Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 ends with a whimper

Oh dear, what an "interesting" week we've had around here! Unfortunately, it was one medical blunder after another and happily I'm finally feeling a bit better and ready to ring in the new year, but it has been a very rough few days.

It all actually started last weekend when I was sort of feeling out of sorts but couldn't explain why. My back hurt, my knees hurt - I was all around feeling funky. It wasn't until Christmas day, when I took an aspirin for a headache and broke out into a sweat that I realized I had a fever! What's so sad is that I didn't even recognize a fever without stuffed up sinuses or a hacking cough. But the thing is, when you've had a miscarriage, they tell you to be on the watch for fevers, as this could be a sign of a uterus infection - not good news!

So we managed to get into a doctor here in Tiny Town on Wednesday, who told me that it probably was an infection, put me on the strongest non-penicillin antibiotic he could think of, and told me that if I still had a fever on Friday that I'd have to get in touch with my icky doctor. Well, don't you know, Friday rolls around and the fever is still there, but my icky doctor is on vacation! (Of course he is, because that's my luck in a nutshell.)

So we call the urgent care of the clinic where my icky doctor practices, and they set me up with the icky doctor on call at the clinic. She doesn't quite know what's going on, as now not only do I have a fever and random back and tummy pain, but a massive headache to boot. She sends me off for an ultrasound, where the ultrasound doctor tells me that there is no infection in my uterus. Hooray! No, he said, it's probably just a virus in my kidneys or liver or something. Do what?

So we go back to the icky doctor on call, who tells me that since it's probably just a virus, it should clear up in a week or less and that I should stay on the antibiotic through today so I don't become immune to it. Of course, my headache only gets worse and we finally realize that it's the antibiotic that's giving me enormous pulsating migranes and we make the decision amongst ourselves to cut the dosage down in half, and the migranes have very nearly disappeared.

Today I'm feeling the best I've felt in weeks and to be honest it's just a relief. But just because I was feeling bad doesn't mean I wasn't productive:


I wanted desperately to get it done in time for Christmas Eve, but I just couldn't do it. At least I got it done for the end of the year! My very last FO for 2007 is certainly my most difficult to date, but it looks great and IT FITS! Hallelujah!

As for New Year's Eve, we had been invited out but I've been so sick for so long that we just decided to stay home this year and have a quiet celebration. We went to the grocery store a little while ago and picked up some New Year's goodies and we'll likely celebrate in front of the tv with a glass of wine and plenty of good food to ring in the New Year.

Wherever you are in the world and however you're celebrating, I wish you a very Happy New Year! Roll on, 2008!!

Monday, December 24, 2007

merry merry!

The bad news is the sweater didn't get done. Having to redo the sleeves put me too far behind and I still have about four inches of the yoke to go. Hopefully I'll still get that done in the next couple of days.

The good news is that we got our butts in gear and got the Christmas cookies baked and packed! Because our EZ bake oven is so small, we can only bake about 10 cookies at a time, we decided to do one double batch on Saturday and one on Sunday. I had cracked and crushed enough walnuts for the first batch over the last week, so while the first batch was baking, we worked together to crack and crush another four kilos (nearly nine pounds!) of walnuts. Then it was just a matter of time to let them cool...

cookie factory
about 1/5 of all the cookies!

and then packed them in these fancy tins (which are commonly used for holding sugar cubes for coffee and tea, so they're practical, too!)...

cookie tins

and I just finished wrapping them all up:

mad wrapping skillz
check my mad wrapping skillz!

We'll be off in about an hour and a half to pick up the cheese and wine for the big dinner tonight and we'll probably get home around 2am, since we open our gifts to each other after dinner. Christmas is definitely an exercise in endurance in this family!

Other than that, I'm doing ok. During the last few days I've been unbelievably tired and suffering from freaky flash mood swings, going literally from laughing to crying within seconds (poor Stéph!!). I sincerely hope this is just my hormones being out of whack because I feel like I've been walking through water these last few days.

Well, nevermind, Christmas is my favorite holiday and I plan to enjoy it! Whether you're celebrating tonight or tomorrow, I hope all of you that are celebrating have a wonderful time!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


First of all, I have to thank you all very much for the kind comments and emails I've received over the last week or so. It's frankly shocking how many people have been touched by miscarriage, personally or otherwise. I wouldn't wish it on anybody but it's comforting in a way to know how common it is.

So how am I doing? Now that's an interesting question, one which I thought I had the answer to. Yesterday morning I replied to most of the emails I'd received, saying that I was surprised at just how well I was doing - freakishly well, in fact. I somehow managed to schedule a fully packed week this week and that is doing a great deal of good. Of course, just hours after I sent those emails out, I had a full-on breakdown and was useless for the rest of the day.

Perhaps we should just say that I'm getting there, and leave it at that. We're choosing to say that yesterday afternoon I had a "hormonal day." I guess they're still out of whack, those crazy hormones.

And what have I been doing this wacky busy week? Well, I've been writing - twelve articles so far and three more to go, on an assignment that took much, much longer than it should have. Plus I attended a very interesting seminar in Troyes Tuesday morning (more on that to come) and then took the car in for its two year inspection in the afternoon. Plus we'd decided that we were going to make cookies for all the in-laws for Christmas (that's still five families, including Stéph's parents!) and I really wanted to make my Dad's famous Christmas Crescent Cookies, which we road tested last week and Stéph took the results to work. The only problem is that they require 2 cups of crushed to nearly powder pecans for each batch. Pecans in France are brutally expensive, and if I bought enough for five batches it would have cost me 32€ for the pecans alone! So we're going with walnuts. But this means I've been cracking open walnuts and crushing them in my handy nut crusher (tee hee!) every day and I still have plenty of nuts to crush (ha!). The real shame is that my grandmother has more pecans than she can handle thanks to three or four pecan trees at the farm and there are literally buckets of the things lying around. If only we'd thought of it in advance! Oh - I'm also determined to finish Stéph's sweater before Monday evening, even though I only discovered this weekend that I'd knitted the wrong size sleeves and had to start them over.

See? Totally busy.

Tomorrow I'm going to Stéph's work Christmas lunch at one of the few nice restaurants here in Tiny Town. I'm really touched that Stéph insists on including me in these outings, especially since it's at lunchtime I'm sure to be the only spouse there. The best part is that the menu is done in advance, and Stéph forgot to bring me the menu to choose, so he chose for me based on what I don't like. For example, he chose the meat meal because he knows I don't like fish, and the foie gras entrée because I can't stand salade de gesiers. That made me smile today.

Ooh but this didn't - at lunch Stéph came home and told me that we were invited out to a colleague's home for dinner tomorrow night. The invitation was actually made last week, and he does this all the freaking time, but I'm so thrilled to be going out that I really don't care. The only problem is that he volunteered an apple pie, and guess who gets to do that tomorrow? Well, at least we know I'm not having a hormonal day, since I took the news in stride.

Friday, December 14, 2007


This past month has been one of the happiest cluster of weeks in my whole life. It's been a dream come true; something both Stéph and I have been working towards for years. Plus, because of the timing of the thing, we both felt like this was literally heaven sent.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Wednesday night I miscarried at ten weeks, five days. Since that time, I have been experiencing the worst pain I have ever felt in my life, both physically and emotionally. In an unprecedented move, I am letting my family take care of me, for a change.

I know that we are going to get past this, and we are going to try again, and to tell you the truth, I was starting to worry that we couldn't even get this far, so it is a relief on some level to know that there can be an "again." But my heart, well, that's a different story. For now, it's back to the drugs, and oblivion.

Friday, December 07, 2007

seven more things

I know.... I know. I'm exasperated with myself! I promise you, I have a really, really good reason for not posting very much right now. You're just gonna have to be patient with me until about Christmas day. Really.

So Miz JChavais over at No Place Like It tagged me a little while ago for the seven things meme. I honestly thought that I'd done this one before, but I was thinking of this instead, so here are seven random things about me.

1. I really do not handle confrontation well, but that doesn't mean I don't have rip roaring, neck rotating, snap inducing arguments... in my mind. Even if I can't work up the courage to confront someone about something that really bothers me, I'll imagine the showdown down to the last detail, and I'll get so worked up about it that my heart will race and I'll break out in a sweat. I have lost nights of sleep over this.

2. I have been knitting for less than a year and I wish I could spend every waking hour doing something related to it. My goal for next year is to create a knitting blog (from scratch if I'm really ambitious) and my long term goal is to learn how to spin and dye. How I'm going to learn to spin out here in the boonies, I have not yet figured out.

3. I haven't had a cigarette since November 9. I think I have finally flung this monkey off my back!!!

4. For the second year in a row, I have absolutely no desire to put up a Christmas tree. I know that last year it was because Dad was here the year before and the thought of getting through Christmas having just lost him was too difficult to bear. This year I can't be bothered because we're not expecting any guests, we'll be celebrating Christmas Eve with the family at Stéph's parents' home, and I don't want to clean up the huge mess. I still love Christmas, though!!

5. I have been wanting to get a cat since I got here. I got my first cat when I was a freshman in high school (I think) who of course became mom's cat when I went to college, but she would give me preferential treatment when I came home to visit. (The cat, not my mother.) I adopted an older cat the year before I moved here, and he was a great big furball. I even thought about bringing him with me, but I was moving from a small apartment to a small apartment with two people, and I thought that wasn't fair (because he was a big beastie and needed plenty of room to run!). Anyway, there are loads and loads of feral cats here in our neighborhood, and they fight, scream in the middle of the night, and rip open our garbage bags on garbage pick up nights. I'm not so sure I want a cat anymore.

6. I'm not too desperately homesick anymore (except for family and friends, obviously), but I do really miss my Sunday morning routine of picking up my favorite breakfast - toasted bagel with crispy bacon, cream cheese on the side, large coffee, (omg drool) - and the Sunday paper and going home and listening to NPR (I loved "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" and "Prairie Home Companion") and reading the paper from front to back all morning. *sigh*

7. I can't really think of a seven so... as much as I miss my American goodies, I don't know how I could live in a world where there aren't three boulangeries within a five minute's walk. Yay, France!

Now, normally I'm suppose to tag five people, but everytime I tag, I get yelled at, so if you wanna steal it, please do and let me know so I can link you here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

This is the cold that never ends just goes on and on my friend...

Ugh. Ok, it's nearly over, with some residual sniffling and coughing still going on, but this past week has been awful and I'm SO GLAD it's nearly done. Let me see what else has been happening around here...

Stéph found out Friday that he's coming up for inspection on the 10th. Teachers are inspected around every four years or so (depending on how backed up the inspectors are, although Stéph's seems to be right on schedule) and they're required to be up to date with all that fun paperwork stuff that teachers JUST LOVE (oh sorry, did I drip some sarcasm on you?). So you can imagine that Stéph has been working double over time to get everything in order. That's not to say that he paperwork isn't in order, but it maybe wasn't as organized and pretty to look at as it could have been. For example, he spent most of the weekend redoing his daily planning so that it could be legible. Yes, it seems the details do count.

I've come to terms with the fact that no, none of my knitting projects are going to make it under any Christmas or other types of trees this year. The socks I was making for my sister are a complete bust - first done on needles to large, then on needles to small, I'd have to do them AGAIN on needles just right and I just can't be bothered. So I gave sis the option to choose another colorway if she didn't like the one I was using and apparently she didn't because she chose a new one. Well, it's just as well since I'd rather make her something that she'll actually wear.

We have not even started any type of Christmas shopping, thanks to me being ill and now this inspection thing. Coupled with the fact that we are freaking POOR and I don't know what we're going to do this year. It sucks because our inlaws always give us really nice, thoughtful gifts and I feel like we're pulling Christmas gifts out of our collective butts every year. (good gracious, what a mental image!) I've enjoyed making gifts for the nieces and nephew but this year I have neither the inspiration nor the time, so I don't know what we'll do there, either. Panicking shall start imminently...

Oh - I've been tagged (thank god!)! I've been asked to write about Seven Things, which I've done before and will happily do again as soon as I can think of more than one thing (I swear, my brain is leaking slowly out my ear) and also to show you the contents of my handbag, which should be both sad and short, since I don't think there's much in there. Exciting things to come!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

down for the count

Yes, that very same evening of my last post I was officially sick. And I've been sick ever since. No/low fever, thank goodness, but stuffed nose, running nose and everything in between, plus some coughing and hacking and general moaning. I hate being sick and this has come at the absolute worst time possible.

I still have to tell you this funny story that Stéph told me before I go faint on the couch again. I really thought I was leaving Precious Little Snowflake Syndrome behind me when I moved here, but it turns out that this isn't so. It seems that Stéph received more than one complaint that the curtains in his second floor classroom are always shut and shouldn't he open them to allow the students to get some sunlight? These complaints came not from other teachers but from mothers. Yes, that means that these women have nothing better to do than wander around the school and stare at their children's classroom. That's the exciting life here in Tiny Town.

So Stéph capitulates and opens the curtains on one of the few sunny days we've had here in recent weeks. Of course, the heat of the sunlight in combination with the radiators that Stéph has no control over sends the temperature of the room to well over 30°C (over 85°F) which means they then have to open the windows, plus the glare of the sunlight means that no one could read the board. Stéph kindly asked the kids to tell their mommies what happens when the curtains are open and came home and told me about it and we had a good laugh.

Monday, November 26, 2007

weekend roundup

I finally got to celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday. We had initially planned to do a little Thanksgiving dinner here at home with a few friends, but a few things popped up to make that not really a viable option, so we decided to crash Doc's Thanksgiving bash instead. There were the usual Frenchies plus the extra bonus of Antipo and the three of us Anglos often were seen sneaking off to the kitchen to snigger and tell rude jokes and general snark in English. It was lovely. Oh - and the food was good, too. (photos to come)

This morning, Stéph woke up with a fever, and he even took his temperature on my old Fahrenheit thermometer. When it popped up 101.2, I told him that he should stay home or go to the doctor, but no, he had to be all manly and trudge to school anyway. Well, first he told me that 101.2 couldn't be a very high temperature even after I converted it for him in Celsius (that's 38.5 for those of you playing at home), he still insisted on going to work. At lunchtime he declared he was too sick to go back and needed to see a doctor instead, but it's hard as hell to get in to see just about any doctor in the afternoons here. Our doctor has a "first come first served" policy in the afternoons, but those tend to take forever. Nevertheless, Stéph was desperate to be able to go back to school tomorrow, so off we went and sat in the waiting room for an hour and a half. Turns out he has strep. Also turns out that my throat is getting scratchy. I am none too pleased.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

happy thanksgiving!

It's that time of year again, when I have to explain to our French friends the concept of "giving thanks" for the good things in our lives. I get the feeling that most of them think it's a quaint puritan ritual framed around an enormous meal, but Thanksgiving has always been more than that for me. I love that there is a day in the calendar specifically set aside to take stock of the good things in our lives, like:

* my health, which I am constantly working towards improving
* my relationship with Stéph, which is always getting stronger
* my family, which is far away but thanks to modern technology, is only ever a computerized phone call away
* my friends, both here and in the States, who are a constant source of joy and support
* this blog, which has enriched my life here in France in so many ways
* my readers, who have managed to stick with me over the years even when I go through blogging droughts like I have in the last couple of weeks!

Today I invite all of you to take a moment and think about what you are thankful for in your lives, and if you feel like sharing, let us know what you're thankful for in the comments. And if you're in the States, have a great Thanksgiving and eat plenty of stuffing, corn bread and pecan pie for me!

PS: I seem to be having some RSS feed issues (thank you to Wendy for pointing it out). I think it's working for Bloglines but not for other readers like Google Reader. I've tried validating through Feedburner but apparently I have some issues and I might as well be reading that page in Greek, so if you are a computer-literate type person and can help me out, please shoot me an email, thanks!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the slackiest slacker that ever slacked

Oh, hello. *sheepish grin*

I wish I had a really excellent excuse for not updating, but I don't. The weather's getting me down? Actually, the weather has been pretty miserable - rainy, dark and getting colder every day. I can't seem to focus on anything. I'm starting and frogging knitting projects, which is not helping my Christmas present list at all, never mind the fact that Christmas is like six weeks away and we haven't even thought about making a list of things to buy... ugh. Plus I'm thinking about totally starting over on my charity blanket which means I need to get a move on if I'm going to get it done on time.

So, to make up for it, I'm gonna give you a little treat. This song does nothing but make me laugh and bounce around the room like a big old dork. It's in French, obviously, but I think y'all will get the gist of it. I'm not usually a big fan of the comedian Mickael Youn, but he finally got me to laugh with "Parle à ma main," which means talk to my hand!

My favorite bits are the initials written on the hand which totally remind me of "TMI":

PI - pas interessée - not interested
çc - ça craint - that sucks
FBI - fausse bonne idée - not a good idea

And of course, at the end, Christelle gives her number to the guy, and it's a number for information (118 218) like 411.

Anyway, enjoy!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

a walk in the park

The fall break is over and Stéph is back to work. The last week was very quiet, loads of computer and knitting and quiet time, punctuated by a little stomach bug that Stéph caught and kindly passed to me (thanks honey!). I'm sorry I didn't post much, because if I had it would have looked something like this:

Today I knit for a few hours in front of the tv, and then I did a load of laundry, and then we watched some more tv before bed.

Woo! Party time! Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, when the weather was still nice, I took my walk through town, which I try to do as often as I can to get out of the house a little if for no other reason, but this time I remembered my camera. I took quite a lot of photos, which can be seen on my flickr page, but here are a few highlights:

First I walk along this river that passes through our town:

walk in the park 2

Then I walk around the outside of the park and step inside on the opposite corner from where I started. In the park, I pass by my favorite trees, Wonky Tree and his little brother Bendy Tree:

walk in the park 8

At the end of the park is the chateau, which now serves as the Town Hall:

walk in the park 11

Once I leave the park, I pass by the church, which I've never been in, by the way, as its not open for visitors, only church goers:

walk in the park 12

And finally, here's a shot of the main drag of Tiny Town from my lane. You can just make out the church at the end of the street:

walk in the park 13

So, if you ever wondered, that gives you an idea of what Tiny Town looks like. To tell you the truth, I rather kind of like it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

in which we get tricked

Of course, most of you know that Halloween was two days ago. Halloween isn't a very popular holiday here, often thought of a commercial ruse to get the French to separate themselves from their money, which is a shame. I always loved Halloween, from roaming the neighborhood when I was a kid (remember back in the day when you could do that at the tender age of ten?) right up to Halloween parties as an adult.

So imagine our shock and surprise when someone knocked on the door Wednesday evening. We weren't even here last year (Stéph was experiencing his first American Halloween, carved pumpkin and all) so we had no idea that we should expect anyone. In the end we just didn't answer the door because, since we started eating better, we don't have anything remotely resembling a treat.

Turns out, for our neglect, we got tricked. And the funny part is that we didn't even know it until a someone knocked on our door last night. Turns out that a neighbor from around the corner had her son's car stolen and was going around warning folks (apparently there's been a rash of car problems here in Tiny Town), and it was she that told Stéph to take a look at the windshield of the car. Turns out it had been egged and floured, plus a little green food coloring for good measure.

In the end, it's hardly anything to get upset about - lord knows I've seen worse - and Stéph had wanted to wash the car since we got back anyway, so that gave him a little extra incentive.

However, I do think that if you're old enough to egg a car, you're too old for trick or treating. But maybe that's the bitter old lady in me coming out!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

a long weekend away

I can't help it, it just sounds so pretentious - yes we went to the Alps for the weekend. Actually, we have friends there that we hadn't yet been to visit, so it was a trip that was a long time coming. Our friends live just outside of Grenoble, away from the noise and rush of the city. In fact, the poor things have to look at this out their windows everyday:

a room with a view

I don't know how they can stand it.

Anyway, Marc, Pooplette and MP3 were there (as Doc is currently gallivanting around the good ole US of A) and mostly what we did was lay around. It was great! The guys read or played games while I went to town on a new knitting project. There was so much laying around and chilling out that I burned through a skein and a half of yarn!

There was also all kinds of yummy, evil food like raclette and crêpes of both the savory and sweet variety. Plus we took some walks out in the gorgeous country side:

country walk

country walk

country walk

It was a pause that came exactly when we both needed it. Merci pour tous, M & S !!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

gone to the mountains

This week absolutely got away from me. I had a ton of things I wanted to do, never mind post, but what can you do. To quote a common phrase from my college days, "Acknowledge, and move on!" So I am.

Today is the first day of the Toussaint, or All Saint's Day school break. Stéph's off for a week and a half and today we're going to catch up with some friends in a town I've never been to before - Grenoble! It's supposed to be gorgeous this weekend, albeit a little chilly, but it's looking pretty crappy out our windows right now, so we'll see. Méteo France is notoriously wrong on a pretty consistent basis. Anyway, we'll be back at the beginning of the week sometime, so I hope to have plenty of pictures and stories, plus some pictures I took last week and I'm going to FINALLY do something with all the photos Stéph took in Romania, when we get back.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

surrounded by calabrians

I've heard that the weather back home is unseasonably warm. Here in France, it's unseasonably cold! The highs have been hovering around 50° Fahrenheit, and while the last few days have been full of blue skies, it's gone all overcast today making it feel even cooler.

But I didn't want to talk about the weather today, but about a very international dinner we attended on Saturday night. As you may remember, Stéph visited Romania earlier this month to attend a project conference with schools in France, Romania, Italy, and Spain. There are actually two groups in this project, and the Romanians and Italians in the second group were in our area at the end of last week and visited Stéph's school on Friday. Saturday night there was a big dinner in Troyes and we were invited.

I got the opportunity to meet Stéph's boss (and coincidentally, the only other man working at Stéph's school!) and probably the second thing out of Stéph's mouth was, "Oh, did you know that some of my wife's family emigrated from Italy and her maiden name is Italian?" and I could have sunk under the floor. The last thing I wanted to do is give the impression of knowing more about Italy than I do, especially when it comes to language, but Stéph's boss was intrigued. He asked me where my family was from, and when I said Calabria, he got excited because he has Calabrian roots as well! Then we meet a colleague of Stéph's whose husband has roots in Calabria as well, and we ended up sitting across from them during dinner.

The truth is, we were about thirty, so we didn't really get to mix with a lot of people (I don't think I spoke to a Romanian all night, except to say hello and goodbye), but we had a great conversation with the colleague and her husband and a couple of other Italians that were sitting near us. The teacher sitting next to me, who was French, spent four years in America, the colleague went to America alone when she was 17 to visit some family that had emigrated there, and her husband told us stories about his Italian relatives that had emigrated to New York.

It was an enlightening dinner; I only wish I could say the same about the food itself. The restaurant is more known for welcoming groups for weddings or the like, but the food was pretty disappointing. It was a fixed menu supposedly highlighting food from our area, but the entrance was a salad with salmon and shrimp (thanks to our close proximity to the ocean, here in eastern France? WTF?) followed by an uninspired dish of pork cutlets and a cream sauce with potatoes and lardons that clearly came from the frozen section. They could have made up for this with the cheese course, and as much as I love chaorce, the locally produced cheese, throwing a slab of it on a piece of toast and calling it a day doesn't necessarily impress. The desserts were equally as unimpressive, with a simple raspberry mousse that surely came in packs of ten from the local frozen foods shop swimming in crème anglaise. If I told you how much we paid for this "culinary feast," you'd be quite shocked.

The funniest thing was that the Romanians were clearly ready to go before the dessert was even served. The money was gathered while we waited for the dessert to arrive and most of the Romanian party had their coats on before the coffee showed up.

The most surreal thing happened just before we left. As we were saying goodbye to everyone, an Italian woman was saying goodbye to me, and I remembered enough of my rudimentary Italian to say "arrivederci," and then she place a hand on my cheek and muttered "che bella," before she turned around and left. Now, I am not exactly renown for my beauty, but I found this so touching that I nearly ran after her for a hug!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

a quiet week

It has been something of a quiet week here at DFF headquarters, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been busy. Just that there hasn't been too much worth sharing, or at least little time to share it.

Here's one little interesting note. I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but I am in the process of renewing my carte de sejour, which is the one year residence card, but since I've been here for three years now, I qualify for a carte de residence, or so they tell me. One way or another, this card is good for ten years of French livin', so they tend to take this one a little more seriously. Now, I know I've said before that one of the benefits of living in the country is that we don't have to go to the big Préfecture in Troyes to turn in my documents; we can do it at the town hall and then they send off the paperwork. Well, I got a message from the town hall a couple of weeks ago and I thought I might as well walk over there - it's only a five minute walk, after all. I thought they were going to give me my récépissé, or the little blue card that says my new card is in process which I have to carry around with my old card. Oh, but no! They needed more documents - a copy of Stéph's identification and a written declaration that we live together. This last one annoyed Stéph to no end - "They already have a copy of our livret de famille*, why do they need this?!"

So that was the day before Stéph went to Romania and I went to Paris, and then we kind of put it off for a few days, so it wasn't until this past Monday that I went back with the documents in my hot little hands. I finally got my blue paper, but I had another surprise - a little interview. I was shown into the administrative manager's office, where the following intensive interview took place:

"So, the Préfecture has asked me to talk to you to see how you're integrating in France. You've been here for how long?"

"Three years."

"And do you like it here?"

"Oh yes."

"Are you working?"

"No, I've found it difficult to find a job, but we're planning on moving closer to Paris next year because we think it will be easier there."

"And your husband, he works here in town?"

"Yes, he's a teacher."

"Mmhm. Well, it seems that your French is very good, I'd say you're integrating well, I think I can send back a positive report."

"Thank you!"

You can see I was sweating bullets. Actually, I kind of got the impression that he'd never had to do this sort of interview before. Foreigners are a bit thin on the ground in these parts.

So that was the excitement around here this week. Otherwise, I've been working on a project centered around fitness, which has actually prompted me to get out and walk a bit this week, plus I've been rolling along with the knitting, having just finished up my first pair of socks:

my first socks

* A livret de famille is a little book that all French families have that has details about the wedding and the birthdates of their children.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What I did on my Parisian vacation

Sorry this is so late, life sort of caught up with me there. I thought about detailing my four days in Paris like I did for our summer vacation, but I ain't got that kind of time (and it would probably be quite boring) (and also? I ain't got that kind of time but I can still write one hell of a long post, can't I?), so here are some of the highlights:

I am so blessed that I have so many friends and acquaintances based in Paris that I couldn't possibly see them all over the course of four days, but I did get to see quite a few. My host was the totally awesome (wink) and always charming kylie mac, and we had a rip roaring time together. On Friday evening we hung out with rhino75, who showed me where to find a Whiskey Sour in Paris and made us howl with laughter. Saturday I visited the Coffee Table Studio and chatted away with Katia and kylie mac for hours and hours (the results are already posted - thanks for having me on the show, ladies!). Sunday I hung out with Flare and Sarah on a yarn shopping expedition and then chatted in Sarah's backyard with their sons Max and Felix over yummy munchies and tea. Monday night I got to meet JChevais. J has a laugh that can only be described as equal to mine (and those of you that know me personally will wonder at the force of two people that laugh like me) so we easily made nuisances of ourselves at O'Sullivan's Irish Bar over our alcohol and French BLTs. I think the only time we stopped talking was to eat or drink. That was a really fun meetup and I can't wait for the next one!

I must make it very clear - I am not one of those Americans that goes on vacation and only eats familiar foods. That being said, one of the perks of visiting Paris is that I can indulge in all kinds of foods that remind me of home that I can't get in the backwoods of Champagne-land. I'm talking about really evil food, like bacon cheeseburgers, cheddar cheese omlettes with bacon on the side (although, I could probably make that omlette at home now that I have access to cheddar) and java chocolate chip frappuccinos. Yeah, I blew my diet out of the water for four days, but it sure tasted good!

The Sights
Usually when I visit Paris I'm there to visit friends, but this time I made sure to take the time to visit some museums I hadn't seen before. Kylie mac took me to the Musée Carnavalet, which covers the history of the city of Paris, and I enjoyed it so much that I went back Tuesday morning to see more, and I still didn't see everything. I highly recommend it, especially if you can take a whole afternoon to see as much as possible, plus it's free! Saturday night was Nuit Blanche in Paris. Nuit Blanche literally means "white night" but is also used to describe an all nighter, and this night most museums are open quite late and other activities are available all night. Kylie mac and I chose to check out the Louvre so I could see some stuff I hadn't seen before. Unfortunately, most of the precious treasures were secured for the night, so we couldn't see them, but I did get to see the Apartments of Napoleon III, which was especially interesting at night. Plus, as we left the Louvre around 11pm, the streets were coming alive with celebration because the French rugby team had just beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup (too bad we lost to England the following week!).

Avoiding shopping in Paris is like avoiding getting cursed out in New York City - it happens and you just can't help it! This time I concentrated on increasing my yarn stash, and I definitely cashed in. Thanks to a tip on Ravelry, Flare, Sarah and I checked out Destocklaine, which features tons of different yarns at discount prices. Much of what you can find is acrylic but there are plenty of interesting finds if you're willing to dig. I got some yarn which I'm planning on turning into a sweater and some socks. I also went to check out Le comptoir in the 9th, which offers a lot of high quality yarn and accessories but little chance to fondle the yarns before purchase. If you like to fondle with your hands as well as your eyes before you purchase, this may not be the shop for you, but if you're already familiar with the yarn, this yarn boutique may be a good place to check out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

one year (part two)

I can't believe it's been one year already since Dad died. The weird thing about it is that I don't feel especially broken up about it, and I don't have an interesting story to tell like I did one year after my mother died. He's certainly in my thoughts, but I can honestly say that I think about him and Mom every day.

To be absolutely honest, I feel like he's still with me, like I can still hear his voice. That's not to say that I hear him like someone is physically present in the room, but I hear him in my thoughts. As long as I can still hear his voice, it's like he hasn't totally gone away.

But even this feeling that he is with me can't replace talking to him on the phone or going to visit him. Dad was always my go-to guy for advice or comfort or for a laugh and I miss that connection more than anything else. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to call him and ask him the stupidest little question, I'd be a very rich woman.

So here's to you, Daddy-o. Your laugh, joie de vivre, sage advice and comfort are sorely missed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

aaaaaaaaaand we're back

Yep, I'm back from my whirlwind four and a half day tour of Paris. Man, what a great visit that was! Usually when I get to go there to catch up with friends, it's for a day and a half or a maximum of two days, but this trip gave me the luxury of actually getting out and doing some touristy things, not to mention a little shopping and loads of fun hanging out. I really need to try to get the house in order (I was working an a huge project and didn't have the time to do it before I left, much to my chagrin - isn't it always nicer to come home to a clean house after a few days away?) before I go to pick up Stéph from the train station this afternoon.

Two things happened today that I have to share, though. First is quite an exciting development - I'm wearing my skinny jeans!!! Of course, skinny is a relative term in this case, but these are my favorite worn in jeans that I've been carrying around with me for years hoping that one day I'd be able to get back in them and that day has come. They're not yet perfect and still a little muffin-toppy, but they're comfortable enough to wear and with the right top no one will know. I am so happy!!

Second thing is just funny - I had to run down to the corner store this morning so I went directly after hopping out of the shower with my hair still wet (I never use a hair dryer). The woman behind the counter is very nice and we've chatted during transactions in the past, but this morning she floored me - she actually told me I was going to catch a cold going out like that! I can't believe people actually believe this still. I said, Oh, it's alright, it's just five minutes, and she said, But that's all it takes! I thanked her, because really something you'd expect to hear from someone who cares about your welfare, but I thought the whole thing was funny.

Anyway, off to run the vacuum and other housewifely pursuits. More about Paris to come!

Monday, October 01, 2007

weekend wrapup

It was a pretty quiet week here at Dispatches From France Headquarters. Did a bit of work, got in a couple of walks, and much knitting was done in front of the tv. We did make sure to watch France take on Georgia (not that Georgia!) in the Rugby World Cup, and it was fun to watch France win. Only problem is, their next match is Saturday against the All Blacks. I don't like to be a pessimist, but that has the potential to be ugly. Poor Stéph is gonna miss it, flouncing around Eastern Europe (or sitting in a boring conference, more like) but maybe I'll catch a little of it while I'm in Paris. If nothing else, I'd like to see the All Blacks do the Haka. Oh, you don't know the Haka? You can see it here at the beginning of a New Zealand at France match in June (which bonus shots of Sébastien Chabal, the long haired, heavily bearded French player that runs over the opposition like a runaway train, not that I'm partial or anything).

Other than that, I am just so looking forward to spending a few days in Paris visiting friends this weekend that this week feels like it will be never ending. Luckily I've got plenty to keep me busy and hopefully not staring at the clock wishing that time would go faster.

Ooh, I do have something fun to share with you - Doc sent me a picture of the bunny with MP3, and it's good to know that the bunny really wasn't bigger than the baby, but only by a hare (get it? get it? bwahahahaha ha heh... meh).

baby and bunny

Friday, September 28, 2007

three exciting developments

1. We saw on the news yesterday that primary schools will no longer have classes on Saturday mornings starting in 2008. What they're going to do with these four hours is still sort of up in the air. They could either decrease the summer holidays by two weeks or have classes on Wednesday mornings (primary schools in France have traditionally been closed on Wednesdays, as this was the traditional day for learning the catechism and preparing for First Communion). I don't think Stéph really cares which way they go; I think he'll just be happy to have his weekends back.

2. I found cheddar cheese at the grande surface grocery store I go to a couple of times a month! This is excellent news, as I don't have to beg it off friends or go searching for it in the next département over. I first noticed it when Stéph and I ordered the cheese platters for my niece's baptism, and I bought some yesterday. I'm happy to report that someone is buying it besides me, as the amount had certainly decreased in the week since I'd been there!

3. I got my invitation to Ravelry this morning! I won't have a lot of time to play there for a little bit because I'm kind of stacked up with work, but you can find me under the name "vivienfrance."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

french beauty secret revealed!

At last! I finally learned a trick that I can share! And it comes from a most unlikely source. Here, lemme 'splain:

As you may or may not already know, the water in France is notoriously hard. It is so hard that special products can be bought to fight calcium deposits on nearly every thing that water touches - the dishwasher, the clothes washer, the shower, the sink, everything!

You know what else the water touches? My freakin' hair! Shortly after I moved here, I realized that I was going to have to change my hair washing habits in order to make my hair act "normal." In the states, particularly in the South, I enjoyed soft water and enough humidity to keep my hair naturally curly. This is actually a relatively recent phenomenon for me, as most of my life I brushed out my naturally wavy hair and finally decided to let it act natural, to usually nice results. My biggest problem was that the hair on the top of my head doesn't curl as much as the rest (just like my Dad's was).

I tried everything I could think of - expensive shampoos, conditioners for curly hair, after-shower products and still my hair felt fried and dry. At last, a few weeks ago, I found my saving grace in a magazine - the same one that my sister-in-law gave me a subscription for for my birthday. As soon as I read the article, I literally smacked myself on the forehead, because it seemed so obvious.

What do all the calcium fighting products have in common? Vinegar! For generations, French women have been passing down homebrewed vinegar recipes for hair, but now several companies have come out with vinegar based hair products for keeping hair free of calcium deposits. So the next time I went to the big grande surface shopping center, I found one of the brands mentioned in the article and brought it home.

The hair vinegar I bought is applied after the shower, and has a funny top with only a little hole for shaking out the vinegar (like table vinegar, which was bizarre) but I got around that by putting the liquid in a spray bottle. The first time I used it, it took me forever to get out all the tangles, but it has been easier and easier every time I've used it. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now, and my hair has never looked better (and it smells nice, too)! In fact, it's actually too soft - I'm going to start using it after every other shampoo to try and get it balanced.

I've been letting my hair grow out for a couple of years now, and I had gotten so desperate that I was seriously considering chopping it all off again. Now that I've got my secret weapon, I am at all systems go for hair growth! Thank you French magazine for sharing this most excellent beauty secret!

Monday, September 24, 2007

a baptism of a different sort

On Saturday, we gathered with the family and celebrated the baptism of my niece, C, who just turned one year old. This baptism didn't take place in a church; in fact, it didn't involve religion at all. What we witnessed was a civil baptism, which is possibly unique in France.

Created during Napoleon's reign, civil baptisms are rather rare today, and not every town hall in France offers it, but it's an option for families of mixed or non-Christian background or those that aren't particularly religious. The ceremony takes place in the town hall, is presided over by the mayor, and the parents choose a godfather and godmother who act just like a Christian godparent, except that instead of teaching about religion, they teach how to be a good citizen.

The ceremony takes all of ten minutes, which for us was extended to at least fifteen because we had a professional musician in - another niece, C, who plays the violin beautifully. Afterwards, we all headed to a rented hall, where we ate a simple buffet, drank lots of lovely wine, and even got a little silly with a karaoke machine.

Of course, I forgot my camera, but that's probably because I was preoccupied with remembering our gift:

C's sweater

Yet another knitted gift. This one is a baby shrug from Debbie Bliss Simply Baby. I think they liked it, but it's probably still a little too big, as I made it in the biggest size.

Anyway, it was a great excuse for a party and hang out with the family, and we had a great time, and it was well after midnight by the time we made it home.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

booty shakin music

First of all, I just want to get out there that I found out yesterday that quilts are being accepted as donations, so that means that quilters are also invited to participate over at Tricot du coeur! If you're a quilter and want to play, head over to the site to find the size requirements and all that jazz. (Clare, you're excused, since you've already got your charity quilting project!)

So your reward for reading through that is this song. If this doesn't make you want to shake your money maker than I don't even want to know ya!

(Since my new layout isn't exactly you tube size friendly, I'm going to just link it: Go shake yer booty!)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

in which vivi becomes a couch potato

Well, I don't think it's going to be quite that dire. But we did buy a little box today that will hopefully make our television watching a little more pleasurable. Lemme 'splain:

Every television has the capability to have six channels for free. Well, technically seven, but one of them is subscription only and is only free for a few hours a day. If you want more channels, you have two options: buy a satellite or a TNT box.

Satellite is really lovely, with hundreds of channels, even some in English. But I think if we did get a satellite, I really would become a couch potato. Plus I know I'd end up watching English channels for the majority of the time, and since I'm home alone a lot, I've actually picked up a lot of French by watching French television. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I like to put on the subtitles in French, because I still read French a little better than I understand spoken French.

Anyway, a lot of our friends have a TNT box, which decodes a dozen or more channels. Once you've bought the box, you have nothing else to pay. There aren't any channels in English, but something like eighteen additional channels for free, plus a handful of subscription channels if you want to add that on.

So today we bought one, came home and plugged it in. Super easy installation, and fifteen minutes later we were scrolling through our new channels. There are a couple of 24 hour news channels, two music channels (yay!!), and a handful of other random stuff. And I just passed a very nice afternoon knitting on the couch and watching music videos. I am very content.

And if that doesn't float your boat, here's a lovely photo of a cabbage float:

the cabbage float

Also, don't forget that today is Talk Like A Pirate Day. Yar.

Monday, September 17, 2007

another weekend in the country

We had such a great time this weekend! The weather was perfect, the friends were fantastic and the food was unreal. Of course we were all there to celebrate the baptism of Doc's youngest, "MP3," and I helped out a little bit in that area.

Antipo and her son were there, along with the rest of the Frenchie gang, and Saturday night we dined on unbelievable chicken columbo, Doc and Antipo's very special karma sutra eggplant, and Doc's super evil tiramisu, which smacked me around and call me its bitch and then lodged directly on my hips.

Sunday morning we all got gussied up and headed to church. Since I would be indisposed, I gave Stéph the camera but forgot to tell him about my special anti-blur technique, so you can guess how the majority of the photos came out. It's too bad too, because he's got an excellent eye and there were a bunch of photos that would have been very cool, if only they weren't blurry. Ah well. Thanks to Doc and Stéph's coaching, I was prepared when the Deacon asked the Godfather and I what our duties were (I mean, I know, but they saved me from getting stuck on the spot), and I got the hold the receiver when MP3 was getting her little head doused. And good gracious, what a cutie she is!

Then we all went to Doc and Marc's "other house," and I think if you read her blog you'll know what I'm talking about, for a nice big fat French lunch which lasted four hours. Now, I personally think the French celebrate in the best way - plenty of good food, nice long chats with friends, taking a pause outside between courses, and of course, eating all those delicious things you're not otherwise allowed to eat, or drink for that matter. It was glorious.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay until the presents were opened, but I can exlusively reveal what I made for little MP3:

Mélanie's bunny

I think it's bigger that she is!

Anyway, thank you as always, Doc and Marc, for a great weekend and for the big honor. We enjoyed it!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

color me jealous

Stéph got confirmation this week that he's going to a teacher's conference at the beginning of October. It sounds like there will be teachers from several European countries there, and he'll be gone for five days. The kicker is that this conference will take place in Romania.

Yeah, you heard me: ROMANIA. I'm so jealous I could spit.

At least while the cat's away, this mouse can go play in Paris. So I guess it's not all bad.

This afternoon we'll be heading over to Doc's for the baptism festivities. Y'all have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

a very big, special and exciting announcement!

Oh my god, y'all, I'm so excited!


So a few weeks ago, I was Skyping (that's a real word now, isn't it?) with my sister and she asked me if I would be interested in knitting a blanket for charity. At first, she only told me it was for a children's camp in North Carolina and I'd have until next Spring to finish it. Hell, I figured even I could finish a blanket in seven months, so I said yes.

Well, then I learned more about Victory Junction Gang and the good work they're doing and I thought to myself, "Self, I should mention this on the blog and then maybe some of my knitting friends will make blankets, too!" I told my sister that, and she laughed and said that she had hoped I would. What can I tell you, I'm totally predictable.

But then I got ambitious. What if I made a big website about it, and had a big prize drawing, and then we could make a whole bunch of blankets for these kids? So I contacted some of my favorite artists, and they agreed to donate some really cool prizes, and Tricot du coeur was born.

So! That's the rilly, rilly big news! Even if you're not a knitter or a crocheter, please take a sec and check out the new site and see what we're all about (because you can win a prize, too!). I think we're gonna have a good time, and it's for a really fantastic cause.


shopping for clothes still sucks

Ben, oui. In Pursuits I Try To Avoid, clothes shopping still ranks up there with cleaning the toilet and ironing. Despite the fact that I've lost nearly twenty pounds, I'm still having trouble finding clothes that look decent on my frame. Yesterday was a major reality check - if I think I'm fluffy now, I must have been a monstrous cow four months ago. Luckily, instead of consoling myself in a tub of ice cream (you may laugh but I damn near did it), it only spurred me on to continue getting in better shape. Hooray for encouragement!

To be honest, it isn't just my body that is impeding the search for a new set of clothes. All the latest styles are charming and cute, but they're just not right for me. This is for two reasons: over sized tops and leggings only make me look eight months pregnant (and I'd much rather BE eight months pregnant than LOOK eight months pregnant), and didn't I already do over sized tops and leggings once? Oh yeah! Back in EIGHTH GRADE. Pfft. I'm all for recycling styles but this one hitting a little too close to home!

So the reason for all this clothes drama is that I'm going to a baptism this weekend. And it's not just any baptism, oh no! Not only is it for MP3, Doc's youngest, but Doc has asked me to be Godmother. I don't know what Doc was smoking the day she decided to ask me, but I'm touched beyond words that she did and I'm really looking forward to it.

So after striking out in five different shops, I've decided to just work with what I've got and maybe run back out tomorrow to add to what I've got. I'll need comfy (yet dressy!) clothes anyway, since it's impossible to leave Doc's table without unbuckling your belt because she cooks so damn well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

current projects

Well, it looks like the school year is off to a good start. Stéph is enjoying being back in elementary school and it looks like he's going to have a much less stressful year this year. It's kind of early to tell, but so far it seems like changing from special education to elementary school was a good move, regardless of our future plans.

As for me, I've got a few irons in the fire. I've got plenty of assignments to keep me busy for the moment, plus I'm gearing up for some new knitting projects, not to mention finishing a few off that have been sitting around for a while. Of course, they're all gifts, so I can't show them to you until they've been received (someday I might get to make something for myself!) but I'll be taking pictures before they go off to their new homes. One is all done and just had a bath, so as soon as that one is dry, it's heading off to the States, another one is all done but the seaming, and I've got another little project that I'll get finished up this week.

Looking ahead to new projects, I've been kind of floundering around trying to decide what to do when my yarn options are so bland and predictable here. I don't know why I never took to it before, but I finally dug in and took a look at yarn on eBay. Not only did I find some really interesting stuff, I've bid on a few things and I've already won something! Hopefully it will be here in the next couple of weeks. I'm still not working on anything for me - I've got one Christmas present I'm going to start on, plus I'm making the switch from baby sweaters to adult sweaters. Stéph has asked for a cardigan, of all things, and you would not believe how hard it is to find patterns for decent men's cardigans. Maybe there's a good reason for that. Hm.

Anyway, I've been working on another huge project that I can't wait to tell you all about. It's in the final stages now, hopefully I'll be making a great big huge exciting announcement by the end of the week. I know, my great big huge announcements aren't usually very big or exciting, but this one is a doozy. And there are prizes involved. Really nice ones, too. So keep a lookout for that.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

warm fuzzies

It's one thing when someone sings your praises and you don't acknowledge it (especially when it was back in April, quelle honte!), but when someone else does it as well, you'd be a fool not to follow it up.

Clare and Kinga have presented me with an Inspirational Blogger Award and a Courageous Blogger Award, respectively. And now, according to the rules of Ye Olde Meme, I've got to pass the honor along to five more bloggers. (You can find out more about this meme here.

Inspirational Blogger Award

I have a feeling that she's already been awarded a similar award, but I still want to draw your attention to bleeding espresso. Sognatrice writes beautiful posts about her life in Calabria and has created a wonderful interactive community on her blog. She makes me want to be a better blogger and also remember to savor this experience of living in a new country.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I'm awarding two awards to one blogger (because it's my blog and I can) to Jennifer at No Place Like It. Not only is she a wonderful artist and illustrator, but she is going through some real earth shattering stuff right now and is blogging about it, which in my book is way beyond courageous. I know what it feels like to put that personal stuff out there - it can be terrifying and liberating at the same time. Plus, she's doing it with class.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I know, I know, I'm doing it wrong, but I'm awarding one of my awarders! Clare has another blog called Quilts 4 Leukaemia. She has already been given this award, but if nothing else I want to help promote the good work she is doing. If you're a sewer or a quilter, check out her blog to find out how you can help create a quilt for a child suffering from Leukemia.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Finally, for the Thoughtful Blogger Award, I want to give a shoutout to Lisanne at Bathtub Junkie. Lisanne is a Mom, a scrapbooker, a graphic designer and all around crafty gal who always takes the time to respond to comments and leaves lovely comments on the blogs she visits. I wish I could be more like her in my responses as well (although I try, really!).

And as for me, I just want to thank Clare and Kinga for thinking of me! I don't feel especially inspirational or courageous, but I'll take an award wherever I can get it! No, seriously, thank you both very much, I was really very touched.

Monday, September 03, 2007

C'est la rentrée !

Well, technically "the re-entry" is tomorrow, when children head back to school, but teachers report today for a full day of meetings in preparation for the kids, so in our house, la rentrée is today!

La rentrée isn't just Back to School time, but because so many companies close for several weeks in August, it's the time for everyone to get back to work. It's the signal that summer is over, and everyone is back from vacation and focusing again on their jobs.

In the past, the first week of school has been a little difficult for me, because after two months of spending every day with Stéph, suddenly he's gone and I'm left to my own devices again for a large part of the day. It can get a little lonely, and on more than one occasion I've found myself bored out of my mind. This time, however, I've got plenty to keep me busy, thank goodness. Just like Stéph, I'm ready to focus and get down to work.

While we're getting down to work, I hope everyone in the States is enjoying their last day of summer! Have a great Labor Day!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

two three-year anniversaries

Yesterday marked three years since I arrived in France. Three years already! I have to tell you , I'm not quite where I want to be yet - still not 100% comfortable with the language (but I'm getting there!) and still haven't found a job here (though hopefully we're moving in the right direction to make that happen). Still, France feels like home now. We celebrated yesterday by turning in all the necessary documents for my new carte de sejour, or my residence card. If everything goes well, I should be holding a card that will be good for ten years in my hot little hands in a few months.

Tomorrow, Sunday, marks the three year anniversary of Dispatches From France. I continue to marvel at how much having a blog has enriched my life - it gives me an outlet to describe what living here is like, while I've literally made friends from around the world. I want to sincerely thank all of you who stop by to take a peek into my world, whether it's your first time here or you've been visiting since the beginning. I feel like every comment left is a connection, whether you're down the street or on another continent. Thank goodness for the internet - the world would be a much lonelier place without it. Thanks for coming along on my journey, and I can't wait to see where the next three years take us!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

this one's for kyliemac

I guess it's fair to say that when you're learning a new language in a new country, it's natural to try to add some phrases to your vocabulary. I think the first French phrase I clung to was "n'importe quoi," which can be thrown out there like "Whatever!" Probably the the one I use the most frequently is adding on the word "quoi" (literally means "what") at the end of the sentence, which is the equivalent of the American overuse of the word "like," but like its American counterpart, should, like, be used, like, totally like sparingly.

My friend kyliemac often says that her favorite French phrase is "ferme ta boîte à camembert," which literally means "close your camembert box" (camembert being a tasty kind of French cheese), but really means "shut yer piehole" in kidspeak. Kylie hears this a lot because she is regularly in the presence of French kids, but as I am not, I had never heard this phrase in use before.

Well, before last night, that is. I was all comfy on the couch with Shrek (dubbed in French) playing on the tv but mostly paying attention to my knitting, when I heard it, and it happened so fast I nearly missed it, but no, there was L'âne (Donkey) telling Shrek to "ferme ta boîte à camembert et écoute-moi!" (Shut up and listen to me!) I got so excited because a) this normally would have gone right over my head and b) I finally heard kylie's favorite phrase! Yay!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

a recipe

Wow, I'm feeling 50% better than I was yesterday, and I'm quite surprised! I went to the pharmacy yesterday and said that I was afraid that I had le sinusite, or sinusitis, thanks to the mounting pressure in my face. He thought maybe I'd be better off seeing a doctor, but he gave me some over-the-counter allergy medicine and told me to see the doctor the next day if I didn't feel better. By 4:00 I asked Stéph to make an appointment for me because I was still feeling so lousy.

And then, miracle of miracles, I woke up this morning with both the cough and the sinus pressure gone! I'm still sniffly and stuffy, but well enough that I canceled the appointment and have officially downgraded myself to "cold" status. I'll be sticking to allergy medicine and rest today.

I'm also working on a new project that hopefully I'll be sharing with you in the next week or so. I'm still trying to get all my eggs in the same basket, but I can tell you that it will involve knitting and prizes!

And now, a very special recipe given to me by the ever gracious Frog with a Blog:

Salade italienne à la frog


5 slices of pain de mie (sandwich bread)
30 g butter
4 slices of bacon or lardons
1 roman lettuce (romaine)
100g gorgonzola
1 paquet de noix

dressing ingredients:

1 egg
1 dl olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 or 3 anchovies
1 tbsp moutarde de Dijon

1) Make the croûtons:

Take the slices of pain de mie, cut the edges to keep the white part only. Cut the white part into small squares. Put in pan with butter and olive oil until golden. Keep on the side on piece of sopalin (paper towel) to absorb the fat. Let them become a bit crusty and delicious.

2) Prepare the salad

Fry the bacon cut in small pieces or use lardons, when crispy and delicious put on sopalin to get rid of the fat. Cut the Roman lettuce roughly in pieces that are not too big. Mix, the bacon, lettuce, pieces of gorgonzola, walnuts and mix. Only add the croùtons right before serving otherwise they become all smooshy.

3) Magic dressing

Boil water, throw your egg in it. Let that egg boil for one minute. Not more! Then break the egg into a food processor and mix with the other ingredients until it becomes smooth and delicious. Taste and see if salt and pepper are needed, usually not as the anchovies are already salted.

My advice would be to prepare the croûtons and the bacon right before serving to make sure they are crispy and delicious. You may have understood that the crispiness and deliciousness of this salad are essential to the success of this recipe. ;-)

You can always warm your bacon and croûtons in the oven before serving in case they become all smooshy. 5 minutes, 175 degrees.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

all becomes clear

I understand why I've been so tired. I'm as sick as a dog.


Saturday, August 25, 2007


Thanks for your kind wishes in regards to my last post. I confess I'm thinking more about my poor grandmother, who has lost her sister.

As for me, I am utterly exhausted. The last few days have found us entertaining and being entertained day after day and I am just drained. Thursday we had guests not just for lunch, but for dinner as well. My sister-in-law had an interview at the high school here in our town, but as she doesn't drive, her mother brought her, as well as her daughter and our niece, who has been spending a week or two with her grandparents. Since her interview was at 11:00, they invited themselves over for lunch - actually, that sounds worse than it is, as we were happy to have them and it's been ages since we had any family over for lunch. "Oh, just do something simple," my belle mère said, but unfortunately, chips and a sandwich just won't do here in France. So our "simple" lunch consisted of deviled eggs and carrot salad, stuffed tomatoes and rice and a small ice cream cake for dessert.

As soon as they left, I was back in the kitchen preparing dinner for our next guests. By 6:30 I was in the car on the way to the train station to pick up kyliemac and her friend visiting from the States. Once back at home, we all dug into Frog's Very Special and Impressive Italian Salad (thank you so much for that, Frog dear!), a tartiflette (because the weather still felt like deepest autumn, so we might as well eat like it), and a pear clafoutis, made by yours truly. We ate and drank into the wee hours and rolled ourselves into bed.

In the morning, kylie, her friend and I piled in the car, picked up my niece in Troyes, and drove down to see Guédelon. This was my second time there (my flickr set is here) and it would have been Stéph's third if he hadn't begged off, but it was everyone else's first time there so I was happy to play bus conductor for them. Plus it really is in the middle of nowhere, and still two and half hours by car from Troyes. The weather was clear enough, still a bit cloudy but no rain, and it was unbelievably muddy, but a good time was had by all. We got back to Troyes in just enough time to have a quick walk around the old downtown before kylie and her friend got back on the train for Paris.

After all that driving I would have been happy to be a couch potato this weekend, but we were invited to YET ANOTHER barbecue today. Today the sun finally came out after nearly a month's absence, and it came back with a vengeance - it must have been in the mid-80s today. (For those of you sneering, "Oh poor you!" I hope you are enjoying your air conditioning!) After six hours of hiding from the sun and eating sausages, my friends, I do declare that I am DONE. Just stick a fork in me. I love entertaining, I love hanging out with my friends, but I feel like I could sleep for a week.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

sad news

I received the very sad news today that my Great Aunt Betty passed away this morning. I will always remember her for her cheerful disposition, her sense of humor and her outgoing personality. She had been fighting cancer for five years and she fought her battle with rare grace, never complaining, and she often said she knew she was living on borrowed time. Even after she was diagnosed, she kept as active as possible. Her favorite pastime was bridge, and she was a member of two clubs!

She will leave behind a legion of friends, for she was loved wherever she went, and of course her family. Wednesday night suppers at church won't be the same without her.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

in awe

Yesterday, I met up with Doc and her three kids.

The mission: find a baptism dress for her youngest.

The place: various outlet shopping centers in and around Troyes.

The outcome: positive! After circling one whole outlet center, lunch at MacDo, a drive across town to another outlet center and a quick stop for a feeding and a last minute look around, a dress was found.

How I felt after spending an afternoon with three children under the age of four: Utterly exhausted.

Seriously y'all, I don't know how she does it, nor why she isn't bat shit crazy. Those children are among the most beautiful I have ever seen, but they are a handful. (Please don't misunderstand me - they're not bad at all, just... all under the age of four.) Granted, I did do a sprint through the grocery before I came home, and since school starts in a couple of weeks, you can imagine how packed it was, but by the time I got home I felt like I'd just run a marathon twice. Backwards. Up a very large mountain.

Doc and I have a running joke that whenever one of the kids has a "moment," she turns to me and says, "Are you sure you want to go through this?" But she knows I do, and she's right. The rewards obviously outweigh the difficulties, but there are no two ways about it - raising kids is a tiring business. My hat's off to you, Ms. Doc!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back to reality

Obviously we've been back for a while. So what have we been up to? Well, for my part, I jumped right back into work and tried to catch up on some sleep. Stéph's been glued to his computer, playing his latest acquisition, Medieval Total War II, for hours on end.

I think I mentioned it before, but last Saturday we went to a barbecue in a village on the southwest side of Paris. The last time we had to drive to the southwest side of Paris (although that time we were actually going to the suburbs so much, much closer) we tried to take the major highways that circle Paris, got caught in Friday evening traffic and ended up being nearly two hours late. This time, we looked at the map and found a route going to the south and then the west, avoiding Paris traffic altogether. We probably added a half hour to the drive but there was absolutely no traffic and you would never know that our destination was only a half hour outside of Paris!

While we were driving, as we got closer to Paris I couldn't help window shopping for a town we could move to next year. Obviously, we will have very little choice as all will depend on where Stéph is assigned, but we enjoyed weighing the pros and cons of certain villages as we passed through. This one has a train station, that one is really beautiful, this one is not, etc. The truth is, Stéph could be placed anywhere in the region of Ile de France, and it's still so far away that it doesn't seem anywhere near real yet.

In addition to keeping on top of work, next week is going to be nice and busy, just how I like it. Monday I'm hopefully going to be meeting up with a friend for a bit of shopping, then we need to get the house in tip top shape as we're having some very special guests in at the end of the week. I'll be taking our guests on a very special adventure, but one I've been to before. Can you guess where? In between all that we're hoping to visit some friends and family. Only two weeks left before school starts back up again so the last minute get-togethers are starting to be planned. And it's at this time of year that I'm just about ready for Stéph to go back to work. I love him dearly but I'm just about ready for some me time!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Loire Valley

(I'm sorry these posts are so ridiculously long, but I can't figure out how to do extended posts with this new template. We'll be back to more reasonably sized posts after this.)

Day 7: le 4 août, samedi


We reckon that we spent upwards of 15 hours at Puy du Fou, so no wonder we slept in late. We decided to skip breakfast and hit the road.

Just before noon, we decided to stop in the town of Saumur to grab a bite to eat. Saumur is a great town I'd love to spend more time in. Plus, we happened to get there while an open air market was in progress and we randomly passed a British couple selling books in English. I picked up two novels for 10€ before we stumbled into a bar offering sandwiches. Pretty good sandwiches, too, and you can't beat the price.

The temperature was rising as we drove a couple more hours to the town of Amboise. Thanks to its proximity to the famous Châteaux de la Loire, Amboise is pretty crowded with tourists. We arrived at 3:00 and made finding a hotel our first priority. The first hotel we stopped at featured a large terrace and we waited several minutes at the counter for someone to wait on us, until a waiter told us that we'd have to wait until after 4:00 if we were interested in a room. Fine with us, we decided to take our business elsewhere. The next place we tried was a winner. I'm sorry I don't remember the name; it was either Hôtel de la France or Hôtel Français. In either case, we scooped up the last room, complete with a full bathroom, at only 45€. We paid in advance and added in breakfast for the next morning as well. The owner even was kind enough to warn us that the bar below our room was having a rock n roll band that night, but said they should be finished at 11:00. We were so happy to find a room so easily that we didn't mind.

Once the room was taken care of, we paused for a cool drink on a terrace right in front of the Office of Tourism (carefully avoiding the one with bad customer service). Thinking that it might not be a bad idea to check out the hours of the châteaux we were interested in seeing, we popped in to the Office of Tourism, where we learned that we could buy tickets to the three closest attractions, all of which we wanted to visit, at a discounted price. Plus, we wouldn't have to wait in line to buy tickets when we arrived. Bonus! This is a great tip for tourists - always check out the Office of Tourism when you arrive in town - any town!

Since it was only 4:00 by now, we decided to check out the first attraction, the Château Royal d'Amboise.

Chateau Royal d'Amboise

This 15th/16th century castle was the first French castle built in the Renaissance style. Inside the castle, there is a short tour of some of the rooms, including some interesting furniture and paintings. But what really drew me to this château is the fact that it is Leonardo Da Vinci's final resting place.

I had read Letters to Leonardo: A Novel, which is centered on the last three years of Leonardo's life, which he spent here in Amboise, only a few months before, so the stories of his friendship with King François I and his last inventions were fresh in my mind. The following day we would visit his house, Clos Lucé.

After our visit, we parked the car closer to the hotel and brought up our bags and had a rest. Stéph had a nap while I watched the Daily Show Global Edition (yay Jon Stewart!). We roused ourselves when the weather seemed to cool down a bit and we had a little stroll through Amboise. Like I said, it's crowded with tourists and filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, so we settled on a little pizzeria just in front of the Château. Afterwards, we grabbed a couple of ice cream cones and walked along the Loire as the sun went down.

The Loire

As we crashed in our room, we were lulled to sleep by the rock n roll band below us playing such classic French tunes as Mustang Sally, I Feel Good and Sweet Home Alabama. Actually they weren't half bad, and they did stop at the reasonable hour of 11:30.

Day 8: le 5 août, dimanche

Breakfast in the hotel consisted of one croissant and one half of a small baguette each, with jam and butter, plus yogurt and all the juice, coffee and tea you could drink. We were stuffed afterwards.

Our first stop for the day was the Clos Lucé, where Leonardo spent his last three years as the guest of King François I.

Clos Lucé

Inside, you can see Leonardo's bedroom and study, the chapel that (if I remember well) Leonardo's apprentices painted, and the kitchen. What I didn't know is that the house was used by the royal family through the 18th century, and features some rooms decorated from that period. The basement also has a really cool exhibit of some of Leonardo's inventions, many of which are very surprising and before their time.

Outside is the huge Parc Leonardo da Vinci, a wonderful walk, mostly shaded by trees, with exhibits scattered throughout where you can pause and hear the words of Leonardo spoken in four or five different languages, plus interactive exhibits to understand better Leonardo's inventions. It would be very easy to spend a good chunk of the day here, with loads of things to see and picnic areas and playgrounds for kids. I don't think we saw half of them. But, we still had other places to visit so we decided to move on.

Our next visit was the famous château of Chenonceau, where we were delighted to pass the long line for buying tickets and marched right through the gate. We thought that arriving at noon would save us from the crowds, but boy were we wrong. After a quick run through the small labyrinth (I won, woo!), we made our way up to the castle.


Chenonceau is probably the most popular château in the Loire Valley for good reason - the place is gorgeous! Unfortunately, the château was SO crowded that it really sucked the joy out of being there. Every room, beautifully decorated with interesting objects, was so full of people that you could barely see anything, and my first instinct was to run the hell away. We took a breather in the long gallery where we discovered that we could escape the crowds and sneak out on the other side of the river, where I caught this:

Click on the photo to go to the flickr page, and check it out in large. Seriously, I surprised myself with this one!

Another happy surprise was the art exhibit on the second level gallery, featuring the Alice in Wonderland series of paintings by Pat Andrea. We both enjoyed that very much, and if you're interested in contemporary art, it's worth the visit.

Disappointed by the crowds, we left sort of quickly. Chenonceau is absolutely gorgeous and well worth the visit, but I hope someday I'll be able to return in the off-season when it's not so crowded so I can really give the place a good once-over.

Continuing east, we stopped in the town of Blois a couple of hours later. By now the heat was really getting to us. We ate some really bad pasta - at least it was super cheap - and contemplated looking for a hotel, but after walking around for a while looking for the Office of Tourism, our brains kind of melted and we decided to continue on. It seemed there were several interesting sights in Blois, including another château and an interesting pedestrian area, so that might be a place I'd be interested in visiting in the future.

We ended up in Orléans. Just as we exited the autoroute, we were surrounded by large chain hotels, so we decided to try here instead of marching around downtown in search of a hotel. We randomly chose the B&B hotel, where we were able to take a room at the automated kiosk outside. The kiosk spits out a code for opening the door, where we were overjoyed to find an air conditioning unit. We spent a couple of hours just enjoying the cool.

In the evening, we headed into Orléans proper, with the aim of walking around a little and finding a place to eat. We stopped at a little Cuban themed bar where we had a mojito (not the best I've ever had), and continued on in the pedestrian area of town, stuffed with bars and restaurants. Most of the places seemed to have an international feel - I remember a Spanish place, a Florida bar, loads of Indian and Pakistani places. We finally chose an Indian restaurant called the Taj Mahal where we had, hands down, the best meal of the whole vacation. Since neither of us are familiar with Indian food, we took the menu "dégustation," which is a tasting menu with lots of different dishes. For only 26€ plus drinks, we gorged ourselves on curry, tandoori chicken, fried eggplant, naan and other delights. Seriously, we waddled away from there. The service was wonderful and I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Orléans.

By now, we were suffering from full on vacation fatigue. I managed to snap one photo to prove that we were actually in Orléans before we went back to the air conditioned comfort of our room.


Day 9: le 6 août, lundi

We woke up to rain. It's time to go home.

We stopped in the town of Montargis, which was DEAD. Seriously, it seemed like the whole town was gone on vacation. It was kind of creepy. We finally found a crèperie that was open and enjoyed a final restaurant meal before heading home, which we reached by early afternoon.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lions and tigers and horses - oh my!

Whoops! Sorry about the interruption. I got a little carried away with work and then yesterday we drove to the south side of Paris for a barbecue with some of our DAoC friends (nerds unite!). I can tell that it's getting to be the end of summer, because I'll be happy if I don't see a grilled piece of meat for a long, long time. Anyway, back to the big vacation...

Day 5: le 2 août, jeudi

Everything about our stay in Etretat was great except one thing - being woken at the ungodly vacation hour of 6 am by seagulls. Ugh.

After a quick breakfast in the café on the square of the Mairie, we hit the road going south, over the enormous bridge at Port de Normandie (I wish we had stopped to take a photo - that bridge is insane! And there is a lane where psycho crazy people can walk or bike over it. I was nauseous just riding in the car over that thing!) for a 5 1/2 hour drive, stopping at a grande surface grocery store to pick up a few lunchy things and then at a rest stop to eat them along the way. Our ultimate destination was Puy du Fou, and we were spending the night in the town of Cholet, about a half hour's drive away.

When I booked the tickets for Puy du Fou online a couple of weeks before we left, I tried to book us a room at one of the super cheap hotels in the area, but because we would be there on a Friday (more about why we timed our visit for a Friday later), the super cheapies were already booked, so we ended up taking a room for two nights at the Grande Hôtel de la Poste for more money than we would usually spend for a hotel. For a two star hotel, it has a few good things going for it, including a private parking garage (which is not free but worth the convenience), an elevator and an enclosed patio. On the other hand, the restaurant was closed for renovations and the hotel itself was pretty banged up and worse for wear, but I didn't count this against them since I learned that the hotel itself would be closing for renovations in the middle of September. When we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, we rested for a few hours with Stéph taking a nap and me resting my ears with a good dose of BBC World.

Cholet itself doesn't have much to recommend it. Apparently this town is known for the production of enormous handkerchiefs, but you wouldn't know it unless you visited the Office of Tourism. After walking around the town a bit, we settled on dining at the Brasserie Grand Café, resigning ourselves to a simple dinner but finding ourselves pleasantly surprised that the "little" brasserie was an enormous restaurant with dining on two levels and two private rooms. We stuffed ourselves silly on Tartiflette for him (not exactly the season for Tartiflette but it's his favorite and if it's not too hot he'll eat it all the same) and an amazing array of pasta dishes for me, with local wine and dessert. If you're ever passing through, you won't go wrong to check this place out. It's a little touristy, but the food is worth it.

Day 6: le 3 août, vendredi

Up early and out the door - this is the day we've been waiting for! Puy du Fou!

Once we get there at opening time, it seems everyone in the region has chosen today to arrive and we have to park very far away, with the caravans. In truth, it's only a ten minute walk from the gate, but it felt like we were being sent to the other side of the world.

Puy du Fou is a theme park, but not with rides or games. The attraction of Puy du Fou is the amazing shows it puts on around a number of different themes. The production values of the shows are really very high - I was absolutely blown away by the size alone of the stage of the "Musketeers" show - prancing horses! acrobatics! special effects! There are five main shows and eight smaller scaled shows and it really takes two days if you want to see everything. Since we had one day, we concentrated on seeing the five major shows and caught one or two little ones in passing. The main shows can hold an incredible number of people - witness the seating for the Gladiator show:

Puy du Fou
yep, it's like that all the way around

so the real trick is not getting bogged down by following the crowds around all day. The schedule for each day is different and available just as you walk in the gate, so once we realized that crowd was sucking the fun out of the day, we looked at the schedule again, ate lunch a little early and pretty much did our own thing, which went a long way in making the day a nice one. In addition to the Gladiator and Musketeer shows, there are Vikings,

Puy du Fou


Puy du Fou

and a really cool bird show that I didn't take pictures of because I couldn't pick my jaw up off the floor after dodging falcons, eagles, and larger birds of prey flying just over our heads.

As if that wasn't enough, Puy du Fou also puts on a huge nighttime show on Friday and Saturday evenings through the summer called Cinéscénie. It claims to be the biggest nighttime show in the world, and I can believe it. With over 1100 volunteers, laser-light effects and huge fireworks on a stage that could easily be as big as four or five football fields put together, the show is worth the extra money. Don't bother trying to follow the thread of the story, as it's all allegory and simply a thin disguise to link together some of the major events of French history that are represented, whether in simple vignettes or with tightly organized choreography. Just enjoy the impressive scenery and the costumes and the "actors" - from grandparents to toddlers - and don't forget to look around, for there's action taking place as far as the eye can see.

Overall, we enjoyed our (very, very long) day at Puy du Fou, but it's not a place either of us are in a hurry to go back to, as once you've seen it, you're good for a nice, long while. That being said, new areas are being added on to the park every year and I think it will be a great place to visit with our own family maybe ten years down the road.

Next post: the Loire Valley