Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chalet Shenanigan - Chapter 7

It is blizzarding tonight in the mountains and Mr. Big is outside playing with his new snow blower so I am going to sit inside, drink some wine and write to y’all.  I would light a fire, but the fireplace is one of those things on the demolition list and it is laying in about 12 pieces on the floor next to the Christmas tree, so I’m just picturing a fire.  Which is not really working for me, but one does what one can in times of difficulty.
I am getting ahead of myself.  I can’t talk about snow until I tell you about my geranium adventure.  Mountain gardening is quite different than gardening in, say, South Carolina.  In South Carolina, where it gets so hot and humid in the summer that my children used to come inside from playing and walk directly into the fridge to cool off, (we have a walk-in fridge in the SC house because I used to cater a lot when I was a real working person and not just a Trailing Spouse), you have to worry about your plants burning up and you have to water them every, single day or they will die overnight.

Here, you have to worry about your plants freezing.  In October.  It snowed here in Chatel three days after we moved in.  It was October 3rd.  The previous owner had left me all of her geraniums which were growing in planters along the balconies.  This is a very typical chalet thing.  You line your balcony railings with geraniums in the summer.  She also left me about 20 potted plants and bushes on the two patios.  In the garage, there were about 10 empty burlap bags.  These were the only clues I had about alpine gardening.

Well, when the first snow flake hit the first tender geranium leaf, I freaked.  I quickly got on Google to see what one is supposed to do with geraniums over the winter.  Because I was definitely not throwing these suckers away.  I counted my geraniums and there were 80.  80!!!  The cheapest you can buy geraniums around here in the spring is 15 bucks for a little guy.  My overwrought brain was multiplying a mile a minute and once I reached a thousand dollars, I was in serious panic mode.  Save the Geraniums!  Save the Geraniums!  Where’s That Stupid Burlap?!
I was hoping, when I Googled “overwintering geraniums” that the answer would be something simple like, “bring them inside, you idiot”.  No.  Well, okay, you can bring them inside if YOUR HUSBAND WILL BUY YOU A GREENHOUSE, which mine will not.  I asked.  He laughed.  He is such a tightwad.

For us non-greenhouse-owning peons, we have to manage our geraniums the old fashioned way.  First, you have to take them out of their planters, shake all the excess dirt off of the roots and hang them upside down inside a burlap bag.  Then, once a month, you soak the roots in water and hang them back up.  You keep doing this until spring.  I would rather give birth without an epidural than commit to this archaic and painful process for the next six months, but visions of a thousand-dollar-bill kept flashing in front of my eyes.

Y’all, it took for-e-ver.  Day after day, shake, bag, hang, shake, bag, hang.   I did do the scheduled root-watering routine in November.  I was good.  I was following the rules.  But now it is December and there are two feet of snow on the ground and it is freezing.  Would you want to trudge out the garage, take down a million burlap sacks, spread them out on the snow, water them and hang them all back up?  Neither do I.  It’s a dilemma, I tell you.
These durned geraniums are going to be the death of me.  About two weeks ago, when I first started getting in the Christmas spirit, I was eyeing all of the lovely, empty planters in which the geraniums had recently resided.  Hmmm, I said to myself.  I could make some really alpine-y Christmas decorations out of those planters for the balconies.  So, I spent two days cutting down evergreen branches from my yard, filling the planters and attaching big red bows on the front.  Awesome!  Look how pretty!  I’m like a Swiss Martha Stewart!  I even made Mr. Big install four spotlights in the yard to shine up upon all that loveliness.

Yeah.  That didn’t work out so well.  During snow storms, the winds whip through this charming valley with surprising fury and the entire planter boxes, the jaunty bows and the carefully placed hanging pine boughs were strewn from the house to the Swiss border.  The first morning that I woke up to this mayhem, I thought, “huh, fluke occurrence”.  I chased down my errant decor and painstakingly reconstructed all my prettiness.  BY THE THIRD TIME, (yes, I give new meaning to the term “exercise in futility”), after rounding up my bows, which now look like they’ve been through a Cuisinart, hurling the stupid greenery any-which-way back into the planter boxes and drinking large quantities of wine, I got out the rope.  The planters are now TIED to the balcony with rope and they are not going anywhere.  It looks like shit but they are in place.  (You thought I was going to hang myself with the rope, didn’t you?)

The neighbors must think I’m right out of an asylum.  Oh, wait.  No, they must think WE are right out of the asylum.  It is pitch dark outside, it is pouring down snow, it is about 5 below (C) and my husband is blowing snow off the driveway.  The snow is piling up behind him faster than he can blow it off BUT THAT IS IRRELEVANT.  He is Man With Large Machine v. Nature and he is losing but he is having so much fun, I can’t tell you.  I did ask him how he could even see because it was so dark and he looked at me with no small amount of manly contempt and said, “Woman, it has a headlight.”  Well, of course it does.  Silly me.  I’ll just go back inside, dear, and bake some cookies or something.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 6

We Have a Little Cow Problem

Is there anybody here who didn’t read Under the Tuscan Sun or see the movie?  The funniest parts of the book were where the author had to adapt to the ways of a small, Italian village.  I have been doing some adapting myself to life in Chatel.  Remember I told y’all that the name of the valley is the Vallee d’Abondance?  Well, it turns out that we have our very own cows in our valley called, obviously, Abondance Cows who make, of course, Abondance Cheese.  Go ahead, google it.  It’s legit.  So, if you ever go in a Dean and DeLuca, ask the deli guy if he can get Abondance cheese and then we can have like a Karma connection across 5,000 miles and eat our Abondance cheese together.

Anyway, one of the farmers in Chatel has one of his “high” alpine fields just across the ice rink from our house.  Every day, all day, I get to work on my renovations while being serenaded with cowbells.  It’s very cool.  But.  The farmer also has another field somewhere up above and behind my house.  There must be some farming system of which I am unaware that makes “my” farmer move “my” cows back and forth between the two fields every other day.  So, picture about 30 giant mama cows and about 5 kid-sized cows trundling along our neighborhood roads being followed by the farmer’s wife, the farmer’s young daughter, the farmer’s young son and the farmer’s dog, swinging long sticks and yelling.  (Except the dog—the dog is neither carrying a stick nor yelling.  He is just running around and barking.  Duh.)

And they do this every other day.  I have no idea WHY, but it is what it is.  Cow exercise, maybe?  I don’t know.  After about a week of watching these random cow migrations all over the side of the mountain, I hear the bells one evening.  The bells are really close.  REALLY close.  They almost sound like they are in my yard!  Well, they were in my yard.  They were Cow Escapees.  Cows on the Lam.  The sun was setting and, apparently, Mrs. Farmer was home making supper and the Farmerettes were doing their homework, so it fell upon my farmer, himself, to come round up his errant charges.

He drove his SUV right up in the driveway, let his dog out of the truck, got out his long stick and herded the cows back up the road and into their correct field.  Meanwhile, I’m out on my porch waving and “bonjour-ing” and taking pictures because I think this is really fabulous, right?  Wouldn’t you?
The very next day, the cows got out AGAIN!  Obviously, once they had had a taste of a manicured lawn they were unhappy with their wild pasture land and they were back for more deliciousness. 

Except, this time, they walked around the lake directly ON THE LAKE PATH just like tourists and settled in my neighbor’s yard to happily munch away.  Now, my neighbor is not a nice, American ex-pat like me.  She is French.  And she was not happy, no sirree, bub.  She came screaming out of her house just about the time my farmer rolled across all of our lawns in his SUV again. 

Man, did she let him have it.  I have no idea what she was saying because it was all in super-rapid French at about two octaves above normal, but he got his cows out of her yard tout de suite.  He and his little daughter had those big, fat mamas RUNNING around the lake.  At one point, he looked across the lawn at me.  I waved and took his picture.  I think I gave America a good name that day, at least compared to Cruella de Frenchie.

The next day the whole Farmer family came to get all of the cows.  Apparently, the cows were being banished to their barn for the winter for misbehaving and running amok in our neighborhood.  I was so mad!  It was all my neighbor’s fault!  No more cowbells ‘til spring.  Now I just get to listen to Mr. Big swearing at the walls all winter long.