Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation

We've got a brief break from the heat this morning thanks to a massive thunderstorm that rolled through in the wee hours of the morning, so happily I can tell you a little bit about our vacation in Pas-de-Calais.

The gite itself was lovely... on the outside.


It was so humid and chilly and smelly on the inside that we lit a fire two nights in a row to ward off the chill!


We stayed at the very southern end of Pas-de-Calais, so that means that many of the sightseeing destinations we went to were actually in the next département south, which is the Somme, in the Picardie region. We visited the battlefield at Crécy, which launched the Hundred Years War.


(You can click on the picture and then "All sizes" to get a larger version if you'd like to read about the battle.)

We also visited the Abbaye de Valloires (link in French), which is an 18th century Cisterian abbey. The garden is extraordinary...

Abbaye de Valloires

...and huge, clocking in at something like 20 acres. We couldn't explore the whole garden, unfortunately, as I wanted to keep my energy up for the one hour guided tour of the abbey.

The abbey is only accessible through the tour, and in my opinion it is worth it. The tour guide really knew his stuff, was very personable, and was on the ball with answering questions that came out of left field. However, there are no English guides available, so if you don't understand French, you'll have to follow along with a written guide.

Abbaye de Valloires

Abbaye de Valloires

Abbaye de Valloires

Other highlights of our week included our pilgrimage to Berck-sur-Mer, where we ate moules frites, dipped our toes in the sea and ate enormous ice cream sundaes, and Stéph and his dad went fishing twice. They were both pretty successful, each pulling in eight trout each day they fished. Thanks to the week being super mellow with loads of downtime, I also got lots of crafty things done, but I'll write more about that on my crafty blog soon.

Finally, I have to mention this because if you know me well, it will make you laugh - I also got a bunch of Christmas present shopping done! Yes, me! I figured that I'm going to be a little busy come December, so we picked up some goodies for our nieces that will go well with some homemade projects (thanks Mia for the idea!!), plus my MIL took me to the most adorable store ever. This store was so amazing that I seriously wanted to pick up about 80% of the contents and bring it home with me. (The website is not super well put together but you can get an idea here.) I ended up with a couple of gifts for family, plus MIL bought us a gorgeous basket that I fell in love with that will be for French Fry's room. In any case, Christmas shopping isn't done by any means, but just the fact that I started in JULY completely cracks me up!

I know a lot of people think I'm insane because I so love Pas-de-Calais, while most people are climbing over each other to get to the Côte Azure. There is just so much to do and see, the beaches are stunning and really lovely to walk on, the people are wonderful, and they actually enjoy four seasons! To be completely honest, I would move to this region of France in a heartbeat, and Stéph knows it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

just a quickie

We're home, vacation was great, but we've come home to a heat wave, where the office where the computers live starts out around 80°F in the morning and tops out around 90°F. Good times when you're 26 weeks preggers. Updates to come when I can stand it!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

vivi meets a wise woman

Here's a brief update of my six month check up and meeting the midwife here in Tiny Town this morning:

First of all, French Fry is doing great, has all his parts, and is right on track for where he's supposed to be right now. Plus I lost about six and a half pounds last month, which is great because I gained about double that the month before (yes, I took the "eating for two" idea and ran with it!). Apparently glucose tolerance tests are not mandatory for all here in France, as the doctor told me I didn't have to have one. Cool with me as long as we're keeping an eye on French Fry's growth (which we are, with a quick ultrasound at every visit). The funny part is that the doctor didn't want us to drive to our vacation destination this weekend, which is about four hours away, saying that we should take the train instead. I understand the concern of "long car trips" but telling an American that a four hour drive is too long is like telling a Frenchman that bread will not be available for a meal - it's simply laughable.

Even though we were determined to go, we brought it up with our new sage femme (which translates to "wise woman," which I know I mentioned in the last post but I just love that), or midwife this morning. She told us that the concern is for women that are experiencing contractions or if their cervix isn't totally closed, since the car is often a bumpier ride than the train (personally I beg to differ but whatever).

Anyhoo, speaking of the midwife, we had a really great meeting with her this morning and I am so, so glad to have someone like her in my corner! I can't believe we got so lucky, as she has tons of experience, having previously worked at the hospital at Reims before starting her own practice, and is also a lactation specialist. Her classes are really small, scheduled around the lives of her clients, and her classic course consists of six sessions which last an hour and a half each. I could not be happier with her program if I'd made it up myself!

So all is well on the baby front. Now we're just getting ready to head up north for a week. We'll be staying in a gite (furnished rental) for a week with the in-laws. There is sure to be fishing, market browsing, beach combing and site seeing to be had. Pas-de-Calais is still my favorite region to visit in France (I know, call me crazy but I love it up there!) and I'm really looking forward to it, even if it will be at an even slower pace than usual. Hopefully I'll have some pictures for you (if my camera battery behaves - stupid Kodak rechargeable battery keeps giving me drama) when we get back!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Bastille Day!

Or as they call it in America, Monday.

So it's been a right festive weekend in these parts. Tiny Town always holds a festival/vide grenier on the Sunday of the holiday weekend and this is the first year that we've lived here that we were actually in town for it. (For those of you playing at home, vide grenier literally means "empty attic" and is an occasion where anyone can rent a space and sell their crap antiques and second hand items. It is comparable to an English car boot sale.)

Of course, rummaging through other peoples' crap is a fun French summer past time, so we had my MIL, Stéph's uncle and aunt, their daughter and granddaughter, my SIL, her partner and their daughter (whew!) over for coffee and cake before checking out what was on offer. The weather turned out fine and we had a nice long walk with Stéph stopping to say hello to a colleague or two and some parents and the little ones got a pony ride before Stéph and I had to cut it short as it was a bit too much for me (and no wonder as we were shocked to discover that we'd been walking for two hours straight!). Everyone else made it back about half and hour later and we waved them off back to Troyes.

Today we're recovering a bit (I say "we" as Stéph seems to be fighting off a cold and is currently snoring on the couch) before heading over to a friend's village for a bit to eat tonight and some fireworks. Since we have a bunch of things to do this week before heading off to the north for a week with the in-laws, keeping it low-key is the best way to make sure I can do as much as possible (as being forced to slow down is driving me crazy!).

In any case, Happy Bastille Day to those celebrating around the world and to my French friends, bonne fête nationale!

Friday, July 11, 2008

why being pregnant is a part time job in France

Now, now, don't get your panties all up in a twist. This post is not about how hard it is to be pregnant or how it's better to be pregnant in one country than another. Systems are different, expectations change your experiences, yadda yadda yadda.

That being said, they do make you run once you get pregnant here! Lemme tell you why.

Part of the problem is that there are no birthing centers or even OB/GYNs here in Tiny Town. Not only will we need to make the drive to Troyes on B-Day (that'll be Birth Day), but we need to go for every doctor's appointment. So what, right? That's once a month.

However, going to a monthly doctor's appointment is not the one-stop shopping experience you have in the States, where you pee in a cup, get your blood drawn, and in many cases, even have your ultrasounds done all in the same building. Here in France it's another story. Time for your monthly blood draw? (which, admittedly, I don't have to do anymore because I've already had toxoplasmosis, but still...) That's a trip to the lab. Gotta pee in a cup? That'll be a trip to the lab. Oh - and don't forget to go to the lab well enough in advance of your doctor's appointment so the doctor will have the results by the time you see him!

Time for your ultrasound? That'll be a trip to a radiologist. Now, for the most part I've been lucky in that my doctor actually has an ultrasound machine in his office and he operates it himself (believe me, this is rare), but for my "big" second trimester ultrasound, in which they measure every little thing, I did have to make an appointment with another facility.

All of this means that we will have made trips once a week for three weeks expressly related to pregnancy this month. This morning we were up first thing so I could go pee in a cup in a lab. At least I remembered to ask for a cup so I don't have to do the pee pee dance all the way to Troyes next month!

While we're on the subject, the good news is that I've made an appointment with the one and only sage femme (midwife, but literally "wise woman," which I love) in Tiny Town for next week, which I'm really looking forward to. It will be nice to have someone here in town to talk to if I have any questions or problems come up, plus she gives birthing prep classes here in town as well.

I can't even believe we're starting to talk about birthing classes. I think at our next appointment next week we'll have to sign up for the maternity ward as well. Is it just me, or does it seem like we're gonna have a baby here in the not to far future?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

having the angels cleared out

I had been putting off calling Tiny Town's garage for weeks. This is bad because the weather had really started heating up and we desperately needed to have the air conditioning recharged. It's not that I was afraid to speak French on the phone - I still hate making phone calls as much as I did when I was younger but I feel comfortable enough with my French on the phone in most cases that this doesn't stop me anymore - but the problem was that I kept forgetting how to ask for an oil change and then I kept forgetting to ask Stéph to remind me (everything they tell you about pregnancy brain is TRUE).

Finally, I remembered to ask Stéph as we were going to bed one night last week. "You have to remember that we're having the angels cleaned out of the car - vide-ange**," he said.

This is largely how I've learned French, but I'll tell you, it works. I don't think I'll ever forget what vidange means!

**"vide" means empty and "ange" means angel

Monday, July 07, 2008

things I've learned from watching the Tour de France

* There is a village in France called Mississipi (yes, just the one p)
* People are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get on tv (I've seen little girls playing accordions, people square dancing - ok, the traditional Breton dance, people running out to the middle of fields and waving crazily at the camera, etc.)
* It's not a good idea to jump on onto the winner's podium unless you're looking to get your ass kicked, especially on a day when both the winner of the stage and the winner of the yellow jersey are French

So the Tour de France started this weekend. I have to admit that I'm kind of enjoying watching it in the afternoons. Of course there's the race itself but it is also covered by a fleet of helicopters that take plenty of footage of the beautiful countryside and you even get the occasional history lesson when they circle a castle or village. Also, the last two stages have actually ended in exciting ways. The tour isn't coming anywhere near us this year (here's a good map showing all the stages) but I think it's a great way to see other parts of the country. Oh - and enjoy the race, too.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

how I spent the 4th of July

Do you know, recently I've stopped calling the celebration of American Independence "the fourth of July." Know why? 'Cause we have a fourth of July here in France as well, but we don't get barbecues or fireworks! I guess it's the same reason "le quatorze juillet" (the fourteenth of july) is called Bastille Day outside of France.

Anyhoo, yes, yesterday was just another day here in the Hexagon. We started the day early with a drive to Troyes for our "big" second trimester ultrasound. I'm happy to report that it seems that French Fry does indeed have all his parts and the technician said that everything looked fine. French Fry was an active little bugger (I don't know if it was because of the big cup of tea I had for breakfast or because he was getting poked with a great big ultrasound thingie) and I swear he did a full somersault over the course of the exam. We'll get the pictures back when we go for the next doctor's appointment on the 16th.

Then in the afternoon I went with Stéph to help tidy up his classroom as Thursday was the last day of school. Some of my tasks included clearing the chalkboard and white boards, stacking books in the cubby holes outside the classroom and sharpening colored pencils and separating them by color. After an hour's work we called it an afternoon and we'll probably go back at the beginning of next week to finish up.

We've just come through a decent heatwave with temperatures getting up to the high 80's but we got through it thanks to plenty of ice cold water and oscillating fans. We even bought an evaporating cooler for the office (which is a small room where two computers live - you can imagine how hot it gets in here!) that cools the air with a combination of water and ice. We chose it over a portable air conditioner since it was less expensive (by more than half!) and can double as a humidifier in the winter. It just makes the office tolerable in the hottest of weather. Of course the office is going to magically turn into a nursery in another month or so but that's neither here nor there...

Anyway, to all my fellow Americans, I hope you had a wonderful Independence Day and ate plenty of barbecue, fresh fruit, cold beer and ice cream, and I hope the weather cooperated wherever you live so you could have nice big fireworks. Happy Birthday America!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

my latest projects

Over the last six months or so, I've been getting more and more involved in my various crafting projects. I get really excited about what I'm up to but I've been feeling like this blog is not the outlet for going into detail that I need. Sure, this blog is about me, but it's supposed to be focused on my life in France as an étranger, so I know that most of the people that come visiting aren't necessarily interested in my latest knitting project.

That's why I've finally gotten off my duff and created my very own craft blog. Ladies and jellyspoons, please allow me to introduce you Suis le fil! "Suis le fil" means "follow the thread" in French. Since I've been expanding into other crafting areas, all of which involve some kind of yarn or thread, it feels like the right fit.

As an added extra bonus, I'll be writing every post in English and in French. This means I'll be spending plenty of time immersing myself in French grammar and watching Stéph get frustrated with me as he corrects my (many) mistakes.

As if that weren't enough, you may notice in the sidebar a little code for a web ring called Bilingual Bloggers. I know I'm not alone in writing in two languages so I wanted to create a ring of other like-minded bloggers. Bloggers need only to write in English and a second language in each of their posts in order to qualify.

So, please check out my new projects and do me a huge favor and leave me some feedback! I'd love to hear what you think and where you see room for improvement (I'm fairly sure there is tons of room for improvement!!).

UPDATE: The link to the new blog is working now. Thank you to materfamilias for pointing it out (although I only just saw your comment two days later, Haloscan hates me too!).