Monday, May 30, 2005

happy birthday mom

Imagine my horror when, after spending one day away in Greenville visiting my friends, I returned to Asheville to learn that my Grandfather had died, only ten days after Mom. We left immediately for Florida and have just returned to North Carolina.

I'm going to write more about my Grandfather tomorrow, but today is reserved for Mom, who would have been 60 today. It's only been 15 days since you left us, and there just aren't any words. I miss you terribly.

Monday, May 23, 2005

today is my birthday

So far today, I've celebrated my birthday by throwing up whatever was left from dinner last night.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole thing.

Friday, May 20, 2005

it was a good day

Yesterday, my sister and I took some time away from going through Mom's stuff to do some things that she liked very much. First we drove 45 minutes west to the Cherokee Reservation, to take our chances at Harrah's Casino. I'd never been, but Mom and Mandy would go spend an afternoon when Mandy came up to visit. Even as frugal as she was, she enjoyed taking a chance on games of luck and skill, no doubt learned by her parents, who enjoyed an afternoon with the horses at Belmont Park in New York. I had a little bit of luck: I walked in with $20 and walked out with $38.50 and Mandy broke even. Luckily, we were under time constraints or I wouldn't have walked out with anything, but even if I'd lost it, it would have been $20 well spent and was a nice time.

We returned to Asheville in time for an evening of minor league baseball, which Mom simply adored. Mom was a life-long sports fan, particularly of baseball, and enjoyed coming to these games. We met up with some family who also live in Asheville, and not five minutes after the game started, Mandy's name was called. Her entry had been picked for sitting in the best seats in the house: two leather recliners on the first base line and a free dinner. We all took turns rotating up there with her, and we got a couple of pictures. Mom would have been tickled pink.

On behalf of my father and sister, thank you so much for your kind comments and well wishes. We're moving forward as well as we can. I can't (and won't) speak for them, but I'm still on the roller coaster. Guilt, relief, grief, anger, and peace all rotate around like a Ferris Wheel (she really liked amusement parks too). I know it's natural, and will settle with time, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Finally, I have received word this week from several relatives that they are reading along but are unsure as to how to leave comments via this webpage. At the bottom of each post, there is a link called "Write a Dispatch" or if a comment has already been left, "## Dispatches." Clicking on this link with bring up a new window. At the bottom of this window you can enter your information and your comment. The only thing I ask is that you please remember that this is a public forum and I have chosen to keep some aspects of my life, such as my real name, anonymous, and I only ask that you respect that. Other than that, anything goes.

Right, back to work and light posting. Thanks for hanging on with me during this time. I'm sure witty and amusing observations of life in France will resume at some point. In the mean time, please call up your Mom/Grandma/Auntie/Sister and tell them you love them very much.

Monday, May 16, 2005

in memoriam

Barbara Lee Tomaini
May 30, 1945 - May 15, 2005

My mother passed away Sunday afternoon. Happily, I had the opportunity to spend some time with her that morning, and she knew I was here.

While we are grief-stricken at our loss, we are also relieved that her struggle is finally over.

Scleroderma is a rare disorder, affecting primarily women. I would like to ask that you visit this page, and make a donation to the Scleroderma Foundation, in her name. Your small donation will go toward research and may help prevent others from suffering the same fate.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

the call i've been dreading

I've been asked to come home as soon as possible. I hopefully will be home by Saturday night.

Please let me take this opportunity to thank everyone for your lovely comments and outstanding support. You have truly lifted me up when I really needed it. Thank you so much for sticking it out with me.

I don't know how much blogging I can do between now and whenever I leave, and certainly when I'm actually there, but I will update as I can.

Update: Friday morning
I went to choir rehearsal last night, partly so I could tell the director what's going on, and partly because it honestly hadn't hit me yet. The rehearsal (sectional really) was fine, and then I explained to the director the situation. And then my sister-in-law walked in and I had to drag her outside so I didn't fall apart in front of a bunch of people. I've been all over the place ever since.

The tickets have been purchased; my journey starts tomorrow morning at 8:30 at the train station and will last until 7:30pm EST (Actually later than that because then we'll have to drive for a couple of hours after I arrive). Must run errands and start to pack. Most likely will write again on the other side of the ocean.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

cat vs. bird

I couldn't resist taking this photo, even if it didn't come out very clearly:

The cat's tail was wagging furiously, I can tell you. The bird won, as he flew away moments after I took the picture.

the numbers game

You know, it's hard enough wrapping my brain around a new language, but I really despise the fact that on top of that, I've got to do math in the middle of a conversation. And Math and I were never particularly close friends.

You see, a long time ago, some enterprising Frenchman (I can only assume a mathematician, grr) decided it would be really funny to leave out important words like "seventy," "eighty," and "ninety." I suppose he figured they had enough words, thank you, and we'll just have to make do with what we've got.

The fallout of this madness is that if I need to give the year of anything that happened in the last thirty or so years, I have to pause and stare blankly into space while I calculate the proper formula. Here, let me show you what I mean:

Counting numbers is all very simple once you get up to seventy. This is because the word "seventy" doesn't exist. If you want to say "70," you actually say "sixty-ten." Fun, eh?

You would think a simple formula like this would continue, but oh no no, my friends. Of course "eighty" doesn't exist either, so to say "80," you say "four-twenty." This is multiplication, people, and is completely unnecessary!

Finally, they figured that these two great tastes would taste great together, so for "90" we have "four-twenty-ten." Aaargh!

So here is an example of a few important dates that leave me counting on fingers and toes in the middle of conversations:

I was born in: sixty-thirteen
We moved to Florida in: sixty-ten-nine
I first came to France in: four-twenty-nine
I graduated high school in: four-twenty-eleven
I graduated college in: four-twenty-sixteen

Get the picture? It's madness, I tell you! All I can say is thank goodness we've passed into a new millennium, because at least "two thousand five" makes perfect sense!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

vivi grabs the bull by the horns

I slept in pretty late today, which I don't really like to do. I don't know if I'm still feeling the effects of gastroenteritis, or stress about Mom, but I'm finding it hard to get inspired to do just about anything. I've managed to turn on the dishwasher and put the bed sheets in the wash, and I'm pooped. I didn't even have the courage (I love this French phrase, it's so much nicer than "I couldn't be bothered") to walk across town for my French lesson today. I had to do something so today wouldn't be a total wash.

So I did it. I called ANPE to register with the employment office. All by myself without Steph holding my hand. I answered a few questions, and a package of papers will arrive in the next couple of days. I have an appointment at the office next Tuesday.

A part of me is telling me I'm not ready yet, I'm not comfortable with my level of French, I'm going to make a fool of myself, etc. The rest of me is tired of waiting for life to happen, hiding behind my husband, and is ready to jump in with both feet. For now I'm going to let the rest of me lead for a little while and see what happens.

a pleasant evening

We had a really great visit last night with Seb and Mylene, who are old friends of Steph's. They live in Grenoble, and were in town to celebrate Mylene's father's birthday and the marriage of her cousin.

They arrived a little eariler than expected and Steph hadn't returned from work yet, but they were very kind and graciously listened to me prattle on in my terrible French about my mother and other things. After Steph got home, we settled in to a lovely evening of conversation and fajitas, followed by apple pie.

Even though this was the first time we met, I felt like I knew them already, as we've been communicating a little for ages, whether it be chatting online or when we all played Dark Age together (they've since moved on to World of Warcraft). They were just as nice and funny as I expected them to be, and I was so happy to finally meet them in person, and I'm really looking forward to spending time with them again.

Monday, May 09, 2005


I got word this morning that Mom was moved out of intensive care last night, which is excellent news. Except for a slight case of pneumonia, which my nursing cousin says is normal after having to use a breathing tube, she seems to be recovering fine. Maybe this time they will actually keep her in the hospital long enough for her body to stabilize with its new condition before they send her home.

In the meantime, I've got a busy day ahead of me, as we've got guests from out of town coming over for dinner tonight. I've got an apartment to clean, errands to run, a pie to bake, and a dinner to prepare. And I've only got nine hours before they get here! Aaaugh!

Actually, keeping busy is the best distraction. Obviously thoughts of Mom are always running in the background, but not focusing only on that keeps me from melting into a puddle of goo every ten minutes. Falling asleep has been particularly difficult recently.

Right, off to scrub the bathtub. I know you're achingly jealous of my glorious French life right now. :wink:

Sunday, May 08, 2005

v-e day/mother's day

Today is Victory Day in Europe, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, but more importantly (to me), it is Mother's Day in the states. Unfortunately, my mom won't see any wishes I leave for her here today.

This is a situation I have hesitated writing about, out of respect for the privacy for my parents, because although I am mostly anonymous here, I still have friends and family from back home who visit from time to time. But I feel I am leaving out a huge chunk of what I'm going through right now. Part of becoming an ex-pat is being so far away from home and family, and now more than ever I am feeling that distance.

Recently, my mother was diagnosed with scleroderma (en francais: sclerodermie). In the last month, she has been in the hospital more than she has been out of it. The biggest life change she has been dealing with is that her kidneys are now only working at 10%, and since transplants are not possible, she will have to do dialysis three times a week for the rest of her life. In the meantime, my parents are doing their best to stay positive while her body struggles to stabilize itself. I should say that the disease is not immediately life threatening, and can be controlled with medication and therapy, but so many changes have happened, seemingly one thing right after another, that sometimes it does in fact seem extremely dire.

My parents have asked me to wait until such a time that she is more stabilized for me to come home. Also, my dad would like to move from their second floor (non-Americans read first floor) apartment to an opening first floor (non-Americans read ground floor) apartment, and when they're ready to make that move I will surely go home. But since I learned yesterday that she spent the better part of this week in intensive care, I confess my patience is wearing thin. This morning saw Steph and I making plans for what to do in an emergency situation, which is something I didn't think we'd have to do inside a year of moving away.

As for me, I'm all over the place. I'm scared for the worst, I'm jealous of my sister who can be there in a matter of hours, I'm guilty that I'm not there myself to help my father carry this enormous burden. All I can do is wait and pray, and it's the hardest thing of all.

I wish more than anything I could be there in person to say this, but for now, this will have to suffice: I love you Mom; happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 06, 2005

vengance is yours

I'd like everyone who was jealous of our 5 day weekend to know that they can relax now, because I've come down with gastroenteritis, or at least that's what the doctor said. You know it's bad if I don't even want the chocoloate (my favorite, even) that Steph bought at the store. I just ate a bowl of soup, prepared by Steph, and it's the only thing I'll be eating today. The only reason I'm typing this now is because my desk was a very convenient place to put the bowl.

Oh, but you can be jealous again, because the doctor's visit and three medicines (including the "purple pill") only cost 1.35 euros.

So um.... I'll be back in 24 - 48 hours.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Today is another Catholic holiday, Ascension Day. I still can't get anyone to explain to me how we still have Catholic holidays in a country that prides itself on its secularism, but if the uproar over the possibility of the holiday of Pentacost being taken away is any clue, I suspect that we still celebrate them because the unions see changing these holidays as a threat to their precious days off. That's just an outsider's point of view, so any comments are certainly welcome, as usual.

Because this holiday is on a Thursday this year, many people are "bridging" the holiday and taking Friday off as well for a nice long weekend. Since Steph doesn't work on Wednesdays and he worked in an extra class last Friday to make up for tomorrow, he's got a very nice long 5 day weekend. This is his last big break until the end of the school year, so besides the barbeque we're going to in a little bit, we will be taking it easy, especially since we're both getting over colds now and the weather isn't cooperating anyway.

we're falling apart

I'm feeling better today, albeit weak and puny, and it looks like I'll be making an appearance at the barbeque we've been invited to. Chicago suggested in the comments of my last post that I spread the joy and sneeze on the barbeque, and while I'm not sneezing too much, I may have no other choice than to cough all over it (Mom did always teach us to share). At least I'm feeling a little better.

Steph came home with a bounty of fish: 13 regular sized ones, and a whopper weighing in a 3.1 kilo! And guess who had to clean them all? No no, he's not that cruel. I did help a little, 'cause you know there's nothing better when you're sick than scooping out fish guts. He also keeps cupping his right eye, and it turns out he was a victim of his mom's pole-casting, and took one for the team. For now he says his vision is blurry in that eye and it hurts to close, but we can't find a specific wound, just redness. We're going to try to find a pharmacy that's open, because today is a national holiday.

I'll write some more about the holiday in a little bit.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

it never fails

I'm supposed to be on my way to go fishing with Steph and the in-laws, but I got Steph's cold. Let's just say that I'm not too pleased. It had better clear up before tomorrow, because we've been invited to a barbeque, and if I can't go to that too, I'm going to be pissed.

I'm going to take some NyQuil and go back to bed. Over and out.

Monday, May 02, 2005

vivi takes a big step

Yesterday, Steph felt well enough to go to the bar next door, but it was too hot for coffee, so we had cool drinks instead: a coke for Steph and a diabolo fraise for me. We sat under the Rapido monitor (we won 10 euros, woo!) and listened to the cacophony of patrons around us betting on horses. Then Steph dropped a bomb:

"I think it's time for you to start looking for work."

Click "Tell me more" to continue...

Alright, here's the thing. It's not that I don't want to work. I have ants in my pants to get out of the house more. The thing is, I don't think I'm ready. My French is abysmal, and I can barely follow a conversation. When someone does speak to me, more often than not, I freeze up and all the French I know flies away.

He continued: "Here's what you should do this week: You should go to the ANPE (unemployment office) and register. All you have to do it go and ask for information. You don't have to look for a job right away. Plus you will get discounts on bus passes and the library and museums. But you need to do this alone."

I sat in stony silence. I know he's right. It's time for me to be more proactive and stop hiding away in the apartment. I've got to get the courage to interact with people more.

Steph doesn't let me sink too low. "What's wrong?"

"I'm scared."


"I don't think my French is good enough."

"Only your boss can decide that. And think of all the things we can do if you get a job. We can save enough money to go to the states this year. We can go visit more places. You can buy more shoes (well he's got me there)."

So I did it.

This morning, I marched right over to the ANPE, which is right next to the local Intermarche, going over phrases that I thought might come in handy. When it was my turn to talk to the secretary, my heart was in my mouth. The conversation went something like this (and I feel I should say that for the part of the secretary, I am certainly paraphrasing and writing what I think she said. Heh.):

"Hello, I'd like to take some information for registering. I think it's obvious that my French isn't so great, so please excuse me..."

"Oh, that's ok. What is your nationality?"


"But you have the authority to work here?"

"Yes, I have my titre de sejour..."

*Blank stare* (probably from my crap pronunciation)

"But you do have authorization, yes?"

"Oh yes!" I hurriedly pulled out my passport with my titre de sejour glued inside, which says "autorise son titulaire a travailler" or "authorises this person to work".

I think I offended her a little. "Oh, yes yes, I didn't need to see that, I just wanted to be clear if you were authorized..." She produced a card with a free number on it. "So, you must call this number, and they will send a dossier to your home, and you will make an appointment to come back to speak with someone."

I looked down at the card and studied it for a moment, and then I understood. This was all I needed! "Well, thank you very much!"

I fairly skipped out of the office. I picked up a few things at Intermarche, and decided to reward myself with a chocolate bar with cherries and a can of coke. This is huge, people! I just took another huge step.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

in the kitchen

Today is a perfect day for a rice salad. This recipe is so easy, even I can do it without assistance, so I thought I'd share.

2 cups (uncooked) rice, cooked and cooled
1 tin tuna fish (drained)
1 small tin corn (drained)
1/2 (or if you're in the states, 1 small) cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, diced
1 avacado, peeled and diced
2 or 3 small tomatoes, diced
mustard vinaigrette to taste

Serves 4 - 6

Obviously, there's only two of us, so we know we're going to be nibbling on this dish for a couple of days. As long as it's covered so it doesn't dry out, it keeps very well in the fridge.


fete du travail

Happy May Day!

Today is Labor Day, or Fete du Travail in France. It is always on May 1, so bad luck for falling on a Sunday this year. That's ok, because there is another holiday later this week (which I will write about in another post).

In this region, in addition to the inevitable manifestations, or strikes on the Town Hall, it is celebrated with selling lilies-of-the-valley in the streets. Today is the only day of the year that anyone can sell these flowers, which grow wild in the woods here, in the streets. In fact, on my way to the boulangerie this morning to pick up a baugette (which was warm from the oven, I might add: miam miam!), I passed two people selling them, and that was just within a block of our apartment.

It is a gorgeous and warm day today! I would be surprised if it didn't hit 80 degrees today. Happily, this apartment which kept my fingers blue all winter will be a cool retreat for the summer. Without the aid of an air conditioner, we can keep it cool just by opening the front and back window to let a breeze through. We had hoped to join the in-laws at a vide grenier today, but Steph has succumbed to a terrible cold. Last night I introduced him to the wonders of NyQuil (man I love that stuff!) and he felt so much better today that he suggested we could possibly take a little stroll through the neighborhood later this afternoon, albeit at a "grandpa's" pace, as he said. I may even bring my camera, if I'm feeling touristy.