Convert Euros to US Dollars

Always something whacky going on around here. I’ve been looking at cheap properties in France. (As if.)

Mostly just for fun and edification. I’m re-reading A Year in Provence, and generally, when I’m reading a book I really like, I get totally into learning more about the book’s setting.

There one particular glaring fact I notice as I peruse the disused barns, broken down row houses, and cottage homes of Charente, Normandy, Brittany, and Bourgogne – every country has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, homes in France are cheap. Of course, you’re going to make up for that with mountains of red tape, a three-month average contract period, and piles of taxes and fees. (Add about 15% to the purchase price.) But, ya know. Still.

Here’s a selection.

* * * * *

Here’s one on the low end of the price range. It’s one kilometer from the village of Plessala with boulangerie, bar/tabac, restaurants, banks, florist, Saturday market. The listing apologises for the “limited land,” but to me, a 400 x 400 lot and a neat old stone house doesn’t sound too shabby. Located in Cotes d’Amor. Complete reno though -It’s a shell. $20k.

* * * * *

In the mid-modest range, this is the kind of place I could totally fall for – just enough reno needed to be a project, but still livable. A garden, fences and gates, terrace, fireplace with a hob and bread oven, original oak beams, wood floors throughout.

At the back of the house, a door opens into what ws an old stable, which could be converted. About an acre of land. It’s in Dordogne – numerous picturesque villages, and an incredible 4,000 chateaux, 10% of all the chateaux in France. $39k

* * * * *

In the let’s-buy-a-real-house department, here’s a beauty. It’s a newly renovated village house in Brittany with three bedrooms, two baths, and oddly enough for a village home, 2 1/2 acres of garden and woodland. Shops, bars, restaurants are just a few steps away in the village.

The port city of Cherbourg (you might recall the film set there) is close by, along with airports and major rail service. Oh, and there are two more structures on the property – There’s a small barn a short distance from the house and a tumble-down chalet in the woods. Don’t forget you have your own forest for firewood. $87k

Anybody want to take French lessons with me?

 

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Pulp, Non-fiction

I have a tendency to take up a different artsy-craftsy thing each winter. (Although I believe the knitting lasted for three Winters.) I’ve tried oil painting, weaving, knitting, lye soap making, glycerine soap making, wine making, twig art, bath salts, all sorts of things. I’d say about half of these end up being successful enough that I’ll sell the stuff at Etsy.com and/or enter craft shows. (Made quite a few bucks, actually.)

I’ve always admired that handmade, chunky paper you see here and there.

So, I wanted to try “artisan” paper making. I wouldn’t exactly use the word “artisan” to describe the light grey stuff I made today, but colors can be changed. Fact is, it worked. Here’s another fact – It also makes a right and proper mess. Pulpy. Even by hand, it’s still made from pulp. You can imagine.

You have to grind everything down to pulp first – and that’s not even half the mess – but I like that I can use 100% recycled whatever-paper-I-have-around, as long as it’s not slick and shiny. And yep, the paper really is made one sheet at a time. (No wonder it’s expensive when I see it in the stores.) Below is a shot of today’s finished product. This was previously junk mail, old newspapers, and spent garden flowers. (Those are bits of leaves and purple violas mixed in.)

It folds fine, and I was able to write on it with no problem. Neato, huh? I’m going to look into some things I can turn it into – blank journals and such. I figure if I eventually decide I’d like to do some craft shows, I need more that just a pile of weird looking petal paper.

It seriously lightens as it dries! You can dry it several ways – the easiest of which is just letting it sit – but no matter which way you dry it, it takes quite a while. Below is a shot of a wet piece next to a dry piece.

I’ll have to build a frame and deckle to a more standard size. The main tools you use – the frame, screen, and deckle – are sort of like silk screen equipment. The sheets pictured are about 8×10, because I just threw some makeshift tools together quick out of old picture frames.

First stop is making something a little more attractive and testing colors. Any ideas other than journals and plain ol’ stacks of the stuff?

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Perfect Fried Breakfast Potatoes

I love all things potato.

As a potato (and breakfast) enthusiast, it has always pestered me that I’ve not been able to master the fine art of perfect breakfast potatoes. I came across a new  recipe today that seemed a little weird, but since the perfect potato has escaped me to this point, I thought I’d give it a shot. It worked. I think the whole thing maybe took eight or ten minutes. They’re amazing. These potatoes were so perfect that they freaked me out a little. Here’s what I did –

Chop potatoes small, about 1/2 inch maybe.
Heat about 3 tablespoons oil in a large fry pan.
(Enough to cover the bottom of the pan.)
Add your potato pieces, in one layer only.
Salt, pepper, I used a little Adobo.
While they are frying for 2 or 3 minutes, chop 1/2 a small onion.
Add the onion and fry all together for an additional minute or two.
(They do not need to brown at this point.)
Add four or five tablespoons water. I just splashed a good amount in.
Cover and cook on medium heat until spuds are soft & water is gone.
(Maybe turn them once.)
(They will brown as the water cooks out.)
Awesome.

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Jack Frost’s Underlings

It’s the time of the year when those of us that live in one countrified way or another start doing the tough stuff. But I really shouldn’t put it that way, because most of us kind of like it. At any rate, extra chores.

I was looking at my friend Mar’s photos recently. Like us, Mar and company have switched to Winter Mode. Neighbors too. It’s not unusual to heat completely with wood out here. Folks have been splitting and stacking for the past few months. Our RV has a furnace connected to a bulk propane tank, just like a house; but when we want to use the tinycabin, we turn to the woodstove. My piano is out there, sometimes we want the solitude, sometimes it’s just plain cozy.

We bring in much less wood than a lot of other folks. I suspect we’ll only use about a face cord in a season, and that’s about what fits under the counter in the cabin. (A face cord is about 4ft x 8ft x 16 in.) A lot of folks buy wood, a lot of folks cut it themselves. I’ve never bought wood. Even with my piddly little electric chain saw, there’s plenty to be had around here with dead trees and scrap. I’m determined to use the cabin more this year. And I’m also determined to score a nice comfy chair for the corner by the stove.

A less-cozy winter chore is water. Water for the chickens (and some neighbors have a lot more than just chickens) has to be carried each day. No more garden hoses. For us humans, we pump it each day. When the house was torn down, the old (ruined) pump and water lines went with it. We haven’t put in a new pump and lines yet, so each day we carry a small pump out to the well, take the cap off, and fill the RV water tank with a hose. (That’s the well buried in the show last year in the photo.) We’re so used to it, it’s no big deal. Modern version of filling the cistern each day.

I think pretty much everybody has the Winter automobile nonsense, unless they have a garage. Usually it’s just scraping windows, but every so often there’s a bizarre adventure of one type or other. Frozen locks, &tc. We discovered this neat stuff you spray on your windows that makes snow and frost not stick at all. A kind of fluid you put in your window washer reservoir. Love that.

And of course, there’s snow shoveling. I have to admit here, I get a little weird about it. I’m a little over particular, and besides the driveway, I shovel a large chunk of the side yard. (We have a short dog.) I say it’s for the dog, but the truth is, I like snow shoveling. I considered trying to be less meticulous, but I figure we can call it a hobby.

In the quit-smoking-and-go-mad department, all goes well. I like the anti-anxiety meds, and I feel great. Not perfect yet, but it takes about a month says Doc G. My Doc and I were talking about how I seem to respond opposite-of-usual to just about everything. My blood pressure went down. I was supposed to get a cough for a while, but my cough disappeared. And I lost my appetite to a large degree and already lost seven pounds. See? It was meant to be.

You have a great day too!

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Blueberry Cake Donuts and Controlled Substances

Well, well.

I feel fan-freaking-tastic. As noted, the second week of not smoking was not going well. Didn’t cheat at all, and frankly, I didn’t even consider it. However – Very real anxiety, and actually, a serious panic attack while playing one day. (I know that sounds terribly sad, but if you conjure up a mental image of someone freaking out while seated at the console of a 3,000 pipe organ, I’m positive you’ll giggle.)

Are you giggling? Good. You’ll need your sense of humor. Because I found the panic attack fascinating and I wanted to tell you about it. I’m sitting there playing a (rather simple) hymn, and then, bam! Like someone pulled the rug out under from me. My heart starts pounding, I’m flushed, dizzy, I suddenly wonder how my fingers are going to get where they’re supposed to go. (And in fact, some of my fingers don’t get where they’re supposed to go.) I loose a few seconds, and then I’m back. Now, I’m panicking, and trying to find a way out of the musical mess I’ve gotten myself into. (God bless relative chords.) Of course, I’m terrified. I finish the tune, and spend the rest of the hour trying to make it through the other pieces without hyperventilating.

Clearly, something is not quite right. I do some thinking. I realize that at one point last week I did not leave the house for 48 hours. I move up my doc visit. We chat. We figure. He does his Doc thing. The theory is that I had been self-medicating, via smokes. Although I always operated at a low boil and always had smaller panic issues, the smokes kept the pot from completely boiling over. When I took them away … blammo.

So. I now have a daily med, and I have a bottle of panic pills, in case I need them for a specific moment. Reactions have been amusing. When I’ve mentioned the daily meds, one friend said, “Every musician and actor I know takes that stuff.” On the flip side, when I mentioned the name of the panic pills, another friend said, “Jeez! That’s serious medication!” What has been most interesting is this – Once I mentioned all this to friends, I realized that lots of people have problems. Being as most of my friends are actors and musicians, it goes with the territory. Performers. Standing on a stage, Elaine Stritch once put it so simply. “It’s scary up here.”

I’m not much of a pill person. Never was. I figured, sitting in front of an orchestra waiting to signal the downbeat, if I was panicking, that’s just how it was. Suck it up. When I frequently got so worked up that I became physically ill, that’s just how it was. Part of the deal. When my blood pressure went way through the roof because I was displeased with this-or-that? High strung, I guess. But my opinion about medications has been changed. Drastically.

I love my current Doc. He’s friendly, asks questions, I feel like he’s someone I might know otherwise. Super guy, and a really good fit. I wondered though. My other doctors (especially back in the city) knew I had these problems. Why didn’t they ever look into it? Ask questions? If this is the way I was supposed to be feeling all these years, I’ve missed quite a bit. And I wonder what I might have done differently if I hadn’t been in a panic.

But, so what.

It’s fixed, and that’s awesome. And my prescriptions were covered and cost a total of forty-four cents. And I had a blueberry cake donut this morning. And there were lots of church friends visitors in the building today.

I am having a terrific day, and I hope you are too.

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Non-Smoker’s Dementia

The smoking quit goes well in the concrete sense, if a little shaky in the realm of the mind.

This must be nine days now. I stopped counting, which I think is a good thing. I think I have half of this thing licked. The physical stuff is not much of a problem –  no real urges, no slip-ups. I honestly don’t think I’ve even had any major “I have to smoke now” moments or anything like that. So that’s good. All credit to the patch, good preparation, good friends, and visiting my doctor.

The psychological stuff is a little uglier. Not the end of the world, but I’d certainly call it tricky. Times at which I would be a little bit nervous have grown into moments of panic. A bad day might be turn into an awful one. I require a lot of time to myself, and that has lately turned into going out a back door and walking around a building to avoid other humans, or closing the blinds at home. But, it’ll be fine. I moved up my follow-up doc visit to tomorrow, and he had warned me that this might happen. And I like and trust him. So, we’ll get it fixed.

In the time being, I’ve been trying to particularly notice (and perpetuate) the awesome. I was at an orchestra rehearsal last night, and I made sure to note that I got to spend the evening with two dear friends, also musicians in the group, whose company and humor I always really look forward to. I had the most wonderful time playing the pipe organ this morning, almost transcendent – the music splashing around the empty church like big forte-fortissimo waves. We went to McDonald’s the other night. (A cheap thrill, I know, but I adore those disgusting Pigeon McNuggets.) The other day, I had a lovely talk with a friend that I didn’t even know I had. Nice to have good moments to appreciate. I have a new video game too.

I takes ’em from where I can, folks.

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Only Slightly Crabby

I’ve quit smoking.

The concrete difference being – last time, I think I probably said, “I am quitting smoking.” This time, I have quit. It’s not an event in the future.

It stinks. Really stinks. I’m ridiculously tired, have had two minor panic attacks, my throat is scratchy, and I feel generally terrible. I joined the NYQuits whatever it is thing. There’s a quit plan, an online forum and such. Hardly anyone posts to it. Kinda useless. I put in my phone number and information, and it said a counsellor would call me. They never did. (Your tax dollars at work.) Meanwhile, there’s evidently some local public-funded smoking cessation program in town at the college. Despite the days of internet searching I did, asking around town, and visiting my doctor for a consult, this program’s information never turned up anywhere. (Your tax dollars at work.)

No matter. It seems to be okay. I think I was just ready. And I think you have to be ready. I deep breathe cold, clean pine air a lot. That helps too. I’ve been posting my progress to Facebook and talking about it as I go about my day, and that has been helpful. Very helpful. I was going to seek out a busy online forum or something, but I think I’m okay with just friends.

Encouragement and talk from former smokers has been very valuable. Very very. Suggestions from health nuts (bless ’em) and people who have never smoked have not been valuable. At all. They have irritated me and actually made me want a cigarette. (Humorous, but true.)

I mean to say, I’ve had a few “Why don’t you get healthy all at once?” suggestions – combat the urges and psych symptoms by taking up running or climbing, eating completely healthy. I dunno. Not for me. One Earth-shattering life change at a time. I refuse to do this without cookies and unlimited nap time. Following getting this under control, I’m looking into a treadmill and/or the local pool.

As for current smokers being supportive … what a mess. A few friends, sure. “I should quit too. Maybe I’ll follow you.” That sort of thing.But overwhelmingly, a disaster. Here’s a story – I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in a week or so the other day who had been following my quit via Facebook. This person made fun of the fact that I was having a hard time, called me a pansy (that’s a quote), said I needed to stop hibernating and just get out there and tough it out, and concluded with, “I quit for twelve days once, and I didn’t get sick.” And this person was standing there smoking a cigarette.

Ugh.

People tell you some of it, give a you general “that’s going to be hard,” and usually that’s about it. Most often,you don’t hear about the ugly stuff. I’m going to tell you the firsthand truth, just like my friend Koka has been telling it to me – this quitting thing is a lonely, shaky business, and the quitter is probably going to be alternately panicked, weepy, proud, scared, tired, and perfectly fine.

If someone you know mentions quitting, please encourage them. It’s helpful. Tell ’em it’s terrific news. Bring them a cookie. If you have firsthand experience in this arena, offer your experiences. It’s very helpful. Don’t preach. Just support. If it’s a partner or family member, take up some of the slack and make things a little easier on them for a while.

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