Saturday, December 30, 2006

oh, hullo

Man, I am the definition of laziness these days. Sleeping late, goofing around on the computer, eating meals at odd times, barely leaving the house; it's terrible. I have renewed my interest in playing DAoC but we justify it by saying it's for improving my French (because we only play on French servers). The worst thing is that I slept through the postman knocking on the door to deliver not one, not two, but three (ah ah ah! Three!) boxes that can't be stuffed into our mailbox and now I have to wait until Tuesday to retrieve them. Tragedy! Actually, the even worse thing is that Steph actually heard the knock and couldn't be bothered to get out of bed. Humph!

Our date night was hit and miss, in traditional Vivi and Steph fashion. The movie we wanted to see wasn't playing Wednesday, contrary to reports on the cinema's website. The only movies available were kiddie flicks, and while I'm not opposed to seeing kids' movies at the theater without kids, I had my heart set on Casino Royale so animation just wasn't going to cut it. So we had three hours to kill before our dinner reservation, so we went shopping. Again. It's not that I don't like shopping but shopping during the holidays is so draining, I don't even want to go near a shopping center for at least another two weeks. Anyway, it turned out alright because we found some books we'd been looking for and I also found one of my all time favorite movies on DVD for only ten euros. Merry Christmas to me!

The good news is that dinner was extraordinary. It cost a pretty penny, but everything was divine. This restaurant only seats twenty (plus more on the terrace in the courtyard when the weather is nice), is run by an international maitre d' - he not only chatted in English with us and an English couple at another table, but also spoke Italian with an Italian family across the room! - and features an impressively large menu for such a small, cozy place. My foie gras was unbelieveable and was served with a delicious quince marmalade, my steak stuffed with garlic butter and herbs was the best and most tender steak I've eaten in France, and my dessert was superb - carmelized pears served on spiced honey bread with a small scoop of licorice ice cream on the side. Steph started with a salad featuring Chaorce cheese, then had veal so tender he could cut it with his fork, and ended with "crunchy" bananas wrapped in crepes (it sounds so much more elegant in French! Ha!). Like I said, this place is a little heavy on the wallet, it's the sort of place we could treat ourselves to once a year, but it really was amazing and the best part was spending time together in this lovely setting.

It looks like today is going to be more of the same lazy goodness, but we do have some interesting stuff coming up. We're going to Doc's house to celebrate New Year's Eve, and then Tuesday I'll get my mystery boxes, plus next week we'll have to visit the Prefecture once again for yet another one year resident card, and who knows, maybe we'll get to see Casino Royale after all!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas recap

Christmas Eve was hit or miss, but a good time was had by all. We arrived at the home of Steph's brother and sister-in-law a good two hours in advance, and he and his brother cracked open all eight dozen oysters in about forty-five minutes. After everyone finally arrived and we toasted the newest member of the family, Steph and I slipped into the kitchen. Chaos reigned as we set our oyster assembly line in motion (or usine des huitres as my brother-in-law called it). It was slow going, but every one eventually was served their own plate of fried oysters and we finally got to sit down again nearly an hour later. They were definitely a hit, and one niece even asked if we would make them again next year. Steph and I looked at each other and replied, "Um... no." It was fun to do something different for a change but I don't think we'll be making this a tradition!

The rest of the dinner went on without a hitch, and the gift distribution was fun as always. The books I made were really well received which was a major relief. We got some interesting gifts; my favorite was a necklace kit that I'll put together myself (fun!). Another couple who always puts a lot of thought into their gifts gave us a really cute glass and pitcher set with "American" slogans on them. I think they're really fun and it will be great for making lemonade in the summer (I found a really interesting recipe of lemonade with rose petals that I'm really looking forward to trying!). The bad part was that when my mother-in-law called Steph for ideas for me, he told her that I didn't have a bathrobe. Actually, I do; I rarely use it, but I do have one. What's worse is that she bought it for me two Christmases ago! So, last night I got a new one. At least Steph gave a few minutes warning so I wouldn't stick my feet in my mouth! We also got a waffle maker, which we also already have. They asked us if there's anything else we need for the kitchen, and right then I couldn't think of a thing. Of course, after a few glasses of wine that's not a big surprise.

Yesterday was very quiet and relaxing here at home. We already bought ourselves a Christmas gift of a new entertainment center (photos are forthcoming as soon as I clean downstairs, heh) but I couldn't resist getting Steph the first season of Kaamelott which is a hilarious show set in King Arthur's court. Each episode is only about ten minutes long (there are quite a lot of comedies like this on television, which appear between the news and the main show of the evening) so it's been fun to watch five or six and then go on and do something else.

Tomorrow, Steph is taking me out on a real date! That's right, we're going to see a movie and go to a fancy restaurant. Can you believe it?

Monday, December 25, 2006

merry merry!

First, I have this Very Important Message.

Second, I have this Also Important Message: Steph and I wish you a very Merry Merry! Everything went fine last night, but today I'm going to relax, so look out for an update tomorrow. Have fun!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

in which vivi feverishly rambles about the weekend before christmas

I can't believe it but I think we've got everything under control for Christmas this year, and I'm not stressing out at all. This may be, of course, because I'm still feeling under the weather. The worst of the head cold is gone but now I've got something of a wet cough, which is always very attractive.

Yesterday we found all the oysters we need at our local grocery store, which was a relief as the alternative was driving all the way to Troyes to fight the madness of last minute shopping at one of the large grande surface shopping malls. Our local crowd was crazy enough. I should have known that we wouldn't have a problem finding oysters here, as they are a traditional appetizer for Christmas Eve in France, although they are traditionally served on the half shell instead of fried up in the southern style we're going to attempt tonight. The oysters came conveniently packed in baskets of 48, so two baskets are currently chilling out in the fridge. I'm trying to put myself in the mindset that we're going to attempt a wacky experiment that hopefully will go over well and not to take it personally if they're not well received. I can always blame Steph for that. (heh)

For lunch yesterday, we decided to try one of the two brasseries here in our town. The brasserie we chose offered a surprisingly wide array of choices, but I guess because I'm still a bit sick absolutely nothing sounding good to me (believe me, I never have a problem finding something good on a menu!). Steph opted for the menu of the day, which started with a salad with duck gizzards followed by kangaroo steak. I wasn't feeling very adventurous so I went with a large salad with escargots. Meanwhile, there was some kind of mixup with the waitress who came in late and the very gregarious owner/chef/head honcho that took our order. Steph's main dish was delivered to the table behind us, so both Steph and the other person at the table behind us were stuck waiting for their meals. I plugged away at my salad as best I could - it was alright but I really wasn't very hungry - and we waited for a good forty-five minutes for Steph's order to come out. Meanwhile, the man behind us read the waitress the riot act - how they didn't have time for this nonsense and he'd never seen such terrible service. Then there was some kind of confrontation about their paying with vacation vouchers (kind of like travelers cheques for restaurants and hotels) which damn near came to blows. At least we had dinner and a show! Well, they did give us free coffee at the end, so that was nice.

I spent the greater part of Friday and yesterday afternoon wrapping presents. The only reason it took so long is that I made my own bows for the presents which involved staples and glue as well as some well-placed clothespins to keep them all together. Since I only have so many clothespins and the bows needed to set overnight, I could only do about half at a time. The worst part is that I purposefully left the books until last so I could photograph them. There are a couple that I am especially proud of. I even charged the batteries Friday afternoon so I'd be ready. Wouldn't you know that it wasn't until I was halfway through wrapping them that I realized I'd forgotten to photograph them? Ugh, I'm so annoyed with myself, but that's the sort of scatter-brained dingbat I am these days. I still have two books to wrap for nieces we won't see until the New Year, so I'll get photos of those next week before I wrap them. I hope. I'm going to bring my camera tonight, but heaven knows if I'll remember to actually take it out of my purse.

To all of you who start your Christmas celebrations today, I hope you all have a wonderful time surrounded by friends and family (for me, that's the reason for the season!) and the same goes to those who will gather tomorrow. Tomorrow I hope to update on our Christmas Eve celebration, but if I don't make it, may you have a beautiful Christmas filled with love and laughter!

Friday, December 22, 2006

this is the cold that never ends just goes on and on my friend... (everybody sing!)

'Cause I can't. It appears I've lost my voice.

Well, Wednesday was a wash, filled with sleeping and moaning. Yesterday I managed a quick run to the grocery for necessities and work for a couple of hours on the computer. Today staring at the computer is making me cross-eyed, so I think I need to step away from it for a while. This is just as well, as there are still books to be made and presents to wrap. I think I've got one more good dose of NyQuil left and then I'm just going to have to ride it out. I'll pass on a trip to the pharmacy, thanks - the only thing they ever give for a head cold is saline nasal spray, and I think I can manage without it (ew).

Well, as Lesley said in the comments on my last post, thank goodness it's not the gastro. It certainly could be worse.

Everyone has their own traditions for celebrating Christmas, and my extended family is no different. We gather as many family members as possible under one roof on Christmas Eve and eat copious amounts of food and then open gifts. It makes for a long night, but it's fun. Everyone brings something to contribute to the dinner, and Steph volunteered us for....

Wait - a little background is necessary, I think.

Back in October when we were in North Carolina, we had dinner in one of those fry-up seafood places you can only find miles and miles away from the ocean. Steph ordered some kind of fried seafood platter and I stuck to crab cakes (they are kind of hard to mess up). Steph was decidedly nonplussed about most of the fried critters on his plate except for the fried oysters. He was so impressed he gave me one, and I agreed that it was pretty tasty. "Do you think you could make that?" he asked. Well, I figured that with a little cornmeal and a frying pan it wouldn't be that hard to replicate.

Fast forward a month or two...

We're visiting the in-laws and my dear mother-in-law asks us what we'd like to make for an appetizer for Christmas dinner. "We're going to make fried oysters!" Uh, we are? I hadn't even tried to recipe yet, and he's volunteering us to make enough for sixteen people?

On another visit with family, the menu was being discussed, and when the oysters came up, Steph wisely noted that a dozen fried oysters each would be too much, so my brother-in-law suggested half a dozen each.

So long story longer, Steph has volunteered us to fry up EIGHT DOZEN OYSTERS on Christmas Eve. I haven't even perfected the recipe yet (last time we tried it, it was way too salty). Of course this means we'll have to take over the sister-in-law's kitchen just before eating, because you know we have to fry them up just before consumption - ain't nothing worse than old fried food. Beaurk indeed.

So that's what we have to look forward to this weekend. What are your family traditions for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

a new record

Yesterday we finished our Christmas shopping - a whole seven days before Christmas Eve, which is a new record! Steph has been under the weather for a few days, and there were a couple of times that he wanted to give up and go home. Maybe I pushed him a little to keep going, but now everything's finished but the wrapping. What a relief!

To thank me, Steph promptly gave me his cold, which has since mutated and I feel like I've been run over. Talk about worst possible timing. Today I pressed on and bound another book and prepped two more, which I'll probably bind on Thursday. Tomorrow I'm hoping to play around with my new idea for Christmas gift tags. I can't ever find gift tags here so in the past I've just written names on the presents, but I don't really like the look of it. I'll let you know how they come out.

OK, I've just sat here and stared at the wall for a good five minutes, so I guess that's my cue to wrap this up. I think it's time to go dig the big "N" little "y" big farkin' "Q" out of the medicine cabinet for the sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head, fever so I can rest medicine. Amazing how those ads stick in your head, isn't it?

Monday, December 18, 2006

in which vivi passes a pleasant evening conversing in french

Well, the title pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Saturday, we spent the evening with our friends F & E, and for the very first time, I found myself able to really talk. Except for those instances I was really stuck and Steph jumped in to help, I pretty much carried my own. Sure, there were moments of silence while I struggled to find the right word or correct grammar, but F and E were both super indulgent and patient while I tried to find a way to be understood.

So what did we talk about? Well, ME, of course!! No, nothing so egotistical as that, but for the first time, I was able to talk about, in my own words, what I did for a living before I moved here, my struggle to find gainful employment in France, where I've been in France and what I'd like to visit in the future, where my family comes from (this sparked a very interesting conversation about where all our ancestors are from) and what Steph and I are thinking and dreaming about the future.

It felt so amazing to be a part of the conversation instead of a witness to it. I'm finding myself, ever so slowly, gaining confidence to jump into a conversation and make myself heard. I also think that for the first time, these wonderful friends of Steph's that I've known for nearly three years now are starting to get a sense of who I am as a person, as opposed to Steph's American wife who barely speaks French.

It's painfully slow, this adjusting to a life in a new country, but the awards are astounding. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting there.

And hey, don't forget to join me over here!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

panic downgraded

I just colored my hair. In an attempt to find a color closer to my favorite color ever - which isn't being made anymore - I went for something a little bolder on the red scale.

When I got out of the shower and looked at the damage, I freaked. It wasn't even Ronald McDonald red. It was RADIOACTIVE. I took a couple of pictures so I could show you how far over the edge I'd gone and then realized that with the flash (it's much too gloomy outside to get a picture with natural light) it didn't look half bad.

So, meh. It will calm down in a week or so. I'm definitely going to need to put on a little makeup though, or else I will be looking a little scary. Considering the fact that one can see women sporting crayola red and bright fuschia colored hair around here, I don't think it's going to stick out that much.

Other than the hair-scare, things are going ok. I'm making progress on the guide, slowly but surely. We're going to hang out with some friends tonight, and in an attempt to shake myself out of my little personal rut, I have actually donned a skirt and some black wooly tights (it is the middle of December, after all) for the occasion. Too bad I don't really have shoes to go with a skirt and black wooly tights, but I suppose I'll be able to make do.

Update: nope, it still looks like clown hair. Guess I'm just gonna have to work it! Scary picture forthcoming...

Click here for clown hair goodness.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Alex lives on a tropical island. This year for Christmas, she's doing a drawing for a big ole box of goodies from her tropical island. I would sign up, but when she did this two years ago from Japan, I won! And lemme tell you something, it wasn't like, a postcard and some chopsticks; the girl went past generous and went straight to lavish. Seriously.

So what are you waiting for? All you have to do is leave a message on her Woot! Woot! It's Christmas Time! post and you'll be registered for the drawing! Go! Now!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

and now for something completely different

Last week, my aunt and uncle saw their first Shuttle launch up close and personal in Florida. My uncle happened to make a movie of it, and since shuttle launches are such a huge part of my memories of growing up in Titusville, right across the river from the launch pads, I asked them if they'd mind me posting the video here so I can share it with you.

The woman you hear on the video is seeing her first launch as well, and her excitement is clear. It may seem silly to yell "Go baby!" at a huge rocket hurtling itself into space, but even the most cynical observers can't help but get caught up in the excitement. I saw dozens of these launches growing up, and even in my most aloof teenage years, there was a part of my yelling "Go baby!" at the shuttle, at least on the inside.

This may be because I saw the Challenger blow up before my eyes on my way to math class in seventh grade.

Here is your shuttle goodness!

My top three memories of the shuttle:

1. Walking home from the school bus stop and looking up to see the shuttle riding "piggy-back" on a 747 on its way back to Kennedy Space Center. This was back before the shuttle landed at Kennedy Space Center - it landed in California and hitched a ride home. I must have been seven or eight years old at the time.

2. When the shuttle reenters the Earth's orbit, it breaks the sound barrier, resulting in a sonic boom, which sounds like a rifle report. During one the early shuttle landings in Florida, when a shuttle landing was big enough news to interrupt afternoon programming, I stood in my living room (ready to run outside to see the shuttle, of course!) while the tv ran live feeds from Orlando and the Space Center. Because the sonic booms takes a little while to travel, I heard it three times: first in Orlando via the tv, then from over my house and finally at the Space Center on tv!

3. By the time I was in high school, night launches were so old hat that I would wake up in the middle of the night to windows rattling and the sound of a freight train going through the house, and my reaction was "meh, shuttle launch" and I went right back to sleep!

OK, geek time is over, back to work!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

today's the big day!

Oh my god, I think I'm going to throw up.

Update: Well, that pretty much sucked. Not that I got anyone denying me permission to put them in the guide, but I am still struggling to make myself understood and that's damn tiring. Not to mention frustrating beyond belief. I also confirmed my suspicions that I'm not meant to be a door to door salesperson. Well, make that sales full stop. I have always despised cold calling and I don't even like talking on the phone with people I don't know. I don't know what I was thinking, taking this on. I'll just be happy and relieved when it's over.

Of course, on the way home, I realized that this opened a whole new can of worms for me. Is this what I'm supposed to be doing? Just grabbing whatever questionable job that seems halfway doable? I can see a miserable life stretching out before me, full of positions of glorified babysitting (my first job here) or as unwilling English tutor.

So what the hell am I supposed to be? That, my friends, is the $25,000,000 question.

If you have the answer, please write it on a 3 x 5 card and mail to:

Bottomless Pit of Despair
Middle of Nowhere,

This negative post was brought to you in part by: the letters OMGWTF?!

Monday, December 11, 2006

the only thing that stays the same is change

Yep, I've changed my tactics again. We went to the in-laws' yesterday afternoon for coffee because half of the family were going to be there and since we don't get to see everyone very often, we thought it'd be a good idea to go. After talking about the new job, everyone seemed to agree that I'd get a much more positive response if I went to businesses in person, so I'm going to follow their advice. Who knows the French better than the French, right? Plus my sister-in-law is going to do a little networking for me too. I'll take all the help I can get.

So I've spent most of the day preparing lists of places to go tomorrow and entering contacts with email addresses and emailing requests for confirmation. I've already got one confirmation back, so at least I know the email system works. I'll be glad when I've gotten tomorrow over with - I'm more nervous about talking to all these businesses than anything else.

Anyway, I just got back from walking to the grocery to pick up a few things. Man, has the temperature dropped! At least it feels more like December now, that's a big change from just a few days ago. I've changed into my comfy clothes, I've got a big mug of tea next to me, and now it's back to work (wheeeee!).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

thinking outloud

I was going to sit down and write a post about the details of my new job but then I realized that I would be cutting my nose to spite my face. I can tell you this, though:

True to form, I spent the first two days losing sleep over the best way to do this job. I've changed my game plan at least three times and I keep bugging Steph with stuff like, "Does it make sense if I say this?" and "Does that mean what I think it means?" and generally being a neurotic pain in the toosh. That being said, I have come to a couple of conclusions.

I was originally going to spend a lot of time going to Troyes and talking to contacts in person, and then I realized that in the time it takes to drive to Troyes, I could talk to about ten contacts by telephone. I'll still take my info when we go to Troyes for something else, but making a special trip seems a waste of time. I think I've also finally come up with what I'm going to say to contacts and I've boned up on some vocabulary issues.

So, I've got a couple of craft projects I need to give my attenion to this weekend (Christmas is still only three weeks away whether I'm working or not) so the telephone assault will begin Monday. And I do mean assault - I want to get as much as the phone stuff out of the way as quick as I can, so I can get to the fun stuff - writing!

The funny thing is that I've suddenly got this surge of confidence in speaking French and I haven't even talked to a contact yet. The phone rang late Thursday afternoon and I was going to let it ring but then I thought "hey, if this is going to be my job I'd better get used to it" so I picked it up. Wouldn't you know that it is our bank wanting to make another appointment with Bank Dude? I said, "Again?! We just saw him last week." She was surprised and said she'd pass that along to Bank Dude. I mean, honestly.

Then I had to go back to the post office and found the one nice person in the whole building. I couldn't even believe it. Not only was she nice, she was patient as I explained that I probably had the wrong documents for sending a registered letter because I'd misunderstood the (not exactly nice but not mean either) woman who gave me the documents the day before. She was fantabulous and I hope she's not just a temporary replacement for someone. I want to bring her cookies, she was so nice.

Anyway, that's what's been rolling around my brain the last couple of days. Oh - and the great news is that Steph's colleague took only about an hour to work on the computer and everything seems to be fine. He took a hard drive and a graphic card out of the old computer and put them in mine, so I'm working with a Mighty Powerful Machine now, yes indeed. Only I moved as much of my documents as I could onto one of the new drives (it was partitioned) and left the games on the old hard drive, but I seem to have moved something I shouldn't have, as my desktop noises have disappeared. Something else to goof around with when I have time. So, that's my weekend set - hope you all have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

ca commence mal

This morning I got up with Steph, as I usually do, and sat down at the computer with coffee and cereal close by. After my usual tour around the blogosphere, I got down to work for the guide. My plan for today is to research really simple contacts, such as national emergency numbers and financial contacts with call centers in the UK (in other words, no need to freak out about speaking in French just yet), so I can get a handle on the company's data entry system. This is the life, I thought, working at the computer in my pajamas with headphones on in my own personal call center set up. At 10:30 I took a break to take a shower, and then it all went haywire.

Steph came flying in from work, which isn't necessarily cause for alarm since his morning classes on Thursdays end at 10:00, but he usually spends the following hours working at school until he comes home for lunch. Just having him here threw me off pace, and then he (loudly) set down to work on some paperwork in the office and needed my help.

That's because my other less-known and poorly paying (read: fo' free!) job is as Steph's secretary because not only does he have a huge thesis to write, he also has to pretty much document every time he sneezes, in addition to his usual work (teachers, I'm sure you can understand all this). So I reluctantly set my own work aside to help him, and then because this extra work put me off schedule, I raced downstairs to make lunch so Steph could get back to work on time.

Plus, in a case of worst possible timing, a colleague of Steph's is coming over this evening to do some work on my computer. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally grateful that he's coming on his own time to help us out, but if something goes wrong, I am pretty much screwed six ways from Sunday.

And to top it all off, I've got to take some papers to the post office (my favorite place, they love me there /sarcasm) and it's coming down cats and dogs with the extra added bonus of wind blowing sideways.

So to make a long story longer, I've got to get this house in presentable shape, run an errand I really don't want to do, try to set up a new email address in Outlook and then, if I have time, try to complete to goal I set out for myself way back when life seemed good (approximately four hours ago) before I have to relinquish control of my computer.

Damn, damn, damn.

To be fair, this job sort of landed in my lap, and I'm glad to have it, but I should have took a better look at my calendar (can you believe I actually have things to put in my events calendar?) before signing on. On the other hand, I'd rather be busy busy busy than bored to tears and staring at the wall (my previous condition). Life has suddenly shifted into overdrive and I suppose the best thing to do is hang on as best I can and try to enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

vivi gets a job

And it only took two years!

Well, this isn't your traditional job, nor is it anything permanent, but it should prove to be interesting. I'll be compiling a rather lengthy list of contacts to be included in an English speakers guide to Troyes and I have one month to do it. This means that I'll be spending a lot of time on the phone or marching down the streets of Troyes to verify all sorts of information. The interesting thing about this guide is that it concentrates more on emergency contacts than touristy things to see. In any case, I'll have to really suck it up and get over my huge aversion to speaking French, both in person and on the phone and I need to do it quick, because even though they suggest that the list can be finished by spending around two hours a day verifying contacts, I'm worried that I won't be able to make the deadline.

So there you go. I'm both terrified and excited, and if nothing else, I'll be forced to practice my French, whether I'm ready or not!

I have to send out an enormous THANK YOU to Sam de Bretagne for posting the info about this job on her blog this morning. Sam has already done a guide for Rennes and will be my editor for this one (expect a barrage of emails starting tomorrow, Sam!).

my new obsession

Hoo-boy, I got it bad, too. Sunday I signed up for Second Life and I've barely come up for air since. Second life is a complete 3-D world that has been created by its inhabitants. It's an ever increasing and changing world, filled with everything from nightclubs to educational courses. Steph keeps looking over at my monitor and saying "But what can you do?" and I keep responding "anything you want!" Of course, first you have to learn how to do everything and I'm still in the first flush of exploring and figuring out how all this stuff works. I should also mention that it's free to download and free to play, but some premium services are reserved for those who do pay a monthly fee (and it's priced very competitively with other online MMORPGs). Anyway, if there are any other SLers out there, send me an IM sometime, my name in-game is Vivi Alexandre (you have to choose your last name from an existing list).

In other news, has Vivi finally found a job? Stay tuned for exciting updates!

Dang, I had a bunch of other stuff I wanted to include in this post, and this job opportunity just popped up this morning so my brain is (understandably) otherwise occupied... oh, I remember one!

You may have noticed a new button in my side bar - my Amazon wish list. Please, before you think that my greed knows no bounds, I just wanted to say that I've put it there for my family who sometimes swing by to see what I'm up to, in case they'd like to give a Christmas gift to their relative that up and ran away to Europe. I also want to ask my relatives and friends to drop me an email and let me know if they have wish lists I should know about!

OK, that's it for now, if I remember something else I'll add an update. Happy Wednesday in any case!

OH, here's another important one: Very happy birthday wishes to my home skillet Epiphany! May your birthday be truly glorious!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Apothicairerie de l'Hôtel Dieu le Comte

Sunday started off beautiful with warmer temps and a sunny blue sky. Unfortunately, by the time we got my in-laws' for lunch, the blue skies were nearly obscured by dark grey clouds accompanied by strong gusts of wind with rain not far behind. Despite the change in weather, we decided to press on with our afternoon activity, visiting the Apothicairerie de l'Hôtel Dieu le Comte in Troyes.

This tiny museum is comprised of two rooms; the first is a gorgeous apothercary in the same state that it would have been in the beginning of the 18th century, and the second smaller room, which was the laboratory, which contains some displays of apothecary instruments as well as some religious items that come from the chapel of the Hôtel Dieu.

While the laboratory holds a few interesting items, the real beauty of this museum is the apothecary. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with over three hundred painted wooden medicine boxes and hundreds more ceramic containers, many of which still have their contents' names painted in Latin. A wooden staircase with bronze wheels rests against a wall, and would have given the apothecary access to the highest shelves, while an opened corner door reveals hundreds of pewter pieces.

This museum is among the finest of its kind in France and shouldn't be missed, but be warned that it will only take a half hour of your time. The Hôtel Dieu also contains another musuem, which is interactive for children, but it is also in easy walking distance to the center of Troyes in one direction and the cathedral in the other, so it would be an excellent break on a walking tour.

The entrance fee is usually five euros, but because we visited on the first Sunday of the month, the fees in most museums in France are waived. Photographs are allowed but without flash (which is why my pictures came out a bit dark; can't ask for much better with my little point and shooter!). You can see more pics of the museum by clicking on the photo.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

audio meme!

I am participating in an audio meme which was started by Lesley at Peregrinations. Thank you so much, Lesley, for tagging me with this, I really enjoyed doing something different for a change!

If you're interested in participating, just upload your own audio, answering the three questions in the audio portion, and be sure to let us know so we can come find you!

powered by ODEO

So there I am in all my Southern Belle glory. Hope it's not to hard on your ears!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, December 01, 2006


La Traversee de ParisOne of our friends lives across the street from a bar we used to go to when we lived in Troyes. Everytime we went to the bar as a group, everyone (except me, obviously, because I had no idea what was going on) would pound on Friend's windows and yell out "Jambier!!" at the top of their lungs. Everybody had a big laugh over this happening every single time we passed this guy's house, and whenever I asked for an explanation, all I heard was, "Oh, it's from an old movie, I can't explain it, you've just got to see it." Pfft.

Finally, two years later, we came across the famous movie at Fnac (Fnac Fnac!) bundled with two other movies for the low, low price of 15 euros, so we bought it and settled down the other night to watch La Traversée de Paris.

Unfortunately, for the low, low price of 15 euros, you don't get subtitles in English or otherwise*, but I was basically able to follow the story of taxi driver-turned-black market operative and the painter he enlists to help him carry four suitcases of meat across wartime Paris. As far as films go, it's not the best French movie I've seen, but it certainly wasn't the worst either. I think it does a good job of expressing the fear, the frustration and the inventiveness the Parisians experienced during the war (which I'm sure was still fresh in the filmmakers' minds since this was made only ten years after the war) and there are a few poignant moments as well as a few laughs to be had. I would certainly recommend it, provided you're fluent in French or subtitles are available. (Tangent: it must be a hallmark of films made in this era, because when I think of American films from this time, there are plenty of fast-talking actors who spit lines out of the sides of their mouths that would be impossible to follow if you're not fluent in English - hell, there are some that I can't even follow!)

So why is crying "Jambier!!" outside of innocent peoples' homes so funny? I'm afraid I have to tell you the same thing that was told to me - you'll have to watch the movie!

*I actually can follow a movie with French subtitles. In fact, we often watch a French tv show called Maigret which comes on about every other Friday evening. This one's a mystery show set in the '50s and based on the books of Georges Simenon. Thanks to closed captioning for the hearing impared, I know exactly what's going on!

PS In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I thought they were yelling "Janvier," which is French for January, and it wasn't until I saw the listing on IMDB that I figured out my mistake.

PPS This doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I really got a kick out of listening to Katia and KylieMac's Thanksgiving podcast yesterday. Thanks for the shout out ladies; I was thinking of you, too! Have you listened to the podcast yet? Make sure you check it out here!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

more adventures with Bank Dude

Before I came home from the States, Steph received a call from our bank representative who wanted to make an appointment us. Apparently, bank representatives do this periodically, say once a year or so, to let their clients know of new offers that are available or at least to get some face time. That appointment was today, and since we had several other errands to run in Troyes, we decided to make a day of it.

By the way, if you don't remember our previous run-in with the man I call Bank Dude, you may want to read this first.

So, we arrived to the bank a few minutes late, but considering how Bank Dude has treated us in the past, I don't think either one of us were worried about it. In fact, it turned out to be a good thing, because no sooner had we found ourselves in the waiting area, he was ushering us into his cubicle. I couldn't help but chuckle thinking about every time in the past we've arrived on time and we had to wait ten to fifteen minutes.

Things did not get off to a good start, as the first thing he said when we sat down was, "So, why are you here today?" Steph and I looked at each other in wonder before Steph reminded him that he had invited us to come. Ah, yes.

Basically what followed was thirty minutes on nonsense. Bank Dude kept going off on tangents and tried to sell us services that we don't need. While it's true that we are considering buying an apartment in the next year or so, some of the numbers Bank Dude were throwing around either didn't apply to us at all or didn't even add up (dangerous territory when your client is a math teacher, for crying out loud!). Finally, Steph was able to extricate us from Bank Dude's web by assuring him that we'd be back to talk numbers when we're reading to do something.

Man, I hope we can change bank representatives before that time comes...

Afterwards, we hit the Fnac (Fnac Fnac Fnac! just love that word!) and then ate lunch at a restaurant downtown that I hadn't been to before and we both had gratin savoyarde. This is a dish with potates and lardons (basically bacon) baked with creamy cheese on top, served with salad and bread. Delish! And perfect for this chilly, cloudy weather we've been experiencing as of late.

Another interesting stop was to our insurance office to inquire about putting me on the car insurance. I've been driving for well over a year now, but we figured we were protected as I would have "permission" from Steph to drive the car, in case something happened. It turns out we needn't have worried because with our insurance, I'm automatically included because we're married, and it doesn't cost us anything extra. It's still a good thing we went, however, as they still had him listed as "single." Oops.

After a quick stop to say hello to the in-laws, it was back home. Not much else to report; I'm still working on some bookbinding (I'll post pictures when I get them all finished) and I've pulled my huge cross stitch project out of retirement and I'm working on that slowly for a change of pace.

Monday, November 27, 2006

thanksgiving dinner

thanksgiving flowers
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
Saturday went without a hitch, except for the fact that seven people plus the oven running constantly for about two hours makes for a very warm place in our small apartment. Besides that, everyone was very complimentary (though they couldn't resist jabs like "Not bad for an American!" and these were taken in stride) and we hardly had any leftovers at all. By 2:00 in the morning, four bottles of wine and one bottle of Jack were gone (yes! they killed the Jack!) and a good time was had by all. They even gave us this gorgeous floral arrangement which I will try desperately not to kill in the next couple of weeks. We've been invited to join this group of friends for New Year's, which should be fun.

In case you're curious, dinner consisted of appetizers of olives, raw veggies and canapes with tatziki sauce and spinich dip; a main meal of roasted turkey breast, green beans with mushrooms and garlic, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce; and a dessert of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

I got a request on my last post (hi Antipo!) for the recipe of the day-before mashed potatoes. I adapted it from this recipe, and here's my version with French ingredients which will serve four:

4 large potatoes
85g or about 4 sqaures kiri cheese
about 3/4 large pot of creme fraiche
15g butter
onion powder, salt, pepper to taste

Peel and cube potatoes and boil about 15 minutes, or until they are tender but still firm.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and mash potatoes until smooth. Mix in all the other ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 175C. (The recipe calls for greasing a baking dish, but I didn't find it necessary.) If you find the potatoes to be dry, stir in a little more creme fraiche. Transfer potoates to the baking dish and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or until it is warmed through.

Voila! This was a huge hit. I made an enormous casserole dish of potatoes, and there was just a couple of spoonfuls left. Let me know if you try it out!

Friday, November 24, 2006

vivi gets her butt in gear

Well, very nearly, anyway.

While all you Americans were munching on turkey and gravy yesterday, I was pushing my shopping cart around the great big grocery in Troyes. Actually, given the time differences, you were probably snoring away, since I was there around 1:00, so... ok, that's not important right now. Where was I?

Right. The big grocery. OH. Here's a tip: if you can manage it, always go grocery shopping at lunchtime. There's hardly anyone there! Seriously, I've been there just after lunchtime and it can get so crowded I couldn't even push my cart down the widest isle in the middle of the store. During lunchtime, I zip through there so fast I even have time for a café crème and a game of Rapido before the long drive home.

So anyway, since I know that my easy-bake oven will never be big enough to contain a whole turkey, I did the same thing I did two years ago, which is buy a ginormous turkey breast wrapped up tight with string. I'll just stuff a little garlic in it and slap some butter and herbs on top and call it a day. I also had to restock our whiskey supply. Whiskey is Steph's prefered alcoholic beverage (tho we're practically teetotalers and it probably takes him a year to finish a bottle, even with help) so I knew I'd have to have some for before-dinner drinks. Of course, left to my own devices, I came home with our good friend Jack. I thought I'd get a rise out of Steph for bringing home an American whiskey but all he wanted to know is how much it cost (18 euros for a fifth, if you're playing at home). Ah well, better luck next time.

Today I was a blur of motion! OK, not really. But I did get a few things done, including
  • finishing a new book (finally! back on track!)
  • cleaned the bathroom (you know company's coming when...)
  • vacuumed high traffic areas upstairs
  • tidied up a bit downstairs
  • made enough mashed potatoes to choke an elephant (these "day before potatoes" are so awesome, they taste like you just mashed them when you take them out of the oven!)
  • made some spinach dip
  • chopped up some veggies
Tonight I'd like to prep some paper for a new book, which I'd like to bind tomorrow, but that's not looking too likely considering I need to
  • go to the grocery and pick up a couple of last minute things
  • sweep and vacuum downstairs
  • bake a pie
  • prep as much as I can so I can be a gracious hostess instead of a kitchen slave
before our guests arrive. I guess it all depends on how early I can get my butt in gear tomorrow!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

happy turkey day!

We have been invited to not one, but two Thanksgiving celebrations this year, happening on Saturday of course, since today is just your regular old Thursday here in France. Sadly, I don't feel quite ready for traveling out in the world just yet, so we've declined both of them. Steph suggested inviting a couple of friends over on Saturday for a much more subdued Thanksgiving celebration, and I thought I could probably handle that, so I've been trying out a couple of side dish recipes. After all, what fun is Thanksgiving if you can't share the box of Stove Top you carried all the way across the ocean (they can each have a spoonfull)?

In any case, I can't wait to hear about our friends' gathering in Paris, which we so enjoyed last year, and I'm getting a kick out of reading Doc's blog as she single-handedly prepares a Thanksgiving feast for thirty. She's off her rocker, but that's why we love her.

Of course, the purpose of Thanksgiving (besides remembering our dear Pilgrim ancestors) is to give thanks for what we have. Although Thanksgiving is just the first stop on a holiday journey that will be an emotional roller coaster this year, I will always be thankful first and foremost for my wonderful family - not just those who will gather today, but those who have gone ahead. Today I'll be thinking about wonderful memories of Thanksgivings in the past while dreaming of Thanksgivings to come.

I wish all of you in the States a very happy Thanksgiving! So tell me, what are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I've got the blues!

Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
No, not that kind of blues, my cobalt blues, which I lugged across the ocean in a foolishly heavy carry-on bag so I could have them in my home once again. Sorry the picture is so dark; if I waited for a sunny day to take a photo, we'd have to wait until next year some time, I'm afraid. Anyway, I've always been fond of cobalt blue glass and started collecting pieces quite a long time ago. When it came time to pack up my belongings two years (and some change) ago, these were the pieces I thought were worth dragging across the Atlantic. Only problem is that I don't really have anywhere to put them right now. We're thinking of getting an entertainment center soon, so maybe a couple of them will end up there.

Yesterday I popped in the DVD player a new aerobics DVD I picked up in the States and had a nice little workout. Unfortunately, my quads are so sore today that I can barely get up and down the stairs. I must be doing something wrong, surely? Aren't squats meant to work out the back of the thighs? Anyway, I'm supposed to (according to the workout schedule that came with the DVD) workout six days with one day off, but if I'm meant to do an hour of squats (slight exaggeration) and then go up and down my stairs all day, they've got another think comin'. I'm going to try for every other day for now, until my body gets back in the swing of things.

I'll tell you what I miss, and that's actually going to an aerobics class. Most of the fun was being in the back row with my friend Dana snarking over the ever-perky aerobics instructors. They were perky, but they were actually quite fun and knowing I was going to meet my friend there went a long way in keeping me honest. Meanwhile, we howled in mock (and real) pain and joked around and kept a positive attitude about the whole thing. And that's the last time I was in anything close to being called "in shape."

Now that I think about it, I seem to have a history of snarking in the back row, as I remember taking an aerobics class in high school with Carrie, only then we were surly teenagers who had to fulfill a fitness requirement in high school and this seemed the easiest way to slag through it.

Yep, me and aeorbics go way back, and now I think Aerobics is getting back at me!

Monday, November 20, 2006

ups and downs

Last week I had a little taste of getting back to normal. Thanks to the fact that Steph was in the middle of his formation cycle, when he's gone all day during the week, I didnt have to race in the mornings to get a hot meal on the table at precisely 12:15, when he usually walks in the door for his 45 minute lunch break from school. Instead I was able to move a little leisurely and eat a small lunch when I wanted, while attacking mountains of laundry my husband thoughtfully left for me so I'd have something to do (le sigh). I also got most of my new belongings put away and ran a few errands around town with my big French basket in tow. I felt like I was getting my legs back and enjoyed my little trips to the grocery or to the Mairie and at one point I even illicited a smile from the lady at the poissonerie as I passed. My idyllic dream of living in the French countryside was slowly but surely coming back to me.

Then I got an email last night from some close friends of the family who had been next to unreachable the last month and a half, and because of the lack of contact, they wanted to know how Dad was doing. At first I put it off, deciding to reply in the morning. I walked away from the computer and found myself unable to stop thinking about the reply. I came back to the computer and opened up my email and walked away again. Finally, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep until I put this behind me, I sat down at the computer and composed the hardest email in my life. I know I probably should have called, but the idea of actually telling the story again was too much. I hope they'll forgive me for telling them by email.

For two months after Mom died last year, my mind replayed the day that she died over and over again, like a cruel movie loop. I haven't had that experience too much since Dad died, but last night, after writing that email, I was back in that mindset. Our brains play cruel tricks on us sometimes. I guess it's just a part of that roller coaster I'm on right now.

This week I have some fun things to look forward to, plus I'll be diving back into my bookbinding, and then there's the usual grind of day-to-day living that we all have to look forward to. Here's hoping the roller coaster will be straightening itself soon, or at least give me a little more time between the loopty-loops.

Friday, November 17, 2006


four generations part two
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
This post marks my 500th post on Dispatches From France. And to think, it only took a little over two years! To celebrate, I'm finally uploading a picture of me. Of course, I was pretty tiny at the time, but I basically look the same, with a bit more hair.

I began this blog as a way to keep my friends and family in the States updated about my life here in France, and here we are, two years and two months later, and I have friends all over the world in all walks of life. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of you - those of you who have been with me since the beginning and those who have found me along the way - for your kindness, support and for continuing to come back and visit my little corner of the internet all this time. Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

Also, I think it's time to change This Old Template. The problem is that I know exactly what I want but have no illustrator skillz. Anyone know of an illustrator who would do a commission?

And, as always, clicking on the picture will take you to my flickr feed, where you'll find another interesting four generation photo from my family archives.

Thanks again, y'all are the best! Gros bisous à toute la monde!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

someone else's dream

For a week after he arrived in North Carolina, Steph joked that we would move into my father's house and I would work while he kept house, the inverse of our life in France. He joked about it so much that, as we slipped into a booth at our favorite lunchtime restaurant, I asked him how much was joking and how much was actual interest in moving to the States. So we began to mull over the idea of uprooting our lives.

At first I was skeptical. What about his parents, his brothers and sisters? What about his specialization course, which he finally was accepted into only this year, his career, the main reason we chose to live in France in the first place? And what about the grand irony that I would be moving home only after both my parents have passed away?

For the next two days, we researched immigrant visas and green cards, mulled over monthly expenses of owning a house this grand, spoke to family members who are retired teachers, even spoke with the personnel director of the county's school system. Slowly, my vision shifted. I could see a future for us, with both of us gainfully employed, in a house twice as large as we could ever own in France, on a piece of land large enough to hold two or three homes in France. Our children would attend schools just around the corner and would intimately know my family. I could achieve my former goal of being a high school drama teacher (which was practically guaranteed by the personnel director) while Steph could continue working in special education.

My vision was so clouded by this dream that I walked right into the brick wall of reality.

The truth is that the risks were just too great. If Steph ever leaves his position as a teacher here, he can never reclaim it. Sabbaticals are possible but it would be June before he got any approval for it, meaning he'd have to apply for a job in the States before he knew he could even take it. Even then we'd have only a year to make it work there before we'd have nothing at all. Although we're glad we did do the research as it may come in handy one day, we realized that now is not the right time.

I had a difficult time letting all this go, when everything in this dream was centered around this house. My father's house: the house he knew he'd buy the moment he walked in the door and declared, from a chair in the sun room, "I'm home." The house he longed for for ten years of apartment living with no land, cramped living quarters and half his possessions in storage. My father's house.

My father.

And with that, I realized that letting this dream go, letting this house go, meant letting go of my father. For moments that stretched into hours and then years, the idea was unbearable.

Truth be told, I'm still coming to terms with all this, which I suppose is normal, since he's only been gone for a month. I do have moments of clarity and peace, however, when I realize that that house wasn't my dream, and it never was; it was his. Slowly, my vision is refocusing on me and my dreams. With a little bit of time, I think my vision will be clear again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

wake me up in 2007

Last night was a restless night thanks to Snorey McSnore actually invading my dreams, forcing my retreat to the guest bed. I'm feeling a bit more like myself today, except for some aches and pains and the shock of being back in France (ooh, cloudy skies that go on forever! ack, French lady runs me over in the veggie isle of the grocery!). Tuesday is absolutely the best day to go grocery shopping here, if you can help it (I feel an informative post about grocery shopping welling up) so I took advantage of having the car in my possession and hottailed it to Troyes to the big shopping center.

Meanwhile, I feel like someone has picked up my house and shaken it. The only thing to do is attack one corner at a time, while finding new crevices to stuff in all the things I brought back in my overweight suitcases. This afternoon I attacked the kitchen area and at least the dishes are clean and I can see the table.

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching and I have declined two invitations from dear friends here. I suddenly find myself extremely uncomfortable in groups of people and feel more at ease being around one or two friends at a time. The idea of talking about what I've been through the last month in real time is unbearable.

Speaking of unbearable, I don't know how I'm going to get through Christmas this year. Not only was it my mother's favorite holiday, it was the only time we had Dad here with us in France. The whole reason we invited him was so he would have a new place to celebrate without any associations of Mom attached. Now I need a new place. I swear if I had the money I'd send myself on a Christmas cruise. Do they even have those? It may even be worth the dysentery and other communicable diseases found on those floating petri dishes. What I'd really like to do is skip the whole thing and start over in January. Anybody know a doctor who can put me in a voluntary coma?

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I'm home. All the flight stuff went just fine, and I only had to wait about twenty minutes for Steph to arrive at the airport to fetch me and my overweight luggage. Yesterday was Armistice Day, or Veterans Day, as the U.S. now calls it, and since it was a public holiday, all the groceries were closed, meaning it was another weekend of eating out. Since we packed up Dad's kitchen at the beginning, I've been eating out nearly a week straight. I can't wait to go to the grocery tomorrow and buy some real food.

Excuse me for whining a little, but I'm in quite a lot of pain from all the packing and dragging boxes and luggage and now unpacking. I'm torn between the need to rest my body and the need to put away all this crap I brought home with me. I'd gotten about half of it sorted before my back and legs simply refused to do any more. I've popped a couple of Tylenol PM and I'm going to sort it out in the morning, I suppose.

Some new photos have been posted to my flickr feed and the previously mentioned soul searching monster post is still forthcoming. For now I've got to sort out my mind, as well, and try to figure out if I dreamt the last month or not.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Yesterday morning, I stepped outside to clear my head, and I saw

  • a groundhog, who lives in a clump of trees in the neighbor's yard, scrounging for food
  • no less than six squirrels, bounding across the grass
  • a chipmunk scurrying from one bush to another
  • a bird in a tree not ten feet from me, singing his heart out
and I felt like I'd stepped into an episode of Wild Kingdom. The world is a magical place, if you take the time to look.

I am utterly exhausted, but I have one more full day of work ahead of me. I have had an enormous amount of help, and I can't imagine how I could have done this alone. Tomorrow I'll get on a plane and start the difficult process of letting this all sink in. I'll talk to you all again, from the other side of the ocean, a.k.a. home.

Monday, November 06, 2006

busy bee

I have a monster post in me, but not the time to write it. It may have to wait until I get on the plane and don't have lists and lists of things to do, but I do intend to write it.

I have enlisted the help of my dear cousin Judy to help me get this house in order. Yesterday we "staged" (yes, someone has been watching too much HGTV) the den and it looks outstanding. This morning I'm running errands (shipping boxes, WalMart run, maybe a much-needed haircut) and then it will be back to the house for more. This work is heart-wrenching but necessary, and it may need time and distance before I can really process it.

The house is going to be on the market tomorrow (anybody wanna buy a house?) and then I have a couple of extra days to get everything in order before I go home. The plan is that if the house sells before January, I'll come back during the closing and help put everything in storage, and if it doesn't sell before January (when the Estate comes out of probate), I'll be back then to manage an Estate sale and clear out the house. So long story short, this ain't over, even when I get on that plane.

Right, I guess I'd better get to it then.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

one week

Everything finally hit me Thursday night, and I crashed as if running headlong into a brick wall. I'd been doing pretty well up until that point. My new current status is "not ok." But don't worry faithful readers, I will be again.

Plans have changed, and I'll be going home next weekend. I have a week to pack up the house, in case it is sold before we can have an estate sale in January. I'll be back either when the house sells or when the estate comes out of probate in January, whichever comes first. When I get home next week, I'll have piles of work to do as well.

What I really need is a week of nothing, so I can just shut down, and I don't know when I'm going to get it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

halloween fun

One of the good things about having Steph here with me at this time of year has been showing him all the fun that happens around Halloween. On Friday we drove down to Greenville, SC, to attend a Halloween party with some friends from my old dining-out group. We threw on some silly costumes and enjoyed some delicious Halloween-themed treats and beer from local breweries. Steph got to talk shop, as most of the attendees were fellow teachers (it really seems that the majority of my friends and family are teachers!). On Saturday, our hosts Sarah and Roy graciously drove us around Greenville and guided us through the new Reedy River Park, which was being renovated when I left and is now complete. The park and the suspension bridge are absolutely stunning. Then we drove by the new ballpark, which is also downtown, which is a gorgeous old-fashioned brick facility, with bricks taken from the very mills which once dominated the site. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a stop at the Park, where you can see a gorgeous natural waterfall right in the middle of downtown.

On Monday, Steph carved his first jack o'lantern, which came out quite good, if I do say so myself. We also picked up a few bags of candy for trick-or-treaters, but not ever having spent time in this neighborhood, I had no idea if any kids would show up. We had a grand total of six kids last night, so now we've got a ginormous bowl of chocolates and tootsie roll pops tempting me everytime I walk through the living room. Those may have to go away before I put them out of their misery.

Meanwhile, small progress is being made in the house. Having Steph here has been extremely helpful, as having an "outside" eye helps me be realistic about what to do with some things. Hopefully we'll make good progress before he leaves on Friday. After he leaves, I may have to take refuge at my Grandmother's at night, as being here alone simply creeps me out.

In any case, photos are being dutifully taken, but you'll have to wait until I get home to download them all, which looks like it's going to be closer to Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


...and it feels so good. :)

Up early to go back to Asheville but I'm so happy I can show Steph how gorgeous the mountains are during the Fall peak season!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

a letter

Dear Daddy,

I remember back in August, back when we had some hope of the medicine prolonging your life as long as possible, you said, "I may make it to 70," and you were so full of hope and so emotional that you were choking back tears. Today is your 66th birthday and, just like Mom, you died within two weeks of your birthday. You know how much I love birthdays - not just mine, but anybody's - and how people should be surrounded by friends and family and live like a queen or king for the day. I have so many great memories of your birthdays - waiting in anticipation for you to open your gifts, your mugging for Mom's ever present camera, the big meal or cake we would all share together.

Today would be extremely difficult to get through if it weren't for the fact that, even now, Steph is in a plane over the Atlantic Ocean on his way to me. It wasn't planned that he would arrive on your birthday; in fact, I only realized it a couple of days ago. Tonight we'll raise glasses in your honor and lament the fact that you're not here to see it.

I love you always,

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

paris on the run

I'm running a little late to meet my sister and cousin for running up to Asheville today, but as I was drinking my morning coffee and blog reading I saw my favorite Frog with a Blog's amazing video post about his route to work and I knew I had to share it.

If you've ever wondered what the morning commute on foot in Paris looks like, check this out and tell him Vivi sent you!

Monday, October 23, 2006

a nice break

On Friday afternoon I popped into my old office. I had just missed their annual barbecue and everyone was busy cleaning up the place, but I knew there would be little "real" work done so I got to spend an hour or so hanging out with my old cohorts and catching up.

For dinner, my homegirl Dana and her hubby and I hit our favorite Mexican place for cheese dip and Grown-Up Slushies. Brian is (among other things) a professional bass violinist and was in the middle of rehearsals for a concert Saturday night. When I asked what they were performing, Dana and Brian looked at each other, and Brian gulped before he said, "Mozart's Requiem." Little did they know that I love the Requiem and I often listened to it as study background music and don't associate it with death and destruction at all. Once we got that out of the way, Dana and I made a plan for the next day.

So Saturday we drove around downtown, which has been beautifully restored since I left, and then we saw Marie Antoinette, which we both enjoyed very much, and then I finally found a papermaking kit, so I've got something to really look forward to when I get home, and then we got all gussied up and went to the theater to hear the Requiem and Mozart's Mass in C Major, both of which were extraordinary.

Sunday morning I got up early and went to my old church, where I got to take my old place in the choir and sing with all my friends. Afterwards I joined them in the fellowship hall for lunch and then I came back to Dana's house to load up the truck and head home.

This weekend was exactly what I needed to clear my head and give me some time think about something other than going through Dad's things and working with my sister on the estate and what on earth we're going to do about this house. Today I'm going through the boxes I had stored in Dana's attic - it's surprising to find things that I thought were so important to keep two years ago that I now find myself throwing out or giving away because they're either impractical to keep or just useless junk - and then I'll be diving back into the inventory of the house. Only two more days until Steph is here so I've got a lot of work to do that will definitely keep me busy in the meantime. Many many thanks to Dana and Brian for their gracious hospitality and the opportunity to take a break from all of this!

Friday, October 20, 2006


Monday, we buried Mom and Dad together, according to their wishes, in the National Cemetery. Then we celebrated Dad's life in a memorial service, including a beautiful speech written by my uncle. Afterwards, we welcomed friends and family into my father's house and enjoyed some delicious local barbecue (Dad would have loved that) and sat around telling stories about him for the rest of the day. The scary thing is that even among my closest friends and family, I have never felt so alone in my life. I can't begin to express my grief as I said goodbye to my parents. Sudden flashbacks of random memories send me reeling and I don't know how to regain my footing.

By yesterday, the last of the out-of-town family had left, my sister, who is acting as the executor of Dad's estate, was exhausted from running from one county office to another and went home to finally sleep in her own bed, and I had the whole house to myself. I confess that I don't have a lot of emotional attachment to the house beyond the grief of knowing all the plans Dad had for it and how much he looked forward to pottering around his own land again, but last night was the first time I found myself really alone for over two weeks. I did my best to not think about anything at all, and pretty much succeeded, thanks to a marathon of Project Runway and a couple of nighttime sleeping tablets.

Today I started the heart wrenching project of inventorying Dad's possessions. I must not have been thinking very clearly when I decided to start in his bedroom, but every room has things inside that have things that are going to jump out and bite me. Maybe I got the worst over with first. There is just so much work to do that I don't even know when I'll be able to go home.

I have two really lovely things to look forward to right now. Tomorrow I'm going away for the weekend to my old stomping grounds. Even better, Steph will be here next Wednesday, to spend his Fall school break with me. Maybe when he gets here, I'll finally allow myself to fall apart for a day or two.

Thanks again to all of you for your lovely condolences and wishes in my comments box. I may not be posting very much these days but your comments do brighten my day when I sit down to relax in front of the computer.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

it's over

Last night I thought, wouldn't it be just like Dad to die on Friday the thirteenth? And don't you know, that's exactly what he did.

Daddy went to be with Mom this afternoon, and while we are devastated, we are also so thankful and relieved that his suffering is finally over.

Funeral arrangements will be made in the morning and friends are welcome to contact me or my husband (I'll email him the info when I get back) for information. If you'd like to make a donation to the American Cancer Society in his name, please drop me an email and I'll be happy to give it to you.

Thank you all for your kind comments and wishes.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

not much to say

I arrived much too late last night to see Dad, especially after a quick grocery and fast food pit stop (well, my plane landed after visiting hours anyway). This morning my grandmother and aunt and I visited several nursing homes, as he needs will be much too great for us to bring him back home, but after talking to the doctor this afternoon, it seems they may not even release him from the hospital. As for Dad... he's in and out of lucidity, but he seems to be comfortable and he's not in any pain. That's all I can ask for.

Please forgive me for not updating very often over the next days and weeks. Maybe someday I will be able to be more eloquent and more detailed about these events, but right now I can't. I just can't.

Monday, October 02, 2006

worst possible news

I have been planning my post about the wedding we went to on Saturday since Sunday morning, but an apparent flare-up of the gastro kept me pretty far away from the computer yesterday. Then, the worst possible news, but I can't really say I wasn't surprised to hear - Dad has been admitted to the hospital and best current guesses are a matter of weeks. I haven't been back to sleep since - though to be honest, that's more due to Steph's snoring loud enough to keep me awake in the next room. Anyway, I'll be calling the airline to try to change my flight to leave as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I'm sure Doc will have a write-up about the wedding tonight or tomorrow. I'll post more news as I get it.

Update: Ticket's done, I'll be home tomorrow.

Update #2: I've posted some wedding pics to my flickr feed.

Also, Clare, a fellow crafty person in France (and all-around lovely person, I might add) is on a mission to collect as many quilting blocks as she can, in order to make as many quilts as possible to donate to children fighting leukemia. She has already received some blocks and has more coming from all over the world! If you're a quilter or a sewer, please check out her site here.

Thank you all for your supportive and encouraging comments. It's very comforting to know that I have such an enormous support network behind me. :)

Right, back to packing.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

vivi gets social

When we left my in-laws' on Saturday, my mother-in-law popped her head out the window (as she is wont to do) and invited me to come back for lunch on Wednesday, and then go together to see C and the baby in the clinique again. It sounded like as good an excuse to come to Troyes as any, plus something of a challenge - I've never visited my in-laws by myself before.

So even though we haven't talked since (which is highly unusual for Steph's mother - she gets all in a panic if she doesn't talk to her children every few days), I dutifully headed to Troyes at the appointed hour, and when I rang their apartment, my mother-in-law didn't recognise my voice. This is mostly because she figured since we hadn't talked since Saturday that I wasn't coming, so she wasn't expecting me. Heh.

But my in-laws certainly have grace under fire and happily ushered me in and welcomed me to eat with them. I had a good French workout, describing the events of the beginning of the week to Maman Uté. I love telling her stories, as she always can be counted on for lots of fun exclamations like "C'est pas vrai!" (It can't be true!) and plenty of "Oh la la!"s tossed in for good measure.

Then we went to see C and baby Candyce at the clinque. Both of them are doing so well that they are expected to go home today, and C was so excited that all of her stuff was already packed! I'm so happy for them, and that everything worked out fine - C had such a bad birth experience under emergency conditions and she didn't even get to call anyone before they wheeled her into surgery! The funny thing is that now C keeps asking when Candyce will have a little cousin to play with. All I can say is, we're trying! We're trying!

Then it was off to do the shopping. I'm trying a new method this week. I decided to take advantage of going to the grande surface shopping center to try to make a week's worth of shopping, so I took my carefully prepared list. One full shopping cart and a much lighter bank account later, I got home just in time to throw everything in the fridge and head off to pick up Steph.

All this running around left me utterly exhausted. I slept like a baby last night and I still feel like I could sleep another five hours! Thank goodness I don't have to run around like that everyday; I don't think I could manage it!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

stranger than fiction

The events of yesterday were so bizarre that I hardly know how to make any sense of them, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

Everything started with the passing of my mother's mother, Grandma Mary, Sunday night/very early Monday morning. This is really considered a blessing by all, as the poor old thing was ninety years old and had been suffering from dementia for years and had been living in a nursing home for the last five years or so, and by her own admission has been ready to go for just as long.

But the way I received this information was a bit freaky, to turn a phrase.

The phone rang at 8:00 in the morning, and the quickest way to get me out of bed is hearing Steph speak English on the phone so early, knowing that anyone we should be receiving calls from in the English-speaking world is most likely calling in the middle of the night. It was my sister, calling not only to inform me about Grandma Mary's passing, but how she got the news.

The nursing home called Dad, as he's the first point of contact, and apparently when he answered the phone, he said something like "Hold on a second," and never came back to the phone. After trying to call several more times only to receive a busy signal, they called my sister, who is the second point of contact. Now, Dad has been going through another downturn, having spent the last few days not being able to eat and falling down a lot and his mother has been staying with him. So my sister calls me because she doesn't know what to do as she's taken a sleeping pill (it's now 2:00 in the morning her time) and can't drive half an hour to check on Dad. We're imagining the worse - maybe he got up to get his mother and fell down or worse. Clearly we need to see what's going on, so she called a cousin who lives around the corner but got no answer. Then she called the hospice nurse line, and they suggested she call the police. So the police head over there, greeted by a much confused Grandma and where they find that Dad had simply rolled over and gone back to sleep.

And I was so relieved that I burst out laughing when my sister told me.

Dad spent most of the day yesterday getting glucose mainlined into his system and, last I heard, undergoing more tests. This whole thing has been such a roller coaster ride that I can't even muster up the energy to be upset anymore. One week it seems he's going to live forever and the next it seems he may go at any moment. I'm just waiting for my people on the East Coast to wake up and tell me what happened next.

Today, for whatever reason, I'm feeling especially lonely. Normally I function quite well on my own; I've got plenty to keep me busy with my bookbinding and housework and messing about online. However, today I'm feeling keenly the absence of someone just to hang out with, when my closest friends live over an hour away and money is too tight to jump on a train. We're going to a wedding this weekend and I'm really looking forward to it, just being around people (even if I don't understand everything!).

Saturday, September 23, 2006

welcome to the world, baby girl!

I stitched until 11pm last night and my eyes were crossed and my back was screaming, and did everything except the date. This morning, my fingers were so cramped they rebelled when I picked up the needle, but I plowed on. Then I ran to the store to buy a frame, and by the time I ironed it out (and still couldn't get those creases out - but what do I expect from super-thick Aida cloth?), placed it in the frame and wrapped it up, it was time to go!

Yesterday, Steph said it would be ok if I didn't finish it right away since the baby is three weeks early, after all, but I have to admit that I liked the challenge of finishing it on time, and I'm not sorry I pushed myself to finish.

So we did get to spend a little time with C and baby Candyce, who is super tiny and sleeps in an incubator, but happily the nurses have allowed C to keep the incubator in her room. Other than the fact that she's super tiny, she's in perfect health and both C and the baby should be able to go home at the end of next week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

je suis encore tante!**

I was just sitting down to do my French reading (with notebook, verb dictionary and English-French dictionary close at hand) when I received a call from my mother-in-law. My youngest sister-in-law gave birth to her first child last night, a little girl! It was an emergency c-section and she's three weeks early and under 3 kilos (I think she said 2.6 kilos which is 5.72 pounds) but it seems both Maman and baby are doing fine.

Of course this also means that I've got to put everything else aside and get cracking on the cross stitch I've been working on for her. I'm only halfway through and I'd love to give it to her when we see her this weekend! If I can knock it out today, I'll add a picture here when I'm done.

**Check out the comments to find out why "je suis encore une tante" is not proper French!

a connundrum

Three co-workers are attending the same three week conference in the next département, and they agree to carpool. Because they live in different areas of their own département, they have only the highway, which goes directly to their conference, in common. A lives ten minutes away from the highway, B lives twenty minutes away from the highway, and C lives forty minutes away from the highway.

How should they divide the driving time?

1. They should share only the driving they have in common - the highway.

2. They should divide the driving according to their distance - in other words, A would drive more because he is closer, and C would drive the least.

No, I'm not making up this scenario, but I would really like to know what you think, so I'm not giving any clues as to where we fit in this story. Please leave your opinions in the comments box, and happy Friday!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

mmm lunch!

mmm lunch!
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
Here's what I whipped up for lunch today:

One sachet of couscous pasta, boiled in chicken broth
One chicken breast, baked and finely diced
A handful of cherry tomatoes, seeded
Half a cucumber, seeded
Juice of half a lemon
Dash of olive oil

Mix it all together and yum! And then, almost as an afterthought, I diced up some black olives and threw them in, too. Very tasty! I think next time I'll increase the tasty factor and sauté the chicken with some garlic and herbs. (Thanks go to an aussie lass who gave me the idea when I was her guest a couple of weeks ago!)

In other news, I bought my plane ticket for Thanksgiving! The fare was HALF the fare of this summer. That's some racket the airlines have going, isn't it? I can't wait to hang out with Dad, but I just wish Steph could come, too.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

o happy day!

We had the best possible news yesterday: Dad's cancer has not grown at all since the beginning of his treatment, and yet another alternative method of treatment has begun, hopefully with fewer side effects, which were getting a bit out of hand before. I was told that he was so encouraged by the good news that when he got home, he had part of a sandwich and asked my sister to bring back an ice cream! I'm super relieved and I'll be going ahead with plans to visit again for Thanksgiving.

Yesterday's shopping trip to the "big city" was a complete success. The difference between going on a Tuesday and going on a Wednesday, which is traditionally not a school day in France, is enormous. I went to McDonald's and was surprised to find only a handful of diners and no line at the register (though I paid for it the rest of the day - changing my eating habits for the better has made even the rare fast food pilgramage a guarantee for an upset stomach). Shopping at the big grocery store was actually a pleasure - without hundreds of buggies clogging up the isles, I was able to wonder up and down isles at a leisurely pace. I even spent a lot of time at the craft store, picking out new decopage paper and a whole lot of time picking out different material for my journal covers without feeling like I was in the way. Enjoyable shopping days like this are few and far between so I think I'll be savoring this one for quite a while!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

cautiously optimistic

Dad ended up doing some more tests yesterday, and it seems he's got another doctor's appointment today. "Cautiously optimistic" is definitely the code word for today. The worst part of being so far away is having to wait all day for something to happen. The six hour time difference is a killer, and I'm always going to bed with little to no news and waking up to frantically check my email for updates.

In other news, Steph has begun another three week stint in his specialization course. This will happen all through the school year, with three weeks with his students and three weeks acting like a student with other teachers. He's carpooling with two other teachers in the area, so that means today I have the car and can go shopping in the big city! Hooray! I'm going to go to the big grocery store and do a "big shopping" and swing by the crafty store and pick up some more supplies for making journals. Steph suggested that I make some journals for his nieces and nephew for Christmas, so I've got to get that done before I head back to the States.

I also received a very exciting email this morning from a friend from high school that I haven't seen or talked to in about ten years. *waves vigorously in the direction of Maine* That makes a grand total of two - yes, TWO! - friends from high school I'm in contact with! Of course, we three are the ones that got the hell out of Dodge as soon as humanly possible, but since my folks moved away from our old hometown about ten years ago, I haven't had much reason to go back and see what everyone else is up to. Anyway, I'm really looking forward to catching up with her! D and I once challenged each other that whoever got their Oscar first would have to take the other out for lunch - O how times have changed!

Monday, September 18, 2006


I had a pretty rough night last night. Dad is not doing well at all, in fact he's basically back to where he started, thanks to the side effects of his medicine becoming to intolerable to bear. He has a doctor's appointment this afternoon to determine if there's anything else to be done. I won't have news until this evening and I've been on pins and needles ever since, fearing that I'll have to go home sooner than expected. I tossed and turned for many hours last night, finally taking something to help me sleep. I managed to amble downstairs to see Steph off this morning but fell back into bed to sleep in a little, which is a luxury I rarely afford myself. Today I'll be doing whatever I can to distract myself from bad thoughts, including attempting to hook the new computer up. Which reminds me, I never told you what really happened with the computer, did I?

Remember back a few weeks when we were having so much trouble with the new computer? It keep restarting itself, and poor Steph was beside himself trying to make it work. It was very late one night when he came to bed with the air of a six year old that's broken his mother's favorite china - he had just blown the computer up. It turns out that, in reaching around to the back of the tower, he had accidentally flipped the voltage switch from 220 volts to 110, and the next thing he knew there was a "lightning bolt" in the tower and it died. On the outside, I did everything I could to comfort Steph, telling him that we'd take it to the computer shop, while on the inside I was thinking, "Oh my god, that's SIX HUNDRED EUROS down the drain...."

So we did take it to the computer shop, where we were resigned to salvage whatever we could, maybe replacing components from my old computer with whatever could be saved. The computer tech we talked to wasn't very encouraging, telling us that everything could well be destroyed.

A couple of days later, when Steph called the shop after receiving a message from them, he greeted the tech with, "So, is it dead?" With the speakerphone on, I heard the response, "We were able to resusitate it!" and I couldn't help but cry out, "Hallelujah! It's a miracle!"

Turns out that the power supply was the culprit, causing the computer to reboot itself over and over. When Steph flipped the voltage switch, he managed to kill the one component that was broken in the first place, and we'd have had to replace the power supply whether he'd blown it out or not.

Sometimes we catch a lucky break.

Friday, September 15, 2006

domesticity and daydreaming

Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
I found an interesting tarte recipe the other day, so I made my first attempt to roast some tomatoes. They looked so pretty in the afternoon sunlight before going in the oven that I couldn't resist a picture. Unfortunately, something went horribly wrong and both Steph and I were sick after eating the tarte. I don't know if it was the tomatoes or the sauteed onions, but I don't think I'll be trying that one again anytime soon. I have something like a 90% success rate with new recipes and the majority of meals in my everyday rotation come from recipes found online, so this one setback certainly won't deter me from trying others.

Otherwise, nothing much going on. I don't know if I'm still recovering from the weekend, but I've been uttery exhausted all week. After a mad cleaning session downstairs yesterday, I spent the afternoon in a haze (which can be dangerous when weilding sharp utensils for chopping up veggies), but I did manage to prep some materials for yet another bookbinding. I'm hoping that I'll improve my bookbinding with good old repetition. Each book seems to be a bit better than the last, so maybe there's something in that old adage "If you don't succeed, try, try again."

On Wednesday, we went to pick up the computer (that's a whole other post) and on the way back we talked about my dream of one day making my bookbinding into a real business. Steph was under the impression that I just wanted to make a few and sell them on Ebay or something, but no, I have visions of making this into a legitimate business. The biggest obstacle is going to be dealing with a workspace; the French government is pretty strict about home businesses and it may be that I'll have to rent space for a workshop. Obviously that's a long, long way off but the idea of having my own business and my own workshop to go to everyday absolutely appeals to me, though heaven knows how we'll afford it. For now it's the daydream that keeps me going. Hopefully we'll be able to spare a few euros next month for buying some tools for making paper, which is step two in my plan for taking over the wor-- um, making lovely journals.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

to market, to market

to market, to market
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
I bought this stereotypical French shopping basket last winter at the weekly market in our town. It's so much nicer than carting around a huge plastic shopping bag for making grocery runs on foot, and is the perfect size for picking up enough food for two or three meals between my big grocery shopping trips with the car.

In France, it's becoming less and less common for grocery stores to offer any kind of bags for packing up your groceries at the check-out (I can only think of one chain that still offers plastic bags!), but all offer recycled/reusable plastic bags in various sizes for usually around one euro. Some folks just pack their groceries back in their shopping cart and either throw everything in their cars or pack them up in bags just before putting them in their cars. I can only guess that they do this so they don't take too much time bagging their groceries and holding up the line at the check-out (remember: there are no bag boys in France!).

After two years of struggling at the check-out, I've got my own system down, which involves opening up my two big plastic bags just after all my groceries are loaded onto the conveyor belt and throwing them into the open bags as soon as they've been scanned by the clerk (who is comfortably sitting down, by the way. As a former check-out girl, I wish they'd offer this option for clerks in the States!). Nine times out of ten, I'm all caught up by the time the clerk is telling me the total and asking for my carte de fidélité.

If you're wondering what type of greens are popping out of my basket, you might be surprised to know (if you live in France, anyway) that they are celery stalks! Celery stalks are pretty rare in France (on more than one occassion, a check-out clerk has asked me what they are!) as celery root - which tastes exactly the same! - is much more popular. Whenever I find celery stalks (which is called céleri branchée in French), I'll buy it and make some chicken salad or tuna fish sandwiches or lentil chicken stew or chicken stir fry (chicken is pretty much a staple in this house!). My only complaint is that it is rarely crisp or fresh. It's quite bendy, actually. At least it still tastes the same when it's all chopped up!