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!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

weekend of action!

bowling in paris
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
This weekend was so action packed that I'm actually still recovering! It was chock full of laughter thanks to two special friends. It included lunch at our favorite Chinese place, two ridiculously fun frames of bowling in a small alley before the Saturday afternoon rush, gazing at dragons at the Museum of Natural History, a brief visit with the newly arrived Miss Bliss, and a Sunday in the country hunting for mushrooms and enjoying the hilarious stories and delicious cuisine of our gracious Antipodean hostess.

The only dark spot in this whole crazy weekend was racing back to Paris to catch my train home, which I missed, thanks to everyone in Paris also returning from a gorgeous weekend in the countryside. Even that bad spot was quickly glossed over when I was informed that I could simply take the next train, which was boarding half an hour after I arrived. I got home a bit later than expected but it all turned out alright in the end.

But all that partying certainly does come with a price: after going to bed last night at the ridiculously early hour of 9:00 and sleeping through the night, I'm still exhausted! But I suppose that's par for the course, since I don' t get to visit my homies in the City of Light very often, and we try to cram as much as possible in only two days. It was worth every moment! Thanks to everyone for making my visit a success!

There are plenty of photos from this weekend on my flickr feed; just click the photo to see them!

Monday, September 11, 2006

five years

In 1997, I visited some friends who lived in Manhattan. One friend worked in a hotel near the World Trade Center, and when we bought tickets to see a Broadway show, it was at a kiosk inside. We arrived by the metro and we walked through the mall underneath the twin towers.

Before five years ago, this was just a footnote in an otherwise typical touristy week in New York - the Museum of Natural History, MoMA, Broadway, cool restaurants, stifling summer heat in Central Park, drag show in Chelsea (okay, maybe that last bit isn't so typical) - but now seem kind of precious. I've been there and now it's gone, along with 2,996 innocent victims who were going about their hectic daily lives when tragedy struck.

Five years later, we live in a world where passenger airplanes are potential weapons and everyone is afraid of their own shadows. Today I'll not only be thinking of those innocent victims, but also of our way of life that seems to be irrevocably changed.

More about my weekend in Paris tomorrow.

Friday, September 08, 2006

party time, excellent

I'm running away to the big city (of light) for the weekend. I have to confess that I nearly cancelled because it seems Dad's not doing very well, but sitting home staring at the phone (or, more realistically, my inbox) isn't doing much for my stress levels, so I think a weekend with the girls may be a nice break from stressing out all the time. Plus I'll be home on Sunday in time for me regular weekly phone call. It's frustrating that I have to talk myself into going away for a weekend. Well, my sister will have the phone numbers of my gracious host, so with that kind of safety net, maybe I can put my mind at ease for a couple of days.

The weather has finally cooled off considerably so I'm really looking forward to getting out in this delicious fall weather. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

country livin'

Do you know what's worse than being stuck behind a tractor on a national road going 20 mph?

I'd say it's being stuck behind a tractor-trailer filled with pigs for 20 kilometers.


Since we hadn't heard anything from the Mairie about my new carte de sejour (and why would we? They didn't take our phone number), we stopped by after the doctor's appointment this morning. Steph thought it was odd that we didn't have to pay for a new stamp (which is actually a tax represented by a stamp), so we double checked with the clerk who took my info before and she double checked her records and sure enough, it didn't say anything about a stamp or a tax. I was concerned because the last two times we applied for the carte I was given a large blue card with all my info on it which served as proof that I was in the process of requesting a new one. Since the old one expired on Saturday, I was worried about not having anything to prove I was allowed to be here, but Steph assured me that as long as the paperwork has been turned in, I was alright. Since we've always done our paperwork directly at the Préfecture before, I have no idea how long it will take to get the new card. Patience still isn't my middle name so I'm just trying to go with the flow and not panic about not having it.

Meanwhile, it looks like we're stuck with this heatwave for a couple more days. I'm going to go plant myself in front of the fan for the rest of the afternoon. Hope everyone is staying cool!

can't shut up about my uterus

If you don't want to read about gory stuff, please indulge in your geeky side and check this out.

So, this is my second month on a drug called Duphaston, which is a synthetic hormone, which is supposed to help dissolve my freakishly large ovarian cysts, and if they don't I'll have to have surgery and stay a couple of days in the hospital to have them removed.

Okay, everyone caught up? Cool.

So, I didn't mention it at the time, but the first month went with no problems at all. When the end of my second cycle came, my period was acting all funny, and I dared to hope I might be carrying a passenger (which is the real reason we started all these doctor's visits and sonograms, etc.). That hope was dashed to the ground last night when (how can I say this delicately?) um... the dam broke and um..... things you don't often find is these particular floodwaters were swept out to sea (how's that for taking a metaphor way too far?). Happily the water receded (geez, make me stop!) and the terrible cramps stopped (I can only keep it up for so long!) long enough to get some sleep.

The excellent news is that I already had a doctor's appointment scheduled for this morning. I was relieved to learn that it wasn't a miscarriage, but it does seem that the dosage of Duphaston is too high, so he's decreasing it by half for my next three cycles. Since the dosage is changing, I'll have to push back my sonogram, which I was meant to do in September, until the end of October or the beginning of November.

The interesting thing is that the new dosage is the one usually given to women who are trying to conceive. The kind of crappy thing is by pushing back the next sonogram, the possibility of surgery gets pushed to later in the year, and I was hoping to have it done before I go back to spend a month with Dad at the end of November. Well, there's no sense stressing about it, it only makes everything worse (like I don't have enough to stress about!), and the fact that the pain in my tummy has significantly decreased since I started taking this medicine gives me hope that surgery won't be necessary at all.

So, there's my uterus update. Aren't you glad you (didn't) ask?

Monday, September 04, 2006

still awake

And I'm not even tired. My neck is still killing me, however. The muscles that are pulled will never recover until I get a couple of full nights' sleep, which I haven't had since I woke up in pain a couple of days ago. Hopefully tonight will be my lucky night (for sleeping, how sad is that?).

I've completed another trial run on bookbinding, but I didn't use any colorful paper for the covers so there's no sense in posting it. The bindings are finally getting tighter but I'm still getting a gap between the first and second signatures. I do feel like I'm making progress, and that's all I can ask for. Steph is so interested in this project that he's stealing it to use in his classroom. One of these days we'll be able to sit down together so I can show him the ropes.

I've put off going to the Mairie because walking in 97% humidity is not my cup of tea. It feels like we've landed back in North Carolina somehow, or brought the weather back with us. Again. I swear bad weather follows me around like a shadow. Go away heat, I want my autumn back!

dear insomnia,

Please fuck off and die.



Update 10:45am
I somehow managed to fall asleep after 4:30, after hours of listening to Steph snore, making up the guest bed, reading thirty pages of an old book, plugging the fan back in, surfing online and lots of tossing and turning in between. I still got up with Steph at 7:30 and now I feel fine. What the hell is up with that? I guess I'll probably crash this afternoon but if I can stay awake, maybe I'll actually sleep tonight.

Speaking of plugging the fan back in, the heat is back. After a half-hour's journey to the grocery store I feel like I just got out of a swimming pool. I hope this doesn't last more than a couple of days. I've got to go back to the Mairie this afternoon because I never got any kind of a receipt when I dropped off my documents for my next carte de sejour and my last one expired on Saturday. Not that I feel I'm in any danger of being kicked out of the country, but it's nice to have something on paper, you know?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

book #2

book #2
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
I've just finished my second attempt at bookbinding. It's certainly a vast improvement over the first one, but the binding process still needs some work. Click on the picture to check out some more (and better taken) photos.

After a discussion with my financial advisor (read: thrifty hubby), the paper making is going to have to wait a bit. In the meantime, I'm going to keep massacring computer paper and embroidery thread until I get this right. Actually, since my back is still making me want to weep in pain, I may give up for the remainder of the weekend and lounge on the couch for a while.

happy happy

Steph wandered back to work yesterday, where he caught up with his colleagues and set his schedule for this school year. Since he's continuing with his specialization certification, he'll be doing the three weeks in school/three weeks out of town thing for most of the school year, so he also met his teaching partner, who will command his classes while he's out of town. The funny thing is that the only students who come to school on Monday are the 6ème level (these are the students leaving école primaire and this is their first year at collège) and they are scheduled to have two students in 6ème this year. One of these are from the enormous family of former gypsies who live two villages over and barely tolerate school only drop out on their 16th birthdays, so he expects to have only one student on Monday. Three teachers for one student, all day long. At least he's easing back into the school year.

Since it's back to school, that also means there are two important anniversaries happening. Thursday marked my two year anniversary of landing in France and today marks the two year anniversary of Dispatches From France. The really funny (that's funny-odd, not funny-haha) thing is that here I am, two years in France, my French still sucks, I still don't have a job, I've lost my mother and my father is dying, and I'm the happiest I can recall being since I've moved here, because I can finally see myself doing something that I enjoy and can make a living from. I must really need to have my head examined. (Obviously I'm not jumping over the moon about my father's illness, but this project goes a long way in helping take my mind off something I can do little about that is happening on another continent.)

I celebrated the anniversary of this blog by waking up in excruciating pain at the very unwelcome hour of 7:45am. It seems everytime the weather changes (or I leave the window open overnight) I wake up with the area around one of the vertebrae in my upper back swollen, which sends out pain from my neck to my shoulder blades. Unfortunately, I don't have any muscle relaxers on hand, so I'll just have to make Steph rub some icy-hot concoction onto it (which helps for about ten minutes) and wait two or three days for the swelling to go down. I know this pain is temporary but I'd do just about anything for a Valium right about now!