The New Reacher is Nigh.

Today is September 4. This means that we’re T minus four days from the tentatively scheduled release of Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Make Me.

You regulars here know how I feel about Reacher.

Last summer, I so eagerly counted down the days until 2014’s new Reacher novel appeared in stores that its release seemed almost anti-climactic, though admittedly this may have been related to the fact that we were frantically preparing to move. We moved almost immediately after I picked up Personal. It was the end of August, and I had very little time for reading in the month of September, as unpacking consumed the entire month. (We’ve been in our house for a year now? What?!)

Non-stop domestic activity kept me from such tantalizing pursuits as pulpy reading, but even when I did find time to open the book, moving-fatigue dulled the experience. I remember reading two pages at a time before passing out late at night, and that was only once or twice a week, if that. I was tired, busy, distracted. I finished Personal with little enthusiasm, and I may have mentioned to Callaghan that the story seemed somewhat… reduced to its formula. I liked Personal, sure, but it just didn’t thrill me. Again, I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been different had life been routine and uneventful at the time.

This year, though? The cells in the part of my brain responsible for escapism have been salivating since I read the synopsis for the 20th Jack Reacher novel. Methinks that Make Me will be a super intense ride, and life circumstances right now are ripe for it!

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-LeeChildMakeMe

 

In honor of Reacher’s return, I present the reappearance of Callaghan’s drawing of Reacher (this is becoming an annual tradition):

 

Callaghan's drawing of Jack Reacher, as described in the novels.

Callaghan’s drawing of Jack Reacher, as described in the novels.

 

So let’s raise our glasses, fellow Reacher fans, because may we all remember that blond, blue-eyed, NOT-handsome, NOT-glib, super tough, tall and inhumanly strong BADASS Reacher would toast us with a whole pot of coffee. We’d say, Tchin! with respect to his French mother… but Reacher would say nothing.

The First-World Problems of an English Major.

A fact of life: One never knows how many Stephen King books one owns until one moves. And yes, “Stephen King” is an adjective.

Decent progress has been made in the unpacking arena. I’ve now arrived at the books part of it, and… and nothing. I’ve just arrived. And I’ve taken the books out of the boxes – go me! But that’s where my victory dance ends, because now I have to decide how to sort all the books, and for some reason, I’m overwhelmed.

Well, I know why. It’s because this move is the last move for the foreseeable future; as far as I’m concerned, this abode is the forever abode, so my OCD-tendency-leaning self won’t let me get away with shoving books on the shelves every which way “because we’re going to move one day anyway” anymore.

I’ve carried books around with me all of my life. Over the years, I’ve sold, traded, donated and given away hundreds of books. I’ve lost some; I’ve “lent” some. But somehow, I still always move with at least ten good-size boxes of books.  My current collection includes some that I’d left in France (a pile of Shakespeare and some Russian lit, some of them duplicates, mysteriously enough) in my attempt to bring down the weight of our overseas shipping, and I have a small stack set aside for a garage sale we’re planning in the upcoming weeks. Still, I’m now confronted by piles like this:

 

Book piles in the living room.

Book piles in the living room.

 

And this:

 

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

 

And that’s not all of it. I also have a pile of books about Buddhism/eastern philosophy beneath the Butsudan, a pile of cookbooks tucked away in the kitchen, a pile of random books on the big bookcase in the dining area and a smattering of books in my office. And these are all just my books we’re talking about… Callaghan, too, has lots of books in his office.

This is what the inside of my mind looks like when I’m standing before these books:

Should I group them by century? Should I separate the American lit from the British lit? Should I separate them by century and group the Americans and Brits within the centuries? Should I group all the anthologies together, or should I put the poetry anthologies in the poetry section? Should I mix the pocket-size books with the trade paper and hardcover books? If I lump all the pocketbooks together, should I organize them by genre, or alphabetically by author, or both? Should I categorize the books by genre, only? Should I nest genres within nationalities within centuries (i.e. 19th-century British Romantics)? Should I mesh poetry and prose within those groupings, or should I keep poetry and prose separate? And which groups should I position where in the bookcase? Should I group the Russian lit alongside the British lit alongside the American lit, or would the Russian lit make more sense neighboring the philosophy section? Should I line the entire top of the bookshelves with poetry volumes, using them to bridge the two? Should I shelve the poets in alphabetical order? How should I organize the poetry… by era, or by style? If the era and style are inseparable (as with the confessionalists, the post-modern poets, the New York School, the avant-garde imagists, the Black Mountain poets, etc.), should I attempt to merge all the books similarly? What about my textbooks and essays about poetry and prose… should I put them with their authors, or in a category of their own? Should I put the surrealism section next to the magical realism section, or should I put the surrealists next to the poets? Should I put the biographies and autobiographies of poets and authors with the books those poets and authors have authored, or should I make a separate category for biographies and autobiographies? What about the smaller sections like classical Greek lit, medieval lit and non-Shakespearean drama? Should I separate Shakespeare’s poetry from his dramas, or keep them all together in the Elizabethan section? (Would it be weirder to have a poetry section without Shakespeare’s poems, or to have a Shakespeare section without his poems?) What about the contemporary literature? The non-fiction? Should I separate the political non-fiction from the general non-fiction? What about creative non-fiction? What about my western religious texts? The feminist texts? Should I group my books in French together, separate from the books in English, or should I merge them?

Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

I’ve been staring at these piles of books for a few days now.

I’ve already decided to put reference books and instructional books, including all of my French grammar books and dictionaries, in the big bookshelf in the dining area.

I’m hoping that somehow, my collections of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Lee Child, J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and the like, along with random other books, will all fit in the tall, narrow bookcase in the guest bedroom. I like the idea of stocking that room with brain candy for visitors who are on vacation (Callaghan’s going to add some books in French for our visitors from France).

None of these considerations came into play in the apartment we’d just vacated. I knew it was temporary, so I created double rows of books in some parts and didn’t care that the ones in the back rows weren’t visible. In this house, though, I want to be able to see every single book, and I want to be able to find books easily. In the past, I’d typically arranged books alphabetically, by author. I’m craving that level of organization in my life again because I’m craving rootedness. I feel like if my books are in order, then my life will be in order. When I was a kid in grade school, some of my friends used to tease me about my reading, saying, Kristi’s going to turn into a book! Maybe that’s finally happened.

On that note, I’m off to spend the day away from the office, going to appointments, seeing people, running errands, and so on. Happy Friday, All!

Little Ranch House in the Desert

In my “July Favorites” post (that seems all too recent), I mentioned an on-going adventure that consumed the month. It actually started on the last weekend of June, and the situation changed so frequently from the very start that we just decided not to mention it until the end. That brings us to today. We’re moving!

No need for alarm. We’re only moving down the street this time. Heheh.

We loved our apartment, truly. It was peaceful, and we appreciated the unfettered feeling of renting rather than owning our living space. Having lived in many apartments and owned properties in the past, I’ve always felt more comfortable as a renter than as a homeowner. But over the last few months, several compelling reasons to reconsider welled up.

One, we needed more space. Callaghan used the larger of the apartment’s two bedrooms for his studio, but still, the room overflowed with the accoutrements of his multifaceted craft… plus, we also had to use that space for storage, making it even more cramped.

Two, we weren’t properly set up to host guests, and when your guests mostly come from Europe for longer stays, that’s a big deal. Two of our visitors from France slept on an air mattress we put in the middle of said cramped studio room at night, which wasn’t very comfortable for anyone, and the third – a couple and their daughter – stayed in a hotel (yet somehow, they were the ones who accidentally saw me naked).

Three, I didn’t have an office, and I had been sorely feeling that lack of a dedicated writing space. Obviously, I can survive without one, but I just reached some kind of limit after several years of officelessness. I needed that room of one’s own, to echo Virginia Woolf. Since 2010, I’ve been carving out little office spaces for myself here and there by placing a small desk in the corner of a crowded room, usually the bedroom. I longed for an office again.

Four, nearing the end of our apartment lease, we discovered that our rent would be raised upon re-signing. We had to make a decision.

All of this led to the final thing (and the catalyst for everything) that happened: I was half-joking around one night at the end of June when I filled out a form online. Next thing we knew, we were swept into the eye of the house-hunting storm that defined the months of July and August.

It’s a good time to buy, and looking for a house was fun. The twists and turns of our search initially took us out of our preferred area, but eventually, a house right down the street from our apartment appeared on the market. It happened at precisely the right time, and it happened that we both loved it at first sight, and it happened that our inspector found it to be in excellent condition (unlike the previous house we’d almost committed to buying).

Built in 1958, the house is your standard four-bedroom/two-bathroom ranch-style abode so common here out west. It has everything we need, and nothing we don’t. It was critical to us that we didn’t get more house than we absolutely needed. Most importantly, its location is ideal. The appraiser recorded the house as being situated “1.5 miles from the center of the ASU campus, in a highly sought after area of old town Tempe,” and that’s exactly where we wanted to be.

 

Little Ranch House in the Desert

Little Ranch House in the Desert

 

The house-buying process was almost complete when the universe, in a flamboyant move to confirm our decision – just in case we were having doubts! – hurtled a spectacular monsoon into our apartment neighborhood, knocking out our power, taking down trees and permanently altering the botanical composition in front of our balcony. It’s still lush and green out there, but suddenly, the tree house effect that had so captivated us in the apartment was gone! We were sad for the destruction of the trees on our street, but it was a magnificent storm.

 

Our apartment is the in the upper left....

Our apartment is the in the upper left….

 

The storm made quite an impact on our street!

The storm made quite an impact on our street!

 

I don't think anyone was hurt, though.

I don’t think anyone was hurt, though.

 

It was the one good storm of the season.

It was the one good storm of the season.

 

We got the keys last night, and this weekend will be all about the move. It is, in fact, happening, and I’ll be so glad when it’s over and we’re unpacked and organized! I’ve been fantasizing about an organized life with a place for everything for years, it seems. It’s amazing. I’ll have an office, and Callaghan will have a studio that’s just a studio, and visitors will have a guest bedroom and bathroom, and Ronnie James and Nounours will have lots of running-around space, and there will be no shortage of storage space, either.

So, that’s the story behind this latest move into this latest dwelling, which we see as being a Very Long-Term Situation. It’s sweet. It’s a sweet little house, and we’re grateful to have gotten it. We got lucky, is what we got.

Happy Friday!

“A Room of One’s Own”

I return with pictures! As I’d gleefully noted before, my books are up, which means I once again have, as Virginia Woolf would say, “a room of my own.” It’s such a simple thing, but it makes all the difference. After being away for over two years, I’m feeling truly at home again, and I’m grateful for it; my office is our living room, and it’s like a big cozy library. All the relics are here… the Chagall prints I’d scrounged from a dusty pile in that thrift store in West Germany almost twenty-five years ago, just before The Wall came down, and also from West Germany, the iron dragon candlestick found on a stroll through a street fair on a cold wintry night. My brother’s old Six Million Dollar Man thermos (c. 1974) and the white porcelain cat a friend gave me when I was sixteen. The fresh flowers, childrens’ books and pocketbook-size literature and pulp fiction in the dark bookcase by my desk, and, on the other side of the room, the bulk of my book collection awaiting detailed organization in the larger bookcases. The butsudan my Grandfather refurbished for me before he died. The candlestick a beloved friend sent from France. And so on.

 

My desk...

My desk…

 

 

...with the old Chagall prints

…with the old Chagall prints

 

 

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

 

 

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

 

Corner detail by the butsudan.... I positioned the clock so we'd have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

Corner detail by the butsudan…. I positioned the clock so we’d have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

 

 

So this is our living room. We’ve clustered our loveseat, ottoman and my beat-up old German trunk (serving as a coffee table, as usual) under the window on the wall between the two sides of the room.  Callaghan’s all set up, too… he’s got the larger of our two bedrooms for his art studio, and it’s perfect for him.

In other news, I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving week already!

Return to the Land of AZ

We are here! And as of yesterday afternoon, we have internet! Once again, we’re surrounded by boxes, and this time we’re unpacking every last one of them.

We left Austin early on Friday morning, dragging our ponderous beast of a rented trailer behind us as we drove west. An unexpectedly odd sensation: 13 hours later, we were somehow still in Texas. At the half-way point, very late at night, we stopped to sleep for a few hours at a motel. We were still in Texas! It’s not even like we left from the eastern border; Austin is in central Texas. Come to find out it’s one thing to look at a map and note the area of the state compared to other states, but it’s something else entirely to take in its vastness on the road. It seemed that we drove and drove and drove, and we were still there! Under the overcast sky, it almost felt like being in the twilight zone. But we took in some charming little towns on our way out – Fredericksburg, for one (must go back for a proper visit!) – and enjoyed seeing as much of Texas as we could until the sun went down.

The next day, right on cue, the sky turned bright blue and sunny when we reached the actual southwest. It was like we entered New Mexico under a party of sunbeams, and when we crossed the border into Arizona, the broad desert sky was like a gorgeous, familiar embrace.

 

Heading west on a Texas country road

Heading west on a Texas country road

 

In Fredericksburg, Texas

In Fredericksburg, Texas

 

Entering New Mexico!

Entering New Mexico!

 

We had to stop and do the touristy thing and get New Mexico t-shirts. And then I had to take a picture in the truck. This is me in the middle of a long road trip on just a few hours of sleep... in a New Mexico t-shirt.

We had to stop and do the touristy thing and get New Mexico t-shirts. And then I had to take a picture in the truck. This is me in the middle of a long road trip on just a few hours of sleep… in a New Mexico t-shirt.

 

Back home in the desert!

Back home in the desert!

 

Entering Arizona, at last!

Entering Arizona, at last!

 

Basking in it... and here's Callaghan's New Mexico t-shirt.

Basking in it… and here’s Callaghan’s New Mexico t-shirt.

 

Arizona - the prettiest flag in the States, in my opinion!

Arizona – the prettiest flag in the States, in my opinion!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Mess with Texas!

I was sorry to be MIA here on Monday – the schedule this week went off the rails into the great abyss of move preparation. We’re within three days of moving. We’re not overwhelmed, since we’ve been going at a pretty good pace, but each remaining moment will definitely count toward getting everything packed up and squared away.

I wanted to give a huge, hearty shout-out and “thank you” to Texas for being fantastic! When we got here we couldn’t predict we’d cut our one-year-then-we’ll-see plan short and only stay four months, but we did what we wanted to do… we went with the flow and enjoyed Texas while we were here. We spent the four months of summer in exactly the right place, and it proved to be an amazing time.

 

A little keychain souvenir

A little keychain souvenir

 

Texas is great for many reasons. Here are just a few highlights, things we especially appreciate:

–The people here are friendly, warm and big-hearted. They have an easy way of making one feel at home, and they’re genuine people. Good people. In three words, Texans are awesome.

–The service everywhere is outstanding. Texans know hospitality!

–It’s easy to live here… the cost of living (in Austin, anyway) is very reasonable.

–We’ve had nothing but solid, good experiences with the public transportation system here. There’s a convenient network of buses that take you everywhere you want to go, which includes buses that run late at night. Also, we’ve noticed that the freeways here are never too jammed (compared to, say, California).

–Austin is a good time! It’s interesting just by virtue of the fact that it’s the state capitol. There’s the capitol, itself, and there are many museums to explore.

–We’ll never forget the bats under the bridge, and with the Colorado River here in town and our fossil-hunting family adventure up north by Dallas and the countryside in between, we got to enjoy some sides of nature we’ve never seen before.

 

And the t-shirt, of course

And the t-shirt, of course

 

So the next few days will flash by, and then, like the Ingalls’, we’ll pack up our covered wagon (well, a U-Haul trailer attached to the back of our truck) and head west.

Happy Trails, y’all!

 

50 Shades of Wrah-Wrah

Only one person in our household dressed up for Halloween yesterday, and that was Ronnie James. His costume was so easy, it was almost like cheating.

 

Ronnie James on the left. "Fifty Shades of Grey" on the right. Quite literally, NOT UNLIKE.

Ronnie James on the left. “Fifty Shades of Grey” on the right. Quite literally, NOT UNLIKE.

 

Okay, that was too easy, I admit, but that was a NOT UNLIKE just waiting to happen… the shades of gray (spelling it the American way outside of the title) in Ronnie James’ fur range from silver to gunmetal to taupe, with many more shades in between.

Incidentally, I have never read that book. I might one day. I’ve caught snippets of “news” reports here and there regarding who’s being cast as who in the film adaptation; since I haven’t read it, I can’t really weigh in on the matter, but based on what little I know, I’d venture to guess that Ronnie James wouldn’t work in any of the roles.

We’re now one week away from Moving Day, with the energy and excitement of moving increasing exponentially with each passing day! There’s so much to do, but it’s all very energizing rather than overwhelming. This morning, I woke up with a list in my head and knocked out half of it within an hour. Payments were sent, future arrangements were made, phone calls were placed, appointments were confirmed and canceled, letters were preemptively written, my planner was updated, “notes to self” were scrawled on Post-Its and numerous items were checked off the old “To Do” list. Callaghan’s putting boxes together and taking other things apart, and we’ll head out to the V.A. this afternoon. The whole next week begins now, and it’s going to pass us in a flash! Let the adventure begin!

NEWS – You Can Take the Girl out of Arizona, but You Can’t KEEP the Girl out of Arizona.

Yeah, good luck with that!

So. Our move has evolved, rather surprisingly, like this:

Phase One: (planned) Back to the States (June 2013)

Phase Two: (spontaneous) Back to the Desert (November 2013)

Surprise! Surprised?!

That’s right… we’re moving in November, as in, about a month from now. According to the Taoist calendar, I’m in a CHANGE year, which I guess I might have figured out by now, anyway, even if I didn’t know it. We just decided on this move in the last, like, week and a half.

One thing’s for sure – Texas is a fun and interesting place! We agree with our friend who remarked, “Austin is a town to fall in love with.” We’ve been here for four months now. Great times have been had and awesome people have been met and there’s so much to do here, it’s just been crazy-wonderful. Our plan was to stay for a year and then decide what to do after that. We’ve had a few other places in mind, in the case that we did decide to re-locate again. The short list included Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO.

But the longer I’m back in the States, the more I find my thoughts returning to the desert, to the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area, aka the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix is situated in a vast desert valley, surrounded, as per definition, by mountains). Callaghan loves Phoenix, too. We talked about it, and then we looked around at The Shipping mostly still in boxes, and we thought, why wait?

We’re going back to the Land of AZ!

It’s not that I think that one place is better than another, because I don’t. This is simply about feeling right somewhere, which is a very personal thing… feeling spiritually connected to our environment can only be a deeply personal thing. Just as some people believe in soul-mates, I believe in soul-places.

I was born in San Francisco and raised in San Jose, and the whole 18 years I spent in the Bay Area, I never felt comfortable there… not because of the people, but because I didn’t feel that I belonged. It wasn’t my place. In high school, I plotted my escape planned my departure for the earliest opportunity (hello, U.S. Army!) and never looked back. Now, I’ll go to California to see my family and just to visit, but live there again? Not going to happen. I’m hardly alone in this. It’s a pretty common phenomenon, people growing up and leaving their hometowns. It’s like we have to wander away from the place of our upbringings in order to discover where we really belong. Often, we find our special places by accident. You arrive for one reason – school, a job, a significant other – and before you know it, it’s been decades and you’re still there and you’re feeling that content, rooted belonging feeling, and you can’t imagine being anywhere else.

That’s how it happened with me and Arizona, back in 1991. After the Army, I accepted my then-boyfriend’s (also an ex-soldier) invitation to move to Phoenix. It was August, right when Arizona’s at its feistiest. It was scorching hot, dry, and alarmingly sunny year-round with brilliant blue skies and these ridiculous sunsets you just wouldn’t believe, and alien red rock formations with holes in them and gigantic cactuses everywhere. The sky was enormous. There were haboob (dust storms), and the July-August monsoon season brought the heavy aroma of creosote with the rain and the lightning over the desert. It was magical. With the surface streets laid out nice and neat on an idiot-proof grid system, you can get all over the enormous Valley from one end to the other without ever setting tire on a freeway, but an elaborate and efficient freeway system does exist should you desire to use it.

Next thing I knew, I’d been there for 20 years, longer than I’d lived in California. I never wanted to leave. I loved it. Being there just felt right. It was my place.

Then I met Callaghan. We got married. The plan was for him to live with me in Arizona for a year, but it turned out that he had to be in Europe for his business, so after just a few months, we ditched the plan and moved to France.

By January this year, Callaghan’s business circumstances had changed, so we were free to move back to the States (he has dual citizenship, as you may recall). We both wanted to move, and our adventurous spirits tingled with the possibilities. The question “Where should we go?” carved out an enticing open door in our lives, and there were so many places that could answer it! It was easy to sweep my beloved Arizona under the “been there, done that” rug while scanning the horizon for something new. The United States was like a gigantic candy store, and we were standing in the middle of it with ONE decision to make, to start.

We decided on Austin for all the reasons in this post.

And Austin is truly fantastic! What I didn’t anticipate, though, was seeing Phoenix everywhere I looked! The similarities are real, but I’ve come to realize that the reason I see Arizona all over the place is that I want to see it. I miss it. The saying goes, “East or West, home is best.” Arizona is my home. For me, it is best.

There’s great diversity in the Valley, and I’ve lived all over it… Phoenix’s many suburbs include (but are not limited to) the municipalities of Avondale, Glendale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. We’re going to settle in Tempe, because it’s my favorite, and I’m planning to find a job there.

We’ll rent an apartment at first, but we’ll eventually buy a house so when the BIG ONE hits and California falls off into the ocean, we’ll have beach-front property.

I can’t believe it! We’re moving in November!

Here’s a smattering of pictures I’ve taken in Arizona over the years:

 

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

Desert blooms in the springtime make me so happy! This was one of the plants in my front yard.

 

A shot of the sky at dusk

A shot of the sky at dusk

 

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

I miss the giant Saguaro cactuses, too

 

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens...

I love these alien red rock formations near the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Gardens…

 

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

I can smell the creosote in the air just looking at this monsoon season sunset!

 

Stormy monsoon sky!

Stormy monsoon sky!

 

Phoenix's Camelback Mountain

Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain

 

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well... I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture. Pink Floyd's "High Hopes" was playing.

This was my favorite sunset, and I remember it well… I came home from work to my Tempe apartment and went straight out to the balcony to take this picture.

 

Sedona. Enough said.

Sedona. Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

Note: None of these pictures were photo-shopped, touched-up, color-corrected or otherwise manipulated in any way. Arizona’s a natural beauty.

(Happily) Buried in Boxes

Yesterday brought the long-awaited moment when everything we own arrived from France.

Luckily, I found three guys in the parking lot.  Three VERY NICE guys.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-boxes-5

 

They were happy to help carry all the boxes, bins and suitcases up three flights of stairs to our apartment. Then we brought everything inside…

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-boxes-7

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-boxes-3

 

…and out on the balcony, and in the storage closet….

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-boxes-4

 

Nounours made himself scarce during the upheaval, but Ronnie James made himself at home.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-boxes-2

 

See you Monday, when I shall emerge with actual text!

Austin at a First Glance

We left from winter and landed in summer.

Before:

 

Good-bye for now, Europe

Good-bye for now, Europe

 

After:

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

We attended an interesting 3-D art exhibit gathering with our friend Joe

We attended an interesting 3-D art exhibit gathering with our friend Joe

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Austin at a first glance

 

Our first venture out started here, with Joe. Good company, delicious cocktails. Thank you, Joe!

Our first venture out started here, with Joe. Good company, delicious cocktails. Thank you, Joe!

 

 

It’s early Saturday morning, and we’re in our apartment drinking Peet’s coffee (how I’ve missed it!) and catching up online now that we have internet (as of last night). Next week, I’ll tell you about the Ronnie James kitty and his UFO crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Fellow Airplane Passengers:

We wish we weren’t THOSE PEOPLE on your flight, but we are. We’re sick. Not only that, but we’re the worst kind of sick for flying – we’re coughing. Yes! Surprise! We are your in-flight airborne virus carriers… and we’re so sorry. It’s been cold and rainy here, and we caught this bug (of the sore/scratchy throat, coughing, losing our voice variety) from a neighbor just this last week. The timing couldn’t be worse, we know.

We’re uncomfortable, but we’re more concerned about you than about ourselves, really. It’s just unfair to have to sit on an airplane with sick people. Believe me when I say that we’ve been trying to speed up the healing process for your benefit. We’ve been to the doctor, who put us on a variety of medications. We gargle with hydrogen peroxide twice a day, trying to kill germs in our throats, and we’re taking lots of vitamin C. We’ve been eating fresh oranges. We’ve been drinking lots of water. We’ve been huddling up to the kerosene heater, keeping as warm as possible. We’ve also been resting a lot… even while having to get so much done in our last days here.

Laughter heals. We tried to watch the new Arrested Development, but so far, it’s failed to make us LOL (we gave it a good three-episode shot), so we’ve put that on hold and settled back into Hart of Dixie, which had started to drag a little toward the end of season one, but has blossomed into a fluffy delight in season two. It’s coming through with exactly the simple, cute lightness we need right now! And we love Rachel Bilson, who we think possesses good comedic timing and resembles a young and even prettier Brigitte Bardot. (Our opinion!)

 

Rachel Bilson

Rachel Bilson

 

So we’ve been trying. But we’re still coughing. You will give us dirty looks, and we will understand. We’ll try not to cough in your direction; we’ll keep our heads down. We loaded up our tablet with a zombie movie: Warm Bodies. Nothing like a zombie movie for traveling! That, and Kit-Kats.

Dressed for Success

Well. A week from tomorrow, we move!

We spent most of the last week visiting friends and family. So for the second year in a row, we were on the French Riviera during the Cannes Film Festival, and for the second year in a row, it was raining and cold down there at the time. After we got back, I came across some online photos of attendees in their red carpet attire and shivered just looking at them, thinking of how I’d spent the last four days in layers of clothing over my jeans – t-shirt, sweater, jacket.

For instance:

 

The intrepid Emma Watson at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival

The intrepid Emma Watson at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival

 

You know how powerful the mind is? My first-hand knowledge of the weather where this picture was taken kills the adorableness for me. I’m distracted by wanting to wrap her up in something warm. I’m glad I didn’t see this picture while we were there, because if I had, I might have been overcome by the urge to rush over to her with a fur-lined cloak (of invisibility?) – such as it is that the weather triggers my maternal impulses.

Still, in a weird way, I admire these festival-goers. You’ve got to be some kind of a badass to deliberately go around dressed for summer when it feels like winter. It’s not like these people don’t have access to weather forecast reports. We knew what it was going to be like down there before we went – they must have known, too.

Here we are on the train coming home, all cozy and warm:

 

We got up at 5:00 in the morning to stumble onto this train from Cannes. It got us home in three hours! Awesome. I'm wearing the previous day's make-up (I don't usually go to sleep without removing it, but that night, I did), a ponytail elastic (which is a poor substitute for a hairbrush, but whatever), and you can't see it, but I'm clutching a Kit-Kat (candy bar) like it's the answer to life. Because at that moment, it was. And it was damn good.

We got up at 5:00 in the morning to stumble onto this train from Cannes. It got us home in three hours! Awesome. I’m wearing the previous day’s make-up (I don’t usually go to sleep without removing it, but that night, I did), a ponytail elastic (which is a poor substitute for a hairbrush, but whatever), and you can’t see it, but I’m clutching a Kit-Kat (candy bar) like it’s the answer to life. Because at that moment, it was. And it was damn good.

 

 

 

Spaces Where Things No Longer Reside

Though we’ve been busy with moving-related business, we did get to relax in Valence over the weekend while Chantal was here. It was nice. It was our last time hanging out in Valence, since we sold our truck yesterday and are now officially without wheels. Yes! We’ve made it to the stage where the “lasts” are piling up.

 

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

 

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

 

So, the movers are coming today, and then we’re going back down to the French Riviera for (another!) last visit with family and friends before we leave. And after we get back, we’ll sit here in the forest with no car and no stuff and try to sell everything that’s not going with the movers today.  Or we might give stuff away, if people would be willing to come out to the boondocks to get it. Here’s a picture I took of our house when we went for a hike with Benedicte (when she came to visit) a few weeks ago:

 

Our little house! We live in the upper right corner of the building.

Our little house! We live in the upper right corner of the building.

 

Little House in the Rhone-Alpes! (Just imagine the accent circumflex over that “o.” I don’t have my French keyboard with me right now).

Homme Don’t Play That.

“Homme” is how you say “homie” in French. It’s basically the same word. It means “man.”

While Callaghan was busy drawing a hermaphrodite tin can with a pair of mismatched rocket man-boobs and its lid flipped up like a hat and a skirt around one of its tentacle knees, I went down to the bergerie to retrieve a few things. Along the way, I encountered a donkey and a large snail, and I found two lizards hanging out on the terrace when I got back.  Down in the laundry/storage room, the largest spider I’ve ever seen here in France ran across the wall when I walked in. Up here in the front room, the morning’s scattered ant swarms have finally died down.

Nature is active today, and we’re having a relaxed and productive afternoon. The house smells pleasantly of ginger and cardamom from the Ethiopian chickpea wat (stew) I made yesterday for tonight’s dinner – it’s one of those aromatic dishes that’s good to make a day in advance, so the spices can mingle overnight. I’m going to serve it with brown rice, since I don’t know where to find injera around here (Ethiopian flatbread), or the teff flour I’d need to bake my own.

I miss Ethiopian restaurants! Soon. In three weeks, we’ll be back in the States. First thing I’m going to do is find an Ethiopian restaurant and attempt to eat two years’ worth of injera in one sitting.

Ah, food. Bread. The plight of carbs’ reputations crossed my mind the other day when we were in the supermarket. It’s odd how popular it’s become to believe that carbs are “bad.” It’s like, one day, everyone became aware that allergies/sensitivities to gluten are common, so, alright, let’s be hyper-aware of that. Millions of people now feel a lot better on reduced-gluten or gluten-free diets. Great! But then, somehow, that entire category of food came crashing down from grace with a sweeping, extended indictment: Carbs make you fat. The problem with this is that it’s only half-true. Not all carbs cause the metabolism-compromising biochemical reaction that leads to weight gain.

I generally avoid simple carbs (white sugar, white flour, white rice, white pasta and white potatoes), but as far as I’m concerned, life’s not worth living without complex carbs. I love whole grain breads, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa and sweet potatoes. I’m lucky that my body gets along with wheat, because I’d be forlorn without it. I could never do a raw food diet; after a while, I’d go crazy without pasta. I eat it for lunch almost every day, as I have ever since Callaghan discovered my pasta with garlic and olive oil obsession. Though I maintain that just plain old garlic and olive oil would be fine with me every day until the end of time – it’s something I’ll never get tired of eating – he’s undertaken the challenge of creating variation after variation on this heavenly theme. He should write a book: 365 Variations on Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil.

So he makes lunch, and I make dinner, usually. And he draws hermaphrodite tin cans with mismatched rocket man-boobs and lids flipped up like hats and skirts around their tentacle knees. We’ve got our division of domestic labor all sorted out.

Of Course – Learn Something New Every Day!

We now have a shipping date. We’re packing and trashing and selling all kinds of stuff, and Callaghan’s starting to eat some of the preserved food we’d stockpiled for emergencies, because why not? It’s there, and we’re not taking it with us. Last night, he opened a can of cannelloni to eat with the salad and fresh asparagus we were also having.

I studied the contents of his plate. The cannelloni looked like reddish-beige rubber tubes with glossy pink sausagey-looking things inside.

“So what exactly is that ‘mystery meat’,” I wondered out loud, fully aware that if there was an answer, then it wouldn’t be a mystery.

“A course,” said Callaghan.

I thought I heard “of course.” I waited for him to continue.

“A what?”

“Course!” he repeated.

I’m so confused! My head’s going to explode!

My mind whipped through all the French words I know, searching for one that would sound like “course” that might bear resemblance to a meat-related word in English.

“Course.” I tried out the word myself. Still didn’t make sense. What the hell is he talking about?

“If you don’t know whether it’s a cow or a horse, it’s a cowrse,” Callaghan explained.

Oh. Duh!

 

Survival food - little pieces of COWRSEmeat wrapped in pieces of pasty white industrial dough, smothered in some kind of red sauce

Survival food – little pieces of COWRSEmeat wrapped in pieces of pasty white industrial dough, smothered in some kind of red sauce

 

Cowrses have chicken heads, didn’t you know?

 

“Go then, there are other worlds than these.”

…said Jake Chambers in The Dark Tower epic series by Stephen King. Better words to capture the essence of escapism have never been spoken.

Whoa! This last week’s been about packing, cleaning, taking stuff to the dump, hanging out with a friend who came to stay for a couple of days, and working around technical difficulties – up until this minute, in fact – with both our internet connection and my computer AC adaptor malfunction.

I’m flipping through my agenda, the book in which I keep track of exciting things coming up. I like looking forward to stuff. I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with secondary clinical depression, so looking forward to stuff is like the key to my well-being.

Mainly, right now, I’m looking forward to moving, and that’s a big thing. It’s exciting, but it’s big. It’s so big that it’s not on my list of things that I’m looking forward to, even though I am. It’s the small things that make a difference, because they don’t carry the caveat of stress that the big things do. The small things are just there to be anticipated. They are fluff, and fluff cannot be underrated.

Here, I’ll share this with you… Fluffy Things I’m looking forward to, in no particular order:

1. The return of Arrested Development (T.V. series) in May. The Bluth family. Because the chicken dance matters.

2. The next episode of The Following (T.V. series). Thank you again for this recommendation, Arne F.!

3. Stephen King’s The Wind through the Keyhole. Because Roland “The Gunslinger” Deschain, aka Roland of Gilead in the aforementioned Dark Tower epic series, is my fictional boyfriend.

I’m not an aficionado of the fantasy genre, but I’m obsessed with The Dark Tower, which is a brilliantly crafted literary collage of fantasy-horror-western-drama. When I finished all seven books in the series, I sought out the short stories that featured Roland. After that, I had to accept the fact that I’d read everything with Roland in existence. Life went on. Then, last week, we were browsing through the books in the English section at Cultura, and guess what! I discovered The Wind through the Keyhole. How did I not know about this publication? It came out last year. It’s a new installment in the Dark Tower series, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel, too. I’m forcing myself to wait until I’m on the airplane to crack it open.

Yep. Settling down on the plane over the Atlantic with this new Dark Tower book on my tray is going to be my reward to myself for surviving the stress of moving.

4. Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel Never Go Back (August). Because… Reacher!!

5. American Horror Story, Season 3 (October). This new season is called “Coven,” and a lot of it will be filmed in New Orleans. I’m sure it’s going to be as richly atmospheric as the first two seasons. Can’t. Wait.

(If we’ve been friends forever and you’re confused because you never knew me to watch T.V., let me explain what happened: Netflix streaming. And we started to watch Bob’s Burgers. That was the beginning of it. Or the end of it, depending on how you look at it.)

I also used to think that I’d never be interested in reality T.V., but then? Cake Boss.

For those of you who don’t know, the Cake Boss is this guy called Buddy who owns Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. The show follows Buddy and his family and crew as they create these freaktastically detailed specialty cakes custom-ordered by people for various occasions and events. The Cake Boss takes on some spectacular challenges; he seems to be the type of person who works well under pressure, thriving in merging funnels of drama and disaster, always managing to deliver his splendiferous works of sugary art in style. “NOW WHO WANTS TO EAT SOME CAKE?!”

Callaghan and I have an ongoing banter about what cakes we’d order from the Cake Boss. Callaghan knows that I’d love to have one for Valentine’s Day. Every once in a while, I’ll suddenly ask him… wait, okay, let me do it right now…

“What cake are you going to order for me?” I’m calling it out, since he’s in the other room.

“It’s a surprise… you’re not going to know. Heheheh! Coquine! You thought I was going to tell you, hein?”

See? He answered immediately, like he was waiting for me to ask! He has no idea that I’m writing this, and that I just keyed in what he said, word for word.

Shoot. I mean, okay, I’m not desperate to know. I’m not going to secretly administer a truth serum so he’ll tell me. I’ll enjoy being surprised.

It’s just fun to think about what he might order. It’s fun to think about getting, say, a Jack Reacher cake from the Cake Boss. Or a beautiful Dark Tower cake, featuring red roses and lobstrosities.

 

BIG TRANSITION AHEAD

We’re moving!

In September 2011, The Universe poured us a tall glass of France. The Universe was generous.

Universe: Say “when.”

(fast-forward 17 months)

Us: When!

That was in January. Since then, we’ve been super busy preparing to move. We’re now less than two months away from moving day.

While there are aspects of France I’ll miss, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t excited to be continuing on our amazing journey as a couple living completely irrational lives.

We’re heading across the pond to Austin, Texas. It’s on the eastern edge of the American Southwest, which I love. (Yeah, I was the 22-year-old girl who moved to Phoenix “temporarily” and wound up staying for 20 years. I’m a heat-addict.) Austin has a 100% approval rating from everyone we know who knows it.

Us: Hey Austin – Joe, Holly, Nick, Davey, Eden, Tracy, Christa and the person who wrote that cool book about bats have all told us so much about you!

Austin: Only good stuff, I hope.

Us: Of course! Here we come!

Austin: You seem weird enough. Especially him. Knock yourselves out. Oh, and BY THE WAY we’ve been targeted by that crazy man in North Korea. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Well, okay.

In addition to its obvious advantage of having a legendary flock of bats under a bridge, Austin has a low cost of living and a diverse music and art scene. It’s a state capital and a university town, and it’s on the Colorado River. We’ve never been there, and we’re especially loving the excitement of that! We’re looking forward to exploring a new place together.

As for the transient bats we have with us here in France, well… they’ll just have to carry on without us, those shameless little camera whores.

 

The bat crew

The bat crew

 

Look! They're wearing pants!

Look! They’re wearing pants!

 

Posing for Myspace

Posing for Myspace

 

"Do you seriously think an Austin bat could be a cute as ME?"

“Do you seriously think an Austin bat could be a cute as ME?”

 

 

BEWARE – Serial Plan-Ruiner Running Amok in France

I can’t believe it’s already April. I can’t believe it’s already April fifth. The last time I wrote here, it was still March, and it doesn’t even seem that long ago! But there’s a lot of craziness going on right now. I’ll come back to that later because what I’m sharing with you right now is a story per Callaghan’s request. Last week, we went down to visit his family and friends on the French Riviera via covoiturage ride-sharing, and afterward, Callaghan was all, like, “YOU HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT THIS.” (The last time I wrote about covoiturage, I praised it for its entertainment value.)

This is our story about being epically late because of someone else.

The idea behind using covoiturage for transportation is that a driver can get you from Point A to Point B because he’s heading the direction you’re going. It’s basically hitch-hiking, but you organize the ride in advance, online. Passengers are picked up and dropped off at designated points along the way, and the whole thing is based on scheduling… if you’re driving south to Cannes and you want to make a little money, you post on the covoiturage site that you’ll be cruising through Valence at 2:20 in the afternoon. If anyone in the area wants to catch a ride, they can meet you there.

So this guy said. And we replied, “Sure! We’ll meet you in Valence at 2:20pm! We need to get to Cannes.” We chose that particular guy’s ride because the time he’d advertised was going to be perfect for getting us to the birthday celebration dinner on our agenda.

Maybe we brought the shenanigans upon ourselves when Callaghan pulled up the posted photo of the vehicle, and we laughed because it was a white van that looked like it should have the words “serial killer van” painted on the side in black block letters. And when we found the photo of the driver, we laughed again because he looked like he belonged with the van.  Do not laugh at the photos of your driver and his vehicle. He will know, and he will get his revenge.

As it turned out, the driver wasn’t hiding bodies in his van. But he was three hours late.

There were four passengers already in the van, and they were all alive. The front seat held a rat (in a cage) and a girl, who were not together. In the middle row sat a woman and a young guy – they weren’t together, either. Callaghan and I climbed in to sit in the back. (We were together. Ha!) We settled in and cracked open our iPad to watch Zombieland again, which seemed strangely apt for the circumstances.

“C’est le Magic Bus!” said the driver, whose name was Alex. Magic, indeed!

The first passenger to depart was Middle Seat Lady. Instead of dropping her off somewhere along the route, Alex exited the highway and meandered around to a specific bus stop in Le Teil. Callaghan was furious.

But since we still weren’t late enough, there was the second passenger drop-off. Front Seat Girl was moving back in with her mother. We exited the highway again and pulled right up to her mother’s doorstep in the middle of Aix en Provence.

This was now looking more like a limousine service than covoiturage. It was also looking like a house-moving service. And like a van with undead people in it. With a rat in a cage, and a driver who’d only gotten two hours of sleep the previous night (true story).

In Aix en Provence, Callaghan and I stood back on the sidewalk to stretch while Alex, the girl and her mother unloaded her things into the house.

The third passenger off the van was the rat, who had come down from Paris. This one was okay… Alex cruised into a rest area in Fréjus, where an old couple sat waiting in their car. (They had my sympathy, because by then, it was 10:30pm. I know I’d be annoyed if I had to sit on the side of the highway at night for five hours, waiting for someone to bring me my rat.)

And half an hour later, Alex took Middle Seat Guy to his stop in Mouans-Sartoux.

That left us. Callaghan, seething mad, asked the driver to drop us off in Grasse, instead of in Cannes, as planned. We’d missed our restaurant celebration, and we were by then entitled to our own special drop-off request. Plus, there was no one left to inconvenience, so it didn’t matter.

We got down there a total of five and a half hours late.

The next day, Callaghan checked the covoiturage website and found an explosion of negative driver reviews for Alex from the hapless passengers of the last two days. People were furious. For two days, from Normandy to Nice, Alex had plowed down through France in his white serial killer van, scooping people up anywhere from three to five hours late and pissing them off. There was only one good review, and that was from the girl he’d helped move to Aix en Provence. She was thrilled with the service she got – as well she should be, since she got personal door-to-door moving service for practically nothing!

I still think Alex might be a serial killer, though, since something about him did kind of set off my serial-killer-dar. Or maybe I was just imagining it because I’m watching The Following right now, and I’m obsessed.