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.