Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dogs and Cats

Yes, I know, I still owe you some tall tales from France. They are fermenting in my febrile brain and need some more time (and pics from fellow travelers).

I'd thought that I would ramble for a bit about Tsingy and the dogs.

Here's a pic of Tsingy napping on my router. It is a rather warm device and she is quite the hothouse flower. She spends her mornings on the router and afternoons in the office window waiting for the sun to come around.

I have an interesting story about the dogs. Without a yard and limited by Mimi's refusal to learn a recall, I haven't done much throwing of the tennis ball. Harry's starting to get a bit too fragile to hit the stone floor at the base of the stairs in chase of a tennis ball so I stopped the ball games in the house altogether. But the other afternoon, I ran into a woman who has been taking my dog training classes (she took DOG-101 then did a full session of Rally with me). She was walking Nellie, I was walking Harry and Mimi, so of course we talked about our dogs! She told me that she was off to play ball with Nellie. I know that she doesn't let Nellie off lead in camp and that she lives in single housing like I do, so I said, oh, where are you going to do that? She said, I use the yards in the empty houses!

What a bloody brilliant idea!

When people move out (leave KSA, move to a different house, whatever), the house may sit empty for months before it is renovated and put back onto the bid list. Some of these houses have quite respectably sized back yards.

I have regular walking routes for the dogs through the neighborhoods (getting us away from the cluster housing ghetto where we live) so I knew exactly which house I would start with.

Thankfully, Harry and Mimi don't bark while playing--chasing the ball is SERIOUS WORK, as you should know--and I go at times of the day when people in the houses on either side aren't likely to be out. We begin our normal walk, then discreetly veer off the sidewalk, up the side of the house and into the back yard. I carry balls and water in a backpack so it all has the feel of an expedition.

Harry is just thrilled. He lives for his tennis ball. He doesn't get to jump up in the air and catch it anymore (he's starting to fall when he lands and I'm also worried about his knees) but he's perfectly happy snagging ground balls over and over again. And Mimi gets to run around like a normal dog! It took me almost 30 minutes to exhaust them this morning. That's a lot of ball throwing.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Emergency Immersion

Nothing like a little crisis to hone one's language skills.

 While we were in Burgundy, my mother became very ill. As it turns out, she required surgery and ended up spending 6 days in the Centre Hospitalier in Macon, France. The details are not important here. My aim with this post is to thank the army of people who helped me and Judy get through that mess.

First and foremost, I want to thank Kim. She is a doctor and was monitoring my mother's condition and she was the one who said, we need to take her to the emergency room. And Kim stuck by my side for those very long 8 hours as we began our navigation through the French health care system. Kim was professional, focused, and calm. I would have been much more stressed if she hadn't been by my side for those first two days.

To give you some feel for our experience, the staff at the hospital, most of whom had no English at all, referred to my mother as "l'Anglaise," the English woman. The fact that the usually fastidiously polite French chose this name over Madame B. told me that having a foreigner as a patient was a pretty unusual event.

I also have to thank Madame Hala and Madame Rita, the two women from whom I've taken French lessons through Aramco Community Education. I've had over 100 hours of classroom instruction and speak only the barest of French. If they hadn't drilled me over and over in class, I might not have had the confidence to keep trying even though I was perfectly aware that I was barely communicating at all. Forget articles, forget gender, I was just trying to string together the right verb with the right pronoun with something like an object. I quickly realized that as long as my pronunciation was correct, I was being allowed all sorts of egregious grammatical sins. I did learn many new words, including lots of medical terms I never planned to have to know (le vesicule bilaire and the conjugation of the verb vomir [to vomit], for example), but some of them are quite useful, such as l'attestation de paiement (receipt).

We were so lucky to have an emergency room doctor with a bit of English who called in a specialist who has, as it turns out, quite a lot of English. In fact, I met the specialist's English teacher one afternoon! Dr. O. was kind, caring, and professional. His advocacy and support were amazing.

I have to also thank the ladies in the hospital billing department who spent hours with me while I was on the phone to Judy's insurance company, translating faxed documents from English into some sort of French that made sense to them.

Marc and Karen, the owners of Le Nid, threw open their house, their computer, and their internet connection to me, gave me a cell phone when mine was out of money on a Sunday, and even a couple of supportive hugs. They went far above the normal call of hosting guests at Le Nid.

Judy and her husband Dave's neighbors Karen and Greg deserve a mention too. Because Dave didn't have an email account of his own, I got their email addys and flooded their inboxes with flight reservations and other information that Dave needed to get to France.

Dave also gets a nod because I called when Judy was in surgery, waking him up and giving him about 30 hours notice of his departure for France. He managed to pull everything together and arrived in Macon more or less on schedule. Not a feat to be dismissed.

And I want to thank all of my friends who were with me in France. They shadowed me for almost three days before I was able to give them the slip (by getting up and leaving before they were up!). They came to visit Judy in the hospital the afternoon she was out of surgery when tubes were coming out of her in all directions! Now that is a group of good friends! These same friends also handed me glasses of wine in the evenings and even offered to play more Uno (not sure if they actually liked the game by then or if they were just being nice).

I barely remember sitting in the McDonald's in Macon using the free Wifi on my iPad to look for a hotel near the hospital while Duwain and Kim were struggling to get their locked devices to surf on the 'net. I know they were frustrated and jonesing for their email. Still, everyone kept a decently good perspective on the situation.

And Duwain, bless him, said, there has to be a silver lining to this mess: it may result in Judy being able to put a chronic health problem behind her entirely. And that is indeed how things are looking now. Oh, there are a few arguments still to be had with the insurance company. And my mother is still mending, by no means back to full health. But she is at home and doing well.

I am very lucky to have such good friends, both new and old.

Burgundy in March

View of a small village in the area around Le Nid, located WSW of Cluny in central Burgundy, France.
I'm back from another adventure in France. We made a good sized group: Julie from Nashville; Kim, Duwain, and Barb from Austin; Kelly, Kim's sister, who now lives in Italy; and my mother Judy from Virginia. Duwain is a very brave man to spend nine days with all of these opinionated women.

Our first night in Le Nid. Kelly hadn't joined us yet.
And what did we all have in common? Really, it was me and dogs! I know Julie from our love of smooth fox terriers (and our trip to Paris in 2002 and our co-ownership of Jack and our interest in conformation and of course Jack and Jen's litter from which came Mimi and the ever awesome Gracie), and Kim, Duwain, and Barb from Dogz Rule! flyball (I know Kim from agility too), and of course my mother Judy who gracefully took my sweet pea Dyna and young Bhumi into her home as two more rescues in need of some TLC.

I was pretty amused that everyone kept asking me, what are you going to write on your blog? It only took a few hours for me to figure out that traveling with a group presents very different dynamics than traveling with just one other person. So some things that happened in Burgundy are going to have to remain in Burgundy...but there are plenty of tales left to tell.

Le Nid, located in a tiny speck of a village outside Cluny in central Burgundy, is a fabulous place to stay. It is surrounded by lush green fields dotted with white Charolais cows, sheep, and goats. One of the interesting features of this area is the use of bocage, or natural hedges, to enclose and divide the fields.
Utterly pastoral.
 Every view was its own postcard. And Marc and Karen were welcoming, thoughtful hosts. They have created a wonderful house that feels like home as soon as you walk in.

One of the bedrooms in Le Nid. Julie took this room. I thought it was particularly pretty with the afternoon sun streaming in.

View of the former stables at Le Nid. We rented the entire main house, which is behind me. View to the northeast. You can see the bell tower of the old church on the hill in the background.

We spent most of our time in the kitchen/dining room, a large open space with a small wood burning stove. If there were any themes of this particular trip, they would be drinking wine and eating cheese and bread--which we did nearly every single night! We were very lucky to also have an abundance of good cooks. We didn't eat an evening meal out even once!

Julie and Barb preparing bread and the evening's cheese platter.
Cluny is located in the middle of Burgundy. Northern Burgundy is known for its heavy, full bodied reds. And south Burgundy is Beaujolais country. But tucked in between, right in the middle, is an area where white grapes, mainly Chardonnay varieties, are grown. In fact, the reds from this white grape area are terrible! Our group unanimously dismissed one of them, not even finishing the bottle. All of us were amazed at how inexpensive the wines were in the store. And while we did do a winery tour, we got most of our wine at the local grocery store in Cluny (we regularly descended like locusts on the Intermarche).

Julie and me in the Intermarche in Cluny.
I am not sure if anyone did a final cork count but this is a shot of the dishwasher after one evening's festivities in Le Nid.

The remnants of our first night. Despite the evidence, I assure you that there were only six of us!
We arrived to stupendous sunny weather which we enjoyed for almost a week before the clouds and light rain rolled in. It was warm enough during the days for short sleeves but as the sun set, the temperature quickly dropped to 2 or 3 degrees C and the fire in the kitchen/dining room was always a welcome addition.

Le Nid is located in the center of the photograph. View to the south.
As usual, I don't have that many pictures (this time I can claim as an excuse having to always drive when we were out and about; at least DSL was driving half the time we were in Limousin last winter). I'm waiting for the rest of the group to post their pictures on Flickr or Picasa (hint hint....HINT HINT) so I can steal their best ones for the blog. The pics I've posted here are only a taste of what is to come!