Saturday, April 28, 2007

dancin' in the streets

We picked up my new computer Thursday, complete with shiny new flat screen monitor (woo Vivi joins the 21st century!) and a French AZERTY keyboard, which I'm still getting used to, but I know for sure where the backspace key is (heh). After a few fits and starts - the cable that connects our two computers chose the perfect time to short out, leaving us in a panic until we realized what the problem was, and you can hardly blame us when we've had so many computer problems in the past to jump to the worst conclusion in the beginning - we're both back up and running again and I'm slowly but surely adding on my favorite sites and widgets and programs.

Tomorrow our town is holding a foire commerciale, or commerical fair. If it's anything like last year, the long main street that runs through the town will be covered with tents and merchants offering everything from food to clothes to furniture. We're (finally!) supposed to get some rain tonight, which will hopefully cool us off and stick around for a few days, but if it's not too bad we'll go have a look-see. It seems that the town officials are preparing for the fair by testing the speakers that are hooked up all along the main road. As I walked around the corner to our usual boulangerie, I was treated to salsa music blasting out of the speakers. It was everything I could do not to shake my money maker as I made my way down the street - that music is crazy addictive!

On a last note - I was going to post this myself, but I haven't got all of my programs and thingies installed yet so I'm going to link to it instead - I saw this yesterday and had a good giggle over it. If you're in France or keeping up with French politics, check this out!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Steph has had in mind a particular French landmark as a place to bring his students on a field trip for a while now, so while we've got some time on our hands and the weather's been so gorgeous, Steph, his mother and I hopped in the car yesterday and drove for two hours to the Bourgogne region to check it out.

Guédelon - the chateau

Guédelon is the site of a medieval castle in the midst of being built. Not renovated - built from scratch. Masterminded by the archaeologist and castle renovator Michel Guyot, the castle of Guédelon broke ground in 1997 and is projected to continue for another twenty years before it is finished. The workers are using techniques used in the thirteenth century (or as close as can be determined) and are supported by artisans such as...

the blacksmiths
Guédelon - the forge

the carpenters
Guédelon - the carpenters

the rope makers
Guédelon - the cordonnerie

and those you wouldn't think of as being integral but certainly are, including the potters
Guédelon - the potter

the basket makers
Guédelon - the basket weaver

and the weavers
Guédelon - the village

and you better believe I got all excited about all the yarn lying around that cottage! The weaver came out and did a demonstration of carding and spinning wool by hand and inside there were dyed skeins hung to dry. It was all I could do not to snatch one, so I contented myself with snatching photos instead.

In any case, it is truly a fascinating place! I can't wait to go back in ten years and even twenty years to see how everything has changed!

More photos can be seen in my flickr set "Guédelon 2007".

Saturday, April 21, 2007

have you read these?

Ah, books, how I do love you. Kinuk posted this meme today and I figured that I haven't done a meme in a good long while, and why not on one of my favorite subjects? I will follow her example and not tag anyone in particular, so you are welcome to do it at your leisure.

bold - I've read it
italicized - I'd like to read it
Normal - have no desire/never heard of it (but I'll willingly listen to recommendations!)

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King) [never finished it, long story here]
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel) [I'd like to read this series again]
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. The Bible [I've tried to read it through more times than I can count!]
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) [I think this is the only Dickens I haven't read]
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) [Thanks to Doc! ;)]
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Friday, April 20, 2007

one down, one to go

The first week of Spring Break is almost over, and we've spent it like we usually spend the first week of vacation - resting. That's to say, Steph has been resting; not much has changed for me.

Monday, Steph finally went to the doctor for his coughing and was burdened with three different medicines. Pretty powerful ones, I might add. All was well until Steph started hiccuping at bedtime. He did his usual remedy for hiccups, which is to squeeze lemon juice on a sugar cube and suck on it. I don't know how it works, but it does for him.

On Tuesday, we went to a friend's for lunch and spent most of the day there. It was one of those wonderful lazy afternoons where you start chatting as soon as you arrive and you don't quite make it to the dinner table until 3:00 and at 7:00 you're wondering where the day went. I have to admit, however, that seven hours of French non-stop has me seeing stars at the end, but I digress: everything was fine until Steph started hiccuping again. And again. And again. I lost count of how many times he succumbed to a fit of hiccups, but they seemed to start up again about every hour or so. Finally, after we'd come home and were getting ready to bed, I wondered out loud if it was possible that the medicine was causing them? We grabbed each medicine's info sheets and there it was, plain as day. The next morning, Steph called the doctor, who told him to stop taking the offending pills, even though he only had one more day left on it, and warned him that the hiccups could last a couple more days before they disappeared. Poor man, I know how I feel after an hour of hiccups; I can't imagine how he's feeling after three days of them.

Wednesday was also Running Errands That We've Put Off Until Spring Break day. We left for Troyes first thing in the morning, had lunch with the in-laws, ran some more errands and came home beat. The best errand was for me - we ordered my new computer, which will be ready sometime next week. My birthday's coming a month early this year, woohoo!

Otherwise, it's been lovely and quiet. I've been knitting as usual, and have posted about what I'm working on here. The weather has cooled off a little to normal Spring-like temps, inviting us outside more and more, so we'll be taking some walks and going out to do a little sightseeing next week. Plus, Sunday is the first round of the Presidential Election. I'll have more for you on that next time.

Monday, April 16, 2007

on the town

Saturday we drove to Troyes to meet some friends for dinner. The place in front of the Mairie is a popular meeting spot in Troyes, so we weren't alone, hanging out on the low wall that sits just in front of the town hall. Despite the fact that we left later than we wanted, we still managed to be first, as usual, but the evening was clear and cooling as the sun went down, albeit a bit muggy and humid. Soon, everyone arrived from different directions and the ten of us ambled through the old downtown.

Our restaurant was one we've gone to as a group before, offering many different salads and lighter fare for summer and warm cheesy goodness in the form of tartelette, raclette and fondue in the winter. Since we were placed in the upstairs room, which was quite warm despite all the windows being thrown open, most of us opted for salads, but four brave souls went for a beef fondue, which is when a boiling hot pot of oil is placed on the table and diners take turns cooking their beef by poking them with fondue sticks and dunking them into the oil. Lovely in winter, questionable in warmer temps.

We had a lovely time at our end of the table, with Steph talking shop with his fellow teachers (once again I was the only one at the table who wasn't a teacher!) and politics. I very much enjoyed my salad, which consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, toasted chèvre on toast and thinly sliced ham, which was just enough for me. And then, just when the fondue was being delivered to the Fondue Four, Steph, who had just devoured his own salad brimming with seafood, looked at me and basically said, "hey watch this" and turned to the waiter. "Excuse me," he said, "my salad was very good as an appetizer, but is it possible to also have some fondue?" Well, it seems someone's got their appetite back!

It was rather a long dinner, last minute fondues notwithstanding, mostly because our waiter tended to forget we were there for long periods of time. At one point, someone even offered to call the restaurant from their cellphone to request a server to take our dessert orders. Oh well, at least the company was good.

We stumbled out at midnight, and four of us went in search of a nightcap. We ended up at one of our old haunts, The Middle Age, which seems to have fallen a bit in popularity as of late. It certainly wasn't crowded but the music was so loud that I couldn't hear the conversation, but I had my kreik (woo yummy cherry flavored beer!) and I amused myself by watching the dj, a middle aged thin man of northern African descent who entertained us with Kool and the Gang's greatest (and least) hits.

An hour later, as we made our way back to the car, Steph said, "This doesn't feel like April at all. It feels exactly like the end of August." I knew exactly what he meant - it wasn't stifling hot, but still warm at 1:00 am, and still humid and muggy. I know it's been raining just to the south of us off and on for the last week or so, but none of that rain has made it up our way. I surely hope we get a reprieve before summer sets in for good.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

spring break!

Woohoo! Steph just started his two week Spring Break. We do have quite a few plans for the break, but most of them involve more Spring Cleaning than anything else. We're going to check out the damage in the cellar - not structural damage but damage to the stuff we're stored down there. It's wicked humid down there, which shouldn't come as a surprise since there is a river at the end of our lane. After we discover what's salvageable, we'll head upstairs and give our office a good going-through. There are literally piles of crap in every corner and it's time to go through them.

But we do have some fun things planned, including visiting some friends we haven't seen for a while, a little sightseeing and maybe even throwing a little money around - I'm getting my birthday present early this year, in the form of a new computer! With a new flat screen monitor! With a French operating system and a new French keyboard! I must be out of my mind!

No, I'm only kidding. Truth be told, it just makes sense, since English keyboards are missing French accents, but I can type in English on a French keyboard. It just takes a little time to get used to keys being in the wrong place (heh).

Meanwhile, the weather continues to be gorgeous. The heat is now officially off for the year and windows have been thrown open. I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can now, because I know in a couple of months that I'm going to miserable when the summer heat settles in. We've been talking about taking another camping trip this summer. I think I'll request the mountains. At the end of July. That sounds like a plan. Or maybe it's time to visit the North Pole. Well, that's what I'll be dreaming of when it's 85 degrees in my house.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

spring has sprung

Yes, Spring is officially here. The excellent weather has continued and it has warmed up enough to open a few windows and turn off the heat upstairs. Of course, with Spring comes allergies and I'm surprised to find myself perfectly fine - for years in South Carolina the pollen bothered me so much that I had to take allergy medicine every day of the year. Unfortunately, it's gotten to Steph, or so we think. He's been miserable for weeks now and it finally caught up with him this morning, as he didn't have the courage to go to work, which is saying quite a lot, since I've seen him soldier on through fevers and other less than pleasant maladies. Instead of suffering through a couple of hours of waiting to see the doctor (he couldn't get an appointment for this morning and the doctor sees patients 'first come first served' in the afternoons), he took an appointment for Monday and will suffer through the last two days of the week before Spring Break starts this weekend. This is the same guy who once said, "If I go to the doctor, he'll tell me something's wrong!" which I find is a typical male response (what is up with that?), but I hate seeing him suffer. All I can do is try not to kill him when he snores at twice the normal volume as usual at night.

Meanwhile, we finally figured out that our clothes dryer is not, in fact, broken, but the electrical socket it was connected to probably is. The socket in question is built into the bathroom vanity and probably wasn't meant to handle such high powered equipment, but why it worked for over a year and finally gave up the ghost is anyone's guess. We managed to come up with a surge protector that wasn't in use and plugged both the washer and dryer into it, and voila! we're back in business! I never thought I'd say that three hours for washing and drying a load of clothes was fast, but it sure did seem that way this morning, after months of waiting twenty-four hours for clothes to air-dry in the hallway. And our clothes are soft again! Not to mention the towels or the bedsheets...

Otherwise, things are rolling along. I received my new knitting accessories last week and have been knitting away and enjoying this gorgeous weather. It's so nice to have sunlight streaming through the windows after months and months of gray. I hope you've got similar Spring weather wherever you are!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

sights for sore eyes

Friday afternoon I jumped on a train and headed east. Somewhere on the same train were my friend Christy and her mother, on their way to spend Easter weekend with Doc. I hadn't planned to see them until the next morning with Steph, but thanks to a scheduling conflict, I came alone a day early with Steph planning to meet up with us the next day. It was perfect timing - Doc and Christy were saying hello on the platform and Doc had just enough time to ask, "So, did you find your surprise on the train?" before I appeared and said, "'Sup?" Hilarity ensued.

Thus reunited, the four of us - joined the next morning by sweet Sarah (who is heading back home to Scotland after finishing her term as a teaching assistant this weekend and will be sorely missed!) embarked on two days of sightseeing.

We couldn't have ordered better weather - perfect blue skies, comfortable breezes in the low 70's - for exploring ancient ruins or wandering through narrow lanes in medieval fortified cities. Here's a brief synopsis of what we saw:

la porte champagne

The Château de Lafauche in Haute-Marne dates from the 10th century. There isn't much left but a few walls here and there, but it has been in various stages of restoration through the years and also boasts a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside.

Our next stop was the village of Vignory, which also boasts a crumbling tower on a hill, its fortifications and a medieval garden. It is also home to this church:

Church of Saint Etienne

Doc tells me that this church dedicated to Saint Etienne is the oldest church in France still in use.

At this point, we retired to Doc's home, where we ate the most delicious fondue I have ever eaten in my life and hope to try to replicate next year, and we hit the hay for an early start on Saturday.

We headed south to Cote d'Or in the Borgogne region. Our first stop was the Abbaye de Fontenay.

chapter room

This abbey dates back 900 years and is in remarkable shape thanks to the family that now owns it and the UNESCO grant it received in 1981. You can read about its interesting history here.

After a rejuvenating lunch in the town of Montbard, we headed to our second destination.


Flavigny-sur-Ozerain is well known for two things: yummy aniseed candies (I bought a beautiful wooden box for Steph that contained three tins of different flavored aniseed candies) and for being the location of the movie Chocolat. I have to admit that by the time we had the list of locations of the movie, Doc, Sarah and I could only contemplate searching out a cool drink at the local watering hole, but Christy and Mrs G went to hunt them up, so they may have some photos to show you sometime in the future.

Filled to the brim with beautiful sights, we headed home, pizzas in hand, to meet up with Steph and Marc, who were holding down the fort. After an evening of dinner and conversation, Steph and I headed home.

Even as I type, Christy and her mother are probably hanging out at Charles de Gaulle airport, getting ready to head home. It was so great to see y'all, and fun to discover these places with you! Have a safe trip home and I can't wait to see the rest of the photos of your adventures from this side of the ocean!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!

Well hello there! I hope you all are having a wonderful Easter with more chocolate eggs than you know what to do with! I was going to show you a picture of the chocolate Barbapapa that Steph surprised me with yesterday, but the batteries in my camera died and you wouldn't expect me to wait until they recharged before nibbling on chocolate, would you? I didn't think so. Steph will get his traditional chocolate bunny tomorrow when we go to his parents' for lunch.

The last two days have been filled with traveling and sightseeing and visiting with friends from waaaaay out of town. I've got tons of photos to upload but today is more for catching up in the blog universe and slinging around knitting needles. I should have some photo goodness up for you tomorrow afternoon sometime. Until then, have a nice holiday!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

on names

Last Friday morning there was a flurry of activity at my front door. First was the arrival of two boxes of photographs I'd sent myself from the States, in somewhat battered condition but happily intact. I had just settled myself back on the sofa with a book when there was another knock on the door.

There stood a young lady from the post office with an armful of boxes - manna from heaven! She verified my name and handed over the goodies: my belated Christmas gifts from my sister - some address follies with Amazon had kept them going to the wrong address - as well as Season 5 of The West Wing and a couple of knitting notions. I was just about to say goodbye when she mentioned that there had been some confusion because there was a family with the same last name only one street over, at the same number, who have presumably been living in our small town for quite a while. It was only when she double-checked the street name that she came to the right place. I exclaimed that this certainly was a funny coincidence and wished her a nice day.

It's kind of odd for me to have a last name now that, while not as common as our Smiths and Joneses, is common enough for there to be people in the area that we're not related to. My maiden name is so unique in America that I've never heard of any American with the same last name that I'm not related to - and believe me, we've tried. Of course, when I moved here, I had no idea how common my new name was and would jump anytime I saw the name in the credits of a television program, asking Steph if we were related. He eventually explained where the name comes from - not a town (like my maiden name) or a person, but it is derived from a word used to describe those who were in service to the king, centuries ago. It's easy to see how there could be many of these descendants today.

I love learning about family history, both my own and the family I married into. How about you? Do you know where your name comes from?

Monday, April 02, 2007

the fruits of our labor

the fruits of our labor
Originally uploaded by vivi en france.
It was getting on 4:00pm Saturday and Steph was very busy killing giant trolls or dragons or some such with his guild in DAoC and I was tapping my feet. Making sauce takes about four hours from start to finish, and while I take care of the three hours of stirring the pot every fifteen minutes, we always do the prep work together. Finally, Steph said he'd rather do the sauce the next day, as he was having too much fun bashing in the heads of elves or whatever to make sauce. Eh, what the heck, it's his birthday after all. Luckily, marriage has mellowed me - it wasn't that long ago that I would have freaked out at the thought of changing our plan, for The Plan shall not be changed!

[Full disclosure: I have been known to accompany Steph on his quests to kill mythical creatures, lest you think I look down my nose at these things.]

So Sunday we set to work and had a delicious spaghetti dinner last night. I must say that this is the best sauce we've made yet. It's funny when you think about it, how recipes can change from generation to generation. My sauce tastes completely different from my granmother's sauce, which is as far back in the lineage as my experience goes. She isn't Italian but learned to cook Italian from my grandfather, who was a first-generation American, who learned how to make this sauce from his mother, who was born in Italy. So my grandmother's sauce has a totally different taste - she adds a bit of sugar to cut the acid of the tomatoes and her sauce tends to run clear. My parents tinkered with this recipe their whole married life. I remember various incarnations of it, some of which were thinner sauces like Grandma's and others were as thick as mine. Sometimes he added so much pork and sausage that we'd have to skim the surface of the sauce while it was still cooking.

Of course, from necessity, my sauce is a little different from Dad's, but only because I have to substitute a few things. It still tastes close enough to Dad's recipe that I can close my eyes and imagine myself in all stages of childhood, the fragrance of sauce permeating every home in which we lived, asking Dad if I could stir the sauce next time so I could have a taste, and practically starving ourselves all day so we would be ready for the feast at dinnertime, consisting of bowls of salad with Italian dressing, plates piled with spaghetti and meatballs with parmesan cheese and Italian bread with garlic butter fresh from the oven.

I know now that every time I make this sauce I will automatically think of my parents. It may seem like a strange touchstone, but I will treasure those memories every time I gather these ingredients in preparation. I look forward to sharing this recipe with my children and one day seeing what changes they make to it, from one generation to the next.