Monday, July 27, 2009

bloggus interruptus

I got a little behind with my stories of travels with my sister, and then we had a bit of a computer scare: Stéphane came downstairs with Fry Sunday morning and after getting Fry his milk, discovered that not only would the computers not come on, but we had blown a fuse. We eventually figured out that it wasn't the outlet but my computer that was the problem.

While I did manage to get a few things done yesterday, having been forced to step away from the computer since we no longer had internet, it was a tense wait until this afternoon, when we could bring the computer into the shop to see if we'd have to buy a new one, which is definitely not in the plan right now! We got lucky this time: just a blown transformer, changed in fifteen minutes, and because everybody and their brother is on vacation right now, he was able to check it and change it right away. Whew!

But now I only have two days to whip the house into shape (because coming home to a clean house is liking giving yourself a present, isn't it?) and stop making lists and pack. The rest of the vacation pictures are loaded on flickr (but still private so I can add notes to them) and if I can't get to them before we leave, I'll try to get to a computer at some point during our three week vacation and leave a quick note, or write some more about our travels before I forget all the little details!

But if I don't make it back here, have a great August and see you on the flip side!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

wednesday & thursday

There's not too much to report for last Wednesday: we went to a stocked pond compound for the afternoon near Epernay. The weather was gorgeous, we introduced my sister to "une sandwich américaine," and she caught the only fish of the day: a grass carp that had to be thrown back. We picked up a couple of tarte flambée on the way home.

Thursday was our big travel day. Our first stop was Tonnerre, which was the departure for the 12th stage of the Tour de France. If you were watching that day, you may have seen a large yellow bicycle at the roundabout of the first turn, and that's where we were. We got there in plenty of time to see grown men diving over children to get cheap knick-knacks thrown from the publicity caravan (Stéph and I kept Fry well back and left them to it) and with the hour between the caravan and the start, we walked down the street to a cool bar (thanks to the ceiling fans) that served sandwiches. Since that bar was on the route they were doing a booming business, the lucky bastards!

Then it was back to our spot, where Fry got properly dirty...

tour de france - depart Tonnerre

and then suddenly it was all over in a flash.

Then it was back in the car to head to Guédelon. (I first posted about Guédelon in 2007, here.) It was a real pleasure to return to the construction site, even if it was boiling hot.

Guédelon - the chateau 2009

It's changed quite a bit in the last two years. The ground floor of the chateau is complete, the living quarters are coming along, and the walls are rising.

Guédelon - the chateau 2009

Because of the heat, we stayed long enough for Fry to meet some of the animals, to make sure my sister got to peek in at the artisans that were working that day, and the two of us climbed all over the chateau before we retreated to the air conditioning in the car for the long drive home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bastille Day

On Tuesday, the national holiday, we left the boys at home and went to Troyes. After lunch at my favorite crèperie, we did something I've wanted to do for five years: walked right into the Church St Jean-au-marché.

This church in the "old town" centre ville area of Troyes dates from the 12th century. It is most notably important as the place where Henry V of England and Catherine of France were married. However, the church spent most of the 20th century in ruin. In 1911, it was decided to tear down the houses built on the church's outer walls, which ultimately lead to the bell tower falling down. After decades of disrepair, it was finally closed in 1999 and renovation was begun.

In celebration of it's opening, St. Jean-au-marché (literally "St John of the market square") is hosting a nationally recognized exhibit called "Le Beau XVIème: Sculpture in Champagne" ("The Beautiful 16th [century]").

At this time, Troyes was an important market town of the Champagne region, and thanks to its upward mobility, the aristocracy, along with the artisans, found themselves traveling to Rome and London. Thus, the School of Troyes was born.

 incredible sculpture in wood

The works of art are surprising in their detail, their representation of the subject matter and, in cases like that one above, incredibly real depictions of people carved from wood or stone. This exhibit will be open until October 25, and I highly recommend it!

St Hubert

Before heading back to Tiny Town, we visited the church of Sainte Madeleine, which is well known for it's gorgeous jubé (a partition that keeps the congregation seperate from the altar). The jubé is often quite delicate so there are only a few left in churches across France, and this one is considered to be among the most beautiful. Before going in, we took a moment in the beautiful garden just next door, on the site of the old graveyard, now filled uniquely with white flowers.

garden, sainte madeleine

It was quite dark in the church, so I still haven't got the picture that I've been trying to take for years now (with an admittedly crappy point and shoot but still, one day I will have you, jubé!), but here's as close as I could get:

sainte madeleine

As always, you can see more pictures on my flickr feed, and you can find more information on the Sculpture in Champagne series here (warning: music plays when the site loads, but you can turn it off in the top left corner).

Monday, July 20, 2009

In which Vivi plays "tourist"

Whoa, I forgot what American vacations are like - with only a couple of weeks a year off, the desire to see as much as possible in a short span of time is understandable, but I was so wiped out yesterday, I don't know how I ever did it before! My sister is safely home, and we had a wonderful time, the weather mostly cooperated, and even if we didn't get to do everything we wanted, she will be back one day!

So she arrived very early Monday morning, and we spent the day doing a blitz of monument seeing. Unfortunately, because of the gorgeous weather and the national holiday the next day, we didn't get to do as much as we would have liked.

L'arc de Triomphe, barricaded in preparation for the Bastille Day parade

We started with the Arc de Triomphe, which we admired from slightly afar, and then followed that up with a brief walk on the Champs Elysées. The next stop was the Eiffel Tower, which, like the Arc, was barricaded in preparation of the Bastille Day festivities that would follow the next day. A stage was already set up behind the Eiffel Tower for the free concert the next day, and underneath was a sea of people, so we went to our next attraction.

Our next destination was the Musée national du Moyen Age (aka the Cluny museum) which was packed but we still enjoyed it. A couple of new exhibits had opened since my last visit and of course I love visiting the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

After lunch at a very well recommended brasserie (thank you, you know who you are!!), we attempted a visit to Notre Dame, but the line to get in crossed the entire plaza in front of it! Undaunted, we retreated to the metro to go to the Catacombs, but the people who run it decided to make it a four day weekend (!!) and it was closed.

The jet lag started to take its toll on my sister, so we stopped for a brief drink in a café and decided to head to the train station.

By the way, if you're looking for a place to keep your luggage while you're running around Paris, the Gare de l'Est now offers a very good service: 5€ per bag for under 12 hours (if I remember correctly). All bags are scanned before being stored and you only have to drop them off and they are delivered to you when you're ready to retrieve them. I highly recommend it!

So, we headed home. And that was only the first day! I'm in the process of going through my photos and uploading them to my flickr feed and I'll be giving detailed descriptions of what we did here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

at last

In typical Vivi & Stéph fashion, we've just completed our Spring Cleaning (yes, I'm aware that it's July). We've found some new homes for things, got behind things and cleaned, and bought a new bookcase (and that is it, no more furniture, this apartment is FULL!).

And just in time, too, as my sister is arriving tomorrow morning! This is her first journey outside the States and we are so excited to have her and show her around our little corner of France. Some highlights will hopefully include the beginning of a Tour de France stage, Guédelon (one of my favorites!) and a visit to Verdun, where I haven't been before, so I'm really looking forward to that.

So, things may be even more quiet than usual around here but I'll have loads of pictures to share next week and then it won't be long before we head over to the States!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

summer eating, part 2

Once again, life got away from me and I nearly forgot to update on the summer meals dilemma (this post). Thanks again for the great ideas!

I ended up using a lot of Antipo's and Aimee's ideas, but mostly because they commented first and I was going shopping that day (heh). Antipo's tabbouleh is pretty much identical to the one I make, except I add a little seasoned salt to it, very tasty and excellent with cold cuts on the side. Ham and melon is a very popular French (European?) combination which I hadn't tried before. I liked it alright but I'd forgotten that Stéphane can't stand sweet and savory on the same plate but that's ok, I've been making lots of cold fruit salads with melon anyway so it certainly didn't go to waste! I also tried Aimee's Caesar salad ideas and right when I was in the middle of making a huge mess I remembered that one of the groceries in Tiny Town sells ready made Caesar salad, whoops! In any case it tasted delicious in a chicken Caesar salad wrap (which pre-cooked rotisserie breasts; a bit expensive but worth it in the heat!) and in a Caesar salad the next day.

Lots of commenters suggested doing a barbecue; unfortunately we don't have access to any outdoor space so that's not an option for us. Another popular idea was rotisserie chicken. At our Friday morning marché we can get still hot rotisserie chicken for a great price, and what I like to do with it is use the leftovers to make stock and then use the rest of the meat to make chicken salad. The thing is that making the stock means that I have to have the gas stove going for at least 45 minutes and in the heat last week, that was out of the question. That's alright, I do this pretty much every time I run out of stock anyway, and in the cooler weather that's about twice a month!

I thought I'd share with you one of Stéphane's favorite summer dishes (in fact, I have a feeling I've blogged about it before). Every time we go to a picnic he asks me to make it. It's a pretty common summer salad in France, found at many get-togethers and picnics: rice salad.

rice salad

That's about a cup of rice cooked very well (for this dish I cook mine about five minutes longer than recommended so it doesn't dry out) and cooled, two or three tomatoes, a cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped (or two if you've got little American ones), an avacado, a small can of corn (drained), a tin of tuna drained and flaked out with a fork, and just enough mustard vinaigrette to make it moist and sticky. Let it cool in the fridge for a good half hour before eating; it's even better if you can make it the night before!

Of course, now I've got all these great summer recipes and the temperature has plummeted. Well, I'm prepared for the eventual rise in temps, thanks to y'all!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

eight months

Talk about your leaps and bounds! I can't believe we've gone from Fry dragging himself across the floor to him doing laps around the salon in his walker in just one month! This kid learns so fast - though it took him about ten days to figure out sitting down once he started pulling himself up, everything else has come at lightning speed. We bought the walker on Sunday and by the end of the day he could basically go in any direction he wanted, whether it was going forwards or backwards. Yesterday we had a little barbecue with a few of Stéphane's colleagues at the school, so we brought the walker with us. He had two little sisters to play with (they were about 3 and 4 I think) and it wasn't long before he was chasing them across the courtyard!!

Fry is also sitting up on his own without any assistance. Most mornings now Fry is either sitting up or standing up at the end of his crib when I go to get him in the morning. He also never stops moving! We can't keep him in the bouncy seat unattended anymore, as he's so strong he can flip right out of it still attached.

Just in the last week it seems that Fry is trying to drop a nap, much to my chagrin! I have the hardest time getting him to stay down for his noon nap, and hey, if he's not tired it just ain't gonna happen, so now he ends up napping a little later, waking up for a bottle in the afternoon, playing a little and then napping some more! This might be because of the heatwave we're experiencing right now, also. I went to get him the other day and his room was a scary 34°C (93°F)!! Now we are happy if we can keep his room down to 30°C (86°F) and we keep the "air cooling system" (a glorified fan that uses ice and water to bring down the temperature) pointed at the crib nearly all the time.

We're still holding steady with two teeth on the bottom, though we're expecting new ones to come through the top any time now. Fry is down to two bottles a day, morning and afternoon, and eats a pot of food and applesauce for lunch and a pot of food fortified with milk and baby yogurt for dinner. He still has as rough time with any kind of solid food besides baby food; every couple of weeks we'll try something soft but the texture really puts him off. A couple of days early I started introducing 8 month baby food, and the one with small pasta didn't go over very well at all. So far the others are just fine.

Other than that, Fry is still the happiest baby in the world, charms everyone he comes in contact with, loves going to the itinerant daycare on Friday afternoons and has no problems leaping into the arms of strangers. Though recently, he wants Mommy's attention more and more, so this period of openness may be coming to a close... Teething days are awful, lack of communication is frustrating, but his smile lights up the room and we're having a ball!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

a plea for help

Our summer foodie conversation will continue shortly, but first I need to blog about what happened yesterday.

I don't think I've blogged about it before, but I have always been a very avid blood donor. Following in my parents' footsteps, I donated for the first time within a week of my 16th birthday and donated all the way through college. In Greenville, I was on the call list, and the need was so great that they called me every nine weeks without fail.

When I moved to France, I was delighted to see that there are the equivalent of blood mobiles passing through Tiny Town every couple of months. I was far too intimidated to go on my own for a long time, though, afraid of not being able to understand enough or make myself understood.

The last time I donated was almost three years ago when I was back in North Carolina, at our family's church. It was then that I found out that I would no longer be eligible to donate in the States, as anyone that has spent over three years overseas is automatically denied. (Yes, that includes military personnel and their families living overseas as well!)

This year, I finally had the courage to go check out the French guidelines for myself. The first time was a few months ago, and looking over the questionnaire I realized I was ineligible, since it had been less than six months since Fry was born. No worries, I thought, I'll go next time.

Yesterday was next time. After the grocery, I packed Fry up in his stroller and we headed over to the salle des fêtes, where the donation area is set up. I cleared the first hurdle, getting my name and info in the system, and was relieved to learn that simply being American wouldn't disqualify me.

Unfortunately, the chat with the doctor was very short. Since I received a transfusion after Fry was born, I am no longer allowed to donate blood in France, either. I was devastated. I managed to get out of the salle with my head up, but I practically cried all the way home.

I estimate that I have donated over three gallons of blood in my life, but now I am forced to pass the baton. So many people brush off donating blood because they "don't have the time," or they think it will hurt or they think they may not qualify. The truth is, donating blood only takes maybe an hour out of your day, it doesn't hurt any more than drawing blood for a test, plus you get to rest and indulge in your favorite sweets after! Best of all, you get a sticker when you leave so everyone can see you for the hero you are.

Seriously, it is so important and who knows if you will ever have an accident and need it? Think of it as karma insurance! I am so grateful to the person that donated the blood I got when I needed it, and am glad that I at least donated when I was able. Of course, not every one can donate, like me, but there are so many people that are eligible that just don't. If you're in America, you can check the guidelines here and the guidelines for France are here.

As an aside, I am insanely proud of my sister, who, after a lifetime aversion to needles (for good reason), has started donating regularly. If she can do it, so can you!!!