Monday, February 28, 2005

cold cold cold

This morning it was a brisk 12 degrees Celsius. In the living room. Never mind that it was -10C last night outside; I'm holed up in the bedroom till it warms up again. We've got another cold snap this week, with the possibility for snow again on Wednesday. You know that last party guest that just doesn't know when it's time to go home? Yeah, that's Winter. No offense, Winter, please go home, and don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Saturday night we met three friends downtown for dinner at a small Sengalese restaurant. I've never had African food before, and I was pleasantly surprised. I had grilled chicken with onions with a spicy sauce called Yaffa, there were a couple of orders of Maffe, which was lamb cooked in a savory tomato based sauce, there was an order of grilled seafood, and an order of grilled ostrich. We all enjoyed the meal immensely. The only small thing was the main dishes in the menu were translated into bad English for tourists: cacahu├Ętes (peanuts) were translated as "groundnuts," and mouton (lamb) was translated as "beef." The groundnuts thing doesn't bother me so much, but beef will never be lamb, as much as it tries. I hope some unsuspecting tourist doesn't lose their mind over their funny tasting beef.

The other funny thing (to me) is that yesterday Steph was complaining that a couple of things on their menu weren't available Saturday night. I don't remember which of the deserts it was, but his main complaint was that the grilled antilope wasn't available. I can't imagine why; it's not like the chef can run down to Carrefour to pick up some extra antilope when he runs out.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Friday, February 25, 2005

book of questions: #35

Play along with Gary at matching tracksuits.

Would you give up half of what you own now for a pill that would permanently change you so that one hour of sleep each day would fully refresh you?

This is the kind of question that begs for clarification.

Click "Tell me more" to continue!

1. Since I had to go through all my things last year as I was preparing to move to France, most of what I own now is sentimental. Photo albums, baby stuff that my mom gave to me, books I love, etc. I'm sure there are things I could part with, but for the sake of argument, am I allowed to choose what I can get rid of? If yes, then I'll take the pill; if no, I won't.

2. As much as I could get done with 23 hours a day to work with, there is something to be said for occassionally lounging around in bed. And then there's the All Mighty Cuddle, and all that that entails. These are not things I am willing to give up. So I wonder if I'm allowed to choose when I want to take the pill, or if taking the pill means I am banished from the bed?

To tell you the truth, while it sounds enticing, and at the beginning I was inclined to say, "Yes, when can I start?", I think I'm going to have to say no to this one. Maybe I don't want to mess around with the natural order of things. Or maybe it's because at this point in my life, I'm not pulling my hair out over the lack of time during the day. Maybe in five years I'll be rethinking my decision, but for where I am right now, I'm good. Therefore, I pass. Anyone want my pill?

bird's eye view of troyes

I remembered to take my camera with me last night, and I got a couple of shots of town from the vantage of the eighth story apartment where I babysit. There are a couple more pictures on the photoblog.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

my brain is full

Today was one of those rare busy days in which I'm so happy to come home and hear nothing but silence! Seems like in my former life I always had some kind of white noise going on the background (usually the tv) but today I had French Overload.

I had class this morning at 10:00. It was just me, the teacher, and a young woman from Iran whom I hadn't met before. Since there were only three of us, we had the opportunity to just have a small conversation for a little while before we dove into work. The bulk of today's class was spent on the grammar of pronouns (celui, celle-la, etc) which nearly went straight over my head. I've got a lot of work to do in this area. The teacher won't be in class next week, but I've got plenty of homework to keep me busy. I love how these two hour classes just seem to fly by!

I came home and had time to eat lunch and do some sparse cleaning (my routine is all out of whack and I'm really behind) before I headed out to pick up the kids from school. Tuesday they were nightmarish all the way home; at the time I was so glad that Monday will be my last day to babysit. Happily they were much better today. Then at 6:30 their father came home, giving me just enough time to hoof it over to the Conservatory for choir rehearsal. We're having a small concert in a couple of weeks, so I had to concentrate really hard to be sure I understood all the extra rehearsal times. The end of the day is the hardest time for me to get into French conversation, and by 8:30 I was hungry and my brain was fading.

Before my brain shuts completely down for the night, I'd like to send a shout out to Mizz Mary-Lynn, who made me an offer I couldn't refuse recently. She came to France for 10 days on vacation, and to make room in her suitcase for all her goodies, very kindly sent me her books and trashy magazines that she read on the way over and while she was here. Oooh, trashy magazines! It's been ages! Thank you so much Mary-Lynn, and I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures in Paris!

party people

Looks like I'm going to Paris sooner than I thought.

Stifles a giggle and jumps up and down with glee!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

back to school

I had my first French class yesterday. I was told it started at ten, so I walked down the street in the snow to the AATM, where the classes are held. It's only a few blocks away, which is incredibly convenient. Apparently there was some confusion about when the class started, and the secretary kindly called all three teachers to find out the schedule. It starts at 2pm on Tuesdays, so she asked if I could come back. Of course it wasn't a problem, so I slipped and slid my way back home.

By the time I left again for class, all signs of snow were gone. It doesn't last too long in these parts (and of course by the time I got home and got my camera, there wasn't much to take pictures of). There were eight students including me, and our teacher, Mme M. I got really lucky here; Mme M is french and extremely patient. Everything is conducted in French, and she speaks slowly and gently but firmly corrects pronunciation.

Most of the students are Asian, though there is one Polish young woman and one American, who I didn't get the chance to talk to after class, but I hope to in the future. Most of the class was spent in reading out loud. We read the fable of the fox and the goose stork (*sigh*) and also another little story about someone writing letters about France to his sister back home. We go around the table and take turns reading sentences. It's challenging because I'm coming across words I've never seen before and guessing at the pronunciations.

I'm not sure exactly when this class started, but I'm a little behind and I have some homework to do before the next class tomorrow. It's mostly catching up on the story so far and some worksheets.

I'm glad I found this class when I did. Although I had a very little bit of French when I arrived six months ago, I don't think I would have been ready for this class then. I've had just enough time to let some vocabulary and grammar sink in, and now I'm ready to get to the meat of it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

pause for reflection

It's hard to believe we still live in a world where you can be thrown in jail for asserting a fundamental human right - to express yourself. Incredibly, it happens everyday all over the world.

Mojtaba and Arash are bloggers who are currently in jail in Iran for doing just that.

My problems are so so small compared to so many people in the world. I have a roof over my head, clothes to keep me warm, food on the table, and endless opportunities. If I am unsatisfied with my government, I have the freedom to say so. Brave men and women all over the world who do not have this freedom are standing up to say "This is wrong" and being punished for it.

I am not a brave person. I am not an activist. I only have a small voice, but I can use it to call attention to those who are braver than I am.

To read more, visit this BBC article and the Committee to Protect Bloggers.
Originally found chez Claypot.

As for me, it snowed today, my first class was moved to 2:00pm, and more of the usual blathering on tomorrow.

Monday, February 21, 2005

housework in france is weird

Found here.

I am the first to tell you that I not only hate housework with a passion, but I also suck at it. Back in my single days, I did the absolute bare minimum. I mean, I wasn't slovenly, but you know, dusting? It's only gonna get dusty again. Since I've lived alone most of the time since I graduated college (with the exception of one very very wacky roommate), I generally got motivated to do the housework once a month and furiously cleaned everything in one go.

Well, that won't fly here, as much as I've tried. One thing is that I've got The Inspector (my mother-in-law) who likes to make surprise visits, and while Steph will happily shove her out the door, she certainly keeps me on my toes. She once offered to do my ironing for me, when she saw the clothes waiting in the hamper for me to do them the next day. I was horrified.

While Steph and I laugh about The Inspector, the truth is housework is my only responsibility now, aside from learning French. Until I find a job, this is it. It's funny, when I was working, I was like a totally different person. My mother was so surprised when she visited my office once - she looked around at my clean, orderly, organized area and said, "This is your desk?" So really, I have no excuse.

The thing is, there are subtle differences in things I just took for granted back home. Things like...

Click "Tell me more" to continue!

The Laundry Marathon

Clearly, it could be worse.

Doing four loads of laundry literally takes me all day. It's not a big deal, as laundry is not exactly the back breaking work it was many moons ago, but I'm used to finishing a whole cycle of laundry in an hour and a half. Here, both the washer and dryer units are self-contained. This means if you want to wash your clothes in warm or hot water, the washer will warm up the water in the machine. One load of warm/hot laundry will take two hours in the washer. It's nice that I can take a hot shower at the same time, but that's about the only advantage I've found so far. Due to limited space, the washer is in the kitchen (and also serves as extra counter space) and the dryer is in the bedroom. Except for the noise factor, I kind of like it being in the bedroom, as I don't have far to carry around laundry once it's done, and it's an extra heat source in the winter.

This leads us to...

The Iron Housewife

Allez faire le repassage!

I do something here that I never dreamed I'd do before: I iron bedsheets.

Just let that sink in for a sec.

There is an ungodly amount of calcium in the water here. (Does this make water hard or soft? Whatever it is, my hair is still a wreck.) It makes anything washed in it so stiff that in homes all over France, everything is ironed, down to the underwear.

Underwear, people! I have issues with this!

I am so lucky. I have managed to find the appropriate combination of fabric softener and ceremonial prayer dancing that I am assured that ironing the underwear is not necessary. Unfortunately, blue jeans and bedsheets do not pass the test. While I've never ironed my own blue jeans, Steph does insist on his being done. At least I don't put creases in. That would just be silly.

There are a couple of other things, but I'm going to save them for another post. Maybe my fellow ex-pats can think of other things that they found strange in their everyday routines?

back to the grind

Steph's two-week break is over and he's on his way to work. The first load of laundry is already in the wash. I've got to do a little shopping (perhaps for a GISBE package? Bwahahhaaha) and maybe mop and floor or two. This week I've got two choir rehearsals, two French lessons, and have to pick up the kids from school three evenings. It almost sounds busy, doesn't it?

I got a call from the kids' mom last night. They've decided to move the kids to a private school, and since they have to pay for tuition, they can't keep me on. This is fine with me, as I was only working three hours a week, the money wasn't exactly significant, but the mom was very worried that I would be upset which I thought was sweet. She said she wants to keep in touch, and I really hope she does, because not only are they a link to back home, I genuinely like them.

Right, I hope you all have a decent Monday (since I think that's the best one can hope for); I'm off to find the mop...

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Book of Questions, #4

You can play along too with Gary at matching tracksuits.

If you could spend one year in perfect happiness but afterwards would remember nothing of the experience, would you do so? If not, why not? (Further question: Which is more important: actual experiences, or the memories that remain when the experiences are over?)

I have to confess, this was an easy answer: not no, but hell no. What good is a year of perfect happiness if you don't have the memories to draw on?

The thing that interests me most about this question is the idea of "perfect happiness." I don't even know if I could explain what perfect happiness, for me, would be. I can tell you that I'm the happiest now than I've ever been. I'm in love (with someone who loves me back, even better), I'm happy now about who I am, I'm living this exciting adventure, I'm making new friends (online and otherwise), and I'm feeling very hopeful and excited about the future.

That being said, there are still things that are not perfect about my happiness: I'm far away from home, I miss my friends and family, I'm often frustrated about the language and the new culture, and other things that make me sad that I've chosen not to blog about. But generally, I'd say I'm happy.

I'm of the belief that a full range of emotion is necesary for living a full life. How can we know happiness if we don't know the contrary? If I'm sad or homesick or lonely or frustrated, I make no pains to hide it, but try not to wallow in it too much, which I think is the trick. The idea of perfect happiness frightens me more than the idea of experiencing it and not having the memory of it.

hooray for the internet!

A couple of days ago, Thomas blogged about SkypeOut, which allows you to call land lines from your computer for pennies per minute. I had to try it out, so yesterday I bought 10€ worth of credits and called up the folks. It was crystal clear and we talked for 45 minutes. Best of all, it only cost 75 cents!

Man, I heart the internet. If you want to chat with me on Skype, drop me a line and I'll tell you my user name.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

happy dance!

I received a letter last week from the Association pour l'Aide aux Aines et Travailleurs Migrants, or AATM for short. They assist immigrants by being sure they have the paperwork they need and pointing them in the right direction if they have problems, etc. They invited me to call to make an appointment "so I could learn my rights," so I did. Their office is just down the street, though we'd never noticed it before, so we walked down this morning.

Since I already have my titre de sejour, there wasn't much info I didn't already know, but they asked if they could start a file on me anyway, and we agreed. It was just basic stuff - where we live, is it ok, what do I want to do, etc.

In the course of the conversation, I said that while I would like to teach English, I know that when my French is better I can look for more kinds of work like I did before I moved here. I was an administration manager, and I like to think I was pretty good at it. I'm one of those dorks who tries to streamline office procedures, and a few things I came up with are still in use in that office today. Also, I was the problem solver - if the customer had an issue with a sale from last year, I was your go-to gal. There's a certain satisfaction in that.

Whoa, tangent! Back to our story...

So, in the middle of this conversation, Mr. T told us that there is a woman who works in the association that teaches French twice a week for free. Would I be interested?

Are you freaking kidding me?

So! Happy Dance! I've got free French classes that start next Tuesday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

our big night out

Monday night was our big Valentine's Day outting and we had a wonderful time, despite the bitterly cold and wet weather. We found ourselves downtown at the fabulous L'Illustre. It's located in the pedestrian shopping area and the facade is all half-timbered. It looks deceptively small, but inside are three floors of dining space! It's huge!

We were lead to a table in what was once a cave, or huge cellar. The walls are old stone and there are brick archways everywhere. In honor of Le Fete de Saint Valentin, the lights were very low, with candles and rose petals on every table.

The restaurant offered a special menu for the occassion, so instead of spending thirty minutes perusing the dinner menu, aperitif menu, dessert menu, etc., we chose the simple way out. We started with champagne aperitifs, and chose different entrees - Steph had the coquilles de St Jacques (scallops) and I had the foie gras. That was a first! It was served with spiced bread and was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

For the main course, we both chose the filet de boeuf, which was a delicious cut of beef with truffles and morille mushrooms, with potatoes au gratin and a baked tomato with herbs. Our menu came with a decent Bordeaux (I suppose if I think really hard I could tell you the name of it).

Dessert was a charlotte, which is a small cake with strawberries on top, then left in the freezer to chill for a few hours, and then surrounded with creme. Very very tasty but so huge I couldn't even finish it!

We really had a wonderful night and while it was a bit expensive, we don't go out so much so it was a really special treat.

Monday, February 14, 2005

cupid has terrible aim

Cupid came by last night, but I really think he could use a little target practice. At 3:30 this morning, I woke up with my stomach on fire.

I got up and rummaged around for something to take to alleviate the pain. We have some tea called "Nuit Tranquille," and though it didn't have the ingredients on the packet (I throw away the box and keep the packets in a tin), it smelled of peppermint, and I thought that would help.

Over the next two hours, I drank two cups of tea and read half a book. Around 6:15 I thought I'd take a stab at trying to sleep again, and I finally got up around 10ish. The stomach was still a little sore, but much better. Steph said he had a little stomach-ache yesterday afternoon too - I swear, the man never complains about anything! I guess if he can perform oral surgery on himself, a little tummy ache isn't going to be cause for complaint. I'm guessing it's something we ate for lunch at the in-laws, if we were similarly affected.

This is the second or third time this has happened since I've moved here. I'm guessing this is heartburn? The burning sensation just under your breastbone? It felt like lava bubbling in there. What does one take for heartburn in France, when Pepto just isn't available?

It's feeling much better now. I made a very mild salad with chicken and feta for lunch, and so far, so good. Only, I hope Cupid doesn't come around for seconds after we go out for dinner tonight!

GISBE update: take credit!

We've received a lot emails with the same question: Am I supposed to include a return address or take credit for this package?

The answer is an emphatic "Yes!"

If we do this again (and, I have to confess, everything seems to be going well enough that a second Exchange is looking more and more likely), we will open the game to anyone who wants to play, and rework the matches, so it is highly unlikely that you will have the same recipient a second time. Also, we are encouraging you to blog about your package, and perhaps thank your sender. If you don't have a blog, maybe you'd like to send an email of thanks to your sender.

So yes, include your info, of how you'd like to be known, your email address, even your blog address. Happy hunting!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

the rock hunters

Last Wednesday, the last beautiful spring-like day before Winter came back and smacked us in the face, we went hunting for rocks. Not any old rocks, mind you, but dolmens.

"Do what?" I hear you all exclaim. I found a handy definition here:

(French, from Breton tolmen "hole of stone") A megalithic (large-stone) tomb with one large flat stone laid on several upright stones. Dolmens were usually originally covered by an earthen hill or barrow.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I can show you the three dolmens we discovered.

Click "Tell me more" to continue!

I'm not going to go into great detail about where these are, as I'm just too lazy to go get the map, but they are all in the surrounding area of Troyes, and not more than 45 minutes away. If you would like to exactly where they are, please email me and I'll be happy to try to give you directions.

Luckily, the first one wasn't very difficult to find, as there was a very clear sign where we needed to turn off the road. The weird thing was that it pointed us in the direction of a huge tract of land. When we saw the stones, I was amazed to find that they were literally in the middle of the field. Here, I've crudely drawn an arrow so you can see it:

Why am I suddenly reminded of "Stonehedge" from Spinal Tap?

It's a good thing we came in winter - we never would have found it in the summer for all the wheat!

Rather impressive, eh?

Yep, that's our car.

There's only so much fun to be had looking at a dolmen in the middle of a field, so we hopped in the car and headed to the next one on the map.

This one was a little more difficult to find, as there was no sign on the road whatsoever that there could possibly be a dolmen anywhere to be found. What I thought was a town indicated on the map was actually a private residence behind a big gate and a guest house and what looked an awful lot like a guard house. We parked near the gate and continued down the path skirting the woods on foot. There was a small sign tacked up to a tree that pointed into the woods (and I wish I'd taken a picture of it!) and it wasn't far from the road at all.

This one seems way more natural, as though it were a cave leading into the ground instead of a man-made structure. Granted, it was likely put together 2500 years ago, but still, you know?

Finally, we went off on the most difficult search of all. This one was located in the middle of a forest. Once we drove into the forest, I caught out of the corner of my eye a sign next to a dirt road that was blocked by a metal gate. But sure enough, there was another dolmen sign, so we parked near the gate and headed down the dirt road.

We got all the way to a dead end with nary a sign or stone to lead us the way, which took us a good half an hour. We decided it wasn't really worth hiking off in the woods when we had no idea where the thing was, so we headed back. Well, wouldn't you know it, about halfway back, Steph caught something in the corner of his eye. We marched through the woods and there it was, in all its glory:

This one looks the most like your stereotypical dolmen that we saw, because it actually looked like a table:

We followed the path that lead up of the dolmen, and of course it led us back to the main dirt road, and there was no sign at all (we carefully looked, in case we'd missed it the first time!). About this time, the shadows were getting long, the air was really starting to cool off, and it was time to leave off searching for big rocks for another sunny spring day.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I have been tagged... the lovely Miss Sarah of Bienvenue a mon monde.

1. Total amount of music files on your computer?

Since I'm not glorious enough for an iPod, I had to check out the media library in my Media Player. It says I have 764.94MB of music, or 219 songs, or nearly 14 hours of music. All of it was procured absolutely legally. Really. Why are you looking at me like that?

2. The last CD you bought was...

Just before I moved here, I bought a couple of CDs on Ebay. They were International Superhits by Green Day and Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt.

3. What was the last song you listened to before reading this message?

You know, it's funny... I used to always have music going - whether it be from the Media Player or a CD or internet radio. Now I more frequently listen to music when I'm alone, and now that Steph's home all the time on vacation, I don't listen to music much. Unless you count the sounds emitting from his computer, as he plays Dark Age of Camelot. So it's been a few days since I actually listened to a song.

4. Write down five songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

  • "Nightswimming" by REM because it reminds me of a friend who died years before her time
  • "Carolina in My Mind" by James Taylor because it reminds me of home
  • "Least Complicated" by the Indigo Girls because of more reasons than I can post here
  • "Birdhouse in Your Soul" by TMBG because it makes my heart sing
  • "Destiny" by Zero Seven because I just realized that I didn't include anything from this millenium and I swear I actually do listen to new music and also that is a kick ass gorgeous song

That list would be different every week, I think.

5. What 3 people are you going to pass this baton to and why?

This is hard. Ok ok ok ok ok ok .....

Katia, just because I like her and I think if we ever meet we will talk ourselves blue in the face

Daniel, because he's nice and clever and has a bizarrely intricate memory and writes beautiful stories about his past. I think if we met, we'd talk till we were blue in the face, too.

Karla, because I found her kind of recently and I have a little girl-crush on her. I know she's galavanting around Paris right now, but I hope she will do this when she gets back. Oh, and the blue-face thing? That too.

GISBE update: the emails are out!

Whew! It took me all afternoon, but all the emails are out! If you have any questions or concerns about the information you received, please send a reply to the email. I'd prefer to keep all correspondance going through the other email, so both Tracey and I can help you folks out.

Actually, today was the perfect day for it: it is terrible outside. It is dark, windy, and just plain miserable. So I was quite happy to have something to occupy me today. And really, if you ask me, Tracey had the really difficult part, which was assigning all the exchanges! As for me, I can't believe I used to do this for a living! Six months ago, I was the data entry Queen, I'm telling you.

Meanwhile, please go visit Tracey, as she's got a very interesting post about the statistics of the first ever GISBE. The numbers are quite surprising!

Now, it's off to go shopping! Have fun, everyone!

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Exchange is up and running!

It looks like The Great International Secret Blog Exchange is on its way! We have over 100 participants which outstanding. Thanks to everyone who has signed up!

We are in the final phase of matching people up, so please get those last emails in as soon as possible. I hope to send out emails with all the information tomorrow. Then the real fun begins!

If you have any questions or comments, please be sure to let us know!

The Book of Questions

This is my response to a simul-blog, created by Gary at matching tracksuits. You can see his original post here

Question 120: Would you accept $10,000 to shave your head and continue your normal activities sans hat or wig without explaining the reason for your haircut?

Luckily, we're starting off with something pretty simple. The funny thing is, I actually shaved off half my hair when I was in high school - that'll be the half below the ears, thanks - so I don't see why doing the rest would be so difficult. Especially since 10,000 would certainly go a long way. Well, maybe not so far in Euros as it would in dollars, but I think you get what I mean.

But then again, high school was a long time ago. And not telling anyone? Surely I'd have to explain to my husband where the moolah came from. Couldn't I tell him, and he could explain why I've done it, if it comes up? (IF? Who am I kidding?) Plus, I'm sure I'd need his help, to make sure everything was chopped off. 'Cause, it's one thing to shave your head, and it's another to look like a rabid dog.

Then again, it might be nice to shave off my hair and start over. It sure would be interesting to see what color is really is. Plus, it's supposed to grow back really nice and thick after its all shaved off, right? So that would be good. So eventually, I'd have gorgeous thick hair and 10,000 in the bank. That sounds pretty good to me!

Man, this question is much more complex than I thought. Plus, I don't think it's fair that men would have a much easier time shaving their heads without much comment.

OK, when it comes right down to it, this is basically a fair trade. The cost does not involve harming another person, or myself - unless you count pride, of course. And that's what it comes down to, doesn't it? So, I think I could live with the humiliation of going bald for a few months, in exchange for what amounts to be close to a down payment on a house here. I could just hide in my new house until my hair grows back. And since that's what I'm almost doing anyway as a newly minted ex-pat, I think I'm ok with that.

sticky note! scroll on down for the new stuff!

Tracey Marshall and ViVi present...

The Great International Secret Blog Exchange!

Are you an ex-pat who's missing goodies from home? Always wanted knick-knacks from another country but haven't managed to get there yet? Want to expand your horizons and meet people from around the world? Here's your chance!

Click "Tell me More" to learn how to play!

How to Play!
Leave a comment here if you're interested. DO NOT INCLUDE YOUR MAILING ADDRESS IN THE COMMENTS! This is for your protection!
Tracey or Vivi will email you to acknowledge your interest, and you can reply to that email with your mailing address* and three choices from the list below of what you'd like to receive:

1. Food. This includes non-perishable items, candy, and anything else that could be shipped faraway without melting or spoiling.
2. Trinkets. This is really up to interpretation, but idealy something small and touristy that says something about where you live.
3. Reading material. This includes books and magazines. Please include your language preference.
4. Surprise me! Anything goes, but must be within the price restriction below.
5. Special Request. Self-explanatory, but must be within the price restriction below.

NOW, here's where it gets interesting...
After the submission period is over, you will receive an email detailing your recipient's address and wish list. You won't, however, be told where your package is coming from. It's like "Secret Santas" on an international scale!

Submissions will be accepted until February 10, 2005. You may make a request of the country you would like to receive a package from, but this will be determined by how many submissions are received and the final decision will be made by Tracey and Vivi.

What we want to do is just be the contact people to get everyone more involved in the goodness of the blogging-expats and their readers' cultures. It's all for fun.

Here are our NON-BINDING guidelines...

Packages should be sent in a timely manner with the intent of receipt no more than one month after being informed of the destination.

We suggest not spending more than 20 dollars/euros (or the equivilent of your home currency), not including shipping. This general guideline is simply to keep it simple and affordable and relatively fair for participants. Please be advised that the 20 dollar/euro guideline is in no way a requirement but we think it's a reasonable goal.

If this experiment is successful, we hope there will be more Exchanges in the future! If you would like to make a suggestion, please email Tracey or Vivi; all suggestions will be taken into consideration.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

i got a hot date!

This morning, we were talking about our budget for this month, and what we want to do during Steph's vacation (as far as going and seeing things that aren't too far off), and how much we can put in savings this month.

Somewhere in the middle of the conversation he blurted out, "And I think we should go out for dinner on the 14th."

The light came on. "Oh, for Valentine's Day."

"Yeah. Just us, without the rest of the group. We'll find a nice restaurant and make a reservation."

At this point my eyes got misty and I had to turn my attention back to the dishwasher. Because, you see, I've never had a date for Valentine's Day.

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One time, the guy I was seeing gave me a card and a plant. I always got a card and some candy hearts from my mom. But, that guy I was dating? He was a student at the time, living with his mom, and never coughed up paid for anything, because, he said, he was just a student. (That relationship is a whoooooole other blog.) Last year, Steph and I were inconveniently seperated by the Atlantic Ocean. What can I tell you, I never dated a lot; I guess my standards were way too high.

So, I have never participated in the ritual that is Going On A Romantic Date On Valentine's Day.

To the cynics out there: I used to be just like you. It was always a Black Day (for example, this year it would be a Black Monday) for me. I rolled my eyes and said it was a Corporate Holiday, created by Hallmark and the flower industry (not to mention those bastards in the diamond business) to gain more profit in a slow part of the year. People who participated in this holiday were tools of the system who needed an official day to tell their significant others that they loved them.

But come Monday night, I will wear a nice outfit, and I and my favorite man in the world will go out hand in hand and eat a nice meal in public. I don't need a card (Hallmark has not stretched its greedy hand this far, ha ha!) and I don't even need a gift. Just let me have this one little thing, to see what I've been missing, lo these many years.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

vivi goes to the doctor

Well, that was painless.

To give you an idea of how painless, I think I need to explain, for the benefit of those of you who have never had the occasion to visit the doctor in the states, what going to the doctor used to entail.

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So, you arrive at the doctor's office a little before your appointed time. After you sign in, you are given a form to fill out - especially if it is your first time there. You fill in all your personal info, your insurance info, your family history, etc. It's usually a couple of pages long. I had one doctor who required you to sign a waiver everytime you visited. Then you bring the paperwork back to the receptionist, along with your insurance card and perhaps your identification card, to be copied and put in your file. Then you sit in the waiting room, which is the size of a small auditorium, and wait with the ten to twenty other patients (to be fair, there are usually several doctors in the same office).

If you're very lucky, you'll only have a few minutes to wait. It's not unusual to wait for half an hour, and I was always prepared to wait up to an hour for one particular doctor who always seemed to be running behind. I always brought a book.

Once you're called back to an examination room, a nurse will take your vital signs (weight, blood pressure, temperature) and then ask why you are visiting the doctor today. This information is written in a file and placed in a holder on the door of your room. She will also do any other lab work that needs to be done - give you the cup and point you to the bathroom, take a vial of blood for testing, etc. Then you wait some more. Again, if you're lucky, it will just be a few minutes, but I've waited upwards of half an hour in the examination room for the doctor.

Finally, the doctor arrives. He takes your file and knocks on the door before entering. You exchange pleasantries while he reads over what the nurse has written. Please keep in mind that there are up to four other examination rooms with patients in them waiting to see the doctor, always being rotated in and out. My regular doctor handled this wonderfully. When he was in the room with me, he was totally focused on me and why I was there. We always managed to fit in a little conversation about something outside of the visit - work or family life or something. My gyno was a different story, always frantically moving about because he had five other patients waiting to see him. I never got the nerve to say to him, "Look, I know you're backed up, but could you handle my ovaries with a little more care? Thanks."

So you've had your five minutes with the doctor, he gives you your prescriptions if needed, and you're done. You head back to the receptionist to pay for your visit (with my insurance, I had a "co-pay" in which I paid $15 per visit and the insurance picked up the rest).

Exhausting, no?

Maybe I was very lucky, but yesterday was a breeze. We arrived at the appointed time. I gave my name and we were invited to sit in the waiting room. I noted the very informative poster which explained why it is better to visit the doctor in his office than at your house. Yes, doctors still pay house calls here, though you'll likely pay through the nose for it.

After waiting five minutes, we were greeted by the doctor and invited to the office. Something to note here: our family doctor was not in yesterday, so a replacement doctor was there. Apparently this is a full time job, replacing doctors, and it's nice to know that you will see someone just as qualified as your regular doctor (though I can hear my mom freaking out about this: but they don't know my medical history!! For now, it wasn't important.)

So we went back to the office of the doctor. The office is just that: a desk, computer, file cabinet, etc. There is a small examination area tucked discreetly in the corner. Ah, this is how it should be done! None of this assembly line medicine I'm so used to! The doctor is focused soley on me! I think I like this!

We sat down in front of the desk. The doctor was extremely patient while I tried to explain why I was there in my could-be-better French. I gave her the paperwork of my old prescription, and as she was searching in the Big Book of Prescriptions, I gave her a little medical history of why I take that certain medicine (yes Mom, she recognized what I have). With Steph's help, I was able to answer all the questions in French. Once she found the exact match (score!), she invited me back to the examination area, where she took my blood pressure. And that's all.

Once the exam was over, she wrote out the prescription, wrote out the bill, we wrote her a check, and we were done. Usually, the doctor will send in the paperwork to your insurance company (where we will most likely be reimbursed 90% of what we paid), but because she was a replacement doctor, we took the paperwork and mailed it in ourselves today.

As far as the medicine itself goes, we stopped at the pharmacy on the way home. Often, birth control pills are free here, but because this was a different prescription, we were warned that we would have to pay something. It turned out we had to pay 25€€ for a three-month supply. Considering I paid upwards of $30 a month back home, we are quite pleased with the result.

All in all, I'm not so freaked out about going back to the doctor if something comes up. Steph is convinced that I could have managed on my own, and perhaps if I had been alone, it wouldn't have been too bad. But I'm glad he was there. Oh, and private note to Katia: I didn't get the lecture. Maybe because she was fluffier than me? ;)

Monday, February 07, 2005

funny how time slips away

I totally get it now.

For as long as I've known him, Steph has been addicted to a MMORPG called Dark Age of Camelot. It has always amazed me that he can sit in front of his computer and play literally all day, barely pausing to eat or take a "bio break," as they say.

My sister, who has been playing EverCrack EverQuest for many years, started playing City of Heroes on the side, and I thought it seemed like an interesting game, so I bought a copy to take with me so we could play together.

Usually I'll play for a couple of hours and, for various reasons, stop and do something else. But yesterday I got sucked in. I sat down to play after lunch and the next time I looked up it was SEVEN P.M. Well, I'm sure I did some moving around and took some "bio breaks," but I had no idea that so much time had passed.

So, yeah, I get it now. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find a team to help me with me level 18 Cave of Transcendance mission.

Meanwhile, in other news...

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I have an appointment to go to the doctor this afternoon. As Steph and I are not ready to create a "tadpole," as Petite might say, and I've run out of my American stash, I need some more munitions to fortify the defenses, as it were.

Steph wanted me to see the doctor alone, but I had to put my foot down. Normally I'll screw up my courage and try to muddle on alone, but this is too important to me. I want to be very sure I understand what the doctor says and I really want to be sure he understands me. This is one of those instances when I think, "Why does this have to be so damn difficult?"

Well, if nothing else, it's good blog fodder, eh?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Not much to report

It's kinda slow around here. Steph's two-week vacation has started, but we're staying close to home again, with maybe a day trip here or there. I'm still feeling kinda icky, so I guess I need the rest anyway.

The only thing I have to share right now is that, on the way to my in-laws for a coffee this afternoon, we passed a sign advertising that the Spongebob Squarepants movie is coming to France. Only here, he's called Bob l'Eponge.

I dunno, it's not the same as screaming SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS! at the top of your lungs, is it?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

suzy homemaker emerges

I've finally thrown off the shackles of sickness. Rubbing the sleepy eye goo away, I realized that this place is a freakin' pig sty. It was so gross even I couldn't stand it, so I've been at it all day.

In addition to the usual laundry/mopping/scrubbing fun, I managed to fit in time to re-pot a plant. See?

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This is the last remaining plant from the gorgeous basket of flowers and fauna that was presented to us by the gang that came over for Thanksgiving. Looks pretty good, no? (Don't worry, the black thumb is still intact; everything else died off as per usual)

Also in the picture is the beautiful wooden butterfly display that came in the box from Japan. A little superglue fixed up the broken wings just fine.

Since I had the camera out, I finally got a good picture of the banner still hanging in the front room.

I can't really think of any good reason for climbing up on the couch to take it down, so there it stays.

Meanwhile, I'm slowing integrating the rest of my Japanese goodies around the apartment. The tin with the picture of the girl in traditional dress is currently holding packets of tea, and this little doll is currently sitting on top of my computer monitor, close to the last two fortune cookies I got before leaving the states.

(L) An adventure awaits you around the bend.
(R) You combine good taste with a quick mind.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The best interview ever

Well, not ever. 'Cause obviously the best interview ever would result in a 100% guarantee of a job. I'd say my chances are closer to 80%, but clearly it's up to me to make it 100%.

So, I met Mr. Irish (as I will now call him) at 4:00. Right off the bat, we were talking in English (much to my glee, but it was expected, as we had spoken only English on the phone). It was a really great conversation, but not to bore you to tears, I'll try to break it down for you:

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The Good Stuff
What got my foot in the door is the fact that I'm American, as he has some clients looking for American teachers so they can communicate better with their American counterparts. He was slightly worried that I would have a strong southern accent, and was genuinely pleased with my practiced Standard American Accent (thank you acting degree!).

He's not so concerned with my lack of teaching experience, nor the fact that I'm not certified to teach English as a second language. If he were to take me on, it would be to work with advanced students, and if down the line he would want me to be certified, he would pay for that.

He knows exactly where I'm coming from, as 13 years ago he came to France with no French and jumped right into teaching English. He's been there and done that, so he knows what he's talking about and had lots of helpful advice.

The Not So Good Stuff
I absolutely have to brush up on English grammar. Not at a CELTA (that's the cerification for teaching english) level, but perhaps enough to get into a CELTA course. He pointed out the in the states and UK, English grammar isn't taught in the same way that it is when it's taught as a second language. Because these students have studied English intensively, they understand the basics of English grammar better than many Americans or any other Anglophones do - because we take it for granted. Sure, we know that "If I knew, I wouldn't have come" is not as good as "If I had known, I wouldn't have come," but can you explain why? Herein lies the problem.

The French needs to improve (luckily this didn't come as a surprise).

But Wait! There's More Good Stuff
Mr. Irish is going to email me a list of books to study up on my grammar. When I feel comfortable enough, I can contact him and he'll give me a little test, which will immediately put me back in the running for a job.

All in all, it was a very positive experience. In fact, I sat in his office for an hour and ten minutes! Who does that for an interview? So, I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks, but it seems it will be worth it in the end. Perhaps things are starting to look up!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

i'm so excited and i just can't hide it!

I just got a call from the head honcho of the languages department of a local company, who sent me a very nice rejection letter back in November. He doesn't necessarily have anything open at the moment, but he wants to meet me tomorrow for an interview.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go squeal with glee and jump up and down like a five-year-old on a sugar high.