Catherine.

I want to send huge thanks to Melissa for all of our great runs and visits and to Sharlene for all the great knitting adventures. You two made my visit!!

Thanks to all my other friends and family for the visits, too! Danny & Kathy, Marianne, Sue, Julie, Grandma Pat, and all the rest.

Next, we were back in Ben Lomond for our final 10 days in America. It was good timing, too, due to the huge forest fire in Bonny Doon (very, very close to Santa Cruz and my parent's house). All the smoke blew into Santa Cruz, so we were glad not to be there. My parent's house was almost in the evacuation zone, but the terrific firefighters got it under control before we had to leave. Yay! Thanks to all the brave men and women who fight fires. You rock!

On August 20th, we flew from San Francisco to Frankfurt, Germany. Mike found the greatest airline tickets of all time: roundtrip SF to Frankfurt for $400/each. That is an amazing price - probably an Internet error! So, we decided to make it a family adventure vacation. With the money we saved on airfare, we could rent a car and drive from Frankfurt to Bouzigues, stopping in various amazing places along the way!

The planned itinerary was:
  • 1 night in Frankfurt
  • 2 nights in Nurenburg
  • 2 nights in Bad Reichenhall, Germany (near Salzburg, Austria)
  • 2 nights in Bled, Slovenia
  • 2 nights in Venice, Italy
  • 1 night in Parma, Italy
  • 1 night in Antibes, France
  • Back to Bouzigues!
However, our second evening in Bad ReichenHELL, Josey suffered an awful accident in the hotel pool. I will put a full account of her accident at the end of this post for those of you who are curious.

As Mike pointed out afterward, we should have known better than to EVER have stayed in a place that started with "Bad"!

So, we ended up with:
  • 1 night in Bad ReichenHELL (several more for Mike & Max)
  • 3 nights in the Salzburg Children's hospital
  • 3 more nights in Bad ReichenHELL
  • Airplane back to Bouzigues

Debb and Eva were terrific and had the new house all ready for us upon our arrival - complete with food in the fridge & pantry and wine for Dado (and pina colada for me). Merci mille fois a Debb & Eva!!

We were able to see Wurzburg, Rothenburg, and a bit of Munich. Here are some good photos.

Wurzburg, Germany: The first photo is entering the village from the historical bridge. The second photo is the view from the bridge of the other side of the river.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany: This is a little cafe we visited, and the look of this cafe is a perfect example of the architecture in Rothenburg!

Below are me and Josey outside the world-famous Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. It was indeed a fairytale shopping experience . . . like Disneyland for Christmas lovers. The second picture is a view of the village from the gardens.

Here are photos of the famous wooden altarpiece. In the words of Rick Steves (travel writer): "St. Jacob's church contains the one must-see art treasure in Rothenburg: a glorious 500-year-old Riemenschneider altarpiece, by the Michelangelo of German woodcarvers."

Some photos of Neuschwanstein Castle, which is the castle Walt Disney used for his inspiration.

And the Marienplatz (center) of Munich, Germany, which was very charming! I wish we had more than an hour to spend there (and a healthier Josey who could walk around and enjoy everything!). The first two pictures are of the New Town Hall, the first being a view of the Glockenspeil (gigantic cuckoo clock) that rings 3 times a day. Unfortuntately, we missed it.

Now . . . if you are interested in the details about Josey's accident, here is an email I wrote to two of my best friends after Josey and I returned from the hospital.

I just got back from spending 2.5 days in the hospital in Salzberg, Austria with Josey. She was playing at the pool here at the Bad Reichenhall, Germany Radisson hotel . . . the jet that was supposed to be the equivalent of a hot tub jet had just had the motor changed. So, the jet was the strength of a fountain - a high powered fountain. Josey sat on the jet, and she completely lacerated the inside of her vagina. :(

It was horrifying. She was almost literally gushing blood - including blood clots. Here I am, in a foreign country, emailing my aunt the doctor asking her what to do! After a few hours of Josey laying down but the bleeding not slowing, I took her to the local emergency room. They sent me to the Kinderklinik (university kid's hospital) in Salzburg where they would have "gynecological equipment for children". Those are words you never want to hear in your life.

This actually required 2 taxi rides - one to the local hospital around 11pm and another to Salzburg around 11:30pm - all in the pouring rain with thunder & lightning & taxi drivers who couldn't speak any English! Here I am, trying to keep acting like I'm not worried, while the second taxi driver is practically skidding around corners! He redeemed himself when he waited for 10 minutes with us in the abandoned emergency room until an English speaking nurse arrived to admit Josey. At the time, I wished I could speak better German to thank both taxi driver for their kindness as Josey is bleeding all over their seats.

In Salzburg, they had to sedate her for surgery and pack her full of 3 meters of material to compress the walls of her vagina. They had to catheterize her, too, because the compression pinched her urethra closed. The doc was very kind and spoke excellent English (thank goodness). The doc said that the lacerations were all shallow (not deep into the tissue and not deep into her vagina), but there were a lot of them. Stitches wouldn't work, so compression was the only option. Josey had to stay for over 48 hours before they sedated her again for another surgery to remove the material. She had the material and catheter removed this morning.

Besides contracting an infection for which she received IV antibiotics, she didn't have any complications.

I stayed with her the entire time. They provided me with a fold out bed to sleep in next to her (public room with 2 other patients). The nurses were all incredibly nice, and most spoke at least some English. The nurse in training, Stephanie, spoke excellent English - she was a godsend!

I've been in a state of near tears since we left the hospital today. I was super mommy while we were there . . . never panicked or freaked or anything. Now I'm having a hard time keeping it together.

Mike has had several discussions with the hotel director, and they've signed docs from our European lawyer (thank goodness for our friend Taco from Bouzigues!!) taking full responsibility for the accident. They will pay for everything plus some.

We are now stuck here in the evil hotel for 2-3 more days. The doc wants us close in case the bleeding should start again. So far, Josey had the operation to remove the material at 10ish this morning and it's 4:30pm here now, she hasn't had ANY bleeding. YAY! However, we have to stay just in case. I have to say - I HATE this place now.

Some vacation. No Italy. . . No Slovenia . . . Radisson will be paying for us to fly to Montpellier from either Salzberg or Munich ASAP. I'm not going to make Josey suffer in a car for 12ish hours. NO WAY. That poor little thing has been through enough.

She was so brave. I'm so proud of her! Of all the things she was afraid of? Taking the pain pills.:) She said she gagged when she took the first half, so each other time was an ordeal. Surgery? No problem! Swallow a pill? End of the world.

Okay . . . I just had to decompress to my two favorite people. :)

BTW - Got a lot of knitting done in the hospital (Sabine 2 is finished but for finishing work and beaded bind off), but I desperately need exercise. My body feels soft, mooshy, and bloated (Josey said my feet looked like sausages!). Maybe I'll run tomorrow. :)

Thanks for reading my rant! Love,

Sunday, September 6, 2009

9 Rue Jeanne d'Arc - Our New Home

We are happily back in Bouzigues! We arrived Monday, September 1, and oh my goodness are we glad to be home!!

We have been looking forward to moving into our new house, which is in the absolute center of Bouzigues. It is very old, uniquely French, and absolutely amazing.

Here is a photo tour of 9 Rue Jeanne d'Arc . . .

You know when you have a key that looks this cool, your house is going to rock!

Check out the front door, door knob, and the knocker.

And when you walk in the front door – just get a load of that staircase. Oh baby! And to the right of the staircase is the first floor - the kitchen, living room, and dining area - all teak and original stone from the 1800s. Is that cool, or what?

Here is the second floor, home of Max and Josey. I took the first two pictures standing in the doorway between the kids' room and the petite salon (little living room) on the second floor: the first picture is their room, and the second picture is the petite salon in front of their room. Yes, as you can see, we are back to our cluttery selves.

This is the view from the tiny balcony on the second floor. We have an identical balcony on our floor, too.

Here is the third floor, pant pant pant, where Mike and I sleep (still panting from climbing the stairs). That is an O'Neill's sweatshirt, by the way.

Here is the fourth floor, le piece de resistance!

The summer kitchen (more teak and stone) . . .

The terrace (for those of you who haven't been here yet, those strange and perfect lines in the water are the oyster farms) . . .

And the view (panning from left to right - that is Sete in the distance) . . .

Here's a view of the super narrow street outside our front door, and a view of the front of the house. Gotta love the clothes lines (if you can see them). Can you imagine me hanging the laundry? Or Mike? We do it everyday!

Max and Josey can sleep in the sunroom, which means that we can make the second floor available for guests! We also have two bathrooms with showers. Woohoo!! So, if you want to come and see us, we can put you up.

Love to all!