Saturday, July 28, 2007

preperations for a real, honest-to-god vacation

To Do Today

* go to the grocery store
* finish up laundry
* finish and send last assignment
* gather and put together: camera, camera charger, books, knitting, bedding, fishing equipment, pétanque balls, other games
* pack clothes
* prep toiletries
* check and double check and re-check list
* tidy up the kitchen and the rest of the house
* put out the garbage in the morning

O Benevolent Vacation Gods, Please Do Not Let Us Forget:

* the cooler with food for a picnic tomorrow
* the Puy du Fou tickets
* Harry Potter
* the camera or the battery charger
* my wallet (yeah, I am that nutty)
* my toothbrush

We're taking off tomorrow morning and I cannot wait! While we're gone, we'll be celebrating our third wedding anniversary. Yay, us! See you all in August!

Friday, July 27, 2007

eight annoying things about me

When Aimee at PutYourFlareOn tagged me for this meme, I thought, "Only eight? Ha!"

1. I'm a procrastinator. Proof: I told Aimee I'd do this two days ago. Hm. Curiously, I'm not a procrastinator when it comes to work. Somehow, I'm able to seperate that from the rest of my life.

2. I don't keep the house as clean as I should. I know that if I just clean a little every day, I wouldn't have to do the big marathon cleaning sessions, but... meh, see number 1.

3. It takes me forever to fall asleep, and I usually flop around like a fish out of water until I do. This drives Stéph crazy, but we've worked out a routine where if he reads for a while until I fall asleep, everyone is happy.

4. I'm very sensitive to noise and light when I'm trying to fall asleep. We've worked out the light issue by getting Stéph a little book light, but I'm super sensitive to noise, and sometimes I have to close the bedroom door because I can hear the clock ticking downstairs. As a guest in other people's homes, I've been known to remove the battery from clocks. I always replace them and fix the time first thing in the morning.

5. I'm still smoking. A lot of people are annoyed by this.

6. Sometimes, I don't finish things that I start.



OK, that was mostly done to be funny, but this meme is harder than I thought! If you'd like to try this practice in humility, please steal this meme and let me know in the comments that you've done it. If you don't have a blog, faites comme chez vous, or make yourself at home and type up your list in the comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

the one you've all been waiting for

As I was setting up the new blog template a few weeks ago, I was skimming through the archives, looking for examples of posts I'd written in my first year here, because I noticed that I was getting a lot of hits from search engines from people interested in specific details of living in France, so I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to put them on the main page. Reading back through my posts from that time, I thought, "Now, this is a blog I would read!" The posts I write now? Not so much.

I don't know what happened. It was either because after living here for two or three years, the newness sort of wore off or because I forgot to be on the lookout for interesting things that happen that I could share with you. Or I just got lazy. That's the most likely. I didn't used to be so afraid to share my thoughts here. That was the whole point of having an "anonymous" blog, so why wasn't I taking advantage of it? Granted, I do have a lot of friends and family who read all this, but I probably wouldn't be interested in posting something here that I couldn't tell them anyway.

I'm not really sure why I didn't want to write about what our big upcoming plans are. I suppose I was afraid of laying out all my cards. Also, there's the feeling that if I write about what I want to happen in the future, if it doesn't come to pass, then everyone knows of my failure. But I realized that this isn't true for two reasons - this is supposed to be a journal, right? Albeit, one that I let the whole world thousands hundreds tens of people read. But isn't that what a journal is for? To document what I want and what I'm feeling right now, so I can come back later and see what's changed? The other reason is, I don't really feel like "failure" is applicable in this case. Needs change, wants change, and if this plan we're hatching doesn't work out, then I'm sure whatever does happen will turn out to be for the best.

Therefore, I'm ready to lay it all out on the line. Are you ready? *deep breath*

I don't think it's a secret that not working for the past three years has been very difficult for me. I very foolishly believed that I would arrive in France and be gainfully employed within six months. (Yes, I know, I can hear you all laughing from here.) Once I realized that teaching English wasn't for me, I set out to find work that I actually have experience in, but after a year of being sent on interviews by Assedic (the French unemployment office) with no luck, I was at an absolute loss for what to do. My French was slowly improving, Stéph and I are speaking French more and more at home, but sitting at home and wringing my hands has taken a real toll on me. Luckily, we've been ok living on Stéph's salary, but not in the manner that either of us are accustomed to. We both enjoy going out and indulging in our reading habits and going on vacation, but we haven't been able to do this as much as we'd like. Plus, I need to get out of the house! I need to be social, both for improving my French and for my mental health.

I think you may remember that we seriously considered moving back to the States last year, but we both agreed that it would be too great of a risk for us. And I don't want to give the impression that I'm unhappy living in France - I'm certainly not. I very much enjoy the lifestyle, I love my in-laws, and I've made wonderful friends here, not to mention that I love Stéph's friends as well. It's not the country that needs changing, but maybe our way of thinking. And maybe the location.

At the beginning of this year, Stéph and I had a real heart to heart. We really needed to start thinking outside the box (I hate this phrase but in this case, it fits) about changing our situation so that both of us could be satisfied. We decided that moving to a larger city would probably give me a better opportunity of finding work, not to mention a wider range of things to do for getting out of the house (because seriously? In our town? We have two bars and a few brasseries and That Is All). But where to go? So we let the question settle for a little while until we finally came up with the answer: Paris.

Paris is the closest large town to us (and I should clarify - we were always talking about moving to a major city, or else we could have just moved back to Troyes), so we would only be a couple of hours away from our family. Plus, there are a lot of international businesses there, and hopefully I can find some work in one of them. So, it was decided. but Stéph has to request a region change, and we'd missed the deadline by the time we had decided, so we'll need to wait another year before we can move. For now, the plan is for Stéph to make the request this year, and we'll know next June where he's been assigned. Talk about a gamble - but it's one that we're willing to take.

Two things I should clarify, however. First - yes, I already have a job. I am thrilled to be working, even if it is from home. I realize that this is the dream job of a whole lot of people. But I still need to get out of the damn house. If nothing else, this job will tide me over, and may even save us if I don't find a job. We've decided that the move is still a good one for us, even if I continue to work from home.

The other thing is - we're moving closer to Paris, not to Paris. We're just not city people, Stéph and I. Not to mention that we simply couldn't afford it! Anything close enough that we can comfortably consider "commuting range" will work for us, and I actually love the idea of commuting into Paris and having a quiet home to return to. As we won't know where Stéph will be assigned until this time next year, there's no point in shopping for a new home just yet. That'll certainly make things interesting.

So there it is, the big secret. The funny thing is, we both know that a lot of people would love to get out of Paris, and here we go trying to move in! In any case, we feel like we're doing the right thing for us, and a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. Now we'll just have to wait a year and see if it actually comes to pass.

PS: I don't know why my expandable posts don't work anymore. Sorry for the massively long post.

Monday, July 23, 2007

what might have been

I was flipping around Craigslist this morning and saw an ad looking for a "chubby" Anglophone actress in her 30's for a short film shoot in Paris. Too bad my most recent headshots were done in 1996. I might have thrown my hat in the ring.

It's going to be a quiet week here in the country, gearing up for our vacation at the end of the week, which I'm very excited about. My in-laws rent a gite, or furnished apartment in a country setting, every year in the département of Pas-de-Calais, where they grew up. We'll go spend a few quiet days with them, visiting family, walking on the beach and Stéph will probably get some fishing in with his Dad while we wimmins go shopping. Then we're going to work our way down to Puy du Fou, a huge French theme park with a ginormous night show. Then we'll work our way home, probably stopping to look at a castle or two. There will be loads of photos taken, tons of yummy food eaten and plenty of miles walked to work off the yummy food. I cannot wait.

In between working and knitting up gifties, I want to give our apartment a thorough going-over, either this week or the week after we get back. You know, those backbreaking cleaning sessions were you get behind the stove and the washing machine. We haven't done it since we moved here and frankly, I don't know what we'll find. But I definitely want to take advantage of having Stéph here to do the heavy moving before he heads back to work in the beginning of September.

Good gracious, it's the end of July, which means summer is nearly half over. Where does the time go? Have y'all finalized your summer plans? Where are you going? What are you doing?

Friday, July 20, 2007

a curious conversation

Scene: Our Office, approximately 10pm last night

Stéph: I can't remember how to spell "garlic" in French.
Me: ... a-i-l?
Stéph: Oh yeah!

End scene.

That was like a Twilight Zone episode for me.

Am currently tearing my hair out over my latest assignment. I only have one word of warning - if I accidentally stumble upon the spoiler to the end of the last Harry Potter book, which should be winging its way to me even as we speak, there will be hell to pay. Ooooooooh, yes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

a three hour tour

Don't worry, we didn't get shipwrecked on a tiny island with a millionaire and his wife or anything.

So a few months ago, Stéph came back from his formation in Châlons and declared that there was a bar and a store I just had to see and one day he was going to take me there. I reminded him of this promise on Monday and we decided that the next day would be perfect for visiting for a few hours.

Châlons-en-Champagne is the capital of the Marne département, which is surprising when larger and better known Reims is also in the same département. Châlons has kind of a small but charming downtown area and the rest seems to be just residential areas. We had a really great lunch in front of the Mairie, eating outside on the terrace in the shade. I can't speak for Stéph but my simple salad of lettuce, lardons, tomatoes with loads of chèvre on toast and buttery garlic toast was wonderful! Possibly not the healthiest thing on earth, but it's the closest I've come to a BLT on this side of the ocean and I enjoyed every bite!

From there we went to Stéph's first "you gotta go" destination - The Red Bar & Lounge. This was something of a shock in a town that is not known for having any kind of a hip, young demographic. In fact, the only higher institute of learning there is a teacher's college, and most students commute, like Stéph did. This bar was a dream - very fun and hip interior, a very wide array of hot and cold drinks as well as many cocktails I recognized from my bar hopping days back in the States. In fact, Stéph mentioned that he often heard Americans hanging out and chatting there when he and his colleagues came in for a coffee before heading back to class. The atmosphere and the drinks list reminded me so much of some coffee houses I loved in Orlando and Greenville and I wouldn't be surprised to learn if the place was owned by Americans. We sat on a backless sofa surrounded by pillows with our cappuccinos (it must be years since I enjoyed a cappuccino!) and just hung out and watched the world go by. What a great hangout that place would be!

The next place I had to see was actually a little crafts shop that Stéph's colleague had told him about. It seemed to be the proprietor's house, with a car parked in the garage and we imagined that she probably lived on the first (second for Americans) floor. It seemed that most of her business was in patchwork (I know one person in particular who would have very much enjoyed their fabric selection!) but as for yarn, there wasn't much more than a few skeins of fantasy yarn and some uninspiring solid colored yarn. Too bad - Stéph had let me loose in the shop and there was nothing really that interested me! It was a cute little shop and the proprietor did say that she sometimes had some customers that came and worked on their projects at the large dining room table and enjoy a cup of tea from time to time. I was touched beyond words that Stéph even thought I'd be interested in it, and then followed me around while I inspected the crafty things! Yeah, he's a keeper.

So then we went on our last errand - Stéph said I absolutely had to see the Carrefour, which is freakin' ginormous! It's got to be one of the biggest - not to mention nicest, since I think it's only been recently built - shopping complexes I've seen here. It's basically a huge grocery inside a decent sized mall! We ended up buying a new car battery in case our zombie battery ever kicks it - seriously, that thing has been working for like, ten years! - and I was even very pleased to find that they had Cheddar! in their cheese section! In my excitement I nearly ordered 500 grams of the stuff (that's a pretty hefty block, more than a pound!) but Stéph talked me back down to a sensible 250 grams. We've already devoured half of it, on a very tasty steak salad I whipped up for dinner tonight. I think the rest of it will be destined for a new cold taco salad recipe I've found.

It looks like the next week or so will be just work, work, work but it looks like the end of next week will see us heading back out on the road for a real, honest to God vacation! Can you believe it? More to come on that soon...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

how to enjoy a pleasant Bastille Day weekend in Paris

  • Do not, under any circumstances, take your driving directions from, which will either direct you to take a heavily congested road on a Friday evening, rendering you capable of only gaining ten kilometers in one hour, or will give you insufficient directions, leaving you to wander around the wrong town for another hour, or both, which will make you two hours late and leave you only the time for a quick glass of water before running out the door again.
  • Do catch a movie in version originale, or VO, such as the latest Harry Potter movie, with good friends who even think to purchase tickets five hours before the movie starts.
  • Do not attempt to join the holiday crowds at the Champs de Mars, just under the Eiffel Tower, which will be completely packed without the space to move even one iota. Instead, retreat to the much more accessible Esplanade des Invalides, where there is much more space to lay out a few picnic blankets.
  • Do make sure you are well equipped with stinky cheese, a bit of cold cuts, fresh fruit and veggies, delicious bread, lovely wine and, most importantly, plenty of sunscreen, as there is little respite from the sun beating down on your delicate head.
  • Do not forget to bring plenty of water, or some of your lovely companions will be forced to take their scooter all the way home in search of more.
  • Do bring plenty of games, although the sight of great big helicopters and plenty of men in uniform will provide plenty of eye candy.
  • Do not forget your sense of fun and wander, and be sure to have on hand plenty of American sparklers and bubbles.
  • Do enjoy the fireworks over near the Eiffel Tower, even if you can only see the tops of them over the trees.
  • Do not panic when it comes to finding your way home in the overcrowded subway. Instead, make sure you have some handy Paris natives who can navigate the crowded streets and find alternative routes at the drop of a hat, getting you home in record time.
  • Do heartily enjoy a few games on the Wii and vow that one day, you shall have one all your own.
  • Do not be afraid that you have made a fool of yourself on an internationally renown podcast, even though you know it in your heart to be true.
  • Do make sure one of your hosts is a wizard with cars and simultaneously fixes your car out of his own kindness and curiosity and saves you upwards of 200€.
  • Do not forget to thank your gracious hostess for the best weekend you and your husband have had in a very, very long time!

Friday, July 13, 2007

time keeps getting away from me

This week has just been ridiculous. I had it all planned out - light work load, run around, see some friends, etc. etc. Getting sick on Monday threw all of that out of wack, doubling the time it took to write, difficulty sleeping, all that nastiness that comes with a massive head cold. I think I've just about shaken it out of my system, thank goodness. And I did get to run over to Troyes to see Doc and MP3 on Wednesday. But it also means I didn't get to do a lot of the things I wanted to before we go out of town. I wanted to make some goodies to bring with us and I also wanted to write about that big fancy decision that, after all this time, is going to be some kind of a letdown, really, once I get around to writing about it. But that's going to be a long post, and I want to really put some time into it. Sorry about that. I'll work on it when I get back.

So in about an hour, we're heading out the door to go to Paris for the weekend. If you're in Paris and you're looking for something to do on Bastille Day, well Stéph and I will be hanging out with them. And now I have to go pack!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

it's the fever, I'm telling you

I nearly forgot to tell you! When I was in Paris last month, I had stars in my eyes the whole time I was at the blogger's picnic, because there were SOOOOOOOO many famous bloggers there. And then, Mickelino - you know, the Frog with a Blog? - interviewed me (ME!) for his Short and Shallow interview series!

I know I sound like an idiot. It's ok, you can say so, for I know it to be true. If nothing else, this documentary is a warning: Alcohol is Bad, mkay? You can see it here. I'll just be over here cringing.

But if you stick it out long enough, you can hear me warble Patsy Cline only slightly off-key.

what I wouldn't give for a shot of Nyquil

Aw, crap, I am so sick. And this week of all weeks! It really isn't fair.

Yesterday morning I had the very beginning of a cold, but it didn't seem too bad, just a light sniffle, so off we went to our friend N's house yesterday for lunch, and just like usual, we had apéros (before-lunch drinks and snacks) at 12:30 and didn't sit down to eat until 3:00. Then, Stéph and fellow guest JP went upstairs to work on N's daughter's computer, and when they were done with that, the four of us decided to walk to the center of N's little town, and Stéph got all excited because the (only) bar had Rapido, and we haven't played for ages, so we all trooped in and had a coffee and played a few rounds. Then we were going to walk to the grocery, but N remembered that the one in walking distance was closed on Mondays (and wow, I thought our little town is bad, at least our groceries are open on Mondays!) so we stopped at a boulangerie instead. By this time, it's apéro-before-dinner time (plain old juice for me, thanks) and next thing you know it's 9:00. At this point, I was feeling pretty worse for wear and I could feel myself getting sicker by the minute, but then Stéph and JP were in the kitchen whipping up a little dinner. Finally, we all sit down to eat again, and by the time the emergency extra frozen bread for the cheese course had been cooked and dessert was eaten, it was 11:30.

Last night was pretty rough. I didn't want to push my luck, so I had only had a couple of drinks during the day (yesterday was officially designated A Day Off From the Diet) but by the time my head met the pillow, it felt like it was stuffed with cotton. Then Stéph started his Snore Symphony in Three Movements (bless his heart, I know he doesn't do it on purpose, but all I can think of is bloody murder when he starts) so I moved to the spare bedroom.

And then, the weirdest thing ever happened.

I was actually getting a little sleep, when all of a sudden two cats started HOWLING, and they were so close they seemed to be on the balcony just outside my window, except WE HAVEN'T GOT A BALCONY. Ethereal cats floating outside my window? What the hell? I heard Stéph open the window in the bedroom, but he came in and told me that they weren't on the street. The only thing we could figure is that they were in our attic! The building just next to ours is a huge warehouse, and we figure they must have gotten through to our attic space from there. Luckily, we don't keep anything up there. And to tell you the truth, we're kind of relieved to know it's cats, because we've heard movement up there a couple of times before and we were thinking that we had some pretty damn big rats running around up there!

So after Cats In Heat: The Musical was over, I tried to sleep as late as I could, but no dice. Up early as usual. I guess it's my conscience screaming at me: "Get UP! You have work to do!!" Stupid conscience. I only managed one measly article all day, because this fever keeps making me stare off into space for what seems hours at a time. Ugh.

I am feeling much better now than I was this morning, but whether I'll be well enough to meet Doc in Troyes tomorrow remains to be seen. I sure hope so.

Monday, July 09, 2007

be careful what you wish for

Y'all, I am going crazy around here. Be careful what you wish for, 'cause I wished for a job and boy, I got one. All that free time I had for knitting, blogging, cleaning, cooking, living? Yep, *poof!* gone. I managed to get a lighter work load this week because I need some Going Out Of My House and Breathing Fresh Air time, so that means I can also catch you guys up, too.

So yeah, thanks for the lovely compliments on the new place! Like I said, I've been wanting to change it up a little bit for a while now, trying to decide if I wanted to pay for a make over, attempt something myself or even change blogging platforms. Finally, I stumbled onto this website, where you can just plug in your particulars and a template code pops up. It's really easy to use and I ended up spending all of Thursday evening plugging in links until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. I'm still at a loss for how to make the comments show up on the main page, so if there are any smart coding type people who want to have a crack at it, please let me know.

I also seem to have caught a cold, and at the worst possible moment, too. Today we're going to have lunch (where "lunch" = arrive at 12:30, eat at 3:00, end up chatting until dinnertime) at a friend's place, then later this week I'm meeting up with Doc in Troyes, and you know there's always mischief and mayhem when we get together, and then this weekend we're going to Paris to party down for Bastille Day! Yes! Both of us! It's a miracle!

I have also made a Decision. I think you're gonna like this. Those of you that have stuck with me through the last year's less than stellar posting are going to appreciate it. Stay tuned...

Update: Oooh! I just added a Frappr map! The link's on the left side! Go forth and frap!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The New and Improved Dispatches From France

Man, I am worn out!! I've been wanting to do this for ages, and I finally found a template I could play around with. I've been wanting a three column layout for a while now. Don't ask me why.

So yes! New digs! Some new features include some linky love for some excellent online comics I read everyday and some knitting sites I frequent. Plus, over on the right side, I dug up some older posts that you may find informative if you're a newcomer to France. Apparently, my expertise seems to be in going to the doctor.

It seems that the comments are only slightly wonky, in that they are, in fact, there, you just have to click on the comments link and go to another page to see them. If I have the energy and the inclination, I may look into that soon.

And so, ladies and gentlespoons, I'm going to go collapse somewhere near, if not directly on, my sweetly calling bed. Nighty night!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

happy independence day!

Sweet! It's America's birthday! I hope all you crazy kids back home are celebrating with barbecues and ice cream and fireworks.

As for here, not only does it not feel like Independence Day (for obvious reasons), but it doesn't even feel like July! Not only is it yet again pouring down rain, but it's only 68°F! And that's in my house!

Stéph is celebrating his own sort of independence, as today is his first day of summer vacation. He seems to be celebrating by getting a nice, big cold. Poor thing, I can totally relate, as every year from high school straight on through college, I was always sick at the end of the school year. It's just the body's way of saying, "OK, that's ENOUGH already!" I hope this doesn't put a damper on our plans to go check out Les Soldes tomorrow, as we both are needing a few new things for summer.

Yeah, Stéph wants to go shopping! With me! Together! He must be sick!

Monday, July 02, 2007

an afternoon away

Have I told you lately that I love you? No, seriously, I mean it. Thanks for all your encouraging words in the comments of my last post! And as to the question if this is going to affect our mysterious future plans - nope, not at all. This may actually help us out. (Ooooooooooh the mystery!)

Yesterday, Stéph forced me against my will dragged me kicking and screaming encouraged me to step away from the computer for the afternoon. We went to the in-laws' for lunch (white string bean salad and a turkey breast rotisserie) and then strolled around their town's annual festival. Part vide grenier (literally "empty attic," families rent tables in an open space and try to sell their unwanted items) and part town fair, this one left something to be desired. While we can usually find something to at least get our attention, here it seemed to be little more than old shoes and children's games, and the rest were food booths and simple carnival games. Meh. At least they had a high-wire, but the guy crossing the wire was kind of a paunchy middle aged guy who simply rode back and forth on a couple of different bicycles, accompanied by screeching carnival music blasting out of the speakers.

At least I actually left the house.

Tomorrow is Stéph's last day of school, so we're about to switch roles - I'll be working and he'll be goofing off. It'll be interesting to see how that affects us. Actually, him being here is kind of good for me, because at the end of the day when I'm staring blankly at the computer screen with my fingers twitching over the keyboard, he's the one who says that maybe I should call it a day. If it weren't for him, I would either be putting off articles until the last minute, or on the other side of the spectrum, yanking my hair out between sobbing jags.

Meanwhile, it's July, but it feels like Spring still. Seriously, it's hovering around 70°F in my house right now. I shouldn't complain, heaven knows I'd rather have cool temps than hot ones, but I haven't seen the sun in weeks and I think it's starting to bring me down. Can't you tell?