Saturday, December 26, 2009

all I got for christmas is a full time job

My first week of work is in the can. It's been a real jolt to the system, getting up and having to be functional so early. I can't complain, all my adult life I've been an early bird, but after so many years of practically no activity, getting up off my ass and moving again has been a shock.

I have so many stories that I wish I could share with you but can't. I'm still on a learning curve made even more precipitous by the fact that my boss is currently on vacation and will be leaving the company shortly after her return. Thankfully, she doesn't seem to be the kind of person that leaves a mess in her wake. I like her a lot and I'm disappointed that she's leaving, but them's the breaks. My feelings about my colleagues are... mixed, so I'll let that alone for now.

I did manage to get my contract signed by the skin of my teeth, however. I started on a Saturday so I was supposed to have my contract in hand on Monday. Then they needed to verify some information so that set them back a day, and then they finally sent it Wednesday morning, the "end" of my work week and the day my boss went on vacation. Sheesh. So I'm officially signed up for three month's work with the option of a CDI (a contract of indeterminate time, aka a never ending contract, the "golden ticket" in France) at the end.

Of course, I landed this job at both the best possible time and the worst possible time, depending on how you look at it. It's perfect because I started the job exactly on the day that Stéphane's Christmas break started, otherwise we would have been up the proverbial creek with Fry. Since there is no daycare in Tiny Town and we only have one car, we've decided to place Fry with an assistante maternelle in Tiny Town (I mentioned this in a previous post, yes?). There are approximately 20 available in Tiny Town, and two days before Christmas we managed to find two that have openings. We'll visit them Monday and make a decision. Fry will go four days a week full time during the school year.

Speaking of Fry, what a change this has been for him, too! With very few exceptions, we've been together every single day of his life. With me not coming home until after he's had his lunch and gone down for a nap, I think he was starting to get upset with me, to the point that by Tuesday he was practically ignoring me. Finally having two days off, I'm hoping he understands that it's not like he'll never see me again. I'm hoping we'll find him a nounou that has other kids his age, because it would be so good for him to have some little buddies to play with (and learn how to share with!).

As for the worst timing, I hate that our Christmas suffered a little, though it could have been so much worse - I was fully expecting to be scheduled for Christmas, but it was just dumb luck that I ended up with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. I only got half of the gifts finished and we ended up grabbing some last minute gift certificates, but we had a great evening with family on Thursday and I had a well earned veg out day yesterday.

The next two weeks are going to be exhausting, since we're already on a skeleton crew even when the boss is there, so not a lot of rest coming my way for a while. But man, I have to say, there's nothing more satisfying than being tired from a good day's work. I have to admit, I've missed that.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

vivi gets a job

ha HA!

What can I tell you, I'm gainfully employed now! I can't tell you much else, though. Here's what I'm willing to share:

-It's in the service industry. The hours are not ideal and I'll be working weekends a lot but I don't have to wear a uniform, so that's a plus.

-I mentioned that I preferred mornings to evenings in my interview and all this week I'm scheduled for morning hours. Getting up three hours before the butt crack of dawn this morning was hard, but being home and done with work for the day at 1pm was quite nice. Don't know if it will always be like that, however.

-The work is not difficult, the time flew by this morning, looks like I'll be speaking English a lot.

-The schedule will vary every week, but it is generally planned out a month in advance, except for the next two weeks (and especially with new personnel).

-By some freak of nature and scheduling, I actually have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. I'll most certainly have to work New Year's Eve but as long as I can be with Fry Christmas morning I seriously don't care. I think last year Stéphane and I were already in bed by midnight last year anyway (though Fry was only 8 weeks old at the time, can you blame us?). In any case I'll be home by midnight, which is the most important part anyway.

Speaking of Fry, we're obviously going to have to come up with some day care solutions. Since there isn't a real day care in Tiny Town, and we only have one car (so Stéphane can't take/drop off Fry outside of Tiny Town), our next solution is an assistante maternelle, or a nanny. The town hall keeps a list of nannies and it will be up to us to call and find one that is willing to take him. So Stéphane will be doing that first thing Monday.

So, that's me working. How about that?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Wonderland

It started snowing yesterday morning and it's hardly stopped. The roads were a mess yesterday getting to my job interview, but the Director was very impressed that I showed up anyway (and said so at least three times), so major points there. Since they hadn't salted/sanded the roads before I got there, the roads were a bit perilous in town but much better by the time I left.

Last night we had dinner out with some of Stéphane's colleagues at Tiny Town's Moroccan restaurant (our favorite by a long shot, amazing food and outstanding service!). We were the lucky ones this time as we were literally around the corner from our house (though we still had to drive in order to bring Fry's high chair) as most of the teachers away from Tiny Town. By then it had already been decided that the school buses would not run today. Considering our school is the central school for all the little villages surrounding Tiny Town and many buses have to take service field roads to get here, I think they made the right decision. Still, that doesn't mean school is canceled, and anyone that can get to school is still required to come. No big deal, since today is the last day before Christmas holidays.

Here's what we woke up to:

Snow in Tiny Town

Snow in Tiny Town

Hey, the apartment across the street is available again!

And it's still coming down. It's gorgeous, and I'm hoping to manage to take Fry out in it at some point. The only problem is he doesn't have any snow pants or boots. I didn't bother to buy any because it hasn't snowed like this since 2005. We'll figure something out! In any case, it isn't going to last, as Tuesday we're expecting highs of around 10C (50F).

As for the job, I'll find out this evening if I got it, and if I did, it starts tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

vivi gets a break

I hit a pretty low point yesterday morning. I finally just cried out to the universe, "I need a break!"

Luckily, the universe was listening.

I finally got a call about a job. I have an interview this afternoon. And even if I don't get the job, finally getting a call after job searching for so long makes me feel so much better. Like I actually am employable.

I don't know if it's me personally, or the culture I come from, but most of my anxiety over looking for a job has stemmed from the feeling that if I'm not getting calls for interviews, then there's something wrong with me. I have experience! I have a diploma! I'm bilingual! Why don't you like me???

Stéphane finally talked me down. It's not you, he said. There are no jobs. Of course employers can be super picky when they have dozens of replies for every job offer. Stop taking it personally, he said.

And he's right. Plus, I've been here before. During a similar job hunt before moving back to the Carolinas, I answered an ad for a secretary in Florida in 1996. There were so many applicants for that job, they were taking us in groups of ten to fill out applications and tests. But it was a hell of a lot easier to go get a job at Bennigan's at 23 than it would be now (even if we had a road filled with twenty chain restaurants in these parts).

Even if I don't get this job, getting an interview gave me all the confidence I need to keep looking. But that doesn't mean I don't want to nail this interview!

The only problem now is that it's snowing like a mother out there. The universe still likes a good giggle now and then.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I have no idea what to say

So here's a tweet cloud:


(Still knitting for Christmas, job hunting, on snow watch. I do have a post in me, will write ASAP!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

it's the most horrible time of the year

Man, things are getting me down! The weather has settled into its gray steel phase which will last until Spring (although we're having some very rare sunshine this morning, thankfully) which doesn't help. Fry and I keep exchanging colds. December means the end of term for Stéphane, so he's stressed and tired and working extra hours to get grading finished and seeing parents nearly every night so he's worn out by the time he gets home. I've been sending off resumes at a rate of about one a day, which wouldn't be so bad if I ever got any calls on them, but now it seems available jobs are tapering off and probably will continue to do so until the new year.

I finally managed to decorate for Christmas a little. Fry's stocking is up, so are some of my mom's handmade decorations, and I bought a small plastic tree because the downstairs is already dangerous enough for Fry, especially now that he's walking, we decided a real tree just isn't worth it this year. It's going to be another crafty Christmas for my in-laws but that's going slowly and it seems I can't get anything done.

I can't remember the last time I slept through the night. There are things swirling in the background that I don't write about here that are getting me down as well. I have some health stuff going on that will probably require medication, which does not make me happy at all.

Bah, humbug.

Friday, December 04, 2009

in which Fry gets a shot

Yesterday I took Fry to Tiny Town's salle des fêtes to be vaccinated against H1N1, aka la Grippe A or the swine flu. In France, the vaccinations are being given in "vaccination centers" around the country and are being staffed (and by some accounts, understaffed) by local doctors, nurses and army medical personnel. While anyone has the right to be vaccinated, those that meet certain requirements have been sent a voucher to ensure they will be vaccinated in priority. Someone I know on an forum in Switzerland had her daughter vaccinated yesterday as well, but she said that it was with typical Swiss precision that she had an appointment and even a parking voucher ahead of time, so it took no time at all. My experience, even out here in the French boonies, was... not the same.

Our vaccination center was open from 12pm until 4pm, so we got there around 2:30, hoping to beat the crowds of kids on their lunch break. There were probably a good twenty people ahead of me, but we didn't wait long; five minutes after arriving, we were approached by a volunteer and asked to move to the front of the line (children under two are considered a priority). I have to admit I felt a little guilty, but not guilty enough to say no! On checking in, I was told that I could have one as well, but I declined (Stéphane and I had already decided to skip the vaccination). The next station was for filling out paperwork (name, address, parental consent, general medical questions, etc.). After that, we sat down with a doctor, which just happened to be Dr H, our regular doctor. Dr H marked Fry for a half dose (typical for babies under 18 months) and he'll have the other half in three weeks. Then we waited for a vaccination bay to open up (I think there were three families ahead of us).

Fry was great with his shot as always, just a quick ten second cry and it was over (irrationally proud, me??). I was a bit annoyed that we had to wait twenty minutes before we could leave, as we certainly don't have to wait in the doctor's office after a regular vaccination and I felt like this was a total CYA move, but whatever, we only had to wait ten and it was over. All in all, it took us an hour from sitting down at the entry to walking out the door. Thank goodness we were able to skip the line! Fry didn't have any reaction to the shot at all, didn't even have a small fever. Now whether or not it's actually is worth all the trouble will remain to be seen!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Weekend

We had a fabulous time at the annual French Thanksgiving weekend with our friends Doc and Marc! We were quite low on Americans this year, with Doc and I being the only ones in attendance, but we were blessed with the presence of Mr and Ms Mac, who don't speak French so I hogged them all to myself all night and talked so much I lost my voice! I made a great big dish of Fat Potatoes Fat Fat and we enjoyed turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, others "enjoyed" Brussels sprouts (weirdos) and we all devoured a million different desserts. Fry charmed everyone as usual and did very well despite the lack of sleep.

Speaking of Fry, last Thursday night, free of his baby jail, he pulled himself up on the tv stand as he often does, but then turned to me in the kitchen and walked to me, then walked around the downstairs (one big room) twice, and then went up the stairs alone (with Papa right behind him)! He's officially walking without help now, and that's truly something to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

house #3

So yesterday we saw another house. Well, we sort of saw a house. We saw part of a house?

Ok, let me explain. This house, on paper, has everything we want; it's not on a main road, it's got plenty of bedrooms, a nice big garden, even a garage. Unfortunately, we were very much turned off because the of the way it's presented. The former owner has passed away, and the family hasn't moved a damned thing since she died. The house has been in this state for six months. The problem is, we can't magically see behind the furniture, so heaven knows what its hiding. The house needs some serious love; the electricity needs to be completely redone, the stairwell and upstairs need the walls refinished, and there are more than a few cracks in the plaster, and that's just what we *can* see.

The fact that the person that showed us the house clearly didn't want to be there and hardly knew anything about the house at all (I do think knowing where the water heater is is kind of essential) left a nasty taste in our mouths. It's a shame, because I love the layout of this house, I think it's perfect for us, and the garden could be really wonderful. The truth is, it would end up being more expensive than house #2 in the long run, which is Stéphane's favorite so far. So this one is going by the wayside as well.

Since I'm here, let me take this opportunity to wish my American friends and family a very happy Thanksgiving! This is my favorite holiday and I'm really looking forward to celebrating it this weekend with a bunch of friends! You don't have to be American, though, to be thankful for your health, your family and your friends! Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Monday, November 23, 2009


Friday, Fry finally went back to his weekly playgroup for the first time in three (or is it four?) weeks. He's really been overdue. I hate the fact that we don't get to visit with our family in Troyes very often and all of our friends live pretty far away, so Fry doesn't get as much interaction with other people as I would like. Plus, I won't lie, it's nice to have an afternoon for myself!

For the first time, Fry flipped out on arrival. It didn't help that they changed rooms at the local rec center and there was a new assistant. Fry was super shy, didn't want to let go of me, and finally I pulled his doudou out from his diaper bag (which is pretty exceptional, as this lovie only stays in his bed, Fry hasn't carried around a preferred toy yet), handed him off to an assistant he knows well, and I took off. I had a lovely couple of hours to myself knitting and playing on the computer.

When I picked him up though, they told me that it took them twenty minutes to calm him down and they nearly called me out of desperation. I figure it must have been pretty bad if the professionals couldn't calm him down! They finally had to pull out the ultimate weapon - the pacifer (which he also only gets in bed). By the time I picked him up, he was happily playing, though he was happy to see me when he saw me. Of course, he got a little nervous because I didn't pick him up fast enough!

I know he's getting to that age where separation is going to be a little difficult, but to be honest, it doesn't bother me too much, I know it's normal. I much prefer this to the alternative; there is one little boy who always cries when his mother comes to get him because he doesn't want to leave. I think I'll keep my clingy kid.

Monday, November 16, 2009

in which nothing gets done

Sometimes it seems like the more I struggle to get myself together, the easier everything falls apart. Right when I'm ready to head back to aerobics, I catch whatever is was that Fry had two weeks ago (and is still lingering on). Thursday I went to the pharmacy to pick up some cold medicine, but by Saturday morning it was clear that this was no cold. I managed to get in to see a doctor Saturday afternoon, whose eyebrows raised quite high when he saw my temperature (but I didn't), and I left with a prescription for some pretty powerful antibiotics and some cortisone therapy. The difference between Saturday and Sunday was astonishing.

Even so, I'm still not well enough to bounce around in Tiny Town's rec center, much to my chagrin. I'm fighting with yarn these days, trying to get designs from my head to the needles and struggling with it terribly. The problem with selling on Etsy is that the pressure is on to list items and list them quickly, and my products are a bit too detailed and take too long to create. But still, putting myself out there like this and getting positive feedback has been a real boost to the confidence, even if it's slow going.

A final note about house #2 - the agency called us Saturday evening to let us know that they did in fact run our last offer by the owners, and it's still too low. At least we got the final word, which makes me feel a lot better. Assurances have been made that if either party changes their minds, word will be sent right away. I'm hoping to get word to the notary about visiting the next house sometime today.

That's what's happening in our neck of the woods!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

in which we make our first bid

Don't get too excited my friends...

SO. Yesterday I visited the first of the two notaries in Tiny Town. I was very surprised to learn that they were also listing house #2 but at a very affordable price! So affordable, in fact, that we were ready to make an offer, but what we didn't realize is that we were obligated to make an offer through the agency that showed us the property. My brain is still boggling that a house can be listed by more than one agency, but hell, we're not in Kansas anymore, so I'm going with it.

Anyway, the lady at Notary 1 told me that she would call the agency and tell them we were interested. This morning, after visiting Notary 2 (and finding out they had house #1 listed, aha ha ha) and buying a baguette, the man from the agency nearly ran me down in the street! So I basically told him what we wanted to offer (which was a reasonable offer with the reduced price of the notary but probably sounded ridiculous to the agency) and he told us he would get back to us.

It didn't take us long to get an answer - in the form of a counter-offer. We did some number crunching and I even visited the bank, but when we got home I replayed the message with the counter-offer, which we'd played on the speakerphone. Hearing it more clearly, I realized that the counter-offer was the final offer. Which was still over our budget. Game over.

Tomorrow's a holiday in France, so nothing will happen, but Thursday I'll call the agency and tell them no. Then I'll call Notary 1 about another house they have listed that sounds interesting but needs a bit of work. Hopefully we'll see house #3 this weekend. Cross your fingers kids, because it looks like house #3 is the last house available in our budget in all of Tiny Town for the time being... (Remember, Tiny Town has a population of 5000 - the chances of another house with our requirements and in our budget coming available very soon are pretty low!)

Monday, November 09, 2009

house #2

Last week we got a call from the agency that they had a new listing for us, so we visited it Saturday afternoon. Another maison de ville, this one is pretty much the other end of the spectrum from house #1 and, unfortunately, just outside of our budget. We don't regret looking at it, though. As Stéphane said, now we've seen the extremes of what we're looking for and it will help us have a reference for the future.

This particular house is, quite literally, built to withstand just about anything. I didn't know it, but Tiny Town was 75% destroyed by bombing in WWII, and the agent told us that many of the homes that were built just after the war were constructed with the idea in mind that the bombing could happen again. Like the first house, it's got three stories, but that's about the only thing in common. The former owner was 96 years old and was very active in her home and garden until a sudden illness took her life, and it's obvious that she took amazing care of her home. The hardwood floors and oak stairways are gorgeous, the wallpaper is dated but in perfect condition, and the tiles and appliances are also dated but seem to be in excellent condition. There is way more basement and attic space than we need, a veranda with sliding glass windows, a narrow but amazing garden and a garage with a private entrance. The only thing against it is the only bathroom is on the first floor and the bidet in the bathroom would have to go (eventually). Absolutely ready to move in with no problems and rooms could be updated as money becomes available.

We do know that the owners are willing to negotiate, but probably not as much as we would need to make an offer. It's only been on the market for a week but we do know someone else was looking at it the same day. We're not holding our breath for this one, but it was nice to see it all the same. This week I'm going to try to visit one or both of the notaries in Tiny Town and see if they have anything for us.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Fry has been terribly sick this week. He started coughing a bit on Monday and by Wednesday morning he sounded like a 70 year old with a three pack a day habit and a fever. We saw Dr H, who didn't like the look of his throat at all, and we've been fighting Fry to shove antibiotics and cough syrup down his gullet ever since. Thank goodness we're done with the medicine tomorrow, hopefully this will be mostly cleared up by then! (Though it must be said, he hasn't had a fever since Thursday and he's getting his appetite and energy back.)

Finally, I answered an ad for a part time job in Tiny Town today. Please keep your appendages crossed for me!

Monday, November 02, 2009

one year

I can't believe it was a year ago today that I woke up with contractions and six hours later our Fry was born! It's so ridiculously cliché, but it really does go by so fast!

Our little boy is right on the cusp of walking (more than three or four steps on his own, I should add, since he's been doing that for a couple of months now) and talking. I have a feeling he's just going to walk up to me one day and say, "Hey Mommy, what's up?" The only time he stops moving is when there's music, and even then he's started dancing. Otherwise, he loves flipping through his books, throwing stuff out of bed or his baby jail, and stuffing everything he can get his hands on in his mouth. Fry is still tall for his age (he's half in 18 month clothes, half in 2 year clothes), a full head of hair and at least seven teeth (because honestly? it's sharp in there and I'm not sticking my finger in there unless I have to!). He eats anything we propose to him now, and the only thing he doesn't really like is water!

While he certainly is starting to make it known that he's displeased when he doesn't get his way, he's still a very happy little boy. I get a huge smile every morning, and another one when he goes to bed. Everyday I'm grateful for the chance to watch him discover the world. Happy birthday, my sweet boy!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

return from the north

Stéphane has been very interested lately in his family's roots. After his father died, he remembered his father showing him some old family documents and with the help of his mother, dug them back out. They include his grandfather's wedding contract, identity card, and some military records. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot more to go on, except for vague memories from his mother, aunts and uncles. So, we decided to spend a couple of days of his Toussaint vacation in the land of his forefathers, Pas de Calais.


Pas de Calais is already my favorite region of all the places I've visited in France, and I could easily see us living there (who knows, maybe we'll retire there?), so I jumped at the chance to see it in Fall for the first time. We were quite lucky with the weather, thanks to a bit of Indian Summer this week, and the region is just after peak with autumn leaves.

Grottes de Naours

Unfortunately, we hit a few dead ends in our research, and since we wanted to do so much in so little time, I'm afraid Fry suffered a bit with few naps and not a lot of freedom. Stéphane continues to do his research online for the moment, but we're planning on going back next summer for a longer period and renting a gite (a summer rental home, the region is crawling with them!). That way we won't feel so rushed to visit family, do a little sightseeing, take Fry to the beach for the first time, and do a bit of research. I'm already looking forward to it!

auxi le château

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

house #1

So, Saturday afternoon we visited a house for sale in Tiny Town, only a ten minute walk from here. We were surprised by how much work the house needs, since it wasn't mentioned at all in the ad, but we are still pretty interested in it. The house is a maison de ville, or townhouse, meaning it shares walls with homes on both sides. It's just over a hundred years old and is solid as a rock, so no worries there (which is one of the reasons we're interested in older homes anyway).

The major problem is that the entire electricity needs to be replaced, which thankfully still falls within our budget. The former owners fancied themselves as home improvement types, but just a couple of the "improvements" include a cooktop built in wood (wtf???) and a trendy bowl sink supported with 2 x 4s. Every room needs cosmetic improvement but that is something we can tackle in good time.

On the good side, the rooms are comfortably large, the kitchen includes an American sized fridge (woohoo!), the garden is the perfect size for barbecues, a small garden and space for Fry to play, and tons of storage space.

Seeing as this is our first house, we're trying to temper our interest, especially since this house has only been on the market for a couple of months. We are slowly going forward; we'll pass by the agency again this weekend with a couple of questions and if we like the answers we'll make another appointment to visit the house again with a couple of family members. The real estate agent told us that he may have another house soon with what we're looking for as well, so we don't feel pressured at all about this house, but to tell you the truth, I really like this one. As the agent said, if someone else swoops in and buys this house, it wasn't meant to be ours in the first place. I really like that guy.

We're taking off in the morning for a few days, so have a great end of the week (and enjoy this gorgeous weather if you're in France!) and hopefully I'll be back on Saturday with a few pictures for you!

Monday, October 19, 2009

oh what a week

Man, there is so much going on I don't know where to start! Ok, let's start here...

The Etsy shop seems to have started off on a good foot; I had two sales this weekend, and while I was trying not to get my hopes up, I'm so pleased that I've had my first sales within two weeks of opening up. That being said, actually sending away things I've spent so much time making is a bit harder than I thought it would be - I've actually become attached to the little buggers! I'm so glad that my first sale is going to a friend, it sort of softens the blow a little bit. Meanwhile, I'm trying to juggle working, giving Fry as much attention as possible and keeping the house from falling down around our ears. That last one is proving really hard so today it's got the priority.

Last Wednesday, we all sat down at the bank to talk about a little thing called Loans. We now have an idea of what our budget is for house hunting. It's a little lower than we hoped, but I think for first time buyers we'll be ok and we agree that this won't be the house we live in forever. We've already got an appointment to look at a house on Saturday and next week we'll try to get in to see a couple of notaries (in France, they also have the right to do realty, it's whole different ball game than notaries in the States).

Yesterday was Tiny Town's fall festival. Stéph was down for the count with a nasty migraine but Fry and I had a great time! There were easily twice as many vendors than I've ever seen before (though many of them were selling the same crap so take that with a grain of salt). Fry loved people watching, plus we saw two fanfares (little marching bands! I Will Survive, the marching band version was really fun), samba drums and dancers, and we didn't even get to the side with the amusement rides and more vendors! Plus, the weather was perfect, sunny skies, nice and crisp like Fall is supposed to be. Gorgeous! The only thing missing were roasted chestnuts.

Oh, a little update about my leg. It's much better but not nearly 100%. It's a good thing I saw the doctor and he said to wait four to six weeks, because I almost certainly would have gone back to the aerobics class this week and made it worse. It's still a little stiff in the mornings but I'm walking on it alright, with the occasional twinge now and again.

And that's what's happening around these parts, it feels great to be busy again!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

our forest

The weekend before I messed up my leg, we went hunting for mushrooms. It's been years since we've done it, though Stéph grew up mushroom hunting and knows exactly what to look for (and has two excellent annotated guides in case he's not sure). So after around at work for the best forest, we headed off to the Forêt d'Orient National Park, a little east of Troyes. I've been to the lake a few times before, but this is the first time I've been exploring in the forest.

I think we found a little piece of heaven:

walk in the forest

It was far too dry for mushrooms, but my leg was feeling well enough to try again this past weekend. Though we had some rain last week, the floor of the forest was only damp so we didn't find much, and what we did find had been nibbled on by the local residents. Since the temperature has dropped these last couple of days, we may not have any luck at all for mushrooms this year, but we may go gallivanting in the forest some more anyway!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Well first the non-crap - thank you so much for your lovely comments yesterday! They were a much needed boost of confidence all through the day!

The day ended on a very sour note, unfortunately. As you know, I started going to an aerobics class here in Tiny Town. Yesterday was my third class and it was a step class. The first time we did step, I noticed that my legs were started to cramp up so I stopped using the step and continued on the floor. Well, last night they were starting to cramp up and I had just processed the thought, "oh, I should stop using the step" when I came down a little funny and I felt a huge RIIIIIIIIIP in my right leg.

I managed to hobble into the next room to try and regain my composure but the longer I sat the worse it got. I ended up having to leave the class in the middle, hobble out to the car and drive home. Getting up the stairs last night to go to bed was a real adventure.

Now, we've just come back from the doctor (and I say we because Stéph took the morning off to give me a hand) and it's worse than both of us thought: I've torn a muscle/tendon on the interior of my calf. That means I have to limit going up and down the stairs in the house, try not to walk for at least a week, no driving for a week and no sport for four to six weeks. I have to wear an uber sexy band on my leg (which is on order and Stéph will pick it up tomorrow) and put gel on my leg three times a day.

I think by next week I should be able to walk again but the rest of this week is going to be a fun adventure and a lot of frustration for Fry, I'm afraid. I know it could have been much worse (the people around me thought I turned my ankle at first, and I'm happy it wasn't a knee!), but this is super discouraging!!

So it seems my attempt at getting in shape is over nearly before it started! I will be back at it hopefully in November, with some extra warming up at home before I go and paying better attention to my body while I'm there. This getting old crap sucks!

Monday, October 05, 2009

And Lo, Suis le fil, the Boutique is born

Here is a post I've been wanting to write for a long, long time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Suis le fil, an Etsy shop.

I've been blathering on about wanting to start some sort of business practically since I got off the plane five years ago. It took nearly that long to figure out what I wanted to do. Not quite five years ago, Stéph took me to Provins for the yearly medieval festival and I thought, "This, I want to do this!" Ok, but doing what? Three years ago, I learned how to knit. And finally, six months ago, I decided to try to combine my love of history and knitting (two great tastes that taste great together!) and take a huge leap of faith.

drawstring bags

I started creating drawstring pouches lined with linen, using motifs from extant bags combined with original designs. Then I started putting those motifs on other things as well.

diamant headband jardin bookmark

I'm not quite ready for the medieval festival, but I've created something I'm truly proud of and am happy to share it.

I'll keep most of my blogging about the shop at my other blog, Suis le fil, but this is too big for me not to share. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, October 02, 2009

eleven months

Fry is growing like a weed and learning so quickly now that I'm sure I'm going to miss a few things! He's turned into quite the chatterbox, though still no words we recognize. His favorite activity right now is turning the pages of his baby books (and dang near tearing them apart, much to my chagrin, but I think they'll hold up in the end) and doing laps in the living room. He will either crawl at lightning speed or grab my hands and take off walking! This also means that we're having to find special hiding places for all our stuff in order to make the living room "baby proof," which is neigh near impossible because of the apartment itself but we're doing what we can.

I've been a big supporter of soft soled shoes but once Fry really started walking we all noticed that he'd drag one of his feet. As much as I hated to do it, he's been walking in traditional baby boots for the last couple of weeks and the dragging has all but disappeared. Once he's more comfortable with walking, we'll go back to soft soled shoes (especially in the house!) and keep the boots for the very worst weather.

Other than that, he's doing super great! He's doing three hours a week at the halte garderie, loves visiting his mémère, and is still super friendly and smiley wherever we go. And now Mommy just has about four weeks to come to terms with the idea that her baby isn't really that much of a baby anymore...

Edited to add: I knew I forgot something. We've also seen signs of a little boy that doesn't like it when he doesn't get his way. The worst is when he's crawling around or getting into something he shouldn't and Papa or I pick him up - that's when we get a little attitude. But what made me remember is that when I picked him up from the halte garderie just now, one of the women told me, "this one's going to have character!" and I thought "oh no, what's he done??" He's got a stubborn streak, which I hope serves him well further on down the road. Now we've just got to figure out how to harness it!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

a sneak peek

coming soon

I've got a big announcement coming... but you'll have to wait until next week to see it. Tune in Monday, friends!

Monday, September 28, 2009

signs of autumn

signs of autumn

I took my camera with me on our morning walk today and found quite a few leaves starting to change color. The trees are lovely but it's the vines that turn bright red that really get to me!

This past week was pretty crazy. I went to an aerobics class here in Tiny Town on Wednesday evening. Besides the fact that I tore a muscle doing step aerobics (they don't seem to be very big on warming up - must do it on my own before I guess), I enjoyed it and am going to sign up. The price is very reasonable and I'm going to try to go twice a week. I would like to go tonight but Stéph is fighting something off, so we'll see how he's feeling when he gets home from work.

I thought I found the right place to have my documents translated and sent them off, only to have them sent right back with a note that they don't do what I need. I tried to call the nationality service at the courthouse this morning, as their only hours are from 9am to noon, but of course got no answer. This is starting to get time sensitive, as I've already got six weeks on one document and everything is supposed to be under three months when they're turned in. If I can't get someone on the phone tomorrow I'll have to go in person on Wednesday.

Fry is having a great time at the halte garderie on Fridays and this week he'll go for the full three hours for the first time. I think I'm going to come home and do NOTHING and it's going to be great!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

mystery solved

Yesterday I had my appointment with the allergist in Troyes. The appointment itself was pretty amusing and the results were, in my opinion, pretty surprising.

This may not shock you so much if you're American, but if you've spent any time at all in France you might be shocked to learn that I waited upwards of an hour in the waiting room. (I wrote about my very first experience with French doctors way back in the stone ages, here, and generally find that wait times are very short here.) I was glad I brought my knitting with me, but even so, I was curious why the other guy in the waiting room was so antsy and another fellow that came in after me saw that there were only two of us, looked at his watch, and left! But hey, I couldn't be bothered, luckily - Fry was with his grandma, Stéph had his key to get in the house after work, I had my knitting, no problem!

Once I finally made it into the office, I was very pleased to find that Dr. Allergy is a very sweet woman, maybe ten years older than me, very chatty and personable. Once she ferreted out that I'm American (I get "what an adorable accent!" all the time, whether they mean it or say it as a way to find out where I'm from is dependent on the person, really), we had to have a ten minute conversation about her little sister who's married to American and has lived in NYC for 25 years (how is it that I manage to meet everyone that has a relative in America?) and a rather amusing story she told about her last visit there, and then at last we got to my allergies (and you can start to see why an hour behind is probably normal!).

Well, we went over my allergy history, and she brought up an important point that I hadn't thought of before, that it should be rather unlikely that I should have pollen allergies on two different continents, but that's certainly what I assumed it was. Everyone's been saying that the pollen was out of control this past Spring and Summer, so what else could it be? So we did the prick test, and I was very surprised to learn that I'm not allergic to pollen at all.

Nope, I get to have a relatively rare (at least in France, according to Dr Allergy, anyway) allergy to Alterneria, an atmospheric mold that grows outside in the right conditions, being very hot and damp. This is the mold that grows on old leaves in the forest and can damage crops in some cases. It also happens to be the same whether it's growing in France or in America, so it would explain why I never had allergies growing up in Florida (too close to the coast where it is hot and damp but not enough foresty cover for mold to grow), suffered terribly in Upstate SC, and can suffer from it again on a completely different continent. So not only were the pollen counts very high here in France this summer, the conditions were right for an outbreak of Alterneria.

Dr Allergy is still sending me for a blood test to confirm, as well as an x-ray of my sinuses, but most likely the treatment will be the same that my regular doctor gave me, which works perfectly. Even if nothing changes, it is such a relief to know exactly what I'm allergic to and what to look out for in the future!

PS: I didn't leave the doctor's office until 6pm for a 3:30 appointment. She insisted I call my MIL from her phone to let her know I was on the way. I guess I would usually be, at the very least, annoyed under such circumstances, but she was so very nice and very clearly explained everything so well that I'm actually looking forward to my next appointment!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

and the other shoe drops

I knew something was wrong. I didn't have to get on a scale to know I'd gained a bunch of weight, but sometimes it takes getting on one to get the reality check. But it's not just the fact that I've gained five kilos (over 10 pounds) in the last four months, but the results of the blood test that's got my attention.

My blood sugar is fine, my cholesterol level is a little high, but not too much. But my triglyceride level is really high. Like, scary high. Like, double the recommended level high.

We're changing my pill perscription (yes indeedy, birth control can be a contributing factor, isn't that fun?) and my icky doctor (who ordered the blood test just for this reason after being off the pill for a few years) suggested seeing my regular doctor, as he thinks I may need additional medication. I'd like to see if I can bring it back down with my diet, since I know damned well I haven't been eating right, before my next check up at the beginning of December.

Heart disease is a big killer in my family, and I'm not kidding around when I say that I feel like I've just passed the last warning sign before the edge of the cliff. It's time to turn this boat around, kids. You wanna help? I'll take every low-cholesterol non-cardboard-tasting recipe you've got, kindly deposited in the comments box. I and my heart thank you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I love fall.

I mean, I seriously love Fall. I love the "back to work" feeling about it (especially in France, when many companies actually shut down for most of August!), the change in temperature, the changing of the wardrobe, the changing of the menu...

Speaking of the menu, I've seriously got to get a handle on that. I've gained a ridiculous amount of weight that I haven't been able to shake off since Fry was born. Now that he's been out of my body longer than he was in it, I don't really feel like I can use that excuse any more. I just feel really gross. Hopefully, getting back in our routine of a couple of walks a day will help.

Now that Fry is getting more mobile on his own, I think chasing him around is going to help, too. Recently I've started making a half hour pit stop in the park with Fry in the afternoons to let him stretch out his legs a bit, since there isn't too much room for it in our house. I bring the jeans quilt with me (even though it's unfinished, though I have to admit it's pretty sturdy like it is and it's not a bad size, maybe I'll just sew a sheet on the back or something? Anyway...) and a scooter/walking toy that Doc handed down to us. Of course, he's only interested in stuffing as many rocks and leaves in his mouth as possible before I scrape them out, but I suppose that's par for the course. He doesn't seem to be in any hurry to get up and walk any more, either. It's as though he's thinking "hey, we all know I can do it, what's the rush?" I wholeheartedly agree.

One other thing I wanted to mention about Fry - he's really started to get interactive with us, at last! In the last week he's started saying "mamamammamamamammamama......." you get my drift. I'm not sure he's quite got the connection that he's saying my name, but he knows he can get my attention by saying it! He's also started playing what we call "the ball game" with Stéphane. Stéph will roll a ball in his direction and Fry will pick it up and place it in Stéph's outstretched hand! He doesn't make it every time but he just beams at Papa the whole time. Good stuff.

I got another document yesterday to add to my citizenship folder. The last one should be here in the next week. Apparently I'm supposed to send at least our marriage license to a special office in Nantes to be translated (we were married in the States, or this wouldn't be an issue, obviously). The good news is that since it's a government agency, it should only be a couple of euros to have it done. The bad news is I have to ship it off and hope it comes back in a timely manner. I'm going to call them to see if they'll do my other American documents as well, which will save us a pretty penny!

Monday, September 07, 2009

five years?!

You would think something as big as my fifth anniversary of living in this country, as well as starting this blog, would ring a bell in my brain, but alas, it went right by me. Considering that it coincides with la rentrée, you'd think it would loom rather large in my head. And yet, last week all I could think about getting back into our school routine. Though I suppose I do have an excuse - I never had a pint sized whirlwind flying through the house before to distract me.

Here's to five years in France, five years of blogging, and thanks to all of you that continue to read my drivel follow along, the friends I've made throughout the world, and to my husband for putting up with the culture shock, the identity crises, and all the drama that comes with marrying a ferner. Chin-chin !

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

ten months

Dang, I knew I'd miss a month, and Fry turned nine months old a few days after we arrived in the States and it was next to impossible to get in front of a computer for the time it takes to write one of these up. Also, I should be writing down his accomplishments as they happen, because after a couple of weeks everything either blends together or I get so used to his new abilities that I take them for granted!

Fry has been crawling in fast forward for quite a while now, but we didn't realize just how fast he could go until we were at Grandma's. We'd set him down in the living room and he'd take off like a rocket through the kitchen and on to the front porch! There's a good sized step leading onto the porch and Fry had that thing figured out a couple of days after we arrived. That doesn't mean I'm letting him anywhere near our slatted staircase, though!

Five teeth have already come through, including one of his front teeth. Considering he's always had two teeth come in at a time I'm hoping the other front tooth isn't far behind. He can pretty much mow through a biter biscuit now and makes short work of the coconut cookies Grandma sent back with us (spoiled rotten, this kid is!). Fry is thankfully still not a fussy eater and only hesitates when a new texture is introduced.

The biggest news, of course, is that he has already taken a few steps on his own! We've been holding his hands and "helping" him walk for weeks now, but it was only in the safety of his baby jail that he spontaneously let go and took three steps towards me, much to my amazement! He's taken a few steps again here and there (and Stéph finally saw him do it - I was afraid he thought I'd made it up!), but all in the play pen. Believe me, we are in no hurry for him to start running around the house but we're very proud of his early accomplishment!

Like many bilingual kids (I speak English at home, Stéph responds in French, we've been doing this since before Fry was born so it's completely natural now), Fry hasn't started speaking yet, but he's a champion babbler and "talks" all the time.

Right this moment, Fry loves opening and closing things (doors and books mostly, he hasn't figured out drawers and cabinets yet!) and is still mesmerized by music. We had the great chance to hear lots of live music in the States, including a bluegrass jam at a local café, my dear friend's husband, a professional musician and teacher, played his upright bass for him, and my cousin Henry played a good bit of piano for him as well. This is something I definitely hope to continue!

The only "bad" thing I can report right now is that he's starting to get very clingy and cry when we put him down or when he goes to bed. I'm guessing this is the infamous separation anxiety rearing its head, so we're trying to balance being firm and assuring at the same time. Like I seem to say every month, things are about to get more interesting around here!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

C'est la rentrée !

Here we are again, the first of September. Teachers report today (students go back Thursday) as well as everyone else in France that takes the month of August off. Once again, Mother Nature is following right along with the calendar and it's gone all dark and rainy (though, to be fair, it's actually the remnants of the hurricane that flew up the east coast of the US a couple of weeks ago).

I spent this first morning "back to work" puttering around the house tidying up and trying to wear Fry down (it worked, he's passed the sacred hour and a half mark of his noon nap!). And of course as soon as I typed that he woke up.... I'll never learn!

Anyhoo, I mentioned before that we've got a couple of big projects going on. They are not things that have to be worked on constantly; in fact, they're going to kind of run in the background for a while. For example, the first thing is that I'm preparing to request French citizenship. There are a few documents that need to be gathered and then translated before we head back to the courthouse in Troyes. We grabbed a copy of our marriage license when we were in Asheville a few weeks ago, and we're now waiting for a copy of my birth certificate and my criminal record. Hopefully we will get everything gathered and translated before three months expires, or else the whole thing starts over again. Good times!

So, why citizenship? Well, I knew I'd do it eventually, since we are going to live here indefinitely. It would be nice to be able to vote and not having to request ID cards would be nice (though getting cards is a lot easier since we moved to Tiny Town and I can do it through our town hall). But what pushed me over the edge was doing the paperwork for Fry's passport last spring. At one point, there was a question to whether or not I had the right to sign for him on his passport since I wasn't French myself. The answer is a definite "yes" but just knowing that there could be a doubt prompted me to get the paperwork going straight away.

The next big project is that I'm kind of sort of looking for a job. Now, the thing here is that I don't have to work and I'm not taking the first thing that comes along. I've been super happy being home with Fry, in a way I never expected, but I need some grown up interaction as well. For now, I'm just flipping through the announcements on the job site and sending in my resume if I see anything interesting (so far, one thing interesting popped up, but no news on that). It would have to be something with normal working hours that I have previous experience in, and hopefully if something does come along we won't have any trouble finding some sort of care for Fry, since there aren't any day care facilities in Tiny Town. And if you're newish around here, no, I won't teach English.

So, that's been kind of exciting, but the biggest thing that's happening in the background is that we're starting to look into buying a house. Again, we're not in a super hurry, but I think Stéph's idea of waiting a bit changed when he saw Fry in an environment where he could run around a house that was child-safe, unlike ours, where we have to basically keep him in baby jail because of all the dangerous areas of our rented apartment.

I was walking by Tiny Town Realty last week with Fry and saw an announcement that looked too good to be true, so of course it was. I told Stéph about it and we went to talk to the real estate agent about it. Unfortunately it doesn't fit into what we're looking for in the end, but for a minute I could almost imagine Fry playing in the backyard. In any case, we have very specific requirements (can't be on a main road, must have a certain number of rooms, have some kind of garden or courtyard and be in Tiny Town or one of the villages surrounding it) and meet our budget, where our maxed out budget means the home is in perfect condition and ready to move in. There is one house on Tiny Town Realty's website that seems interesting and I've sent them an email about it, but other than that, they have our info and will call us if they get anything else that meets our requirements.

So, that is what is going on around here! Lots of fingers in pies around, and we'll see what we eventually pull out!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

vacation, had to get away...

Man, stuff is happening and I'm not taking the time to keep this caught up. Next thing you know, I'll be so backed up that it won't be worth updating, and I'm not ready to give up on this blog thing quite yet.

So YES, three weeks back in the States. I can say that for the first time, I experienced culture shock going back. Now there was an odd sensation! I think the worst was trying to find equivelent milk and food for Fry. I've been spoiled by UHT milk (which exists for baby milk as well) and baby food that actually tastes like what the label says. But, after a couple of days of adjustment and jet lag, Fry was raring to go.

We stayed with my grandmother, and let me tell you, watching Fry and Grandma fall in love with each other is something I'll hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. She spoiled him rotten and he loved every minute of it! There were quite a few family gatherings while we were there, but the coolest thing was to see Fry and four of his third cousins - all boys! - gathered for pictures. We don't even have five boys in my generation, and here's five sitting all together with one more in Florida, one in Tennessee (I think?) and one more due to be born any minute now!

We spent a fun weekend in Greenville, SC, my old stomping grounds, where one of my BFFs threw us a fabulous party that turned into a college reunion (even my college advisor came!). People came from far and wide and it was amazing to see such good friends from *muffle muffle* years ago. Then we drove up to Asheville which, unfortunately, was kind of a bust, as Stéph had come down with some kind of migraine stomach thing and our hosts' granddaughter decided to come into the world at the other end of the state, so we didn't get to visit with them very much. There are quite a few people I wanted to hook up while we were in the mountains and it just didn't happen this trip (I do believe you know who you are and I'm awfully sorry!). That will be a high priority for the next trip!

After that it was just some more hanging out and chilling with family. A dear friend that I hadn't seen since high school came through town, and that was a short but very sweet visit, and we managed to get Fry out to the park to see some of the animals and have a nice walk around the lake, but other than that we just tried to beat the heat and relax.

And that, my friends, is what we did on our summer vacation!

Monday, August 24, 2009


(Before I go on with what we've been up to the last few weeks, I just want to highlight our last sightseeing trip from when my sister was here last month.)

I was very excited to make the pilgrimage to Verdun as the last bit of tourism with my sister before she headed back to the States. I hadn't been before and Stéph reckoned it had been 20 years or so since he'd been, so it was interesting for all of us. Verdun is also only about two hours away from us, making it a very reasonable day trip, though there is plenty to see if you wanted to stay overnight.

Of course, Verdun is best known for the battle that took place there during World War I. Clocking in at nearly one year, the battle was the longest of the war and saw the most carnage. Though many of the corpses were collected years later to be laid to rest at an ossuary, the truth is that the whole battlefield is really one huge cemetery itself. Though the trees have grown back, the land is pockmarked with the results of artillery fire everywhere you look.

Our first stop was to the Ossuary and the National Cemetery. We experienced a very odd cold snap, requiring jackets all around, which increased the somber feeling of the day.

Ossuary, Verdun

The building itself is extraordinary, the inside is incredibly moving, and the view into the actual ossuary is appropriately chilling. For some reason, I was moved to take pictures of all the coats of arms that are chiseled into the stone exterior, representing the towns around the world that donated money to have this extraordinary monument made. As far as I can tell, I'm only missing three.

coats of arms, Ossuary, Verdun

You can see the rest of the coats of arms by checking out my Verdun set here. I only realized after I started this post that I haven't uploaded all of the pictures from that day, which include two of the forts that were built underground that we visited. That will have to wait for another day, I'm afraid. Like I said before, there are plenty of things to visit in the area, including one or two villages that were completely obliterated, several chapels and there must be monuments to every single company that served at Verdun. I highly recommend it to anyone passing through Eastern France.

Friday, August 21, 2009


The Good: Whether I'm landing in America or France, I'm always going "home."

The Bad: I still cry every time I get on a plane to come back to France.

The Ugly: Jet lag is a terrible thing to do to a nine month old.

What I miss already

Watching my son and grandmother fall in love with each other
My friends, who will fly from Texas or drive down from DC to visit
My amazing, generous, adorable, hilarious family (especially those that lent us a car for three weeks!)
Stores that are open late / all night / on Sundays
The food (NC barbecue! Mexican! Country fried steak! FRIED OKRA AND HUSHPUPPIES)
Air conditioning

And why I'm glad to be home

A handful of great big projects that Stéph and I will be working on over the coming months (our new motto: Go BIG or go HOME).

More details to come as I get the sleep out of my eyes and get things put away...

Monday, July 27, 2009

bloggus interruptus

I got a little behind with my stories of travels with my sister, and then we had a bit of a computer scare: Stéphane came downstairs with Fry Sunday morning and after getting Fry his milk, discovered that not only would the computers not come on, but we had blown a fuse. We eventually figured out that it wasn't the outlet but my computer that was the problem.

While I did manage to get a few things done yesterday, having been forced to step away from the computer since we no longer had internet, it was a tense wait until this afternoon, when we could bring the computer into the shop to see if we'd have to buy a new one, which is definitely not in the plan right now! We got lucky this time: just a blown transformer, changed in fifteen minutes, and because everybody and their brother is on vacation right now, he was able to check it and change it right away. Whew!

But now I only have two days to whip the house into shape (because coming home to a clean house is liking giving yourself a present, isn't it?) and stop making lists and pack. The rest of the vacation pictures are loaded on flickr (but still private so I can add notes to them) and if I can't get to them before we leave, I'll try to get to a computer at some point during our three week vacation and leave a quick note, or write some more about our travels before I forget all the little details!

But if I don't make it back here, have a great August and see you on the flip side!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

wednesday & thursday

There's not too much to report for last Wednesday: we went to a stocked pond compound for the afternoon near Epernay. The weather was gorgeous, we introduced my sister to "une sandwich américaine," and she caught the only fish of the day: a grass carp that had to be thrown back. We picked up a couple of tarte flambée on the way home.

Thursday was our big travel day. Our first stop was Tonnerre, which was the departure for the 12th stage of the Tour de France. If you were watching that day, you may have seen a large yellow bicycle at the roundabout of the first turn, and that's where we were. We got there in plenty of time to see grown men diving over children to get cheap knick-knacks thrown from the publicity caravan (Stéph and I kept Fry well back and left them to it) and with the hour between the caravan and the start, we walked down the street to a cool bar (thanks to the ceiling fans) that served sandwiches. Since that bar was on the route they were doing a booming business, the lucky bastards!

Then it was back to our spot, where Fry got properly dirty...

tour de france - depart Tonnerre

and then suddenly it was all over in a flash.

Then it was back in the car to head to Guédelon. (I first posted about Guédelon in 2007, here.) It was a real pleasure to return to the construction site, even if it was boiling hot.

Guédelon - the chateau 2009

It's changed quite a bit in the last two years. The ground floor of the chateau is complete, the living quarters are coming along, and the walls are rising.

Guédelon - the chateau 2009

Because of the heat, we stayed long enough for Fry to meet some of the animals, to make sure my sister got to peek in at the artisans that were working that day, and the two of us climbed all over the chateau before we retreated to the air conditioning in the car for the long drive home.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bastille Day

On Tuesday, the national holiday, we left the boys at home and went to Troyes. After lunch at my favorite crèperie, we did something I've wanted to do for five years: walked right into the Church St Jean-au-marché.

This church in the "old town" centre ville area of Troyes dates from the 12th century. It is most notably important as the place where Henry V of England and Catherine of France were married. However, the church spent most of the 20th century in ruin. In 1911, it was decided to tear down the houses built on the church's outer walls, which ultimately lead to the bell tower falling down. After decades of disrepair, it was finally closed in 1999 and renovation was begun.

In celebration of it's opening, St. Jean-au-marché (literally "St John of the market square") is hosting a nationally recognized exhibit called "Le Beau XVIème: Sculpture in Champagne" ("The Beautiful 16th [century]").

At this time, Troyes was an important market town of the Champagne region, and thanks to its upward mobility, the aristocracy, along with the artisans, found themselves traveling to Rome and London. Thus, the School of Troyes was born.

 incredible sculpture in wood

The works of art are surprising in their detail, their representation of the subject matter and, in cases like that one above, incredibly real depictions of people carved from wood or stone. This exhibit will be open until October 25, and I highly recommend it!

St Hubert

Before heading back to Tiny Town, we visited the church of Sainte Madeleine, which is well known for it's gorgeous jubé (a partition that keeps the congregation seperate from the altar). The jubé is often quite delicate so there are only a few left in churches across France, and this one is considered to be among the most beautiful. Before going in, we took a moment in the beautiful garden just next door, on the site of the old graveyard, now filled uniquely with white flowers.

garden, sainte madeleine

It was quite dark in the church, so I still haven't got the picture that I've been trying to take for years now (with an admittedly crappy point and shoot but still, one day I will have you, jubé!), but here's as close as I could get:

sainte madeleine

As always, you can see more pictures on my flickr feed, and you can find more information on the Sculpture in Champagne series here (warning: music plays when the site loads, but you can turn it off in the top left corner).

Monday, July 20, 2009

In which Vivi plays "tourist"

Whoa, I forgot what American vacations are like - with only a couple of weeks a year off, the desire to see as much as possible in a short span of time is understandable, but I was so wiped out yesterday, I don't know how I ever did it before! My sister is safely home, and we had a wonderful time, the weather mostly cooperated, and even if we didn't get to do everything we wanted, she will be back one day!

So she arrived very early Monday morning, and we spent the day doing a blitz of monument seeing. Unfortunately, because of the gorgeous weather and the national holiday the next day, we didn't get to do as much as we would have liked.

L'arc de Triomphe, barricaded in preparation for the Bastille Day parade

We started with the Arc de Triomphe, which we admired from slightly afar, and then followed that up with a brief walk on the Champs Elysées. The next stop was the Eiffel Tower, which, like the Arc, was barricaded in preparation of the Bastille Day festivities that would follow the next day. A stage was already set up behind the Eiffel Tower for the free concert the next day, and underneath was a sea of people, so we went to our next attraction.

Our next destination was the Musée national du Moyen Age (aka the Cluny museum) which was packed but we still enjoyed it. A couple of new exhibits had opened since my last visit and of course I love visiting the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

After lunch at a very well recommended brasserie (thank you, you know who you are!!), we attempted a visit to Notre Dame, but the line to get in crossed the entire plaza in front of it! Undaunted, we retreated to the metro to go to the Catacombs, but the people who run it decided to make it a four day weekend (!!) and it was closed.

The jet lag started to take its toll on my sister, so we stopped for a brief drink in a café and decided to head to the train station.

By the way, if you're looking for a place to keep your luggage while you're running around Paris, the Gare de l'Est now offers a very good service: 5€ per bag for under 12 hours (if I remember correctly). All bags are scanned before being stored and you only have to drop them off and they are delivered to you when you're ready to retrieve them. I highly recommend it!

So, we headed home. And that was only the first day! I'm in the process of going through my photos and uploading them to my flickr feed and I'll be giving detailed descriptions of what we did here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

at last

In typical Vivi & Stéph fashion, we've just completed our Spring Cleaning (yes, I'm aware that it's July). We've found some new homes for things, got behind things and cleaned, and bought a new bookcase (and that is it, no more furniture, this apartment is FULL!).

And just in time, too, as my sister is arriving tomorrow morning! This is her first journey outside the States and we are so excited to have her and show her around our little corner of France. Some highlights will hopefully include the beginning of a Tour de France stage, Guédelon (one of my favorites!) and a visit to Verdun, where I haven't been before, so I'm really looking forward to that.

So, things may be even more quiet than usual around here but I'll have loads of pictures to share next week and then it won't be long before we head over to the States!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

summer eating, part 2

Once again, life got away from me and I nearly forgot to update on the summer meals dilemma (this post). Thanks again for the great ideas!

I ended up using a lot of Antipo's and Aimee's ideas, but mostly because they commented first and I was going shopping that day (heh). Antipo's tabbouleh is pretty much identical to the one I make, except I add a little seasoned salt to it, very tasty and excellent with cold cuts on the side. Ham and melon is a very popular French (European?) combination which I hadn't tried before. I liked it alright but I'd forgotten that Stéphane can't stand sweet and savory on the same plate but that's ok, I've been making lots of cold fruit salads with melon anyway so it certainly didn't go to waste! I also tried Aimee's Caesar salad ideas and right when I was in the middle of making a huge mess I remembered that one of the groceries in Tiny Town sells ready made Caesar salad, whoops! In any case it tasted delicious in a chicken Caesar salad wrap (which pre-cooked rotisserie breasts; a bit expensive but worth it in the heat!) and in a Caesar salad the next day.

Lots of commenters suggested doing a barbecue; unfortunately we don't have access to any outdoor space so that's not an option for us. Another popular idea was rotisserie chicken. At our Friday morning marché we can get still hot rotisserie chicken for a great price, and what I like to do with it is use the leftovers to make stock and then use the rest of the meat to make chicken salad. The thing is that making the stock means that I have to have the gas stove going for at least 45 minutes and in the heat last week, that was out of the question. That's alright, I do this pretty much every time I run out of stock anyway, and in the cooler weather that's about twice a month!

I thought I'd share with you one of Stéphane's favorite summer dishes (in fact, I have a feeling I've blogged about it before). Every time we go to a picnic he asks me to make it. It's a pretty common summer salad in France, found at many get-togethers and picnics: rice salad.

rice salad

That's about a cup of rice cooked very well (for this dish I cook mine about five minutes longer than recommended so it doesn't dry out) and cooled, two or three tomatoes, a cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped (or two if you've got little American ones), an avacado, a small can of corn (drained), a tin of tuna drained and flaked out with a fork, and just enough mustard vinaigrette to make it moist and sticky. Let it cool in the fridge for a good half hour before eating; it's even better if you can make it the night before!

Of course, now I've got all these great summer recipes and the temperature has plummeted. Well, I'm prepared for the eventual rise in temps, thanks to y'all!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

eight months

Talk about your leaps and bounds! I can't believe we've gone from Fry dragging himself across the floor to him doing laps around the salon in his walker in just one month! This kid learns so fast - though it took him about ten days to figure out sitting down once he started pulling himself up, everything else has come at lightning speed. We bought the walker on Sunday and by the end of the day he could basically go in any direction he wanted, whether it was going forwards or backwards. Yesterday we had a little barbecue with a few of Stéphane's colleagues at the school, so we brought the walker with us. He had two little sisters to play with (they were about 3 and 4 I think) and it wasn't long before he was chasing them across the courtyard!!

Fry is also sitting up on his own without any assistance. Most mornings now Fry is either sitting up or standing up at the end of his crib when I go to get him in the morning. He also never stops moving! We can't keep him in the bouncy seat unattended anymore, as he's so strong he can flip right out of it still attached.

Just in the last week it seems that Fry is trying to drop a nap, much to my chagrin! I have the hardest time getting him to stay down for his noon nap, and hey, if he's not tired it just ain't gonna happen, so now he ends up napping a little later, waking up for a bottle in the afternoon, playing a little and then napping some more! This might be because of the heatwave we're experiencing right now, also. I went to get him the other day and his room was a scary 34°C (93°F)!! Now we are happy if we can keep his room down to 30°C (86°F) and we keep the "air cooling system" (a glorified fan that uses ice and water to bring down the temperature) pointed at the crib nearly all the time.

We're still holding steady with two teeth on the bottom, though we're expecting new ones to come through the top any time now. Fry is down to two bottles a day, morning and afternoon, and eats a pot of food and applesauce for lunch and a pot of food fortified with milk and baby yogurt for dinner. He still has as rough time with any kind of solid food besides baby food; every couple of weeks we'll try something soft but the texture really puts him off. A couple of days early I started introducing 8 month baby food, and the one with small pasta didn't go over very well at all. So far the others are just fine.

Other than that, Fry is still the happiest baby in the world, charms everyone he comes in contact with, loves going to the itinerant daycare on Friday afternoons and has no problems leaping into the arms of strangers. Though recently, he wants Mommy's attention more and more, so this period of openness may be coming to a close... Teething days are awful, lack of communication is frustrating, but his smile lights up the room and we're having a ball!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

a plea for help

Our summer foodie conversation will continue shortly, but first I need to blog about what happened yesterday.

I don't think I've blogged about it before, but I have always been a very avid blood donor. Following in my parents' footsteps, I donated for the first time within a week of my 16th birthday and donated all the way through college. In Greenville, I was on the call list, and the need was so great that they called me every nine weeks without fail.

When I moved to France, I was delighted to see that there are the equivalent of blood mobiles passing through Tiny Town every couple of months. I was far too intimidated to go on my own for a long time, though, afraid of not being able to understand enough or make myself understood.

The last time I donated was almost three years ago when I was back in North Carolina, at our family's church. It was then that I found out that I would no longer be eligible to donate in the States, as anyone that has spent over three years overseas is automatically denied. (Yes, that includes military personnel and their families living overseas as well!)

This year, I finally had the courage to go check out the French guidelines for myself. The first time was a few months ago, and looking over the questionnaire I realized I was ineligible, since it had been less than six months since Fry was born. No worries, I thought, I'll go next time.

Yesterday was next time. After the grocery, I packed Fry up in his stroller and we headed over to the salle des fêtes, where the donation area is set up. I cleared the first hurdle, getting my name and info in the system, and was relieved to learn that simply being American wouldn't disqualify me.

Unfortunately, the chat with the doctor was very short. Since I received a transfusion after Fry was born, I am no longer allowed to donate blood in France, either. I was devastated. I managed to get out of the salle with my head up, but I practically cried all the way home.

I estimate that I have donated over three gallons of blood in my life, but now I am forced to pass the baton. So many people brush off donating blood because they "don't have the time," or they think it will hurt or they think they may not qualify. The truth is, donating blood only takes maybe an hour out of your day, it doesn't hurt any more than drawing blood for a test, plus you get to rest and indulge in your favorite sweets after! Best of all, you get a sticker when you leave so everyone can see you for the hero you are.

Seriously, it is so important and who knows if you will ever have an accident and need it? Think of it as karma insurance! I am so grateful to the person that donated the blood I got when I needed it, and am glad that I at least donated when I was able. Of course, not every one can donate, like me, but there are so many people that are eligible that just don't. If you're in America, you can check the guidelines here and the guidelines for France are here.

As an aside, I am insanely proud of my sister, who, after a lifetime aversion to needles (for good reason), has started donating regularly. If she can do it, so can you!!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

(trying to) beat the heat


That's a fruit salad I made yesterday with a quarter watermelon, a whole pineapple (first time I ever hacked one up, it's actually very easy!) and a melon. Thanks to Katia and the Muffin Man for the inspiration!

The temperatures are really starting to climb now. We managed to get out of the house for a few hours, meeting my MIL, SIL and niece at a vide grenier about half an hour away. We had a nice (and cheap!) lunch there and looked at lots of trash to treasure, including a t-shirt that had an English slang word for female genitalia blazed across it and dollar bills with Michael Jackson on them (apparently the guy sold foreign coins and bills and this came from a set that MJ's fan club put out). But even outside, poor Fry was melting in his stroller and we didn't stay long.

this is how we roll
Merguez, fries & coke in a bottle

Yesterday afternoon, I went to fetch Fry from his nap and it was a whopping 34°C (93°F) in his room! Thankfully we have the little air cooling machine that we got last year which helped bring the temperature back down to a reasonable level, but I'm afraid this is just the beginning. At least we'll be spending three weeks of August in the Land of Air Conditioning!

So let me throw this out to you, my dear readers: I am having a devil of a time coming up with things to make for meals that involve little or no cooking. We've done cocktail shrimp (mmmmm) and veggies, cold cuts, sandwiches, salads... and now I'm starting to run out of ideas. Please tell me, what do you "cook" when it's too hot to cook? Leave me your ideas in the comments and I'll share my favorites in the next post!

Friday, June 26, 2009

one more week

Ugh. One more week of stressed out husband. If you're married to a teacher, you know. The run up to the end of the year is so stressful! I can't speak to upper ed. but the last two weeks of primary school here is field trips, la fête de l'école, meetings preparing for next year... This weekend Stéph will be wrapping up his administrative duties on his students so that after next Thursday, the last day of school, he will be well and truly done. And then it takes him a week just to decompress. He's really pleasant to be around this time of year, let me tell you. I want to say that in the (nearly) five years we've been married, 99% of our squabbles have been around this time of year. I think this year I'm just going to give him a wide berth!

In other news, I just found out when dropping off Fry at the halte garderie that they're going to be open for another three weeks! That was a nice surprise; since they follow the school year I expected today to be the last day until September. I was worried that a huge break would mean that we'd have to start all over again getting him used to going, but extending it a little bit may help with that, we'll see.

Sorry if this doesn't make any sense - it's so humid in here that my glasses keep fogging up!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

paris makes me sick

I'm not kidding, every time I go to Paris, even overnight, I come back with some kind of sinus flareup or sore throat. After walking up the "bloody hill" to Katia's house, I had the wheeze of a two pack a day smoker and by the time I got home I had a lovely knot in my throat.

But hey, we get over being sick, right? It's been ages since I've been on the Katia and Kylie Mac show, and you can hear me make a fool of myself on episode 249 (and episode 250, which should be out later this week!).

Sunday, Kylie Mac and I went to the Château de Vincennes, a castle that dates back to the 12th century and is just on the border of Paris. We'd been planning this visit for a couple of weeks, and neither one of us had been there before, so we were pretty excited.

Except that the damned château was closed until the exact hour that I was meant to get on a train back home.

In our defense, there was no prior warning at all. Sunday just happened to be La Fête de la Musique, and since there was a concert in the château, it was decided to close it to the public until the concert started in the afternoon. We were not the only ones caught out; there were several folks with great big cameras that were turned away as well.

The good news is that we got some great pictures just by walking around the château. It's so crazy to me that it's surrounded by regular streets and apartment buildings, as if it were just placed in the middle of the neighborhood like a park or a skyscraper. "...and here's where we'll place our 12th century château..." hmph.

chateau de vincennes

I'll never get used to this. And to think, this will be normal for Fry! You can click on the photo to be whisked away to my flickr feed to see the rest of the pictures.

Friday, June 19, 2009

vivi tries them so you don't have to

This week has been all about new things; a couple of new summer shirts for me and Stéph, a pair of shoes for me:

new shoes

and a new haircut tomorrow morning. Then there's the newness of Fry's standing up (and almost sitting back down without freaking out), periods of independent play and how he charms every person he meets.

So with all this newness, I thought I'd try a couple of these new (to me!) sodas that keep catching me eye. I'm not a big soda drinker (any more) but for some reason Orangina's wacky flavors keep calling out to me. If you've not heard of Orangina, it's a lovely orange soda with real bits of orange pulp and quite tasty.

But orange isn't what you'd think of when you see this:

Orangina cowboy

Yes, it's called Cowboy. Yee haw. Yep, it's orange mint. Actually, it's Orangina with mint syrup. Lots of mint syrup. Pass. (So much of a pass I told Stéphane he has to finish it!)

I didn't start off very well, but I couldn't stop myself!

Orangina Indien

Can't have Cowboys without Indians, can ya? This one is orange grenadine, and I'm happy to report we have a winner! It's not nearly as sickeningly sweet as the mint one, and is actually quite refreshing, like the original Orangina.

There's one other flavor out there called Orangina Rouge, which I presume is blood oranges? If I'm not soda-ed out by next week I may pick up a bottle and try it.

This weekend I'm leaving the testosteronies at home and going off on some adventures! If you keep your eyes peeled, you may be able to find me elsewhere on the internets... and that's all I'll say for now! You kids have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dear French person driving in the parking lot,

Look, I know you're a busy guy. Just because we live in a Tiny Town doesn't mean we're not movers and shakers with people to see and places to go. But dude (for you are usually a guy), it is not necessary to fly through the parking lot at 70/kph. I promise you, your stinky cheese will be there when you get in the store.

Also, stop honking at me for having the audacity to reverse slowly out of my parking space right when you're trying to go by. I can't help it because I can't see you. If seeing a car slowly backing up doesn't slow you down, it's a wonder we haven't seen more kids getting creamed in the parking lot.

I wish I could say I only see you in Tiny Town, but, alas, you have appeared in every single damned parking lot I've ever had the displeasure of dodging you in while in this country.

Finally, if you hit my car while my kid is in it, I will CUT you.



Monday, June 15, 2009

the unfortunate consequeces of progress

So just when Stéphane and I were congratulating ourselves on our genius offspring, we discovered the downside of Fry learning how to stand up in bed: now that he's learned this new trick, he wants to do it all. the. time. Nap time now means putting him down and waiting for him to cry because he's stood up and can't get back down, not once but usually twice or three times. He just can't help himself. Like a moth to a flame, as soon as I leave the room he's back at it, and he just keeps going until he literally doesn't have the strength to go anymore.

To make things more complicated, Fry has figured out standing up in his baby jail parc after trying and falling over only once. And while I'm so excited for him (the look of joy on his face is palpable) it also means we're seeing lots more frustration, arms and legs stuck between bars, and lots and lots of dings and bonks on the old noggin. Hopefully his head is as hard as his father's.

In a vainglorious effort to force Fry to learn how to get down, we let him cry as long as we can stand it to encourage him to at least try instead of calling for us, but he's a stubborn little bugger and he cried himself purple yesterday. He did the climb and cry routine so much yesterday that he got a total of fifteen minutes of sleep in the afternoon, and that was literally because he'd run out of steam, hand still clinging to a bar of his parc. And just when we thought he'd had enough, he managed to climb and cry twice when we put him down last night.

And again at 6:00 this morning.

Yeah, I got the message. The easy part is over.

Friday, June 12, 2009

on allergies, teething and baby jail

Last week I was sure I'd developed another sinus infection so off I went to see the doctor again (man he must love us now!). No, he said, I was having a really bad allergic reaction. How funny that something I lived with for so long in the States has caught up with me here and I didn't even recognize it! He gave me a month long perscription of a really good allergy medicine - it dissolves on my tongue! it doesn't make me sleepy! (well, sleepier) - and is going to send me to have my allergies tested in September. Woo hoo!!

Meanwhile, we've just ended another fun teething period. Funny, you don't realize how bad it is until it's over. All of a sudden, Fry starts sleeping in until 8 and is way more pleasant to be around.

Finally, Fry is now faster than a speeding bullet! Stéphane's first solution was, "well, we'll just have to keep an eye on him." Yes, you parents can stop guffawing now. After Fry nearly cleared a low shelf of computer CD's, bonked his head on the TV stand, the corner of a brick that holds up the decorative wooden posts in the salon, and nearly turned off Stéphane's computer (ooh shiny!), Stéphane's next solution was to buy the biggest baby jail we could find. This playpen is so big it takes up half our salon, but Fry has plenty of room to move and play. We'd actually bought it the day of my doctor's appointment, so I mentioned it to him, and he said this was the perfect age to buy a playpen as he can also work on pulling himself up to stand. He already reaches up and grabs the bars (baby jail!!) and he can push himself up to stand if he's sitting on my leg so I reckon it won't be long before he puts two and two together.

And that's all! Sorry it's been so quiet around here at Tiny Town Manor, but if all goes well I may be going on an interesting sight seeing trip next weekend so surely some photos of interest will come from that!

Edited to add: Just went to get Fry, who was crying in his bed, probably because he was standing up and didn't know what to do next. So much for two and two!!