Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Work that shoulder

Here Juliette is doing her own music video to Cascada's Evacuate the Dancefloor. Note her use of props, such as her rocking horse and the sound effects by bumping on the door. Very sophisticated for seventeen months! Coming soon: the Blackeyed Peas Fan Club for under twos...


Saturday, December 26, 2009

The day after

I think the most searched phrases on Google on Christmas night in France are “how to get red wine stains out of your tablecloth” (the answer is apparently salt but it didn’t work 100% for me) and “how to cure indigestion”. There was so much food, so much talk and catching up with my guests: Crystal (Canadian) and Caroline (Singaporean) and her French husband. It was a fun Christmas Eve dinner, but by the end of the evening the French husbands were still nursing the red wine bottles and the girls were resting on the couch watching pop videos and dreaming of their beds.

The next day was yet another Big French Meal with Remi’s parents. There the menu was slightly upgraded from my simple fare. There we ate escargots, a hot seafood mix cooked in brown ramekins, tender deer meat, potatoes, cooked apples, cherries, chestnuts and mushrooms. Followed (of course) by cheese and two desserts!
Then there are the presents from all those generous family members. Juliette doesn’t yet realize how very spoiled she was from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. So many wonderful, colorful books, toys, clothes! And we were equally spoiled, too.

So now we’re in that transition phase. The mountain of dishes is finally done. The wrapping paper that tempted us has now been ripped off and is waiting to be thrown out. We have enough chocolate to survive a nuclear war. Remi said we might need to move again to accommodate all of Juliette’s toys. The sun is shining and only a few spots still have snow on the ground. I don’t think I have any lessons next week, so I’m gonna try to catch up on some projects like finally getting Juliette’s baby pictures in albums! She is, by the way, doing better after her bout of bronchitis. When I see her throwing tantrums again I know she’s doing ok.

Merry after Christmas Day to you all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sick Days

I’ve had so many conversations with the pediatrician’s secretary that I’m beginning to feel like we’re close personal friends. Ok, so most of our conversations go something like this:

Me: Can I leave a message for le docteur ?

Her: Yes, what’s it about? (this time, I’m sure she wants to add)

Me: Well, can you ask him if I’m supposed to give her the cortisone or not. He said if she had a really big coughing fit but in fact she’s ok, although now the fever’s been going on a while…

Her: Well, if she hasn’t had a coughing fit, then, I’d say, no (trumping me with her logic yet again)

Me: Yes, well, I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t giving it to her this morning when I came (for the second time this week)…

Her: Oui, (tiniest of pauses that means: am I really paid enough to answer the phone here?) we’ll ask him anyway…

Thanks to these enlightening interchanges I’ve learned that coughing fit is feminine in French “grosse quinte de toux”. That if I call at 8 in the morning I can try to get an appointment for that day. And other fun facts!

Yes, we’re dealing with a little sickie around here. Bronchitis it seems, though today the doctor asked if she’d been in contact with anyone with the flu. Negative. And how about an X-ray if she keeps up with this, he suggested? Now that’s more like the medical protocol I’d have expected, people. Only all the X-ray offices (because they’re not part of the pediatrician’s office which is just the renovated first floor of a bourgeois house) will be closed real soon what with Christmas coming. One’s closed Christmas Eve and it seemed like pulling teeth to get the other office to give us an appointment on Christmas Eve morning.

I kept her home Monday after a Sunday evening visit to the on-call pediatrician. I imagined all kinds of warm cozy mother-daughter moments for her sick day. There was still snow on the ground and even some flurries from time to time so aside from a quick trip to the pharmacy, we stayed in. In the morning she played rather normally, coughing off and on. But the appetite was non-existent. And she would pick this week to decide she didn’t like us feeding her with a spoon nor using it properly herself. And after docilely taking her medicine most of the times before, she instated a new and very strict head-turning and mouth-closing policy. I tried shooting it in her mouth with a plastic syringe but that sometimes turned back on us with nasty results. After all those incidents and a cat who, as usual, thinks every time I move to the kitchen he might get food, I was ready to call my first “sick day” as a mom an exhausting total disaster.

But there were some sweet moments after all. Like when I had her in her lap and asked her what a sheep said, etc. and realized she really has learned what we’ve been teaching her. And when she cozied up to Cat-ki as in this video. Poor thing was more tired Tuesday and kept wanting in our arms as her fever came back in the evening. I thought at first it was just her demanding streak to be picked up but felt guilty when I realized she was burning up. So it was more baby Tylenol and off to bed after a cuddle where she actually stayed still. And today has been more or less successful though the appetite is still very puny and she’s definitely not back up to speed. Playing nursemaid isn’t as easy as I thought, especially when the patient is your baby. Get well soon, little one.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas = childlike wonder...or does it?

This year I’ve tried to rediscover Christmas from Juliette’s eyes. She’s still not totally aware of what Christmas means, but she’s certainly enchanted by the big thing with lights that has invaded the apartment. The first few times she whimpered at the sight of the “chee”. Now she looks at it curiously and asks to see the “baby,” the ornament which has a picture of her from last year. But she still walks closest to the wall when she must pass the tree.

She wasn’t too impressed by her meeting with Santa this year at the daycare Christmas program, as you can tell by the photo. Frankly we didn’t talk him up too much this year either. The biggest hit so far has been the Christmas toy catalog which is much worse the wear after two months of daily page-turning/tearing. Gift-wise we finally decided on a baby jumbo Lego-like system that has a table she can construct things on and a baby doll that you can give a bath to. I get a warm feeling thinking about her reaction to the baby doll, which I think she will quickly become attached to.

Then we have been treated (though sometimes I might say cursed) with some snow these past few days. As an Alabama girl who didn’t see white stuff very often, I’m always impressed by snowfall. I don’t particularly like driving in it though in my city they do a pretty good job of sanding the roads before-hand. It’s not perfect though and some small roads are still rather white. This morning we woke up to steady snow showers. Now the sun is making some of it melt and the drops sound like bells as they fall on the metal railing of the balcony.


But aside sharing these warm moments with baby and watching snow, I’ve realized that I’m unfortunately too grown-up to totally see the season in that wondrous child-like way anymore. I get too consumed by the little things. Like finding appropriate presents for the babysitter and ones light enough to ship to American family, despite their protests that they don’t need anything. There comes that point in the season when you start to panic, realizing there are only X days before the big day and you’ve still got hundreds of details to finalize. At least in France they don’t go overboard with presents so this does ease up the stress a little. However they totally make up for it by becoming obsessive about meals.

I remember my first year in France with my host family. I was amazed the mother was considering serving ostrich as the main meat. Apparently “normal” meats like chicken and roast beef are boring for Christmas meals. Appetizers seem to be fit for five-star restaurants: scallops and lobster bisque, truffles, oysters, special patés and of course, foie gras. And as I’ve decided to actually host a Christmas Eve meal this year, I started to wonder if I was “à la hauteur” or good enough to really do this. Lucky for me there are two expat girls who are coming, but it’s my husband and another French husband who may have higher expectations. Tant pis, too bad, I told Remi after barely catching myself from another panic attack. This will be an American Christmas style meal with some French touches. I’ll go French on the appetizer: with smoked salmon and some little vegetable sides. It’s no coincidence this is the easiest of all the French appetizers to prepare. Then the main meal will strangely resemble Thanksgiving, with turkey and potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie and another dessert perhaps.

And I’ll try a little harder to just relax and enjoy this Christmas thing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

That has been the question for the last few months in most countries lucky enough to have supply of the precious Swine Flu vaccine. But for the French nothing is ever simple. Tell them something is black and they’ll immediately tell you it’s white without even having looked. After a while they will concede to shades of gray and if you’re lucky, one day, the darkest of grays. I’m only slightly exaggerating. The French are very independent thinkers and question everything.

In talking with my students I got lots of nay-sayers who felt the vaccine wasn’t safe or that the big drug companies were making a huge profit on all of this. Or others felt they should let their own immune system fight this thing off. On the pro-side, a few were concerned as they had children with asthma who were thus more vulnerable.

The pediatricians told us not to get Juliette vaccinated when I asked back in September. Hasn’t been tested enough and we just don’t this virus well, was his line back then. Imagine my surprise then when last week during our regular check-up he’d changed his story. Now there was a vaccine that didn’t have what they call here an “adjuvant”, an additive which stimulates the immune system’s reaction to the deactivated virus bits. Now it was more “adapted” to children, he said, and even though Juliette is (luckily) in good health, he highly recommended we get her vaccinated. Could it be that he’s also had a few months to see how the flu’s been spreading and that some cases were more severe than they’d anticipated? Just as we entered his office he had to take a call about a mom who had the flu and she and the baby were to be kept in isolation to make sure they didn’t contaminate others.

So after talking it over with Remi, we decided to follow the doctor’s advice. The next day I went down to the national health insurance office, or “sécu,” for our “bon”, the little paper saying Juliette could be vaccinated. I got one for Remi as well since he has asthma and the pediatrician recommended it for him. That afternoon I took Juliette to the middle school gym which had been transformed into a vaccination center. I kept doubting my decision though. Was the fact that she was fussy getting out of the car a sign not to do this? And was the stroller being tough to move another indication? I’d heard so much talk about this vaccine that it was still hard to be 100% for it now.

At any rate, there were no huge lines out the door as we saw on TV. Just plenty of friendly folks wearing fluorescent vests getting us to fill out forms. I had to sign papers that certified that I knew the possible side-effects of the vaccine, like fever, back aches (hey, wasn’t it supposed to prevent all that?) and that I knew I could say no to the vaccine, too. They asked me if I wanted to be vaccinated myself. I don’t have a specific health condition that puts me at risk, but I figured if I were trusting this vaccine for my baby and husband, I should trust it for myself, too.

A doctor asked us a few routine questions and then we went into the make-shift cubicle where Juliette got her “sans additive” vaccine. Of course, she cried. The kind where she let out a first cry then took a big gulp of air to cry even harder. After a minute or two she was fine and offering her stuffed bunny to the nurses. Then it was my turn. So I wheeled the stroller to the cubicle next door for my vaccine with the additive. I’m not a big fan of needles and felt a bit woozy after. But I just concentrated on what the doctor was telling me and gathered up our things for the last table of paperwork. There I was rewarded with little candies in a basket. I checked on the dates to come back for Juliette’s second dose. Yes, a second dose. For some reason kids have two rounds of the vaccine here, perhaps due to it being without that additive.

As the little paper had warned me, the next day after lunch I could have sworn I was getting the flu I was supposed to be protecting myself from. Flushed cheeks, headache, chills. I took some aspirin and a power nap and felt ok. Remi got his vaccine Saturday and just had a sore arm for a while. Now we’ll just have to hope for the best and keep taking vitamin C and washing our hands like mad.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rules of the road for toddlers

Don't drink and drive, even if it is just water. It can seriously impair your ability to concentrate. Yes, I know I need to break her of the habit of walking with something in her mouth, too. Bad mommy. Then after my way cool special effect transition (ha, Jessy is laughing now) you can see rule number two: when you encounter obstacles just move around them. Happy driving.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Covet They Neighbor’s Volvo SUV

I watched the black SUV park in the middle of two parking spaces at the supermarket. I got a glimpse of the driver- a thirty-something woman with longish brown hair, and I instantly disliked her. For her disregard for the lines and mostly because she had a smooth ride and I didn’t. There I was in my Peugeot 106, a car most Americans have never even heard of. A two-door hatchback model at that. It’s the type of car I would have smiled condescendingly at 7 years ago. Or at least called a toy car. Here's a picture of a model quite like mine for those of you who've never seen one.

Two spaces away from the Volvo was an Audi SUV, also black. This woman was loading her groceries in the spacious trunk. I started imagining how much room Juliette would have in the back of such a car, kicking her legs about in her car seat. But it would be tough to parallel park one of those mammoths, and didn’t that environmental type on TV just say that smaller cars were the way to go to save the planet? But my logic went out the window thinking of those plush seats.

Little did I know that later in the week I’d be happy just to be able to drive my “toy car” and see out the windshield. That’s because some punk smashed in the right passenger side back window. While I was sitting cozily in my student’s office discussing brands and value for your money, said punk was probably thinking I had a GPS in the car. In fact, it was with me in my bag. That’ll teach me not to leave the plastic support thing on the windshield. And in the vandal’s code of conduct, he smashed a window that would still allow me to drive home. But he totally disregarded the fact that there was a baby car seat on that side and that glass pieces would be littering the seat and area around it. Shame on him.

Luckily my student covered the window with yellow plastic bags and packing tape, which prevented some of the bitter cold air from entering the car on the ride home. I had to drop by the apartment and vacuum up the car seat before picking baby up of course. Remi called the company that always advertizes on TV here about window repair (Carglass répare, Carglass remplace = Carglass repairs, Carglass replaces), and just as in their ads, they took care of things quickly and efficiently. Now I’ve got a replacement window and they vacuumed up the major glass bits from the seat and floor area. I still found a few tiny pieces so I’ve got to watch out. And clean off the adhesive tape remnants from the temporary patching my student did.

And I’ll try not to complain too much about driving around in a “baby car”.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A bit of bluster and down-home goodies

Another week of contrasts here. It’s been quite windy (hence the bluster). At first I kind of enjoyed it. Trekking to my car in the wind and planting my pansies on my covered balcony while the light rain came down. The low clouds in the sky and the occasional colorful wintery sunrise that reminds me of the Charley Brown Christmas show. Coming home to warm up with a hot chocolate that baby nearly never let me finish with her constant demands to be picked up. No, she’s not spoiled, not at all. But the novelty wore off quickly. And the days were just gray with occasional sunny spots. And when you’re already a bit down, gray is not a good color.

As Thursday (US Thanksgiving) rolled around, I was a bit out of sorts. Knowing my country was not working at all and preparing all manner of good food. Whereas I was out teaching my whopping one class smack in the middle of the day. I’d hesitated all week about whether to invite my American co-worker for a little meal. My apartment wasn’t clean enough, my cooking’s not stellar. There will always be excuses. But at the last minute I said, who cares, let’s celebrate this thing.

And so like in those hokey holiday episodes that all TV shows seem to feel obligated to produce, we had a meal and laughed and smiled (no sappy holiday music was played, however). Remi and Nicky (my over six foot tall ex-basketball player coworker) had some good-natured bantering about French and US food. So my imported Stovetop Stuffing was more lukewarm than hot but all in all it was a good imitation of Thanksgiving. Mom’s import-export business is still going strong and besides the stuffing we enjoyed a quick-mix gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie (although the pumpkin part I’d already cooked from a pumpkin from Remi’s garden). And of course turkey breasts. And to top it off, some Hershey Kisses (again, thanks to mom). Those Mint Truffle ones are addictive. Remi can’t understand the Anglo-Saxon obsession with mint chocolate, so there were more for Nicky and me!

Although Remi is very open to celebrating this decidedly North American holiday, I have to say the presence of another American who likes to reminisce about all those foods we miss and our traditions, made it feel more like a real Thanksgiving. Now if I could just convince the French to give me this day off in the future…

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making a list, checking it twice

We received two Christmas toy catalogs the last week of October. Before we would have only glanced at them before tossing them in the recycling bin. But now they hold new interest for us. Remi pored over them the first night like some men do the sports pages. We were wondering what to get Juliette for Christmas, of course. There were the little pony rocker type toys. Or the little trains kids can straddle and push around with their feet. Or little play sets of blocks (like we need more stuff littering floor the already covered by multi-colored toys).

I was pretty adamant about not (ever) getting her the play ironing set or cleaning cart. Those just seem like the most stereotypical girl toys. I commented on this to Tata Marie. Her own granddaughters aged 2 and ½ and 3 in fact wanted those very toys I’d “banned” from my list. Sigh. I guess girls see their moms, ‘cause let’s face it, it’s usually moms who iron, doing these activities and want to imitate them. My own British friend told me her 3 year-old son wanted a toy vacuum, so I guess it’s not limited to little girls. I joked with Remi that if Juliette ever did want cleaning type toys we might as well get her the real thing and put her to work. I think the vet set is a nice compromise. But I'm realistic enough to know she'll have her own opinion really soon.

These catalogs are also fascinating for Juliette, even though she still doesn’t know about the frenzy of Christmas (this will no doubt be the last year we can get away with that). She will spend a good fifteen minutes calmly on the couch next to us turning the pages and crying out “baby, baby” when she sees one next to a toy. (She does this with the Ikea catalog, too.) Or “cat-ki” and “woo-woo” when she sees a stuffed cat or dog. I try not to pressure her into liking the girl or boy toys, but I find myself rather bored with the “boy toys” of transformers and cars myself. I guess I’m a victim of the pink and blue toys, too, though my sister and I loved Lego, which is sometimes marketed more for boys.

In the end we still haven’t totally decided on her presents for this year. She would probably be just as happy with a big card board box anyway. Or a suitcase. So, readers, what were your favorite Christmas presents as kids?

My week

This was a week of ups and downs. Fall is still treating us with its last brilliant delights. I can get mesmerized by a golden puddle of leaves around a nearly bare tree. Or the piercingly orange-red leaves that are still clinging to a few branches. But soon we’ll only have the skeletons of those trees (poetic in their own way) to comfort us for the next few months.

Work has been a bit disappointing with cancelled classes that I’m not always paid for. It can be a rewarding job but the instability of it is always frustrating. And after seven years in this country I still find myself doubting my career decisions and remembering what I used to be capable of doing. Maybe the trick is just being satisfied with where I am. But I’ve been trying that approach for a while and it doesn’t seem to work.

So I try to focus on what’s right in my life, like my little girl. Who’s fast becoming a little temper tantrum monster. Refusing to wear her bib during meal times or rolling on the floor when she doesn’t get her way. A few months ago she didn’t do that. We’re wondering where the more docile one-year-old went. The current sixteen-month-old is very vocal.

Just last week she decided she needed her stuffed bunny all the time. In France the kids call their favorite stuffed animal a “dou-dou”. I’d never called her bunny this but one evening she kept asking for her dou-dou and then snuggling it next to her face while she drank her bottle. No doubt she’s imitating the kids at Tata’s who are addicted to their dou-dous. Peer pressure at sixteen months. She’s been taking steps with a bit more confidence this week but will sometimes fall when we try to congratulate her. I guess her week’s been full of ups and downs, too!

Next week’s Thanksgiving in the US, a holiday I always miss. I’m thinking of doing my modified menu this Thursday. Some turkey breasts and green bean casserole using imported French-fried onions (as my sister pointed out, it’s ironic that she brought French-fried onions with her from the US when she visited me) and maybe a pumpkin pie made from that pumpkin I cooked up and froze a while back. It’s never quite the same celebrating it over here. It always seems to be a holiday that reminds me I am American (correction, North American, since Crystal will be glad to tell us about the Canadian version in October).

Let’s hope next week has more ups than downs. But I guess that depends on my attitude, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I didn’t change time zones at all last week. I didn’t take an international flight. But as I had predicted, my sister’s visit gave me a taste of having family around and that always makes me feel out of sorts the days after.

We dropped her off at the airport Saturday afternoon a week ago. Modern tunnels and highways led us to the terminal. We waited with her in the incredibly high-ceilinged check-in area. It was strange to be there and not actually be departing myself. Memories of our trip in July and Juliette’s first transatlantic flight came back. But for all the “glamor” of international travel, the airport is still soulless. Especially when it’s the place where you say goodbye to family and aren’t quite sure when you’ll see them again. And so I was left Saturday afternoon with the reality that I was here in France while my US family was still a nine to ten-hour flight away.

But slowly but surely I’ve gotten back to my work and home routine. And as I always do after a visit, I mentally march through what I was doing the week before. And I have to say her short visit was great. Despite my residual cold crud and a throat ulcer getting in the way a few days, it was perfectly lovely to have some sister time. The concert was electric, as she reported in the last post, and worth every over-priced centime. It was certainly worth it to have her there to chat with and interact with Juliette. My darn responsibility gene got in the way as I had maintained a few of my classes, so I worked a few half days during her visit. But we took a quick trip at the end in the cities of Pierrefonds and Chantilly seeing the castles there. And then she took that plane back to her life and routine.

So, as mom said, now I must keep those goals and fun future events in mind to latch on to. Christmas, and maybe a visit from ex-colleague, still-friend Crystal (but don’t worry if your plans change, girl!), more relatives in the spring and summer? If only plane fare weren’t so high!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Guest blogger Jessamyn here

So I arrived last week and once I had hugged bebe a bunch and tried to teach her what a monkey says, Milam and I headed off to see the Muse concert. In our typical worrying ways, we fretted over the best route to take, how much to eat before we left, how many layers of clothes to wear, would JuJu be okay with the sitter (Editor's Note: special thanks to Karine!), but of course all was well.

We found the concert location easily enough and parked along with the thousands of other fans and made our way to our seats. This is where we really got worried. Even though we had paid a pretty penny online for our tickets, it looked like our seats were going to be behind the stage and we wouldn’t be able to see the band. But alas, we were being silly – once Muse started, the sheets covering the three large pillars fell away revealing the band in cages suspended in air. And the pillars became video screens, then moved up and down letting the band members move about on the stage. So all was well. And being the type of concert-goers that we are, the seats were perfect as we could move around and dance and had air circulation so we didn’t pass out from the heat. I don’t know how those mosh-pitters stayed standing for all those hours packed in there.

We met a lovely Irish couple who were sitting next to us – so the four of us danced away to “Uprising,” “Hysteria,” Stockholm Syndrome,” MK Ultra,” and many more. They are great performers and even came out at one point in Halloween costumes (as the concert was on Oct. 31). The lead singer used some occasional French, which the crowd loved and we dutifully sang along when the chorus demanded it. They ended the show with a lovely long version of “Knights of Cydonia.” And that was that. We made our way home and had to come down from the hyperness before we could sleep. It was a great adventure and I’m so glad we did it!

Here's a video of "Time is Running Out" (filmed by Jessamyn)


In other news, Juliette is getting really close to walking. It won’t be long now. And I’m seeing her vocabulary increase. Such a smarty! And of course I’m enjoying French pastries and people who aren’t ashamed of wearing a scarf. Bye now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

France 2 - USA 1

In the global soccer match that is Juliette’s language learning, sometimes I feel that France is «winning ». There are days it seems she uses more French words, picked up at Tata’s, and it makes my American heart wince a little. Of course, I know she must learn French to survive here and go to school and communicate with her grandparents. It’s all perfectly natural and necessary. But I just keep hoping English will have a big spot in her world.

Remi and I always wondered what it would be like to have a bilingual child. Everyone says by about age 3 kids can switch quite easily between both languages. And that you just need to speak consistently one language to them (one parent speaks his or her native language). We sometimes cheat on this as Remi likes to say some things in English to her and sometimes she requests her favorite French nursery rhyme song to me by making the hand motions that go to it.

Now at fifteen months she seems to learn new words every week, and I can’t help but keeping a mental scorecard of French vs. English. Lately she’s been saying, “Papa, il est …” which means, “Papa, he is…”. No doubt this is what Tata tells her when she says papa ten times in a row. Then there’s “dodo”, the child-like way of saying “dormir” or sleep. When she started saying this around bedtime I realized there was no easy English equivalent. So I began telling her it was time for ni-night, and she seems to have picked this up. I think French has so many child-transformed words that roll easily off the tongue, like “dodo.” Then there’s “lolo” for “lait” or milk. Maybe it’s slightly easier to pronounce when you’re learning. And English with its Germanic roots has some harsher edges.

And the French also seem to be beating the Yanks with their “bravo”, the word the use when they clap or to say something is well done. I suppose the English equivalent of clapping while saying “yeah” seems less emphatic. Juliette’s version at the moment is “a-vo” which you can see her saying to herself in this video as she stands up (then falls). At least in the past she understood me when I said “yeah” and would start clapping herself.


I am quite proud to say one of her first real words was “wa-wa” for water. When Tata hears this she thinks she’s saying “à boire” or “to drink” so she encourages this transformation. Again, it’s only logical that Juliette speaks French with French people. Now at home if she says “à boire” I just say “wa-wa” instead. I must refrain myself from subjective comments like “mommy says “wawa” or she might think it’s a kind of war between the languages. And she’s all over the word “cookie”. In the middle of lunch or snack time she’ll just stop eating her yogurt and start saying “cookie” (or sometimes it’s more like “cat-ki”, her word for cat) in an optimistic questioning tone. It has gotten to the point that if I want to say this word to someone else I spell it or she might start asking for one.

One thing I can say is that everyone has been very positive about the bilingual approach we’re using with Juliette. Even Remi’s mom likes to show off her English vocabulary now. Just the other weekend she was proud to announce that “On mange du ‘duck’” (We’re eating duck). And my side of the family likes to throw in the odd French word, too. As the pediatrician said, at any rate, English will literally be her “langue maternelle” (mother tongue) and he also added (a bit sappily) “le langage du coeur” (the heart’s language)- since it’s the one she’ll associate with her relationship with me. I suppose I can live with that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shakira Part Two

After her first boppy dance to the Latino singer, here we see that Juliette has definitely been practicing.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

You only live once, and other cheesy expressions

I'm generally the type of person who hears these expressions then blissfully ignores them. Or I understand them briefly when I see a report about someone who narrowly escaped death, then just forget them and keep on living my mudane worry-filled existence. But my sister is helping me to really live this type of expression. At least for one night or week, however you want to look at it.

She and I are going to see Muse (British sometimes moody rockers) in concert in a city near me. Never mind that the concert is officially sold out and we've bought very over-priced semi-official tickets from a seemingly respectable web site. As she said, we're still paying less than she would have in Atlanta where they're opening for U2. And most importantly, we're going to get to see each other for a week. I've put in for time off. Hopefully I won't have to work non-stop every day.

And I'm thinking that by late October I'm really going to need a break. This week's been tougher than usual, resembling a real work week with longer days. I've spent less time with JuJu who's been showing her headstrong tendencies quite a bit. Maybe she's mad at me for seeing her less? The days are getting shorter, light-wise, and Remi will be working harder as All Saints' Day approaches.

So here's to remembering that life's not a dress reheasal. And it's short too so you better eat dessert first...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Conversations with a toddler

Catching up on videos from about a month ago. In the first one she's talking about "Cat-cat" or "Cat-ki". Now when I show her this video she answers the question of what a cat says with "mu-now." Pretty much all animals are "catki" at the moment. When Remi's mom showed her a cow in a field this weekend, Juliette cried out happily, "Catki!" She does know that dogs say "woo-woo" however.


Then you've got a strange sound she was making that sounds more like a wail than a word. But she sure had a lot to say about it. Prizes for anyone who can translate this one.


This is not a test

A few weeks ago I erred on the side of caution for Juliette’s low-grade fever. But on a recent Sunday at midnight we got the real thing: 39°C or about 102°F. Juliette was crying hysterically and hot to the touch. I knew right away that this time it was not a practice drill. I felt like a fireman who was hearing his first alarm bell and forced to put his training to work. What was it Dr. Spock said to do to treat fever? A bath to cool them down, rub them down with a washcloth? I settled with taking off her heavy pajamas and wrapping her in the sheet on the bed as Remi gave her some milk to calm her down.

She always looks so much more vulnerable stripped down to her diaper, like a baby bird just hatched and still in her egg shell. She was even more pitiful crying with her raspy voice and turning her head from side to side. I went to fetch Dr. Spock and the French guide I had too. Neither mentioned baths but Spock was for the washcloth method. So I rubbed her down while she drank. Then it was a dose of Doliprane, the equivalent of Tylenol, and lots of rocking and soothing to get her calmed down. She finally started drifting off so I put her back in her crib in a lighter pajama set. But she woke again at 2 and 3:30 and her breathing was a bit wheezy.

Luckily for us I already had a scheduled check-up with the pediatrician at 8:30 the next morning. Juliette’s guardian angel must have been watching out for us. We took her in and the doctor could tell quite quickly that she had a type of laryngitis that made her voice crack and wheeze like a seal barking. Apparently it’s called fake croup and can be serious if they get too many secretions in the throat that can block breathing. He recommended we get her started on her meds as quickly as possible but that as the fever wasn’t too bad now she could still go to the sitter’s.

So it was off to find a pharmacy. I knew my current and former neighborhood ones were closed Monday mornings so we set out to find one that was open. I was the first customer at the modern one near Tata Marie’s house. I emerged with cortisone and amoxicillin and advice from that pharmacist that the baths for the fevers weren’t necessary. I mixed up the antibiotics- here they often come in a powder and you must add water to a certain line in the bottle and shake it up. Juliette took it fairly well considering the stuff must taste pretty vile. I felt bad about putting her at Tata’s when she was obviously still in pain, and I knew I could have cancelled my classes. I told Tata to text me if she got worse.

But the meds started doing their thing pretty quickly. After a few days of feeling puny and coughing a bit, she was back to her “JuJu the Explorer” self. Only then Remi and I got our share of the cold. Call it the double whammy of caring for a sick child!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Couples therapy, one episode at a time

Last week during a discussion (read: argument) with Remi, he said I was acting like Lynette. One of the “desperate” housewives played by Felicity Huffman who is always jumping to conclusions and is sometimes overly suspicious. Having anticipated this, I quickly retorted that if he remembered last week’s episode, Tom, Lynette’s husband, apologized for not realizing how his actions might be hurting his wife.

I know it’s just a show and maybe not even the best-written of all time. But, it does highlight some husband-wife relations that just about anyone can identify with (ok, maybe not the part about your pharmacist poisoning your husband or your husband being an ex-con). It’s just fiction and in the space of 40 odd minutes, the larger-than-life couples are able to resolve their problems with witty banter. But sometimes it makes us feel like we’re not that far off the mark from other couples with their silly problems. I think of it as free therapy.

For a while I’ve been wondering which of the wives I resemble the most. And in fact, like most women, I’m probably a mix. Uptight with perfectionist tendencies: Bree Van de Kamp. Though my house and cooking will never be as exquisite as hers, I often have Martha Stewart aspirations and certainly am too strict with myself sometimes. Protective of her family and yes, a tad suspicious, that’s the Lynette in me. But I’m probably most like Susan in that I often say the wrong things, am clutzy and am overly worried about pleasing other people. I’m perhaps the least like Gabrielle, but at times I can be sassy and straight-talking. I probably should be more often.

So for any other DH fans out there, which wife are you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The King of Pop and the Queen of Hip-Shaking

Here Juliette pays tribute to Michael Jackson. If you look closely, it's really her moving, not Remi. Just before that she was dancing next to the TV so Remi went on youtube to find the song and get the same effect.

As an aside, I can't really say I was that moved by his death. He was a talented singer and dancer in the past, but he'd become a sad shell of his former self. But that's just me...


And here you see her getting down to Shakira's new song. These songs must have the universal baby rhythm.


Have we got a baby Ginger Rogers on our hands?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ginger whingeing and September blues

I had a revelation last week. I ran across a thing on the BBC (actually intended for English learners) about redheads and why they apparently complain a lot (that’s the whingeing word; I’d never heard of it before). The reporters said that it’s Scientifically Proven (!) that redheads need on average 20% more anesthesia during surgery as their pain tolerance is lower than people with other hair colors. And that more redheads avoid dental appointments than others for the same reason. I’m not sure if they mean we complain more about pain or just life in general. In my case it would be the latter, but perhaps that’s just this particular strawberry blond. For a moment it made me feel a bit better about myself. Could this explain why I’m so damn sensitive? Why I get tears in my eyes when someone starts telling me a slightly sad story or the background music gets melodramatic on TV? Why some days I’d rather stare out of the windy gloomily than get up off my duff and do something? Hmm, I don’t think it can explain everything, but maybe parts of my personality. But it might explain why I fainted when they gave me the epidural.

In other news, September is here and despite some bright and lovely blue sky days, I can feel change upon us. Remi’s mother said she doesn’t like the months that end in “re”: septembre, octobre, novembre and décembre. Since I’ve lived in France, I’d have to agree with her. But it wasn’t always the case. I loved the nip in the air that September brought when I was an Alabama resident because it meant relief was in sight from August’s dog days of summer. I still feel nostalgic for the crispness in the air and how it’s connected to going back to school and falling leaves and plaid skirts. But now that I’m in France, autumn, my once favorite season, is not as cheerful as it used to be. Too many gray days and rain and soon driving to work in the dark are probably around the corner. The winters are mild here but just cold, gray and long enough to make me dread them. So every nice day we’ve had this month just reminds me it might be the last one for a while. It’s not all doom and gloom though. I’m really trying to count my blessings and keep looking forward to the little things. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Doubting Thomasina

After hemming and hawing about whether to take Juliette to the doctor, I called Tuesday morning to see if they could see her for her low-grade fever. Dealing with fever in France means having to rewire my traditional or empirical measuring system. It seems I was born knowing that 98.6 was normal. In Fahrenheit, sure. I learned that the Celsius equivalent was 37 in school. But what’s a real fever and what’s just a little “temperature”? Apparently 37.5 or 38 is just low-grade here. 38.5°C is the turning point. So after a few days here and there with a bit of a fever in the evening, plus a little runny nose and sometimes crankiness and appetite change, this ever-worrying mommy decided to err on the side of caution again.

Never mind that just about everyone in France has been telling me that teething babies often run a small fever and have a runny nose. My American medicine boxes clearly stated that fever was NOT a teething symptom and neither was nasal congestion. Dr. Spock’s baby book seconded the motion. Despite all that I still felt the need to justify myself to Tata Marie, who was on the fever-goes-with-teething side. Besides, the pediatrician is the same one who visits the “crêche,” or day care, so word would have gotten back to her. “You know, I just want to get it checked out all the same,” I told her. She sort of smiled to the side resignedly and said, of course, you do what you want. I should have told her I even tend to doubt my own very informed mom, so not to take it personally.

I debated on whether to drive or walk on this September day with a little breeze. If I walked, Juliette might have the wind in her face. But there was the hassle of driving and getting home traffic. So in the end I bundled up sweetums and strolled down to the pediatrician’s office.

As I entered his office, I chattered apologetically to the doctor. “I’m sure you’ll say I’m an over-worried mom and it’s nothing at all,” I said. He was just all business-like and asked me to undress baby on the examining table as he asked about her symptoms. And (luckily!) as I expected, after his examination he gave her the all clear. Ears, lungs, throat all seemed fine. Watch out for high fever and spikes over 38.5°C. And if everything else seems fine, we can attribute the fever to- what else- teething.

I took advantage of the visit to ask him about vaccinations. Why is it that American babies are vaccinated for chicken pox and not French ones? Of course, I asked a bit more diplomatically than that. He said something about the French medical commission not deeming it a priority at the time. I’m wondering if they just don’t want to seem like they do everything like us. The normal flu vaccine isn’t necessary for healthy kids, he said, but you can have it if you want. And concerning the big bad H1N1 virus, he didn’t think it would be given to healthy kids either. Later on the news I saw that it may in fact be given to kids from six months to two years old. What are they saying in the US about this? Frankly, we folks who aren’t in the know don’t feel so comforted by all these conflicting reports.

So I left the office and we strolled back on home as thunder rumbled in the distance. Sure enough, we started getting splattered and the bottom fell out, as we like to say in my family. As we took shelter in the overhang at the post office, I thought that if she hadn’t been sick before the visit, the downpour wouldn’t make things better. Ah, well, at least I had the best of intentions.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Job wanted

Mommy keeps saying the e-con-o-my is bad this year. So I think it's wise to start job-hunting now. Thirteen months isn't too early, is it?

And as I was born in the twenty-first century, I'll do this the modern way, by showing my skills on the Internet.

Firstly, I'm great at communication, as my phone skills in this video can show you. (Mommy says she doesn't know why this video's so fuzzy.)


And here you can see that I'm great at organizing things. These were those child protection thingeys. I think they're much more useful on the floor than on doors and drawers, personally.


Add to that that I can say sophisticated words like "cat-ki" and "me-now" (what a cat says, duh?!), and I think you'll see I'd be a great employee.

Did I mention I can bang on the keyboard and make emails and other quantities of text disappear? Contact "JuJu" if you want me to send my CV.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Men: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em

Dear male readers, don’t be scared off by my title. I just thought it was time to let off a little steam about the joys and well, non-joys, of life with someone with a Y chromosome. It’s been a post I’ve had in my head for a while, but I was inspirited to flesh it out more since I discovered this blog thanks to my friend Caroline. I think the title says it all, www.myhusbandisannoying.com Even if you’re not married, I think anyone can appreciate the absurdity of it all. I especially love how her husband seems to be the twin of Ben Stiller.

But back to my own moanings. Beyond those little things like leaving the toilet in a mighty fine state right after I’ve cleaned it or keeping empty cookie bags in the cupboard (do they think they will magically be refilled?), there are just some male characteristics that I alternately admire and find annoying:

1. That logic thing: Like when I spent way too much time trying to remove those plastic things from Juliette’s crib, and Remi just looked at them and saw they needed to be unscrewed. Or when I was afraid I’d messed up my computer by pushing in the start button too much, Remi simply slapped his hand on the CPU to make it pop out. I guess he inherited the MacGyver gene.

2. The ability to sleep through nuclear war: and more specifically babies crying or cats meowing for food at 4 a.m. As my friend Ilona said, perhaps we women are just more tuned to our environment and anticipating what might happen. We’re on alert mode. So the men don’t have to be…

3. Letting go of worry: Whereas I can spend a sleepless night worrying about a new possible life-threatening runny nose that baby has developed, Remi is able to put it in perspective. When I mentioned to the pediatrician that I worried so much and my husband so little, he said that’s what dads were for.

4. That heightened sense of confidence: that secure knowledge that they WILL find the right way even if they have to drive an extra hour. That the ten locals we pass by don’t have the right information to get us there anyway. Or the confidence that there is definitely something more interesting on the other channels, especially during commercial breaks.

So you see, I wasn’t too tough on you guys. It’s all in good fun. I know we women have our own annoying habits. Like always being right about everything. How you can live with that day in and day out, I’ll never know…

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sentimental hearts abstain

I like to see her bath toys hanging up in the shower. Or her sturdy books and stuffed animals strewn across her bedroom floor where she left them. The bright colors of her clothes and the cheerful pattern of her crib liner. This little universe for this little person. This is the good stuff in life, I try to remember. Despite my ever-doubting personality and the time I have to consecrate to changing things about myself professionally and personally, I try try try to appreciate all these precious moments that a one-year-old is offering. All for free. Or nearly free. Just the price of a bit less sleep in general and less time to spend on my own stuff. I won’t pretend it’s not an adjustment or that there aren’t days that she cries every time I move her or leave the room for a second. I must never forget what a gift she is. I’ll squeeze her every chance I get. Until she’s a “tween” and won’t let me! Already there are moments she flees my arms, literally shrugs her shoulders away from me as she picks up her toys.

Anyway, here’s one of those “precious moments”…


Summer’s last hurrah?

So we did indeed take that trip to the beach. Or should I say beaches, plural? We took advantage of a nice warm weekend and the fact that Remi didn’t need to work all weekend (was there a lunar eclipse in there too?) to give Juliette her first beach experience. So Saturday morning we set out at 7:30 a.m. to arrive at Quend at around 9:30. This is a lovely wide sandy beach in the Picardie region. Here Juliette discovered what fun it was to crawl on the sand and let the waves splash over her feet. She absolutely hated us taking her out of the water, but that may also have been because we prevented her from putting shells in her mouth. Though we were watching her closely, she managed to stuff some in there and thus followed emergency mouth prying-open operation. Luckily we got the shells out, but we’re both just wondering when the famous oral stage will end.


That night we stayed in a bed and breakfast (chambre d’hôte) further inland that was run by an English couple. They’re very hard-working folks and have done a great job on their place. I could tell they miss their homeland a bit too. It’s not easy even when you’re in closer proximity. They served us a huge real English breakfast with baked beans and delicious sausages.

Sunday morning it was off to Cayeux-sur-Mer, a beach that has more pebbles. It was a bit tougher to walk on but it has its own charm and beauty, too. There are rows of these beach cabins where people apparently store gear or change into their swimsuits or have tea parties with their cats!

And finally we hopped down to Mers-les-Bains, a beach which has cliffs nearby and lovely architecture. We ate a nice meal there and Juliette played in the water again.

Of course, the non-stop fun must eventually come to an end. Those lazy days where the top thing on your to-do list is get an ice cream cone are lovely and relaxing, but I suppose if every day were that care-free, we wouldn’t appreciate it. At least that’s how I’m trying to justify it to myself as the back-to-school commercials keep reminding us that summer’s nearly over. At least school kids have new backpacks and notebooks to cheer them up. What can adults do to get back in the mood for work and waking up early? My solution: I’m going to try to have something fun to look forward to every week. Maybe it’s treating myself to a pastry or seeing a friend. Maybe it’s Desperate Housewives Season 5. I don’t know if it will work, but as I can’t really go on vacation every weekend, it’ll have to do for now!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Le mois d'août (The month of August)

For those of you practicing your French, that’s pronounced (approximately!) as so: luh mwah dewh.

I suppose that if you had to pick a month to come back to France, August is not so bad. It’s a bit like stepping into a slightly aged postcard. One where you see folks enjoying pizzas on café terraces and (if you’re lucky) the sky’s so blue that you think it must have been retouched. There’s also a sleepiness about everything, probably because half the city’s inhabitants are on vacation themselves. There are virtually no lines in the government offices, or then again, there might be if all the staff is on vacation. Numerous family-owned shops have lowered their exterior plastic blinds and posted their signs saying “fermeture annuelle”, or annual closing/holidays. This can be anywhere from one to three or maybe even four weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not over my post-vacation blues, but I figure the best way to readapt to my adopted country is to act like the rest of them. And at this moment that means, continue to be on vacation. So simple, I wonder why I didn’t think of it sooner. So last Sunday we took Remi’s granddad, or Dédé, to a bay/beach town for a day trip. Of course, this was a day spent at grandpa/bébé speed, so not very fast. He gave Remi directions to take the Very Scenic Route (i.e. very windy roads but cute landscapes and villages) and of course there was the obligatory stop at the very quaint town of St. Riquier for a quick coffee. Remi took this cool 360° video of the main square. That’s an old abbey you see. Then another good stretch of driving to arrive at Le Crotoy. Most of our time was spent eating and sitting on a bench. No playing in the sand this time but it’s always nice to get out of your own surroundings and see some calming landscapes. We came back tired after all that driving, but our heads filled with all we’d seen.

If we can reserve a reasonably priced-hotel room we’re going to try and do a real beach trip this weekend. Let Juliette make use of her little shovel and sieve on the sand. We’re lucky since the beach is only about 2 hours from us.
So my advice to all of you still bummed after your vacation, don’t end it! Keep staying on vacation until the money runs out. It’s the only way to get every last drop out of summer and keep you warm with memories come September.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Post-vacation life

It’s now been a week since we returned from our lovely three weeks in America. They went by fast, of course, but it was a good amount of time to catch up on friends and family and remember why we love those folks so much. Which makes it all the harder to leave them. Those first few days back we experienced the old familiar symptoms of TBT and GH. The Total Body Tiredness (TBT) was normal considering the jet lag. But you have to add the Baby Factor this time. Juliette slept quite well on the plane (in this Apollo 11-era bassinet contraption; the stewardess told us to take her out if there was too much turbulence, as babies become “missiles” and just “pop out”; there was also this netting to keep her in… ).

She slept so well in fact that she was still on Alabama time and felt as if she’d just had a fairly normal night. She even slept just shy of two hours as we waited what seemed an eternity in the train station at the airport for our direct train back. So as we were exhausted by 9 pm French time, she was just ready for an afternoon nap and wouldn’t officially sleep her “night” until 3 am. This continued for the next three days; each night we succeeded in getting her to bed two hours earlier until she reached her French schedule.

The GH, or General Heaviness, is a natural return symptom, too. The suitcases were heavier, considering all the souvenirs we bought and gifts we received. Going back we’re never as light in spirit as when we start our trip. There’s no giddiness of seeing smiling faces to greet us at the airport and we know our big vacation time is over. Then for me there’s just the heaviness of heart from knowing how much I’ll be missing everyone. Three weeks is long enough to feel very much at home again and appreciate all those little things. To feel American again. Now I’m back and holding on to the experiences as if they were precious treasures. The dollars I’ve still got in my wallet, the receipts, food wrappers or simply a Wal-Mart bag, all remind me where I was and where I’m from and that I’m not there now. The first week back or so I feel my eyes smart with tears if I think of those faces back home. I love you guys! We’ll just have to think of the next trip and hope it’s not too far away…

We expatriates will always have mixed feelings. At the Atlanta airport we saw this American lady and her baby who live in Chile. She was on the internal tram as we went to our terminal. Someone asked her if she was happy to be going back to Chile, and I heard her reply, yes and no. I can definitely relate. I’ve been trying to make a mental inventory of what’s not so bad about my life here: a spacious apartment in walking distance to a beautiful town center, generally low humidity days, some great friends who love to commiserate with me, a husband who tries to understand how hard it is for me to be living here, and of course, my little crawling monster baby. France is not some poverty-stricken flea-infested ghetto, I know. But there are so many days I’d trade cobbled streets and old abbeys for an “ordinary” trip to Publix with the fam for a few avocados. Until I find a better solution, I guess I’ll have to live with these contradictions.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Since I still haven't grown eyes in the back of my head...

This could very well be my last blog entry. At least for a good six months. I'm figuring that now that Juliette has learned to crawl, and after that comes walking, she'll require constant supervision. I'm not even sure how I'm going to cook dinner when we get back to France.

The morning after we arrived here we set her down on my sister's carpeted office and away she went on those dimpled knees. I think she'd been pre-crawling for a while, but now it's official. I've been utterly spoiled here with so many willing babysitters to keep an eye on her for me if I want to eat in peace or nap or take a stroll without a stroller. Don't get me wrong, I still love spending time with my little darling, but nearly a year without a bit of help (weekday care with Tata Marie aside), and I'm grateful for a hand. Before we left I could count on her being calm in her playpen for part of the time if I needed to do the dishes or just leave the room for a moment. Those days are over. I doubt she'll go willingly to her playpen now that she's discovered all the floor has to offer.

In other news, she's celebrated her first birthday. She must have wondered, What are all these people staring and clapping at me?! She had a taste of icing and ice cream. And some more cute outfits to be photographed in, touchy feely books and stuffed animals to snuggle. We might be mailing some of that back as the airline does have a weight restriction on the suitcases! Anyway, a year has gone by so fast and she's changed so much, just as my own mom kept telling me she would. Now she'll pat Remi and say "papa" and knows what to do on each page of Pat the Bunny. She shakes her shoulders when she hears a rocky song and claps when she hears applause on TV. What a wondrous little muffin she has become! Happy 31st birthday to Remi, too, who enjoyed American style festivities like cheese cake and Mylar balloons.

Here's another new game she's developed, this time with Grandma the Great, who understands that you can have lots of fun with a few pieces of paper and a bouncy bed.