Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rodellar, Spain

Me and Stella in the car
On the 5th of December we got up and pulled up the local weather, which is something we do everyday. To our surprise it called for 7 days of rain or drizzle. We have had a very mild winter so far, so we shouldn't complain, but we both didn't want to be stuck in the house for a week.

So Bruce suggested we head down to Spain. The weather looked great and we both wanted to visited Rodellar, which is famous for it's climbing. Why not, it's only a 6 hour drive and we deserve a little mini vacation. So on Wednesday morning we packed up the car with our climbing stuff, food for a week and the dogs. It was a beautiful drive through the French Pyrenees, through the Bielsa tunnel and into Spain. It was then only an hour to Rodellar.
Heading into the Pyrenees

Rodellar is the last small village at the end of the road. From Rodellar north you enter the Guara National Park. It was founded in 1990 and is one of the largest protected areas in this region of Spain, called Aragón. There are amazing cliffs and rock formations that have been partially sculpted by the erosion of water. The skies are full of golden eagles, falcons and the griffon vulture (which is 4 feet long and has a wing span on 9 feet). These birds, and many others have found a sanctuary here, one of the last remaining places on the planet where they can live and breed.
Welcome to Rodellar

Then tiny village of Rodellar is divided into two small neighborhoods: one belonging to the church and the other which is home to many striking, traditional buildings, most dating back to the 18th century.

We are here for the amazing climbing (limestone), but this area is also know for fishing, canyoning, via ferrata and hiking, as there is a network of paths.
The happy couple.

A route I climbed...it's very steep here.

The church of Rodellar

Another climbing area, there are so many around here

Rest day hike - 3.5 hours...not much of a rest day!

Happy dogs!

We are staying at a place called Valle De Rodellar. It is a group of apartments, for 1-6 people. Our little apartment is amazing. We have a kitchen, bath ,with loads of hot water, heat and the most comfortable bed...all for 30 euros a night (low season). We haven't even used the car since we arrived on Wednesday. There is no need, we brought all our food and the climbing and trails are walking distance from our apartment AND they take dogs, with no fee.

We have had an amazing time and the dogs have too. We are thinking of returning to France either tomorrow or Friday, because the weather is turning cold. It has been in the low 50's during the day, which is perfect for climbing, but it is moving towards the low 40's, which is a bit too chilly for me and my fingers.

All I can say is that if you are looking for a weekend away or for a vacation, this place is beautiful. We will be back in the spring for sure.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Culinary Retreat - May 12-19th 2012

We have finalized the dates for our next Culinary Retreat and are so excited!

Raison d’Art is excited to announce our Spring 2012 Culinary Adventure with Chef Carol Cotner-Thompson. Together we are pleased to offer an unforgettable 7-day journey to the heart of southwest France.  Spend a week with us learning to cook wonderful new dishes with local, fresh ingredients and discover the food, culture and history that this ancient and authentic region is known for.

Carol has over 27 years professional cooking experience and over 20 years experience in culinary education. A graduate of both the professional cooking and pastry programs at the California Culinary Academy in 1986, Carol has since taken on a wide array of professional endeavors that includes extensive restaurant consulting and cooking experience, television and print food styling and on-camera chef work, recipe and curriculum development, catering, and stints as a personal chef. She currently teaches professional cooking and baking programs at the New School of Cooking in Culver City www.newschoolofcooking.com and has previously taught at L’Academie De Cuisine and the Epicurean School of Culinary Arts. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times Food Section, the Hollywood Reporter, radio shows KCRW’s “Good Food” and “Weekend America,” and, most recently, on the morning television show, “Good Day L.A.”

Our itinerary for the week includes 5 hands-on cooking classes led by Carol, gourmet food and wine, wine tasting and vineyard tour, visit to a local cheese farm, shopping at the local outdoor markets, visits to the local medieval villages of Saint Antonin Noble Val,  Bruniqual, Penne, St. Cirq, Montauban and much much more.

Life in France is all about slowing down, relaxing and being in the moment and your stay will allow you time to do just that.  There is no pressure to join the group on specific outings, you always have the choice to follow your own inspiration for the day.

Saturday May 12, 2012 – Saturday May 19, 2012
(Please plan on arriving at the Toulouse Blagnac airport on the 12th between 4:00 – 5:30 pm and schedule your departure on the 19th between 8:35 – 10:30 am.)

€2200 euros per person based on double occupancy
 (small group of 6-8 people)

7 nights accommodation
Five (5) ‘hands-on’ cooking classes with Carol
Daily French breakfast
7 dinners
All beverages at the house
Vineyard tour and wine tasting
Cheese farm visit
City and Museum visit in Montauban
All admission and local group transportation for excursions & outings
Notebook with all recipes for the week
Ground pick-up at Toulouse Blagnac airport on Saturday, May 12th, 2012 and group drop-off at Toulouse Blagnac airort on Saturday, May 19th, 2012.

Roundtrip Airfare to Toulouse, France
Lunches (while at villages)
Drinks and snacks outside of Le Sivadal

Endive with Herbed Goat Cheese and Local Honey
Crispy Duck Breast with Gascony Cherries and Roasted Shallots
Potato Fennel Gratin
Haricot Vert with Persillade 
Fig Galette with Lavender Crème Fraiche

If you have always wanted to see this beautiful, untouched part of France, now is your chance.  We live here and know the best places to go.  We'll take care of everything!
See you in France.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Another Year

On October 23, 2010 we arrive back in France.  This time for good, we hope.  2010 was crazy, but in a good way.  We arrived back to the states in October 2009 after our year sabbatical.  We weren't happy about having to return as we loved it here, but our business needed us.  We thought that we'd have to stay another 3-5 years and then hopefully we'd return.  But luck was on our side, when we got an offer from one of our clients to buy the business.  So in October 2010, we rented out our house in Los Angeles (again), packed up all our belongings and the dogs (this time though we brought all of our stuff...this wasn't just a 1 year trial it was for good) and headed back.  We sent our belongings in a crate and it took about 2 months for it to arrive.  We did it.  We moved back to France.

This year here has been amazing.  Very different from our first year, which was just a trial.  We now know people and know the area.  It feels like home.  This year we've visited many different places.

The Pyrenees
as well as many many small villages

We had visitors from American,  Eric came and celebrated his 40th birthday and Chris came and we went to Paris and Fontainbleu and climbed a lot!  Steve and Lisa also came "back" as they visited us when we lived here in 2008.

in Paris with Chris

We opened a business in France, Raison d'Art, got officially registered, pay french taxes and had a very successful summer of teen art camps and in September 2 adult retreats.

We started rock-climbing again, something we hadn't done in 10 years.  We now go (during our off season 3-4 x a week), we take a break June-August.

 Bruce climbing at Capusin

 Bruce bouldering in Fonainebleau

me climbing at Capucin

Bruce started painting again!

We've settled into our life here and it's wonderful.  I never get tired of the views!  We have 3 of the luckiest dogs, as they get to run off leash every day in the forest.  We are lucky because we are with them.   Life is simple and slow and well, just wonderful.  We have amazing friends here and I can't think of a better place to be.  I'm still not able to throw pottery though, as I don't have a studio or equipment and that makes me a bit sad, but I know it will happen, hopefully sooner than later.

Sometimes we pinch ourselves....we really did it and things are going great with the business, so we won't be leaving anytime soon.  I love calling France my home.

Monday, September 26, 2011

4 months....

last night with culinary retreat having dinner in Gaillac
That's how long I've been away from my blog.  I've missed it, but I just haven't had any time to update it.  The first week of June the roller coaster began.  We left for Italy to meet our best friends for a week of catching up, drinking wine, eating good food and hanging out.  It was amazing.  We returned to France with 1 week to get ready for our summer art camps.  We had (3) session this summer, all incredible.

We still rented a house for the summer (hopefully not next summer), which is great but hard on us.  Because of the change-over dates we have to be in on a Saturday and out on a Saturday.  So each session spent 2 weeks at the house and then 2 days in Toulouse.  We basically have to move out of our house here in St. Antonin and then move back after each session, relax for 3-4 days and then move back into the rental house.  It's so hard not having our own house.  We had 22 kids come over the summer, from all over.  USA, England and France.  Every single one of them were amazing!

Session #1

Session #2

Session #3

So fast forward to August 14th.  We are back in our house in St. Antonin and have 2 weeks until our adult retreats start.  Again, we had to rent a house to accomodate everyone.  This time we decided not to stay at the rental house, mostly because of the dogs (no pets at the house), but also because they are adults and we had Steve Edwards for the fitness retreat and Rachael from Chicks with Knives for the culinary retreat staying with the clients.  Easier because we didn't have to move out, but hard because now we were getting up and driving 1/2 hour to the house and then at night we had to drive home.

Visiting Najac
In Saint Antonin for the Sunday market

cooking in the kitchen

Fitness retreat chillin

Yoga at the fitness retreat

One big happy "fitness retreat" family

The adult retreats were very different from the teen retreats, not in a bad way, just different.  We had amazing clients come to both retreats and we made some good friends.  We'll be doing another fitness retreat and culinary retreat in May.  We finished the adult retreats on Saturday the 24th, got everyone to the airport and on their way back home.  Then we came home and slept!

Day 3 - post retreats.  We are still fatigued.  Trying to get back to our normal schedule of working out, bruce doing his art and me focusing on the business.  We had an amazing summer and business is good. Can't ask for much more than that!  Oh, and we are still living in France with no plans to return to the states.

My goal is to update this blog more regularly now that I have the time.   It feels good to be back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The business

Our summer art camps for kids are really shaping up.  Our first session is already full and our second session only has 2 spots left.  We do have a 5 spots in our 3rd session, but hopefully that will fill too.  It's pretty exciting, being our first "real" summer running the business here in France.   Our first group will arrive on June 18th and we have kids coming from the U.S., England and France.  It's going to be an amazing time.

We have also decided to add some "speciality" retreats for adults in September and are partnering with chefs Suzanne & Rachael of Chicks with Knives for one and Fitness expert Steve Edwards for another.

We'll have a fitness retreat with Steve from September 10-17th and a cooking retreat from September 17-24th.  You can check out our website for more information on these retreats.  Raison d'Art.

Other than that, life is really good here.  We love our village and new life here in France.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Free Delivery...in our village.

Today we took (walked) one of Bruce's paintings over to it's new home at our friends house here in the village.  I will miss this piece, as it's one of my favorites, but I'm also glad it has a new home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


While sorting through things this week I came across this book.  I was given to me on my birthday in 1998 by my x-Mother-in-Law Susan and her partner Brian, with whom I am still in contact with and adore.  In it she wrote "To live in France must certainly be one of the great pleasures in life.  All our best for a wonderful year ahead.  We hope your dreams come true."

I remember having a conversation with her in 1998 about our dream and goal...to live in France someday.  10 years later we took our sabbatical and moved here for a year  and now we DO live here.

I'm a big believer in goals.  Not "to do lists" but personal and professional goals.  I have always written down my goals.  When we started our business Art-Works studio in 2000, every 6 months I'd review the goals for the studio.  All I can say is that when I write things down, they usually happen.  I don't mean things like, 1 want to have 10 million dollars or I want to win the lottery.  I always do short-term goals (3-6 months) 1 year goals, 3 year goals, 5 year goals and 10 year goals at the beginning of each year.  Then after 3-6 months I review those and update for the next 3-6 months.  It keeps me focused and it helps me visualize things when they are written on paper.

The goals can be whatever you want.  For instance, for our new business here, we set a goal for this summer.  We had hoped for 1 camp to be full.  That's it.  But we now have that camp full and 2 others are also running.  I had put down that I wanted x number of children to sign up in January, x in February, x in March and so on.  Most have happened.  I started doing this at the art studio, I'd make a sign up sheet, set my goals for x number of kids to sign up each month and most of the time I'd meet or exceed that goal.  I also do personal goals.  In January I wrote that I wanted to climb this certain route by April 1st (a month ago I didn't think I'd make that goal, but last week I found a route to work on that 1 letter grade harder than my goal), start throwing pottery again, drink more water, etc.

Back in 1998 Bruce and said that in 10 years we would move to France.  We wrote it down, it was a goal and it was always on our personal goal list each year.  Funny, 10 years later we made it happen (only for a year) but now we are back, hopefully for good.

In the garden

Our village house in Saint Antonin Noble Val has a little garden that's just perfect for us.  Not too big and not too small.  Most houses in the village don't have any outdoor space, so we are very lucky.  Over the winter things got pretty messy in the garden with leaves, dead plants, etc.  So yesterday we went to Jardiland and bought some new plants and flowers so we could brighten up the garden. 

new pots, plants and soil

We also put flowers out front.

these are on the front of the house

This looks into our garden from our street

When we were done it looks so much nicer.  Today it's calling for showers, but tomorrow starts 10 days of sun and one of the days it's prediciting 70 degree weather!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fontainebleu & Paris

Back in January we had signed up for two camp expos in Paris at  2 bi-lingual schools through an organization called Camp Experts.  We had originally thought we'd stay in Paris, after all it's our favorite city.  But then we decided that we had been to Paris many times and that maybe we'd stay about 30 minutes south in a town called Fontainebleu.  Fontainebleu is famous for its chateau but also for its bouldering.  Bouldering is a style of rock climbing undertaken without a rope and normally limited to very short climbs over a crash pad so that a fall will not result in serious injury.  It's typically practiced on large natural boulders outside or on plastic holds inside.  It's super fun.

The region around Fontainebleu is particularly famous for its beautiful and concentrated bouldering areas.  French alpine climbers practiced bouldering there since the 19th century.  It remains today a prime climbing location.  It is the biggest and most developed bouldering area in the world.  The climbing areas are located in the forested areas that surrounds the town.  There are thousands of boulders and endless problems.

Our friend Chris is visiting from Colorado and he's a big climber.  We thought it would be fun to stay in Fontainebleu and boulder during the day and then take the train in to Paris for our camp expos.  We stayed at the Hotel Victoria and it was great.  Spacious rooms, new bathrooms, clean, lovey people, centrally located in the town, parking and they take dogs (although the 12 euro breakfast is a rip off).  We decided the goldens would stay with our friends Sara and Sharon and Stella would come with us.  She needed a bit of special time with us.

We arrived on Sunday night, just in time for dinner.  Our camp expos were Monday night and Tuesday night, so we figured we could climb in the am/early afternoon.  We climbed on Monday and then mid-afternoon took the train into Paris. Chris had never been to Paris and neither had Stella, so they both went with us.  Stella had a great time on the train into Paris and then she took the metro.  We walked around the left bank and showed Chris the sites.  Then we left him to wander and we went to our first expo.  After the expo we met some friends for dinner and Stella even came into the restaurant with us.  All was going great until we tried to get to the Gare de Lyon.  The train going into the Gare was closed, so we had to walk over from the left bank.  We missed the 2nd to the last train leaving Paris, so we got the last train out.  Everything was going fine until the conductor mumbled "something" in French and we didn't quite catch all of it.  Some people got off and then some people stayed on the train so we weren't sure what he said.  15 minutes later Bruce said "we should have been to Fontainebleu 10 minutes ago".  Then we passed another station and another and finally stopped 5 stations away from Fontainebleu.  It's now 12:30 am.  It was the last train in and out.  We found out that the conductor announced that they were working on the tracks and if you wanted to go to Fontainebleu or the other 4 stops after you had to get off the train and take a bus.  So now we were 30 km away from Fontainebleu in the middle of the night.  Luckily the workers were still at the station and they were so nice.  They called us a taxi and he was there in less than 5 minutes.  50 euros later we were at our hotel.  What a day!

Tuesday was beautiful and warm and we bouldered again the am and headed into Paris a bit later this time.  Chris and Stella stayed in Fontainebleu and did some more bouldering on their own.  Our expo was in the 15th, we didn't do any walking around, we just took the train in and the metro over to the school and then headed back to Fontainebleu around 8:00 pm.  But it wasn't easy getting home again, there was an accident on the tracks (we think the incoming train hit a car) and it was delayed for 1/2 hour.  So we waited and waited.  Finally our train left Paris.  We had thought we'd get in at 8:00 pm, but with the delay and the slow moving train we didn't arrive until almost 10 pm.

We were going to leave on Wednesday to come home, but the weather was so beautiful and we wanted to spend a whole day in Fontainebleu that we decided to stay another night.  So glad we did, it was so much fun, we bouldered all day and then went for a great meal that night.

It was a super fun 4 days and only 6 hours from our home in St Antonin.  We'll be back, for sure.  I loved the town of Fonatinebleu and you're only 30 minutes by train into Paris.  I highly recommend a visit there if you have never been.  And, we got a few sign ups for our summer camps, so it was all worth while.

Stella on the train into Paris


more bouldering

there they are

stella doing a bit of bouldering

trying a hard problem

but it did it

just chilling