Sunday, December 25, 2005

joyeux noel!

I hope everyone is having a great Christmas! Just a quick update of what we've been up to...

I didn't have any problems finding Dad at the airport, but since he didn't sleep at all on the plane, jet lag got to him at the same time as me, so we decided to come straight home. Sorry I never found out about keeping luggage at the train station! Since then, we've been mostly hanging out with family with a little bit of sightseeing, sticking close to home. We're still recovering from the big Christmas celebration last night with all the family, and in a few hours we'll return to Troyes for the organ concert at the Cathedral and treat ourselves to dining out. This week will see a bit more sightseeing and more chillin' and hangin' out.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go do some more chillin' and hangin' out. Best wishes to everyone, and if I don't make it back online, have a wonderful New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

woo christmaszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Today I have:
  • swept/vacuumed/mopped the floor
  • decorated the Christmas tree
  • done laundry (the last of which is still in the dryer)
  • made up the new futon for Dad
  • won the battle of stuffing the new bedspread into the duvet
and I still have to clean the shower. Steph's great contribution to this last bit of cleaning before Dad arrives was to go to the end of the lane to get our Christmas tree, and shove it into our new Christmas tree stand. *sigh* When do I get a vacation again?

You're damn skippy we're eating pizza tonight. I can't be bothered otherwise.

I will be leaving the house at the butt-crack of dawn (if not before, now that I think about it) to head towards Paris to pick up Dad. I suspect that posting will be light through the end of the year, so have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (yeah, I said it!*) and have a wonderful New Year's!

*That's a joke for my fellow Americans

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

i can see!

We have just come back from picking up my new glasses. What an enormous difference! Already my eyes feel better. Unfortunately, we still don't have a camera so I can't show you what they look like, but I can tell you that they don't have frames, so not only does it seem that my vision is no longer blocked by chunky frames, but, looking in the mirror, it seems that I'm not wearing glasses at all. The good news is that they were less expensive than we thought, but the bad news is that it's because they somehow left out the anti-reflection stuff, which I had specifically asked for, and was even on the prescription from the doctor! I've never worn glasses that weren't anti-reflection, so I don't know how much of a difference that's going to make.

Warning: the next paragraph is all about cross stitch; if you can't be bothered, please skip to the end.

I also received my fabric in the mail for my new cross stitch project! This is going to be somewhat ambitious for me, as it's 400 x 400 and with my 16 count Aida fabric (I'm ambitious but I know I'm not quite ready for Evenweave or Linen yet!) it will be 25 inches x 25 inches. I had to order it specifically because I couldn't find anything large enough at Cultura. I'm really looking forward to starting it later today. I'm going to attempt to do it without the aid of a hoop; I'm worried that I'll stretch out the fabric and the work I've already done as I go. For those of you who are cross stitchers: What do you usually do when you have a large project like this? Hoop or no hoop? Obviously I will find some way to post a picture of it when it's done, but I can tell you that it is a traditional French sampler. I spent a couple of days going through some cross stitch websites looking for an American sampler, but when I saw this one, I just fell in love with it.

After lunch we'll be going once more unto the breach, my friends; we have to go to Troyes to finish up some Christmas shopping and to pick up a couple of things to be ready for my father's imminent arrival (only two more days!). Then I'll have to resist the temptation to start my new project until I get the house in a little more order. This is going to be harder than it sounds. Hm, shall I scrub the shower or stitch?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

merry f@#!ing christmas

Yesterday we went to Troyes to have lunch with my in-laws and to do a little Christmas shopping. Lunch was great; I'm finally starting to get more involved in conversations, and I love watching my in-laws interact - my father-in-law is always teasing my mother-in-law, who in turn threatens to smack him upside the head (she never does, of course). They're really adorable. Then we made a plan of attack for our Christmas shopping.

The first stop wasn't so bad. Downtown is always crowded on a Saturday, and we only had to run into a couple of shops. I would have liked to walk through the Marche de Noel that is set up in the town square, but Steph, aka Mr. Bah Humbug, didn't want to. In retrospect, I'm glad he didn't but at the time I was rather annoyed!

The second stop was at one of the shopping districts outside of Troyes. This is where it started to get a little crazy. Cars were piled up everywhere you looked; the parking lots were full and cars were parking on the sidewalks. Steph managed to find a space in front of a paint store (not much painting happening around the holidays, I suppose) and we went into my favorite store, Cultura (I could drop some serious cash in that place!). It wasn't too terribly crowded, at least we were able to move around a bit and choose some gifts without feeling rushed.

Then we made our last stop, to (one of) France's version of SuperWalmart, E.LeClerc. This place was freakin' wall to wall people. Thank goodness we only had a couple of things to pick up here, because it was really madness. They have at least twenty registers and every single one had at least ten people waiting. I felt so terrible for anyone actually purchasing food yesterday; I'm sure their frozen items were melted by the time they got home!

They must have been handing out Stupid hats on the way out (obviously we missed this line) because it seems everyone tried to leave at the exact same time. People were trying to cut across lanes of traffic and all horns were a-blazing. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we waited forty-five minutes to get out of the parking lot - that's longer than it actually takes for us to drive back to our village!

We only have one or two gifts to go back and wade through the masses for this week. I wish I could tell you that I was looking forward to it. And to think I call this my favorite time of year!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

vivi goes to market

Our village has a market in the town square every Friday morning. I'd really meant to go before now, but because I just haven't been in the habit of going, I kept forgetting about it. Yesterday, I finally got myself pulled together in time to go check it out.

It was a blustery day yesterday, cold and windy with rain drizzling down, but this didn't keep anyone away. I joined the ranks of retired couples and housewives young and old, some with strollers in tow, to look over the wares. There was the usual assortment of things for sale: clothes arranged on hangers, shoes, even someone in a Singer van selling sewing machines (Singer is pronounced "sahn-jay" in French, which cracks me up). But what everyone really comes for is the fresh food.

Tables full of fresh vegetables seem to go on for miles (which is saying quite a lot for our little village). Some seasonal things are brought in from far away, like clementines, which Steph calls "Christmas fruit," which are brought in from Spain, but the vast majority of the offerings are grown right in this area. After fruits and vegetables you can find cheese, fish, a butcher, and finally a rotisserie stand, which smelled too good to resist. For only 6.50 euros, I brought home a piping hot rotisserie chicken and sauce for lunch.

Of course, what I wasn't counting on was that Steph was celebrating the last day of school and was snacking on cakes for three hours, so he announced that he wasn't hungry when he got home. I guess we'll be having some chicken sandwiches this weekend.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

vivi needs advice

One week from today, my Dad will arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to spend the holidays with us. My excitement is only slightly dampened by the fact that since he arrives at 8:45 in the morning (!!!), I will have to get up at 5:00 in the morning in order to drive a half an hour to the station to catch a train and then another train to the airport. Let's face it, I'm going to be so excited the night before that I probably won't get much sleep anyway.

So what we'd like to do is spend a couple of hours in Paris, seeing a couple of sights, grabbing some lunch, etc., before catching the train back to the country. I have been told that it is possible to leave luggage for a few hours with the left-luggage department at the train station Gare du Nord. This would be ideal, as we can just jump on the metro from there to where I want to take him, and it's only one stop away from Gare de l'Est, where we will be catching the train home.

So my question for those of you who are in Paris or are in the know is, can you confirm that luggage can be left at Gare du Nord? Anyone have any idea of fees or where the mysterious left-luggage department is? The Google, she does nothing. If not, that's ok, I'm sure we can ask someone there, but I'd prefer to have as much information as possible beforehand, so I don't have to drag my poor jet-lagged father and his luggage all over that enormous train station only to find out that they don't provide this service. Thank you very much!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

a fine christmas party

We had a really great time at the Christmas party last night. It was a relatively young crowd, made up of Steph's colleagues and assorted family members, and we were sixteen in all. I'd say more than half of the guests arrived in some sort of costume. I think my favorite was the guy who came with the big Russian fur hat, a fake goatee glued to his face, and a plastic sword in his belt. I got lots of compliments on my graduation outfit ("Is that your real hat?") and Steph was very funny in his oversized fishing hat with a huge fishing hook attached to it.

Once everyone was settled in with drinks and snacks, including a really tasty olive bread and lots of different quiches and tarts, we had a game. Everyone had a card with the name of a famous person written on it pinned to our backs, and we had to guess who we were in order to receive our presents. Carrie will be very pleased to know that I was John Irving, because I recently lent our host, who is an English teacher, my copy of "A Prayer for Owen Meany," and Steph was André Le Nôtre, because he started a gardening club this year at the school. After everyone had discovered who we were, we settled down to opening presents. Steph received a Rubik's cube key chain, and I got a box of chocolates. Personally, I think I came out of it with the best gift, even though my gift won't last as long as everyone else's!

Then we had a song. I have to say, I love how the French tend to break out in song all the time, and to go as far as to copy down lyrics for everyone for a sing-a-long. This reminds me a lot of my North Carolina family, who do the exact same thing. They even broke out in "La Marseillaise" for Steph last summer - and they knew all the words in French! Anyway, last night, we sang the French standard "Comme d'Habitude" with altered lyrics that were so funny, I had tears streaming down my face! OK, the flowing alcohol may have aided in that, but the lyrics really were hysterical. Three of the teachers got together to do that, and they did an amazing job.

After that it was à table for dinner and dessert. I spoke way more English than I had expected to last night. Usually, I look forward to these events as a chance to practice speaking French in conversation, especially since being in a crowd is more difficult, but with three English teachers and two other guests who had American ties, everyone wanted to practice their English with me! Often they would speak to me in English and I'd try to respond in French, but a lot of "how do you say *** in English?" tends to bring that to a halt.

It was something of an early night since we got home before 1:00 in the morning (these evenings often go on until 2:00 or 3:00 but lots of people had to work today) but even then we were looking forward to our grasse matinée, or sleeping late this morning. Alas, it was not to be, as there were delivery men with our new futon couch pounding on the door at 8:30 this morning. But that's another story.

Monday, December 12, 2005

nothing like short notice... get your heart pumping, eh? Steph came home from work today and announced that the Christmas party we're going to tomorrow is also a costume party. Never mind the fact that he received the invitation weeks ago but only managed to look at the inside of it today. Grrr....

So, off to the closet we went to try to rustle something up. It has been decided that my robe, hood and mortarboard from my college graduation is exotic enough to be considered a costume. This suits me fine, as I'll be able to wear something comfortable underneath, even if I do have to pin the mortarboard to my head. Does anyone remember which side the tassel is supposed to go on?

Steph is going to call his parents to see if he can borrow some of his father's old gendarmarie duds. Tomorrow will be packed full of driving to Troyes for gifts to bring (and presumably picking up said duds) and baking goodies to bring. Well, at least it will be a busy day...

In other news, I'm scouring the internet for a new cross stitch project. I'd really like to do a traditional sampler-type thing. Anyone have any suggestions?

Update: turns out that my father-in-law gave away all his uniform stuff. If you've got a clever (and cheap!) idea, please drop it in the comments box.

And I found a beautiful sampler online. I paid for the chart and I'm going to buy the supplies tomorrow. If I can pull this off, it's gonna be GORGEOUS!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

an open letter

Dear Delta pilots,

I have never been one to deny the right of a good strike. I felt that way even before I moved to France, the Land of Strikes. I do think that everyone has the right to protest unfair work conditions (when they are truly unfair), and I think in your case, with Delta threatening a 19% paycut while the upper echelons of the company (I'm sure) will continue to pull in six figure salaries, you have an excellent reason for a strike.

Well, here's the thing. My father is flying across the ocean to visit me on the 21st of December. Of all the possible airlines to choose from, he chose yours. He didn't have to; it certainly wasn't the least expensive. But he likes you. He's been flying Delta for business (and twenty years ago, international business) for thirty years. Plus he had some SkyMiles to use.

The fact that he is coming is a really big deal for me. We've had a rough year: my mother died in May, my paternal grandfather died ten days later, and living so far away is so difficult at times like these. Having my Dad here is an opportunity to show him what my new life is like here, not to mention some much needed father-daughter time. I have been planning this visit ever since he bought the tickets two months ago.

I hate to put you between a rock and a hard place, but couldn't you put off your strike for a week or two? Surely we're not the only family with a story to tell. And you don't even have to do the international part: Air France is doing the hard work! Just make sure he gets to Cincinnati for his international connection, that's all I ask. Hell, you can even strike the minute he lands in Cincinnati; If he's stuck in France for a little while, it's alright by me.

Thank you very much for your consideration in this matter,


Friday, December 09, 2005

vivi goes to the eye doctor

Almost two years ago, I had my eyes checked for the last time in the States. I've been wearing glasses since I was a freshman in high school and have never made the transition to contacts because NOTHING TOUCHES THE EYES. I have a small thing about that. Anyway, at that time, I was told that I should be sure to have my eyes checked every year because he found the pressure in my eyes to be unusually high for someone my age and I was in danger of developing glaucoma well before my time. Since my grandmother suffers from glaucoma (she's been having to "do her eyes," or perform her regiment of eye drops, every day for as long as I can remember) and I know a little about it, this was not exactly welcome news. I filled my prescription for new glasses and went on with my life, with this little worry floating around in the back of my mind.

Earlier this year, in the middle of bugging Steph to help me make an appointment here to have my eyes checked (my fear of talking on the phone has not improved much since), I was put off this task because of my mother's failing health and flying back home to be with my family as she lost her battle with Scleroderma. Once I returned to France and tried to move on, the first thing on the agenda was to finally make an appointment, and when we finally did, it was for six months later. I've been grinning and bearing it ever since, because I've been experiencing headaches and pressure in my eyes for quite some time when I sit in front of the computer too long or read to long without a break.

My day finally came last week, and I anxiously drove to Troyes for the appointment - I was way too early because I wasn't sure where the office was, and there was no way I was going to miss my appointment only to reschedule and wait another six months! Having learned from my previous doctors visits, I greeted the doctor and explained that my French isn't perfect, but if she spoke slowly I would be sure to understand. She was extraordinarily kind, and I understood everything, which was a relief. I explained (in my halting French) what the doctor had told me in the states and about my headaches, and she got straight to business. After examining my current prescription, she had me try a couple of different lenses, and as I looked across the room at the eye chart, the pressure in my eyes simply melted away. It was the strangest feeling! Imagine my shock when she told me that my current prescription is simply too strong!

I had another surprise coming to me: she did the pressure test - this test is the same everywhere, in which a puff of air is shot into your open eye at high speed and you can imagine that I find this test to be very uncomfortable to say the least because, as I said before, NOTHING TOUCHES THE EYE - and she found that the pressure in my eyes is completely normal. I could fly back to the States and throttle that doctor for making me worry so much all this time!

So Wednesday, I dragged Steph with me to the eye glass shop here in our village, so he could help me pick out a new pair of frames. We agreed on a modestly priced pair and sat down with the sales rep to hand over my new prescription and do the paperwork. I am not even kidding you when I tell you that my new glasses are easily TWICE what I paid for my current glasses back in the States. The price of the frames was only a quarter of the total price, so even if we'd chosen a less expensive set, it wouldn't have made much of a difference. We could damn near pay our rent with what we're paying for these glasses. The blow is slightly lessened by the fact that I get a second pair free (I admit that I always wanted a pair of prescription sunglasses), but I still walked out with a sick feeling in my stomach. It's a good thing I'm happy with the frames I chose, because I believe I'll be wearing them for the next ten years or so!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harry Potter and the Rushed Three Hours

I wasn't really planning on posting a review of the most recent Harry Potter flick, but since all (two) of you asked, I will be happy to oblige. (The customer is always right, I say!) I should warn you that there may be some spoilers in this review, so if you haven't read the books or seen the movie, you may want to just read this instead, which gives a funny view of the whole Harry Potter series in a nutshell.

I've been a faithful fan of Harry Potter's since the beginning, and have read all of the books. I'm sure I wasn't alone when I read the end of the latest installment in a state of shock (she's written it wrong!). Many people have written the series off as "only" a children's series, but I think that, in time, it will join other timeless series such as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Secret Garden, both of which I have read again and again.

While I am faithful, I am also critical, and while I believe Ms. Rowling has created a wonderfully fleshed out fantasy world, there are times that I'd like to reach into the book and shake Harry out of his tendencies to be whiny and selfish. But that's just me.

I, and my friends, very much enjoyed the first two film adaptions (helmed by Chris Columbus), and found them to be extremely faithful to the books. With the third adaption came a second director, and it was appropriately darker but still faithful and enjoyable to watch.

So now we come to the fourth and latest adaption, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

To read the rest of the review (and spoilers!), click "Tell me more!"

Well I have to tell you, I wasn't all that impressed with this latest version. The whole movie felt rushed to me, as if they were sprinting through the story in order to get through all the information. Don't get me wrong, I certainly sympathize with them on this point. The book is enormous and I remember reading that they considered actually filming it in two parts, but that really isn't a practical solution when you're working with growing kids and three more books on the horizon.

But I do take issue with what they chose to exclude. The biggest shock was the absence of Dobby, the house-elf, who helps to uncover the bad guy and struggles with his alliances all through the book. This was a huge plot point that I was very disappointed not to see. Please, PLEASE do not tell me that is was cut to make room for the ridiculous-musical-theatre-jazz-hands entrance of the two visiting wizarding schools? Because, seriously, I could have done without that. But what about the hilarious fate of Rita Skeeter? Or any mention at all of the sensuous Veelas? Nope, no time, sorry, gotta run to the next scene.

I also much prefer Richard Harris' interpretation of Dumbledore over that of Michael Gambon's. I find Gambon's Dumbledore's too rough around the edges for my tastes, and while that shouldn't affect the whole review of the movie, it did add to my distaste for it.

So there you are. Not a thumbs down, but not a thumbs up, either. As always, the visuals are stunning, it's fascinating to watch the actors grow up before your eyes, and in the end, the important bits of the story get told. I wonder if I'm not the only one who walked out of the theatre just a tad bit disappointed.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Harry Potter and the Bottle of Cognac

This weekend, I went back to Paris. While it was great to hang out with the Anglo Gang again (do we have t-shirts yet?), I went to Paris for one reason and one reason only: to see the new Harry Potter movie in English!

Lucky for me, my gracious host, kyliemac, had half-priced tickets for the Salon des Saveurs and yes, it was as good as it sounds. It is a huge expo of food and drink vendors from all over France, and there were some from Spain and even Italy. We wondered around for many hours, sampling all kinds of cheese, pate, meat, chocolate and loaded up on liquor tasted some cognac, wine, armagnac, cognac, champagne, cognac... you get the picture. I spent more money than I intended, but I told myself that most of what I bought will be given as Christmas gifts (in fact, only two items will become gifts. Oops). Even so, I spent less than fifty euros on the whole deal, so I still think I came out alright, and we got to hang out with Dr. and Mrs. B while stuffing our faces enjoying the local cuisine, so that was a bonus.

After riding the metro for a couple of hours (so we could drop off our newly purchased goodies) we met up with Katia at Andie's house, where Kylie and I could sober up relax for a bit before we all went to the movie theatre.

See, this is where it got a little weird. Because this is the opening weekend of Harry Potter in France, we kind of knew it was going to be crowded at the theatre, even for the late show, so Kylie volunteered to go an hour early to pick up the tickets. It wasn't long before Kylie called and told us that we needed to get down to the theatre right away - they were already lining up people to go into the theatre - an hour before the lights went down! We raced to the theatre (and Andie did an admirable job driving us there - Paris traffic is insane no matter what time it is!), hoping to catch up with Kylie (and meet up with Dr. and Mrs. B again), but she was out of sight by the time we got there. By some miracle, she was able to leap out of the theatre, throw our tickets at us, and go back inside to hold our seats for us (where she was rewarded by being called a Beetch by some gracious Frenchman - apparently saving seats Just Isn't Done in France!).

Well, it all worked out in the end (and Kylie is a STAR and the epitome of Grace Under Pressure) and we all enjoyed the movie (well, in fact, I do have some issues with the movie, but maybe I'll bitch about it post a review another time).

I had a fantastic weekend, and I'd like to thank all the ladies (and gentlemen, bien sur!) for your hospitality! We'll be heading back to Paris in only seventeen days - to pick up my Dad from the airport!

Friday, December 02, 2005

drumroll, please

At last, I have the results of my audience participation question, posted early last week, in which I asked, would you rather eat at a five star restaurant or fly first class on an international flight?

If I counted well (believe me, there's an enormous possibility that I didn't, but I do have extreme earliness as an excuse), twenty-nine lovely people voted. Here are the results and what some of you said:

Coming in with one vote was a "tough call" from Doc, though she does point out that first class travel provides "those neat fold down bed things and champagne and slaves." Well, who can turn that down?

Four people voted for the five star restaurant. Michel already travels first class sometimes for work (!!!) so I suppose he has a good reason, but Marie just said, "Give me the food!" I love that.

The overwhelming winner of this contest, with twenty-four votes, was the first class travel! Long time French reader, Benoit (who doesn't have a blog, or least hasn't told me about it!) says that "that kind of dinner is just for retired people, celebrating their golden wedding !!!" (So much for the French and their love affair with food!) ms.mac wants to go to Melbourne (I feel I must point out that she means the one in Australia, since I once lived in Melbourne, Florida!) and take Antipo with her - I hope it's consensual!

Squishy (aka Epiphany) is unclear as to whether she'll be allowed off the plane, but baring this obstacle, she would "definitely pick the flight." And finally, GC Philo broke all the damn rules and is going on the Orient Express instead.

Well, there you have it, and thank you all very much for your comments!

P.S. Yesterday was Epiphany's one year Blog Anniversary. Why don't you stop by and say hello?