Thursday, August 31, 2006

my new project

Gosh, that's a cute little book, isn't it? I have to admit that I'm rather partial to it, since I MADE IT! *cheesy grin*

So this is the new crafty project I alluded to in my last post. I kind of stumbled into a craft forum the other day about making journals, and suddenly I was inundated with all kinds of ideas about designs, so much so that I could hardly sleep that night! Ever since, I've been gathering materials and cutting and pasting and stitching.

Although it may look impressive in the photograph, the fact is that my first attempt is pretty crap. The book is way too loose and I had a helluva time stitching on the back cover. I really hope that with practice this is going to get easier. Also, I just used regular computer paper, so the signatures (that's bookbinding speak for each section of paper inside) are really thin and hard to stitch. I also want to learn how to do little eyelets for the covers, because I nearly pulled the thread through one of the holes on the back cover.

I'm really hoping that the old saying "Practice makes perfect" holds true for me, as I'm going to try to make another one (albeit a little smaller this time, as I'm really just concentrating on the binding part right now) over the next couple of days. Next project is to learn how to make my own paper to put inside my books! Meanwhile, you can click on the photo to go see the other pictures of the book in my flickr feed. Any helpful hints are very much most welcome!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

i'm too excited to sleep!

Well, after four days of frustration, we're finally being sensible and packing off the new computer to our trusty computer doctor in Troyes. The old computer has been reconnected, which is totally fine as there's nothing wrong with it; we've just happened to outgrow it.

Last night inspiration struck, and it struck hard. As you may know, I've been struggling to think of something that I can combine my love of crafting and, to be blunt, making a buck. I think I've finally got it, but it's going to take quite a bit of time to gather materials and learn a few new tricks to get this thing going. I will certainly reveal all when the time is right, but for now I can tell you that I'm researching how to make paper, the best tools for doing a coptic stitch, and as many different techniques of medieval embroidery as I can get my hands on. Last night I was so excited about this new project that I couldn't settle down to get to sleep, and even now, just writing about it has my heart racing and I can't wait to get started. I haven't been this excited about anything in a really long time!

PS: If you're wondering, the title of this post has special meaning for me and my homie Dana and anyone else who remembers a certain commerical for Walt Disney World.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

frustration central

When we were in the States, we purchased a new computer (just the tower, not a new monitor, keyboard or mouse). Not only was it less expensive because of the currency exchange, but we happened to be there right before school started, so North Carolina was having its Sales Tax Free weekend. So we have this new computer with a ginormous hard drive (19Gb!) with a spectacular graphic card (my online games never looked better!) which seemed to work just fine when hooked up to Dad's connection but don't you know, once we got home, it's been nothing but trouble.

First we had trouble getting it connected at all, which took no less than twenty-four hours to figure out. Then Steph struggled with the partitioning (tangent: partitioning is such a polarizing issue - you either love it or hate it - but Steph is a big supporter of partitioning and he has his games and documents seperate from Windows, theoretically saving them if Windows craps out). Once we got that done, we realized we'd been gyped out of a sound card - why did we not notice while we were still in the States that the sound card is integrated? Happily we can exchange it with the sound card from the old computer. Finally, I started downloading all my little programs and Firefox extentions and installing both MMORPG games and downloading the critical updates for them... and then the computer started restarting itself. Nothing terrible, only every three hours or so (very heavy sarcasm).

After it restarted again this morning and started once again filechecking one of the partitions, Steph realized that something in the partitioning must have gone wrong, so we did yet another system restore and I'm once again at square one (though, I should add, without partitions this time). If we can get through the whole day without a restart, then we may be able to contemplate changing the sound card and other time-intensive things for setting this thing up. As Steph keeps reminding me, one thing at a time.

Unfortunately, patience was never my strong suit, so I'm going downstairs to bang some pots and pans together before I take my frustrations out on this keyboard!

Update: Computer rebooted. Grrrrrrrrr.... Steph is experimenting on a solution, we'll see what happens...

Monday, August 28, 2006

reason #523 why I prefer living in the countryside

When going to the Mairie to obtain information on renewing my carte de sejour (which is the documentation required that says I have the right to live in France, for those not in the know), we

* immediately speak to the clerk, because there is no one waiting in line

* confirm that it is not necessary to go to the Prefecture in Troyes (where there is certainly a line and not very nice clerks)

* get the correct information on what we'll need in the blink of an eye

* receive an offer from the clerk to photocopy our necessary documents for us

* are in and out of the office in less than ten minutes

Why would anyone want to live in a big city?

Friday, August 25, 2006

the boob tube

Lord knows we had plenty to keep us occupied during our three weeks in the States. There was unpacking, hanging up blinds, odd jobs around the house, and of course, filing, which is what kept me busy most of the time. Not only was Mom a meticulous record keeper, but a newspaper-clipper extraordinaire. There were clippings of comics, clippings about computers and the internet, clippings about managing credit; there were even files with my and my sister's names on with clippings inside that Mom had clipped especially for us. In any case, a whole truckload of unnecessary papers were carted down to the recycling plant and there's still a few boxes lying around that are ready to go.

I'm sure I would have gotten so much more done during that three weeks if it weren't for one major distraction, calling to me from the living room, glowing in all its English-speaking glory: the television.

It all started the very morning after we arrived. Awake before dawn thanks to jet lag, I made my way to the couch and fumbled with the all-in-one remote. I flipped past the infomercials and landed on my dear old friend, who always kept me company, singing away in the background, VH1. I flipped back and forth between that and MTV (did you know they actually play videos first thing in the morning?), until I'd seen all ten videos in current rotation (indeed I think I saw only the same ten videos the whole time I was there). After that, I visited all my old friends; Discovery, History, A&E, Bravo, CBS Sunday Morning... it was like old home week! I was glued to the boob tube, and before long, Steph was taking my place whenever I did get the wherewithal to get up and do something. His poison? Old Westerns, old episodes of MacGuyver, The A Team, old World War II movies... all the things he grew up with (and he's only a year older than me!).

But soon, I knew I had taken my addiction to far. On more than one occasion, much to my shame, Dad would call for me and I'd think, "Why can't he wait for a commercial?" FOR SHAME! Eventually, I managed to withstand her shiny charms and get back to work.

Even so, it was with much disappointment on Wednesday afternoon when I flipped on the tv here and was greeted with jarring French blaring out of the set. I stared at it for a full five minutes before I realized where I was and why I was getting a headache. I promptly popped a DVD in to relax my brain; I may have been a bit premature when I said that my culture shock upon returning to France was minimal.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

home again, home again

After twenty-three hours of waiting and traveling and traveling and waiting, we made it back home, where we were so excited to be that we promptly fell on the bed and slept for four hours. I couldn't sleep for love or money on the six hour flight over the atlantic, and either couldn't risk it (on the express RER from the airport to Gare du Nord) or wanted to desperately and couldn't (thanks to the three children under the age of seven and their useless mother on our packed TER train from Paris to Troyes). After a pit stop at the in-laws' to say hello to Papa, Maman Ute drove us the rest of the way home. If you've read any entries at all that I've written about her, you can already guess that we come home to a sparkling clean apartment. God bless that wonderful woman.

The weather has changed so much that I almost don't know how to act. With highs in the low 70s and the nights quite cool, for the first time in at least two months I actually slept under the covers last night. All the shutters are open to let the sunlight in, and Steph even had to throw a pullover on this morning, though my idea of heaven is being just warm enough to not need one. It's funny to me just how easily we've fallen back into our everyday routines and the only time I felt any kind of culture shock at coming home was when we arrived at the airport and I noticed how gray and dingy Charles de Gaulle airport is, and even Steph remarked that coming back to Paris can be something of a let-down when you've just left the pristine cleanliness of America's public spaces.

While we were home, we enjoyed some of the ragu sauce my aunt had made while she was visiting Dad, which prompted Dad to print out for us his own ragu recipe (no no, ragu is not just a sauce in a can). It calls for something like three pounds of meat, which is right up Steph's alley. Although I wasn't too keen when Steph suggested we make it today, it turns out that it was a perfect way to spend our first day home, since the actual work only takes about half an hour and I spent the rest of the afternoon lazing out on the couch, interrupted every fifteen minutes to stir the sauce. It does require a rather lengthy shopping list, including a lot of time at the meat counter, but you do nearly just throw everything in a pot and let it go for about three hours. We ended up replacing merguez for Italian sausage, because even though I'm closer to Italy than ever before, it's impossible to find here in the farmland of France. We had a small portion of it for dinner tonight, and the rest will be frozen for future consumption.

Traditionally, the first dinner from a new pot of Italian sauce was an event in my family, with piles of garlic bread and all the spaghetti you could eat, and maybe even a sip of wine when my sister and I were kids if my parents were partaking. Even in December, when Dad helped me make my first pot ever, we had a few friends over to share it with us. Tonight it was just the two of us, and I don't know if I'm pleased about that or not; something this delicious is certainly meant to be shared. Though it's going to be awhile before we get around to making a fresh new pot, I am resolved that the next pot will be celebrated with friends or family so if you like a good red sauce, watch this space and look out for an invitation in about six months!

Monday, August 21, 2006

preparing for re-entry

The new computer is packed into a suitcase, my grandmother's crystal is wrapped and packed into a carry on, and all that remains are the clothes we'll wear tomorrow and the toiletries on the bathroom counter. Dad has been tucked in, Steph is watching The Dirty Dozen, and here I am, wondering how three weeks could have passed so quickly.

We had a great time last night, with friends and cousins packed into the hot and steamy back porch (hi Lisa!), munching on Steph's shish kabobs and the best damn homemade hamburgers ever, and I couldn't help but take a pause and give thanks for my amazing family. As much as I'd like to stay here, I know Dad's going to be in good hands. I don't know how I'm going to get through the next three months until I can come back again; I can only hope they fly by as quicky as these three weeks have.

In any case, I'll have plenty to keep me busy. Steph and I have worked out a new plan for improving my French, and I've been inspired to try to learn a new skill to continue my quest in working from home, which will truly be an asset in the near future as I attempt to spend as much time with Dad as possible. We should be home sometime Tuesday, after a flight to Philly, a flight to Paris, a train to Troyes and a car ride to our village. If we don't fall directly into a travel coma I'll update as soon as I can. See you all on the other side!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

one step forward, two steps back

This has been a frustrating week. Last weekend, Dad started suffering from a peculiar side effect of the chemo pill he took every evening: his right eye was burning and ulcers started forming around his eye. On Monday, the doctor took him off the pill and asked us to give him a progress report in a week's time. Meanwhile, Dad has been backsliding all week and all the progress he's made in the last three weeks are being sucked down the drain. Hopefully he'll start back on the medicine on Monday at a half-dose and we'll see some progress again.

We leave on Monday and it's killing me to have to leave. I'm terrified that if no one is here to harangue him, he will neglect eating and keeping himself hydrated. The good news is that he has a monitor in his bedroom that measures his weight and blood pressure and he has to do it every day; if the measurements are out of whack or he doesn't do it at all, someone will call him, so at least he will have some kind of contact every day. Plus, he will have home visits from a nurse two to three times a week. As the nurse was leaving the other day, she asked me if I work. I said no and prepared to go into my speil about how hard it's been to find work over there but she shocked me when she said, "Good, don't get one, it will be good to be flexible over the next few months." Good god.

Today we're having a few friends and family over for a cookout. Luckily, Dad seems to have gotten plenty of sleep last night (which is fantastic considering he didn't sleep the two nights previously) and I think he's looking forward to it. Steph is already busy chopping up food for shish kabobs and I've got to go start tidying the place up a bit. I think it's going to be a good day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

speaking of home...

After my father retired in October, he didn't quite know what he wanted to do. He tossed around ideas like going back to Florida and even buying property in France, but he ultimately bought a house in the town where he was born and where his mother lives.

The house, only five minutes away from Grandma's "farm" and down the street from the hospital, is a lovely 1965 ranch style home that sits on a good sized piece of land. He bought it "as is" with the goal of doing the few necessary renovations himself, not to mention having his own yard to tend to - something he's been missing after ten years of apartment living.

Of course, even when he moved in a few months ago, he was too sick to even contemplate doing any of these things, and while he is gaining strength back at an impressive speed, he has needed a lot of help just to make the house liveable. Before we arrived, his cousin replaced the toilets, and as soon as we arrived we went straight to work. Steph took out the sliding glass doors in Dad's shower and we've made some adjustments there to make bathing a safer and easier experience, and I've been trying to clean out the office. My mother (who died last year) was a meticulous record keeper; so much so that I've been wading through over thirty years of records that my father just doesn't have space for. The pack rat in me cringes to toss out papers that are interesting but have no value, but if anyone wants to know what an income tax form from 1969 looks like, don't be afraid to ask.

Yet another project is unpacking a few boxes of knick-knacks that were sitting in the empty formal living room. Some of them belonged to my mother's mother, who is barely still with us, suffering from severe dementia in a nursing home. Some of them are souvenirs from Dad's travels around the world. Since Dad is wanting a less-cluttered life, my sister and I are in the process of splitting up these family mementos. I've been handling all this surprisingly well, until I came across a batch of photographs of my parents and I around the time of the imminent arrival of my sister. I sometimes forget what a handsome couple my parents made and to see my mother young and beautiful again shocked me into tears. This reminds me of another project that's going to have to wait until my next visit: I plan to take all of the loose photographs, some of which are a hundred years old, and scan them for posterity. So much to do in so little time.

Meanwhile, Dad seems to be getting steadily stronger. We had a small setback with some funky side affects of one of the treatments, so he's taking a break for a week and will likely start again with a smaller dose. Even so, Dad is maintaining his positive attitude and even said that he's looking forward to my next visit (which will most likely be for the holidays if we don't have any surprises) when he can get out and do more stuff with me and my sister. To see him fighting and trying to improve makes me the most proud of him I've ever been in my life.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

home sweet home

My father bought a house a few months ago in the town where he was born. He still has quite a lot of family here; his mother and her two sisters (cancer survivors, all) and countless cousins, and then the people who remember Dad from when he was a kid.

On Monday, I took Dad to get a much-needed haircut. We went to a barber shop that is only twenty years old, but the barber has been cutting hair for decades and is now assisted by his son, who must be in his forties himself. Unfortunately, the son seems to be attempting to keep his lost youth through a spectacularly bad haircut, bringing to mind Rod Stewart circa 1979. Eventually, the inevitable conversation began:

"Are you from around here?" asked Rod Stewart, peering down his nose through his eyeglasses.

Dad smiled. "Yes, my family's from Ellis Crossroads, my mother used to play with your father."

The older barber took a closer look at Dad. "I thought you looked familiar! You're Army's boy!" I couldn't help smiling at the mention of my grandfather's nickname. "And this is your daughter?" he asked, waving a comb in my direction. "Did she get a chance to know her grandfather?" I didn't know if he was alluding to family history (my grandfather left my grandmother and started a second family) or was genuinely curious, since he did once cut my grandfather's hair, but since I did go to the same college as my grandfather and have become accustomed to fielding questions about him in this town, I simply smiled and replied, "Yes sir, I knew him very well."

Dad picked up the thread again. "Well, I've just moved back, I've been gone for about forty years."

"Well, where ya been?" asked Rod Stewart as he worked around Dad's head with an electric razor and a comb.

"Been all over the place. Up north, down in Texas, Florida... but no matter where I was, this was always home."

Home is such a funny word.

After Dad retired in October, he struggled for a good while about where he wanted to retire to. He had great friends and family in Florida, he had the town where he spent many a summer at his grandmother's house, and he even toyed with the idea of buying a little place in France to be near me, at least part time. Eventually he chose to move back to the town where he was born, to be close and to help his mother, who turned 86 last week.

Now his mother comes over almost every day to make sure he gets enough to eat and bathes him if he doesn't feel strong enough to do it himself. Believe me, the irony is not lost.

Meanwhile, Dad is slowly getting his strength back. When we arrived, Dad couldn't even sit up in bed without assistance, and now he doesn't even need help to get out of chairs and can move around much better. Steph gave him a shave and he looks as close to his old self as I've seen yet. Our goal is to get him as self-sufficent as possible, because the stronger he is, the longer we'll have him with us. The most difficult thing is that it is impossible to know when he'll peak; it could be months and it could be a year from now. I can't predict the future, and I'm not sure I'd want to, but we are celebrating every little victory. Instead of lying around weeping all over the place, we are encouraging Dad to fight. As long as we treat him like an invalid, he's going to be one. There's some fight in his eyes. I'm hoping it will be there for good while yet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

reality bites

It has taken a couple of days of settling in to gather my thoughts. It occurs to me how amazing it is that we have the capacity to accept enormous changes in such a small amount of time. After only two days, the fact that my father spends most of his time in bed and needs help with the simplest tasks already seems normal.

Dad has lost a lot of weight but fortunately had some to spare. Even so, he only resembles the solid man I saw even four months ago. Thanks to the cancer in his liver, his stomach has been backed up with fluid, making it nearly impossible to eat. This week he started a chemo medication in pill form which we hope will target his liver and decrease the amount of liquid, so he can eat and gain a little strength back. We are under no illusions, however, and understand that the medicine can only help prolong the inevitable, but if it helps him to gain some strength and enjoy the time he has left, whether it be a couple of years or less, it will have been certainly worth it.

For the most part, everyone is in good spirits. There is still plenty of laughter, and I think as long as we're able to crack a joke now and then, I think we're all going to be able to get through this.

I'm still getting over jet lag in addition to playing Nurse Ratched, so I'll have more in the next couple of days or so.