Sunday, May 27, 2012

Old Friends, Happy Memories

Our original house in France, the Moulin de la Ribotière in Les Alpes Mancelles

Last weekend Emily and family came to visit and we decided to take a drive north to where our first house in France was located. We especially wanted to visit our dear old friends the Tireaus. We planned a lovely picnic along the river, inviting them to join us. Since the day turned out to be gray, drizzly and cold we ended up bringing our picnic basket to their house instead.

We have known the Tireau family since we first bought our little moulin in 2002. They lived up the hill from us and we became very good friends. They hold a special place in our hearts.

Left to right: Rick, Aurore, Maxime, Philippine, Anita, Daniel, Jos, Zinnie, Emily, Quinn

They own a large piece of land with a huge garden, fruit trees of every description and lots of animals. They served us a piece of their lamb for lunch. They certainly can and do feed themselves from what they raise. Quinn was very excited to meet all the various creatures. I think this was the first real rabbit he'd ever seen.

He was very gentle and respectful with the animals. Being mostly a city boy, these encounters are quite magical for him.

Zook the mule is a beast we've known for as long as we've known the Tireaus. He's at least 12 now and mules can live 20 years, so he's just middle aged. He has a most distinctive and loud hee-haw, which we're quite familiar with. We have watched Anita chase him down the road as he likes to escape and have his own adventures!

We were very lucky to meet this wonderful family. They welcomed us and helped us so many times when we were first learning about life in France.

Anita gave us French lessons and often invited us to share meals with her family. This was the first time she had met Zinnie.

This little river, the Ornette, ran right past our house. It is a favorite with trout fishermen.

When we first met the Tireaus, Maxime was 9 and Philippine was 5. They spent a lot of time catching little fish in our steam and playing with our dog Morgan.

Our little hide-away was a Hansel and Gretel cottage, surrounded by forest and completely removed from the rest of civilization.

It had a big garden where we spent a lot of time working and entertaining.

Emily and Jos were married at the Ribotière and Anita and Daniel were their witnesses.

Emily produced a theater festival in the nearest village for three years in a row. We have so many wonderful memories from those summer days and all her talented friends eating and partying at our house.

Actors, clowns and musicians came from Spain, Holland, England, Belgium and Italy to participate in the festival.

We painted scenery, made posters, constructed sets, created props. It was an extremely creative time of our lives.

Emily's wedding reception and dinner took place in our big garden. It was 100% handmade with Emily, her friends and ourselves doing everything. We created a meal with as much fresh food from the garden as we could.

Even the wedding cake was made in our kitchen. It was really beautiful.

The mood was very rustic and romantic. People came from all over Europe and the U.S. to participate.

The theme was an elegant picnic and it came off very well indeed.

All these special moments and people rest in this pretty part of France from which we've moved away. It is a real pleasure to revisit the area from time to time to refresh these happy memories.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gardening At Last & Quinn's Big Adventure

March's blue and balmy days were followed by a month of almost constant rain. It was a good time to plant a lawn, which we did in our upper garden, but any other kind of gardening was out of the question. May arrived with variable weather, but just enough sun and warmth to make us long to put our hands in the dirt. Here they say that you really must "respect the Frost Saints," who are known to visit as late as May 15th. Planting tender plants, including tomatoes is tempting fate. In the past we have always found this admonition difficult to reckon and follow. This year it has proven justified.

Earlier in the week we jumped in the car and drove down the hill to visit our new favorite nurseryman, Carl. We passed fields of wheat and safflower beside rustic stone farm buildings. The day turned into a scorcher. We loaded our trunk with annuals to fill out our pots and headed back home for our first real day in the garden since spring sprang.

One advantage of all that rain was to turn our world green. As we drove past hedgerows, the extravagant verdant growth filled our view. I gave up trying to count the number of greens in the landscape.

Back at home we began in our front garden. Over a wickedly cold winter several of our jasmines died and so our fence is not quite as covered as before. You can peek through into the private terrace and entrance to the house.

Roses of three varieties climb up over a wooden trellis on the outside of the studio wall and Virginia Creeper covers the rest of the wall nicely. Iris, butterfly roses, herbs, anenomes fill in  the small border around the perimeter of the garden and violet campanula are beginning to tumble down the low walls. We filled our central planter with pansies for early spring. I wait to transplant it with lobelia and more cascading summer plants. Carl tells me it's still too early.

We invited two new trees to live in our terrace. They are different varieties of Japaneses maples. One likes the sun and the other prefers a lot of shade.The two sides of our space are completely different in the plants they can accommodate as the sun baths one half most of the day and visits the other half only briefly in the morning. It makes it impossible to have a geometric scheme so we've moved all the roses to the sunny side and bought some hostas and other shade lovers for the other. The trees will grow up eventually, hopefully providing, at last, that over-grown look I'm so very fond of.

The maple on the sunny side has the added bonus of bright red stems. It will give a little pizzazz during the long winter months.

The bigger garden project takes place at our plot of land on the other side of the castle, a five minute walk from the house. At the far end of the church is a road that leads uphill. Along the way are several "workman's gardens" as they're called. Our house sits in the middle of the village and while we have the lovely terrace and it's small garden in front, there is no land at the back. We own a very nice piece of land along the defensive walls of the city and just below the back walls of the castle.

Most of the gardens along the way are dedicated entirely to vegetables. Here you see Mr. Villette's garden. He spends most of his time here during the warm seasons. He is 87 this year and growing his rows of onions, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots keeps him fit and lively.

We are more interested in growing flowers and our garden is unique along garden row. We developed the geometric side a couple of years ago and each year it becomes better. Our compatriot, Catherine the librarian, the only other gardener along the road who favored flowers, has sold her garden to someone else and we watched as all the perennials were ripped out and replaced with neat rows of vegetables. We now stand alone. We get lots of comments and a few side glaces.

There are still a lot of holes to fill in yet. I like a garden that shows a minimum of dirt. Many of our plants have come back but in the dahlia bed, only one plant survived the winter. I will need to plant many more.

What is our new lawn used to be a large vegetable patch maintained by a neighbor. He has gotten his own garden now, so we were free to have our will with it. The lawn is in it's infancy, but will, once established, provide a place for football, badminton and a swing set for the kids. Our hedge has doubled in size since we planted it in March, but will not be mature for another year or two. Once full-grown it will provide complete privacy, as it reaches to 8-9' tall.

Our bank of white irises are glorious this time of year. I wish they would last all summer, but alas, their beauty is extremely transitory.

We planted these linen flowers last summer and they did absolutely nothing, so we were quite surprised at their profusion and charming blooms this year.

This is another plant that is giving us much pleasure this year, and quite unexpectedly as we don't even remember planting it and certainly it has never bloomed before. If you know the name of it, thank you for letting me know what it is!

Columbine reminds me so much of one of my dearest friends who died too young and too long ago. I think of him every time I see these little beauties, also so much more abundant in the garden than in years past.

If you're a snail, why not be this cute? Neither Rick nor I could bear to remove this little guy with his pretty yellow shell striped in elegant black.

We have spent many happy hours in the garden during the week. One thing that is really marvelous there are the lively birds. There is a rouge gorge (like a small robin) who comes and visits us, very curious to see what new things we are doing. There are lots of other birds swooping and gliding around. One very busy mother has her babies hidden in a hole in the defensive wall. She comes and goes feeding them. You can hear them peeping inside, but they are hidden from view.


This last week Quinn had his first camping experience. He is part of a class of three and four year olds at a wonderful bilingual school in Paris. Each year, including the very youngest tots, they have a spring field trip called "Classe Verte." The children spend three days and two nights with their class in Burgundy. We told some of our relatives in California that Quinn would be off with his teacher and classmates, horse-riding, hiking, nature walking and observing and all without his parents. Their response was "BUT THAT'S CRAZY!" It does seem, if nothing else, brave of the teachers to take it all on. Apparently, however, it turns out very well for all concerned and building self-confidence and independence in the children is one of the goals of the school. Quinn was so excited with his backpack and sleeping bag. He learned to groom the ponies

and took a ride through the countryside.

There were lots of animals at the center where the class went. He loves goats.

The children do seem happy and content and full of spirit in the photos taken by the teachers. I love the little girls with their wreathes, looking like woodland fairies.

Quinn seemed very grown up when he stepped off the train after his three days away from home. He was sun-baked, grubby and full of beans.