Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mallory is our Nature Girl. Plants and animals are her thing - which is good, otherwise we wouldn't have this:

It's a little flower patch near our brand new back door.

Mal's also been out in the vegetable garden, putting in the first lettuce plants. (And no, you can't have her or even just "borrow her. I need her here.)
Below we see Mallory and a dog- a nice, elderly, blind in one eye and mostly deaf sheepdog.

Ciboulette ('Chives' in English) is a good old dog and has worked hard all her life herding sheep and is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement. She belongs to our friends who were visiting during the last holiday. Her time chez nous was much appreciated by Mallory, who (of course) adores all dogs. Mal even completely forgave Ciboulette for laying several times in the brand new flower bed and crushing the baby flowers.

Here you can see a bit more of what we've been up to, house-wise:
The four layers of varnish are on the addition!
What wasn't so great was the fact that we got varnish all over the borrowed ladder we used. It took the kids hours to scrub it clean again. (Have I mentioned recently how sweet my kids are? They are sweet...and hardworking, too!)
Here's a shot of everyone hard at work varnishing the carport. It's hard to tell, but there are six people under there working, plus baby Yasmine clinging to her mom and getting varnish on her clothes.

I promise to post more pics soon- we're going to have some landscaping (fancy!) done, so I'll definitely want to show our status as everything progresses!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reader’s Meme

(Courtesty of Oreneta )

The rules: Bold the ones you've read completely and italicize the ones you've read part of. Watching the movie or the cartoon doesn't count. Abridged versions don't count either. According to the BBC, if you've read 7 of these, you are above the average.* My comments are in parenthesis.

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (good book, but I like ‘Persuasion’ better)
2. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (I spent my teen years reading moody gothic novels. Good fun!)

4. Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
(for school. didn't think it was all THAT)
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell (made me cry!)
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott (many, many times)
12. Tess of the D'Ubervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk (Never heard of it or him. Is that bad?)
18. Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger (annoying)
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (one of my favorite books.)
22. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (I never understood why kids were supposed to like this book. I found it SO annoying. Hated it!)
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (A fun book to read outloud for your kids!)
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis

37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (TBR)
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres (TBR)

39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Why is this crummy book on this nice list?)
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (« The Moonstone » is a better book, IMHO)
46. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery(The whole series!!!!)

47. Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (I love this book, but it's too sad to read it very often)
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding (ever read 'John Dollar'? Even creepier!)
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons (I love this book!! You should read it too!!)
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
60. Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov (Read it for a class and managed to completely erase nearly every detail of it from my mind afterwards. Good for me!)
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding (What is this doing here?!)
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden -Frances Hodgson Burnett(Big FHB fan!!)
74. Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson

75. Ulysses - James Joyce (No! Never! Gah!)
76. The Inferno-Dante
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola (My daughter is reading this for school right now-says it is very depressing and very long)
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - A.S. Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (I’ve only read « Never Let me Go »)
85. Madam Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ( sooo good!!)
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (so annoying!)
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down -Richard Adams (One of my favorite books of all time. One of my « comfort reads »)
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (I never like Roald Dahl as a kid, but I started to enjoy his stuff as I read it to my own kids. 'The BFG' is the best!)
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

My additions:

101. The Lamplighter- Maria Cummins

102. Endurance- Alfred Lansing

103. The Jungle- Upton Sinclair

104. Precious Bane- Mary Webb

105.Black Beauty- Anna Sewel

*Is this TRUE? It seems like a very low number to me....

# I've added my own twists to the meme:

a. red bold for all the books you really love and would recommend that other people read.

b. list five books that you think should have been on the list.

Also- isn't this list kind of strange? Why would crap like 'The DaVinci Code' and 'Bridget Jones' be on it? And why the obscure modern stuff? I'd never even heard of, say, "The Cloud Atlas" (though I looked it up and it seems to be pretty interesting). Still. Odd.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Part III of « How to Buy a Huge, Old, Expensive Chandelier Without Even Trying »

So, there I was blithely walking around the hotel, unaware that dramatic lighting was in my future. JP told me he was going to write in a bid for the next day’s auction , I merely gave a vague « Mmmm.. that’s nice » and went back to inspecting the gruesome brown tile in the 1970’s bathroom with horrified fascination.
« Somebody chose this tile. On purpose !» I marvelled to myself.
I saw JP wander off and get into line to place his bid, but I just smiled indulgently. Kind of like when your 12 year old announces he’s going to be 'Mace Griffin: Bounty Hunter' when he grows up. There’s a slight chance that you’ve got something to worry about. But it’s much more likely that it’s not going to happen.
That was my policy on the chandelier.
I found out that I was wrong a few days later when JP came down the stairs and said « Guess what? ».
I’d heard the phone ring a moment before and had figured that he’d picked it up…but I had no good guesses in mind.
Not a one.
Then he said « We got it » and I somehow knew immediately what he was talking about wasn’t something as bad as, say, head lice, but was definitely not something I would unconditionally like, such as winning a million Euros in the lottery.
Call it wifely intuition.
« We got the chandelier and we need to pick it up by tomorrow night. »
At least, it was a complete surprise to me.
Now, at this point, I actually could still have stopped this. We still had the right to refuse to buy the thing. But JP really wanted it and I was beginning to think that it would look kind of funky and unconventional hanging in our new room.

There’s also this: when I was a kid, a local restaurant in my hometown shut down. « Diamond Jim’s » was supposed to be pretty fancy, I guess. ( I am very hazy on the details and have GOT to ask my mom for details the whole thing) The simple version of the story is that the place sold off the furnishing and my parents ended up with two things:
a. the top part of a wooden partition set with panels of red plexi-glass.
(Yes, it was just as awful as it sounds. But hey- it was the 70’s. I don’t have to defend anything.)
b. a crystal chandelier
Strange coincidence, or what?
We were not, in the general way of things, crystal chandelier kind of people. In the early years, the family living room featured a gun cabinet as the major piece of furniture. (Yes, it was full of guns. Thank you for asking) But then suddenly we had a chandelier and the guns got moved to the basement and we were looking pretty fancy.
Today (40 years later!) that chandelier hangs in the foyer of my parents' very lovely home and looks pretty gorgeous.
So, I hardly had the heart to quash JP’s chandelier project. It’s possible that in 40 years I still may be looking at, enjoying the darn thing and all the funny memories behind it, right?
So, I got busy helping find someone to retrieve it. Luckily, Monica's husband didn’t have to work the next afternoon, so he and his son went to go get it for us.

From what he told me later, getting it was just awful. They showed up and were told to get the thing down and carted off, pronto. That’s right- they were expected to take it off the ceiling alone! They borrowed a ladder and a few tools and just barely managed to get the thing down. D said it was just sheer luck that he’d brought his 14 year old along for company and he didn’t know how he would have managed if he hadn’t. I felt pretty bad putting them to so much trouble…
They loaded it in the back of their station wagon drove off to meet up with JP. They had to pass the Swiss border and hope they didn’t get stopped. JP was waiting at the drop-off point in the parking lot of a cinema multiplex. He got the chandelier wrestled into our car, paid back D the money for the thing and then gave his son some cash for helping out. The whole transaction seemed vaguely like a particularly incompetent drug deal …
For a few days, the thing sat on the floor in the new room. But then JP wanted to varnish in there, so then it sat right in the middle of the kitchen for a few days.
So, I was vastly relieved to come back from an outing to Evian one day and fine the chandelier hanging in its rightful place! The electrician had come to finish wiring the room and had (with the help of two assistants and JP) gotten it up and running.

(I had taken some pics of it laying on the floor around the house, but I can't find them. If I do, I'll edit and post them)

It lights up the room quite well and certainly gets remarks from all the visitors...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A few weeks ago, I left my blog-readers with a nail-biter of a cliff-hanger: What unlikely and inappropriate object would JP end up dragging home from the hotel auction in Switzerland? A solid silver spittoon? An elephant -foot umbrella holder? A case of slightly-used pillow mints?
The truth , my friends, is somewhat stranger, and probably somewhat more expensive…

When we walked in the door of the huge old hotel, it didn’t occur to me that we would be buying anything. I was there strictly to gawk, and believe me, there was plenty to gawk at. As I mentioned in my previous post about the Royal Savoy, the place underwent a series of « unfortunate events » in the form of redecoration frenzies. One of the latest and most disastrous of these resulted in the place having a large stock of macramé wall hangings and wall-clocks made of olive-green pottery.
Yes, the 1970’s had struck hard and lethally at the old hotel.
Fortunately, they hadn’t gone completely mad and gotten rid of all the fine old antiques, but it made for some pretty odd juxtapositions- fine old 19th century landscapes hung beside terrible abstract paintings from the early 70’s, brown vinyl « leather » chairs beside a beautiful 17th century marqueterie bed.

There was plenty to gawk and the place was packed with people poking into every corner of the place, hunting for goodies. Some of them seemed obviously professional- restaurant and hotel owners hoping to snap up some useful equipment and furnishings. Some were obviously wealthy people looking for marqueterie beds and the like. Some of the latter group had me thinking: after you have been pumped full of huge amounts Botox and the Clostridium bacilum DNA in you starts to outnumber the human DNA, are you still, technically, a Homo sapien? Just asking…

Also, apparently a lot of people didn’t get the memo that excessive tanning is, like, really bad for you.

Anyway, we wandered around the first floor, admiring the fine silver and china, recoiling from the wads of knotted rope and finally went into the main dining room. This was the room that held the worst of the macramé, pottery and scribbly, depressing paintings. But looking up at the ceiling, things got rather better. There were nine large, rather beautiful crystal chandeliers.

JP liked them.
He liked them a lot.
He wrote down the lot number for one of them. (It’s the one at the front in the photo.)
He asked me what I thought.
I said:
a. It’s pretty,
b. It would look strange in a wooden chalet-style room
c. You wouldn’t get it anyway. There will be tons of bidders and the price will go too high..

After this, I didn’t really give it another thought.
My lovely pal Monica (who is also much smarter than me) spoke to me about it as we went upstairs and went through the rooms.
« You know Jean-Pierre really wants to bid on that chandelier, right? »
« He can write in a bid if he likes. I’m sure he’ll never get it. There’s too many people here- people with way more money than we have. »
« Are you sure? » She didn’t look convinced.
« Yes, I’m sure! » I said confidently « Otherwise I’d have to stop him from bidding, because we really don’t need a huge, expensive chandelier. »
The starting price on the thing was 600 Swiss Francs.
My plan for lighting our new room involved going to a hardware store and paying less than 100 euros for something. My idea was not to be elegant. What I had in mind was this: to not be sitting around in the dark and to not have an empty bank account.
That’s it.
But, of course, my simple, cheap plan was not to be.

To be continued....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Here is just one of the many places I've been in the past few days.
Nice, huh?
And get this: as we wandered around inside, we ran into the owner of the place and that kindly old gentleman gave us an insiders look at some of the rooms not open to the public!
very cool!

I hope to get a chance to write more, when our guests have gone home and the school holiday is over... This "vacation" has got me worn OUT!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My poor, neglected computer. The best it’s gotten from me the last two weeks has been an absentminded pat on the monitor as I race by it on my way downstairs at six am every morning.
It’s been getting far more attention from the twins and Severin, who like to stand around and bicker viciously over it like three starving badgers fighting over the last bite of road kill squirrel. My answer to this was (as it is to so many of life’s questions) to make a schedule. So, the twins each get one hour on alternate days and Sev gets and hour per day…which leaves lots of time for other stuff, considering the fact that the kids are on a two week holiday right now.
Sev, resourceful kid that he is, REALLY found something else to do besides stare at a computer screen. He managed to get invited along on a trip to Paris to attend a videogame/manga/anime con (a 'convention' to all you n00bs). Lucky boy! He’ll leave this afternoon and be back on Tuesday.
The twins are also too busy right now to worry much about screen time.
They are:
1. Helping to varnish the wood on the addition to the house and the carport. (Three coats on over 80 square meters. Do the math.) This is mainly what Alexa likes doing. She's quite handy...but, oddly, doesn't like getting her hands dirty.
2. Planting flowers. This is Mallory’s thing, not Al's (see above info re:hands). If it were up to me, our yard would be a barren wasteland, but Mal has got dahlias, anemones, sedum and all sorts of stuff scattered about the place. Very cute.
3. Babysitting what is possibly the world’s cutest two year old. She’s the daughter of some friends who are staying with us right now. Along with their sweet, deaf and half-blind sheepdog, they have come up from the south of France for a working vacation. The emphasis is on the « working » part of that last phrase. Last night I came home from picking up JP in Geneva and Amina and Robert were still varnishing the carport (along with Tya). It was nearly 8pm!

Anyway, the twins adore having Yasmine around and find endless things to do with her. And when she gets tired, she loves it when Mallory gets a pagne and ties her on her back just like her mom does. You should have seen Yasmine’s eyes light up the first time she did it. She hadn’t realized that under all that blonde hair and pale skin, Mallory is secretly Burkinabé.

So, we’re all very, very busy. And it’s sure a good thing I finally broke down and bought an oven, as I’m cooking meals for a crowd lately. It’s SO great to be able to bake again!! It makes life so much easier!! In fact, when I think no one is looking, I like to hunch over it protectively and caress its brushed metal finish while whispering « My preciousssssss ». Unfortunately, Tya caught me at it yesterday and gave me a chastising « Don’t make me throw that oven into the fires of Mount Doom, young lady! » look.

It’s past 7am now and I need to get down the stairs and into the kitchen!! I’ve got to to prepare breakfast and then lunch for 10 today. Last night was couscous with merguez and alloco (fried plantains).

Today I’m thinking chicken and veg curry with rice.
And I’d better make pie. Maybe lemon meringue?

Goodbye for now computer, blog and interwebz pals. Hope to see you all again soon!