Tuesday, January 31, 2006

congratulations are in order!

I need to stop wringing my hands and worrying for a moment so I can shine a spotlight on my wonderful husband and some good news we got last week. I think most of you know that Steph is a teacher, but I'm not sure I've talked much about what he actually does. For the last five years, Steph has been teaching in SEGPA (Sections d'Enseignements Généraux et Professionnels Adaptés) at the collège, or middle school, level. Students that have been placed in SEGPA have learning and/or social disorders. I would hazard a guess that 99% of them will not continue on to lycée, or high school, but will instead become apprenticed in a blue collar industry. Even though Steph mainly studied physics at university, he finds himself teaching all manner of subjects - last year he taught history, this year he's teaching French grammar.

Teaching in SEGPA has always been his goal, but every new school year is a gamble as to whether or not he will be placed in SEGPA - even if he'll be in the same school. This is because he has not yet been accepted to the very limited course to earn his certificate for teaching children with disabilities. You see, every year, an inspection board chooses only two teachers from our region to participate in the certification course. Steph has applied every year for five years, and each year has placed in the top three or four, and because the candidates are judged by how long they've been teaching in SEGPA, what specific courses they took at university, he has often been as little as half a point behind the top two.


Last week we got a call from one of Steph's colleagues from the school where he taught last year. Since the inspectors are based out of that school, they often have the results before the official letters are sent out. So after five long years, Steph has FINALLY been accepted to the course!!

So what does this mean? Well, at the end of May, he will be pulled out of the classroom to take his first three-week course. Next school year, he will spend half his time at the school, teaching, and the other half attending classes. He'll have to write a thesis, and pass an important in-school inspection at the end of the next school year. At the end of this process, he'll earn slightly more money (seriously, it's such a small amount that it wouldn't be worth all the work for it alone!) but more importantly, he'll have the certification, which means that he will be guaranteed a spot in a SEGPA, instead of crossing fingers and wishing on stars every summer, waiting to see where he will be placed.

I'm so very pleased for him, because it's something he has wanted so dearly. Next year may be a bit difficult and stressful, but it will be worth it in the end. Congratulations, Steph!

Monday, January 30, 2006

time is not on my side

(or, The One Where Vivi Possibily Reveals Too Much)

This morning I checked the ANPE website for new job announcements, like I've been doing twice a week since the beginning of the month. I plugged in my criteria with "anglais" added, in hopes of finding a bilingual admin position. I got two hits, and one seems interesting enough to warrant sending in a resume and hand-written cover letter, which is the norm in France. This one doesn't specify that a photo is required, which is also not unusual in France, but less and less so, so I don't have to copy and paste the black and white photo already saved in the computer to the resume before I print it out. This will be second resume mailed off this month. Later this week, I have my six-month review at ANPE with a counselor who will want to know what I've been doing in terms of looking for a job. Steph thinks I should ask him about finding a "stage," or internship, which doesn't pay but can be put on a resume.

All of this is really great. I'm making positive moves towards finding a job, something I have been wanting for ages. I really miss working and interacting with other people. But there's a voice in the back of my head, telling me that I need to be working on another project - starting a family.

If I had my druthers, I would happily wait a year or two before even thinking about starting a family. I would like to feel more comfortable with the language, have some extra income coming in, feel a bit more settled. However, there are two factors that I have to consider. The first one is my age. I wish I could tell you that I was a blushing young bride of 25, but the truth is that I was 31 when we were married and I'm going to be 33 this May (that's the 23rd, please be sure to mark your calendars accordingly, thank you, mgmt.). Statistically, every year we wait, the less chances we have of achieving a natural pregnancy. The other thing is my medical history. I already know that, with PCOS, I will most likely have a difficult time getting pregnant naturally and we should really start trying as soon as possible. In fact, this subject was the last one I had with my mother before she died, and I'll never forget her pleading with me, "Please, Vivi, start trying as soon as possible! Don't wait until it's too late!"

On the other hand, I agree with Steph that it would be nice to have a little extra padding in the bank before starting a family. We live comfortably, but certainly not extravagantly, on one salary. We can't travel as much as we'd like, but we can afford little extras like a couple of books or DVDs when we want. As much as I like this apartment, it would be a tight squeeze with a small child and we want to be a two-salary family before we make the next step we'd like to take, which is buying a house - though I have to admit that when looking for a new apartment last fall, I definitely was keeping in mind the idea of having a small child with us in our new place. Yes, it's true that the French government gives expecting mothers and families with newborns a stipend, which will certainly help but in my mind it's just not the same.

So here I am, sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I'm not necessarily looking for advice, just talking outloud, as it were. But these are the thoughts that are weighing heavily on my mind these days.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Christmas in January

Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
We finally received our Christmas gift from my sister today! I had asked for some American measuring spoons and we received lots more than that, including a very cool peeler which will get a workout this weekend. Thanks lil sis! (As always, you can click the photo to go to my flickr site.)

I went to the Friday market this morning for our bi-weekly rotisserie chicken, and was disappointed that one of the regular merchants wasn't there. I was hoping to pick up my very own authentic French shopping basket or woven bag, but I'll just have to hope he's there next time.

It was unbelieveably cold this morning. We've been watching the cold front coming in from the east with great interest this week. You may have heard that Russia and Poland have been especially hit. They even had snow in Greece! I thought for sure we'd get a nice bit of snow here, but it only snowed for about half an hour yesterday and not a snowflake since. But that doesn't mean the temperature hasn't fallen through the floor! Walking to the market this morning, I noticed that the cold wasn't simply a "make your nose tingle and bring color to your cheeks" kind of cold. Rather, it was a "smack you around and then point and laugh at you" cold. I only wish we had a fireplace here - that would be the perfect way to spend a freezing cold day like today.

On a technical note - I'd really like to add a flickr badge to my sidebar, but I don't know how to align it to the right of the page, like the rest of the stuff that is already there. (Yes, I've tried changing all the obvious "align=center" parts but that's not doing the trick). If anyone can help me out with this, please let me know, and I'll be glad to send you the code so you can see what I'm taking about. Thankee!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

la gastro 2: electric boogaloo

Yesterday started off just fine. I ran my morning errands, prepared a lunch of tomate farci, did some laundry, etc. Your typical housewifey day. Only, by the time Steph got home from work, I was curled up on the couch in the fetal position feeling like I had needles sticking into my stomach. Between the needles in the stomach and having the urgent need to run upstairs to the bathroom several times during the afternoon, I was exhausted. Steph was kind enough to make a trip to the pharmacy for me, and came back with minty magnesia, a box of Rennies and a confirmation from the pharmacist - sounds like la gastro is making a repeat performance.

The minty magnesia has helped with the needles in the stomach, but I'm still taking it easy with what I eat. I felt well enough to make a grocery run this morning and came back with some bouillon cubes for some rice. Looks like it'll be juice and rice for the rest of the day.

The frustrating thing is that even though I've had the stomach bug twice in one month, Steph hasn't been infected at all. The only thing we can figure is that his years of teaching have made him immune from viruses that go flying through the school, and he thoughtfully brings them home to me. It seems marrying a teacher is actually dangerous to your health.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

fermeture définitif

Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
I noticed last week that the Chevaline around the corner from our house has been closed, and then I noticed the red sign on the window, "permanently closed." When I went to buy bread this morning, I took my new toy (which conveniently fits in my bag, bwahaaha!) and snapped a hurried picture. I've found the people in our village to be very nice and friendly, so I don't want to jinx anything by becoming "that foreigner that takes photos of everything." Gotta keep it on the down-low, you know.

So what exactly is a Chevaline, you may ask? Why, it's a horse butcher, of course. I will pass no judgement on the French for their love of eating anything with a pulse - to each their own, I say - but I can tell you that I've been in no hurry to try horse steaks. Luckily, they are not high on Steph's culinary list, either.

But I do have to wonder if the closing of this Chevaline is a sign of things to come. I don't know if any of Steph's colleages or friends like to eat horse, but I can say that the times I've walked by this shop, it has always had an older clientele. I can see only two possible reasons for the closing: the couple who ran it have retired, and have no family members who are interested in continuing the family business, or their sales are so low that they have been forced to close. I do hope it's the former, because no matter what I think of eating horse meat, I do hate to see old traditions die.

Monday, January 23, 2006

an ode

our salon
Originally uploaded by vivienfrance.
Oh camera, oh camera
How lovely are thy features*

Yes, it's finally here! You can guess what I've been doing for the last couple of hours. I've put a few pictures up on flickr (the one in this post even has notes on it!) and clicking on the photo will take you there. And so, if you'll excuse me, I have to go play with my new toy for awhile!

*Sung to the tune of "O Tannenbaum"

Sunday, January 22, 2006

recipe for a lazy sunday

1 Box of Muffin Mix
1 Hot Shower
1 Set of Comfy Clothes
1 Blog (or equally frivolous hobby)
1 Fridge Full of Food
2 DVD's
1 Couch (with pillows and blankets, to taste)
Some Loose Change

1. Get up at the usual time (I never could sleep in) and prepare blueberry muffins. Make coffee (because you know the blueberry smell will wake up hubby!) and bliss out in front of tv with coffee and muffins.

2. Take long, hot shower.

3. Don comfortable, "I'm not going anywhere for a while" clothes (ex: yoga pants and oversized shirt with logo from last place of employment).

4. Make a silly list on your blog.

5. Prepare simple, yet tasty lunch (ex: rosbif, or roast beef, if you prefer, stuffed with garlic and herbs, thrown in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve with veggies and hot mustard).

6. Watch one DVD (in our case, the second Harry Potter film, which Steph hasn't yet seen, with English subtitles because I bought it in the States and the only other language available is Spanish)

7. Take loose change and walk down to local pub for a coffee and a game of Rapido (may require a change of clothes).

8. Return to domicile, watch another DVD (the third Harry Potter film, which I found at the local grocery for 10 euros yesterday).

9. Make even simpler dinner (probably leftovers from yesterday)

10. Reward self with (increasingly rare) ice cream.

Stir gently. Let contents settle over period of 12 hours or until bedtime, whichever comes first.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

shopping and a recipe

After having lunch with my in-laws yesterday, we headed to one of the outlet shopping centers just outside of Troyes. We had a nice stroll around the place, and happily it wasn't too crowded. We both came away with some new blue jeans - Steph with some fancy-schmancy Calvin Kleins and me with some good ole American Wranglers. We're hoping to go again at the end of the month when the prices are truly outrageous (50% - 70% off) to see what's left (often, not a lot!). I did spy a fun coat but I'd like to see if the price won't come down a bit more by the end of the month.

I had a couple of hours to rest before heading back out to Troyes for choir rehearsal. We heard the results from the event I attended this weekend. It seems they were actually competing for three open spots in the country. The candidate who won first place was not a surprise at all, but some of us were suprised to learn that one candidate that we liked very much was not liked at all by the jury. Well, that's why they get to be directors and I just get to sing in the choir (which suits me just fine!).

Yesterday, Pauline who writes about Leon's Life posed a question on her blog: she had 500g of minced beef (I'm ashamed to say I still call it "hamburger meat" - that's an American for you) in her fridge and no idea what to do with it. I offered up my mother's meatloaf recipe, and would like to share it with you (this will make up for keeping back my father's Italian sauce recipe!). This comes directly from an email she sent me after I first moved here, and I'll add notes in italics. This was one of my favorite dishes growing up, and if you do it well, it will be savory enough that it won't need a sauce to go with it. It goes great with a side of veggies and/or mashed potatoes.

Click "Tell me more!" to read Vivi's Mom's Meatloaf Recipe

1 lb uncooked 7% fat chopped meat obviously, 400-500g works just fine
1 egg
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs you can use day-old or 2-days old baguette, grated
3/4 cup skim milk I use demi-ecreme here

catsup (about one tablespoon)
onion powder

Spray a baking pan (I use Pyrex or Corningware) with Pam I butter it up - I'm so old-school since I moved to France!. Preheat
oven to 350. That's farenheight - around 200C is good. I just turn my tiny oven all the way down!

Scramble egg in mixing bowl large enough for all ingredients. (I use
about a 3 qt flat bottom one with two pot holders under one side to
keep ingredients together.)

Add milk. Stir.

Add bread crumbs, catsup, and spices. I image shaking the onion
powder, salt and pepper on individual slices....about 1/2 as much
pepper as salt. Be careful because the catsup is very spicy. Also,
be careful with the oregano...I would guess about 1/2 TB...too much
will be overpowering. Too much and it's too late...you can add more
later. Stir well.

Add meat, breaking it up into small pieces as you put in the bowl.
Use your hand to thoroughly mix. I usually taste a small bit to check
the spices...add more if you want, but no spice should be
overwhelming. To form the loaf, tip bowl to have it against the
bottom and side and pat the top until smooth. Roll the loaf to the
other side and do the same. Repeat until it looks uniform. Roll the
loaf from the bowl into your hand, and (if it's not falling apart) pat
smooth. If it seems loose and you're not able to form it in your
hand, just roll it right in the baking pan. Pat it smooth into a
rectangle....I'm guessing it comes out to a little less than 8" x 4".
Try to make it so the middle is just slightly larger than the sides so
that the grease does not accumulate in the center.

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. When the loaf starts to look brown and a
little crusty, it's done. Let it sit for at least five minutes before

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

of cameras and cleaning

For Christmas, we received very lovely cash gifts (my favorite kind, followed closely by gift certificates) from my Grandma (hi Grandma!) and Dad. Last night I put them to good use and bought a new camera and memory card online. They should arrive in a couple of weeks.

YES!! I will have photos on the blog again!! BWAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!

Unless I drop it. Again. Heh.

Fact is, it's not top of the line or anything, so if I do drop it, it won't be too terrible to replace. But because it's not top of the line, it will be sure to last forever. That's just how things work out for me.

I finally got off my lazy butt today and cleaned the upstairs. Once I get going, nothing can stop me. It's just the "getting off my lazy butt" part that holds everything up.

Tomorrow we're going to participate in the famous French Soldes, which started last Wednesday and run through the end of the month. Troyes is rather well known in France for its outlet malls so you can imagine the traffic I ran into going and coming from Troyes for the choir stuff this past weekend. Hopefully it will have calmed down a bit tomorrow, but since many children don't have school on Wednesday afternoons it may still be busy. Fingers crossed that they all stay home and we find some cool new things!

Monday, January 16, 2006

of music and babes

As much as I was dreading going to Troyes both mornings this weekend, I have to say I really enjoyed it and would happily do it again. My choir from the conservatory participated in the judging of nine choral director candidates. Those that will pass will be accredited by the National Conservatory and will begin their own careers as choir directors out in the real world. All the candidates were familiar with our repetoire and were told which piece they would be working with and they had 30 minutes to do what they liked with it - to correct, instruct or rehearse as they saw fit.

To be honest, I'm sure that all nine have passed, but the vast aray of techniques is what set each of them apart. The very first one was so nervous, I was very sure she was going to hyperventilate and pass out, but it was clear to all that it was standing in front of a jury that was getting to her, since the more she got into the work the more relaxed she became. My favorites were the woman who had absolutely no fear of the jury and took over the choir as if she'd been with us for years, joked with us and knew exactly what she wanted, and a fellow who also was super comfortable with the jury and asked questions to the choir about techniques (I do like audience participation!) and gave us the clearest and best advice on singing difficult arpeggios (I'm sure there's a better vocal term for them and I can't think of it right now) I have ever heard and we all remarked on it. The ones that left bitter tastes in our mouths were the ones who barely had any life in them at all or the one who would probably be better suited to be a theatre director, for all her movement and odd direction (granted she was directing a contemporary piece, but still).

And then there was the eye candy: the Italian who spoke with a gorgeous accent. *innocent grin*

Then yesterday afternoon, Steph and I drove to St. Dizier so I could hold a beautiful four day old girl named Christine, and of course to visit with her Maman and Papa. Maman, Papa, baby and big brother are all very well, and if all continues to be well, will be home tomorrow. As usual when around itty-bitty ones, I had to resist the urge to yell out "I want one!" but that, my friends, is another story.

Friday, January 13, 2006

musical odds and ends

Not too much to report from the last couple of days. The pain in my neck let up long enough to give the floors downstairs a good scrubbing. This resulted in having an almighty headache for the rest of the day, but at least it's done.

I've also been traveling to Troyes a lot for choir rehearsals. I haven't been in forever. For two weeks running in December, the director was sick and cancelled rehearsals, and then the next week I didn't go because I misread the schedule and thought it was only soloists. Then we had Christmas vacation and then last week I had "la gastro" so I guess it really has been over a month since I made it to rehearsal. So, like a good little choir girl, I absconded with the car Tuesday afternoon so I could go to the conservatory and sit in a little room with a piano and reacquaint myself with the repetoire. I'm glad I did because I'd forgotten that we are singing so much German this year and I find German to be extremely difficult to sing - Brahms is lovely but too many "ichs" and "achs" for my liking, and German just does not fall trippingly off this tongue.

Then Thursday the director asked me to learn an additional piece which is being sung by a smaller group that was going to be rehearsed last night, so I went to the conservatory early to take a look at it. For some strange reason the director likes to pretend I'm a soprano and assigned me to sing the "canto," or second soprano, which has me screeching all over the place. Meanwhile, Steph's niece, who is singing this piece too, prefers to sing soprano but is stuck in the alto section. There just isn't any justice, I tells ya.

This weekend, we'll be participating in the national director's exams, where choir director candidates will direct us in front of a jury. I hate giving up my weekend mornings for this, as that's precious Me & Steph time, but I am curious to see how it's going to go down. My sister-in-law told me that she's already participated in one, and had one director who was really awful and managed to pass her exam, and is currently directing a choir and is still awful. That's a bit shocking, considering the high caliber of directors I've encountered since I've been here, so I confess that I'm looking forward to what kind of future directors show up this weekend.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The greetings grind

One French tradition that I have embraced whole-heartedly is the practice of sending greeting cards to wish a happy new year, instead of Christmas cards. The time leading up to Christmas is so hectic; who needs that extra stress? Now that the holidays have past, I can spend more time on filling out cards (getting sick and falling down stars aside, of course), and we have the whole month of January to fill them out and send them on.

Steph suggested that I fill out the cards destined to the States first, so they would have a better chance of getting to their destinations before the end of the month. I dutifully went through my address book and made up a list, and came up with around 40. I suppose I should try to cull some of these addresses, but everytime I paused over a name, I could hear my mother behind me saying "Oh no, not your great-aunt! I know you haven't seen her since you were four years old, but she would LOVE to hear from you..."

Maybe part of it is the fact that my mother never, ever forgot a birthday, which is legend in my family. I'm not kidding; after she died, the vast majority of family members said, "and she never forgot our kids' birthdays." Every cousin in my family received a well thought out toy or gift until they were 18 years old, and then continued to receive a card every year. She was a member of Hallmark's card club, and bought cards months in advance when she saw one for someone in particular. After she died, I copied down all the birthdays and anniversaries from her master calendar and then neglected to send one damn card. I may have had the best of intentions, but I can't bear to go close to her special birthday card box that I brought home with me.

So that's why I endured the strange look from the cashier when I purchased so many New Year's cards, and why there are people on my list that I barely remember. Every card I fill out is another moment shared with Mom.

Now that's what I call a Happy New Year.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


"Hello, Grandma!" Steph greeted me as I hobbled downstairs this morning to see him off to work.


I'm sure I kept him awake last night with all my moaning. Everytime I moved a little, I was rewarded with a sharp pain in the neck. It was so bad that this morning, before Steph went downstairs, he checked my back to make sure I hadn't bruised it. There was no bruise, but the muscles across the top of my back and my right shoulder are so swollen, he could feel them.

Steph actually suggested I call a doctor. This from the man who never goes to the doctor, "because then he'll tell me that I'm sick. If I don't go, then I'm fine." Pfft. Men. But no, I'm sure I'll be fine in a few days, but I did decide to go to the pharmacy to get something for the pain. I came home with a French version of Ben Gay. I haven't tried it yet, because I didn't want to smell like, well, Ben Gay while running errands in Troyes this afternoon. Right now, I'm waiting for Steph to come home so he can administer it. I feel like a junkie waiting for my dealer.

Now if only my fairy godmother would arrive and wave her magic wand around the apartment, so I wouldn't feel so guilty about being in too much pain to scrub the floors.

Monday, January 09, 2006

vivi qui tombe

This morning, I forced my way out of a very strange dream, which involved living in a haunted house with my Dad, and made my way downstairs to say good morning to Steph before he went to work. I must still have been in a reverie about flying stuffed animals (I have no idea, don't ask) because I fell down the last three stairs. I didn't break anything (this time), but I sure did wake up in a hurry. I'm sure there are those that would say that the cause was the fact that our stairs are bare wood, but I'd like to point out that the last time I fell down stairs (and broke my big toe), it was in my old apartment which had carpeted stairs. I am just that clumsy.

Anyway, I shook it off and got on with my morning. After a breakfast of banana bread and juice and checking my emails, I donned some old exercise clothes and went back downstairs to try out my new yoga DVD (this is the first part of "turning a new leaf" this year... in the past I've threatened to buy exercise DVDs... this time I've actually bought two!). Unfortunately, I found out in the first five minutes that I did indeed hurt myself in the fall - suddenly I couldn't raise my right arm over my head without feeling a jolt of pain in my back. Seems I've pulled a muscle. Damn it.

So I've popped some pills (just aspirin, but I wish I had some muscle relaxers right now!) and had a hot shower, and I've got to somehow attempt to walk to the grocery and back and then mop the floors. With one working arm. *sigh* I would love to say "to hell with it" and lay around in a pitiful fashion today but I didn't do a damn thing last week because I was sick and frankly the state of this apartment is making me ill. I can't relax when it's like this. Damn it.

In other news, I'm responding to my first want ad with a cover letter and resume today. The good news is that they're looking for a bilingual (yeah I know, it's still a stretch) person to work with English speaking clients with some admin duties and it's an eighteen month contract. The bad news is that it's an hour's drive away, in a village south of Troyes. The odd news is that I don't know who the business is or what they do (at least in the States you usually know who you're applying to!), and I'm not sure how much it pays - they give an amount in the ad but don't say if it's gross or net. If it's gross, it's not too terrible for a first job, and if it's net, it's what I made (if not more) at my last job, which isn't bad at all. Anyway, fingers crossed, please!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

what dad brought me

I had several requests to post what Dad brought me from the states. Well, the customer is always right here at DfF, so here's a list of what I was missing:
  • Dad brought me the American version of City of Villains (I've been playing City of Heroes since I moved here), so I can continue to play on the American servers (and I rarely have lag! How's that for computer connections?)
  • REAL mayonnaise (tee hee heeeeeee!) I've been wanting to make some tuna fish sandwiches, and they just don't taste the same with French mayonnaise. It's perfect for the chicken salad Dad taught me how to make when he was here!
  • Karo syrup - and as promised, I made a pecan pie while Dad was here
  • Stove Top Stuffing, chicken flavored - went great with the rotisserie chicken we had yesterday
  • Blueberry muffin mix - will probably make these this weekend
  • two tins of clams, which I mentioned in my last post
  • Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix - Doc sent me a packet back in November so I could make a veggie dip for our Thanksgiving dinner in Paris, and I've had a hankering for it ever since!
Additional requests included:
  • I offered Dad's courrier services to Doc, who requested Bridgeford pepperoni sticks, which unfortunately have yet to be delivered (maybe next week?)
  • Dad also brought a gift for her almost-two-year-old son
  • Steph requested a couple of packs of clove cigarettes and Dad went to a discount cigarette place in North Carolina (he doesn't smoke anymore but he does indulge in a cigar now and then, and this place has the biggest walk-in humidor on the East Coast or something outrageous like that) and they didn't sell them by the pack so Steph got a whole carton of cigarettes. Now, I'm not one to talk about smoking, but those clove ciggies make me mighty ill. I'll be glad when they're gone!
Well, there you are, that's what I was jonsing for from the States. I could have asked for so many more things but I'm afraid Dad would have tried to bring everything I requested - I had only told him that there were three things I really wanted and the rest was only if he had room in his suitcase, and he still brought everything!

Friday, January 06, 2006

christmas with dad (part two)

I'm happy to report that I'm feeling more human today, so here we go with part two! I'm afraid it's quite long, but I decided to just go ahead and blurt it all out in one go.

Monday we did a little sightseeing and headed west to Provins, but first we stopped to see Steph's friend JP. Armed with a Christmas bottle of Calvados and a fresh loaf of banana bread, the guys caught up for about an hour before we got back on the road. Steph and I have been to Provins before (I think that post even has a link to my old photoblog; that's a whole other story and I'll get back to that!) and it seems that we're always going in winter! This time we walked briskly through the old village and looked inside the church before heading back to the car. It was just too cold and wet to spend too much time outside!

Tuesday we went back to Troyes for more sightseeing. First we went to the hat and glove store downtown, because Dad wanted a hat and a better scarf than the one he brought. The man in the store was very odd; he kept referring to Dad as "the young boy" (now that's old-school, y'all!) and completely freaked me out at one point. The hat Dad chose was crushable, and the man kept saying "so when your wife gives you a hug, your hat will be ok!" and looking at me when he said it, so I kept responding "but that's my father!" Finally I realized that the word for "wife" and "woman" is the same in French, so what he was really saying was, "so when the women give you hugs, your hat will be ok!" *sigh* But when we walked out of the store, even Steph said, "wow, that guy is really weird," I didn't feel so bad! Then it was off to the tool museum. This may not sound like a barrel of laughs to most of you, but Dad absolutely loves anything to do with working with your hands and really enjoyed the displays of tools going back 400 years. We ended the day with a warm drink in a bar Steph and I go to often downtown before heading back home.

Wednesday was supposed to be the day my in-laws came for lunch, but we woke up to snow everywhere! It was bad enough that Steph's mom didn't feel comfortable driving here; even in Troyes the roads were covered in snow. Instead, Dad taught me how to make his clam sauce for pasta - he had brought me two tins of clams, since I can't find clams in a tin here! (If anyone knows where I can find clams in a tin, please let me know!) In the afternoon, we all walked around the corner and introduced Dad to another favorite past time - losing money at Rapido. Actually we didn't have a bad outcome this time - Dad won one Euro and we won six (thanks for the luck, Dad!). In the evening, Dad taught us contract rummy (and we learned that it is really easier to shuffle two decks of cards together when the decks are the same size!).

Thursday was the big cooking day, and the one I was most looking forward to. All of my life, my favorite meal was my father's tomato sauce and spaghetti. Before I got married I was pretty terrified of the kitchen but now that I've gotten a bit more confident I felt ready to take on this new recipe (my sister's already been making this for years now). All afternoon was spent making meatballs and crushing tomatoes - I'm sorry I can't tell you more, as it is at this point a family secret! In the evening we had a couple of friends over and everyone enjoyed it - I think Steph was pleasantly surprised as I think he was a bit skeptical when he saw what was going inside! The best part is that we've got lots of sauce in the freezer which will last us a few months!

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If you ask me, Friday was an absolute disaster but Dad swears up and down that he had a great time. Let me explain - Dad told me before he came that what he'd really like to see is some Gallo-Roman ruins in France. There just happens to be a Roman arena and an intact mosaic from the period not too far away, and everything I read online said that they are open during winter, so we picked up Steph's mom and off we went. First we stopped in Neufchâteau and went to the first restaurant we found for lunch. This ended up being the best pizza I've had so far in France - it was really a pleasant surprise! Dad and I stuffed ourselves with pizza while Steph and his Mom feasted on steak and fries. We rolled ourselves out of there and headed on to our first tourist stop, the house where Joan of Arc was born. Which was closed. Hm. A stone's throw away is La Basilique Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc de Domremy-la-Pucelle, a basilica dedicated to Joan of Arc. Good thing Steph found an open door, because there weren't any obvious signs that the place was open. I was really happy that was open, as I think that the paintings of the life of Joan are just gorgeous. It's definitely worth a stop if you're ever in that part of France. Then we were off to Dad's part of the tour, the arena and the mosaics! Which were closed. Obviously. I could have thrown myself under the car, I was so upset. But the day was not lost - we were then on our way to visit Doc and her family, bearing Christmas gifts. Doc's husband, Marc, warned us that it had started to snow at their house, but we were undeterred because, up until that point, most of the streets had been cleared of the snow that had been falling for the past few days. We slowly made our way there, trying to stick to the bigger roads, and the snow started to fall faster and faster. By the time we got the national road that leads to their village, it was falling so hard that we couldn't even see the road, and the executive decision was made to head to the auto-route and make our way home, and I had the unhappy task of calling with the bad news. I was inconsolable, and even on the auto-route - the toll-paying four lane highways that cross France and are the first to be plowed in a snow storm - it took us two and a half hours to travel what normally takes an hour.

To make matters worse, when we woke up on Saturday, all of the snow had melted. Damn it!

Saturday, of course, was New Year's Eve, and we were invited to attend the concert of Steph's niece, who plays the violin. We arrived in Troyes a little early, so we hunted up a bar to duck into before the concert started, and found ourselves transported back home! Well, Dad and I did, anway. As we walked in, we were greeted by the R&B classic "634-5789" and we knew all was gonna be right in the world, y'all. By the time the live version of "Viva Las Vegas" came on, however, Dad discovered The Truth about my husband - he ain't got no rhythm! It's tragic, I know. How anyone can just sit there when "Money (That's What I Want)" comes on, I just can't fathom. Then it was on to the classical concert (what a switchup!). It was a really lovely concert, which also featured the organist who played the organ in the cathedral on Christmas, and a string quintet. The bad part was that we all assumed it would only be an hour long, since it started at 8:00, but no, two hours later, and after an excrutiating audio-visual presentation on the parable of the prodigal son, we were released headed over to Steph's brother Thierry's home to eat a traditional New Year's Eve dinner of seafood (crab legs and oysters and shrimp, oh my!) and just as we were getting ready to eat desert, the clock chimed twelve, and we all kissed each other and wished everyone a Happy New Year!

Sunday, Dad's last day with us, was spent at my in-laws', where we were invited for lunch. We were joined by Steph's oldest brother Phillipe and his family. Phillipe and Dad got on like a house on fire and I had a great time acting as translator for the two of them. Dad announced that he wants to come back in the summer of 2007 (as we are likely going home for a visit this summer) and Phillipe invited him to see Europe from the cab of his moving van. God only knows what kind of madness the two of them could get into in Europe!

And of course, Monday was Dad's day to travel back home. I suppose I've always been lucky at Charles de Gaulle airport, as I've never had a problem myself, but we arrived two hours before Dad's flight and they told him that the flight was already overbooked! Then we had to run to the other side of the terminal to the Wait List line, where they told him that it wasn't a problem and they took his bags. Then, the lines to pass through the ticket and passport checks were insanely long, and Steph and I were running around trying to find the shortest line, and finally left him twenty minutes before his plane was scheduled to leave, but Dad told us not to wait and he'd be alright. The plane ended up not leaving for an hour, but that's a whole different story.

Whew! My god, did you actually read all of that? You are a champion! I wish that I had some pictures to share, but to my shame, we still haven't bought a camera so I don't have any photos to document his trip, so forgive me for being so detailed; I wanted to get down all that we did while it was still relatively fresh in my mind. It was absolutely wonderful having Dad here with us, and I'm looking forward to his next visit, hopefully in the summer, when we can really do some great sightseeing!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

try again tomorrow

It seems that my digestive track is trying to turn itself inside out. Hopefully, it's a 24 hour thing and I'll be able to continue part two tomorrow. Back to bed...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Christmas vacation with Dad (part one)

So as you know, Dad arrived on the 22nd of December after not getting any sleep at all on the plane, so we decided it was better to leave Paris for another time and head straight home. I'm rather happy we did, as not only did he pack too many clothes for such a short trip (but he knows better for next time!), but he also brought every single thing I'd asked for. I'd sent him a list of foodie things I've been missing, telling him to choose a few that would fit alright in his luggage, and damned if he didn't bring every last one. He nearly pulled his shoulder out trying to drag them up the stairs in the metro. Thank god we were only going to one stop!

So the rest of the day was travel and rest in the evening. The next day, the three of us walked around the Friday market and picked up a rotisserie chicken for lunch and Dad chose some flowers to bring to my in-laws for their first meeting. Lucky for us, the guy at the flower stand told us that the flowers he had chosen were traditionally used to place on the graves of loved ones! Steph and I had no idea, but his mother sure would. Happily we avoided this international incident and headed to Troyes after lunch for the momentous meeting. Afterwards, we walked downtown for a bit and Dad had his first look at Troyes, which he liked very much.

Saturday was Christmas Eve, and we headed back to Troyes to celebrate with the whole family. We were sixteen altogether, with Steph's oldest brother and his family spending Christmas with his partner's parents. All the food was amazing - youngest sister Corinne made some amazing hors d'oeuvres (she even stuffed the cherry tomatoes!), followed by a delicious zucchini soup, and then the escargot which Steph's father had prepared by hand. There were 180 of the delicious things and nephew S. ate 25 of them! This was followed by the main course of guinea fowl with vegetables. Poor Dad passed on the cheese course (there was really an insane amount of food!) and we finished with the traditional desert of Christmas, a cake in the shape of a yule log, whose name escapes me at the moment.

Finally, it was time to open presents. As always, my French family showered gifts upon their extended American family, and Dad received lots of gifts, included chocolate (of course!), a beautiful beau livre, or coffee table book, about Aube (the departement where we live) with English captions, some more chocolate, and finally the big gift from Steph's parents and us: a gorgeous carving knife and fork with bone handles in its own wooden storage case. Since Dad really loves to cook and takes a lot of pride in his cookware, it was a perfect choice from my in-laws and Dad was really touched. In turn, Dad gave my in-laws some beautiful hand-made goblets from the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Happily, they made it overseas intact and my mother-in-law pronounced that they were "vraiment beau!"

Christmas Day was mostly spent recovering, but we were able to stumble out the door in time to make it to the annual organ concert at the Cathedral in Troyes at 5:00 in the evening. As always, it was actually colder in the Cathedral than it was outside, but we were able to hang in there for half an hour before we gave up and ran outside. From there we headed downtown and, since it was a bit early for dinner, we ducked into a bar for a quick drink. We were just in time, as we had found one of the only bars open on Christmas Day and we had about forty-five minutes to warm up before they closed (and man, did the waitstaff look ready to head for home!). Unfortunately, our favorite restaurant was closed on Christmas, but we found one open on the same street, which turned into one of the "happy accident" surprises of Dad's visit. We were among the first to arrive for dinner, but the place quickly filled up. It was a really wonderful dinner and we all enjoyed our meals very much. Also, we were pleased to learn a little about the history of this restaurant in the back of the menu - it seems that one of the recent proprietors of this establishment recently traced the history of the owners of this restaurant, and it turns out that it has been a running restaurant in one form or another in the same building for over five hundred years.

I'm going to wrap up this part of the visit here or I'll ramble on forever. Part two should show up some time tomorrow!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bonne année

Vacation is over and I'm exhausted. I suppose that's the sign of a good vacation, right? Dad is, even as I type this, winging his way back state-side (well, as far as I know, anyway; we haven't heard otherwise and the trip to the airport this morning is a blog entry in and of itself).

I'm not even going to attempt to tell you everything that happened over the last two weeks right now, as the gray matter between my ears is rather more frazzled than normal, but I can give you some highlights, including:
  • teaching Dad the joys of playing Rapido while drinking a coffee in the local PMU
  • Dad teaching me how to make my favorite home made meal of all time, and then subjecting it to our friends (it was a thumb's up all around)
  • the look on my Dad's face when he opened his Christmas gift from Steph and I and Steph's parents
  • finding the Best Pizza in France in the last place you'd think to look
  • stumbling into a bar in Troyes that exclusively plays Blues and Soul music, and Dad discovering that his son-in-law has no rhythm
  • the very odd man that sold Dad a new hat
  • Dad increasing his French vocabulary from zero to ten phrases!
and more where that came from.... possibly tomorrow. For now, I want to wish every single one of you lovely folks who stumble upon this mess a very Happy, Fabulous, Outstanding, Insert-Your-Favorite-Adjective-Here, 2006!