Wednesday, November 30, 2005

a hair too short

(Note: I'm still getting a few comments on my "first class or five star" question a couple of posts below, so I'll address that in my next post.)

Something else happened on Saturday that is something of a milestone for me. I finally got fed up with my dried out, straw-like, do-nothing hair (which I suppose is only natural, since it's been six months since it was last cut), so I made the big leap and made an appointment to get it cut.

This should be a happy occasion, since I got through it basically alright. I was in awe of their adjusting sinks - no more contortionist shampooing! - and was relieved when the stylist pulled out a couple of books and let me pick out a style that I liked. I didn't have to give the whole explanation of bangs (or fringe, if you like) or layers*! I even survived the requisite chit-chat that seems to be the international rule of all hairstylists!

Then it got bad. In fact, I didn't even realize how bad it was until it was over, and she was drying my hair. The cut was to have been at least chin length and rather full, to take advantage of the curl my hair has when it's at that length. Instead, I got short hair. I mean SHORT hair. I don't know when it's been this short. Maybe when I was six? It's too damn short. It looks nothing like the photo I chose. I am not pleased.

Now, I am the first person to console a friend who thinks they have received a bad cut with the line, "The difference between a good cut and a bad cut is two weeks." Thank goodness hair does in fact grow, and I won't be stuck with this look forever. I am afraid, however, that it may be slightly more than two weeks before I am happy about my hair again.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I learned that layered hair is called "dégradé" in French (I may not have spelled that exactly right). This has been in my mind for over a year, in preparation for my eventual visit to a hairdresser in France, and I sat here for a full five minutes trying to remember the word in English again!

Monday, November 28, 2005

mission accomplished

OK, I admit now that I have been keeping something from you, because we were invited to go to a surprise party this weekend and the target birthday boy sometimes reads this blog (Hi Eric!). I am very happy to report that everything went perfectly and Eric was very surprised!

Eric is an English teacher at the school Steph recently left, and he's really sweet and lots of fun to be with. Plus he speaks English beautifully! So beautifully, in fact, that sometimes I forget that it isn't his first language and I prattle on for ages until he reminds me to slow down and/or shut up. So, when we heard that a surprise birthday party was being planned for his Milestone Birthday (yes, it has a zero in it!), we were more than happy to accept! The hardest part is that we've known about it for about two months - that's dangerous for me, as I've been known to blurt out all kinds of crap at the wrong moment.

So Eric thought he was going to be getting together with a few friends for an evening of pizza and tarot, the French card game. Imagine his surprise when he opened the door and found twenty friends from all walks of life there screaming "Surprise!" It was really fun!

The best part, for me, was that I got the chance to chat with him online before we left to go to the party (as did a few other invitees, as well). I didn't even mention his birthday, and I feigned disappointment and shock and horror when he told me that his birthday had been the day before and I had (seemingly) missed it. Bwahahahahhaha!

Also - I had a couple of conversations in French without having to cling to Steph for support or translations! Of course, I only understood 80% (which steadily declined as the night wore on), but progress is progress! I'm so grateful to Steph's friends for their kindness and patience with me - they're really fantastic.

But enough about me (for the rest of the post) - Happy Birthday, Eric! Or, as the French say, Hapi Birzdai, Eric!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

audience participation

OK, so, you know those "What if?" questions that come up from time to time? Those "If you could do one or the other, which would you chose?" questions? Steph and I have one that finds us on opposite sides of the fence. We posed the question to a couple of people at our Thanksgiving in Paris dinner, and Steph was surprised at the answers. Just for fun, I'm now going to ask you the question because I'm really curious what you guys think.

If money were no object, but you could only choose one, would you rather:

a) eat dinner at a five-star restaurant

b) travel first class round trip on an international flight

Note: No, you may not take the money and run. You can, however, choose the restaurant or the flight destination, and you can bring someone with you.

Answers in comments please, and I'll make another post in a few days and link the best answers.

Friday, November 25, 2005

a winter's tale

We had a little bit of snow last night, and I found out a little while ago, when I went out to take a letter to the post office, that since our street won't have direct sunlight until after lunch, the road has a thin layer of ice and is pretty slick. After living in the Carolinas for ten years or so, I've learned that you don't need three feet of snow to create dangerous driving conditions. Happily I was just walking to the post office - as far as I can tell, Steph navigated the ice just fine on his way to work this morning. It reminded me of the last winter I spent in the States, when I learned that two inches of snow covered by two inches of ice is enough to bring Greenville, South Carolina to a full stop.

The company that I worked for had a policy that I detested - if you weren't able to get to the office because of weather conditions, that day was taken from your vacation time. Since I was hoarding vacation time to visit my future husband in France that Spring, I was determined to get to work come hell or high water.

My manager happened to live not too far away from me and had volunteered to pick me up, but I lived at the bottom of a hill, so we had arranged to meet at the top of the hill. Getting to the top was no easy feat, and I was finding it incredibly difficult. I was able to break through the ice and march across lawns, but getting across driveways was next to impossible and walking in the street was out of the question.

About half-way up the hill, a small group of neighbors (whom I didn't know) were standing outside a house and were watching my progress. One of them broke away from the group and came towards me as easy as you please. For a moment, I was mesmorized by the man who could walk on ice, until he showed me that he was wearing mountain climbing picks on his shoes. He asked me what I was doing, and I pointed out my manager's car at the top of the hill and explained what was going on. He kindly offered to help me out - I took his arm and skated up the hill and let this nice man and his ice-picks do all the work. I couldn't help but ask what he and his friends were doing standing outside in these conditions.

"We were just watching all the SUVs try to drive up and down the hill - they're not doing so hot. So then we got the idea to come out and cheer them on. We even made scoring signs, like at the Olympics."

I looked over my shoulder, and the neighbors were laughing and hoisting up scores for me. One kind soul even gave me a "10."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

winter approaches

It seems that we're going to skip right over autumn and go directly to winter this year. The weather really only started getting cool at the beginning of the month (we were practically in tshirts when we moved in on the 31st!) and in the last week the temperatures have just plummeted. As a matter of fact, they are calling for snow, perhaps as early as tomorrow night. How this is going to affect my voyages to Troyes remains to be seen. I'm not so concerned about driving in wintery weather myself, but I'm a little worried about them. You know, the ones who drive at top speed no matter what the conditions.

This morning we went to Troyes to pick up my Carte de Sejour, version 2.0. Once again, we encountered no problems and were in and out in less than fifteen minutes. We were also told that next year, we'll be able to apply for my ten-year card at the town hall here in our village. I'm a bit skeptical about that, but we'll see what happens.

We also ran a few more errands before heading to the in-laws' for lunch. We placed the order for our new futon couch, so my dad can rest easy now: he'll have a place to lay his weary head when he arrives next month. We also picked out some new curtains, so now we can finally open up all of the shutters and let in some of the light I've been missing. It's so nice not living in a cave anymore, like our last place.

We also decided this afternoon that after the holidays are over, it will be time again to send out some random resumes (or CVs, if you prefer). Steph is way more confident in my ability to speak and understand French than I am, but he has volunteered to supplement my French classes with a bit of dictation every now and again. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy my French classes, but I highly doubt that my knowledge of French vegetables and trees is going to do me any good in the administration field. Anyway, there is an international commercial airport not too far away that may be in need of an English-speaker, and I still want to send a letter to the Tourism Office of Troyes to see if they can give me any information on what I can do to become an English-speaking tour guide. Well, I think I have the English-speaking part down. You know what I mean.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving in Paris

Yes, I know that Thanksgiving hasn't really happened yet, but when you live in a country that doesn't celebrate it (I know! Isn't that crazy?) you have to make it happen when you can.

Yesterday, Steph and I made our own pilgrimage to celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris with the Ex-Pat Gang (we really ought to have t-shirts made, doncha think?). After a car ride, a train ride, a metro ride, an RER ride, and a brief walk, we found ourselves at our destination. Around twenty people gathered to celebrate and give thanks and, of course, EAT!

I brought along a veggie platter with Hidden Valley Ranch dressing (thanks to Doc, who graciously mailed me a packet just in time!), which was always a staple of Thanksgiving in my house growing up. After other tasty appetizers, we sat down to EAT! There were sweet potatoes (with marshmallows!), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, Swedish meatballs, green bean casserole, real stuffing and two turkeys (of course there were other dishes as well - there were so many I can't even name them all)! At that large table, passing around heaping dishes of food, children running around the table, conversations all around, it was the closest I have ever felt to being back home since I moved here.

In fact, it felt so much like Thanksgiving, that while some of us took a little walk around the village and were marveling that the people living in the manor had left the gate open, I said, "of course they did, it's Thanksgiving! Oh... wait..."

When we returned, we all tucked into five different desserts. I brought along a pecan pie and was very pleased to receive quite a few compliments for it. And then, all too soon, we had to drink up our coffees and head out the door, to make our long journey in reverse.

All through the day, we gave thanks for our families, our friends and our good fortune to be living this adventure, even when we are so far away from home. We spoke fondly of friends who couldn't be there, and we made new friends in the process. We gave thanks in English and in French, and we celebrated our roots and our future.

After all that I have lost this year, I found that I have a world full of things to be grateful for. If that's not the meaning of Thankgiving, I don't know what is.

Friday, November 18, 2005

a day in the life

Or, more specifically, yesterday.

7:00 am - Get Up
I'm in the habit of getting up when Steph does, unless I'm sick. I feel too guilty if I lay in bed while Steph is going to work. I may not actually do anything but sit on the couch, but at least I'm awake.

Morning - Coffee & Homework
After watching a bit of morning television (to work on French comprehension, of course), a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee, I settle in to do my French homework. For those of you playing at home, we've been working on the difference between Imparfait and Passé Composé.

12:00 pm - Lunch for Two
Now that we're living in the village where Steph works, he has the time to actually come home for lunch. This has created a problem for me, since I've gotten used to finding little things to eat during the day and only having to worry about meals for two at dinnertime. The good thing is that it's given me the opportunity to try out new things and solicit people for new recipes (if you're feeling generous, please feel free to fill up the comments box!).

1:30 pm - On the Road Again
On those days that I drive to Troyes for my French class, Steph walks back to work and I get the car (bwahahahaaha!). It takes about half an hour to get to my destination and I have three villages to drive through before I get there. As I pass through the first village, I see children running around in front of the Mairie, or town hall. The reason they're running around the town hall is that it doubles for the school, and they're waiting to go back to class.

2:00 pm - 4:00 pm - French Class
Yesterday we went off on a tangent and starting talking about cooking fish. Every single student (except me) recommends cooking and eating fish with its head intact. Apparently the brains are very tasty. My classmates come from VietNam, Cambodia, India, Marrakech, and Haiti. The teacher and I recommended trout on the grill, which they hadn't tried before. I love when we get off track and just sit and talk like this. The best part of my French class is that I'm learning so much more about the world.

Please click "Tell me more!" to continue

4:00 pm - 6:30 pm - Shopping
I won't always have choir rehearsals on Thursday evenings, but when I do, I have two hours to run around and do what I want. Yesterday, I packed a lot into two hours. First, I went to one of the hypermarchés, or supermarkets, in Troyes. We have little grocery stores in my village, but the ones in Troyes are like Super Walmarts, with everything from televisions to fresh bread. I took the opportunity to pick up a couple of things that I can't find at home. Before I left, I stopped in the cafeteria for a fresh crèpe with Nutella and a cup of coffee.

I didn't linger too long over coffee, though, because I had another errand to run. Running out of time, I drove back to the center of town, parked and put too much money in the parking meter, rather than look for exact change, and walked briskly a few blocks. As I crossed across the square in front of the Mairie, I noticed that they are selling roasted marrons already. The giant carousel is lit up like a dream and playing a waltz. A mother was taking a picture of her daughter, smiling down from a lit-up sleigh. A young couple not too far away was dancing a little waltz in time to the music.

I turned the corner and found myself at my destination: the clothing stores. In less than ten minutes, I ran through the two stores I had targeted, looking for a new black sweater to wear to a party on Sunday. Having found one, I learned at the register that it was on sale for less than 20 euros (!!!). Bag in hand, I headed back to the car to drop off the sweater and get my music. This time, the carousel is playing Elvis.

6:30 pm - 7:30 pm - Choir Rehearsal
Not much to report here. It was a women's sectional, so we were concentrating on some sticky spots. Since I just started back to the choir last week, this music is still new to me. The first piece was easy but the second one is going to require some extra time. Some time next week, I'll likely take a rehearsal room at the conservatory and pound out notes on a piano.

8:00 pm - Home Again, Home Again
After half an hour on the road (with nobody on it), I finally make it back home. Steph has a request for dinner (which is rare): a little ditty we call "Instant Raclette." It consists of potatoes with saussison sec and raclette cheese piled on top, then thrown in the microwave for two minutes. Those of you that know traditional Raclette are probably horrified, but we're ok with that.

I checked my emails, played a little bit online, and crashed around 11:00 pm. Wash, lather, repeat.

Actually, I chose yesterday to write about because it was a busy day, but in a good way. Today started with cleaning the bathroom, and nobody wants to read about that, do they?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

making progress

A couple of months ago, we discovered that there is a good bit of programming on tv that has closed captioning for the hearing impaired. It mostly works for documentaries, which suits me fine, as I'm more likely to watch those as anything else. This has helped me tremendously, since my biggest difficulty with French is listening comprehension. Now I can put spoken French together with the text on the screen, and I can already tell that it's making a big difference.

Did I mention that I've decided to go back to the choir at the Conservatory in Troyes? Yes, I think I did. So yesterday I went after my French class to register for the class. I went to a rehearsal last week, and I thought that my sister-in-law had said something to the director about my coming back, but in fact, she hadn't said anything at all - or else I would have tried to contact her outside of rehearsal time to ask her about coming back. Luckily, she didn't have any problem with my coming back, but did ask me to get registered as soon as possible.

So, I went. Happily, the secretary's office was still open and I was able to do everything on my own. As I was sitting there, signing off on the paperwork and writing a check, I remembered that a year ago I'd had to drag Steph with me to do this. I hadn't even been able to understand what was going on.

But the real trick was when I had to give the secretary our new address. Our new street address isn't a proper name (often streets are named after famous people here) and, if said badly, can be heard as at least two or three other words. The first time I gave the new address, I had to correct myself, and even Steph has had to correct someone. But yesterday I said it perfectly, and the secretary typed it correctly into the database. I very nearly skipped out of the office after that.

I may not be fluent yet, but I am definitely making progress.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

six months

I received news this weekend that an ex-pat friend of mine in Paris had lost her mother back in states. I've been thinking a lot about her these last few days. Another friend of mine once told me that once you lose someone close to you, you relive your own loss when it happens to someone else. Consequently, I've been thinking about my own mother a lot these past few days, too.

Today marks six months since my mom passed away. Mourning my mother isn't something I've blogged about for a number of reasons. For one, it's not really what this blog is about. For another, I think sometimes that it's too personal, this grieving. Finally, I think, in the beginning, anyway, it was just too damn hard to talk about.

I spent the first four months replaying the day she died in my head every night when I went to bed. Some nights, I was able to turn it off, like a television. Most nights, I couldn't. I sleep better now, but sometimes something happens that affects me like a smack in the face. For example, when we were packing up for the move, I ran across a picture I'd forgotten I had, of Mom and me and Steph. It was such a shock that I cried over it for half an hour. I've put it up in the living room. She looks radiant in it.

Another friend, who lost her Dad, told me six months ago that it gets easier with time. That we never stop missing them, but in time, it doesn't hurt so much.

Maybe it does hurt less now, but it still hurts.

And I miss her. Oh god, do I miss her.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I've finally finished my first cross stitch project - a bookmark kit I bought in the gift shop at the Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris, nearly a year ago. I only started it a couple of months ago, but I ran into trouble and had to pull out a bunch of thread and then ran out, so then I had to run all over the place to find thread that matched. A couple of weeks ago I found matching thread at the new Cultura store that just opened in Troyes (oh man, I freakin' love that place!) and finished up the bookmark over the last few days.

So here it is, in all its glory. I had to stick it in the scanner, since we don't still don't have a digital camera (which will most likely be our Christmas present to ourselves), so that accounts for the squishy tassel.

Update: You can click here to see a bigger version of it, if you can't see it in the post.

I am so excited that I found Cultura, because they have tons of stuff for artsy-fartsy projects, including mosaicing, which is something I've always wanted to try but never had the courage to actively seek out. One of these days, when we have a little disposable income, I'm going to go back there and buy a bunch of tiles and stuff and see what I can come up with.

Friday, November 11, 2005

road warrior

Now that we are living the country life, 30 kilometers away from Troyes, I'm now the one who has to hop in the car to go back to Troyes for my French classes. I don't mind the drive at all, and it also gives me the opportunity to run errands and such whilst visiting the "big city."

I've also decided to go back to the choir at the conservatory, since I never heard "boo" from Mr. Irish. Steph and I had a discussion about it before I went back, because as much as I love singing, it would have been great to have some extra money in the bank, and it's clear that I can't do both. In the end, we decided that it would be ok to go back to the choir, even if it means turning down the job if he calls, and to continue working on the French and keeping an eye out for any daytime work that shows up.

So, this means that I'm on the road three days a week. It turns out that the choir is working a lot with the Youth Choir this year, so they had a rehearsal last night. It was two hours after the French class, so I ran a couple of little errands and then headed over to the Conservatory. It's a good thing I went early too, since it took me a good little while to find a good space (meaning free and not too far away) and then even longer to parallel park into the space I found, since this is a skill I hardly ever had to use before.

Once I was installed in my parking space, I found myself with another half an hour to kill, so I settled in to read my book and eat a little snack. It wasn't too long before the guy who was parked in front of me came to drive away, and drove right into my car in the process! Granted, it wasn't very hard, but it got my attention! People, I'm here to tell you, I thought I would be scared sharing the roads with the French, but that's not the problem - the problem is their atrocious parking habits! Seriously, unless you have a private garage, there is no point in getting huffy about the state of your car here, as it's bound to get dinged up no matter what you do!

Now I just need to figure out what to do with those two hours between French classes and Choir rehearsals (I should say that the normal time for rehearsals is Wednesday evenings, but since the two choirs are working together, we often rehearse during the Youth Choir's normal rehearsal, which is Thursday evenings... two hours after French class is over. It's not every week, but it's often enough to worry!). Now that it's getting colder, I don't think I can always rely on book and snack time in the car...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

i'm baaaaaaaack!

Yes, yes, I missed you too! We truly must have done something right, because when France Telecom came to install our second line and hook up the phone on Monday, we learned that we didn't have to wait an additional ten days for internet! So the last couple of days have been spent catching up on emails and stealthily catching up on blogs.

I'd like to thank my guest Nung Nung for making me weepy posting while I was gone. My sister actually has a legitimate excuse - she's now writing a column for the newspaper she works for, where she's already a copy editor (I think that's the right term) and I couldn't be more proud of her. My third guest has gone MIA which has me slightly worried.

There's been a lot going on (obviously) the last week or so, but here are some highlights (most of which I'm sure will be expanded into full posts):

The Move
Thanks to the professional moving skills of oldest-brother-in-law, super-human skills of Doc's husband (seriously, he picked up the stove - granted it's not a giant American stove, but still - and carried it to the truck himself!) and way more friends and family than we actually needed, the move went freakishly well, and all the cars and the Big-Ass Truck were unloaded by 12:30. I am so thrilled to be in this new space that I find myself getting emotional at odd times - like watching tv in the living room!!! I know, it's the little things.

The Mammogram
Yes, I had my boobies squished real good last week. Everything's fine. I had a good little scare for a minute though: during the pre-squishing interview, the tech asked why I was having the procedure done, and I replied that I was under the impression that there wasn't anything wrong and that the doctor just wanted to have a record of my healthy boobies on file. The tech replied that this is actually quite odd, as the normal age for a first mammogram is 40, just like in the states. Then I started to wonder if I didn't understand the doctor well and she had found something, so I was in a panicked state for the next twenty minutes. Luckily, the Radiologist took a look at the x-rays right away and told me that there was no problem at all, which almost sent me into tears of relief (I seem to have been more emotional than usual these past couple of weeks!).

The Riots
For friends and family: We're fine, whatever is happening is happening rather far from us and as we have an extremely small population of minorites in this village I don't expect to see any here. As for the politics of it, I'm going to leave that to people that are way more informed than I am (A Fistful of Euros is a good place to start). All I can say is that when they talk about the rights of immigrants, I don't think they're talking about white, middle-class Americans who have never known what it is to starve or not be able to get work (yes, I know, I bitch and moan about getting a job, but let's face it, I could get a job at McDonald's if we were really desperate). My hope is that the violence does not escalate further and some real, practical solutions can come from this.

OK, that's enough for now. Now it's time to catch up on my American news...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

breaking the ice

Well, well, well. Looks like I’m the first guest blogger to break the ice.

:: sound of crickets chirping ::

Ahem. That statement may be false by the time I’m actually able to finish this and post it.

So, I’m the guest known as “Vivi’s oldest friend” - I’ve known darling V since my first year of high school. Fittingly enough, I joined the French Club in an effort to become better friends with her. Seeing as how that was about 17 years ago, I think it worked. Vivi and I used to exchange elaborate notes via the Locker Express, replete with drawings, pseudonyms, and the kinds of secrets that teenage girls can only share with one another. I thought she was amazingly cool...she was one year older, she had a big blue station wagon, she was in the French Club!

Vivi schlepped me around for most of my high school years, driving me (and whoever else we could pack into the wagon) to record stores, concerts, and late night pies at the Village Inn. She introduced me to my first real boyfriend (named after a mammal, no less), and was gentle with me during our break-up. And the numerous break-ups with others that followed. Vivi was the only person I went out of my way to visit when I made my trek north to my new home in Boston some-odd nine years ago; I didn't even visit my hometown one last time. There weren't that many people that I was going to miss....

Sadly enough, I lost touch with V after moving. Ask anyone who knows me (or, erm...used to) I DON’T stay in touch. I don’t call, I never write. I think of people fondly - and often - but that’s about as far as it goes. Happily enough, Vivi has never held that against me, and has continued to send missives into the black hole that is my mailbox. And last year, I was thrilled to hear her voice coming over the telephone, exclaiming, “I’m getting married and moving to France!”

I’m just glad she never gave up on me. Or the French Club.