Saturday, December 25, 2010

Joyeux Noël !

Merry Christmas everyone! We're having a lovely time in these parts. We could even call it a White Christmas, but only by the skin of our teeth, as we just had a light powdering last night.

Yesterday I had to work in the afternoon, so we all headed out early and I dropped Stéphane and Fry off at Mémère's house on the way to work. Work was uneventful and I picked up our contribution to the big Christmas feast - a huge basket of a variety of French cheese ordered a week before - before ever so slowly driving back to Mémère's house.

Fry didn't quite make it to dinner time so he had a light dinner just before the last family arrived and made it through the apéritif before he finally gave up the ghost and went to sleep. Hopefully next year he'll be able to make it longer to see what all the fuss is about!

If you're curious about the menu, we started with a soupe de champagne, then on to an amazing seafood salad, then lamb and a gratin dauphinois. We took a break to exchange gifts (and digest!) before we finished up with ice cream, a Black Forest cake and another cake baked by my niece.

Funniest moment of the night: my SIL wanted to surprise me by buying something from my Amazon list (that I didn't tell her existed, she just searched for our names) and because she doesn't speak English very well, ended up buying a book I wanted to buy for Stéphane! I don't know if I would have ended up buying it anyway, so it was kind of a gift for me too! (I was really touched that she thought of that, though!)

We had to really take our time coming home on icy roads but we managed to get home in less than an hour. This morning we all slept in until nine o'clock, I made what will now be traditional baked oatmeal for breakfast, and Fry finally got to open some presents and, for the first time, he understood the concept. Very exciting and entertaining to watch!

I have finally received a crock pot - I've been wanting one for years but Stéphane complained that we didn't have anywhere to put it, but since we have the new kitchen, ha ha! - so it's making dinner as we speak (I went traditional for the first meal, so it's pot roast and veggies for everyone!). And we're still digesting from last night. Our cups certainly do overfloweth.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It ain't Christmas without a trip to the ER

Oh yes we did, my friends. Let me start off by saying that it was not an accident-inflicted panicky emergency room visit, thank goodness. If you're a parent you might get a kick out of this, and if you're not... well, let's call it a cautionary tale. I'm including some nitty gritty details but I'll warn you if you want to skip the icky stuff.

Our dear son Fry has had problems with his nose for quite a while now. He fights us when we want to wipe his nose, never mind trying to blow his nose, and even trying to wipe his face after a meal is a challenge. Recently he's been suffering from rosy liquid coming from one particular nostril, but even our doctor assured us that it was probably just the inside of his nose being raw from having a stuffy nose for so long.

So cut to last night, when Stéphane was trying to wipe Fry's nose (i.e. had him pinned down on the couch armed with a tissue while Fry screamed bloody murder) and noticed something. A white something. In Fry's nose.

Admittedly, what happened next is absolute folly, but a million light bulbs suddenly came on as we realized that our son has been suffering for quite some time and whatever is stuffed up into his head needed to come out now. So we tried to pin him down while Stéphane tried to get anywhere near his nose with a set of tweezers.

Once we realized we were getting nowhere, we took a break for dinner and then took the next logical step: went to the emergency room. Of course, we don't have a hospital anywhere near us, so off we went to the main Troyes hospital.

We arrived at 7:30 and, for the next three and a half hours, tried to keep Fry entertained. Of course he was nearly asleep when we were called back at last to see the doctor and poor Fry quickly understood why we were there. It took three of us to hold him down while the doctor went at it with a larger pair of tweezers, and though he was able to get out a small morsel, he said we needed to go up to the doctor on call in charge of the vacuum and suck whatever was up there out. Oh, apparently the doctor believed it was a piece of candy.

When he said that, Stéphane and I looked at each other in total puzzlement. Now, here is a good moment to explain why the hell we were completely lost when it comes to Fry and the bonbon up the nose. First of all, from the time Fry was a teeny baby, he didn't like us messing about with his nose. I even tried one of those sucker things for sucking out mucus, recommended from a friend who's son loved it as a baby, but no dice. Secondly, we have never seen Fry put anything in his nose, ever. Hardly ever his own fingers, even. Thirdly, we don't even have candy in the house! We're just not bonbon people. Chocolates? Yep. Salty snacks? You've got our number. That, my friends, is how we managed to miss every single red flag that got us to this point.

Anyhoo, we went up to the third floor to wait for the doctor on call. Warning: here's the gory stuff, if you're sensitive to that, think about kittens and rainbows and skip to the next paragraph! Now it was just Stéphane and I to hold down Fry, and let me tell you, that kid is freakishly strong! We managed to do it, even with the doctor's rudeness (seriously dude, I know it's midnight and you're on call, but he's two, give me a freaking break here). Before long, the doctor sucked out not one but two somethings about half an inch long each. Of course Fry was screaming bloodly murder the whole time (and can you blame him?) but Stéphane and I remarked today that there was a moment where, when one of the pieces were pulled out, Fry seemed to pause his screaming to kind of go, "Oh." Of course he bled like a stuck pig afterwards, but he was quickly patched up and we were released, a mere five hours after we arrived.

(The non-gory version: yucky things were removed, all is well.)

There was a moment during our wait that we questioned coming to the hospital for this, but we reasoned that our doctor wouldn't have the equipment necessary so we'd have to come anyway, plus the fact that it was so late definitely played in our favor (Fry was quite strong a midnight, imagine if it had been during his prime time!), plus we could take advantage of the fact that Stéphane is on vacation right now so we could all sleep in today. In any case, we don't regret it, and Fry seems to be just fine today, even if he's a little jumpy, as if we may whisk him away at any moment to perform brain surgery. Poor kid.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The week from hell

Yes, I know, more than a week this time. I have a good excuse, though!

So actually last week passed without incident, if by "without incident" we mean "couldn't leave the house because of the terrible weather for three days so Fry and I drove each other insane." By Friday he was ready to see the back of me as well and nearly pushed me out the door when I dropped him off at Nounou's house. Saturday we were invited to Stéphane's Algerian uncle's house for couscous, which was very delicious, but am disappointed that Fry didn't seem to care much for it (this from the kid that eats nearly anything). We even went to the massive home improvement store and picked out paint and tiles for the kitchen, which we want to tackle over the Christmas break.

However, this week is not going so awesome. The car's been giving some trouble, in the area of the clutch, so I called the garage Monday and he said I could bring it in right away. He wanted to do a quick drive to see what's wrong and he didn't even get out of the parking lot - dead clutch and we're damned lucky it didn't drop out on the road to Troyes or back. The rest of Monday was spent pushing Fry around in a stroller running errands that couldn't wait in below freezing weather.

Yesterday I had a doctor's appointment that I'd already rescheduled once and didn't want to put off until the New Year, so Fry and I took the bus to Troyes, which meant we basically spent the entire day at my MIL's home, as the only bus that comes back is at 5:30. Mémère had the pleasure of witnessing Fry's new superpower: Extreme Anger Freakout. It's very impressive in person. Then we got back and went straight to the garage, which is helpfully across the street from the bus stop. Goodbye 600€.

Did I mention that I've been sick since Friday? And that it culminated with my throat hurting so bad last night that every time I took a breath it felt like needles stabbing me?

So. Today I get a little break. I slept until 9 (bliss!), Stéphane has taken Fry with him to the school so I can have a little precious time to myself, and then this afternoon I'll take him with me to the grocery. Which will be fun because we've supposedly got a huge snowstorm coming our way. Good times. Hopefully I get enough rest today because I've picked up a day's work tomorrow and am scheduled for Friday and Saturday, when I'm supposed to give a presentation. HA HA!!

So... how's your week?

Monday, December 06, 2010

a break from the snow

This blogging one time a week is for the birds. I don't know why I'm not doing it more often, it's not like I don't have things to say. I think about updating, and then next thing I know a week's gone by.

So we enjoyed the snow that stuck last Monday for exactly a week, as this morning it was all gone when we woke up. It was mostly clear and sunny and cold all week, with just enough snow falling to make me nervous going to work on Friday, but even that had calmed down and melted off the roads before it was time to go home.

Saturday should have been a fun family adventure day, but as is often the case, when we venture out of doors nothing seems to go right. I signed Fry up for a little sing along story time at the huge public library in Troyes Saturday morning. It was only 25 minutes and for small babies/children aged 0-3. Fry was one of the oldest ones there and was his typical rambunctious self. Oh god, I've turned into THAT mom. The one that can't control her child so the others can enjoy the show. As soon as the ladies picked up a guitar, Fry was mesmerized, but when they went back to story telling, it turned into The Fry Show and he chattered along with them. I'm hoping it wasn't as bad as I'm making it out to be, and even one of the ladies told me that they're used to it with this age range, but I wanted to crawl under a pile of books and die. On the other hand, the early readers' section of the library is really lovely, with loads of cushions and baby books, so maybe we'll go back some time when we have nothing else going on.

Meanwhile, Stéphane, who had been shopping for a book while I was trying to coral Fry, met us at the library and then we walked around freezing cold Troyes for a bit, stopping at my work to say hello, and then we had a bit of lunch.

we went out for lunch

It's an Irish Pub, so logically I had flammekeuche and Stéphane had an omelette. Only problem was that he started getting a migraine before we got to the restaurant so he wasn't fully able to enjoy his meal.

Our last stop was at MIL's and by that time the migraine was so bad he went straight to bed while Fry took his afternoon nap. They both slept all afternoon and we basically got home in time for dinner.

As you can imagine, this was not the fun filled family outing I had imagined, but what are you gonna do? We'll try again sometime soon, is all. I've still got my sights set on the big Christmas market in Reims, that we will likely visit in the next couple of weeks.

In other news, my Christmas shopping is officially completed! Not a new record, but not pushing it until the last minute, either (hello last year literally buying gift cards on the way to the family Christmas dinner!). Of course I still have to wrap them, but that's a whole other story...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

it's beginning to look a little like christmas

first snow winter 2010

This is what we woke up to Monday morning. Simply gorgeous. Of course, I'd ordered a full week's worth of groceries from the drive through in Troyes for Monday morning, having absolutely NO IDEA this was coming, so Fry and I had to wander out in it. We managed to pick up a couple of Christmas presents (including one of his own, I reckon that's the last time I'll be able to get away with that!), grab the groceries and return home without too much slipping and sliding.

Today there's still quite a bit of snow lying around (mostly in trees and on the grass) and Fry had a great time stomping through it on the way to the boulangerie this morning. Stéphane told me that we're expecting to get dumped on again tonight and then we're supposed to have a hard freeze Wednesday night, so going to work in Troyes on Friday for work should be a good time.

I haven't quite got the Christmas decorations out yet, but I'm itching too. Maybe I can convince Stéphane that we should buy a tree this weekend instead of waiting until his Christmas break starts, like we usually do. Fry is old enough to appreciate it now so I definitely want to take advantage of it! One thing is for sure: I've put my foot down and informed Mr Scrooge that we will be visiting the Christmas market in Reims this year and Fry will meet Papa Noël for the first time. Happily, Stéphane loves the idea, now the trouble will just be to get him out the door!

Monday, November 22, 2010

fry frustration

Fry hasn't had an easy week. Wednesday he had his 2 year old visit and for the first time, he completely flipped out. He's always handled shots extremely well, with a little cry and it's over after 30 seconds, so just the fact that he had a negative reaction to the doctor was a surprise to me. I'm guessing he made the link because he just had a booster shot a few weeks ago so it's still relatively fresh in his mind.

Anyway, he's fine, healthy as a horse and still topping out the height charts. At home, his major occupations are getting us to play some videos, either on the computer or on the tv, and getting us to color with him.

I'm freaked out at how much Fry is obsessed by moving pictures. He could happily sit in front of the tv all day like a zombie if I let him, and believe me, I won't. A couple of weeks ago we discovered Yo Gabba Gabba together online and now he's totally in love (and I have to admit, I'm totally into it, too). But it breaks my heart that he's not interested in books anymore, even though we keep buying them and trying to sit down and read together. We're going to keep fighting for that.

I think Fry is talking a lot more than we think he is, but I suspect he's using a lot more French vocabulary and I'm not catching it. I swear the other day I heard him say "where are you" in French, and just this morning I thought he said "chien" as we walked by the fence where a dog lives. I would say that about 75% of the words he says are French, though he understands me perfectly when I speak English (which is most of the time). The truth is, he still baby-babbles so much that he could slip a few real words in there and we may not catch them because we're not paying attention! I guess I'd be pretty frustrated, too.

Monday, November 15, 2010

soul music for monday

I haven't put any music on here in forever, so it's time to rectify that. I am completely in love with this song and I hope you guys love it, too. Long live Motown revival!!

Je ne suis qu'un soul man
Écoute ça baby
Je suis pas un superman
Loin de là
Juste moi, mes délires
Je n'ai rien d'autre à offrir
Mais je sais qu'en vrai c'est déjà ça

Update: Apparently this isn't working in the states? Here's a direct link and if that still doesn't work, here's a link to a live version.

Friday, November 12, 2010

challenge accepted

Thanks for the encouraging comments! I think this could be a fun project to put together and I want it to be something really special so I'm going to take my time and really do it right. I'll let you know how's it's going along the way!

This week has been pretty mellow. Stéphane had yesterday off for Armistace Day and since the school is closed on Wednesdays he had a little weekend in the middle of the week. We were supposed to go to Tiny Town's little memorial parade yesterday but the weather was so awful I couldn't even contemplate taking Fry out in it. We had some really serious winds coming through until after midnight which actually kept me up. Thankfully they have calmed down a bit since Fridays are pretty busy around here.

This weekend we've been invited to my MIL's for couscous (COUSCOUS!!!), which I adore, obviously! Hey, maybe I need to get over there early and jot down the recipe!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Fully operational

First of all, look at this:

perfect cupcakes

I made 18 perfect cupcakes on Sunday. They were perfectly even, not even a hint of browning anywhere. My easy bake oven days are officially OVER!

Now check this out:

Sink installed!

I can cook things and wash them as well!! Though I can say that, while washing dishes in the kitchen is a vast improvement over doing them in the bathroom sink, I will be very, very happy to have a dishwasher again tomorrow, as I am sick to death of washing every single dish already. Am I not the laziest person you ever met? Maybe not if I tell you that I'm treating the new wooden countertops every day to make sure they don't warp? I only bought one can of IKEA's magical oil treatment and it's half gone already!

So the cupcakes were obviously for Fry's second birthday, which we celebrated Sunday with Stéphane's brother and his wife. Despite the fact that they live in Troyes, we don't see them as often as I'd like, as they're busy social bees or off visiting their kids who are all at university and spread about France and beyond like the four winds. Fry managed to blow out the candle on his cupcake, much to everyone's surprise, including his.

Apropos of nothing, I'd like to get some feedback from y'all on something. After posting yet another photo of something I'd baked on one of those social networking sites, a friend of mine and I were joking around about making a cookbook about some of the things I've learned to cook since I've lived in France, and I actually got some positive reactions to that, but you know, they're my friends, they're supposed to say stuff like that. So I'm asking you, if I ever got focused enough to put something together and offered it up for a few bucks online, would anyone be interested in that? You know I've probably said "I'm working on a new idea" on this blog a hundred times, but this time I'm being open and up front about it. What do you think?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Back to the kitchen

Right, so where were we? Ah yes, demolition is over so now it's time to build the kitchen back up!

Last Thursday was IKEA day, and it was insanely exhausting, not to mention that we all got sick from all the dust flying around from breaking down all the concrete! Here's our day in a nutshell: We dropped off Fry at Mémère's house, picked up the rental truck, drove to Reims, ordered the kitchen, picked up what we could (two carts full!), loaded up the truck, picked up the rest from the merchandise counter (another cart full!) and loaded that up, ate some meatballs, did one last mad dash to pick up some birthday presents, drove back to Tiny Town, unloaded the truck in our first floor apartment (uuuuuuugh), brought the truck back, picked up Fry, home in time for dinner, and then I died.

Thank god Friday I got to go to work to rest! Here's the rest of the Toussaint vacation in pictures:

Saturday I helped get the corner piece installed:


And at the end of the day it looked like this:

slowly but surely

By the end of the day Sunday he had one side completely done, and Monday it looked like this:

First dinner!

But least you think everything is done:

Hm... something's missing

Stéphane went back to work on Wednesday, so everything is at a standstill until the weekend. We are so close!!

Also, we have completely run out of luck as far as appliances are concerned. A few weeks ago we decided to replace our washing machine. Last week the dryer died, so we ordered a new one (it's on backorder and will be here in another week and a half). This week the dishwasher flooded the kitchen, after Stéphane has already tried to repair it twice, so that's another appliance purchased which will arrive next week. It's a damned good thing I got this job, because my first three (THREE!!!) paychecks have gone to new appliances!!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Vivi goes to the drive-thru grocery

I know I promised an update on the kitchen today, but this morning I tried a new service that's becoming quite popular in France and I want to share it with you.

In most large cities, grocery delivery has already existed for years (and when I say large, I know of at least one store in Troyes (pop. 60k) that offers this service, so we're talking from small to major cities). In most cases, you can either do your groceries like normal, but at the check out your groceries are boxed up and delivered to your home at the hour of your convenience, or you can order online and your order arrives at a predetermined time. This is especially helpful if you live in an apartment and dread the idea of dragging bag after bag of groceries up the stairs.

Of course this doesn't exist in Tiny Town, and I'm hardly going to complain about bringing the groceries up to the first floor when I can park directly in front of our apartment building. But, the latest craze here is a combination order online and drive through service. There are several independent companies popping up around France and now the major grande surface supermarkets are throwing their hats into the ring. When I saw that they were building an E.LECLERC Drive (link in French) in Troyes I thought I might check it out.

Last night I made my order online. Since the kitchen isn't really done I can't cook at 100% so I didn't come to the order with a menu set in my mind like I normally would, and that's a good thing because they don't have every thing available through this service. I had to change a couple of ideas on the fly and that would kind of annoy me on a regular basis. Still, it was easy to search for what I wanted and the overall experience was alright. At the end, I paid with my card and printed out my order and set my time for the order to be ready at 10:00 this morning.

The universe was with me this morning and we managed to pull up at exactly 10:02. The pick up area reminds me of a drive-in, with angled parking spots and a kiosk at each space. I scanned in the bar code from my order and was told that my order was ready and soon it told me who was in charge of my order. Meanwhile, I opened up the trunk and made space for the groceries and chatted with Fry. Soon, a door opened and a lady with a shopping cart came out to the car. She loaded my groceries, already packed in plastic bags, into my car, handed me the eggs so they wouldn't be crushed, and we were on our way at exactly 10:06.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the quality of items such as fruits and meat to be just what I would have picked. The bananas aren't too ripe and the clementines look fine. I got everything on my order and there were no surprises, since the website offers 3-D close ups of all things you buy, so I knew which brands and how much of everything I was getting.

This isn't a service I would use every week right now, but when I start working full time again next April this will be super handy since it's on my way home from work. Definitely a good experience so if you're in the French countryside and don't have the luxury of time or just don't like grocery shopping, I definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


I can't even believe it: my baby boy isn't a baby anymore! My big boy Fry reaches for my hand and leads me around the house (and the neighborhood!), gives me kisses (this is a very new development, hopefully he'll soon get over his shyness and do the same for Papa!), and is my favorite dance partner. I am so head over heels in love with this kid!! Happy birthday my sweet boy!

The kitchen is still not done, everything's going slower than we hoped (I'll put up a post about our progress tomorrow), so we'll celebrate with a proper American birthday cake next weekend. Right now I'm super excited for him to wake up from his nap so we can open up his birthday present: a play indoor tent for his room. I can't wait to see what he thinks!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

and so it begins

Ok, here's how to do a kitchen renovation in ten days (we hope!!).

First we have to take out the two meter long 40 year old cement counter.

Monday evening, Stéphane took off the doors and we emptied out the cabinets.

the doors are gone

Tuesday morning, Stéphane and our friend Marc did the rest of the destruction. First, the wood comes off:

the wood is gone

Then out comes the sink, and thanks to some power tools, a couple of crowbars and some big nasty sledgehammers, the rest broken down and carried out.

the dust settles

Stéphane and Marc are currently carting the remains to the dump and this is what my kitchen looks like right now:

tidied up

Tomorrow, Stéphane will top up the big hole with some cement to even it up, and then Thursday it's off to IKEA to pick our new kitchen! Woo!

Monday, October 25, 2010

So, did you hear there was a strike?

Heh. Sorry about the long time, no post. October kind of got away from me, thanks to the pressure of getting my first guided tours under my belt. I finally did them at the end of last week, and apart from some gentle corrections on pronunciation they went just fine.

Work has been ok, I'm completely torn in my feelings about it now. On the one hand, I really am absolutely thrilled to be working there, it's such a great chance to work for a historical association and the work isn't difficult and it's lovely to talk to people that visit us from around the world. I've talked to some Americans, British, Australians, Japanese, Russians, as well as the much less surprising Belgians, Germans, Italians and Swiss. However, my colleagues are not always super awesome and that is really sucking a lot of the pleasure out of work. When your colleagues are constantly griping about each other and complaining to the direction about ridiculous, petty stuff, it's just not a good time. The best I can do is just stay out of it as much as I can and just do my job.

In other news, you may have heard something about the strikes happening in France. I won't get too much into the politics of it but it's basically a reaction to the retirement reforms, which many people feel is the straw that broke the camel's back in a long parade of reforms, which has lead to the people in the streets and the oil refinery blockades. The lack of gas has hit us here in Champagne, especially in Troyes but even here in Tiny Town, where gas has been rationed at 25€ per transaction. Since they raised the prices, 25€ doesn't go as far as it did a week before, and it certainly won't fill up an empty gas tank (maybe a third, with the raised prices). I was lucky and still had a good bit of gas before I filled it up at the beginning of last week and only drove to Troyes for work last week. I'll be going to the grocery this afternoon and will mostly likely fill 'er up again, since things still seem to be going slowly on the refinery front.

This week and half of next week is the Toussaint (All Saint's Day) holiday. Fry and I were meant to go visit our friend in Zurich again for a couple of days while Stéphane ripped the kitchen apart but with the uncertainty of the gas situation we canceled, much to my disappointment. We were afraid that this would even affect whether or not we'd redo the kitchen at all, since we need to rent a truck to pick up the kitchen from IKEA, but in the end we decided to go forward. Stéphane is, right this moment, doing a bit of plumbing work replacing a leaky copper pipe in the laundry room (he had shown his soldering work to the guy that did our electricity, who said it was good enough that he would hire him!) and tomorrow he and a friend will break out the hammers and crowbars to destroy our cement cabinets. This behemoth is terrifying - it was poured into place when the apartments were built in 1970 and is two meters long with a stone counter top. One of Stéphane's colleagues lived in these apartments many years ago and yanked out his cement cabinets as well and gave us some great advice and I think Stéphane is more than ready to swing that hammer around. Thursday we'll head up to IKEA and buy our kitchen (and I will restrain myself from buying the entire toy section for Fry's upcoming birthday!) and then the really fun part begins.

And finally, as an aside, today is my Dad's birthday and he would have been 70 years old. I remember the first time I saw him after he's been diagnosed and even though he knew the cancer was terminal, the doctor was hopeful that they'd been able to prolong the inevitable. "I might even make it to 70," he said with a smile. I sure as hell wish you had, Dad.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

23 months!

Yesterday Fry turned 23 months! One more month to the big TWO! I can't believe it!

This has been another big month for Fry. He's really starting to talk more, trying out words like "chaussures" (shoes), "banane" (banana), milk, socks, scissors, etc. If we ask him to say something he doesn't always try, but he'll randomly say a word when you're not expecting it, and considering it can be in either French or English, we don't always catch it!

Now in addition to knowing the alphabet, he has nearly got counting to ten down, at least up to seven in French. He loves to count on his fingers with us and knows to use both hands.

We also seem to be done with sippy cups! Don't get too excited, as he still takes his milk in a bottle (to those of you with bottle fed babes, when did you cut out the bottle? I've tried straws but he doesn't seem to get the concept), but at dinner time he now has his own little cup and can drink a little at a time.

Finally, we have actually started introducing the potty. Yep, we know we're crazy! Since he's going to nounou's house once a week and the other kids are either trained or in training, we hope that he'll get interested in the idea. MIL is also in on the act and has had good results, and we've had some good results as well. We don't expect him to get it anytime soon but if we can get consistent about it maybe it will click, who knows? We're trying to keep it light and casual. (I cannot believe I just described potty training as casual. WTF??)

Now, if only we can get him to get used to the idea of giving "bisous"...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

La vie est une farce

That's the graffiti I saw painted on an electric breaker box on my way to work a couple of weeks ago. "Life is a farce." What a perfect message, and I immediately took it to heart. Typically, at the first sign of tension, I have the tendency to take that tension and multiply it by ten and turn into a stressed out mess. "La vie est une farce" is my new mantra. Everything is ridiculous. Let it slide, man, let it slide.

So when some tension popped up at work, I managed to slip into Let it Slide mode. Remember Little Miss Sunshine from my last post? She's not so bad, really, but there is some tension between co-workers, and I'm determined to stay out of it and be friends with everybody. But I really need to remember it when I speak French. I'm fine talking to Stéphane and his mom now in French, but at work I get nervous and seize up and I sound like an idiot. Let it Slide, man, let it slide.

I'm still really liking my job, but I still have one last hurdle ahead of me: I will eventually have to give a tour of the foundation's facilities in French. There is no official tour script and everyone (from the director down to my colleague that works even less than I do) has their own style and touches on different things, so I'm really on my own coming up with what to say for an hour and fifteen minutes. In French. Heh. I still have a few weeks to prepare but I've been studiously scribbling out notes and typing them out in my free time because it's one thing to have an idea of what I want to say, but I desperately have to practice it in French. Very soon you'll find me talking to myself in my living room, recalling my theatre days memorizing lines.

We've had to engage a new nounou for Fry, as his last one is expecting a baby in a couple of months. Poor thing will have his third nounou and very much likely a fourth before it's over, as this one is only available until April. I'm super annoyed with the situation, but at least he has a place to go with a couple of two year olds to play with once a week, with a nounou with 30 years experience, so I'm still trying to Let it Slide when I can. He starts this afternoon and then goes all day on Fridays starting this week. I think he desperately needs to spend more time around little people his age and I hate that it's only once a week, but once we move back into high season next April that will increase. Oh Tiny Town, I sincerely hope that you'll see the back of us one day!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

D-Day is here!

Training is officially over and I'm in charge tomorrow morning. It's good thing I'm not handwriting this because that first sentence would be too shaky to read! I'm sure it will be fine; the software we use is pretty simple and we've been getting plenty of anglophones in lately. It's my old nemesis - the phone - that I'm mostly worried about. Nothing makes me break out in hives like the thought of having to have a conversation on the phone in French, and it's even worse when you're starting a new job and you have no idea what the caller's talking about. I think I've got a good support system in place in the form of colleagues that have readily volunteered to help, so there's no reason for it all go explode in my face. Right? Right.


Other than that, I love this job. I'm still as excited about it as I was when I applied for it. There's only one bit of trouble in paradise, and it comes in the form of a colleague. Of course. Apparently Little Miss Sunshine thought she was getting my position and has been cranky ever since. After we met briefly, she even complained to the direction that "she doesn't even speak French." Hm. Should have known it was too good to be true. At least I should only have to see her about once a week. If I'm lucky.

Meanwhile, everything in our house is covered with dust as the electrician continues working through the apartment. Of course we already knew that the previous tenants had questionable taste but we were surprised to find that anytime someone wanted to redecorate, they simply repapered the walls over whatever was there before. So far we've seen the original wallpaper (which is 40 years old!) in all the bedrooms and discovered that there are no less than four layers of wallpaper in the living room. Pictures are definitely coming!

And finally, because there hasn't been enough excitement around here, our washing machine has gone to the big laundromat in the sky, so guess what we're doing this weekend. Good thing I got a job, huh?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

a new beginning

My first day of work is tomorrow. I feel like a kid on the night before the first day of school: I've got my outfit picked out and everything. I'm only going for a couple of hours for training in the morning, but everything starts somewhere.

I really want this job to be as cool as it sounds. I could really see myself staying there for many years, maybe even eventually going full time. I'm excited and nervous and my prevailing feeling is, "Please, don't let me f!ck this up."

This month is going to be super hectic. The area of the foundation where I work relies on tourists and follows a tourism high season and low season. This is the last month of the high season but starting next month I'll only work two or three days a week, so we'll only need to put Fry with a nounou one day a week. My MIL has graciously agreed to watch him this month when Stéphane isn't working, so I'm grateful I don't work all day during the week. Fry loves going to Mémère's house but she's not getting any younger and I feel guilty even asking her, but we're so grateful.

Meanwhile, the electrician starting working on the apartment this week! He is amazing, it's obvious why he comes so highly recommended! He works alone but faster than lightening, always cleans up what he's working on (even when he goes home for lunch!), and even locks his equipment up in our closets so Fry can't get to them when he's not here. He's already done the bedrooms, the bathroom & wc, half the hallway and is nearly done with the office. I think next week he's on another project but will come back soon to finish the other half of the apartment. Of course, this means Stéphane will definitely be able to work on the kitchen over the Toussaint break!! That means another trip to IKEA!!!

Man, I can't believe what an IKEA cultist I've become. Ever since we went the first time I keep pouring over the website. The worst is that even Stéphane is loving it now, so when we talk about light fixtures he suggests IKEA. Woohoo! Plus now that the newest IKEA has opened in Reims, it's only an hour away, making it a very easy day trip. Dangerous!!!

So this is why I've been so quiet lately - so much going on! All good stuff, for a change! More news as it happens...

Friday, September 03, 2010

22 months

I was supposed to post this yesterday but I was a little busy signing my work contract (bwahahahaha!). More about that later, let's talk Fry!

Poor kiddo, his world really turned upside down this month with the move. He had a few nights where he didn't want to stay in bed but we worked through that, and now he really loves it here, running all over the place. The best part is that we can close doors where he doesn't need to go, even if he's already figuring out how to open them!

The huge discovery this month is that he knows nearly all the letters of the alphabet! Not only does he recognize them (and say them whenever he sees them when we're out of the house) but he has them memorized in order. The only ones he really has trouble with now is L-M-N, the rest he knows but has trouble saying (W is particularly funny!). For now he says them with an American pronunciation, so he finishes with an exuberant "zeeeeeeeeeeeee!" I'm also afraid he thinks that "bravo!" is the last letter of the alphabet!

As for words, we have three: Merci (which still comes out as "ah-see"), Cheese (the most exciting part of lunch, apparently), and Bravo. The only problem is that I discovered just this morning that Cheese is also his word for bread, even though he's known that word for ages now. Hm.

Sadly, it's not all roses around here, as he is swiftly moving into the real Terrible Twos and repeating the same bad behavior over and over again. He favorite bêtise is throwing toys out the windows of our first floor (second for Americans) apartment. Since all the windows are door-sized (with a tall grill so no bodies fall out, thank you) it's really easy for him and he thinks it's hilarious, no matter how many times we punish him. One of these days it will sink in, I hope!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

in which Vivi becomes gainfully employed (again)

So yes, I got the call yesterday, I got the job!! I was so excited, I cried (after I got off the phone, bien sûr) and shook like a leaf for half an hour. Even though this job is part time, it's with a historical foundation and my job will include working with the public - but a very different public than I saw in my last job. The best part is that the contract is a CDI - a contract of indeterminate time, aka The Golden Ticket! I am beside myself thrilled!

But then, not long after, reality came crashing down. We have one more year before Fry goes to school (remember, children are accepted in maternelle when they are three years old as long as they are potty trained) so there's the question of finding child care. The foundation is open seven days a week, and obviously we won't need care for hours when Stéphane isn't working, but will we be able to find a nounou that will take him for so few hours? We don't have a crèche (full time daycare) or a halte garderie (occassional care) in Tiny Town, and apparently the assistante maternelle lobby is so strong we probably won't be getting either one any time soon, as ridiculous as that sounds. We looked into care at Troyes, but the halte garderies have a maximum of four hours and we don't qualify for a crèche because we live so far away. We are going to contact Fry's last nounou to see if she'll be willing to help us, hoping that since she knows him already she will be more likely to say yes.

So we're trying not to let the stress get to us and celebrate the fact that finally, after six long years, I seem to have found a steady, permanent job. There's a risk I might even like my job. Now there's something I wasn't able to say six months ago!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

oh, another chateau *yawn*

Last week we escaped from home improvements for an afternoon and visited a local chateau, though I must say I'm using this term quite loosely here.

The chateau of Droupt-Saint-Basle dates from the 16th century with some 18th century improvements. The last marquise died in 1974 and the chateau was slated for demolition until the current owners bought it in 1983 and restored it.

Droupt Saint Basle

Droupt Saint Basle

It's quite pretty, and they are quite rightfully proud of their working drawbridge and moat.

Droupt Saint Basle

But we passed on the five euro tour, which Stéphane strongly felt would be a lecture on how they managed to restore the place. A small stroll along the road behind the chateau revealed the very important historical jungle gym and medieval swimming pool. But it was nice to get out of the house and chase Fry along a dirt road for a bit, anyway.

Droupt Saint Basle
The church that sits in front of the chateau

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

home sweet home

It's amazing how much you can get done without the Internet for a distraction. One week after the move, nearly every box is empty and everything has a home. After years of living with crap piled on top of furniture or tucked under it, We finally have enough storage space. It makes a sizable difference.

The move went smoothly, even if it took a little longer than expected since we only had a huge rented van instead of a moving truck. I was so worried about Fry coming home to a completely new home, but after a moment of panic when he understood what was happening, he settled in perfectly. He has since slept better here than he ever has and the difference has been extraordinary.

We can tell the difference, too. Waking up to a tree-filled park instead of someone else's roof has been simply lovely. No neighbor's dog barking at all hours of the night, no moped-revving for ten minutes non-stop, no more people standing outside our window saying "goodnight" for half an hour at five in the morning. Everyone we've met that lives here or has ever lived here told us, "on est tranquille ici," it's really calm here, but I'm not sure we really believed it until we moved in.

It's not completely perfect. We've got some plumbing issues to sort out, when Fry has a temper tantrum you can hear it all over the building (thankfully he gets over it relatively quickly), and it's going to take a lot of work for Fry to understand that throwing stuff out the door-sized windows is *not okay*. But I think we're going to be happy here.

I got some even better news last week. I didn't mention it here but before we moved I happened across a too good to be true job opening, so I sent in my resume with an explication that we were in the middle of a move and included every single means of communication I could think of. Not only did I get a call back, the job is even cooler than the announcement stated. My interview is next Monday. I really want this job. Please think happy skippy thoughts for me for the next few days!!

Monday, August 02, 2010

21 months and a special birthday

As you are reading this, we are in the middle of moving furniture, or cleaning our old apartment, or unpacking in the new one. Today is moving day, but I couldn't let my monthly Fry posts slide.

Poor Fry is having a rough time with the move. This is the only home he's ever known and every time he wakes up from a nap something else is packed up and gone. He's been to the new apartment a few times but I'm afraid he's in for a big shock tonight when he comes home to the new place after spending the day at Mémère's house.

He is inching ever closer to talking and says "ci" for merci and "chee" for cheese, but only when prompted. I was surprised to find this week that he knows quite a few letters (thank you Old School Sesame Street!). As I wrote out the alphabet with crayons, he said quite a few of them before I did. As excited as I am about this I have to admit that I'm starting to get a bit impatient about the talking - come on kid, spit it out!

I also have to mention that today is a very special day for another reason - my very dear Grandma turns 90 today! My family all got together this weekend for a huge celebration and we're so sad we weren't able to get there this year, but we were able to talk on skype on Friday. Grandma is a real inspiration to me and I love her so much! Happy birthday Grandma!!

So we will hopefully have our internet back in less than two weeks, so you be nice while I'm gone, Internet! In the meantime, I'm sure I have some unpacking to do...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It just gets better and better

Aaaaaaah. Every time we take a carload of boxes over to the new place, I love it more and more. It has so much potential and it's going to be a pleasure to make it ours.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everything is falling apart. I guess you could say that Reason 11 that I can't wait to leave this apartment is the electricity problems. I've never been able to run two major appliances at the same time (making laundry, already a much longer chore than it should be, even longer) and I can't even set the iron at the hottest settings because it shorts out the electricity. It has gotten progressively worse and worse upstairs until a couple of days ago the electricity started shorting out with just the washer or dryer running and when Stéphane unplugged them from the wall, the outlet was radiating heat. So, no more laundry until we've moved. We don't have an automat here in Tiny Town but there is a laundry service so if I get really desperate I may have to pay someone to wash my clothes.

Also, the Big Green Monster in our living room, a.k.a. the ancient futon couch, has finally given up the ghost. Not only is the cover all ripped up (which started right after I took it to be washed, of course) but the folding mechanism is broken and doesn't sit right on the base. It wasn't in the budget but I think we're going to take the money we were planning on using to go camping for a few days after the move and replace the couch instead. As much as it would be nice to take a mini-break after all the stress of buying and moving, I think I'd rather keep my butt off the floor and it's time for this poor old clic-clac to be put out of its misery.

Everything else seems to be going smoothly (I've just jinxed myself, haven't I?). We're taking a break from packing today to go to a horse show (hopefully photos will be taken!) and tomorrow we'll run to Troyes to buy more boxes. One more week and we're outta here!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vivi becomes a homeowner

Well, it's done. The papers are signed, we have the keys. Last Friday, we jumped off off the seemingly never-ending rent cycle and into the world of home-ownership. It was an emotional moment for both us: for Stéphane, because his parents never owned their own home, for me because I've passed another milestone I can't share with my parents.

Of course, all this warm fuzziness quickly fizzled when we went to the apartment alone for the first time and as Stéphane attempted to open the water main, the faucet came off in his hand (worry not, it is blocked shut, which is much better than the alternative!). So we've added 'Call the Plumber' to the very long To Do list. We have two weeks before we move, and we've decided to start moving things over already, specifically on the days that we don't have anything else planned. About half of our books have made it over and are piled up in front of windows (in order to conserve boxes we're unloading as we go).

On our last trip we met our upstairs neighbor. I'm extremely happy to report that she is very kind and chatty and in five minutes spoke to us more than the majority of our neighbors in our current lane have in the last five years. She also assured us that it's calm and quiet, which is great news as our present neighbors are getting worse as time goes on.

Of course, in the middle of all this action, I have to go and catch a summer cold. I am officially in hell - it's hot again, I've got a head cold, and we have a metric ton of stuff to do and every day we're not doing sometime towards the move I feel like we're falling behind. Even so, I'm glad we managed to get away yesterday to the lake, just before my cold really bloomed, as Fry had an amazing time playing on the "beach" (the Floridian in me shudders to call it a beach but I digress) and loved playing with our friends' kids and swimming with Papa. Now I just need to find a balance between resting and packing as we have less than two weeks to blow this pop stand!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Surviving the heat

As we're on the brink of another heatwave I thought I'd write about what we do to try to stay cool. I've had quite a few comments by stunned friends and family about why we don't see air conditioning in France, as if we were some poor third world country. The simple truth that some people don't want to hear is that up until about ten years ago it only very rarely reached temperatures over 80°F in Northern France! Yes, climate change is real my friends, I am living it! Even when the temps did get over 80°, many French houses are built to withstand the heat, but not all of us are so lucky to have a heat-resistant house. So why aren't people people rushing to add a/c to their homes? Probably because it's awfully hard to run vents through concrete walls. Wooden houses are extremely rare, considered a new-fangled "green" construction method.

I'm sure I'm going to miss a few things but if you live without air conditioning and have some tips for keeping cool, please do share them in the comments!

  • Shutter control. Opening the windows and shutters after the sun sets lets the cooler air in, and closing the shutters and windows when the sunlight falls directly on them help keeps the air cool inside. We have minimum success with this for two reasons: we live in a townhouse and the second floor is directly under the roof and has no insulation, and all of our windows are on the side of the house that faces due west, so we get full sun hitting our windows from 3pm until 7pm, and we have to close all of our windows, trapping in the hot air. We still do the shutter thing, it just doesn't help as much as in traditional stone houses or houses with windows on more than one side.
  • Summer menu. This is the time of year to make all your favorite cold summer dishes! Pasta salads, rice salads, fresh veggies and dip, cold cuts and charcuterie, fruits and seafood, and don't forget the ice, popsicles and ice cream!
  • Cook early. The only problem with the pasta and rice salads is that you have to turn on the stove to prepare them! This is a challenge for us and our open plan kitchen/living room. When I have a salad planned, I cook the pasta, rice, chicken, and whatever else needs doing as early as possible while it's still a bit cooler. Even with getting Fry his breakfast and settled for the morning I can manage to get things cooked by 9am. Plus this way I'm sure that it will have cooled down and ready to eat by lunch!
  • Cook outside. Obviously this is the best way to cook in the summer but we don't have this option, unfortunately! Of course it's barbecue time so if you have the means, fire up the grill! What a great way to keep the heat out of the house!
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Do everything you can to keep the fluids going! I've gotten lazy about drinking water myself and have suffered with horrible headaches. We take extra care with Fry to offer him water at every opportunity as he often doesn't realize he's thirsty and is still too young to ask. When it's really hot, we make sure to throw drinks in the fridge, and the best tip I've gotten from a good friend was to sweeten and chill drinks with some frozen fruit!
  • Take a shower. When you just can't stand the heat, jump in the shower for a nice break. Some say that a hot shower is the way to beat the heat, but for me, there's nothing better during a heatwave than a nice cold shower for temporary relief!
  • Get out of the house! When the house starts trapping hot air (usually three or four days into a heatwave) it can be truly miserable at our place in the afternoons. Very often we find relief by getting out of the house and finding a shady spot outside! Whether it's a short walk by the river or a visit to the park, we very often are grateful for the fresh air and the excuse to get out of the house until the sun starts to set.

Unfortunately, even with all these tips, our house was still miserable last week, with the upstairs reaching temperatures of 35°C (95°F) and staying there through the night, forcing us to set up Fry's pack-n-play downstairs where it is a little cooler. The good news is that we at least have a closing date for the new apartment and should be in the new place for August! Until then, we're doing the best we can!

Friday, July 02, 2010

twenty months

Oh, my big boy is getting older! I am very happy to announce we finally have a first word (after mama and papa) and to be honest I'm surprised that it is "merci!" The truth is, I always say "thank you" when I give him something and maybe half the time follow up with a "merci," Stéphane isn't really good about saying it consistently, but given the choice "merci" is certainly easier to say! He doesn't say it every time, and it comes out more like "uh-ci," but this is common for French babies anyway.

Fry continues to be at the top of the height and weight charts and is very often as tall as or taller than boys that are six months to a year older than he is. He still loves music more than anything and will literally stop in his tracks when he hears it, and now will often dance along. Last week he went swimming for the first time (finally!!) and he totally loved it! We can't wait to do it again.

For the most part, Fry still eats everything we give him, except lettuce (a bit confused by the leaves, I think!) and is starting to turn his nose up at veggies, but we keep plugging along. Nothing makes him happier than a little bit of time with Old School Sesame Street and really starting to interact with the show.

Lest you think my sweet boy is perfect, we're definitely starting to see the beginnings of "terrible twos" with plenty of tantrums and purposefully doing things he knows are off limits. The testing will continue and we'll try to cut him off at the pass as much as we can!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

an update and a recipe

So things are slowly moving along with the apartment. The papers for the loan and been sent back and we have an appointment with an electrician next Thursday evening at the apartment. It is looking very likely that we won't get the electricity done before we move in, but luckily it's not dangerous and simply needs to be updated. My MIL recently had her electricity updated (she's lived in the same apartment for 30 years!) and it was just a few days on inconvenience, so we'll hope for the same.

In the meantime, I'll be taking photos and measurements while the menfolk talk electricity. I also would have liked to have had a new kitchen before we move in, but that's not looking too good either. The good news is that I've convinced Stéphane to take a day trip to IKEA after so many excellent recommendations on their kitchens, so we'll do that one day after I have the necessary measurements in hand. We still don't have a closing date but hopefully we'll know in the next few days.

It has been insanely hot here in the Land That Air Conditioning Forgot and that's making us even more anxious to move. If we close in the next couple of weeks we may even take the opportunity to move straight away since we won't be able to get any work done before the beginning of August anyway. Last night Fry's room hit 90°F and we ended up setting up the pack-n-play downstairs, where it is a bit cooler. Of course, we'd been planing to move at the beginning of August so of course nothing's been done; I'll be starting the sorting as early as Saturday, as tomorrow is Stéphane's last day of school.

I plan on doing another post about surviving the heat very soon, but first I'd like to post this recipe for homemade Catalina salad dressing. One of the ways we keep cool is to eat plenty of pasta and rice salads and keep the cooking to a minimum and as early as possible. Catalina dressing can't be found here and while I find it too tangy for a regular salad, I love it on my taco pasta salad. Here's a recipe you can make at home that is really simple and leaves out that extra HFCS.

Homemade Catalina Dressing

1/8 cup vinegar
1/4 cup catsup
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup salad oil (I use Colza)
salt & pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and blend with a hand mixer. Makes half a pint. Store in the fridge and add to your favorite salads!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

10 things I won't miss about this apartment

This week we found out that we've been approved for our loan (at long last!). We still have to wait ten days before we can send off the paperwork (in case we chicken out, I guess?) and then we can schedule a closing date. We are so close!!

In honor of finally getting out of this apartment, I present you with ten things I won't miss about it at all (in no particular order):

10. The horribly creaking floorboards upstairs. It's most noticeable when I grab the dry laundry and dump it on the bed to fold, and just shifting my weight back and forth makes the floorboards creak. There's no point in finding another laundry folding spot because all of the upstairs is the same. Every time I fold the laundry I think to myself "I can't wait to move, I can't wait to move..."

9. The horrible, horrible stairs. They are narrow, steep and are comprised of planks so wide apart that Fry could easily dive through them. He is still only allowed up the stairs alone if one of us is right behind him, and downstairs if one of us is holding him (but I usually carry him down, such is my fear of these stairs). They also creak like mad. The only good thing about the stairs and floorboards upstairs is that we've never had to worry about someone sneaking in the house to kill us.

8. The shower stall. It is so small that we can't even fit a Fry-sized bucket in there for his bath, so his little tub sits in the middle of the bathroom. How much luck do you think we've had getting him to stop playing Splashy Splashy and flooding the entire bathroom?

7. The exposed brick. The entire downstairs is an open plan, meaning it's one big room that encompasses the kitchen, dining room and living room. They used to be divided with a wall, but instead of a wall we have the remains of some load bearing wooden beams, which are actually quite charming (you can see them and the terrifying stairs in this photo from a couple of months after we moved in). The problem is that they don't go all the way down to the floor. They rest on a bed of bricks, which must have been originally hidden when it was a wall. Exposed brick is exactly what you want with a child whose two speeds are Run and Sleep.

6. The kitchen. Again, thanks to the open plan, there's no hiding the kitchen and all the sharp pointy killer things in it from Fry. Until a couple of months ago, we managed to keep Fry out of the kitchen side by tearing down his play pen and using the pieces to barricade him into the living room side. But it was really ugly and a pain in the ass to have to climb over all day. We finally took it down when we decided to buy the apartment, knowing that we would be having people coming to look at the apartment. Thankfully the only time he has tried to play with the oven has been when it was off but I will be so grateful to get into our new place, where the kitchen is separated into its own room with a door that closes.

5. Fighting for parking. One of the downsides to a lane filled with maisons de ville is that they don't always have garages. Our lane is just wide enough for cars to park in the road and for regular sized cars to drive by in one direction (in the rare occasion that another car is coming in the opposite direction, one of them must find a space between parked cars and let the other pass). I think all of my neighbors have only one car (like us) so we manage happily to park in front of our homes, but it's a real PITA to come home from the grocery to find a neighbor's guest parked in front of my home, so I have to park down the street and haul in Fry and a trunkful's worth of shopping bags.

4.The Birds. Our apartment butts up against an empty warehouse, and on the other side is a stand-alone home with a yard. In this yard is a gorgeous cherry tree. Every Spring, the birds descend on the tree and then perch on our roof overhang. I don't know why they love our roof so much, but I won't miss driving around with half an inch of cherry bird shit all over the car.

3. The neighbors (speaking of...). We have lived in this apartment for five years. There are some people in this lane, that have lived here longer than us, that still will not say hello to me on sight. If I say hello to them, they grudgingly reply. We have, luckily, met some very lovely people in Tiny Town, and thanks to Stéphane's good reputation as a teacher many people know who we are (people bring Stéphane up in conversation to me in his capacity as a teacher as if I am supposed to know who they and their children are!) and in typically slow French countryside fashion, we are finally starting to feel like a part of this town. Except for my neighbors down the lane, who I will not miss, even a little. (Of course, we don't know who our new neighbors will be, but fingers are crossed!)

2. Our landlord. Oh, dear. We didn't hear a peep from her for the last five years, even in the beginning when we had problems and she didn't return our calls (Stéphane fixed any problems that came up himself). The millisecond that she understood that we were giving notice, she was on our backs. She had a "For Rent" sign nailed up before we even sent our official three months notice. The week we were out of town, she called to ask if she could show the apartment with a few hours notice. I got that message the next day when Fry and I returned, and an hour later, as I'd barely got everything out of the car and was settling down, she was there with the client on the way! I told her it would be impossible for that night and to come back the next evening, which she didn't like very much but she didn't really have a choice.* Last week we suddenly had a huge banging noise right outside our door, Stéphane went to investigate and there she was, nailing up a second "For Rent" sign. She couldn't even bother to knock on the door? The worst was Saturday at 4pm, she called and asked if she could come by with a client with two hours notice. Of course we said no. I will really be glad to see the back of her!

1. Last, but certainly not least: NO MORE RENT!! We are both so excited to be able to stop throwing money away on rent and start investing for ourselves. Even if it's not the home of our dreams, at least we're investing in our future.

*Renters have very strong rights in France: landlords are not even allowed to have an extra key and in situations like ours, they are supposed to create a visiting schedule with the renters for good hours and how much notice we are entitled to, etc. We have been very lenient with her so far, just gently but firmly refusing her when she has showed up unannounced or asked for very short notice.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mommy & Fry's Excellent Adventure!

At last I'm sitting down to tell you about our trip last week! As I mentioned before, while Stéphane and his colleague were shepherding 50 students on a four day trip to the Vercors, Fry and I drove to the Village of the Damned, near Zurich, to visit Ms Mac.

The drive itself was fine, though it was a bit longer than anticipated with all the stops for Fry's benefit. He handled the long hours in the car much better than I expected, wardrobe malfunctions notwithstanding. When we arrived, I had the great pleasure to meet Ms Mac's handsome and clever sons and it was great to catch up with Mr Mac as well.

The next day we went to the top of Säntis mountain were we enjoyed the amazing views:

Fry enjoys the view

View from Säntis

View from Säntis

Of course I completely forgot Fry's jacket to go up a mountain where the yearly high is 8°C, so I was forced to purchase the most adorable polar fleece sweater ever, so no regrets.

The next day, we did a bit more sightseeing, the highlight of which was taking a boat from Rapperswil to Zurich on Lake Zurich. Absolutely gorgeous day, nice and cool on the water, and stimulating conversation!

Rapperswil from Lake Zurich

You can find the rest of the photos in my flickr set here.

Despite the fact that Fry was awake at the buttcrack of dawn (much to the delight of our gracious hosts, I'm sure) we had an amazing visit and can't wait to go back!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

tomates farcies

Hello hello! We had a great time on our Excellent Adventure, and I'm going to blog about that with pictures very soon, but my cousin asked me for my recipe for tomates farcies, or stuffed tomatoes. I thought for sure that I'd already posted it here but apparently I haven't at all, so I thought I'd better rectify that!

This recipe makes four generous portions, or enough for two meals for the three of us. Traditionally, this is made with ground pork, but if you're like me and have problems with cholesterol, you can substitute ground beef or go half and half (which is what I usually do). Also, I should note that all the measurements are approximates since I never measure myself!

You will need:

1 1/2 pounds of ground pork
1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
3/4 pounds of ground beef and 3/4 pounds of ground pork

4 large tomatoes (large enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but not too large, or else the meat won't cook in the middle)

1/3 cup bread crumbs
herbes de provence
garlic powder
salt & pepper

Slice the tops off the tomatoes, scoop out the flesh and liquid and set aside. Sprinkle a little salt into the tomato and turn upside down in your casserole dish.

Chop up the tomato flesh and toss into the casserole (makes a great sauce!).

Add to the tomato juice the meat, bread crumbs, herbes de provence, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste and mix by hand. (if I'm using pork, I don't add salt here.)

Stuff meat mixture into the tomatoes, over-stuffing a little. Place the tops of the tomatoes back on so they are perched on top of the meat. Make meatballs with whatever meat remains and add to the casserole.

I can't tell you what temperature to set your oven because we have an easy bake oven that has no temperature gauge (yes, really) but set it to the lower side, maybe 350-ish? Let cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is cooked through. Serve with rice.

Bon appétit !

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

nineteen months

Here are some random things about Fry, who is nineteen months today:

  • He would rather eat pickles than fresh cucumbers.
  • He consistently waves if you ask him to say "bye-bye."
  • He can feed himself with a spoon (under heavy supervision)
  • He does this hilarious monster baby voice. It's hard to get him to do it, but it always cracks the three of us up, and it's really the first time Fry is aware of the "joke" and is laughing with us.
  • He still generally takes two naps a day, which is totally worth getting up at 7am for. Most days, anyway.
  • Still no words, but the baby talk is always evolving and he repeats sounds more often.
  • He could stop and watch cars and trucks go by for hours, making our daily walk to the boulangerie a bit long but usually I'm not in a hurry so I don't mind.
  • I declared a while a go that I was sure that Fry would be left handed, but I'm not so sure now. He eats pretty consistently with his right hand, but he seems to prefer to draw (well, move the crayon over the paper really fast) with his left. Only time will tell...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

lots to celebrate

I had a great birthday last week, even if it was pretty mellow. We went to our favorite crêperie in Troyes and despite the fact that we don't take Fry out that often (or go out that often ourselves, natch), he did pretty well!

hmm... I dunno...
I dunno, what are you getting?

Then a short walk around Troyes before heading home, as Stéphane was working on a pretty good head cold and it was a bit too hot for Fry to be out anyway. I spent the rest of the day knitting and enjoying the sunshine. Bliss!

I took the precious little birthday money I got and bought these:


I haven't had a new pair of chucks in twenty years, it feels like coming home! They make me really happy.

This week was pretty calm. Fry has been really lovely lately, except for giving us some drama about eating his vegetables (already??) at dinner but both Stéphane and I are big believers in eating what's put before you so we're working through that, even if it means celebrating one spoonful. Fry is hilarious when it comes to new food. If he doesn't know it, he refuses it outright, and we kind of have to force it into his mouth, after which he immediately asks for more! Silly kid.

So, today is Mother's Day in France. Last year I got zilch (as my dear husband said, "you're not my mother!" pfft.) but this year I woke up to this:

fête de mères

and it makes me very, very happy. It's a bittersweet Mother's Day, as today is also my mother's birthday. She would have been 65. I can't believe it's been five years already!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

happy bithday to me!

Yep, it's my birthday! But really, I wanted to do this big post about Fry, and then I forgot what I wanted to say, and then I just kind of lost the will to blog. This has got to stop! Also, I just need to write stuff down, this is driving me crazy!

I can show you this: last week we checked out a public forest about fifteen minutes from here and we fell in love with it! Stéphane liked it so much we wanted to go back the next day but the weather didn't cooperate. It's pretty crappy as far as forests go (this one is gorgeous but 45 minutes away) but there are nice wide paths to follow and it's great to let Fry go and let him run around and discover. Something, I'm sorry to say, he doesn't get to do much in his day-to-day life.

A nice day for a walk

Monday, May 17, 2010

in which Vivi forgets that she is a second class citizen

We hit a bit of a snag at the bank last week for the loan for the apartment. Because Stéphane is a fonctionnaire (works for the government) he qualifies to be a member of a private bank with a pretty nice savings account system, so we didn't even bother going to any other banks to get quotes for our loan. The problem was that the person we talked to gave us a bunch of static about my not being French. This happens occasionally, but this is the first time it really threatened to hurt us. There are some people here that think that America is such an amazing country that they can't believe anyone would ever want to leave it, so if I'm here, that means I'm obviously running some kind of scam. She actually said to us that she didn't know if her company could approve our loan because there was the chance that we could move to America, leave our debt behind, and then not fulfill our commitment to repaying our loan.

Yes, that's right, my husband's going to leave his fonctionnaire position (which basically means he can never lose his job unless something really tragic happens) and we're going to abandon our apartment, on which we're putting a thirty percent down payment, and go back to America, where we will have no money, no jobs and very little help from the government to get on our feet. Christ some people can really talk out of their asses, can't they?

I nearly burst into tears of anger and Stéphane wasn't too pleased either, but we soon realized that this woman literally has no idea what she's talking about. Of course, we can't tell her what we really think because she's still standing between us and our loan approval (which still has to be approved by committee, but we are asking for such a small amount it's almost comical) but once it was clear that she won't personally be making any decisions about our loan and she was seriously making stuff up, we calmed down, smiled and nodded, and set an appointment for this Wednesday to finalize our loan request.

Now I'm thinking that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and get my citizenship sooner than later. Not that it would affect this loan, as it takes nearly two years for citizenship to be approved, even if I had all the documents. I wish I could afford to take a quick trip to the States in order to grab all the documents we need and just be done with it. In the meantime I smile and nod and try not to let it bother me that some people do not care that I have a college education and am bilingual, I will always be just a foreigner to them.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fry's first visit to the ER

Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Poor Fry was simply born to accident-prone parents who have their own long lists of emergency room visits. I was hoping to put off Fry's first visit for a while but he had other plans.

Tuesday was rolling along as usual until lunch time. Fry didn't take a morning nap, so when that happens he usually takes a nap after lunch instead. The only problem with that is the longer he goes without sleeping, the more likely he is to fall down and hurt himself. So we all had lunch together as usual and then Stéphane and Fry were playing while I tidied up from lunch.

And then, running around the salon, not looking where he's going as usual, he tripped on a shoe and dove directly onto a low wooden table next to the sofa. Now, Fry bangs his head often enough and has a pretty high tolerance for pain, so when he started screaming we knew it was pretty bad, but even then we didn't realize how bad at first. I scooped him up and consoled him, but it wasn't until he pulled away for a moment that I saw the blood. Fry fell directly on his ear on the edge of the table, hard enough that he nearly split his ear in two.

After the initial panic, and considering it was still lunch time (i.e. everything is still closed), I made the executive decision to throw him in the car and drive to the closest emergency room, half an hour away (in the pouring rain, why, Mother Nature, why??).

We had an hour's wait, during which I actually wondered if I'd made the right decision. His ear had positively blossomed into a veritable cauliflower ear just after the accident, but the swelling had gone down so much that by the time we actually saw a nurse I was practically apologizing for bringing him in! But it turns out that I had made the right decision, as the cut was bad enough that they were debating whether to try the glue or do stitches. They finally decided to try the glue first and go to stitches if they couldn't manage. Happily, they did manage, even though it took three of us to hold him down (!).

To tell you the truth, that's the last time he's complained about it. He was too agitated to sleep when we got home, but he slept straight through the night and yesterday was like nothing had happened at all. Except when he fell on it again at Mémère's house.

Yep, he's definitely my kid.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

toddler proof

Fry turned 18 months old on Sunday. Despite the fact that he seems to be going through a major separation anxiety phase - he freaks out if someone else tries to carry him, even if I'm right next to him - he continues to amaze us everyday.

In light of the fact that we've just given our three month notice to the landlord and can expect to have visitors in the near future to see the apartment, we decided to, at long last, take down the remaining barriers, save for the one that blocks the stairs. For the last six months or so, Fry has been confined to the "salon" side of our open plan downstairs area. That means that we had to climb over the barriers in order to go to the kitchen side of the room.

So we toddler-proofed the kitchen side as well as we could and during his nap on Sunday, took the barriers down. What followed was a half hour of carnage, in which Fry found every single thing he could that could either disfigure or kill him outright, I basically screamed NO!! for thirty minutes straight, and ended with the spectacular demise of a wedding present that was just within Fry's reach.

Sunday was an emotionally charged day, to be sure.

Destroyed wedding gifts notwithstanding, the last couple of days have been better. We are forced, for his well being, to keep the downstairs as clean as a whistle, which is definitely a good thing. The cabinets are now truly toddler-proofed, the garbage can be locked closed (what amazing foresight, when I bought it four years ago!), so the remaining danger will come from the oven, which will definitely burn him if he so much as touches it. Now that the weather is warming up (supposedly - I had to turn the heat back on this morning, but that's another story!) I will use the oven sparingly over the next couple of months, happy in the knowledge that our new apartment will have a real kitchen to itself with a door that keeps small people out, even if only temporarily.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

happy labor day!

This post isn't really about Labor Day, but I'm wishing those who celebrate today a nice one!

I don't think I've mentioned it, but the day after we found out that our offer had been accepted, Stéphane's computer died. Well of course it did, right? So the last couple of weeks we've been sharing mine, and if you know my husband at all, that means he completely takes it over when he's home. The new one should be ready on Wednesday, hurray!

Not that I don't have plenty to keep my occupied. I've discovered that I can, at long last, enjoy reading a book without craving a cigarette for the first time since I quit two and a half years ago. What a relief! I really missed reading.

Meanwhile, we signed the contract for the apartment last week and we have an appointment at the bank on May 12, then it's pretty much sit and wait for the notaries to do their stuff. We're told to expect at least two months but no more than three months for the paperwork to go through. Obviously we're hoping for closer to two so we can do a little work in there before we move in, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I refuse to stress over it!

What does threaten to stress me out is our current landlord. We had to call her for some documents she completely flipped out, saying she wanted to start showing the apartment as soon as possible. Last night she stopped by with a sign to hang out in front of the apartment and we haven't even given our three month notice yet! Fortunately, there are actual laws in place for showing an apartment when there is someone still living in it: the landlord is not allowed to show it when we're not here and we can set limits. We're thinking that she must give us 24 hours notice and nothing after 7pm so as not to disrupt Fry's evening schedule. The thing I don't understand is that she owns outright at least six apartments that I know of, so I can't imagine what her financial outlook must be if she's dependent on incoming rent from every single one every month!

So that's a taste of what's happening around these parts!

Friday, April 23, 2010

homemade laundry detergent

I mentioned on twitter yesterday that I'd just finished whipping up a batch of homemade laundry detergent and a bunch of people showed interest in my recipe, so I thought I'd post it here.

Making my own laundry detergent seems so random, but it was a natural progression, in fact! We decided to use cloth diapers before Fry was even born, but you can't use regular laundry detergent with them, because the chemicals eventually break down the absorbing properties of the diapers. You can buy special chemical-free detergent at most health food stores, but they are really expensive, nearly negating the savings we were making with the cloth diapers themselves! Around the same time, I started using soap nuts for cleaning our clothes. While I really appreciated that our clothes no longer smelled like chemicals and they were indeed clean, soap nuts don't have natural bleaching properties and our clothes started to look dingy. Plus, they didn't do anything against the extremely hard water we have here.

In looking around for alternatives, I found loads of recipes for homemade detergents that are suitable for cloth diapers and for clothes. Unfortunately, if you live outside North America, you will have to have a hook-up for the Borax. If anyone knows of a source for Borax in Europe or a good substitute, please let me know! My sister brought me a box when she visited last summer, and I brought back a box as well after our visit, and we've been using it ever since. I haven't even opened the second box yet, though I think I will have to for the next batch. I based my recipe off of this one, and here is my current recipe:

Homemade Laundry Detergent

homemade laundry detergent

You will need:
1 bar laundry soap*
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda**
1/2 cup oxygen cleaning powder

*I use savon de Marseille, which has a lovely subtle scent that I quite like, but you can get unscented and even add a bit of essential oil if you like.
**Washing soda is called cristaux de soude in French

First, I mix together the Borax, washing soda and oxygen powder, since they are all powdered anyway. Then I start to grate the laundry soap and folding it into the powder as I go. I find it mixes together better than grating all the soap at once and trying to mix it together at the end.

You only need a heaping tablespoon for a load of laundry and one batch should last several months! I find this works really well, and even Fry's clothes that has suffered from... accidents (ahem) come out perfectly clean and stain-free. As you can see from the photo, I keep mine in a very large jar with the recipe taped on so it's always handy.

I hope this helps those of you that have asked; please do let me know if you try it!

OH one more thing! This is not the same recipe to use for cloth diapers! There is some concern that the laundry soap can cause build up, which can be bad for the diapers. I used the recipe that I linked above, which is equal parts Borax, washing soda and oxygen cleaning powder, and they still look brand new! We aren't using them right now (kind of a long story), but we are hanging on to them to use with the next little person that comes along.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

in which Vivi forgets to blog

There is SO MUCH going on right now and I've lost the instinct to run to my computer whenever something interesting happens, so I'm playing a bit of catch up.

First, and most important really: our offer on the apartment has been accepted!! There was a tense moment when we weren't sure they would accept it, but they did and it has been such a huge weight off our shoulders! Even better, we've already had the inspection done and we are not required to have any work done to qualify for our interest free loan! Even if everything meets code (though just barely, surely, considering some of the electrical wiring we've seen!), we are going to bring an electrician in to update a few key places, especially the room where the computers will go, and we may even redo the kitchen (YAY!!). But, before we can do all that, we have to sign the contract this week and get the bank stuff going, and then we have to wait about two months for the paperwork to go through. Meanwhile, this apartment needs to be in viewing shape for potential new renters! YIKES!!

This past weekend was the Katia & Kyliemac Episode 333 extravaganza party in Paris. I had been planning for months to go and even bought my train tickets over a month in advance. Of course, the damned SNCF decided that last weekend would be a lovely time to go on strike, so I found out Saturday morning that my train had been canceled. No problem, I wasn't missing this party, so I decided to DRIVE into Paris, much to the chagrin of Stéphane. Making things even trickier, last weekend was also the first weekend of Spring Break for the Paris region, and with the planes grounded from volcanic ash and trains stopped from the strike, the roads were slam-packed with cars! I did manage to make it in just over three hours (normal driving time should be about two and a half or one and a half if taking the toll roads) and I had an amazing time! I met loads of new people, was very happy to catch up with some dear friends I haven't seen in ages, and I drank an obscene amount of cider. Seriously, I haven't partied like that in literally years and am only just now getting over the hangover!

Home again home again and Stéphane's Spring Break has just ended. We had a nice, calm couple of weeks, slightly stressful with the apartment business but lots of visits to Mémère's house and visits with friends and family. Fry continues to impress and delight us everyday and I'm feeling much calmer and happier, now that I see a real path forming before us. Keeping in mind the famous saying "Man plans, God laughs," I am hopeful that the coming months and years will see us happily moved into our new apartment, hopefully a brother or sister for Fry, and me finally putting my money where my mouth is and starting a business in Tiny Town. I can't wait to see what the future has in store for us!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

in which we can't make up our minds

So, yesterday we visited an apartment for sale. The building itself is about 50 years old and most of the occupants are owners, so that's a good thing. I don't think either one of us are super enthused about moving into an apartment complex, especially Stéphane, who grew up in a huge apartment block and swore he'd never move back. This is hardly apartment block sized, but the idea of having neighbors above us and below us, especially with a little one that likes to do the flamenco, we are a bit hesitant.

I'm hoping if I type this out a little it will make things clearer:

The price is certainly interesting, and we would be able use less of our savings as a down payment (and keeping a little aside for starting a business, perhaps?). However, we'd forgotten about the charges for the upkeep of the apartment complex, all the grass, and the shared gas payments, so we wouldn't save *as much* per month as we hoped.

Even though it's only slightly bigger than our current home, it is much better organized. The bathroom is tiny but has a real bathtub (Fry has been taking his baths in a plastic tub, thanks to our tiny shower stall). The kitchen is small, but we can possibly invest in a better kitchen set up (maybe a built in counter with a stove, etc) and make better use of that space, plus the door can keep little people out when the oven's on. To make up for the tiny bathroom, there's a "cellier" next to the kitchen, where we think we could put the dishwasher, washing machine and clothes dryer, plus with some shelving we could have a small pantry. There is more closet space than we've got here, without a doubt, plus a private storage space in the basement, where we could easily store stuff we don't need, plus maybe a bike or two, and there's a space to put the stroller, which will open up a lot of space that we can't have here.

The former (current?) owners have closed off part of the salon and made a third tiny bedroom, which suits us fine, as that would be our office/guest room. Obviously, there's no private garden, but there's a huge space behind the apartment complex, but I certainly didn't see anyone hanging out on the grass, so that would be a drag to have all that space and not be able to play on it. There's also the fact that some of the electricity needs to be redone, so for us that means we'd want to ask a smaller price.

So there we are. Right now we are leaning towards making an offer, but setting a strict limit and not going one euro above it. We told the agent that we'd have an answer to him by Tuesday one way or another, so we've got a couple of days to make our decision.

Other than that, we're enjoying Stéphane's spring break. We had a nice evening out with his colleagues while Fry spent the night at Mémère's house (we'll definitely be doing that again soon, ah FREEDOM!!), we've done a little local sightseeing, we're going to visit family this afternoon and we're hoping to hook up with some friends next week. My allergies are starting to bother me and Fry's got some weird bacterial infection but otherwise we're doing really well.

Friday, April 02, 2010

and then nothing happened at all

Oh, this week was hard. Last week, my first week home alone with Fry in three months, was lovely. We played, we walked around Tiny Town, we watched our favorite episodes of Sesame Street Old School, it was fun! I guess the novelty of having Mommy home wore off though, because this week was all about ignoring Mommy and doing all the little things that drive me crazy: playing with the mouse and the keyboard of my computer, bouncing on the couch (when a very hard concrete floor awaits below), pulling the curtains, throwing everything on the floor. Good times, y'all, good times.

So this week has been all about trying to find ways to occupy Fry's awake time with not much success. I started knitting again this week, too. I'm determined to work down some of my stash before I buy more, so that means there will be some blankets in my future. Which is fine, we can always use some more throws around the house. Plus maybe I can finally finish the sweater I started for Stéphane two years ago. Heh.

Speaking of Stéphane, his spring break starts tomorrow. I'm hoping we can get out a little over the next couple of weeks, if the weather warms up a little (Mother Nature is having a mid-life crisis here as well, as we had a couple of days of lovely weather, followed by nearly freezing temps at night this week). And on Monday evening we are going to a party. A *grown up* party. And Fry will be spending the night at his grandmother's house. We are also supposed to try to explore some solutions for our housing situation as well. We shall see how that goes.

Wishing you all a very happy Easter weekend!