Wednesday, November 29, 2006

more adventures with Bank Dude

Before I came home from the States, Steph received a call from our bank representative who wanted to make an appointment us. Apparently, bank representatives do this periodically, say once a year or so, to let their clients know of new offers that are available or at least to get some face time. That appointment was today, and since we had several other errands to run in Troyes, we decided to make a day of it.

By the way, if you don't remember our previous run-in with the man I call Bank Dude, you may want to read this first.

So, we arrived to the bank a few minutes late, but considering how Bank Dude has treated us in the past, I don't think either one of us were worried about it. In fact, it turned out to be a good thing, because no sooner had we found ourselves in the waiting area, he was ushering us into his cubicle. I couldn't help but chuckle thinking about every time in the past we've arrived on time and we had to wait ten to fifteen minutes.

Things did not get off to a good start, as the first thing he said when we sat down was, "So, why are you here today?" Steph and I looked at each other in wonder before Steph reminded him that he had invited us to come. Ah, yes.

Basically what followed was thirty minutes on nonsense. Bank Dude kept going off on tangents and tried to sell us services that we don't need. While it's true that we are considering buying an apartment in the next year or so, some of the numbers Bank Dude were throwing around either didn't apply to us at all or didn't even add up (dangerous territory when your client is a math teacher, for crying out loud!). Finally, Steph was able to extricate us from Bank Dude's web by assuring him that we'd be back to talk numbers when we're reading to do something.

Man, I hope we can change bank representatives before that time comes...

Afterwards, we hit the Fnac (Fnac Fnac Fnac! just love that word!) and then ate lunch at a restaurant downtown that I hadn't been to before and we both had gratin savoyarde. This is a dish with potates and lardons (basically bacon) baked with creamy cheese on top, served with salad and bread. Delish! And perfect for this chilly, cloudy weather we've been experiencing as of late.

Another interesting stop was to our insurance office to inquire about putting me on the car insurance. I've been driving for well over a year now, but we figured we were protected as I would have "permission" from Steph to drive the car, in case something happened. It turns out we needn't have worried because with our insurance, I'm automatically included because we're married, and it doesn't cost us anything extra. It's still a good thing we went, however, as they still had him listed as "single." Oops.

After a quick stop to say hello to the in-laws, it was back home. Not much else to report; I'm still working on some bookbinding (I'll post pictures when I get them all finished) and I've pulled my huge cross stitch project out of retirement and I'm working on that slowly for a change of pace.

Monday, November 27, 2006

thanksgiving dinner

thanksgiving flowers
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
Saturday went without a hitch, except for the fact that seven people plus the oven running constantly for about two hours makes for a very warm place in our small apartment. Besides that, everyone was very complimentary (though they couldn't resist jabs like "Not bad for an American!" and these were taken in stride) and we hardly had any leftovers at all. By 2:00 in the morning, four bottles of wine and one bottle of Jack were gone (yes! they killed the Jack!) and a good time was had by all. They even gave us this gorgeous floral arrangement which I will try desperately not to kill in the next couple of weeks. We've been invited to join this group of friends for New Year's, which should be fun.

In case you're curious, dinner consisted of appetizers of olives, raw veggies and canapes with tatziki sauce and spinich dip; a main meal of roasted turkey breast, green beans with mushrooms and garlic, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce; and a dessert of pecan pie with vanilla ice cream.

I got a request on my last post (hi Antipo!) for the recipe of the day-before mashed potatoes. I adapted it from this recipe, and here's my version with French ingredients which will serve four:

4 large potatoes
85g or about 4 sqaures kiri cheese
about 3/4 large pot of creme fraiche
15g butter
onion powder, salt, pepper to taste

Peel and cube potatoes and boil about 15 minutes, or until they are tender but still firm.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and mash potatoes until smooth. Mix in all the other ingredients. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 175C. (The recipe calls for greasing a baking dish, but I didn't find it necessary.) If you find the potatoes to be dry, stir in a little more creme fraiche. Transfer potoates to the baking dish and cook in the oven for about 30 minutes or until it is warmed through.

Voila! This was a huge hit. I made an enormous casserole dish of potatoes, and there was just a couple of spoonfuls left. Let me know if you try it out!

Friday, November 24, 2006

vivi gets her butt in gear

Well, very nearly, anyway.

While all you Americans were munching on turkey and gravy yesterday, I was pushing my shopping cart around the great big grocery in Troyes. Actually, given the time differences, you were probably snoring away, since I was there around 1:00, so... ok, that's not important right now. Where was I?

Right. The big grocery. OH. Here's a tip: if you can manage it, always go grocery shopping at lunchtime. There's hardly anyone there! Seriously, I've been there just after lunchtime and it can get so crowded I couldn't even push my cart down the widest isle in the middle of the store. During lunchtime, I zip through there so fast I even have time for a café crème and a game of Rapido before the long drive home.

So anyway, since I know that my easy-bake oven will never be big enough to contain a whole turkey, I did the same thing I did two years ago, which is buy a ginormous turkey breast wrapped up tight with string. I'll just stuff a little garlic in it and slap some butter and herbs on top and call it a day. I also had to restock our whiskey supply. Whiskey is Steph's prefered alcoholic beverage (tho we're practically teetotalers and it probably takes him a year to finish a bottle, even with help) so I knew I'd have to have some for before-dinner drinks. Of course, left to my own devices, I came home with our good friend Jack. I thought I'd get a rise out of Steph for bringing home an American whiskey but all he wanted to know is how much it cost (18 euros for a fifth, if you're playing at home). Ah well, better luck next time.

Today I was a blur of motion! OK, not really. But I did get a few things done, including
  • finishing a new book (finally! back on track!)
  • cleaned the bathroom (you know company's coming when...)
  • vacuumed high traffic areas upstairs
  • tidied up a bit downstairs
  • made enough mashed potatoes to choke an elephant (these "day before potatoes" are so awesome, they taste like you just mashed them when you take them out of the oven!)
  • made some spinach dip
  • chopped up some veggies
Tonight I'd like to prep some paper for a new book, which I'd like to bind tomorrow, but that's not looking too likely considering I need to
  • go to the grocery and pick up a couple of last minute things
  • sweep and vacuum downstairs
  • bake a pie
  • prep as much as I can so I can be a gracious hostess instead of a kitchen slave
before our guests arrive. I guess it all depends on how early I can get my butt in gear tomorrow!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

happy turkey day!

We have been invited to not one, but two Thanksgiving celebrations this year, happening on Saturday of course, since today is just your regular old Thursday here in France. Sadly, I don't feel quite ready for traveling out in the world just yet, so we've declined both of them. Steph suggested inviting a couple of friends over on Saturday for a much more subdued Thanksgiving celebration, and I thought I could probably handle that, so I've been trying out a couple of side dish recipes. After all, what fun is Thanksgiving if you can't share the box of Stove Top you carried all the way across the ocean (they can each have a spoonfull)?

In any case, I can't wait to hear about our friends' gathering in Paris, which we so enjoyed last year, and I'm getting a kick out of reading Doc's blog as she single-handedly prepares a Thanksgiving feast for thirty. She's off her rocker, but that's why we love her.

Of course, the purpose of Thanksgiving (besides remembering our dear Pilgrim ancestors) is to give thanks for what we have. Although Thanksgiving is just the first stop on a holiday journey that will be an emotional roller coaster this year, I will always be thankful first and foremost for my wonderful family - not just those who will gather today, but those who have gone ahead. Today I'll be thinking about wonderful memories of Thanksgivings in the past while dreaming of Thanksgivings to come.

I wish all of you in the States a very happy Thanksgiving! So tell me, what are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

I've got the blues!

Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
No, not that kind of blues, my cobalt blues, which I lugged across the ocean in a foolishly heavy carry-on bag so I could have them in my home once again. Sorry the picture is so dark; if I waited for a sunny day to take a photo, we'd have to wait until next year some time, I'm afraid. Anyway, I've always been fond of cobalt blue glass and started collecting pieces quite a long time ago. When it came time to pack up my belongings two years (and some change) ago, these were the pieces I thought were worth dragging across the Atlantic. Only problem is that I don't really have anywhere to put them right now. We're thinking of getting an entertainment center soon, so maybe a couple of them will end up there.

Yesterday I popped in the DVD player a new aerobics DVD I picked up in the States and had a nice little workout. Unfortunately, my quads are so sore today that I can barely get up and down the stairs. I must be doing something wrong, surely? Aren't squats meant to work out the back of the thighs? Anyway, I'm supposed to (according to the workout schedule that came with the DVD) workout six days with one day off, but if I'm meant to do an hour of squats (slight exaggeration) and then go up and down my stairs all day, they've got another think comin'. I'm going to try for every other day for now, until my body gets back in the swing of things.

I'll tell you what I miss, and that's actually going to an aerobics class. Most of the fun was being in the back row with my friend Dana snarking over the ever-perky aerobics instructors. They were perky, but they were actually quite fun and knowing I was going to meet my friend there went a long way in keeping me honest. Meanwhile, we howled in mock (and real) pain and joked around and kept a positive attitude about the whole thing. And that's the last time I was in anything close to being called "in shape."

Now that I think about it, I seem to have a history of snarking in the back row, as I remember taking an aerobics class in high school with Carrie, only then we were surly teenagers who had to fulfill a fitness requirement in high school and this seemed the easiest way to slag through it.

Yep, me and aeorbics go way back, and now I think Aerobics is getting back at me!

Monday, November 20, 2006

ups and downs

Last week I had a little taste of getting back to normal. Thanks to the fact that Steph was in the middle of his formation cycle, when he's gone all day during the week, I didnt have to race in the mornings to get a hot meal on the table at precisely 12:15, when he usually walks in the door for his 45 minute lunch break from school. Instead I was able to move a little leisurely and eat a small lunch when I wanted, while attacking mountains of laundry my husband thoughtfully left for me so I'd have something to do (le sigh). I also got most of my new belongings put away and ran a few errands around town with my big French basket in tow. I felt like I was getting my legs back and enjoyed my little trips to the grocery or to the Mairie and at one point I even illicited a smile from the lady at the poissonerie as I passed. My idyllic dream of living in the French countryside was slowly but surely coming back to me.

Then I got an email last night from some close friends of the family who had been next to unreachable the last month and a half, and because of the lack of contact, they wanted to know how Dad was doing. At first I put it off, deciding to reply in the morning. I walked away from the computer and found myself unable to stop thinking about the reply. I came back to the computer and opened up my email and walked away again. Finally, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep until I put this behind me, I sat down at the computer and composed the hardest email in my life. I know I probably should have called, but the idea of actually telling the story again was too much. I hope they'll forgive me for telling them by email.

For two months after Mom died last year, my mind replayed the day that she died over and over again, like a cruel movie loop. I haven't had that experience too much since Dad died, but last night, after writing that email, I was back in that mindset. Our brains play cruel tricks on us sometimes. I guess it's just a part of that roller coaster I'm on right now.

This week I have some fun things to look forward to, plus I'll be diving back into my bookbinding, and then there's the usual grind of day-to-day living that we all have to look forward to. Here's hoping the roller coaster will be straightening itself soon, or at least give me a little more time between the loopty-loops.

Friday, November 17, 2006


four generations part two
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
This post marks my 500th post on Dispatches From France. And to think, it only took a little over two years! To celebrate, I'm finally uploading a picture of me. Of course, I was pretty tiny at the time, but I basically look the same, with a bit more hair.

I began this blog as a way to keep my friends and family in the States updated about my life here in France, and here we are, two years and two months later, and I have friends all over the world in all walks of life. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of you - those of you who have been with me since the beginning and those who have found me along the way - for your kindness, support and for continuing to come back and visit my little corner of the internet all this time. Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

Also, I think it's time to change This Old Template. The problem is that I know exactly what I want but have no illustrator skillz. Anyone know of an illustrator who would do a commission?

And, as always, clicking on the picture will take you to my flickr feed, where you'll find another interesting four generation photo from my family archives.

Thanks again, y'all are the best! Gros bisous à toute la monde!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

someone else's dream

For a week after he arrived in North Carolina, Steph joked that we would move into my father's house and I would work while he kept house, the inverse of our life in France. He joked about it so much that, as we slipped into a booth at our favorite lunchtime restaurant, I asked him how much was joking and how much was actual interest in moving to the States. So we began to mull over the idea of uprooting our lives.

At first I was skeptical. What about his parents, his brothers and sisters? What about his specialization course, which he finally was accepted into only this year, his career, the main reason we chose to live in France in the first place? And what about the grand irony that I would be moving home only after both my parents have passed away?

For the next two days, we researched immigrant visas and green cards, mulled over monthly expenses of owning a house this grand, spoke to family members who are retired teachers, even spoke with the personnel director of the county's school system. Slowly, my vision shifted. I could see a future for us, with both of us gainfully employed, in a house twice as large as we could ever own in France, on a piece of land large enough to hold two or three homes in France. Our children would attend schools just around the corner and would intimately know my family. I could achieve my former goal of being a high school drama teacher (which was practically guaranteed by the personnel director) while Steph could continue working in special education.

My vision was so clouded by this dream that I walked right into the brick wall of reality.

The truth is that the risks were just too great. If Steph ever leaves his position as a teacher here, he can never reclaim it. Sabbaticals are possible but it would be June before he got any approval for it, meaning he'd have to apply for a job in the States before he knew he could even take it. Even then we'd have only a year to make it work there before we'd have nothing at all. Although we're glad we did do the research as it may come in handy one day, we realized that now is not the right time.

I had a difficult time letting all this go, when everything in this dream was centered around this house. My father's house: the house he knew he'd buy the moment he walked in the door and declared, from a chair in the sun room, "I'm home." The house he longed for for ten years of apartment living with no land, cramped living quarters and half his possessions in storage. My father's house.

My father.

And with that, I realized that letting this dream go, letting this house go, meant letting go of my father. For moments that stretched into hours and then years, the idea was unbearable.

Truth be told, I'm still coming to terms with all this, which I suppose is normal, since he's only been gone for a month. I do have moments of clarity and peace, however, when I realize that that house wasn't my dream, and it never was; it was his. Slowly, my vision is refocusing on me and my dreams. With a little bit of time, I think my vision will be clear again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

wake me up in 2007

Last night was a restless night thanks to Snorey McSnore actually invading my dreams, forcing my retreat to the guest bed. I'm feeling a bit more like myself today, except for some aches and pains and the shock of being back in France (ooh, cloudy skies that go on forever! ack, French lady runs me over in the veggie isle of the grocery!). Tuesday is absolutely the best day to go grocery shopping here, if you can help it (I feel an informative post about grocery shopping welling up) so I took advantage of having the car in my possession and hottailed it to Troyes to the big shopping center.

Meanwhile, I feel like someone has picked up my house and shaken it. The only thing to do is attack one corner at a time, while finding new crevices to stuff in all the things I brought back in my overweight suitcases. This afternoon I attacked the kitchen area and at least the dishes are clean and I can see the table.

Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching and I have declined two invitations from dear friends here. I suddenly find myself extremely uncomfortable in groups of people and feel more at ease being around one or two friends at a time. The idea of talking about what I've been through the last month in real time is unbearable.

Speaking of unbearable, I don't know how I'm going to get through Christmas this year. Not only was it my mother's favorite holiday, it was the only time we had Dad here with us in France. The whole reason we invited him was so he would have a new place to celebrate without any associations of Mom attached. Now I need a new place. I swear if I had the money I'd send myself on a Christmas cruise. Do they even have those? It may even be worth the dysentery and other communicable diseases found on those floating petri dishes. What I'd really like to do is skip the whole thing and start over in January. Anybody know a doctor who can put me in a voluntary coma?

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I'm home. All the flight stuff went just fine, and I only had to wait about twenty minutes for Steph to arrive at the airport to fetch me and my overweight luggage. Yesterday was Armistice Day, or Veterans Day, as the U.S. now calls it, and since it was a public holiday, all the groceries were closed, meaning it was another weekend of eating out. Since we packed up Dad's kitchen at the beginning, I've been eating out nearly a week straight. I can't wait to go to the grocery tomorrow and buy some real food.

Excuse me for whining a little, but I'm in quite a lot of pain from all the packing and dragging boxes and luggage and now unpacking. I'm torn between the need to rest my body and the need to put away all this crap I brought home with me. I'd gotten about half of it sorted before my back and legs simply refused to do any more. I've popped a couple of Tylenol PM and I'm going to sort it out in the morning, I suppose.

Some new photos have been posted to my flickr feed and the previously mentioned soul searching monster post is still forthcoming. For now I've got to sort out my mind, as well, and try to figure out if I dreamt the last month or not.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Yesterday morning, I stepped outside to clear my head, and I saw

  • a groundhog, who lives in a clump of trees in the neighbor's yard, scrounging for food
  • no less than six squirrels, bounding across the grass
  • a chipmunk scurrying from one bush to another
  • a bird in a tree not ten feet from me, singing his heart out
and I felt like I'd stepped into an episode of Wild Kingdom. The world is a magical place, if you take the time to look.

I am utterly exhausted, but I have one more full day of work ahead of me. I have had an enormous amount of help, and I can't imagine how I could have done this alone. Tomorrow I'll get on a plane and start the difficult process of letting this all sink in. I'll talk to you all again, from the other side of the ocean, a.k.a. home.

Monday, November 06, 2006

busy bee

I have a monster post in me, but not the time to write it. It may have to wait until I get on the plane and don't have lists and lists of things to do, but I do intend to write it.

I have enlisted the help of my dear cousin Judy to help me get this house in order. Yesterday we "staged" (yes, someone has been watching too much HGTV) the den and it looks outstanding. This morning I'm running errands (shipping boxes, WalMart run, maybe a much-needed haircut) and then it will be back to the house for more. This work is heart-wrenching but necessary, and it may need time and distance before I can really process it.

The house is going to be on the market tomorrow (anybody wanna buy a house?) and then I have a couple of extra days to get everything in order before I go home. The plan is that if the house sells before January, I'll come back during the closing and help put everything in storage, and if it doesn't sell before January (when the Estate comes out of probate), I'll be back then to manage an Estate sale and clear out the house. So long story short, this ain't over, even when I get on that plane.

Right, I guess I'd better get to it then.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

one week

Everything finally hit me Thursday night, and I crashed as if running headlong into a brick wall. I'd been doing pretty well up until that point. My new current status is "not ok." But don't worry faithful readers, I will be again.

Plans have changed, and I'll be going home next weekend. I have a week to pack up the house, in case it is sold before we can have an estate sale in January. I'll be back either when the house sells or when the estate comes out of probate in January, whichever comes first. When I get home next week, I'll have piles of work to do as well.

What I really need is a week of nothing, so I can just shut down, and I don't know when I'm going to get it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

halloween fun

One of the good things about having Steph here with me at this time of year has been showing him all the fun that happens around Halloween. On Friday we drove down to Greenville, SC, to attend a Halloween party with some friends from my old dining-out group. We threw on some silly costumes and enjoyed some delicious Halloween-themed treats and beer from local breweries. Steph got to talk shop, as most of the attendees were fellow teachers (it really seems that the majority of my friends and family are teachers!). On Saturday, our hosts Sarah and Roy graciously drove us around Greenville and guided us through the new Reedy River Park, which was being renovated when I left and is now complete. The park and the suspension bridge are absolutely stunning. Then we drove by the new ballpark, which is also downtown, which is a gorgeous old-fashioned brick facility, with bricks taken from the very mills which once dominated the site. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend a stop at the Park, where you can see a gorgeous natural waterfall right in the middle of downtown.

On Monday, Steph carved his first jack o'lantern, which came out quite good, if I do say so myself. We also picked up a few bags of candy for trick-or-treaters, but not ever having spent time in this neighborhood, I had no idea if any kids would show up. We had a grand total of six kids last night, so now we've got a ginormous bowl of chocolates and tootsie roll pops tempting me everytime I walk through the living room. Those may have to go away before I put them out of their misery.

Meanwhile, small progress is being made in the house. Having Steph here has been extremely helpful, as having an "outside" eye helps me be realistic about what to do with some things. Hopefully we'll make good progress before he leaves on Friday. After he leaves, I may have to take refuge at my Grandmother's at night, as being here alone simply creeps me out.

In any case, photos are being dutifully taken, but you'll have to wait until I get home to download them all, which looks like it's going to be closer to Thanksgiving.