Saturday, September 24, 2016

Summer '16 in review, pop song version

This year I almost feel like I didn't have a summer.  Cue the violin music.  I moved, which took up so much time.  We only took a few days here and there to do a few day trips while my family came to visit.  I am not feeling sorry for myself.  Ok, a little.  It's just that, I feel like summer came and went without me enjoying it to the fullest.

Of course, we knew this summer would be a transitional one.  Moving is such a big event and it takes a lot out of you (still is!).  So, here's a little summer in review for you, brought to you by a few summer hits that kept me going through all the packing, unpacking and cleaning...
This is what you came for (Rihanna)
Yes, this is what WE came for.  A house.  It was our big summer project.  We'd been waiting for over three years to have a place of our own.  And so the summer of sacrifice was for this reward.  But there is always that "be careful what you wish for" backlash.  With a bigger house comes more to clean, suprise repairs, and, of course, a house payment.  Adjustments, transitions, deep breaths!
Making our mark on the new place. 
Cheap Thrills (Sia)
The opening lines of this one were practically my summer anthem.  "Come on, come on, turn the radio on."  I have never listened to the radio at home as much as I did this summer.  When I say home I also mean the old apartment, too.  Without my favorite pop radio station, I might have nearly gone crazy as we scrubbed the grease off my old kitchen floor.  And re-painted the walls.  And then painted the walls in our new place. When Juliette hears some of those pop songs now, she says it reminds her of when we cleaned.  And she sometimes even asks me to turn the channel.
Cleaning the apartment floor.  Mommy's little helper.

Cake by the Ocean (DNCE)
I don't believe I ate cake by the ocean this summer. But we did get away for a day trip with my mom in August to a local beach. And we had a picnic and I did eat an ice cream the North Sea.  It wouldn't be summer without toes in the sand!
Beach trip and ...check!

We don't talk anymore (Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez)
We don't talk anymore, except about the house... Typically, like most couples, Remi and I tend to have animated conversations about home decorating now, or the most urgent repairs we need to make given our small disposable income. And what I knew before is still true today: having a house doesn't make everything hunky-dory.  It just makes your life a little bit more comfortable, but also more complicated.
To buy or not to buy.  Ikea visits and decorating, oh my!
 So as fall wiggles its way in, I'll try to look back on the summer of '16 as a busy but essential one.  Full of memories and singing along with the radio and elbow grease and family visits.  And a disturbing number of Justin Bieber songs that I actually liked.

Friday, July 15, 2016


heart, hands, shadow, butterfly

I'm tired of this. I'm tired of waking up to messages from family and friends asking if I'm alright.  Again.  It's not that I don't appreciate the concern.  I do, and it touches me deeply.  It's the reason I get these messages that bothers me.  I'm tired of the unthinkable happening over and over.  I'm tired of waking up to a world where innocent people are killed.  I'm tired of a world where families go out to watch fireworks and come home with huge aching holes in their hearts.

I watched the fireworks, too, this year.  But not in Nice. Far from it.  In northern France on a night so brisk we wore jackets and I wore a scarf.  On July 13th, not the 14th.  This is perhaps the last year we'll watch fireworks from this location since we are moving.  Where we live now we literally just walk downstairs and have pretty darn good places in our parking lot. 

I'm not a big fireworks person.  Either they are too loud or make me hyperemotional. Big events do that to me.  But this year I vowed to enjoy it, since we are lucky to have this view one more time.  Juliette was antsy because the noise worried her.  Even before it started she was prancing around nervously and I had to tell her to settle down as a few odd cars were driving into the lot.  But she finally settled when the show began and I held her in my lap.  I even put my hands in her hoodie pockets to warm them and held her close. 

I wondered how many more fireworks she would let me hug her tightly like this.  When she got a bit heavy I passed her to Remi so he could enjoy some snuggle time, too.  I noticed he rocked her slightly and put his chin on the top of her head like I had.  The show was great, the music was fun and moving.  We had stars in our eyes, as the expression goes.  It was a lovely moment.

But last night what should have been a lovely moment for thousands turned into a nightmare I can't even imagine.  It turned into the worst night of their lives.  And I can't even bear to watch the news stories of grieving parents and family who lost their little ones or their mom and dad, cousin, neighbor on what was supposed to be a celebration. 

So I am tired, like I know you are, too, of waking up to more bad news.  To a knot in my stomach, to stinging eyes, trying to brace myself for another horrific event.  I am tired of holding back tears at work and having to pray yet again for so many victims.  I am tired of trying to understand why they hate us, or, if it is just a completely deranged individual, why he wanted to take down so many innocents with him.  I am tired of trying to pick up the pieces and keep going.  I am tired of evil winning too many battles.  And I have no answers. I'm just sick of it.

But as my friend Caroline said, somehow, life goes on.  As I watch the breeze whip my curtains around on a sunny day and the light hit my flowers, I will try to remember it's summer.  I will try to live and love and be careful.  And I will keep praying, even if I wonder if it does any good.  And I will hug my little girl as long as I can.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sense of place

My current 'hood
I really should be packing instead of blogging.  I have packed maybe a grand total of ten boxes (and that is probably being generous).  I probably have about 10,000 boxes to pack (give or take a thousand).  Not to mention just sorting through stuff before packing, like throwing away old clothes, shredding and recycling old bills I do not need to keep.  But somehow in my mind the work is compressed and could, potentially, be finished in a day.  Yeah, right. 

But this week I have been in that strange limbo world.  I am still living in my apartment but we have the keys to the new house.  We spent a good part of last weekend there doing some painting in Juliette's room.  And we couldn't bring ourselves to leave the lush garden and go back to the reality of packing. 

It is more than a physical limbo that I am in though.  This week was rather emotional having the last day of Juliette's school.  Somehow I found myself tearing up more than her.  We have both made good friends there, her with the kids, me with the parents.  And, as it always is, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.  Now I'm realizing how quaint and fairly well-run her  current school is.  It's not perfect, but the teachers have been good and kind.  Her new school will be much smaller with doubled classes (two grade levels in one class) and we hope she'll be happy there and that the quality of the education will be good.

Even though the move is just across town, to a suburb about ten minutes away, I find myself already getting nostalgic about the scenery in my current neighborhood.  I take a look at the white stone houses of downtown, the ornate details on doors and cobbled streets and realize these types of walks will be rarer now.  The proximity to the town's squares will no longer be on foot for me but now necessitate a bus or car ride.  I will have a slightly longer commute into work, Remi a shorter one. 

But we will have a garden, and that is a dream come true. And three bedrooms and much more storage to spread out all the junk we have accumulated during ten years (!) of marriage.  And the knowledge that our money is going to something that will one day truly belong to us (and not the bank). 

These are arguments that have very little weight with Juliette, who has been giving us a hard time since the reality of moving sunk in a few months ago.  Not seeing her friends on a nearly-daily basis as now is weighing on her.  One day she even started crying, which got me crying, too.  We try to tell her she will make friends easily, and that we had to do the same at certain times in our childhood. 

I can't really blame her.  When you're a child, your friends are your world.  School is your world.  And as my mom reminded me, she has only known this apartment in her life.  Things will be changing for all of us.  Hopefully in a few months we will all be on the same page about everything and each making friends and acquaintances in our new town.  But keeping up with the old ones, too.  Because moving doesn't have to mean forgetting. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When good friends go

A few years ago an expat friend went back to the US.  Her husband's work mission had ended.  I felt sad to see her go, and I wrote a post about it.  I talked about how there were the expats who stayed, like me, and those who were destined to go back to their home countries, 24/7 supermarkets and friendly customer service.  But I took the post down after a day because I felt bad putting my friends into categories like that.

But here I am today facing much the same situation.  A dear friend is going back to Canada with her family. I've known her four years and we've had great talks, sometimes commiserating, sometimes missing our home cultures, sometimes revelling in our new culture.  Our kids played together and spoke Frenglish.  We drank countless cups of tea together and enjoyed conversations about motherhood, travel and anything and everything.  But those face-to-face conversations will become few and far between now. I know going back is the best thing for her and her family.  But the selfish part of me wishes she could stay.

So I am not the first to say it, but being an expat means facing these moments.  It means goodbyes and hellos and Skype sessions and international air transit that isn't always as glamorous as it seems.  It means meeting new expats, welcoming them, getting to know them, and wishing them well if/when they go back. When you are my kind of expat, the kind who is here for the long-haul, you have to get used to it.  You know people will come into your lives and enrich you and then they will go on to continue their journey elsewhere.  And that you have to continue your own journey.

But as my other fellow expats have told me, the ones who are probably staying a good long while like me, we've (still) got each other.  And if there is one thing being an expat has taught me, it's that distance doesn't mean that friendships and relationships with family will dwindle and fade away.  You may have to work a little harder at it, be more creative, but good friends stay good no matter which time zone they are in.

So bon voyage to my expat friends!  I know your wanderlust will bring you back in our neck of the woods sooner than you think.  And as they say in French, "ce n'est qu'un au revoir!" (We're just saying, "see you later/soon"!)

I'd like to dedicate this post to all my friends, near and far, coming and going and staying. You are all dear to me!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Five ways Netflix can change your life

I know I am preaching to the choir here.  I know that most of you have had Netflix from the get-go, as well as Apple TV and throw in a little premium channels via AT&T or what-have-you.  But as you know I resisted jumping on the Netflix bandwagon for a while, mostly just in the interest of saving pennies.  Even streaming seemed out of bounds for me since our laptop is getting on in years.  And don't even think about dowloading, cause I think it would just make my computer explode (plus there are those pesky legal aspects).  Résultat: I am pretty behind on all movies and TV shows from the last decade and then some. 

But then there was that magical day my mom was visiting and we realized that you can watch Netflix on two screens.  And in minutes, we saw the happy red logo in that now familiar font appear on our very own TV!  We didn't know it then but our life was about to change in so many little and big ways.  You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.

1. And God said, let there be Netflix, and there was peace.  No sacrilege intended, but sometimes it seems like a God-given gift to be able to watch what you want, when you want.  Not to mention, there is actually less grumbling when it comes to choosing a program.  Instead of channel-surfing and then forgetting what seemed interesting, Remi and I look at each other after dinner and say, Breaking Bad or Misfits?  It is that simple.  Less fighting, less eye-rolling at his choice of yet another action film with "Ahh-nold" or Sly Stallone.  Or both in the same film.  Remi is probably glad he doesn't have to watch as many British period pieces as on those rare occasions I won the remote before. 

2. Family movie night just got easier. In the same way, when the weekend rolls around, our new habit is looking on Juliette's kid-friendly profile and choosing an animated film or a live-action family film.  Knowing it is on the family profile means it shouldn't have bad language or compromising situations that are tricky to explain to her.  Just don't stray from the family categories or you could wind up watching Butter with a seven-year old and having to explain why that stripper is dressed like that.

3. More interesting water cooler conversations.  Now I can finally talk about some of those shows out there everyone is buzzing about.  Except that, lo and behold, not everyone out there has seen them either.  But at least now I can potentially watch The Walking Dead or Orphan Black, one day, when I've caught up on my current series.

4. Examining gray areas, explaining the intricacies of character profiles.  Everyone's an armchair, or should I say, sofa psychiatrist now.  Spend a while binge-watching and you think you're inside the character's head.  It's a nice distraction from your own problems to wonder if it was really necessary for Walt to start making crystal meth.  Or to compare your parenting techniques to those on Modern Family and realize you're not doing so bad. 

5.  English-language version, it's good to have you back!  Ok, granted this is one expats will appreciate, but after watching a lot of dubbed movies and series, Netflix guarantees you the original language version for all those US and British shows.  No more hit and miss wondering if the French channel is offering that blockbuster in VO (version originale).  Music to my ears, finally.  And great for Juliette to work on her English vocab and Remi as well. 

So maybe Netflix isn't the most earth-shattering of products, but in its own way, it has made life a little easier and certainly more pleasant.  And I just don't think I could live without it now.  Don't even mention such a blasphemous thing in my house unless you want to get hit over the head with the remote!

PS: this post was not sponsored by Netflix, but they are welcome to pay me if they want.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Once I was seven years old

No doubt you've heard this song.  The chorus gets stuck in my head, and the fact that my girl is seven surely makes it stick even harder.  To hear it sung is a reminder of this age, precious and alert at the same time.  Maybe like me, you remember being seven.  It was a happy time, before middle school taunts and high school drama and all the rest of it.

Once I was seven-years old, and I loved my second grade teacher.  I still remember her name: Mrs. Auprin.  She was pregnant and I asked my mom where babies came from.  After much dogging, she finally gave me a pretty approximate explanation about hugging that satisfied my seven-year old brain.  I remember my teacher putting a shoe box up high on a shelf to teach us about resisting temptation and our conscience.  There was a bag of popcorn in there that we eventually popped for the class, I suppose. 

Seven is waking up to the world but still firmly in childhood innocence for most kids.  The tooth fairy and santa still had their place in my world back then.  School was fun and life was good. Homework was either non-existent or finished quickly.  Play was my biggest priority.

Flash forward 35 years.  I've got my own seven-year old whose praises and quirks I've already sung for this age.  But I feel a sort of urgency to say how lovely it is to have this little person (who comes up to about my heart, height-wise) wrap her thin arms around me and say, I love you, mommy.  Can't get enough of it.  Never will be able to.  I keep fearing adolescence breathe its ugly sighs down on me and I sometimes want to suspend time at seven. 
Once she was seven-years old.  And she still is for two months.  And she loves to sing Katy Perry songs.  She devours comic books and Netflix and plays a little less with Barbie and Playmobil.  Her friends are her world and she wonders about marrying her best little male friend and begs me to ask her questions about their future life together.  She still loves to swing on her swingset and cuddle.  She wants to pick out her clothes more than before. 

But I can't ask her to stay seven forever, just as my parents couldn't freeze time for me either.  She is meant to go through all the stages, and I will find something beautiful and worthy in each one.  And maybe one day she will look back at seven and say, once I was seven-years old, and it was a happy year.  I guess that's the best I can hope for!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Starry, starry night

stars, galaxy, sky, night, dark, evening, trees, silhouette, space, nature 
I wish I could say I took this picture.  I didn't, but I did see a sky full of stars very much like this last weekend at 3:30 am.  Juliette had come to my tent to ask to go the bathroom, and considering it was nearly freezing, I had no inclination to get out my crappy knock-off Android cell phone and snap a pic.  We did spend a few frigid moments star-gazing.  It's true you can see so much more outside of the bright city lights.  That was just one of the things I learned last weekend on my first ever camping trip as an accompanying adult with the scouts.

I love nature but I have to say I was not very keen on camping and helping (with four other parents) watch a group of 14 scout boys and girls.  Luckily it was not completely roughing it since we pitched our tents on the soccer field of a private high school.  There were bathrooms a short walk from our camping site (but strangely no sinks).  But it was definitely a new experience for me, and, possibly, good blog fodder.  And, no, that's not the only reason I agreed to do it!  Here are a few of my observations during my 28 hours in Scoutville.

1. French kids aren't perfect either.  Phew!  They may be less tantrumy in general, according to some, but I can tell you first-hand that some of the seven and eight-year olds I came in contact with had their moments of whining, pouting and not listening to instructions.  Great, it's not just mine!

2. French parents really do stress less!  I did observe less franticness when some of the accompanying brothers and sisters who were much younger wandered about and did their thing.  I would have been following my kid like a hawk in case she touched a stinging nettle, but I found the other moms and dads would glance over occaisonally and intervene if necessary.  But they didn't hover around their kids like I would at that age. 

3. You cannot sleep outside when it's 33°F.  When I told people I was going camping and that it was supposed to be a cold weekend, they would laugh and tell me, scouts never cancel.  And they didn't.  And there was literally frost on our tents the next morning.  The other parents and I complained we could not get warm at all at night. This was despite wearing my coat to bed. That is certainly something I don't want to relive.  The kids at least had the body heat of the other kids to keep them slightly warmer. 

4. The two-second tents take 15 minutes to refold.  I learned how to pitch the official scout tents.  Well, I watched and helped, but don't ask me to do it on my own.  My personal tent is the kind you open and that pops into place by itself.  Folding it back is another story, and as my husband was working that weekend, it took four men to put it back in place for me.

5. Kids have way more energy than adults.  The older scouts who organized the events had the younger ones participating in assemblies till nearly 10 pm.  After four hours of sports and relays, they did another hour of the French equivalent of dodge-ball.  I was ready for bed at nine, myself.

6. Teenagers are not all bad.  As this weekend included scouts of all ages, I saw how the older ones interacted.  It was refreshing to see teens organizing events and working together, enforcing the fair play spirit (and, by the way, French people use the term "fair play" straight from English) and helping younger kids.  It gave me hope for the future! 

7.  A hot shower heals everything.  I was glad to be back home and become human again with a nice shower and clean clothes.  Oh, and a two-hour nap helps, too. 

So I suppose if they ask me again in the future, I could help out on another camping adventure.  But only if I can bring a portable radiator, just in case it dips below freezing again.  Anyway, that's the scout motto, right?  Toujours prêt- always ready!